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Dear Friends in Christ,
What happens when you die? If you have bought into the theory of Evolution and Humanism like Bill Nye the Science Guy, you say what he said to Ken Ham when he asked him that question. Nothing. Nothing happens after you die. If you evolved from animals then you are just like the animals when you die. There is nothing after death, no eternity of suffering, no eternity of joy. There is nothing. This life on earth is all there is.
Because, as the Bible says, God has set eternity in everyone’s heart, most people, even a lot of evolutionists and humanists, don’t agree with those who say this life is all there is. They believe there is something after this life, but what? It seems that many today think that eternity means reincarnation. You just keep coming back to live on earth and to die over and over and over again. There are those who think that, since very few people have done enough good things to deserve to go directly to heaven, but they aren’t bad enough to deserve eternal punishment in Hell, there must be another place where most people go. So they invented the idea of Purgatory where you can pay for the sins you didn’t pay for on earth and finally make it to eternal life in heaven.
Those are just some of the more common false ideas out there about eternity, about what happens when you die. With so many different ideas how do we know which one is right? How do we know the truth?
Jesus told Nicodemus, No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. Jesus knows the truth about eternity, about heaven, because he’s been there and he came here to tell us about it. What Jesus said is recorded for us in the Bible, God’s word, which Jesus, who is the truth and eternal life, says is true and cannot be broken. So, if we want to know the truth about eternity, about what happens when we die, we need to go to the Bible and listen to Jesus.
You have heard this story that Jesus told before. You have probably heard it called the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. But it’s best that we don’t call it a parable because Jesus doesn’t tell us that it is. When he tells a parable he almost always starts by saying “the kingdom of God is like.” He lets you know that he is using an earthly example to illustrate a spiritual truth. But he doesn’t begin this story that way. He simply states, “there was a rich man… and a beggar Lazarus who was laid at his gate.” He begins the way you would begin a history book, or a newspaper story. He doesn’t have to make up an example. He can simply report something that has happened, which he knows about as true God from eternity.
Jesus tells us, that in the course of time, both the poor beggar and the rich man died. He also tells us what happened to them. The beggar was escorted by angels to Abraham’s side. Everyone Jesus was talking to believed that Abraham was in heaven so they knew that when he said that the beggar was taken to Abraham’s side he meant that the beggar went to heaven. The rich man, however, found himself in Hell, experiencing agonizing torment.
With this story Jesus clearly confirms what is taught everywhere in the Bible. There is such a thing as eternity. There is something after this life. When you die you don’t cease to exist. When you die you go to live forever in one of two places, either heaven or hell. Since your body is in the grave, it is your soul that goes to heaven or hell, but when Jesus returns in glory, every body will be raised from the dead, and, with soul and body reunited, everyone will go, soul and body, either to live in the presence of God forever, or to live with Satan forever. As Daniel says, multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
Jesus’ story illustrates what he repeatedly warned the Pharisees about. He warned them that people would come for the east and the west and sit down with Abraham at the great feast in the kingdom of God while they would find themselves on the outside looking in. The torment of the fire must have been amplified when this rich man, who probably thought that if there was a heaven he would be there because he was certainly much better than that poor beggar at his gate, found himself outside looking in and that poor beggar that he at least ignored, and maybe despised, was feasting with Abraham in the kingdom of God.
His first thought, as it was when he was alive, was about himself. He wants to be comforted; just a drop of water for his tongue. Certainly, that wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Well, yes it was. Jesus reminds us that Hell is not a purgatory. It’s not a place where you suffer for a while and then get out. He is told, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Your place in eternity, either heaven or hell, is permanent.
Once the rich man finally realizes the truth about eternity he thinks about his brothers. He doesn’t want them to share his fate. And this part of Jesus’ story helps us understand how we can be sure that we spend our eternity in heaven, not in hell.
Like many today, the rich man thinks that maybe his brothers can be scared straight. He thinks that if someone, that beggar Lazarus, were to be sent back from the dead to let his brothers know that there really is a Hell, they would listen. Still today people are attracted to those who claim that they died and came back to life. They think that such people will have great insight into eternity. But whether or not someone really had such an experience, Satan often uses them to mislead others. We are not to put our trust in the words of someone who claims to have had some kind of experience with eternity. We are to put our trust in God, and the words of Jesus who came from Heaven to earth and who really did die and come back to life.
It’s interesting that the other Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, the one that Jesus raised from the dead, doesn’t have a book in the Bible explaining what he experienced. And, it’s even more interesting, that the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead didn’t cause a mass conversion. In fact, it hardened the Jewish leaders in their rejection of Jesus and caused them to plan a way to kill him.
The answer the rich man receives to his request that someone be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers is important. It tells us that there is only one way to know the truth about eternity and where you will be spending it. They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them. They have the word of God, at that time, the Old Testament. ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.‘
Paul proclaims to us that the gospel is the power of God for salvation. The writer to the Hebrews says that the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Jeremiah says that God’s word is like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces. Paul calls it the Sword of the Spirit. Peter and Isaiah call God’s word living and enduring, and Jesus proclaims that though heaven and earth will pass away, his words never will.
The truth is that eternity is real. There is a real heaven that lasts forever and there is a real place of torment that lasts forever. If you want to be sure that you will spend eternity in heaven, listen to Moses and the prophets. Listen to what Jesus says. Listen to God’s word. It tells you the truth about yourself. No matter how good you think you are, you are not good enough to deserve heaven. You are a sinner just like everyone else. You deserve to suffer in Hell for all eternity. But God loved you so much that he sent his only perfect son, Jesus, to keep his laws in your place. He loved you so much that he let Jesus suffer the torments of hell in your place. He raised Jesus from the dead so that there would be no doubt that he is who he claimed to be, the way, the truth and the life, the one through whom eternal life in heaven is offered to all as a gift. Listen to him so that his all-powerful word moves you to say, “Thank you Lord for sending Jesus to be my savior. I trust that because of what he has done for me I will one day join the poor beggar Lazarus, and all who trust in you, at Abraham’s side.