Today’s Reading: Luke 16
What if you could hear from someone who had died, and they could tell you what’s on the other side? That’s what a story in today’s reading is. It’s a story that will stop you in your tracks. It’s the story of eternity. It’s the story of what’s beyond. More specifically, it’s a story about hell, realized too late.
There was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-31)
I have heard and read stories of people telling their beyond-death stories—some who visited heaven and some who visited hell. I’m not saying their stories aren’t true or false, we just don’t know. But we do know that this story is true because of who told it: Jesus, who always tells the truth. Jesus told this story different from a parable. Parables had no names of people, whereas this story did. And his name was Lazarus.
Here is a big question: what is the length of every man’s life? Forever, everlasting. Once born, the existence of man becomes as everlasting as the existence of God. His length on earth may be seventy or eighty years, which the Bible calls a vapor (see James 4:14). But your departed friends still exist right now. Remember that the poor man died but so did the rich man.
When the rich man and the poor man were born, they were both born without Christ; but when the rich man and the poor man died, Lazarus had Christ and the rich man had nothing. The rich man in fact had everything but God. The beggar had nothing but God.
And once you enter eternity, your destiny is fixed and cannot be changed. It was too late for the rich man.
I see some too lates here in this story.
1. He saw heaven too late. He who never thirsts for God here will thirst for Him immediately after he dies. He who never longs for a savior on earth will long for one in hell. The rich man was contented without a savior in this life, but as soon as he was in hell, he realized his need and his first cry was, “I thirst.” But the problem was that he thirsted for heaven and water too late!
2. He prayed too late. This was hell’s prayer meeting. The rich man not only saw what he never saw on earth, but his very first act in hell was to do what he never did on earth: he prayed . . . but he prayed too late because he prayed in hell.
He got thirsty too late and prayed too late. And when he did pray, he prayed to the wrong person: “He cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame’” (verse 24).
He prayed to father Abraham. This prayer could never have been answered. Even if this prayer was offered up on earth, it could have never been answered. This is the only instance in Scripture of a man praying to a saint, and it bore no fruit and got no answer.
If only this man could have felt the need on earth that he was feeling in hell and cried to Jesus on earth instead of Abraham in hell, God would have given him salvation.
Here’s what is scary about hell. The rich man had all five senses in hell.
He opened his eyes: he recognized Lazarus when he lifted his eyes.
He opened his mouth: he cried to Abraham.
He knew what water was and craved a drop of it.
He had feelings because he said he was being tormented.
He knew what was tormenting him—flames.
He remembered his father’s house and his brothers.
There was no lapse of time between the rich man’s death and him being in the flames of hell. Just as the believer dies and is in the presence of the Lord, I believe that the sinner goes immediately into the flames of hell.
Some think these are hard words to hear. It may be hard but it’s important. I think Billy Graham said it best: “If we had more hell in the pulpit, we would have less hell in the pew.”
As Thomas Hobbes once said, “Hell is truth seen too late.” If you are alive today, it’s not too late.