Summary: Jesus gives us a full color view of the afterlife.
Creating a Masterpiece:
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Part 3
Over the last three weeks, we have stood and listened as the Master story teller weaved the words of this parable into a complex painting that covers the subtle and not so subtle events of life. We have stood in amazement and watched him paint a portrait of two contrasting lives, and we have seen the vivid colors of life fade into the dull tones of death. Just as easily as Jesus blended those tones together, he recaptures our attention with the bold strokes of his poetic brush as the strokes of his words craft a beautiful, life-filled landscape of that time we call the afterlife. As we stand and gaze into the words he has spoken, we are drawn to the depth of revelation that unfolds as Jesus speaks, and we are startled by the nature of Jesus’ revelation, and we learn things we are not quite so sure we are ready to learn.
As we learn, though, we must first confess our own ignorance. We stand and look upon this teaching of Jesus, and extrapolate from its words some meaning, but the reality is the meaning is only a shadow of the reality which exists beyond the words. We speak and we view only in part because the afterlife is a place we have never been. Talking about heaven and hell is sort of like a person taking a vacation to a place he/she has never been before. Take Hawaii, for instance. I’ve never been there. I would love to go, and perhaps one day will get the opportunity. But now, I can only dream of what it will be like. I can only speak with those who have gone there before to catch just a glimpse of what my trip will be like. I can read vacation guides and travel brochures, but until I experience the reality of it, I can only know in part.
So it is with the afterlife. We can’t talk to anyone face to face who has ever been there. We can only read the information we have, and seek to understand something of what the afterlife will be like. The best information we have is in the Bible. So we must go there to learn what we can. And Jesus is the only one who has seen with eyes and heard with ears the reality of the afterlife. How easily Jesus moves between the seen and the unseen. He speaks as one who knows, as those early hearers of his put it, “He speaks as One having authority.” If we are to learn about the afterlife, it will be in the words of Jesus. So let us listen, and see if we catch the teaching of Jesus in his words concerning the afterlife as revealed in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
Read Luke 16:19-31
It would be very easy to get carried away by thoughts of heaven and hell. We could sing the words of the old gospel song How Beautiful Heaven Must Be, or we could recoil in horror at the images that stick in our minds as we envision a place of eternal torment. Each of those subjects demand sermons of their own to plumb the depths that exist in each subject. Today’s message will focus only on the realities that Jesus teaches in this episode concerning the afterlife. What are some of the facts Jesus tells us through this story? What light does Jesus throw upon the mystery that is unseen?
First, Jesus tells us very clearly and unmistakably that there is a conscious existence after death. There is no such thing as soul sleep, and there is not so much as a peaceful, painless extinction when this life shall end. No! In this story, both Lazarus and the rich man are vividly and consciously alive. Lazarus is “carried by the angels to be with Abraham” (v. 22). That is, in the Jewish mind, the paradise of God. It is the place we call heaven. And the rich man’s soul, Jesus says, “went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham” (v. 23). That place of the dead, the place of torment, is hell.
The reality of a conscious existence after death is not something peculiar to this story that Jesus tells. It is affirmed throughout the Bible. Jesus confronted of Sadduccees who challenged him concerning the resurrection. To their silly question about a woman who married seven brothers, and their wanting to know whose wife she would be in the resurrection, Jesus replied, “Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said,  ’I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead” (Matthew 22:31b-32). Jesus did not speak of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as dead. He clearly declared the contrary. They were alive.