What if you could know what’s going to happen after you die?
Well Jesus tells a story that sheds light on the reality that after you die you will be wide awake; and you will be full of either tremendous gratitude or enormous regret; and you will be able to reflect back on your life here on earth with great clarity. It’s critically important that you get right with God while you’re on this side of eternity. That’s what the story of the rich man and Lazarus is all about.
This Sunday we look at Luke 16:19-31.Read More
- I made a decision to trust Jesus with my life.
- I’m signing on for this teaching series.
- I will read The Reason for God by Tim Keller.
- I will invest in people.
Full Sermon Script Welcome, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the Teaching Pastors at Blue Oaks. If this is your first time at Blue Oaks, I want to say a special welcome to you. I’m glad you decided to join us for the start of this series Storyteller.  You know, Jesus gave considerable thought to his method of teaching. How was he going to teach in a way that would engage highly intellectual people as well as some of the most uneducated people?  Well, the primary method he chose was to tell stories. In fact, about a third of his words recorded in Scripture are stories. These stories are designed to make the truth available to everyone. Jesus would say, “Ever see a poor woman desperately searching for a lost coin or a shepherd desperately searching for a lost sheep, then you understand God’s heart for people who are lost.” He would tell stories about: *corrupt judges *and poor widows *about buried treasures *and lazy employees *and bad debts *and noisy neighbors And for 2,000 years now, these stories have stretched the greatest minds in the world and fed the simplest ones. They have pierced the hardest hearts and shaped the greatest souls that have walked the face of the earth.   And we’re going to start today with a very important parable. And I need you to know up front that this is a heavy story. I’m going to talk today about a place that does not get talked about very often. It’s generally considered impolite in our day to even bring it up. It’s described in imagery that’s dark and bleak. No one thinks they’re going to end up in this place, but people do. We’re going to talk today about Tracy. I’m kidding. If you’re from Tracy, please don’t send me an email on that one. I’m sorry. I apologize ahead of time.  The parable we’re going to look at today is about life and death… and what happens just minutes after we die.  If you walk through a cemetery you realize what some people think about death by reading their gravestone. I read a collection of unusual gravestones this week: One in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, says: Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake. He stepped on the gas instead of the brake.  There’s a tombstone of a hypochondriac that just says: I told you I was sick.  Mel Blanc, the voice behind all of the cartoon characters in Looney Tunes — he’s was the voice of Porky Pig who would say at the end of every movie, “That’s all folks!” So that’s what his family put on his tombstone, “That’s all folks!”  So here’s a question for us today: Is that all folks? Does death mean the show is over; or is it possible that somewhere the real show is just beginning?  One of the most profound books of the last century was written by a man named Ernest Becker. It’s called “The Denial of Death.” Becker says the thesis of this book is, “We arrange our lives around ignoring or avoiding the most irrefutable fact in the whole world, which is, ‘I’m going to die.’ You’re going to die.” Becker says the avoidance, the denial of death, is the mainspring of human activity. We arrange our lives around trying to be real busy and distracted from this truth because it’s too big for us. We’re all going to die. We don’t like to think about that or talk about that, but it’s true.  Well, today we’re going to look a story Jesus tells about what happens just a few minutes after we die. It’s in Luke 16.  When Jesus began telling this story, the crowd had no idea where he was going with it. In this story he addresses, quite graphically, some of the questions people have about life and death, and what happens just minutes after we die. This is what he told the crowd: >>>>> There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke 16:19-21 > So we have this beggar who would lie outside the gate of this rich man’s estate, hoping and praying that maybe some of the hired help would bring leftovers from the fine food they were eating. The beggar was so poor, he couldn’t afford to see a doctor; and his body was decaying. He was in such bad shape that the dogs in the city would come around and lick his wounds. The beggar’s name was Lazarus. The name Lazarus means “God has helped.” But there’s no indication that this affluent man has ever helped.  Remember, the listeners have no idea where this story is going; and all of a sudden, Jesus surprises them with the punch line of the story. The punch line is that both of these guys die at the same time on the same day. They both die. >>>>> The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. Luke 16:22 > Even with all of his wealth, this man could not avoid death. They both died; they’re both buried; and they both must face eternity. And it’s at this point Jesus’ listeners understood exactly what he was trying to say to them. He was trying to say, “No matter who you are, none of you are going to escape death. It is the inevitable chasm we all must cross.”  Death is the inevitable chasm we all must cross. And so here’s the question at this point: What happens just a few minutes after you die? What really happens? That’s what I want to talk about in the time we have left. announcement Alright, from this story, I want to suggest 3 things that will happen just a few minutes after you die: First of all, just moments after you die, you will be wide awake. Second, you will be filled with either tremendous gratitude or enormous regret. You will not be neutral; there will be no middle ground. Tremendous gratitude or enormous regret. And third, you will be able to reflect back on your life with great clarity.  Alright, I want to dig into these three points. First, You will be wide awake. In this parable, both the rich man and Lazarus immediately woke up on the other side. There was no delay in that.  When Jesus was dying on a cross, there was a thief dying on a cross next to him. Jesus is dying for the sins of that thief – and for your sins, and for my sins – and Jesus said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Not someday, not years from now, but “this day.” There’s no time delay. When you die, your spirit immediately goes to the other side. So minutes after you die, you will be wide awake.  And second, at that moment, You will be filled with either tremendous gratitude or enormous regret. You will not be neutral. I want to spend most of our time today on this point.  There was a stunning reversal for this rich man and Lazarus on the other side. Look what Jesus says: >>>>> The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ Luke 16:22-24 > Now before you draw the wrong conclusion, this man’s wealth was not his problem. He didn’t go to Hell because of his affluence. We find in this text that Lazarus is in Heaven next to Abraham. Abraham was one of the most affluent people in all of the Old Testament. It didn’t keep him out of Heaven. The problem of this rich man was – he never responded to the God who gave him life. He never responded to God’s purposes for his life. This guy’s problem was – throughout his lifetime, he never thought about anyone other than himself, including God. His problem was – he wasn’t prepared for death.  Jesus asked a great question in the gospel of Mark: >>>>> What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36 > I’m telling you, and you can see it in this story, when you wake up on the other side of eternity, you’re going to be filled with either tremendous gratitude for where you are, or enormous regret. There will be no middle ground.  This is a unique passage because it’s the only passage that describes for us the words, and the thoughts, and the feelings, and the experience of someone in Hell.  A Gallup poll found that 78 percent of Americans believe in Heaven; and 78 percent believe they have a good or excellent chance of going there. 60 percent of Americans believe in Hell; and only 4 percent believe they have a good or excellent chance of going there.  Now, those of you who know me, know I’m not a Hell, fire and brimstone preacher. But you know I am committed to telling you the truth, even when it’s not pleasant. And because the topic of Hell is in this passage, I need to talk to you about something for a few minutes that I take very little pleasure in talking to you about.  Some people wonder, “What is Hell like? And it’s interesting that a lot of people get their picture of Hell from things like cartoons in our day. I saw one a while ago, a split view of Heaven and Hell. They both looked exactly alike except for one detail – big crowds of people and everyone going through a gate. In the heaven one someone was saying, “Welcome to Heaven. Here is your harp,” and in the Hell one someone was saying, “Welcome to Hell. Here is your accordion.” A lot of people just get their pictures from stuff like that.  A kind of corollary picture of this is, “Wouldn’t it be better to be in Hell with my friends than in Heaven with a bunch of weird people?” People don’t put it exactly that way, but that’s the question. The picture they have is something like this – “Hell may be dark, and so on, but at least there are no rules or Bibles and I’m free to do whatever I want” – kind of like an eternal Bud Light commercial.  Now, this is very important. You can only understand the tragedy of Hell against the backdrop of the wonder of Heaven. Heaven will be perfect, uninterrupted community with God and people – complete and intimate love and joy. It is that for which you were made, and there you will finally, fully become the person God intended you to be. So, whenever joy gets communicated in things like Bud Light commercials – those kinds of commercials appeal to our sense of brotherhood or laughter or zest to be alive. These are all good gifts, but they have all been distorted by sin in our world. And they will all one day be utterly redeemed and fulfilled in Heaven. Or they will all one day be completely distorted and lost in Hell. There is no community in Hell. One of the primary images in the Bible for Hell is the image of being excluded from community. For instance, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet. This is a picture of community and intimacy. And those who are in Hell are pictured as being outside the banquet hall. The doors are shut. They’re outside community.   Alright, so I want to point out 3 things we learn about Hell in this parable. One is, Hell is a place of enormous discomfort. It’s a place of torture. The rich man says I am in agony in this fire. Jesus described Hell in Mark 9:43 as a fire that is not quenched. Other writers of Scripture use terms like death, outer darkness, and bottomless pit to describe Hell. Whatever Hell is like, Jesus used the absolute worst terms that he had available to him in order to describe it.  Second, Hell is a place of memory. Look at verse 25: >>>>> “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Luke 16:25 > Abraham tells the rich man to remember his lifetime. The rich man looked over and saw Lazarus in perfect comfort in heaven; and he remembered how he used to be so wrapped up in his life, and in his wealth, that he walked right by this person in need, this person suffering with sores and starving to death right outside his gate. He could remember.  Not only is it a place of torture and memory according to this text, but Hell is irreversible. In verse 26, Abraham says: >>>>> And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ Luke 16:26 > There are no reversals. There’s a finality about what happens just minutes after you die. And for anyone in Hell, there is going to be enormous regret over the missed opportunities that they had during their lifetime to seek God, to find God, to respond to God, and to get right with God while they had the opportunity to do it on this side.  Some people say they can’t understand how a loving God can send people to hell. Please hear this: God doesn’t send anyone to hell; we send ourselves there. God sent his only Son so no one would have to go there. Jesus gave his life blood on a cross so that everyone could be saved from that place.  If a person like this rich man in this story ends up in Hell, it’s not because God sent him there; it’s because this person rejected all of God’s efforts to keep him away from that place during his lifetime. If someone is there, it’s not because of what God has done. It’s in spite of what God has done. And I believe the writers of Scripture are very clear on this, and I hope if you don’t take anything else away today, you take this truth: No one on earth, not the most earnest, passionate person, wants people, all people, to spend eternity in Heaven with God one one-millionth as much as God does. That’s why John wrote in John 3:17 >>>>> God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17 > And Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:9: >>>>> The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 > Paul writes to Timothy, 1 Timothy 2, in the context of asking for prayer for all who are in authority: >>>>> This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 > No one wants people to spend an eternity in Heaven with God one one-millionth as much as God does; and God paid the ultimate price so that people could be saved from Hell.  We have a warning sometimes for people. If we really don’t want them to do something, if we’re dead set against it, we’ll say, “You will do that… over my dead body.” Well Jesus says any member of the human race is going to have to go to Hell… “over my dead body.” He says the only way to get there is, if you want Hell, you must walk all the way around the cross. The cross is God’s ultimate expression, the ultimate price paid so that all human beings can spend eternity in Heaven.  Which brings us to the second half of this point. The Bible is clear that for those who respond to God’s amazing grace through his Son – their experience just minutes after they die leaves them tremendously grateful.  Jesus used terms to describe Heaven that defy the imagination. You take the best day of your life, when everything in your schedule goes perfectly and you got done more than you ever thought you’d get done. Your relationships are just exactly like you’d want them to be. It gets better! You take the best day that you’ll ever have on this earth and it doesn’t compare to a day in Heaven. Even on our best days, there’s something inside us that knows this isn’t it. There’s a longing for something more. The Apostle Paul said: >>>>> No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 > I think the Apostle Paul said this for those of us who get confused about Heaven. Some people think of Heaven as like the ultimate retirement village.  I was talking to someone who asked me if there was going to be golf in Heaven. And his thoughts were, “I can’t be happy without golf, and since Heaven is the place where I’ll be happy, there must be golf in Heaven, right?” I explained to him that in Heaven we know there will be no lying, swearing or cheating, so how could golf be there?  Now my understanding of Scripture is that when you die, your soul – your true self, who you are – immediately goes to be with God on the other side. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:8: >>>>> To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8 > When Jesus died, he said: >>>>> Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Luke 23:46 > And he went to be with the Father.  Do you remember the Spirituals the slaves would sing in the cotton fields when they were being abused and starved and worked until they dropped dead? Songs like: Swing low, sweet chariot | Coming for to carry me home | … I looked over Jordan and what did I see? | … A band of angels coming after me | Coming for to carry me home. We read in history books that often it was the singing of songs like that about Heaven that kept hope alive in the slaves. For those who experience Heaven, there will be nothing but tremendous gratitude for the God who sent his Son to save them, for the God who prepared an indescribable home for them, for the God who is worthy of our worship and our gratitude for ever and ever.  Before we go any further, I’d like you to hear part of Jishnu’s story. Jishnu’s story Alright, so just moments after you die, you will be wide awake; and you’ll either be full of tremendous gratitude or enormous regret.  The third point we learn from this parable is, You will be able to reflect back on your life with great clarity. Just minutes after you die, you will have great clarity on what mattered most in this life. Look at verses 27-28 – just minutes after the rich man dies. >>>>> He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Luke 16:27-28 > There was an urgency in his voice. For the first time in this story, this rich man shows that he’s interested in someone other than himself. Just a few minutes in Hell turned this non-believer into an evangelist. He says, “Someone’s got to tell my brothers that Hell is real and that real people go there. Pull out all the stops; do whatever has to be done to keep my brothers from coming to this place.”  I don’t know about you, but that scene gives me perspective on what matters most. In life, the rich man didn’t care about anyone but himself. Just moments after he died, he was crystal clear on what matters most. *It wasn’t his wealth. *It wasn’t his house. *It wasn’t his portfolio. *It wasn’t his business deals. *It wasn’t his cars. It was one thing: people. That was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that lasts forever. And if at that point that guy could go back and do things differently, I think he would do a lot of things differently. I think he would generously share with people outside of his gates who had physical needs, who had emotional and relational needs, and who had spiritual needs just like his brothers.  Every time you invest yourself in a person, you invest in something that matters for eternity. Every meal, every gift, every note you write, every cup of cold water given to someone in need adds to your heavenly portfolio. You are building treasures in heaven, and God is pleased.  But there’s something else that’s crystal clear from this parable, and that is – it’s not enough to meet just the physical needs of people. What good is it if we meet their physical needs to the neglect of their spiritual needs?  Like the rich man in the parable, all of us know people who are unprepared for the other side.  And just a few minutes on the other side, and it’s going to be crystal clear to us.  Sometimes I wonder if a few minutes after I die, I won’t say to myself, “Oh, I should have just given a little more, prayed a little more, shared my faith a little more.”  Do you remember the final scene of the movie Schindler’s List? It’s the scene where Oscar Schindler, the Polish businessman who used a portion of his fortune to put the names of Jews on a work list that would keep them from going to concentration camps. These were human beings who escaped death because of his action. As he looks into their faces he has a moment of clarity. He sees things as he’s never seen them before. And he’s talking to his friend. He says, “If only there could have been more. If only I could have done more.” His friend says, “There are 1000 people here. There are generations here because of what you’ve done.” But Schindler says, “It could have been more. That car – I could have sold it and it would have meant ten more people. Ten more people on that list. Ten more lives saved.” He rips the swastika pin from his coat and says, “This pin! It’s gold! This pin could have saved at least one person.” He had a moment of clarity when he realized the difference between what we value on this earth and what is valuable in eternity. And I pray we all have those moments of clarity.   So I’ve tried to be as honest and as straightforward with you as possible about what happens after you die… and I imagine you’re in one of a few places right now. *Maybe this message has left you feeling like you have some issues you need to get straightened out – issues that this man in the parable never got straight. It’s just so much clearer to you now what’s going to matter on the other side.  *Or maybe this message has left you realizing that you’ve got some soul issues to get right. I guarantee you won’t be dead five seconds and one of two things will be true of you: you are either going to deeply regret you didn’t enter a relationship with Jesus Christ while you had the chance, or you will look back and you will say that receiving Jesus Christ into your life was the single best decision you’ve ever made. Just moments on he other side, it’s going to be clear to us. Have you settled that issue in your mind? I believe God has you listening today to give you that opportunity. Maybe God is drawing you, God is urging you, God is tugging at your heart.  *Maybe you’re listening and you just started exploring Christianity, and you need more time. You’re not ready to make a decision yet. I want to encourage you to keep listening, keep learning. Ask God to help show you the way.  Alright, I want to close with this. We all have this picture in our mind of waiting in this long line that leads up to the pearly gates where we meet up with Saint Peter who has this book. And in this book are all the good things we’ve done and all the bad things we’ve done. And if we’ve done more good than bad, if it balances out right he’s going to say, “You can come in.” So as we move forward in the line, we get more and more nervous, hoping that somehow we’ll make it in. That’s a wrong picture. The writers of Scripture say Heaven is a perfect place. And because it’s perfect even one imperfection will keep you out. If you have even one bad thought, one wrong action, one sin in your life that’s enough to keep you out of Heaven. That means I don’t stand a chance in a million of getting into Heaven on my own effort. And neither do you. So that’s why God came up with another plan. He sent us a Savior. Someone needed to remove the imperfection so that we can go to Heaven. That’s what Jesus did. That’s why Jesus came to this earth. That’s why He died on the cross – to remove the imperfections in your life, to offer you forgiveness.  If you’ve never trusted Jesus Christ with your life, I can’t think of a better thing for you to do today. Simply say to God, “I want to trust You as the way to Heaven.” You can do that today. Just tell him.  I’d like us to close in prayer. And if you’re willing to let the reality of Heaven and Hell impact your life in a motivating, life giving, strengthening way today, I invite you to pray this prayer with me. God, thank You for sending Jesus Christ to tell me the good news that you love me and you want to welcome me in Heaven one day. I believe you are who you say you are and I believe you came to give me life in all its fullness. I believe there is nothing I can do to free me from my sin or the consequences of my sin which would be Hell. You paid the price through Jesus death on the cross to set me free from sin and Hell. God, for the rest of my life, for whatever time remains between now and when I die, I give my life to you. *I give you my heart. *I give you my mind. *I give you my job. *I give you all my possessions. *I give you my family. *I give you my behavior. *I don’t hold anything back. I trust there will come a day when You remove every suffering; and when You make right every injustice; and when You multiply every joy. God, I look forward to the promise of Heaven, and I want to live for that which lasts. And I look forward to this because of the hope I have through Jesus Christ. And it’s in his name that I pray. Amen.  If you prayed that prayer, you can be sure you will be filled with tremendous gratitude on the other side. You can be sure! 1 John 5:13 says: >>>>> I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 > Alright, now let’s sing a song of celebration. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA