Yesterday as I was gathering firewood around our property, I was reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I’m not sure why this parable came to my mind, as it wasn’t part of my Bible readings that morning. Perhaps it was the connection between firewood and the fire of suffering in the parable that prompted my train of thought! But whatever the reason, today I would like to draw your attention to one particular aspect of the parable; the eternal regret that those who reject the gospel will inevitably experience.
This parable, recorded in Luke 16:19-31, is extremely confronting. It is not intended to make us feel comfortable. Indeed, it is deliberately shocking in its stark portrayal of the eternal consequences of a person’s response to the gospel. A rich man dies and goes to Hades where he is “in torment” (v.23) and “in agony in this fire” (v. 24). In contrast, a beggar named Lazarus also dies and is carried to “Abraham’s side” by angels (v. 22) where he is “comforted” (v.25).
This parable is used by Jesus to illustrate several important truths:
> Death is not the end; it is merely the transition to eternal existence.
> The decisions we make in this life will determine our eternal destiny.
> There is only one life; reincarnation is a lie.
> There are no second chances after you die; your decisions in this life are eternally binding.
> All humanity will end up in one of two destinations.
> For those who turn their hearts away from God and reject the gospel of grace, there will be unthinkable eternal suffering.
> For those who accept God’s offer of grace, there will be unspeakable eternal joy.
> There is no middle option; no purgatory.
> The separation between these two final states of existence is permanent and eternal; you cannot cross over from one to the other.
> The dead cannot contact the living who remain in this world.
This parable is incredibly profound and, despite its brevity, is arguably Jesus’ most comprehensive teaching on the topic of life after death. But there is one more aspect to the parable that I particularly want to focus on here: the profound regret that will be experienced by those who are eternally shut out from the presence of the Lord. (I will not discuss here the difference between Hades and Hell – that is a topic for another discussion, as is the nature of Hell itself – although these are discussed in my books, Making Sense of the Bible and Finding God When He Seems to be Hiding).
In the parable, the deep anguish and regret of the rich man who ends up suffering in Hades is palpable. After crying out for relief from his suffering and being told that there will be no relief (vv.25-26), he then pleads for someone to go and warn his brothers “so that they will not come to this place of suffering” (v.27). He is desperate to ensure that his family does not make the same mistake he did. His regret for his own hardness of heart and selfish life is deep and painful.
This will be the lot of all who go into eternity rejecting the Saviour. After passing through the veil of death, they will realise the terrible mistake they have made. They will weep. They will mourn. They will wish they could somehow turn back the clock and make a different decision. For they will be confronted with the dreadful reality that they have rejected the God who made them and they must now face the eternal consequences of that decision.
You see, there will be no atheists in hell. No agnostics. One second after a person dies, they will be a believer; except by then it will be too late.
This parable is meant to make us uncomfortable. It should certainly make any non-Christians who hear it uncomfortable. But it should also make Christians uncomfortable as well. It ought to shake us out of our complacency and confront us with the urgency of our gospel mission. People’s eternities are at stake. Their possible annoyance with us for speaking about our faith to them in this life is nothing compared to the deep regret and grief they will experience in the next. Let us be very clear about this: those who reject our message will, from the other side of death, look back with agonising regret at their decision to reject God and spurn our message.
And this leads me, finally, to the point I was pondering yesterday as I was gathering and chopping wood for my evening fire. Will there be people in the fires of hell who reflect back on my conversations with them and wish that I had been more forceful, more bold, more direct? In the midst of their own eternal regret, will they wish that I had been braver? Will they wish that I had been clearer and more courageous in my proclamation of the gospel?
This is not merely an academic question for me. A non-Christian acquaintance of mine died this week and I realised that I had never had a gospel conversation with him. Despite playing tennis with him occasionally as a fellow member of our tennis club, I never once had a faith conversation with him. And now I never will. And I wonder if he, right now, is wondering why I never cared enough to warn him and to plead with him to turn back to the God who made him, in whose presence he would one day surely find himself. I wish I had spoken to him about Jesus.
I will now live with that regret.
But I as I grow older, I am becoming increasingly bold in my witnessing for Jesus. There are less failures like the one above. I am increasingly conscious of the fleeting nature of life and the urgency of our mission. I am much more inclined to put aside my own discomfort and my fear of rejection in order to speak of Jesus to others.
In my book, “Believing Out Loud”, I share some simple tips and principles that have helped me share my faith in Jesus more naturally and confidently. In particular, I have learnt that being a witness for Jesus is not something that we are called to ‘do’ at all. It is something that we are called to ‘be’. We are simply called to be authentic Christians, who do not hide our faith from our friends and neighbours. We are called to ‘believe out loud’ – to let our faith naturally ‘leak out’ in the things we say and do. And the more we relax and let that happen, the easier and more natural it will become.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “Since we have the Spirit of faith, we believe and therefore we speak.” (2 Corinthians 4:13)
So go ahead. Speak out your faith. Take the cover off and let your light shine. Open up and ‘believe out loud’, and watch what God starts to do through you!
Believing Out Loud also addresses the difficult issue of how Christians ought go about speaking of their faith in an age which is increasingly hostile to the gospel. I think you will find the tips and principles it outlines though-provoking and helpful.
Even Spiderman has read it:
And your cat will love it:
And even people with bad taste in shirts are reading it: