Ecclesiastes 7:1-3 may seem like a strange way to begin the Advent Season. Instead of reading it, allow me to summarize. Verse 1: The day you die is better than the day you are born. Verse 2: It’s better to spend your time at funerals than parties. How about verse 3? A wise person thinks a lot about death. Happy Advent. Merry Christmas. Group hug!
The truth is, the Christmas season has everything to do with death because it is not only what we experience in this life and how we live it, but what happens after we die that Jesus came to deal with. If He only wanted to show us how to live, He wouldn’t have had to suffer a cruel death on the cross. He could have just been caught up in a cloud when His teaching was over. No. Because of our sin problem, we have an enemy named death. It’s something we can’t beat on our own. We are doomed for destruction . . . BUT GOD! But God who is rich in mercy sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay the price for our sins. Without His sacrifice, we would be doomed to an eternal destiny of death and destruction.
Those who accept what that baby in the manger who became Christ on the cross is all about are headed to a land that is “fairer than day.” We will be transported to a place where the sea looks like glass, the walls like jasper, and the streets like gold. There will be the absence of everything sad or painful, difficult or annoying, and we will be in a state of eternal happiness, light and life like we can’t even conceive. We will enjoy the unveiled presence of God. But that reality is only possible as we consider death and choose Jesus as Savior. As the saying goes, “There are only two guarantees in life. Death and taxes.” Death is not an “if,” but a when.
Some of you in this room may be experts at pushing negative or difficult thoughts out of your mind. You may be able to postpone or minimize some things that are unpleasant in this life, but you can’t postpone or minimize your own death. “God has appointed man once to die, and then the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) He determines the number of your days and will be seeing you for a conference immediately following your last earthly breath.
Daniel Meyers speaks about a book written by a cardiologist at the University of Tennessee that corroborates an important aspect of the biblical message. In the course of their emergency room work, Dr. Maurice Rawlings and his colleagues interviewed more than 300 people who claimed near-death experiences. What made Rawlings’ study distinct is that the interviews were not conducted months or years later but immediately after the experiences had allegedly occurred—while the patients were still too shaken up in the immediacy of the moment to gloss over or to re-imagine what they had experienced.
Nearly 50 percent of them reported encountering images of fire, of tormented and tormenting creatures, and other sights hailing from a place very different from Heaven. In follow-up interviews much later many of these same people had changed their stories, apparently unwilling to admit to their families, maybe even to themselves, that they had caught a glimpse of something like what the Bible calls Hell. Dr. Rawlings concluded, “Just listening to these patients has changed my life. There is a life after death, and if I don’t know where I’m going, it is not safe to die.” Is it safe for you to die?
Luke 16:19-31  “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
 “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.’ “
The old mountaineer had lived a full but not exactly saintly life and now was on his deathbed. He summoned his weeping wife. “Sara,” he said, “Go to the fireplace and take out the third stone from the top.” She did as instructed. “Reach in there,” said her husband, “and bring out what you find.” Her fingers touched a large Mason jar, and with some effort she pulled it up. The jar was full of cash.
“Sara,” said the old man, “When I go, I’m going to take all that money with me. I want you to put that jar up in the attic by the window. I’ll get it as I go by on my way to heaven.” His wife followed his instructions. That night the old mountaineer died. After the funeral his wife remembered the Mason jar and went to the attic. There was the jar still full of money and by the window. “Oh,” the widow sighed. “I knew I should have put it in the basement.” (Source unknown)
There have been many jokes told about people at the Pearly Gates of Heaven or at the entrance to Hell. Though there are many punch lines to the parable in Luke 16, Jesus wasn’t trying to be funny. There is no more serious topic than death and eternity.
Two Earthly Profiles?
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (16:19-21)
Look at the descriptions of both of these men. A well-to-do rich man, dressed in expensive clothes that lived in the lap of luxury every day was contrasted with the beggar who had nothing. He was the poorest of the poor. He was always hungry and was dependent on others to put him in places where he could beg. He was sick, and had oozing sores all over his body. Not to be gross, but picture street dogs who would roam around digging in garbage, looking for who knows what to eat and then those same dogs coming to lick the poor man’s wounds. Could there be a greater earthly misery? The poor man’s name was Lazarus (not to be confused with Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead). “Lararus” meant “He whom God helps.” A picture of misery, and yet his very name suggests that the worst possible earthly experience can be endured because of the help God can give to us.
Two Eternal Profiles
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.” (16:22) Jesus pictured angels carrying the beggar to Abraham’s side or in other words, in heaven.
However, the rich man’s fate was quite different from his earthly experience. He found himself in Hell where he was in torment. He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “
The rich man was in torment. There was severe pain and torture. He was enduring intense thirst. The source of his suffering was a kind of fire.
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” (16:25-26)
This chasm takes away any hope of transferring from Hell to Heaven after death. There is no escaping the torment. Eternity is irreversible.
Words of Warning
“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.’ ” (16:27-31)
The rich man wanted to get warning to his family as soon as possible, but Abraham told them there had already been sufficient warning. Moses and the prophets had already led the way. We have much more than that. We have the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the written testimony of the apostles. How much testimony does someone have to listen to before they make up their mind about eternity? What more proof does someone need? Jesus raised several people from the dead. They would have had some kind of after death experience to report. Jesus himself was raised from the dead and yet people who knew that still didn’t believe. The sad truth is, you can present some people with all the evidence necessary and they still won’t believe the truth.
Watch this video, another word of warning for all of us here today. (To see the video, go to: http://www.sermonspice.com/product/41797/hell)
Careful study of the New Testament reveals Jesus talked far more about Hell than He did about Heaven. Why? He wanted to be clear about the choice we have to make. He wanted to drill into our understanding that Hell is real. He wanted to warn us about the eternal suffering that awaits all who are outside of Jesus.
Many people wrongly think Hell is the devil’s domain-that he rules there or that that’s where he is somehow in charge. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hell was created by God for the devil and his demonic followers. (Matt. 25:41) In Hell, God takes out His vengeance in an unconstrained way against evil. It is the place of punishment for the vilest of the vile, including the evil leader, Satan himself. Who would want to join those ranks? Yet Revelation 20 tells us that everyone who does not have their name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that is everyone who hasn’t accepted Christ as Lord, will join the devil and his demons in that “lake of fire.”
Pictures Words Can’t Express
The Bible is filled with several pictures about what happens at the end of this earthly life. And yet the parables and picture words about judgment don’t come close to describing the intensity of the horrible existence. (Matt. 13:24-30; 47-51; 25:31ff)
There is a picture of eternal separation. Jesus spoke of wheat and tares being separated, good fish and bad fish being separated, and sheep and goats being separated. If you have ever felt singled out or called out, just wait until the judgment.
There is a picture of eternal punishment. (Matthew 25:46) Remember the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Rich Man said he was being tormented, and it wouldn’t stop. Think about the pain we experience on earth. For the most part, our physical pain isn’t continuous. Either with the help of medication or rest or repositioning our bodies, we can get some kind of relief, even if it is temporary. Not so in Hell. There is no pain reliever in Hell. Not even a drop of water will be available to bring relief or any kind of comfort.
There is a picture of eternal judgment. Hebrews 6:2
There is a picture of eternal fire. Matthew 18:8. Yet it won’t be the kind of fire that provides any light or comfort. For there won’t be any light in Hell. It is a kingdom of eternal darkness. (II Peter 2:17) This is a darkness created by God Himself. We can’t even conceive of this kind of darkness. It won’t just be seen, but it will be felt. No, there won’t be any light to the fire in Hell.
There is a picture of everlasting destruction. II Thessalonians 1:8-9 “8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.
Eternity is just what is implied. Forever. It’s not destruction like we think of destruction. When we think of something being destroyed, we think of it being annihilated and gone forever. That’s not the biblical picture of Hell. It is ongoing destruction without annihilation.
Do you hear the absolute destitution of the people in Hell? They are completely shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might. Some of you here today may say, “Big deal. I’m away from Him now. It won’t be that big of a change.” You are so wrong. While you are here, you enjoy the earth He created. You are blessed by the sun that shines. The Bible says He causes the rain to fall on the just as well as the unjust. While you are on earth He is still providing things you enjoy. There are benefits He is bringing your way in this life that you may not recognize are from Him. Plus, God is still at work in your life here. He is working to answer the prayers people are praying on your behalf. He is orchestrating the events of your life so that you can see Him.
I wasn’t interested in dating Thom when we first met. I’m so glad now I couldn’t shake him. He kept pursuing me. He kept coming after me. While he was trying to get my attention, many great things were coming my way just because of his pursuit. For example, he got me a gift certificate from a company called “Take Out Taxi” for my birthday. It was a business that you would call and ask them to bring you your favorite food from one of several restaurants they serviced. Thom was hoping I would get the hint and invite him over for some “Take Out Taxi” delivery service. My friend Jessica and I enjoyed a nice dinner. But the reality was, I was still receiving blessings from his pursuit even though I wasn’t reciprocating anything at that time. In a similar way, if you aren’t a Christian this morning, you are still receiving blessings from God’s pursuit of you. But in Hell, He will no longer be reaching for you. The pursuit will be over. There will be no more contact.
There is a picture of eternal regret.
The Bible says there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Hell. (Luke 13:28) What is that? What does it sound like? It’s the sound of ongoing frustration and regret.
There is no doubt that Hell is an awful place. But hear me clearly. The reason the Gospel is called “Good News” is because accepting it enables everyone to escape Hell forever. Hell is all of the horrible things I have described and more, but it is also an avoidable place. No one here this morning has to go to Hell. The choice is completely yours. You heard me right. You won’t be sent to Hell. You will choose Hell. Rejecting Jesus as Savior and Lord is a choice for the horror I have described.
Many people ask, “But how can the God of love allow any of his creatures to suffer unending misery?” the question is, how can he not? The fact that God is love makes hell necessary. “Hell,” as E.L. Mascall once said, “is not compatible with God’s love; it is a direct consequence of it.”
That was his way of stressing the fact that the very God who loves us is the one who respects our decisions. He loves us, but he does not force his love on us. To force love is to commit assault. He allows us to decide. He loves us, he encourages our response, he woos us, he pursues us, he urges us, but he does not force us, because he respects us. (Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 219.)
Why is it that we have no trouble accepting the horror of what Jesus endured? Somehow it is acceptable to us that God the Father turned His back on the sinless, innocent Jesus and allowed Him to be tortured, abused, ridiculed, and physically destroyed through crucifixion through evil physical hands, yet we can’t conceive of someone who deserves Hell, going there? We can’t pick and choose what parts of God’s justice and love we will accept and embrace. God can never be unjust. But if I have to put it in earthly terms, “Someone going to Hell who deserves to go to Hell is far more just than our innocent Savior having to pay the price for the sin of the person who rejects what He did and winds up in Hell anyway.” If you want to argue about what is unjust or unfair or repulsive, chew on that one for a while.
If you haven’t chosen Jesus, it’s not safe for you to die. Why not be safe today? If your loved ones aren’t Christians, it’s not safe for them to die. I didn’t come to be a “Debby Downer” this morning. I’m not trying to scare anyone into accepting Jesus. Parents, why do we tell our kids how to avoid the painful mistakes we made? Why do we warn them about things that can destroy their life? It’s because we want them to be spared the suffering that comes from poor choices. Why did Jesus talk about Hell far more than He spoke about Heaven? Because He wants you to be spared the suffering that comes from rejecting Jesus. He had Jesus die so it could be safe for you to die. Will you choose safety?
As we move through this Christmas season, you will have an opportunity again to talk to people about Jesus, the “Reason for the Season.” Invite them to the children’s musical tonight. Invite them to our adult musical on the 17th and 18th and to our Christmas service on the 25th. Share the Good News and pray intently for your friends and family. Make sure they know they have a special gift to be unwrapped. It is the gift of salvation and inside of it there is a special tag for all who open it which simply says, “Safe.” Are you safe to die?