|FAMOUS LAST WORDS (NEVER SPOKEN)
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 6, 2001
I invite you to turn with me to our text this morning - Luke 16:19-31. While you’re turning - to help focus us on where we’re going this morning - I’d like to share a story with you. A while back I read about a strange group of tombstones not far from Lincoln, Kansas. A man named John Davis, a farmer and self-made man, had them erected. Davis began as a lowly hired hand and by sheer determination and frugality he managed to amass a considerable fortune. In the process, however, Davis didn’t make many friends.
When his wife died, Davis erected an elaborate statue in her memory. He hired a sculptor to design a monument which showed both her and him at opposite ends of a love seat. He was so pleased with the result that he commissioned another statue - this time of himself, kneeling at her grave, placing a wreath on it. That impressed him so much that he ordered a third monument - this time of his wife kneeling at his future gravesite placing a wreath. He had the sculptor add a pair of wings on her back giving her the appearance of an angel. One idea led to another until he’d spent over a quarter million dollars on the monuments to himself and his wife!
After using up all his money on stone statues - John Davis died at age 92, grim-faced and poor. And the monuments - each one is slowly sinking into the ground - each becoming victims of time - vandalism - neglect. In a few years they’ll be gone.
One other thing. Very few people attended Mr. Davis’ funeral. Only one person seemed genuinely moved by any sense of personal loss. He was Horace England - the tombstone salesman.
In Luke 16:19-31 - Jesus is telling a parable - a story to focus the attention of His hearers - and us - on the crucial truth that how live our lives on earth determines our eternal destiny. Life is not an empty endeavor - to be wasted in futile self-serving pursuits. What we do in life has eternal consequences for us and for others.
Luke 16:19: Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
There’s a tremendous contrast here. A contrast that we see around us everyday. First, Jesus introduces a rich man - at the top end of the social and financial ladder. He and his family control a vast fortune. He’s influential. Its not hard to imagine that this rich man had buildings named after him - schools - government buildings. Self-indulgent, he’s clothed in regal purple and fine linen. He eats the best food and has no physical wants.
Although this man and his family were godless they are not particularly sinful. He may have been an attender of the synagogue. He’s not a tyrant or an oppressor of the poor. He may be blind to the circumstances of the poor. He’s simply rich - an outstanding member of the society - successful by the world’s standards.
In contrast, Jesus introduces Lazarus. Another man very familiar to us. Almost every day we see a Lazarus - or someone like him - homeless - in great need - destitute. Lazarus dressed in rags - is laid at the gate of the rich man’s home - to beg - hoping to eat the garbage - the wasted food coming from the rich man’s table. And, Lazarus is sick - his body is covered with sores. The only comfort this man had was the dogs who licked the sores on his body.
Verse 22: Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
Again Jesus draws a contrast. In time the poor man dies of disease and starvation. Nothing is said about his burial. There probably wasn’t a funeral. His diseased corpse is taken out of the city to Gehenna - the city dump - a place of continually burning - the fires consuming the trash of the city. Unknown and uncared for - Lazarus’ body is thrown into the fire and consumed.
Jesus adds that Lazarus - was met at death by the angels who carried him to Abraham’s bosom to be with Abraham and the other righteous men and women of the Old Testament. The rich man also dies. He has a funeral - a burial and testimonial dinner. But, nothing else.
Verse 23: In Hades - this place of the dead - he - the rich man - lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”
When we die physically we’re separated from our bodies. But, we go on. We’re still who we are. Transformed into that which is eternal - we retain our personhood - our identity - those things that make us uniquely us. Lazarus is still Lazarus. Abraham is still Abraham. The rich man is still the rich man. Put simply, death is separation. But, death is never extinction.
Before Jesus’ work on the cross - His death and resurrection - believers and unbelievers went to Hades - the dwelling place of the dead. There were at least two sections - the Bosom of Abraham - where the righteous stayed - a place of security and comfort - where Lazarus is. And, then there was a second section - a place of torment reserved for the unrighteous - where the rich man is.
In contrast to the table scraps and garbage - Lazarus now feasts at a banquet table reserved for those who know God - reclining - even laying on Abraham’s breast. This rich man found all this out too late. Now, physically dead and buried - he’s in torment - looking up to Lazarus and pleading for help.
Verse 25: But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
Let’s pause here. Its important that we understand what Jesus is saying.
Do remember what Jesus told the thief on the cross who repented and ask for salvation? Jesus said, “Today, you shall be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42,43) Since Jesus’ death and resurrection - believers - when we physically die - we’re immediately placed in God’s presence. (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:10)
Those who die without a saving relationship with Jesus remain in Hades - in torment - waiting until the Great White Throne of judgment - which we read about in Revelation 20:11-15. They will be judged according to their works - and without Jesus to save them - they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire - forever - without hope of reprieve or pardon.
There are many misconceptions and a lot of wishful thinking about what comes after we die. Hebrews 9:27 is very specific, “It is appointed for men to die once - physical death - and after this comes judgment.” There is no second chance - no way to cross the chasm - no praying for dead people to somehow make it into heaven - no baptizing for the dead. And no matter what we may wish to think about our loved ones who have died - if they died without Jesus - they’re going into the Lake of Fire forever.
That’s how important this is. Jesus is focusing the attention of His hearers - and us - on the crucial truth that how we live our lives on earth determines our eternal destiny.
Verse 27: And he - the rich man - said, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him - Lazarus - to my father’s house - for I have five brothers - in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” If Lazarus can’t come here and help me. At least send him to warn my family.
Verse 29: But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” But, he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead - meaning Lazarus - they will repent!” But Abraham said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” - meaning Jesus.
We’ve all been to one too many funerals - and the memorial luncheons that come afterward. I often listen to all the nice things that are said - words of encouragement - remembrances - humorous stories - words of gratitude. As I listen, I often wonder if all these things were expressed to the loved one before they died. I hope they were. How sad if we hold back and never tell people how much we appreciate and love them.
But, what a disaster if our loved one’s die without Jesus - because we held back - kept from telling them - praying for them - witnessing with our lives before them.
Years ago I was working on staff at Mount Hermon. One of the guys I worked with wrote a song. The title is very haunting: “Why didn’t you tell me?” Listen to some of the lyrics.
Why didn't you tell me a long, long, time ago?J. Vernon McGee once said, “If the lost could come back, they would preach the gospel to us.”
Two final thoughts. First, the dead do not come back. But we’re alive. We know the Gospel. Who do we need to tell? What words - never spoken - should be spoken? May no one say of us, “Why didn’t you tell me?” This week - even today - God is going to give each of us opportunities to tell others about Jesus. It is crucial that we take advantage of those opportunities.
Second final thought. Jesus warns us - life is not an empty endeavor to be wasted in futile self-serving pursuits. What we do in life has eternal consequences for us and for others. Rejecting the salvation offered to you in Jesus - whether you’re rich or poor - will result in your spending eternity in hell - in torment. If you accept the gift of salvation God’s offers each of us in Jesus - whether you’re rich or poor - or whatever your circumstances in life - you will spend eternity in the presence of God forever.
Some today - here - your life is hanging in the balance between heaven and hell. God in His grace is offering you this opportunity to spend eternity with Him. You need to repent of your sins and invite Jesus to be your personal Savior and Lord. Do it now. Once dead, whatever you may want to say to God will be spoken too late.