There is no bridge between heaven and hell, and that chasm represents the fixed and permanent position of hell. If you were there, you're there forever.
And the worst is this. It's almost certain that there are people in this room listening to me right now who will be there when they die. It's a heart-wrenching experience, isn't it, when you're sharing the Gospel with a neighbor, a family member, a friend, and they don't respond.
They don't believe the good news of the Gospel. That's why I'm so thankful for the promise that God's Word will not return void. Thank you for joining us for this Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind.
I'm Nathan W. Bingham. I know as I've been in situations just like that, that I've wondered, what would happen if someone just came back from the dead, came from hell, to say, hell is real. You need to repent.
You need to trust in Christ. Well, today as Dr. Sproul opens God's Word, he's going to address that very question. This morning we're going to continue with our study of the Gospel according to St. Luke. We are still in the sixteenth chapter, and you will recall at the beginning of this chapter we had Jesus' parable of the unjust steward, which I mentioned at the time was perhaps the most difficult of all of Jesus' parables to interpret. Well, this morning at the end of chapter 16, we have the parable of Dives and Lazarus, which of all of the parables of Jesus is probably the most difficult one for us to accept. But nevertheless, this parable comes to us from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is found in chapter 16, beginning at verse 19 and going through verse 31.
And I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God. There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of swords, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table.
Moreover, the dogs came and licked his swords. And so it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and likewise Lazarus' evil things, but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.
And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. Then he said, I beg you therefore, Father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment. Abraham said to him, they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them. And he said, No, Father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent. But he said to him, if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rise from the dead. The Word of God for you.
Please be seated. Let us pray. Our Father and our God send help, for we desperately need it in order to have ears to hear this teaching from our Savior. Every fiber of our being, O God, recoils in horror at the content of this parable.
Even in our redeemed states, there are times that we desperately wish that Jesus never would have told this story. But this is Your Word, O God, and Your Word is truth. So, give us that truth in this hour.
Amen. Recently, I saw the results of an extremely extensive survey that was given to a cross-section of people in America—religious people, non-religious people, Catholics, Protestants, self-proclaimed evangelicals, old people, young people, men and women, people from all kinds of diverse backgrounds who were questioned about a multitude of theological affirmations. And one of the things in that survey stood out in bold relief, and it was this, that the vast majority of these people, both in the church and outside of the church, asserted their belief in the existence and reality of heaven. And yet at the same time, the vast majority of those who were polled, both in the church and out of the church, denied the existence and the reality of hell. Somewhat a strange phenomenon inasmuch as for the most part we have the same source for affirming both heaven and hell. And yet when Jesus speaks of heaven, people say, Yes, Lord. When He speaks of hell, we say, No way, Lord. And I've thought about this for many years, as I'm sure you have. Before I get to the parable itself, I want us to remember a couple of things that first of all in His earthly teachings as they are recorded for us in the New Testament, Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven.
So obviously it was a matter of great importance and great concern for Him. Also, we hear so much more about hell from Jesus than we do from the prophets or from the New Testament apostles. And I've often speculated on why that may be, and the conclusion I've come to is we hardly believe it when we hear it from the prophets or the apostles, and only scarcely believe it if we hear it from Jesus Himself. And yet there is no greater authority on these questions that has ever appeared in the flesh on this planet than Jesus of Nazareth.
And if Jesus was wrong about this, there is no intelligent reason to believe Him about anything. So if you're a Christian, the affirmation of the reality of hell is simply not an option. Now, again, before I go to the parable, why is it that we struggle so deeply with this doctrine and with this idea? I think there are a lot of reasons for that, some of which are found in our care and concern and compassion for our fellow human beings who may end up in that awful place.
I frankly can't get happy in this life of thinking of anyone going to such a miserable place, but of course I'm not yet finished with my sanctification, and I still have a tendency to have more compassion with my fellow human sinners than I have with the glory of God. And so for all whatever reasons they are, I think the two most significant reasons for our hesitancy and at times revulsion to the doctrine of hell are these two things. The first is this, that we don't really understand who God is. We have hardly a clue about the depth and the breadth and the heights of His perfection, of His holiness. And consequently, we don't have a clue about the sinfulness of sin. Oh, we are quick to say to err is human, to forgive divine, equally swift to affirm that no one's perfect, with a shrug of the shoulders and the unspoken sentiment of it's not really a big deal. So the awfulness of sin has really never captured our understanding. That repentance we have before God is shallow at best as we sugarcoat the offenses that we have made not only against our neighbors, but especially and ultimately against God Himself. As I've told you before, if I die this afternoon and wake up in hell, I will be surprised, yes, but I will also understand that it's proper for me to be there, not for an afternoon or for a week, or as if it were some place of purging such as purgatory, maybe for a year or a thousand years or a million years.
But if it were to endure for eternity, I could never find a just reason to complain about my being there. Having said that, let's look at this parable that Jesus gave. First it begins with the condition of two men while they are still alive on the earth. Two men, one of them rich, one of them impoverished, one of them comfortable, one of them miserable. The two men traditionally known as divies, or the rich man, and Lazarus. Jesus says there was a certain rich man, divies, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. This is not a judgment against wealth. Joseph of Arimathea had great wealth. Abraham and Job were two of the most wealthiest people in the history of the world, so that there was no inherent evil about this man's being wealthy. But this man was nouveau riche.
He did not follow the maxim of the aristocracy of understated elegance. But this was one who had to make an extravagant display of his wealth. He was the quintessential ostentatious rich man. He dressed like a king wearing purple, a dye that was almost priceless in antiquity and reserved almost exclusively for royalty, so much so that to be a king was to be of the purple.
And so divies dresses up like a king wearing purple, fine linen, and living lavishly, displaying his wealth in sumptuous extravagance every day. And yet Jesus says in this parable, by way of stark contrast, there was another person in the drama who was a beggar named Lazarus. Here's a man who didn't have a penny to his name, and not only was he impoverished, but he was also suffering from endless sores that filled his body. And he was also a man on the edge of starvation every second.
So somebody with compassion brought him near to the gate of the wealthy man with the hope that somehow being this close in proximity to such plenteous wealth that crumbs from the garbage can could fall in the direction of Lazarus and keep him alive. Moreover, Jesus says, the dogs came and licked his sores. Now I have to use blood thinners, and because of that my skin is thin, and it takes but a minor bump for me to begin to bleed. And Vesta's nickname for me is Spot, because I bleed so easily and give her so much work to do, cleaning my clothes has even happened yesterday. But at home we have a marvelous pet, a dog, a real dog, a German Shepherd.
Is there any other kind? When I'm seated at home, my Shepherd comes and can't wait to lick the sores on my arm. I don't know why dogs do that.
I don't know whether they're trying to be therapeutic and to minimize the pain that we may be experiencing with whatever wounds we have. But I know this, that there's a world of difference between my German Shepherd, a domesticated pet and the dogs that ran loose in Jerusalem. Dogs were not household pets. They were feral creatures, wild, despised.
And to be called a dog was to be called one of the worst things that you could be called. And so the image here that Jesus is giving of Lazarus is that this unclean, despicable animal is coming to the poor man not to give canine mercy to him, but to enjoy his own desires in licking the sores of the beggar. Then we read it happened that the beggar died. And we would think that the rest of the account would be, and the public officials came by with a cart and unceremoniously put his corpse in that cart and drove it off to Gehenna, the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, and disposed of it by throwing it in the flames. But that's not the story as Jesus told it. It wasn't the coroner who arrived, but a band of angels who scooped up Lazarus and carried him to the bosom of Abraham and laid him in the arms of the patriarch. No wonder the slaves in our country in earlier days would sing, Sweet Lo, Sweet Chariot, coming forth to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan. What did I see? A band of angels coming after me. Now that's good theology, a song I love to hear and love to sing.
Imagine it. This man dies, and he wakes up not by the garbage can of divies, but he finds himself in the arms of the angels carrying him to the most honored place in heaven, to the bosom of Father Abraham. Then Jesus said, the rich man also died.
Not a word about angels. No mention of Abraham. Not only that he was buried, but not only did his body go into the ground, but his soul was carried by demons to hell. He was conscious in hell. And Jesus said He lifted up His eyes and far in the distance He could see Abraham, and to His utter astonishment He saw Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. And so we're told in verse 24, then He cried. What was it that Jesus would say about the outer darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth?
This man who lived sumptuously every day was now crying, and I assume that he was sobbing. And he cried out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus. Let him be my servant. Send Lazarus to me and let him dip his finger in water and touch my tongue.
Just give me some relief from hell. Please, mercy. He asks for mercy. And in his life, if you knew this man, you would wonder if he even understood the meaning of the word. But now he does, and he wants some.
He cries for it. Beloved, two words in the English language that you don't ever want to hear from God are these, too late. God is a God of mercy, a God whose mercy is beyond all human comprehension. And I sometimes object inwardly when I hear people in their zeal to thank God for His mercy speak of God's infinite mercy.
I want to stop them and say, wait a minute. God is infinite, and insofar as He is an infinite being who has mercy, you might say it's correct to say His mercy is infinite. But if you mean by His mercy is infinite that it has no bound raise. You haven't read this book because there is a boundary to the mercy of God, and that boundary is the end of your life. It's appointed for you to die once. And then the judgment.
If you cry for mercy and cry for Jesus after you're dead, it's too late. He said, I'm tormented in this flame. Abraham answered Him. His son suggested in the parable that this man in hell was a Jew.
It's like he would be describing a church member today. Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus' evil things, but now he's comforted and you are tormented. The implication here is what you're experiencing is justice. You want mercy, but what you have right now is justice.
Then it gets worse. Besides all of this, between us and you, there's a great gulf fixed so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. And what our Lord is telling us in this parable is that there is an unbridgeable chasm between heaven and hell, chasm so wide you can't go around it, so deep you can't go under it. There is no power on earth or any power in hell that once you are there, you can escape and reach heaven. There is no bridge between heaven and hell. And that chasm represents the fixed and permanent position of hell. If you are there, you're there forever.
And the worst is this. It's almost certain that there are people in this room listening to me right now who will be there when they die. If you have any understanding of the reality of hell, you would crawl on glass to the cross, to the only one who can bring you safely home for eternity. And so Lazarus, hearing these dreadful words that no one can pass between, starts to beg. Isn't it interesting that the beginning of this parable had Lazarus being the beggar?
Now it's Dives who's doing the begging. I beg you, therefore, Father, that if you won't or can't send Lazarus here to me, please send him to my father's house. I have five brothers up there that are still alive, and I don't want them to come here. I miss them, and we've had our differences. Well, I wouldn't wish this place on anybody, certainly not my brothers, the members of my family.
I have five brothers. Send Lazarus to them. Let him give testimony to them, lest they also come to this place of torment. And Abraham said, you want me to send Lazarus?
Excuse me. Don't they have Moses and the prophets? Hasn't God given them all the information they will ever need to escape this place? If this parable were given by Paul, he would have said that they have Moses, they have the prophets, they have Jesus. If they're not going to believe Jesus, why do you think they'll believe this beggar that comes back from the dead? But he said, no, Father Abraham, if one will go to them from the dead, somebody who really knows what happens after you die, then surely my brothers will repent. Now if the parable ended there, I would probably agree with Diocese.
I would think if somebody walked in this church this morning and said, ladies and gentlemen, I died last year, and for the last 12 months I've been in hell, and let me tell you about it. I don't want you to go there. Please listen to the Word of God. Flee to Jesus. Put your trust in Him. For God's sake, don't come where I've been. Would you believe Him?
Well, you would think you would. It would certainly get my attention if I knew the person actually had come back from hell. I would think that would be enough to convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt, not to mention a reasonable doubt. But Abraham's response was different. He said to them, if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded till one rise from the dead. Truer words were never spoken because one has risen from the dead, the very one who's telling this parable, and we still don't believe it.
Please think about that this week, because if there is a hell, and there is, it makes all the difference in the world for you, for everyone you know, for everyone you love. God grant that we heed this parable of Jesus, and let it pierce our souls and our hearts, and that a concern for the future of every person we meet weigh heavily on our hearts, because when they die, it's too late. Well, that was a weighty reminder there from Dr. R.C. Sproul, but an important one, because particularly in a very distracted age that we live in today, we need to be reminded of the reality of eternity. Well, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and I'm grateful you're joining us for this Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. You heard today Dr. Sproul teach from Luke's Gospel with such clarity and passion in that pastoral heart. If you would like to continue studying Luke's Gospel with Dr. Sproul, then I encourage you to go to renewingyourmind.org and make a donation today, because as our way of saying thanks for making Renewing Your Mind freely available to so many people around the world, we'll give you digital access to Dr. Sproul's expositional commentary on Luke.
And depending on the e-reader of choice that you use, you'll be able to adjust the size of the font there. It'll be instantly searchable for you, and you'll be able to join Dr. Sproul as he takes you through the wonderful Gospel of Luke. So you can make your gift today at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us next week when our offices are open again at 800-435-4343. Renewing Your Mind is a listening supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. I'm pleased that you joined us today, and I look forward to being with you next week here on Renewing Your Mind.
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