Luke 16:27-31 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Our Lord Jesus Christ told of two men, a rich man who rejected God and a beggar whose trust was in the Lord. Both of them died, and the man who possessed went to heaven while the rich man who had lacked nothing went to hell. One of the reasons he told this story was that we may know something of what lies after death. Many will enjoy the pleasures of heaven but others suffer the horrors of hell. Either one is the conscious experience of all who die. There is no other door. There is no purgatory; there is no second chance after death; there is no soul sleep; there is no limbo. There is no such thing as the annihilation of the soul, but there is after death the judgment and then there is the great separation, heaven or hell. The Son of God is emphasizing here that souls do not die as bodies do, but after death the souls of men and women live on and are consciously, intelligently aware of the love of God or of his wrath immediately.
I have sought to help you understand the judgment of hell in several ways, first to tell you that hell is not a place of anarchy, where the devil has created a sphere of unilateral independence of God. God reigns in justice over heaven because all who are there are there through God’s just dealings with their sins in the death of the Son of God. God also reigns in justice over hell because all who are there are there because they shunned the atonement of the Lamb of God and lived for themselves. The rich man in hell is under the authority of Abraham and the God of Abraham, and he is receiving what he justly deserves and nothing more than that. Hell is no blot on God’s universe.
Then I have also told you that everything that reflects the image of God in the people you adore who are not Christians, that makes them such lovable and grand people, will not be found in hell. In other words, the dear family you treasure and should cherish, but who reject Jesus Christ, will be barely recognizable in hell. All that is of God in them will not be in them there.
Then I have told you that God will take account of all the relative differences that there are in sin and in sinners. Few men are as evil as the man who came to be called the Yorkshire Ripper, or as Hitler was. As there is infinite diversity in men and women on this side of the grave so it will be on the other side of the grave. God’s goodness and love will remain eternally inviolate. The writer of the Lamentations says that God does not willingly afflict, and that also applies in hell as it applies to mankind now.
Today we come to examine the conversation of this rich man suffering the torments of hell with Abraham. It is with this patriarch in particular because Abraham is the father of all who believe. God once had spoken to Abraham and made great promises to him. He pointed out to this man the stars and said that he would so bless Abraham that his progeny would become as numerous as the lights of heaven. He would give Abraham a child in his old age and through this child all the nations of the earth would be blessed, because one day in the line of Abraham’s own son a child would be born who would be the Saviour of the world.
Abraham responded by believing all that God said. He left his house in Ur and set out with his family to this unknown place which God said he was preparing for him. In such trust Abraham became a real model – a father figure – for all who similarly hear the Word of God, believe and are justified.
So the Lord Jesus told this parable. There are three main characters, Abraham, the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham is the spokesman for God. The rich man represents every defiant and unrepentant man. The name Lazarus means ‘God helps’ and so the poor beggar signifies those who have received the saving help of God. The parable has this great theme of being ‘too late.’ The rich man notices the beggar Lazarus too late; he sees the unbridgeable chasm too late; he worries about his brothers too late; and he heeds the law and the prophets too late.
1] THE REQUEST MADE FROM HELL.
Now the first conversation of the man in hell concerned a request that he might be relieved of his unbearable torment. But Abraham told him that that was impossible telling him in effect, “all your lifetime, day after day, you received an abundance of good things from God without any acknowledgment that it was the Lord who was blessing you. Your conscience reminded you of the certainty of death and judgment; you were warned to flee from the wrath to come; you had been told of the mercy and longsuffering of the grace of God; you were told to seek that mercy and find peace through the Gospel. What good things you had for so long.” After death it is too late. Mercy is unattainable; death fixes the destinies of men and women for ever, and in hell he is receiving nothing but his just deserts.
The rich man’s condition, then, cannot change; there is no hope that it will. There is a great gulf fixed between them and those who are in the presence of Abraham, because those who are there did entrust themselves, their lives and every detail of every day, into the hands of a faithful Saviour. Whether they ate or drank they did all to the glory of God. They presented their bodies a living sacrifice to God; they did not serve themselves. So those who are in hell cannot cross over that impassable gulf. There is no possibility of a change from the one estate to another. None whatsoever. Abraham tells the rich man that awful fact. That is the first exchange.
2. THE SECOND REQUEST FROM HELL.
The second request of the man in hell deals with his five brethren. The rich man is left to the agony of his own reminiscences for ever, and now he gets obsessed with his brothers. These men were still in the world, so the man in the pit devised a scheme by which they would not join him there, because their presence, no doubt, would make his hell five times worse. He had done nothing to warn them or urge them to avoid the wrath to come. This successful businessman’s ignoring of hell had had a profound influence over his brothers. So in hell he devised a plan of evangelism – which many human beings do. He imagined a way of delivering his siblings from the place of woe. The five brothers all knew the beggar who lived his life at the gate of their rich brother’s house. He was always there – that was his patch – and they all knew that he had died. So the rich man said to Abraham: “Send that poor man, Lazarus, from your side back to my brothers to show himself to them as someone raised from the dead. The result of that will be that they will all become believers, especially when he tells them about hell. If a man should be raised from the dead and speak to them of what is happening to me they will change. They will no longer curl their lip and say, ‘Nobody’s ever come back’ they’ll have to believe in God and they’ll escape hell.”
That is the wisdom of a man in hell. That is his proposal. From that request arises a discussion between Abraham and the man in hell. Abraham argues one side and the man in hell argues the other side. Abraham is defending the position of those who believe in God through the Lord Jesus Christ, and the man in hell is defending the position of those who use human reason and refuse to trust the Saviour in this world or the next. This argument is going on still, and it is important for us to see what this argument consists of and the difference between the two approaches.
On one side there is Abraham and all who believe as he did. One thing is true of every one of them, and that is that they are satisfied with the Bible. Theologically we would say that they hold to the sufficiency of the Scriptures to save any person from hell. In verse 29 Abraham says: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” Moses wrote the first five Books of the Bible. There is Genesis which tells us that God is a personal God, an almighty Lord, how He made the world, and how because of the rebellion of man the world is in the state it is. It speaks of the great answer to man’s rebellion in the Messiah who one day will come and bruise the serpent’s head. Then in Exodus we are told of the Passover, of those for whom a lamb had died substitutionally, and how the angel of death had passed over all of them who were covered by blood atonement. Because of the death of the lamb they were forgiven. The Book of Leviticus then underlines this, telling us that “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” It points to the sacrifices of redemption instituted by a loving God. The Book of Numbers tells us of the brazen serpent lifted up in the wilderness and if men did what they were told and look on who and what that represents they will have life. The Book of Deuteronomy tells us of the covenant relationship between God and his people, Jehovah Great I Am, pledging himself to be their God and Saviour for ever and ever.
“They have Moses,” Abraham says, and the rich man’s brothers had all the rest of the Old Testament written by the prophets who together speak of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is there in it all. So Abraham says, “Let them listen to them.” How much more should we today listen to those who were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ majesty, who were with him in the upper room, and heard his cry, “Peace be still!” and saw the waves obey him, and who helped unloose risen Lazarus from his grave-clothes. Should we not listen to them who by the Holy Spirit were led into all truth in what they wrote? Do you see Abraham’s argument? The Scriptures are enough to bring a man to faith in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures themselves are more than sufficient to save a man from hell. The problem is not the evidence; the problem is the heart of man refusing to think seriously about the evidence presented to him.
Then Abraham adds in words to this effect, in verse 31: “If they do not listen to the Bible, nothing else will convince them; nothing else will do any good, not even the spectre of a resurrection before their very eyes.” Abraham had seen from heaven the Red Sea opened and the delivery of the children of Israel, walking through on dry land. Then he had seen their subsequent behaviour. That generation died in its rebellion against God in the wilderness. Abraham had seen fire fall from heaven on the sacrifice on Carmel and he had seen that generation continuing in its unbelief. He watched Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus rise from the dead at the command of Jesus, and then seen the Pharisees arguing with Lazarus and plotting the murder of Jesus. No. The world has the record of the mighty acts of God; it has the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. It would soon have the most undeniable event in the history of the world, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. If men refuse to believe that then another resurrection is not going to impress them.
So the question is this, Do you agree with Abraham? On the one side of the debate (verse 27) the man in hell is saying that it seems a great idea to him to send a man back from the grave to the world of the living to warn them. But Abraham says, “They have the Scriptures, let them hear them.” “No,” the rich man says, “the Bible is not enough.” He has no confidence in the Word of God. He is saying, “They need something more than the Bible if they are going to be saved from hell.” This man thinks that the Bible is an ineffective book, that you cannot expect anyone to get serious about eternal life and flee from the wrath to come simply by reading the Bible, or by hearing sermons from the Bible.
Now, it is very interesting that here the man in hell addresses Abraham respectfully and he calls him, “Father Abraham,” and that the patriarch acknowledges that and responds to him with the word “son.” In other words, this man was a fellow Jew – a member of the Old Testament covenant people. He has been circumcised, and ethnically and outwardly he is a son of Abraham. The Lord Jesus in Luke 16 is speaking to fellow countrymen. He is addressing the Pharisees who are sneering at Him – “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him” (v.14). They could not imagine that they themselves were in any danger of hell. Even when they saw Lazarus raised from the dead they continued their plotting to kill the Lord Jesus Christ.
This rich man, then, grew up saying, “We have Abraham for our father,” attending the Synagogue, being taught the Scripture, hearing it week by week. But he never obeyed it, nor did he love it, finding it irrelevant. He never dreamed for a moment that he would end up in hell. He never thought that one day there would be a great chasm fixed between himself and Abraham. There are many like him who hear the Word of God preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Judas heard it; Ananias heard it; Sapphira heard it; Demas heard it; the Judaizers heard it – but all were lost.
Now, you see what the rich man is saying from hell – “If the Scriptures are the only thing that you are going to give my brothers, well . . . I had them, and what good did they do to me? They did not change me.” In fact, he is saying in hell, deep within his heart: “It is perfectly understandable that I didn’t believe and that they don’t believe – all we had was the Bible. I know my brothers; I am aware how they live; I know where they are going. The Bible is not going to touch them – those kinds of men need something more.” In effect, he is saying: “It is excusable; if only I had seen a miracle that thrilled me, I would have believed. If a man had been raised from the dead and spoken to me, then I would have paid attention. If I could have gone to a meeting where amazing things happened, it would have been different. But all I had was the Bible. The Bible!” That is what many people say still. “You don’t expect the world to be attracted by the Bible, by preaching the Scriptures, by texts outside chapels, and verses on railway station hoardings, and tracts with Scriptures on them, and memorising the Bible, and lessons from the Bible to children in Sunday School, and camps where young people are taught the Bible, and conferences where the Bible is proclaimed. You don’t expect people to be attracted by that? We need concerts! We need drama! We need costumes! We need bands! We need disco lighting! We need choreography! Bring in the drums and the synthesizers. Send for the clowns! Then the people will come. We need superstars and celebrities to give us their testimonies – not just the Bible!” But, you see, Abraham was unyielding. “The Bible is sufficient,” he said.
Now there are many religious people who argue like that man from hell. The Roman Catholic Church says that the Bible is not enough, we must have Sacred Tradition too. The Quakers say that the Bible is not enough, but there must be an inner voice in the congregation. Modernists say Scripture itself is not enough, it must be interpreted by “the assured results of modern criticism.” They say that we must go back to sources “behind” our present gospel narratives to find the “authentic” sayings of Jesus. Every cult says that the Bible is not enough, men must obey a Book – the Book of Mormon, or Science and Health With a Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, or the Watchtower’s productions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many charismatics say that the Bible is not enough, that it needs to be authenticated by miracles and signs. All such people are saying that the Bible alone is not good enough. They say: “It’s a good start, but it needs a bit of help from us.”
There is a preacher who has written that when the apostle Paul was preaching in Athens he slipped up and as a result few were converted. Paul used wrong methods; all he did was to preach the Word of God sensitively to the philosophers who were gathered there on Mars Hill and only a few were converted, so Paul went to Corinth and he drastically changed his methods and performed miracles and many were converted. But the conversion in Athens of one of the members of the Greek supreme court named Dionysius, plus a woman named Damaris as well as a number of other people also converted (Acts 17:34) would be considered by us to be very encouraging for the first meeting in a community that had never heard the gospel before. But people are taught that this is not ‘power-evangelism,’ “Unless we can do miracles then there will be no converts.” “No, Father Abraham,” says the man in hell, “not the Bible alone – the Bible plus. The Bible plus informal entertainment; the Bible plus background music. You choose the plus; you enthuse about it; you give lectures about it and write books about it; you can grow rich on it – “How I found the plus that helps the rather inadequate Bible.” You can hold summer schools and conferences and tell the world the method that you discovered of compensating for the failure of the Scriptures. Just like this man in hell who had no love for God – he thought of a way that could make up for the inadequacies of the Bible.
Now remember Abraham was in heaven before Moses wrote the first five Books of the Bible. Abraham had a unique perspective on the Books of Moses and the prophets. Abraham was there in the presence of God when the Lord gave the Word to Moses and to the prophets. He was listening to the Lord on those occasions when God commanded the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of illumination, “Go to Moses and help him write the life of Abraham. Help Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah and Daniel. Assist them to understand my word, and proclaim it and write the Scriptures, to the jots and tittles.” Abraham had heard God speak, and he knew the source and power of that which had come from the Throne of the Universe. From the lips of the living God had come those words. Abraham knew and loved them: they were Spirit and life. They were powerful words, as effectual as when God had said, “Let there be light” and there was light. The Almighty has broken the silence of the heavens. God has spoken to sinners. He has opened his heart and revealed his inmost Being. He is there and he is not silent. We have his Word. “God, who at sundry times and divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is a speaking God, but now in these last days he has spoken by his Son – the Lord from heaven, the speaking Saviour, the Prophet, God’s final Word. The Lord Christ has said that no one knows the Father save the Son, he alone having that infinite acquaintance. There is the immensity of the Almighty and only the Son knows him comprehensively. When at the end of his life he is praying, he is thanking the Father for all the help that he has had to discharge the commission which the Father had given him. He had omitted nothing, and when Jesus sends his apostles into the world he gives them the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth, and they also have omitted nothing. Everything has been provided for all that is needed for the 2,000 years of the church’s history so far. When Paul acknowledges himself as an apostle he says, “And then last of all to me also.” In other words, Paul was the last apostle. No more apostles are needed. No house needs more than one satisfactory foundation. It is futile because it is unnecessary and wasteful to lay other foundations. We have a foundation for every church and every single Christian to build on
We have Moses, we have the prophets, we have the Gospels and we have the epistles. We have them all in our own English language. We may hold them in our hands and we can read them. When John Jewel, one of the great English Reformers who became the Bishop of Salisbury, was preaching on the Scriptures he ends by rousing his congregation: “Are you a father? Have you children? Read the Scriptures. Are you a king? Read the Scriptures. Are you a minister? Read the Scriptures. Has God blessed you with wealth? Read the Scriptures. Are you a usurer? Read the Scriptures. Are you a fornicator? Read the Scriptures. Are you in adversity? Read the Scriptures. Are you a sinner? Have you offended God? Read the Scriptures. Do you despair of the mercy of God? Read the Scriptures. Are you going out of this life? Read the Scriptures. Are you going to hell? Read the Scriptures.”
Abraham was saying words to this effect: “Do you want your brothers to see a miracle? Your brothers have got a miracle; they have in their hearing at every visit to the synagogue Moses and the prophets. They may purchase for themselves Moses and the prophets. They may read and memorise Moses and the prophets.” We who live twenty centuries later have more, having the Gospels, the Acts, the letters and the book of Revelation. These new covenant writings are the miracle which leads the church into the new millenium. When I take this Bible in my hand, I am holding a mighty work of God. I have something absolutely unique. Here is something miraculous in its independence of thought, in the comprehensiveness of its theme, its utter and invincible confidence that it is the most relevant word to my own life and to that of every man. Sometimes in moments of doubt our minds must rest in this – “I have the Bible.” I have this great intrusion from heaven, this Book that comes from another world in which men may hear the unique utterances of the Son of God. I have read much of human literature at its best but I find here in this Book something that is discontinuous with everything else. Here is a book which is absolutely unique. The Bible is a Word from God that knows me, that describes me, that searches me, that finds me. It saved me from hell.
The Scripture speaks to man’s deepest needs. Here are words that contain concepts of unsurpassable grandeur, in words that are invincible in their sheer originality. Every Sunday when gospel churches meet they do so around this miracle. Every single service has at its centre this miracle – not just those red letter Sundays when everything is just right. Not merely when the Holy Spirit comes, convicts and moves, but every time we are gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and this Book is in the centre of our gathering then we are meeting in the presence of a miracle. Do you say you want a miracle and then you will believe? Well, here is a miracle! Abraham says “No!” to signs and wonders as the means of saving sinners today, because here is the Bible and it is a miracle. “So then, faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Roms. 10:17). Abraham knew that this was the Divine method. So then, you must go to a church where there is a man sent to preach the Word of Christ. That has been and always will be the means of saving anyone. Not since the apostolic age has a single person come to faith in Christ through seeing someone walk on water, but millions have become believers through hearing the Word. Abraham knew that all the children that were now there with him in the presence of God had been saved through the Bible, and that the millions more who would join him there would get to heaven in the same way. It was the Scriptures which made them all, “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
God in mercy has said: “I have as many people coming into the kingdom as the sands on the seashore – they are all going to share heaven with me. They are corrupted rebels. They provoke me dreadfully, but I will forgive their sins, and I will do this for all who have believed in Jesus Christ. And this will be the way – by bringing my Word to them. I will send them a Christian neighbour; I will put them in a university and there they will meet witnessing students. I will work through a member of their family, or through the woman who works in that office with them, and I will bring them all to a congregation where they will hear the Word of God preached. That is the way I will rescue them from hell. They do not have to be scholars to understand the Scriptures, but I will open their understanding to know the way of salvation through faith in Christ as that is found so plainly in the Bible.” “The testimonies of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple.” Ordinary folk can read or hear this message of the Gospel and understand it. It tells us that we deserve eternal hell because we are sinners, but Jesus, because he loved us, died for us that we might be saved. We have that message. If men will not listen to it they will not be convinced even if God should change teeth fillings from amalgam to gold.
The Scriptures are sufficient to make the man of God perfect. How far can the Scriptures take you? They can take you to total maturity, that is to “be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). What lies before us? What duties, challenges and sacrifices will we be called upon to meet? The Bible will completely equip us for them. How may we grow and put away childish things? How can we become mature men and women? How will we become wise? How may we become conformed to the image of Christ? Through the Bible – that is the divine way. The Scripture sanctifies and perfects what is imperfect. It thoroughly enables us for the challenge of every good work in whatever God asks us to do. Every mountain God asks us to climb, every burden God asks us to bear, every service God asks us to give, every pressure God asks us to endure, every sacrifice God asks us to make – the Scriptures can enable us to do it all by comprehensively preparing us for every single good work. They tell us how to do it, why we should do it, give us strength for the task, and they also warn us how not to do it. God through the Scriptures will complete that good work which he has begun in us. The Bible helps us to put away childish things. The Bible saves a man from being a wimp, and delivers him from being a nerd. It transforms him into being “the man of God … thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). It is a supernatural blessing to have the Bible.
Our Lord Jesus Christ ends the Sermon on the Mount by speaking about a wise man who built his house upon a rock and the storms, winds and floods came, and the house still stands. That man was building his life on the teaching of the Lord Jesus and it stood. Christ was looking forward down the centuries, even looking into the hideous 2Oth century in which we have lived for so long. Christ knew all the storms that would be hurled at little Christian boys or girls; the gales of scientific pretension, of philosophy and humanism, of materialism and fleshliness, yet every young Christian who stood on the teaching of Jesus would survive any storm. The Saviour is absolutely confident about it.
The professing church is in a hopeless demoralised state when its members begin to believe that the Bible is insufficient for delivering sinners from hell. The Roman Catholic Church, the Quakers, the Modernists, the Cults and the Charismatics are all looking for some additional signs and voices. None of them is in a healthy state; none of them is convinced about the sufficiency of divine truth. The issue confronting the Christian is, ‘Are you contented with the Bible or not?’
One man was being presented with what the Scripture was saying, verse after verse being quoted to him and laid on his mind and conscience. Finally he said angrily, in his opposition to those truths, “Let’s close the Book and listen to the Spirit.” Now that immature man was in the greatest danger. Sometimes when men say they are “listening to the Spirit” they are merely listening to their own hormones.
It is the man who is perishing who thinks that the Word of God is foolishness. Psalm 119:155 says: “Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.” As far as the east is from the west so far is salvation from the wicked. This is the reason – that they are not seeking the place they can read or hear God’s Word. They are not saying: “My life is in a mess; my marriage is dreadful; I do not know where I am going; the years are slipping by and I am frittering my life away; death is coming nearer and nearer; let me leave this city of destruction and find a place where the Bible is taught; let me find a preacher who will preach the Lord to me; let me take the Book of God down from the shelf and blow the dust off it; let me read it; let me cry mightily to God that he will show me what is in Moses and the prophets; let me go to that religious acquaintance whom I have shunned for so long; let him tell me where I may find life.” But the wicked do not do this. They remain far from God’s salvation because they will not seek out God’s Word. That is why they end in hell.
The rich man was an ignorant man when he lived in this world. He was still an ignorant man in hell, and God says: “He that is ignorant let him be ignorant still.” He never faced up to the reality of the human condition. He thought all that would be needed was one miracle, some resurrection from the dead, and that then people would believe. He was always wiser in his own eyes than God, and never acknowledged the hostility that still existed in his heart to Almighty God. He snarled, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” People do not want the Bible because the one who speaks to us in its pages is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is always so inconvenient to bow the knee to serve and follow him. It will mean that we must take up the cross every day and deny ourselves and walk in His steps. That is the reason why men do not believe in him, not because of lack of evidence, not because of the inadequacy of the Bible, not because of no miracle workers in this century, but because men do not want God. It was the people who saw Jesus’ miracles who cried “crucify Him.” The nine men who were healed of leprosy could not be bothered to give any doxology to the Lord. God has given this Word as the means of sinners’ salvation. Then let us be satisfied with it, heed it and obey. That is the only way to be saved from the judgment of hell.
18th September 2011 GEOFF THOMAS