Identify Your Identity
It’s a clear starlit night. Captain Smith peers off the side of the ship at the great watery expanse called the Atlantic Ocean, he feels a proud sense of accomplishment sweep over Him. He thinks back to all the hard work and time spent at sea that allowed him to be the captain of the biggest and most beautifully engineered vessel in human history.
Since its late and no one is awake, he ventures down to the engineering room where he is greeted by your senior wireless officer, Jack Philipps. With a troubled look in his eye, jack mentions that he has received several warnings from other vessels ahead that there are large expanses of icebergs in the ships path. The captain dismisses the information thinking that this modern ship is unsinkable. Nothing would sink this ship, with his skill and the ships engineering, even if it did hit an iceberg; he could seal of that section of the ship and continue on. Besides, he is going to be famous for being the captain of not only the largest vessel in history, but also the fastest to have ever sailed from England to the us. The warnings kept coming. Nothing has happened yet, so the captain continues to move on. He relies on his experience and his vessel to get him through. Six warnings in all come, and no action is taken. Finally, his ship, the titanic, hits an iceberg and after 2 hours, is buried in the dark, cold sea.
As we journey together through the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we will see, like captain Smith eventually saw, that how we respond to what has been revealed has eternal significance. Today we will talk about some of the most pressing and difficult questions we as human beings ask about life and about death. What happens to us after we die? Is there an eternal good place and bad place? How do we know which one we are headed toward? Can we do anything about our destination? Can we change the trajectory of our vessel and avoid the iceberg? The story of the titanic has a dark ending, but as we examine this parable we will be encouraged by the love of God, what He has done to secure our position and how we can spend eternity with Him instead of being cast into deep darkness like the titanic. The titanic brings to mind another, lighter, story about boats,
A pastor and a speed boat tour operator both died and went to heaven. St. Peter was at the Pearly gates waiting for them. 'Come with me', said St. Peter to the speed boat driver. The speed boat driver did as he was told and followed St. Peter to a mansion. It had anything you could imagine from a bowling alley to an Olympic size pool and it was right next to Jesus’ house. 'Wow, thank you', said the speed boat driver. Next, St. Peter led the pastor to a rugged old shack with a bunk bed and a little old television set. 'Wait, I think you are a little mixed up', said the pastor. 'Shouldn't I be the one who gets the mansion? After all I was a pastor, went to church every day, and preached God's word.' 'Yes, that's true’, said St. Peter But during your sermons people slept. When the speed boat driver drove his boat, everyone prayed.'
There are many jokes out there related to eternity in part because this topic is so mysterious, but also because it is so unnerving. Jesus points to an afterlife. Not only by resurrecting Lazarus earlier in the book of Luke, but by He Himself coming back to life. Jesus points out that anyone who believes in him will live with him after death, forever. We will turn to the words of Jesus for the answers regarding what happens after death. Let’s look at a story Jesus told about another man named Lazarus.
This is a parable. A simple story designed to reveal basic spiritual truths. We must be careful when reading and interpreting a parable not to make it say more than it was meant to say. We can’t get too hung up or press too hard into the details. With this parable, people have often pressed too hard into the details. Many false ideas about heaven and hell have been derived from this parable. Including the idea that hell is an eternal torture chamber and that heaven is some kind of never-ending picnic in the sky. The purpose of this parable is not to give us a map into the afterlife, it’s meant to teach us the connection between this life and the life to come. Let’s take a closer look…If you have your bibles, please turn to .
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.’
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. 26 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.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
This parable is only found in the gospel of Luke. The editorial remark in 17:1 reminds us that the audience for this parable is still the Pharisees; there has been no break in the teaching of Jesus since v. 15. Since Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, what he is telling them is this: you are trying to self-justify. You try and justify yourselves in the sight of men, but what is valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. The self-justified identity is based on accomplishments and based on things outside of God that you achieve or do. Then there is the God-justified identity. This is the identity that we want. It is not based on your achievements or what you do, but it’s based on God’s grace. God’s grace is an unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.
In the beginning of the parable, Jesus depicts a rich man. The purple he wore was cloth dyed with a very expensive dye. It would be used for the external garment and the fine linen for the undergarment. The combination represents the ultimate in luxury. These would be clothes from Louis Vuitton not Savers. The word feasted is a word often used for happiness and it is the same Greek word used for merriment. It means that this man had all he asked in life and lived a life of enjoyable comfort. The text doesn’t say that the man committed any grave sin, but he lived only for himself, which was part of his condemnation.
Lazarus is the only name given to any person in any of Jesus’ parables. This has great significance. Lazarus means, “God is my help”. Lazarus’ ultimate hope and help was God, while the rich man put his hope in his riches, wealth, and status. The rich man doesn’t have a name because that is all he is, a rich man, and nothing else. The rich man has built his identity on his wealth, while Lazarus has built his identity on God. Lazarus proves that circumstances don’t ultimately effect who you are. If we build our identity on anything but God, in death that thing will be gone, but God won’t. In death we will have God or nothing.
To live in God’s kingdom is to have an identity, a name, that lasts. Nothing is wrong with being a mother, business man, musician, or pastor, but if that’s the main thing, if that’s the thing that if it was taken away and you would say, “I’m nothing”, Jesus says in this parable that that’s literally true.
Lazarus lays at the gate of the rich man’s grand house. He was a man of physical misery. He wanted to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table, he was destitute. The dogs came and licked his sores. The rich man had all he wanted, while Lazarus had nothing.
The religious state of both men is left out. But evidently, Lazarus was a man of faith since the angels took him to Abraham’s side. There is no joy for the rich man after his death.
This part of the parable brings us to some of the realities of death. You see, in life, our spiritual self-animates our real self, or our physical self. When we die, we leave our physical self, but our spiritual self goes on after death. We will either go to a good place when we die or a bad place. Let’s talk about these two places.
When Lazarus dies, he goes to be in the presence of God and His people. We often times call this place heaven. The other place, we normally call hell. Our passage today, however, calls it Hades. This is the grave or place of the grave, it’s not exactly hell. Neither of these people, Lazarus or the rich man, have arrived at eternal destination, they are in the intermediate state.
You may not be familiar with the intermediate state. God’s Word tells us that there is a present age, this is age we are living in now. But there is an age to come, what the book of Revelation talks about as the new heaven, new earth, and new creation. The transition between the present age and the age to come is called, “the day of the Lord”, which is the return of Christ and the physical resurrection of our bodies. The intermediate state is a temporary place where we live when we wait for the resurrection. This passage says we can spend this time at Abrahams side or in the grave, not technically hell. Remember the thief on the cross next to Jesus? Jesus tells him, “today you’ll be with me in paradise”. Jesus was talking about this temporary place, the intermediate state, not the age to come. He was talking about this place of rest in God’s presence.
This good place is personal. Lazarus has a name and identity in this place. The same as he did in life, and we will too. We will be ourselves in the life to come. This place will be relational, when Jesus tells us his Father’s house is like a home with many rooms, he means there will be other people in relationship. We will enjoy each other’s company in this good place. It will be physical; but it’s not quite clear whether it will be a temporary body or the resurrected body. We don’t quite know but it will be physical in a way. This place with the Lord will be transformational, we will be our best selves there. Lazarus doesn’t have sores; he is not in agony. The thief will no longer be a thief.
Best of all, we will be in God’s presence. Jesus will be there. The one who loved us, came for us, died for us, rose for us, loves us with everlasting love, the most beautiful human to have ever lived will be with us forever. To be absent from body is to be present with the Lord. This is the part that we can dream about, but I believe being with Jesus is beyond words. It will be infinitely better than we can ask or imagine. When we envision heaven being a place where our favorite people and food are. A kind of never-ending party or spa, we are imagining a heaven that falls infinitely short of the breathtaking realities that being with Jesus will bring. We do know that Jesus will be there so we must expand our imagination about what this place will be like.
The rich man ends up in a very different place, this is not his eternal destination or hell, this is Hades, the grave, or a temporary place. We must realize that many of our wrong ideas about hell have been prompted by this parable. Scripture tells us little about the destination of the unrighteous, but we know that this is a separate place. The rich man is cut off, isolated, far away from Abraham and Lazarus. We don’t get a sense of community in this place. No one seems to be nearby. There no one to turn to for comfort, help or commiseration. The rich man is cut off from others and there is an uncrossable chasm.
It’s an unhappy place, the rich man is in torment. Torment is not the same as torture. Torture is something that someone else inflicts on you, torment is something internal, something we bring on ourselves from our own choices and behaviors. It’s a regret, it’s an anguish, a frustration. Perhaps we can relate this feeling to the one you get when you realize you made a big, big mistake and there is nothing you can now do about it. Maybe you said or did something that can’t be unsaid or undone. The visceral pit feeling in your inner self. The rich man knows he made a mistake that has eternal consequences. He has to live with that knowledge forever. Our destination after we die depends on our decisions before we die.
There is language of fire and thirsting describing this place, but we must remember that this is a parable. The kingdom of heaven is not literally a mustard tree. Why would we think hell is literally a furnace? This is a metaphor. Jesus chooses images that people in a desert culture would be most afraid of like thirst and heat. Hell is not an underground torture chamber; the purpose is not to punish people. Our God is not a vindictive, punishing God, we have invented that idea, it’s a place of separation from God in the relational sense. It’s the place you go when you want to have nothing to do with God. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." He goes on to say, “All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
This bad place is an unrepentant place. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to do something for him, notice he asks for pity but not forgiveness. He never expresses regret or repentance. He doesn’t ask for Lazarus to come and take him there or to be by Abrahams side. He just asks for water. There is unconscious arrogance in his attitude toward Lazarus, for he assumes that he can have the poor man sent across to provide a service for him. When the rich man is in Hades, he still clings to his earthly identity. He still thinks that Lazarus is his slave or servant. On the one hand, the rich man understands he is in torment. On the other hand, he is blind to what actually happened to him. Now Lazarus is on top and he is on the bottom.
It’s astonishing that when the rich man asks for Lazarus to go warn his brothers, in V. 27, he is asking Lazarus to come to him. For the first time in the story the rich man shows some attention to others, though still not the poor; just his own family. He asks that his five brothers be cautioned of what awaits them. Once again, he assumes that Lazarus may be dispatched on his chore: his deep-seated sense of supremacy remains. He also suggests that he had not been treated fairly; if he had really been given all the information he needed; he would have acted differently.
In contrast is Lazarus’s remarkable silence throughout the parable. He neither complains about his hard share on earth, nor delights over the rich man after death, nor expresses resentment at the rich man for having him sent on errands. Throughout the parable he accepts what God sends him.
The rich man never asks to get out of where he is, he never asks for forgiveness. He only implies that he didn’t have enough information to make the proper decision. He doesn’t in fact think that he is really guilty. There is blame-shifting going on. As one pastor put it, “Hell seems to be his freely chosen false identity going on forever.” He is unchanged. He is the same person, self-centered, demanding and not interested in the love and ways of God. He doesn’t want to leave. The doors of Hades are truly locked from the inside.
Abraham then points to God’s Word in V. 29. Moses here means ‘the writings of Moses’, and the combination with “the prophets” means the whole of Scripture (the Bible). Abraham is saying that the Bible gives the rich man’s brothers all they need. There is also a subtle implication that the rich man’s current situation was not due to his riches, Abraham also had riches. His situation is do to his neglect of Scripture and it’s teaching. The rich man disagrees and says that if someone would go from the dead, his brothers will repent. Abraham rightly affirms that the sight of someone from the dead will not bring conviction to those who will not accept Scripture.
The rich man wants Abraham to show his brothers something spectacular to scare them into believing. Jesus knows, however, that fear won’t shift one’s identity into a child of God and make them believe. Abraham uses the word “rise” that is always used when talking about Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is saying here that even if you saw the stone rolled away and Me standing there with holes in my hands, speaking to you, you still wouldn’t believe. This is, in fact, true. Jesus knew that He would soon rise and reveal Himself to many people, and they still wouldn’t believe in Him.
Without the Bible and without knowing why Jesus died and rose, you won’t believe. Not seeing something cool, not something impressive, not a dead man walking. Nothing will make you believe. Only love will change your identity. Jesus loves us so much that he came to earth and suffered more than we could ever imagine. He did this because He loves us. Only seeing Jesus and His love will transform your heart. Jesus went through hell for us. He loved us that much. We don’t have to be afraid of death anymore because Jesus took the eternal death.
Hades does not exist to punish people, it’s for people who want nothing to do with God. The rich man chose not to listen to the scriptures, not to love God and his neighbors as himself. Our destination after we die depends on our decisions before we die. The rich man chose to go to bad place and to stay there. God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hades. We see this in that Abraham called the rich man son, he still loves him, like a father loves a child. God loves every human being including you, he wants all human beings to be with Him forever including you. You don’t have to earn your way there by good deeds or perfect church attendance, all you have to do is turn to God in repentance and faith and follow the way of Jesus into eternal life. Our destination after we die depends on our decisions before we die. Josh McDowell once said, “A lot of people say; “well how can a loving God send anyone to hell? First of all, God doesn't send anyone to hell. If we go to hell, it's by our own choice. But when somebody says to me, how can a loving God allow anyone to go to hell, I'll turn around and say, "Well how can a holy, just, righteous God allow sin into His presence?"
Here’s the thing we have to choose now, in this place, in this present age, where we will be in the place to come, we won’t get another opportunity when we die. It has nothing to do with earning, it’s a choice. We will choose the way of Jesus or choose our own way. Choose the way of Jesus and choose now. When we choose Jesus and trust in him, we don’t need to be afraid, we are secure if we are in Jesus. Our destination after we die depends on our decisions before we die.
Let’s think back to the story in the beginning about the Titanic. Like the rich man in this parable, captain Smith ignores the repeated warnings because he falsely believed in the unsinkability of his ship and was thinking about himself at the expense of the others on board. There was another man on the ship that night. A man like Lazarus who may have had little significance in the masses sight but was well known by God and placed his faith in God. Here’s an excerpt from the Baptist Press on this great man, named John Harper: When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Harper successfully led his daughter to a lifeboat. Being a widower, he may have been allowed to join her but instead forsook his own rescue, choosing to provide the masses with one more chance to know Christ.
Harper ran person to person, passionately telling others about Christ. As the water began to submerge the “unsinkable” ship, Harper was heard “Women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats.” Rebuffed by a certain man at the offer of salvation Harper gave him his own life vest, saying, “You need this more than I do.” Up until the last moment on the ship Harper pleaded with people to give their lives to Jesus.
Four years after the tragedy at a Titanic survivor’s meeting in Ontario, Canada, one survivor recounted his interaction with Harper in the middle of the icy waters of the Atlantic. He testified he was clinging to ship debris when Harper swam up to him, twice challenging him with a biblical invitation to “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” He rejected the offer once. Yet given the second chance and with miles of water beneath his feet, the man gave his life to Christ. Then as Harper succumbed to his watery grave, this new believer was rescued by a returning lifeboat. As he concluded his remarks at the Ontario meeting of survivors he simply stated, “I am the last convert of John Harper.”
Harper never saw a dead man rise. He believed in God’s Word. He knew that his destination when he died depended on his decisions before he died. He placed his faith in the only one who could save Him, Jesus Christ.