For the last 10 years ago there has been a great deal of intrigue in the Christian subculture regarding the afterlife. The publishing companies have been pumping out books dealing with the topic. One such example is the book “90 Minutes in Heaven.” It is a supposedly a gripping story of one’s personal experience of heaven after having been hit by a semi-truck.
The success of these books, of course, spawned sequels. More money was to be had. But what kind of follow up can you get to one’s eye witness account of heaven? Well, what better thing than 23 Minutes in Hell: One Man’s story of what he saw, heard and felt in the place of torment!?
What is interesting is this book seems to provide something of a 21st century parallel to the classic work of Dante’s Inferno. Both of them recount a man’s voyage through the deep recesses of the underworld. Both of them encounter ghoulish demons who torture the damned souls. Both of them highlight the horrid smells of burning sulfur and the extreme temperatures. Perhaps the only difference is that Dante was cognizant enough to actually know he was writing fiction.
I would suggest to you that these books will probably serve as some kindling for the eternal punishments of the charlatan authors.
What’s more, they provide a poor replica of what we find in our passage this morning. In this passage Jesus gives us a parable; he tells a story about a man who winds up in hell. You may remember that chapter 16 has been dealing with the topic of riches and wealth. Jesus has been speaking out against the materialism of his age. And in order to call these people back to the true God, he tells them this story about a rich man who ends up in hell. It is almost as if Jesus opens a portal to allow us to peer into the grave. He wants us to see something of what misery the damned really do experience.
Certainly what is here is nothing exhaustive. It does not tell us everything about hell. But it does at least give us 4 lamentations—4 laments, that summarize a lost soul’s greif.
The first thing I want you to notice is how a damned soul will lament what he did in life.
I. They lament what they did in life [19-21]
Our passage starts off by giving us some background to each of the two main characters. It tells us of a rich man who lived a sumptuous life: he was clothed in purple and fine linen, he feasted on good food every day, and so forth. Now, is there anything wrong with having a wardrobe filled with Armani suits? No. Not necessarily. Is there anything wrong with eating gourmet food? Not at all.
Why then did he end up going to hell? Well, we find out why in verse 20. There was a poor man named Lazarus who laid at his gate. And it is important to note that he is named Lazarus. The name Lazarus means “God has helped.” Lazarus might have been poor, but he had faith in God. He looked to God as his helper and God had been with him.
That’s what the rich man didn’t have. There is no mention here of a relationship with the Lord. So the implication is that these worldly goods and pleasures was his god. His riches were his religion, and that’s where he went wrong.
That shows itself in that he completely ignored this poor man who sat at his gate. There is no doubt that he would have passed by this beggar every day. All that time he did nothing to help this man.
So, in the end, this rich man receives no compassion from God because he himself had no compassion. This man was a hardened sinner lost in his materialism.
Now, in hell, he there’s no doubt that this life that he lived haunts him. I think you get a glimpse of that in verse 25. After these guys died, the rich man calls out to Abraham and tells him to send Lazarus down and give him a drop of water. How does Abraham respond? He says, “You had your good things during your life. Now you are in anguish.”
That’s like an arrow piercing right through him. You can hear him lamenting those days of ease and pleasure. Every moment he suffers he is filled with regret that he did not fear God like he should have. He probably thinks back to the times that he sat in the synagogue and heard God’s call to faith and obedience. He probably remembers the lessons that his parents taught him. He thinks about all the time he spent living an atheistic and agnostic life, and he thinks “What a fool I was! Why didn’t I look to the Lord when I had the chance?”
I think every one of you knows that dismal feeling. You did something and you got caught. Afterwards you think, “How dumb was I? Why did I do that?” You feel the shame. You are angered how stupid you were!
Well, if you are in hell, that feeling will only be multiplied a thousand fold. You will grieve the fact that you chose not to be a Christian. And you will have all eternity to lament it.
But that is only part of the pain an unbeliever will experience. If you do not turn to Christ you will not only lament what you did in your past life, you will also lament what you miss in heaven.
II. They lament what they miss in heaven [22, 25]
Now this passage doesn’t say much about heaven. Its focus is mainly on the hell side. But there are two things that are mentioned here that indicate something of how grand heaven is. They are very small, and perhaps easily missed. But if you think about them, you realize that they indicate something of how wonderful heaven is.
Perhaps the most obvious of the two is the comfort that one experiences in heaven.
A. They miss the comforts of heaven
In verse 25 Abraham says that Lazarus is “comforted.” In his earthly life he was miserable. But now, in heaven, he is comforted. He has been made perfectly happy. No more does he experience pain. Sadness is a complete stranger to him now. Gone are the days of hunger, guilt, poverty and tears. He has nothing but a cornucopia of delight, and that for all eternity.
We will talk more about the pains this rich man experienced in a moment. But you can imagine him thinking, “All that could have been mine! It was all within my grasp! But no! I’m missing the comforts of eternal bliss because I was a fool!”
A number of you know Lyle Becker. He used to attend church here. He now lives in Alaska. A number of years ago his church in Alaska was without a pastor. He called me and asked if I could come up and do pulpit supply. It sounded like a sweet deal. They would fly me up. I would preach on Sunday. Then I could stay the week with Lyle and have the opportunity to tour the land (and you know that with Lyle the outdoorsman, that would have been a blast.). Then I would preach the next Sunday and they would fly me home. What it amounted to was an all-expense paid trip to Alaska.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do it. I missed out because I had just used up my vacation days at the place I was working at the time.
You know, that was about 5 years ago, but I still dream of that opportunity. I will probably never get to go to Alaska. I won’t ever have that chance gain, and I am sad that I missed out on it.
In a small way, that is what those in hell will be like. Those who do not fear God now will miss out on the comforts of heaven, and they will lament it for all eternity.
But not only will they miss the comforts of heaven, they will miss its communion.
B. They miss the communion
Look at verse 22. It says that when Lazarus died he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. A better way to say it might be Abraham’s bosom. Now, this is a picture of the comforts of heaven too. To be in the bosom of Abraham shows security and safety, like a child being carried by its mother. But there is also a sense in which this speaks of the joy one has in his relationships. Lazarus never knew Abraham, but they are perfect friends in heaven. They are all part of the same loving family and they get to enjoy the company of each other.
That’s not the way it is in hell. In hell, there are no enjoyable relationships. There is no communion or companionship. If there is any relationship, it is a relationship that makes you more sore and pained. Certainly, there is no relationship with God, who is the binding force for true companionship.
Now, we don’t want to press this parable’s every detail. That would be doing a injustice to the type of literature we have here. So, I’m not sure that there is going to be a window where the damned can look into heaven and see the communion and love that is experienced there. But there is one thing that is for certain, they will be lamenting the fact that they have no solace in friends. They will weep and wail because he innately knows that there is such a wonderful thing in heaven.
You know, one of the punishments mankind frequently makes use of is “solitary confinement.” Prisoners of War are sometimes cut off from the other prisoners in order to torment them. Over at the prison, if you cause a ruckus you are put in solitary confinement. You lose the joy of communing with others.
I don’t doubt that you will be around other people in hell. But they won’t be a friend to you. They certainly won’t provide you with any joy of real communion. If anything, they will be an annoyance to further multiply your pain. And in hell, you groan because you miss out on the friendship that exists in heaven.
If you do not turn to Christ, you will find yourself in hell lamenting what you did in life and what you miss in heaven. But you will also lament what you must endure in hell.
III. They lament what they endure in hell 
In verse 24 you we get a brief word that helps us understand how miserable the pains of hell are. The rich man’s agony is so great that he asks for a mere drop of water to be placed on his tongue. The rich man expresses that this one droplet, as small as it is, would be for him an enormous relief.
Of course, even that is denied! But you should not miss this. To be sure the wrath of God will lay hard upon you. And this denial of the slightest drop of water should make you recognize that there will be no pity given. The Lord will not relent; not even in the least.
The sin against and infinite God is and infinite evil and therefore deserves the full brunt of an infinite curse. So no compassion can be spared. It is not like an earthly executioner who, when carrying out his duties, becomes emotional and holds back. The pain that God will inflict will find its full expression and will by no means subside.
Moment by moment, without any ebb and flow, you will experience the just sentence. Justice will be met as the full fury of God is poured out upon you for all eternity.
You will not be able to control the shrieks will slip from your mouth. You will writhe uncontrollably as your senses are overwhelmed by the piercing stings of God’s wrath. And in the midst of them you will realize that all this is your own fault. You will lament that you must endure these painful extremes. Your sin has brought this on. And because you resisted the call of Christ during your life you long for even the slightest reprieve.
Fourthly, a damned soul will lament what he cannot do for his friends and family.
IV. They lament what they cannot undo for their relations
In verses 27 and 28 this miserable fellow cries out on behalf of his family. He says, “Send Lazarus to my father’s house, because I have 5 brothers. Let him warn them so that they do not come to this place of torment.”
I was reading John Bunyan’s famous commentary on this passage. If you do want a book about hell, I’d encourage you to pick up his brief pamphlet. It is entitled, Groans from a Damned Soul. In that booklet Bunyan says this: No one in hell desires the good of another person. That is only a Christian trait. In hell, men are no more converted than they were in life. Their disposition is still set against the Lord. So Bunyan says this guy is not really seeking his family’s welfare. He’s seeking his own welfare.
And Bunyan reminds us of what the prophet Ezekiel said. Ezekiel was a watchman who was responsible the welfare of the masses. And the Lord told Ezekiel that their blood would be required of him. In other words, his punishment would be greater if he didn’t send the appropriate warnings.
And Bunyan makes the point that the rich man is not empathetic towards his family. He simply wants to alleviate his own pain. He knows that if they wind up in hell, he will be partially to blame for it. The example he set and the influence he had on his brothers would increase his guilt.
If you want further proof of this principle, all you have to do is look at what Jesus says in the beginning of the next chapter. In verse 1 Jesus says, “Temptations are bound to come, but woe to him through whom they come. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”
You see. Your life, your words, your actions—all of these—are influences upon other people. Your sins can lead others astray and your actions can cause others to slide into hell.
But notice the response Abraham gives to his request! In verse 29 Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets (i.e. they have the revealed word of God!), let them listen to them.” Then in verse 31 Abraham reminds him of how hardened unbelieving hearts. If they won’t listen to what God has said in his word, then they are not even going to believe if they see someone rise from the dead.”
You can imagine how torturous this would be to the poor wretch. There is nothing he can do! His last attempt to alleviate his pains are gone! More coals are going to be laid upon his head and there is nothing now that he can do to stop it.
One of my students was laid up for a week or so. It wasn’t sickness, but grief that had him bed ridden. His parents had made the trip a couple of weeks ago to come and see him. But on their way they were hit by a snow plow. They were taken to the hospital and were in serious condition. My student though was stricken with the thought, “It was I who brought them there. It was because of me they were on that road and it was my fault that they were hit.”
We know of course, that it wasn’t his fault necessarily. But it is that sort of grief that the soul in hell will face. He will understand that his associates may come to hell, and he will be stricken by the fact that there will be nothing he can do to stop it.
This is a small description of how miserable one will be in hell. Yet Christ allows us to peek into that infernal abyss so that we might be saved from it. This ghastly description is a mercy sent from heaven to turn our hearts to Christ.
Jesus said, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them.” We have here the word of the greatest prophet, Jesus Christ. May we hear him!
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.