An exposition of Luke 16:19-31. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, June 14, 2009.
Sermon Notes »
It is not a popular theme. I understand that it is not a pleasant subject and there is a sense in which I understand the lack of discussion. It is unsettling and disturbing, so most folks would just as soon not deal with it. But the fact is death comes to all. Death is the most democratic institution on earth. It allows no discrimination and tolerates no exceptions. The mortality rate is a solid 100%. One out of one dies! The Bible is clear – death is not the end of personal existence. Life does not end at the grave. That makes the big question – “What then?” What happens after death? According to Jesus the fate awaiting those who reject the Gospel is as bad and terrifying as can be imagined – and everyone needs to be told. Yet the doctrine of hell has fallen on hard times. Baptists who were once known as those “hell fire and brimstone” folks have become too sophisticated to talk of such “old fashion” notions.
According to a nation wide survey in 1968, 70% of Americans believed there was a literal hell. Eleven years later, in 1979, Newsweek conducted another survey and found that only 58% believed in a literal hell. A 1988 survey found only 39% thought hell might exist and a year later; a Gallop poll found only 24%. In 20 years the numbers fell from 3 out of 4 to only 1 in 4. Martin Marty, in preparing a series of lectures on the subject of hell for a presentation at Harvard, surveyed the major theological journals of the past 100 years and failed to find a single entry dealing with the subject of hell.
There has been a disturbing trend within the church in the past 30 years. Groups of scholars gather for dialogue and inevitably they manage to “talk away” any doctrine they find disturbing or troublesome. They take the Scriptures and look at each story, each event and determine whether or not it fits their view of God. If it doesn’t fit into their system it is excluded. “This must be something added later rather than a part of the original.” I’m thinking that maybe it’s time for less dialogue and more monologue, and let’s let God do the talking.
Text: Luke 16:19-31
This is a familiar passage. It is one of the most recognizable of Jesus’ parables. There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether this is a parable or an actual account. I’m convinced that it is a parable. And that Jesus used it to punctuate his discussion with the Pharisees that took place earlier in chapter 16. Keep in mind a parable is meant to be heard. It is intended to drive home a point. It is not intended as exhaustive theological teaching. It serves to illustrate basic truths concerning the Kingdom of God. The thrust of this story is to drive home the point that:
Thesis: In the life to come, there is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain.
Jesus, with the skill of an artist paints for us a moving portrait of the life to come. The drama is played out in three acts.
- As the curtain rises on act 1 we discover a stark contrast. (16:19-21)
- act 2 – A startling reversal. (16:22-24)
- act 3 – A frightening reality. (16:25-31)
The frightening reality revealed in this closing section is that it is forever. The plain language of the text is that the condition in which one dies is unchanging throughout eternity. The rich man in death did something he had not done in life. He earnestly sought the grace and mercy of God, but it was too late. Nothing could be done to ease his torment. He sought to have a warning sent to his family that they might not suffer this same fate. The response was that they had sufficient warning. The Scriptures were clear. Hopelessness, despair and isolation is the lot of those who die without Christ.
Now, the rich man was not damned because of his wealth. Lazarus was not exalted because of his poverty. The rich man was in hell because of his sin and his failure to acknowledge his sin and embrace Christ. Your future life is dependent upon your relationship with God not your works. Not how good you are or what you try to do. The issue is what have you done with Christ? Is this a message of despair? No. You’ve heard the message of the Gospel. The door is open. If you are not a believer. If you have not trusted in Christ and Christ alone, I urge you for the sake of your soul – come to Christ!