Jesus said, “There was a rich man who always dressed in the finest clothes and lived in luxury every day. And a very poor man named Lazarus, whose body was covered with sores, was laid at the rich man’s gate. He wanted to eat only the small pieces of food that fell from the rich man’s table. And the dogs would come and lick his sores. Later, Lazarus died, and the angels carried him to the arms of Abraham. The rich man died, too, and was buried. In the place of the dead, he was in much pain. The rich man saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. He called, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering in this fire!’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember when you were alive you had the good things in life, but bad things happened to Lazarus. Now he is comforted here, and you are suffering. Besides, there is a big pit between you and us, so no one can cross over to you, and no one can leave there and come here.’ The rich man said, ‘Father, then please send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers, and Lazarus could warn them so that they will not come to this place of pain.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets; let them learn from them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham! If someone goes to them from the dead, they would believe and change their hearts and lives.’ But Abraham said to him, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to someone who comes back from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31 NCV)
Recently, I heard a sermon at a church we were visiting that brought me back to this parable of Jesus. I realized the parable had SO much to tell me about heaven and even more to tell me about hell. Imagine that, there is still capacity to learn at my age and even more that God wants to teach me.
The first part of the parable deals with two men living very different lives on earth. One has money, privilege, he is living in the lap of luxury and whether he simply cannot see the suffering right outside his gate or he simply chooses to ignore it. I don’t know, but what I do know is that the man suffering in poverty and poor health has a name, which gives him greater distinction in Jesus’ story than the rich man. His name is Lazarus.
While the rich man disregards Lazarus, Lazarus sees the rich man and longs not to bring him down to his level, but to merely have crumbs from his table, discarded bits of garbage from the rich man to eat. Street dogs give him more regard than the man with plenty.
BUT, both men die. Jesus tells this part with the matter of fact attitude death deserves in the God’s Grand Scheme. Rich or poor, all flesh eventually fails and dies. Here is where the heaven and hell stuff begin and here is what I learned.
Angels carry Lazarus, not a nameless beggar, but a person whose name God knows to the arms of Abraham (heaven). There he is alive, comforted, and sees only the beauty and grace of God. In hell, on the other hand, the rich man suffers physically, mentally, spiritually.
So much for the attitude that says “I’d rather party in hell than strum a harp in heaven.” The rich man in hell is very aware of heaven. He sees the lavish life Lazarus is living. Like Lazarus once longed for the rich man’s crumbs, he longs for a single drop of the living water of heaven. Imagine the torment in hell as the damned see heaven constantly from the pit. Imagine realizing that the chasm between cannot be crossed after death, but also imagine the rich man’s anguish as he recalls his brothers who are still living on earth without benefit of salvation.
Hell isn’t some good old boy’s club or “Cheers, where everybody knows your name”. In hell you don’t even have a number let alone a name and like the rich man in his torment, no one there wants to see the people they love join them. There is no party! There is loneliness and regret. One may never have cared whether family or friends found Jesus on earth, but based on Jesus parable, in Hell they are begging for their redemption. If we Christians had one ounce of the passion for the lost that the rich man exhibited in hell, we could change the world.
Once in heaven we cannot see the other side. We will not dwell on the citizens of hell, but in hell those citizens see what they rejected, pay the price, and long not to have another person join them. We see glimpses of this desire for others to be saved here on earth…people who have experienced hellish life styles that destroyed themselves and others before finding Christ usually make the most passionate evangelists.
I really don’t like thinking about hell and yet here in this week before Palm Sunday, I realize Jesus thought about it, taught about it and experienced it for ALL Creation, so I cannot ignore it. So today I am praying for the Lost…especially, those who think they have it all together and simply do not need God and for those who think God doesn’t exist and that death is simply switching off the lights.