by Mike Ratliff
It seems like at least a week, but it was only two days ago that I received a call from my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, that my mother had been admitted into a hospital in Oklahoma with chest pains. He told me that my sister was on her way from Houston to OKC to be with her and my father. I called the hospital and found out that the physicians did not think she had had a heart attack, but was experiencing a reoccurrence of acid reflux. I even talked with her and she seemed fine. I thanked God and went back to work. I went home afterwards and mowed my lawn. When I got through, I found that I had three messages on my cell phone from my brother-in-law. During the afternoon, my mother had a heart attack in the hospital. I was stunned. He told me that she was being transported to a large hospital in OKC for heart surgery. The next couple of hours are like a blur to me. I remember typing in the post asking for prayer for my parents and my family. I must have packed because after the 5-hour drive to OKC I had clothes to wear and whatnot.
There was part of my drive though that I do remember very well. I was north of Wichita on I-35 in the Flint Hills. I was listening to a Christian radio station that was beginning to fade. The last song they played just before I lost the station was Jeremy Camp’s new song “There Will Be a Day.” I found myself praising God and rejoicing as I thanked Him for His Sovereign Grace and that whatever the outcome of all of this, His will was being done and I surrendered my will to His in this. Just as the station faded I hit the seek button on my radio and found another Christian station in the Wichita area that was just coming out of a commercial break. The first song they played was Jeremy Camp’s song “There Will Be A Day.” I was amazed. I sang the song out loud, praising God and thanking Him for our Blessed Hope. I knew that when all of this was over that I had to share with all of you what a wonderful place it is to be on your face before God in total surrender; simply trusting that His ways are right and no matter how hard what we are going through now is, there will be a day, when those who know Him, will see Him face to face and enter into glory with Him. Here are the lyrics to that song.
I try to hold on to this world with everything I have
But I feel the weight of what it brings, and the hurt that trys to grab
The many trials that seem to never end, His word declares this truth,
that we will enter in this rest with wonders anew
But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings That there will be a place with no more suffering
There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always
I know the journey seems so long
You feel you’re walking on your own
But there has never been a step
Where you’ve walked out all alone
Troubled soul don’t lose your heart
Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting
I can’t wait until that day where the very one I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced
To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery this is why this is why I sing
My brethren, my mother’s surgery, an angioplasty with one stent, was a success. In this, I rejoice. However, if she had died through all of this, I would still rejoice because my mother is a Christian, a very strong and devout Christian. Because of this, I know that she would be with our Saviour right now and be far better off than any of us. The joy for me in this is that I will one day find myself in my Saviour’s presence as well.
I do wonder at God’s timing. On Monday this week, I just finished reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress The Second Part. I have read the original through many times, but this was only my second time through part two. This allegory describes the spiritual journey of Christiana, Christian’s wife, and her children and several other characters from the little Wicket Gate to the Celestial City. The last chapter is my favorite part as several of the characters are called over a period of time to depart from this life, cross the River, then enter into glory as the host of Heaven rejoice each time as they are “seen no more” by those still living, but we see them allegorically arrive at the gates of The City to be escorted into the presence of our Saviour. I had this fresh on my mind as the events Tuesday transpired.
This life is not what it is all about. This life is only the preliminary to what is truly reality, which is eternity. We have only one shot at this physical life. It is what we do in obedience and disobedience to God’s commandments in this life that has complete bearing on our eternal existence.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'” (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
This is the only parable told by our Lord Jesus Christ in which one of the characters is given a name, which is Lazarus. This is not the same Lazarus in John 11 who died and was “awakened” by our Lord calling him to come forth from the tomb. No, that Lazarus died later. Some have speculated that since Jesus gave this character this name that this is not an imaginary tale, but an actual event. In any case, this “parable” was used by our Lord to teach a lesson to His hearers about the danger of being obsessed with the temporal, especially money and riches.
Our Lord contrasts a rich man who had it all with a poor beggar named Lazarus. The rich man had purple clothes and fine linen. This revealed that this man was exceptionally wealthy. He lived like a king. He ate or feasted every day. He had no physical want. He indulged his flesh daily. However, Lazarus is destitute. He has nothing. He lives off of the scraps thrown out by others. He was covered in sores. He was in extreme poverty, was malnourished, and had all the illnesses that went with it. Notice that Lazarus “desired” to be fed from the scraps from the rich man’s table, but he received nothing. The rich man cared only for himself. He was totally wrapped up in experiencing what his flesh desired.
Lazarus died; however, he is carried by angels to Abraham’s side. Some versions translate this as “Abraham’s bosom.” This comes to us from the Talmud. It was used as a figurative way of expressing heaven. Angels took Lazarus from his point of death to a place of high honor, reclining next to Abraham at the heavenly banquet. What does this tell us? Lazarus may have been poor, malnourished, and sick, but he was a man of faith. He lived each day by faith. He trusted in God and was surrendered to His will throughout his life. This is why he is elevated in eternity. What we do by faith is what matters in eternity, not what we do in the flesh, which is only as filthy rags in God’s sight.
The rich man died; however, instead of angels carrying him to heaven, our Lord says that he “was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.” What is this “Hades?” The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, used this Greek Word to translate the Hebrew word “Sheol.” In Greek, “Hades” was used to describe the abode of the dead. In Hebrew, “Sheol” referred to the realm of the dead in general with no specific reference to the righteous or unrighteous. On the other hand, in the New Testament, “Hades” always refers to the place of the wicked prior to final judgment. Abraham’s bosom refers to Heaven, not a temporary holding area or prison for Old Testament saints. When David, Abraham, Samuel, Noah, Boaz, Ruth, et cetera died they were escorted by angels to heaven, but evil men such as Agag and the Pharaoh of the Exodus died and found themselves in Hades in torment.
What is the rich man’s response to finding himself in torment in the flames? Is he proud of his riches now? Does he make excuses for his exclusion from Heaven? No! He is in torment and his conscience is continually accusing him using the memories of lost opportunity (v25). It also accuses him of what his self-consumed life has cost him. He is permanently, irreversibly separated from God and everything good. Notice also that he is now concerned for his brothers who do not know the Lord either.
What was Abraham’s response to the request that Lazarus return from the dead to warn them? He says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” This is referring to the Old Testament. Lazarus is in heaven because he did hear God’s truth and believed. The rich man is in Hades because he heard the truth, but did not believe. It is as simple as that my brethren. What causes this? Abraham tells the rich man that even if someone should rise from the dead the heart that is in unbelief will not believe and repent. Our Lord is telling us that those who reject the witness of the Word of God will not accept another. Our Lord went to the Cross to save His people from the penalty of their sins. This Penal Substitution purchased Lazarus, Noah, Moses, David, all of the Old Testament Saints and all who have and will believe since the Cross. His sacrifice is completely sufficient to save them all.
Think of those in our day who are continually attempting to deny the authority of God’s Word yet they demand to be called Christians. Unbelief is the sin that condemns. The sins that sinners commit are vile, horrible, and deserve eternal Hell fire, but the sin that separates people from all possibility of salvation is unbelief. The rich man died in his sins because he had a hard heart that was in unbelief. Lazarus died in grace. He may have been destitute, malnourished, and sick, but his heart was soft and tender towards God because God had circumcised it when He believed and repented. God had made him into a “new person” such as when Samuel encountered God as a boy living with Eli the priest at Shiloh. In 1 Samuel 3 we read of Samuel ministering before the Lord as a boy. In v7 we read, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” However, the LORD called Samuel in v4, v6, v8, and v10. The first three times Samuel makes the mistake of thinking that it is Eli who is calling him. However, after the third time, Eli understands that it is God who is calling Samuel. He instructs Samuel how to reply to God. Here is v10.
And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Samuel 3:10 ESV)
After this point, Samuel is established as a prophet of God. Prior to this, he is simply a servant of Eli working in the tabernacle who has not heard the Word of the Lord nor did he know Him. However, after this we read:
And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. (1 Samuel 3:19-21 ESV)
Samuel responded to God calling him as His servant. God then established him as his prophet. Does God still do this? Yes! No one is saved unless God first draws him or her to Christ (John 6:44). This is God calling each of His people to believe and repent after the cleansing of regeneration. God saves His people. We save no one. We cannot save ourselves. However, God is good and all those for whom Christ died will be saved.
My brethren, if the cares of this world and the draw to possess things or money is consuming you then I counsel you to repent of this. The temporal is here to provide a place to work and exist and grow in Christ, but it cannot be the primary focus of the Christian. No, eternity is coming for everyone. We have no idea when that day will come, but it is coming. Those who know the Lord will meet Him face to face in Heaven, but no one else will.
Soli Deo Gloria!