“Who Will Go to Hell and Who Will Go to Heaven?”
(Luke 16:19-31 – Pentecost 19 – October 20, 2019)
Luke 16:19-31 – “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 sores, 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 sores. 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. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on 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.’ “
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
It is a popular idea today that everyone will eventually get to heaven. Many people believe that there is no such thing as a hell, and that a loving God would never condemn a human being to eternal torment. Therefore, many people feel that it does not matter how they live, or exactly what they believe; and they go on in a state of impenitence and false belief.
In contrast to the false ideas embraced by many, Jesus’ words in our text clearly show the reality of both heaven and hell, and the fact that not all are saved. In the case of the rich man, though everything looked so great from the outside, and he must have appeared truly blessed by God in the eyes of many, yet his eternal fate was apart from God in hell. Whereas in the case of Lazarus, though everything looked so terrible from the outside, and he must have appeared forgotten by God in the eyes of many, yet his eternal dwelling place was with God in heaven.
Therefore our text leads us to ask the critical question: “Who Will Go to Hell and Who Will Go Heaven?” Let us see that 1) False belief condemns, but 2) Faith in Christ saves.
1) False belief condemns
The Bible teaches that all people are sinners and deserve condemnation. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It tells us that, as sinners before God, we “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). This does not mean we deserved a little slap on the hand for our mistakes. Our sins are rebellion against the God who gives us life, and they deserve His punishment of eternal death. To go on in unrepented sin merits God’s wrath and judgment, and eternal damnation in hell.
But even though all people deserve such wages of sin, it is God’s will that no one be lost. This is why He sent His Son to the cross, to pay for the sins of the world. Jesus gave His life as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6). His blood is worthy to redeem all from the wages of sin.
Yet, the tragic fact is that many are going to hell. Jesus says in Matthew 7:13: “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” It is not because He failed to love them or He desired their condemnation; nor is it because He did not really pay for the sins of all, as some falsely teach. Rather many are going to hell only because of their impenitence and false belief, which separates them from the Savior of sinners. Jesus said in John 3:17-20: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
Who will go to hell? Simply put, it is all who walk in the darkness of impenitence and false belief – instead of coming into the light of God’s truth, confessing their sins and trusting His forgiveness in Christ. They may think they are blessed by God, earning His favor by a good life, and on their way to heaven; but without faith in Jesus as their only Savior from sin they are lost.
Such was the case of the one in our text described as “a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” Most likely, He was not the kind society would consider bad; he was not a lawbreaker, but he was more like the upright Pharisees to whom Jesus told this account. He was dressed in the color of royalty and nobility. We can imagine him being very influential and respected for his worldly wisdom and success. He would throw lavish parties, inviting friends to join him in celebrating his success story. He lived by the popular motto: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
And so he did, as it says: “The rich man also died and was buried.” Most likely at his death, all his family and friends, and all who had respected this man of success held a “celebration of life” in his memory. They gave well-worded eulogies about his goodness in life. They spoke of how he was even happier now. Yet, Jesus gives the true picture of this man’s eternal fate: “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on 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.'”
Did this man go to hell because he was rich and had it so good in this world – while Lazarus went to heaven because he was poor and had it so bad? No, neither riches nor poverty determine one’s eternal fate, but only the presence of faith or lack of faith in Christ. How many godly men of faith have been blessed with wealth – from Abraham, to Job, to David, to Solomon. Indeed as a steward of all God had given him, this rich man might have used it to serve to the glory of God. For example, he might have helped that pitiful man described here as “a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” Instead, he made a god of his wealth. He served his riches. He served himself.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 warns: “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” By the love of money, this man was enticed away from true faith. He felt quite satisfied with himself, his success, his accomplishments, and his own good life. So he felt no need as a poor, miserable sinner, to kneel in the dust of repentance before God, clinging to His forgiveness in Christ. In his greediness to gain the world, he lost his soul. He pierced himself through with many sorrows in the eternal destruction of hell.
Jesus warns in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon.” How many have tried, and have fallen away from saving faith. Though they may have continued in the Christian name, they did not truly value the Gospel of salvation in Jesus. They did not come before God as poor miserable sinners, repenting and clinging to His forgiveness in Christ. There were always other things that came first, worldly treasures and pleasures they could not let go. In the end, like this rich man, they discovered that they had lived in self-deceit. In seeking to gain the world, they lost their soul. Despite a fine Christian burial and the eulogies of men, they found themselves in the torments of hell where, as Jesus says: “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44). The worm of guilt gnaws away at them, and the flame of punishment burns away at them. Like the damned in our text, they desire even a single drop of water to cool their tongue; but they are beyond all hope of relief from heaven. The time of grace God gave them to repent and believe is forever gone. Yet none of this was necessary, since God had provided their salvation in Christ, free for the taking.
2) Faith in Christ saves
Therefore, false belief condemns. But on the other hand, true faith in Christ saves. It is the faith that is given to us as a gift by God, through His revealed Word in the Gospel.
The rich man realized this too late. While in this world, he had not cared to heed God’s Word and salvation in Christ. He did not make a priority of it, for himself or for others around him. But now, he cared intensely that those still living on earth might hear the truth and repent before it was too late! He pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus from heaven to his brothers: “that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replied: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” The damned man insisted: “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But Abraham said: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Here, Jesus shows the only way sinners are brought to saving faith – by the truth of the Holy Scriptures, which 2 Timothy 3:15 says: “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Acts 10:43 says: “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Not even a saint from heaven could come to convince us and put saving faith in our heart. But Romans 1:16 says: “The Gospel… is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” Through the Gospel, which is present for us in God’s Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit works powerfully in our heart to give us true repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ.
This is the Gospel of our gracious God that declares all our sins forgiven. “The wages of sin is death,” but Jesus received that death on the cross for us. He suffered the torments of the damned as He was cursed for our sins. Therefore in place of the wages of sin: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but Jesus lived a sinless life to the glory of His Father, for our sake. Therefore, we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). By His gift of grace, God counts to us the sinlessness and righteousness of His Son. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We share in His eternal life, through God’s gift of faith.
This is the Gospel by which poor Lazarus was saved. This is the only faith by which sinners are saved. Lazarus’ name means, “One whom God helps.” In his miserable earthly condition, yet in faith he clung to God’s promise to provide every need of body and life. But most importantly, in his miserable condition as a sinner, he clung in faith to God’s promise of salvation and eternal life in the Savior of sinners. And clinging to this promise, even in death he opened his eyes to the delight of angels carrying him home to the eternal heavenly of heaven.
In this saving faith, we share the hope of Lazarus. Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Like Lazarus, we confess our poverty of spirit before God; as beggars of His grace, we kneel in the dust and repent of our sins. Many will pass by, merrily going their way on the broad path of impenitence, feeling rich in themselves. Yet by faith in Jesus, we are truly blessed by the riches of His forgiveness and salvation. Like Lazarus, we may not look like we have much; yet whether rich or poor by this world’s standards, we treasure above all our eternal riches in Jesus’ Kingdom. Like Lazarus, we may suffer the sores of disease and afflictions now; yet in Jesus, we are given spiritual health in our souls, which will become eternal health and happiness in body and soul when we are in heaven. Like Lazarus, with only the dogs to lick his wounds and share his troubles, we may be despised and rejected for Jesus’ sake; yet in Jesus we have a true Friend who will never leave us – who loves us, understands us, and cares for us. And like Lazarus, though this world with all its deceitful wealth and pomp will pass from our eyes; yet we will be “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” – to everlasting joys in that blessed “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forevermore. Amen.