Summary: The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus illustrates some much needed insight into what the future holds for everyone who dies before Jesus comes.
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
What Happens When A Person Dies?
Four Certainties About the Future
I’ve conducted lots of funerals through years. Most have been quite normal. A few have been a little different. But I never had anything happen quite like the true story I recently read of a young preacher and one of his first funerals. A very elderly man who had formerly lived in the town had died in another state. The funeral was held where he now lived but the burial was to be back home. The funeral home called the young preacher and asked him to have the graveside service. The burial was to be at an old country church cemetery several miles out of town. The funeral director explained that since he hadn’t lived in town for years and years, he had no family in the area and likely very few remaining friends. He told the preacher a few words of Scripture and a short prayer would do. He didn’t expect anyone else to show up except the funeral home people and the cemetery workers.
On the way to the unfamiliar cemetery, the young preacher got lost. He drove around and around the area. He grew more and more nervous as the scheduled time for the service came and went. Finally, he saw a little church with a cemetery. Sure enough, he could see three men with shovels standing beside a pile of dirt at the edge of a little cemetery behind the church. The hearse was nowhere in sight. He figured the funeral director had given up on him and left. He quickly got out of his car and walked up to the grave. He said to the workmen, “I see you’ve already buried the vault, let’s pause and let me say a few words and pray before you finish filling in the grave.” The workmen silently removed their hats, and he began the service. Afterwards, one of the workmen smiled and said, “Preacher, I don’t know who you are, but that’s the best funeral service for a septic tank I’ve ever heard!”
We are in a series of messages for the next few weeks on the theme, “What happens to a person when he dies?” That’s an important question. All of us in our more serious moments want to know the answer. In a book called Children’s Letters to God, a little boy named Mike wrote, “Dear God. What happens when you die? Nobody will talk to me about it. I don’t want to do it. I just want to know.”
Where do you go for answers to a question like that? I am convinced that there is only one reliable place: God’s Word. That’s why we are exploring the Bible for information about the future that faces us all—unless Jesus Christ returns first.
You get to decide lots of things in life. But there are three choices you don’t get to make. You didn’t get to choose to be born. You won’t get to choose when you will die or not. And you won’t get to choose whether you will exist beyond the grave or not. But you do get to make the choice about where you will spend eternity. Our text provides some of the information we need to make an informed choice.
Before we dig into Jesus’ story, we need to note some things not taught in this parable. First, it doesn’t teach that riches are bad and poverty is good. Certainly, Jesus taught that riches carry risks. But poverty is no virtue. Neither riches or the lack of them saves a person—only trust in Jesus Christ alone. Second, the parable does not teach that charity extended to the needy saves us. Followers of Jesus ought to be generous and compassionate in every way. That’s the result of relationship to Jesus, not the cause. Third, this parable is not a detailed roadmap to the afterlife. Some have tried to use it this way. Many Bible believe that Jesus’ story follows the outline of many that were familiar to the people of his day. He uses a common story but adds a new twist to it.
The parable is not a roadmap of the hereafter, but it does reveal some broad principles about the future. These are certainties you can bank on.
First, eternity is real. Every one of us will someday do business with death—unless Christ returns first. We can pretend it isn’t true. We can try to defy the aging process, but it will catch up with us one way or another. When it does, we will step into eternity. Four things happen after death.
First, the spirit leaves the body. We are more than just a physical body. Death is not the end. Secondly, for the followers of Christ, death means entering the presence of the Lord. Paul could say confidently, “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Those who die in the Lord with wait with the Lord for the grand finale of history.