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If the dead could speak

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If the Dead Could Speak
Luke 16:19-31
One of the oldest religious delusions in existence is spiritism. While its origin has been lost in antiquity, distinct traces of it have been found among ancient Chinese, Hindus, Babylonians, and Egyptians.
Spiritism is the belief in and attempt at communicating with the dead. Spiritualists, those who practice spiritism, have sessions that are called a seance. The word “seance” means “a sitting” or “a session.” It describes a meeting of spiritualists to receive spiri­tual communications from the dead in the spirit world.
The attempt to talk to the dead results from two desires. First, to keep in touch with departed loved ones. And second, to obtain information from the life beyond. In the seances the dead are asked questions like, “Are you happy?” “Do you have a body?” “Do you know what is going on here on earth?”
Of course, we know the living can’t communicate with the dead. But, the mere existence of such a delusion through the years is an evidence of the fact that, since the beginning of time, people have wondered, “If the dead could speak, what would they say?”
The Bible does not leave us to wonder.  Our Lord, in one of the most vivid stories in scripture, tells us clearly what they would say if they could speak.
It is the story of two men with quite contrasting lifestyles . . . and destinies. It is the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
Jesus begins the story simply, “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. . . .”  The Greek word translated “sumptuously” means “flamboyantly.”
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Wearing the finest and most costly clothing, clothing of roy­alty, daily entertaining friends with merry feast-making at a table glittering with the finest of vessels, the rich man lived a life of luxury and extravagance.
In contrast, the beggar named Lazarus lived in abject poverty. His daily presence at the rich man’s door presented a vivid contrast between the standard of living of these two men. He would have been happy just to have the scraps from the rich man’s table for his food. His gnawing hunger was never satisfied, and even the dogs, mangy, half-fed scavengers of the street, tormented him by licking the unbound sores that covered his body.  There could be no greater contrast than the material conditions of these two men.
In time, the beggar died. There is no mention of a funeral for him. Indeed, in all probability, he was not buried at all, for at that time in Jerusalem the bodies of unknown and unclaimed beggars were carried to the city dump and left there to be burned with the trash.
What about the rich man? He also “died and was buried.” It would be interesting to know what the funeral cost, how many people attended, what the preacher said. But, most importantly is the fact that the rich man, with all his wealth, could not bribe the grim reaper.  He died also.
The scene now shifts from this life to the life beyond. The beggar is carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, a figure of speech that suggests he was taken into the very presence of God.
What about the rich man? He went to hell. There he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus right next to his heart. In agony, he cried out to Abraham for mercy.  He begged, “Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
Abraham responded that the chasm between them was too great to cross. He could not go to the man. The man could not come to him.
Then the rich man said, “I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:  for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”
Abraham reminded the rich man that his brothers had the wit­ness of scripture. They had Moses and the prophets. That was
entirely sufficient to bring them to repentance. That should be enough.
The rich man insisted that if someone returned from the dead, his family would listen and would repent. He supposed that the testimony of one returning from the dead would have had a greater influence than the testimony of God himself.
But Abraham knows better. Men are not changed at heart by signs. Signs frighten or fascinate temporarily, but they soon fade. They do not last. So, he responded, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
Through this story our Lord gives us our clearest glimpse into the life beyond. And, this passage, more than any other I know of, helps us to know what the dead would say if they could speak:
•                      They would say hell is no joke. •                      They would say there is no second chance beyond the grave. •                      They would say repentance is urgent.

Out of Style But Not Out of Business
First, if the dead could speak they would say hell is no joke! They would tell us that hell is a real place and that people are going there. The most sobering thought that can enter the human mind is that every person who has ever lived, and every person now living, and every person who shall ever live, will continue to live throughout all eternity either in heaven or in hell.
Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
And again he said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “. . . if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt. 5:29).
After painting a verbal picture of the last judgment at which time he will divide men as a shepherd divides his sheep from the
goats, our Lord says to the wicked, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels . . .” (Matt. 25:41).
In spite of these clear teachings, many still dismiss hell as a myth. To them it is just a joke.
Sometimes they say, “God is too good to allow anyone to go to hell.” But I ask, “Which god are you talking about? The God of the Bible or the god of your imagination?”
People have trouble reconciling the love of God with hell. So do I. But, you find those two truths side by side in scripture. One thing is clear in the Bible, God is love . . . but there is also that dark foreboding side that speaks of judgment.
I know this: God does not want any person to perish. His very purpose in sending his son was that we might be saved from the consequences of our sin. God has done all he can to save us. Any person who goes to hell goes there against the will of God.
Someone else will say, “This is scare religion.”  Yes, it very well may be. But at times we have to scare a child to keep them from running into the street and being hit by an automobile.
Vance Havner said his father was converted by the preaching of a hair-raising sermon that scared him into the kingdom of God. Then he said, “Such preaching is discouraged these days, but it is better to scare men into heaven than to lull them into hell. Better shocked than stupefied!”
Still others say that at death the soul of a person ceases to exist. They believe when a person dies he is dead like a dog is dead and there is nothing beyond.
Decision magazine related several years ago that Gary Player, the South African golf pro, took an informal survey of his own as he traveled about the country.  He asked people everywhere the question: “What happens when a man dies?”
He said he asked a taxi driver that question and the driver spent half an hour giving him a detailed answer.  Player said what surprised him most was that almost everyone whom he queried said, “When you’re dead, you’re dead. The moment you take your last breath — that’s the end.”
While this idea may be appealing, I am bound to ask, “What do these people really know about life after death? What data supports their judgment?”
All that we know of the life to come is what is given to us in
revelation. Science does not tell me anything about the life be­yond. Neither I nor anyone else has been there and returned to give a firsthand report. For information on the life beyond we are totally dependent upon the revelation of God. And in his revela­tion he declares hell to be a real place.
Personally, I have no problem with hell.  I see enough of it in day-to-day life to believe it could exist in the life to come.
And in every human heart there is a sense of justice that says good will triumph and evil will be defeated. I cannot possibly be­lieve that Billy Graham and Adolf Hitler will live together in eter­nity.  I cannot believe that Mother Teresa and Jezebel will suffer the same fate in the life to come.
But, beyond observation and logic, scriptures speak clearly and uncompromisingly of hell. And, to the amazement of many, per­haps the most explicit words in all of scripture concerning hell flow from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ. They show this to be one of his deepest convictions. If they are wrong on this point, they are wrong about everything.
If Jesus Christ is lord of life and thought, then we who are Christians are committed to what he clearly believed and taught.
C. S. Lewis put it succinctly: “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this [hell] if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of scripture and, especially, our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and has the support of reason.”
It is not my purpose to argue the reality of hell. I am here simply to declare that you cannot have freedom without responsi­bility.  You cannot live as you please without sitting down at the banquet of consequences. You cannot have liquor without a hang­over.  You cannot have an affair without guilt.  You cannot have pleasure without conscience. And there can be no heaven without hell.
And there is in the Bible no promise of automatic, universal salvation. We are, rather, called on to make a decision for Christ.
I wish I could tell you hell is not real. But I cannot do it and be true to God’s revelation.  The sobering truth is that people apart from Jesus Christ are not just confused. They are lost and facing hell. And if the dead could speak, they would be the first to tell us hell is no joke.
There are no atheists in hell. The minute they landed there they became believers.
The Point of No Return
Second, if the dead could speak they would say: There is no second chance beyond the grave. The rich man who thought only of himself in this life is still thinking only of himself in hell. But, when he cries out for help, Abraham responds, “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which could pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
Note the word “fixed.” It is the key word here. It means that everything in hell is final. The separation from God is permanent. There is no possibility of growth, no hope of change, no opportu­nity for repentance.
The impassable gulf implies that death ends our opportunity for salvation. If you are lost in pain, don’t commit suicide as an escape — you will go to a place of pain without hope of escape.
Several years ago a seminary intern serving in our church joined a group of our men in a prison ministry to the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville, Texas.  He was on death row sharing Christ with a prisoner who was not interested. He was about to walk away when a voice from the next cell called, “I have only fourteen days to live. Is there time for me?”
The student then began to share Christ with the inquiring man. After he had presented the plan of salvation, the inmate, with tears in his eyes, put his hands through the bars and said, “I will accept Jesus as my personal savior and lord.”
The two men prayed the sinner’s prayer and the student left.
Back in school he wrote the inmate a letter, but he never had time to answer.  On December 18, at 12:01 a.m., he was executed. Later that same morning the prison chaplain telephoned the semi­nary student with a message from the man he had led to Christ. “He said tell you he didn’t have time to answer your letter, but he will see you in heaven,” the chaplain said.
You say, “I don’t believe in deathbed conversions or in jail house religion.” Much of it is suspect, but remember when Jesus died on the cross he died between two thieves, and his last act was to save a convicted felon and take him to heaven. As someone has said, “One thief was saved that none might despair. One was lost that none might presume.” On death row this man found life.
As long as there is life there is hope, but when death comes all hope is gone. The scriptures say, “When a wicked man dieth, his
expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth” (Prov. 11:7).
Even if God were to give people a second chance after death, there is no reason to believe it would change them. Life plants no flag of hope on the grave. Our whole life tends to harden as the years go by, and it becomes more improbable every day that we will make any new decision or take any fresh ventures.
And, punishment does not cure.  The evidence is that the over­whelming majority of men in prison are second- and third-time offenders. So, if a person does not change in this life, why should we believe he would change in the life to come?
In World War II there was a certain longitude and latitude which was known to ferry pilots (those who flew planes for combat use from the United States to foreign military bases) as “the point of no return.” These men and women knew that once they passed that point they were then closer to their destination than to the United States. If they had mechanical difficulties there was no turning back. Their only hope was to go on.
Death is the point of no return in our relationship with God. Once we die, all hope is gone. And, if the dead could speak, they would tell us so.
Repent Today
Third, if the dead could speak they would say: Repentance is urgent. Perhaps the most arresting thing in this story is the final word. The rich man, realizing his fate is forever settled, then pleads, “Send someone to my brethren . . . and they will repent.”
With that statement, the rich man acknowledged the necessity of repentance to be ready to meet God and to face eternity and he confessed that is what he should have done.
Repentance is the first step toward God. The way of salvation is clear.  It is “. . . repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
What is repentance? It is more than regret. It is more than sorrow.  It is more than remorse and guilt.  It is sorrow that leads to change. It is a change of mind that leads to a change in behavior. It is a spiritual about-face. It is recognizing the awfulness of sin and turning to God in faith and trust.
The poet put it this way:
Repentance is to leave the things
That we have done before,
And prove that we in earnest grieve,
By doing them no more.
And repentance is urgent. Why? It is because death is the greatest enemy of man. Not devastation! Not war! Not disease! But death!
Statisticians tells us that nearly 60 million people die every year.  That’s 150,000 people entering eternity every day . . . 6,000 every hour . . . 100 every minute.
Think of it, from the first note of the doxology until the last word of the benediction, 6,000 people will die. That makes repen­tance urgent.
In a day of space travel when persons go faster than the speed of sound, remember you are but 10 seconds from eternity.
An old rabbi used to say to his people, “Repent the day before you die.”
“But,” they would reply, “Rabbi, we know not the day of our death.”
“Then,” he would answer, “repent today.”
And if the dead could speak, they would agree. The tragedy is, if the dead could speak we would not listen to them. Hear Abraham speak, “They have Moses and the prophets; they would not hear if one rose from the dead.”
During the Middle Ages there was a court jester who could make the lord of the manor laugh more than any other clown. One day his master called him in and said, “Fool, you are the greatest fool that I know.  Take this staff and keep it until you find a greater fool than thyself. Then pass it on to that greater fool.”
Years passed, and one day the fool heard that his master was sick. He went to him and asked, “What is the matter, master?”
The master replied, “I am going on a long journey.”
“Where are you going?” inquired the court jester.
“I don’t know,” was the faint reply.
“How long will you be gone?” questioned the fool.
“I shall never return.”
“Have you made any preparation for the journey?”
“No.”
“You mean to tell me you are taking a long journey from which you will never return, and you have made no preparation for it?”
“I guess that is it.”
“Oh, master, take this staff, for thou art a greater fool than myself.”
Father, mother, young man and woman, a heart attack, an automobile crash, a hotel fire, and perhaps you will start your long journey into eternity.
Have you made preparation? Are you certain you know where you are going?
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The Unpardonable Sin
Matthew 12:22-32
It is a frightening, awesome thing to know that there is one sin for which there is no forgiveness. Every other sin that a person commits can be forgiven. But for this sin there is no forgiveness either in this world or in the world to come.
Jesus spoke of this sin when he said, “Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:31-32).
The occasion for these words was a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.  Jesus had just cured a man who was both blind and mute because of demon possession. There were two entirely opposite responses to this miracle. The people recognized Jesus as the Messiah and said, “Is not this the son of David?”
The reaction of the Pharisees was quite different. They said, “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” They could not deny that a healing had taken place, but they were not willing to ascribe Jesus’ power to God. They sought rather to explain it away saying that Jesus was in league with the devils. They agreed that a miracle had occurred and that Satan’s kingdom had suffered a setback, but they were not willing to attribute it to God. There was only one other option. It had to be by Satan’s power.
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Jesus, knowing their thoughts, first tried to reason with them, using a series

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