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Eighty Words of Terror
from the Depths of Hades
Luke 16:23-31
By Dave Redick*
 
This sermon is a featured sermon of a friend of mine.
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Robert Ingersoll, a famous lawyer and atheist in the latter part of the nineteenth century, once delivered a blistering lecture on hell. He called hell the "scarecrow of religion" and told his audience how unscientific it was, and how all intelligent people had decided there was no such place. A drunk in the audience came up to him afterward and said, "Bob, I liked your lecture; I liked what you said about hell. But, Bob, I want you to be sure about it, because I'm depending upon you."

Introduction

Imagine you just received a very special gift for your birthday. It is something you've wanted for a long time - a short-wave radio.

You unwrap it from it's packaging, meticulously follow all the instructions in setting it up, plug it in, flip the "on" switch, and begin to turn the dial. Suddenly, you're receiving your first transmission.

You quickly assess that it is a desperate message coming over short wave radio at sea: "Mayday! Mayday! This is the Blue Dolphin One Seven Seven. We have encountered a storm (static)... taking on water (static) ...two overboard... (static) repeat... taking on water! (static)... Mayday! Mayday! ...any ships in vicinity, please...(static).. " then silence.

Those few words of terror picked up on a short-wave radio, set you into motion. Even in your novice status, you know what to do. You quickly contact the Coast Guard to relay the message, giving them the name of the vessel, the frequency of the broadcast, and the exact time you picked up the transmission. "Is there anything else we can do?" you ask. "We're willing to help further if needed." "No," says the dispatcher. "We'll take over from here," is the response. "Thanks for alerting us."

"That's OK," you reply. "It's the least I could do. I wish there were something else we could do to help those poor people."

A few words spoken in terror from the high seas... they set you into motion. You identified with the panicked person on the broadcast. For a few short moments, his terror became yours.

This morning I would like to call your attention to a few words of terror - eighty of them to be exact - that are recorded in the Bible. The transmission did not come from someone in distress on the high seas. They were spoken by someone in distress from the very depths of Hades.

The words are these:

"Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame...

"Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.

"No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!"

The eighty words you just heard make up the only transmission we have from that place the Bible calls Hades. Like the short-wave distress message, they ought to set us into motion. We should identify with the person transmitting them. I hope I can help you do that in this message.

The words are recorded in your Bible in Luke 16:23-31. I'd like you to join me there, please.

(Read Luke 16:23-31)

For the sake of you careful students of the Bible, let me say that in this message I will make no distinction between Hades (the temporary abode of the unbelieving dead) and Hell (the "Lake of Fire," the final resting place of the unbelieving dead.) I do understand the difference, but I see little need to distinguish between them in this message. Suffice it now to say that both places are places of fire and torment, and there is no escape from either. In the end, after the judgment according to Revelation 20:14 death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

In the transcript we have before us then - this message from the depths of Hades - we see first

1. A Man Caught in a Terrible Circumstance.

Verse 23 says, "and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment."

We do our best to euphemize unpleasant circumstances. People don't want to hear words like these. Consider the last funeral you attended of an unbeliever - someone who lived all the way through life with no regard for the things of God. Look around in your mind's eye. What do you see there at the funeral? The flowers are meticulously placed, the music is soothing, the funeral director is wearing his best sad/pleasant/understanding face, and the person with the eulogy is winsome as he recounts the person's accomplishments in life. Little or nothing is mentioned about life after death. Everyone carefully avoids that subject unless it's the oft mentioned and misleading phrase, "at least he's in a better place." Now imagine that suddenly the funeral of that unbeliever is interrupted by the terrified voice of the deceased coming over the loud speaker system:

"Please, somebody help me! I'm in agony in this flame! I'm in torment! Help me!"

It would certainly change the mood, wouldn't it? All the somber faces would change to looks of horror. The farce would be exposed for what it is. All the talk of peace and rest and "he's in a better place" would cease as people came face to face with the truth. Yes, some would still wonder what was going on. Was that really the deceased they heard? Was someone playing a cruel prank? There are some that would not be convinced even if someone returned and spoke to them from the dead.

No, such a thing is not likely to happen. But if it did, it would be an accurate picture of what is really going on.

Twice in this passage the word "torment" is used. Twice the word "agony" appears - once the word "flame." No, you won't hear any of these words mentioned at a funeral. Rest assured though, according to the Bible, in the context of the deceased unbeliever, that is what is going on.

My friends, we dare not allow ourselves to be caught in such a terrible circumstance! In the words of Scripture, we must "be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing" us. Don't dally around with your salvation! Don't play games with your eternity. The stakes are too high!

We see secondly in this passage,

2. A Man Whose Situation Was Desperate.

Verse 24 says, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me..."

Considering the rest of the story, we need to realize that this man was not used to asking for help. He had probably never been desperate in his entire earthly life. According to Jesus, he had lived a life of splendor. He regularly wore clothing of purple and fine linen from only the best shops. Like some well-to-do people living today, his biggest worry was probably deciding what to wear when he opened his walk-in closet - or whether he had forgotten to pick up his favorite blue shirt at the dry cleaner's. He had no needs - at least he had none to which he was accustomed that required a pleading for help. Human need was as far away from his conscious mind as his wealth could keep it. Though such desperation existed just outside his front gate in the beggar who lay there, this man managed to keep it from spoiling his day.

Now suddenly, he is crying out for mercy. As Lazarus once "longed to be fed with the crumbs" that fell from his table, now he was longing for just one drop of water. It is hard to imagine a more desperate condition than the one this man was in. Yes, people have died horrible deaths in fire here on earth, but the key word there is "died." They died. This man wasn't dying! All the agony was there without the ending of it!

Revelation 14:11 contains these words: "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night..."

Matthew 25:46 says, "And these will go away into eternal punishment..."

Eternal punishment! No wonder the man is crying for mercy!

How do you describe eternity? I don't really know. It's longer than a lifetime. It's longer than a millenium. It's longer than the entire history of man. Think of the longest period of time you can imagine. Live every day of that span and whenever you get to the end of it, realize that you have no less time remaining. All hope of an end is gone in eternity away from God.

If the punishment in Hades or Hell lasted only a week, perhaps one could endure it without crying out for mercy. If it went on for year, at least he could dream of the time when it would be over. But to imagine a punishment that never ends, that is a desperate situation!

I know there are people who do not want to believe that Hell is eternal.

US Catholic Magazine recently asked its readers what they thought about the idea of an afterlife. The article concluded that the old "hellfire-and-brimstone" idea seems to be on its way out, being replaced by the idea of hell as an absence of God. It went on to say that one result is that people are becoming more concerned about doing good for its own sake -- and less about doing good to avoid hell.

While that may certainly be the trend in people's belief, I want you to know that this preacher is still concerned about doing good to avoid hell. I believe you should be, too.

I know there are those who say, "I cannot believe that a loving God could do such a thing to a person!" But the fact remains - the Bible teaches that there is a literal Hell and that real people will go there.

Listen to the words of Jesus Himself in Matthew 10:28:

"And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Reject the Bible's teaching on a literal Hell and you reject the words of Jesus Himself.

Saying it isn't so or refusing to believe it does not change what this book of God says. Reread the transcript of this message from Hades. Jesus Christ relayed it to us. Show me where it means something other than what it says.

Robert Ingersoll, a famous lawyer and atheist in the latter part of the nineteenth century, once delivered a blistering lecture on hell. He called hell the "scarecrow of religion" and told his audience how unscientific it was, and how all intelligent people had decided there was no such place. A drunk in the audience came up to him afterward and said, "Bob, I liked your lecture; I liked what you said about hell. But, Bob, I want you to be sure about it, because I'm depending upon you."

We'd all better consider very carefully whatever it is we are counting on to get us through.

If you are depending on what this preacher tells you, then listen carefully. On this side of death, you can obtain ten thousand gallons of the water of God's mercy whenever you need it. On the other side, if you die outside of Christ, there will be none - not even one drop.

From this passage we see also,

3. A Man Who Needed Help but Couldn't Get It.

Verse 24 says, "send Lazarus...that he may...cool off my tongue..."

He was used to people waiting on him. When he needed help, he clapped his hands or pushed the butler's bell and someone came to wait on him.

"I need help! Send someone! Send Lazarus who is there with you. He can do it. He's used to doing what I tell him."

But it didn't work. There is no "butler's bell" in Hades. You cannot go to the blue pages of the phone book and dial up a government agency to assist you. Hell isn't hooked up to the 911 system.

On earth this man commanded attention and service. All of his life was meticulously arranged for his convenience and comfort and the filling of his needs. Right up through the black chauffeured limo that took his body to the cemetery. (They probably tossed Lazarus' body into a ditch!) But that arrangement was no more. Things are not the same in the afterlife as they are here. Do not make the mistake of thinking that comfort here will insure comfort there. It won't.

Fourthly, in this transmission from Hades, we see

4. A Man for Whom Nothing Could Be Done.

The passage says in verse 26, "there is a great chasm fixed...that none may cross over from there to us."

I had an acquaintance on the Internet point out to me that in the beginning of the story, the two men are separated by a gate, by the end of the story they are separated by a gulf!

You can step through a gate. You cannot step across a gulf. The point is, there was nothing anyone could do - even if they had wanted to.

Oh the futility of hearing the desperate cries of someone in agony without being able to do something about it!

There is no remedy for one in Hades or Hell. The only thing that can be done is preventative and it has already been done. This man was told, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them here them." Having lived and died under the Old Testament, he should have listened to the Old Testament Scriptures. That was the only hope for his relatives, too. Today we must listen to the terms of the New Covenant.

Many living today think that if there were really such a place as Hell and if it were really as bad as all that, God would somehow alert them in a special way so as to get their undivided attention.

The now deceased atheist, Carl Sagan was fond of saying that if God would place a burning cross in the sky, he would believe. Whether he was sincere in that, I cannot say. I can say two things for certain, though, about Sagan. First, according to this, that isn't going to happen. All the warning that is to be given has been given in today in New Testament Scripture. Second, Sagan is a believer today.

The rich man in Luke 16 chose either to be ignorant of the Scriptures or to disregard them. There was no additional warning.

Neither would there be a special warning to his five brothers. Nor will there be any more warning to you and me or to others living today.

It is possible that someone here is thinking, "One of these days God will do something really big to get my attention, then I'll change. That didn't happen in this man's life. He had received all the warning he was ever to get.

Once a person gets to Hades, there will be nothing anyone can do to help him.

Finally, we see here

5. A Man for Whom It Was Already Too Late.

Verse 25 says, "During your life you received your good things... [now] you are in agony."

God had already extended all the goodness this man was going to get. His problem was, he did nothing with it. The key words there are "during your life." "During your life" is all the time you get. If you blow it, it will be too late afterward to change the result.

Don't interpret God's goodness toward you today as an indicator that everything is all right.

Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, "...do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"

If you end up in Hades, it will be too late!

Conclusion

I read a copy of the transcript released by the National Transportation and Safety Board of ValuJet Flight 592 cockpit voice recordings just before the fatal crash into the Florida Everglades. On that day, May 11, 1996, 110 people came face to face with the horrifying reality of death.

It was haunting to read the words that were spoken during those final minutes of terror as the cabin and cockpit filled with smoke. For the people aboard Flight 592 that fateful day there is nothing we can do. There is no way to undo what happened.

But preventative steps can be taken in the future to keep such a thing from happening again. ValuJet cut corners in their maintenance. They lived dangerously and recklessly like such a disaster could never happen to them. They squeezed every bit of profit out of business that they could, all the while ignoring warning after warning.

Likewise, today there is nothing that can be done about those already in Hades. But preventative steps can be taken to assure that other people don't end up there. But we cannot cut corners. We cannot live as though it could never happen to us. Like a "black box" containing a voice recording of disaster-in-progress, the words of Jesus here in Luke 16 warn us to be careful of the maintenance of our relationship with Him. They also spur us into action to try to reach our loved ones and neighbors before it is too late.

If you are not a Christian, don't wait! Don't risk an eternity of torment for the sake of a few years of pleasure. Be reconciled to God today!

For those of us who are Christians, we dare not let up on our commitment to Christ. The danger is too great and the stakes are too high.

 

*Dave Redick is editor of The Preacher's Study. The majority of sermons in the Premium section are his writing.

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