Who’s Afraid of Hell Fire?
The play was called “Heaven’s Gates—Hell’s Flames.” No subtlety there. The script presented a series of life scenarios and then took you to the other side. Heaven or hell? Our church joined with other churches to provide counselors because the invitation was clear. To escape ‘hell’s flames” you needed to put your faith in Jesus.
Jim’s son had gone to the play and insisted that his dad come to one of the last performances. At the close Jim trusted Jesus. I know this because the next day on Sunday morning I got to baptize him. He was facing a life-threatening heart condition, but now his family rested in the fact that they knew exactly what the verdict would be on the other side.
Suffering after death because you treated the poor at your doorstep with apathy and contempt, a strong statement that the decisions we make in this life are irreversible in the next, cries for relief from those who abused the poor, and the inability of those who reject God’s written Word to respond even when faced with the miracle of resurrection—all this sounds like the fiery plot line of a small town church drama or an out of date, old-fashioned evangelistic message. In fact these are the essentials in a story Jesus told about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus.
“There was a rich man. He was dressed in purple and fine linen, and enjoying lavish banquets daily. There was also a beggar. His name was Lazarus. He was cast at the door of the rich man with a body covered with sores, yearning to be fed with the scraps that fell from the table of the rich man. Instead, dogs came and licked his sores.
Now the beggar died and he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and he saw Abraham from far away. Lazarus was in his bosom. The rich man cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus so that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I’m in agony in this flame.’ Abraham responded, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus received the bad things. But here now, he’s comforted, but you’re suffering. And besides all this, between us there’s fixed a great chasm so that those desiring to cross over to you cannot, and those from your side cannot come over here.’
Then the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father. Send Lazarus to my father’s house; for I have five brothers. Have him warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said, ’They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.’ But the rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead comes to them, they will repent. But Abraham said, ‘If they don’t hear Moses and the Prophets, they will not hear even if someone who rises from the dead tries to persuade them.’” Luke 16:190-31
Before we argue over whether or not there are literal flames in hell, we might want to ask ourselves about how we are responding to those in need around us. We also need to face the fact that at the end of Luke’s Gospel Jesus does rise from the dead and to this day many still mock and reject Him. He told this story to the religious experts whose pride, power, and wealth kept them from believing in Jesus. When these kind of folks die, this story is not comforting. But my friend Jim, though not a rich man, had no fear when it was time for him to cross over.
I got the call as I was going to eat lunch in Mansfield with a friend. “Dave, have you heard about Jim? Hospice says he doesn’t have a lot more time.” Jim had had that heart problem but the Lord gave him precious time with his wife, kids and grandkids. He had moved north of Dallas, and when I arrived, their beautiful apartment was all decorated for Christmas though the holiday was still weeks away. Jim loved Christmas, and this year he wasn’t going to make it to December 25, so we celebrated with him early. His hospice nurse could sing like an angel and we sang every Christmas carol we knew until Jim experienced the peace and mercy the angels sang about the night Jesus was born.
LORD, use Your account about this rich man and the great reversal that took place between him and Lazarus to move us to see those around us. Help us to not turn away from their ugly sores and their need. Help both rich and poor to trust in Jesus like Jim did so that they won’t have to fear Your just judgment after death.
For more from Dave Wyrtzen please visit TruthEncounter.com!
You can also listen to weekly messages from Dave on OnePlace.com.