Summary: What would a person in hades ask of us if we were able to hear them? Jesus provides us insight into this dark situation when He reveals what a lost man asked.

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” [1]

Perhaps you’ve never actually heard a sermon about hell. Tragically, it seems that few contemporary Christians have ever heard a sermon warning against hell. What is even more tragic is that the chances are great that those who may have heard a sermon concerning hell, heard a sermon quite divorced from reality. Sermons addressing the ultimate destination of the damned seem often to be filled with fanciful and gruesome portrayals of the tortures of hell, as though the one delivering the sermon sought to emphasise a desire to frighten people about the awful reality of separation from the love of God. Such “preachers” seem delighted to emphasise the pain, the torment, the grief that attends eternal banishment. However, if they present such a sermon, know that they speak out of their ignorance rather than speaking from personal knowledge.

I wish to be guided by the words Jesus delivered when I do speak of hell; and the Master never exaggerated the torture experienced. He didn’t focus on the torments other than to insist that they are severe. It is enough to say that those who die without Christ are separated forever from God—separated from His grace, separated from His mercy, separated from His love. This is not to deny that we are warned there are torments awaiting the lost, but we need not take licence when speaking of the torments of hell. Preachers should be constrained by their ignorance of what lies ahead for the lost.

We preachers do need to speak about hell with greater frequency if Jesus’ preaching is indicative of the issues we should address. Jesus spoke far more about hell than He ever spoke about heaven. More importantly still, if we model our preaching after the example of our great Saviour, we will speak realistically about hell.

“Scared Straight” is a 1978 documentary detailing how teenage boys were sent to Rahway State Prison in New Jersey to hear from lifers what prison life is like. The effort was an attempt to terrify young offenders, an attempt to “scare them straight.” Studies of this effort actually showed that the effort, and subsequent efforts, were not actually successful at deterring criminal activity in the youthful offenders. By the time the effort was made to change the path on which the boys were moving, they were fixated on pursuing evil. Something like that is true in the life of those who choose to reject Christ.

I would never attempt to frighten anyone into faith in Christ the Lord. I will, however, warn all who hear that we must never imagine that separation from God is something which one can readily endure. You may sometimes hear the flippant remark, “If I go to hell, I’ll be with my friends.” Tragically, there are no friendships in hell. There is no consolation, no comfort to be found when one is separated from God. Indeed, the dark signage Dante imagined above the gates of hell, which signage warned, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” is a reality. What is more tragic still is that the friendless condition, the disconsolate state, goes on for endless ages without hope.

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