Sunday, May 7, 2017

Heaven Series #1. I Believe in Heaven and Hell

Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury.  At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.  As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.  “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet.  The rich man also died and was buried, and he went to the place of the dead.  There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.  “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity!  Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.  I am in anguish in these flames.’  “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing.  So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.  And besides, there is a great chasm separating us.  No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’  “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home.  For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’  “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them.  Your brothers can read what they wrote.’  “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham!  But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’  “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”  Luke 16:19-31(NLT)
lthough we are going to spend the next few months talking about heaven, you cannot be grounded without the other possibility…Hell!  And so, we will start there, but only for today.  For the rest of the series we will concentrate on learning about and preparing for the place of eternal joy with our God.
There are many instances in life where the story is a blend of good news-bad news.  This particular text is more about the bad news of hell than good news about heaven.  It is that way throughout the Scriptures; there’s  more than three times as much about eternal punishment than reward. 
There is a natural resistance to the topic.  When we talk about going to heaven, everyone smiles.  If you preach about heaven you're everybody's favorite.  But when the subject is hell people get nervous about what you will say.  Some folks think you're cruel and narrow-minded to preach a sermon about the reality of hell, and what it's like.  But the fact is that ignoring the reality does not alter the danger. 
ð If you ignore a snake’s hissing does your ignorance make the snake change its mind about biting you? 
ð If you’re standing on the railroad tracks, does closing your eyes make the on-rushing train disappear? 
ð Does plugging-up your ears disarm a ticking time bomb?
It is not cruel to warn people of impending disasters, just unpopular.  So at the risk of unpopularity, let's investigate the GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS about heaven and hell. 



At the beginning of Jesus’ story he mentions both heaven (sitting by Abraham's side), and hell (the place of the dead).  Ordinarily parables are fictional accounts (earthly stories with heavenly meanings).  But Jesus uses the actual name, Lazarus in several places.  Heaven and hell are a reality.
In a recent survey by the Barna Research Group76% of Americans believe in heaven and 71% believe in hell.  The problem is that only one-half of one percent (0.005%) thinks that they could possibly be going there. That is to say, everyone is going to Heaven, and virtually no one will be in Hell.[1]
And so, it comes down to Whom Do You Trust once again….do you trust in Jesus, or the American Dream? 
If you go with Jesus, then you must pay attention to the Bible's clear teachings about hell:
Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22) call it a place of hellfire.  Once when I was passing a church they had on their sign outside: You think it's hot HERE?     
For God did not spare even the angels who sinned.  He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment.  2 Peter 2:4(NLT)
But most tragic of all....
Revelation 20:13-15 tells us that when God does act in judgment He is going to take hell and all its' contents, together with death, and all those who have refused to come to Christ, and deliver them once and for all time and eternity into the lake of fire.
Beloved, these are difficult thoughts to entertain.  However, the Word of God backs up every word I have said to you.  It is the scientific and existential reality of opposites:
ð   There is a hot and a cold; an up and a down. 
ð   There is young and old, poor and rich, left and right. 
ð   Common sense also tells us there must be a hell if there is a heaven. 
Hell is not a myth.  If we believe in the God who so loved the world John 3:16, we also must believe the second part of that verse that says Jesus came into the world so that men might not PERISH.  Perishing is described in the Scriptures as being part of that everlasting real place called "hell"! 
A fair and just God who created hell is proved by the very statements of those who shake their fists at Him and doubt His existence.  There are those who say that if there really was a God, He wouldn’t let such awful things happen;
ð He wouldn’t let there be Tsunamis or Volcanoes that wipe out hundreds of thousands of innocent people. 
ð There would not have been a Hitler, or ethnic cleansing, and planes wouldn’t crash into World Trade Centers. 
ð If there was really a God he would punish the evil. 
If that is so, then there must be a place of punishment.  It’s called Hell.
A fact such people often miss is that if there is no hell, then Jesus Christ did not have to die....the cross is a mistake; that makes God a murderer, and the Bible is a fake, and this church and all others that preach the gospel are as useless as a fire station on the ocean floor! 
Hell is real!  Secondly....



As we learned at the beginning of this message, there is much more about hell here than heaven…but we shouldn’t miss that heaven is really good.  Abraham’s bosom is a term that describes heaven….a place of genuine peace.  There is a Southern Gospel song called “Peace”.  It presents several situations of human drama including suicide, divorce and alcoholism.  One line says, don’t need your love, or your sympathy, but I cannot go on living without peace. 
Heaven isn’t a place for floating around on clouds or sprouting wings.  It is the place where the soul understands perfect peace.  It is the place where righteousness and mercy have kissed, and there is joy!
Hell, on the other hand, is the place where there is unrest forever.  Dives (which is Latin for rich) is the rich man who, able to see the splendor of heaven from the torment of hell; he pleads for just a little relief.  God reminds him that formerly he had his opportunities to share; now he must do without!  It is a lesson we all need to hear about the awfulness of an eternal separation from God's peace and presence. 
The judgment that came on the rich man was not for being rich.  The judgment came because he had plenty of ability to respond to the need of Lazarus who was laid at his doorstep, but he acted as if the poor man never existed.  He acted as if it were right and proper that he should concentrate all his energies, talent, and God-given blessings in an ever-expanding effort to please himself, while the poor starved to death on his doorstep.  That sounds a little too uncomfortably like our culture where the rich throw parties while the poor starve to death.  The second of the two great commandments is to love our neighbor.
The fact that the punishment fits so appropriately is also noted. 
ð   Dives was in torment, and could see Lazarus in heaven's comfort and he pleads for mercy and receives none. 
ð   But he is reminded constantly of his own torment without hope. 
All of these are the exact opposite of the way things were in the former life.  A newspaper article I read years ago told of a scientific expedition drilling a hole several miles into the earth's crust to conduct some experiments.  The account reports that the men working the drills believe they've uncovered "hell".  They have heard unearthly screams that could only be produced by human voices under incredible suffering, coming from the dark hole they've made.  I don't know of the veracity of the report - but I do know that the Bible declares that hell is a place of weeping, teeth gritting anxiety and darkness (Matthew 8:12). 
ð It is a place of punishment (Matthew 25:46) 
ð It is a place without rest (Revelation 14:11)
ð It is a place without God (2 Thessalonians 1:9). 
Hell is the place Jesus most often called Gehenna, which is the place just outside of Jerusalem where the ancient pagan worshipers sacrificed their firstborn children to their god Baal, and then discarded them on a garbage heap. 
Hell is a real place, and it’s a bad place.  It is a garbage heap for souls.  



There are those who believe that hell can be a temporary place, where if your friends and family pray long enough, your soul can be released. 
The Bible however teaches that the kind of suffering we've mentioned is eternal and unchanging.  In verse 26, Jesus says that there is a gulf, a chasm, a wide valley that separates heaven from hell.  And it is FIXED, meaning that it cannot be moved, or bridged. 
The question always comes:  Who dug this ditch, and why would anyone do such a thing? 
The Bible tells us that God created the place for the devil and his fallen angels.  Why?  Because God is holy and righteous, and no sinful beings may ever stand in His presence. 
Irenaeus was a second century church father.  He said:
[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and blasphemous among men into everlasting fire….The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal.  To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever" (ibid. 4:28:2).[2]  
Beloved, the only bridge between heaven and hell is the one Christ makes with His own body on the cross of Calvary.  The Bible declares that there is no other way we can come to God. 
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  John 14:6(NLT)        



In depressing resignation Dives realizes that it is too late for him, and urges the Lord to send Lazarus to speak to his loved ones. 
In the last verse of this text Jesus declares the final sentence:
‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’  Luke 16:31(NLT)
What Jesus said to the rich man in hell was it has always been a matter of faith.  And God has given each of us that privilege of making that choice to receive Christ or reject Him. 
The naked truth is every person can believe if they choose to do so!
The warning here is stated negatively.  People who don't believe simply WON'T believe.  They choose not to believe. 
The fact is that God never sends anyone to hell....people choose that way when they refuse to accept the authority of God, and the fact that in His mercy and grace He sent Jesus to die in our place. 
The only thing required of an individual to be saved, is to confess or acknowledge that he needs saving, and that Jesus is the one (the ONLY one) Who can save.
I hold an object in my hand, intending to give it to you as a gift.  Is it yours? 
Not until you TAKE IT from my hand; not until you RECEIVE IT!  In the same way Jesus holds the gift of eternal life in his outstretched hand. 
Like Dives, we start out with the wealth of the gift of life to live, and love.  But like Dives we also will die one day.  Will we be carried into the bosom of Abraham, the splendor of heavenly fellowship with the Lord....Or, like Dives; will it be the torment of everlasting hell? 
The question will be answered one day for each of us. 
Will you accept the gift of salvation?

[1] Americans Think Hell Exists, But No One Goes There Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D., ©2002 - 2005 Tradition In Action, Inc
[2] © 1979-2005 Catholic Answers.  All Rights Reserved.

[i] Title image: Gerbil [GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

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