Summary: An evangelistic message on the realities of Hell.
“Not One Chance in Hell”
June 2, 2002
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Ft. Worth, Texas
The Church of England issued a theological report on Hell in the opening months of 1996. While not suggesting that everyone would eventually wind up in heaven, the Anglican report does propose that if there is a Hell, it is empty. The report says:
“In the past the imagery of hell-fire and eternal torment and punishment…has been used to frighten men and women….”
“Hell is not eternal torment, but is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely that the only end is total non-being.”
Hell, it would seem, has fallen on rather lean times. It used to be that the vast majority of Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation, believed that Hell was a real place where the wicked and the impenitent go when they died. The very thought of the pains and torments of Hell was enough to scare sinners straight. It used to be that ministers of the Gospel would preach on the horrors of Hell to persuade reprobates to repentance. But not anymore. Most American mainline and so-called Evangelical churches stopped preaching about Hell years ago. Most mainline ministers stopped believing in Hell years before that. Hell made people uncomfortable. Hell was too “old-fashioned.” The topic of Hell was bad for the bottom line—attendance and income. Hell damaged people’s self-esteem. Hell has been retained in our modern lexicon as a convenient curse word, and as a metaphoric description of our worst experiences—as in “war is hell”—but hardly anyone today believes that the word “hell” corresponds to any objective reality.
But we have papered over Hell to the detriment and peril of our souls. I can assure you, the Devil believes in a Hell. That’s why he is working so tirelessly in our world before he is dumped there. The demons Jesus exorcised from people believed in Hell and pleaded with Him not to send them there. Jesus certainly believed in a Hell. The top three topics our Lord spent most of His time speaking about in His earthly teaching ministry were money and material possessions, Hell, and the Kingdom of Heaven. And the Master’s words about Hell are sober, dire, and serious. His constant admonition to His hearers was this: Do whatever you must to avoid Hell.
Hell is the subject of Jesus’ parable, called The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31. This parable, or this earthly story with a spiritual and heavenly meaning, is unique among the Lord’s parables for two reasons. The first is that this parable appears only in Luke’s Gospel and nowhere else. And the second is that it is the only parable of Jesus in which one of the characters in the story is named. All the rest of Jesus’ parables begin with “There was a certain man…, there was a certain woman…, there was a certain father, brother, farmer or king who….” But not this parable. This parable is about a rich man and Lazarus. Because of its uniqueness we must read and heed it.
Jesus begins the story with the introduction of the two main characters of the lesson. Here we are introduced to two men who couldn’t be more different and, who, according to Jesus, shared nothing but geographical proximity to one another. Verse 19:
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
The contrast is stark. The rich man was very rich. His garments and diet betray opulence. He was clearly a man of great fortune, reputation, influence and self-interest. Lazarus, on the other hand, was a man of total poverty. His name is a derivative of the Hebrew name “Eleazor,” meaning “God, my helper.” Apart from his name there is nothing humanly appealing about his lot in life. He was a cripple and had to be laid at the rich man’s gate to beg. He was covered with ulcers and open sores, and dogs came and licked his wounds, which undoubtedly smarted. Lazarus was so hungry that he would have happily eaten whatever fell from the rich man’s table. Of the two men—the rich man and Lazarus—who would’ve you rather been? Be careful before you answer. The surprise comes in verse 22 when Jesus reveals the inversion, or the great exchange in station that occurs after the two men died.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.