So They Said, "I've Never Heard Anyone Come Back From Either Place, Complaining!"
July 3, 2021
Hmmm. Interesting statement. It's been stuck in my mind for a long time. Let's see where I can go with it. Are you with me?
Someone was sharing their Christian Faith with someone who had no intention in bending in God's direction. After sharing the Gospel the Christian wanted him to consider that, according to God's Word, there is both a Heaven and a Hell. If we give our lives to Jesus, confessing our sinfulness and embracing him as Savior and Lord we will get to go to heaven when we die. If we reject Jesus and all he stands for, we will end up in Hell some day. Taking his flesh out for a walk in the dark, the unbeliever responded, "Well, I've never heard of anyone coming back from either place complaining!" The end!
What about that statement. Well, the person was right about no one coming back from either place complaining. But! But! What does God's word have to say about this."coming back" matter. When I heard this story I was reminded of a story Jesus challenged some Pharisees (religious leaders) with one day. Luke reminds us that they "dearly loved their money" (Luke 16:14 ) and looked down on the poor. We need to understand this before we get into Jesus' story. The story was a parable (an earthly story with a heavenly meaning) and not necessarily a reference to two actual people. But the story is packed with truth about both this life and life beyond the veil of this world. The story is recorded in Luke 16: 9-31. I'll summarize the story for the point I want to make.
Luke 16: 19-21: "Jesus said, 'there was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed and who lived each day in luxury. At his door lay a diseased beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man's table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores." As the story continues Jesus says that both men died. The poor man went to heaven (to use our language) and the rich man went to Hell: "There, in torment..." (Luke 16:23). Now let me pause to say that the poor man didn't go to heaven because he was poor, or the rich man to Hell because he was rich. The Pharisees would have reversed the matter of who went where. Now from a biblical Christian perspective we understand that a person's eternal destiny has to do with our relationship with Jesus, not our earthly status: Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Anyway, as the story continues: "The rich man shouted; 'Father Abraham: (for the Jews a a reference to heaven where Abraham was) have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in anguish in these flames'" (Luke 16:24). Do you think the rich man would like to have returned to earth complaining (not really a strong enough word for the situation) about the horrors of hell? I also make note that, as Jesus points out, "There is a great chasm (or gulf) between heaven and hell. Once you're in either place, you're there to stay".
Well, the rich man's next plea was: "Please, father Abraham, send him (Lazarus) to my father's home. For I have five brothers, and I want to warn them about this place of torment so they won't have to come here when they die." Notice Abraham's response to the rich man: "Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read their warnings anytime they want" (Luke 16:29). So Lazarus can't show up from the other side (heaven) not to complain but to share the "Good News" about heaven. Jesus points out that it is the Word of God that points us toward heaven (and warns us about hell) rather than someone coming back from either place.
However, let's look at a couple touchdown from heaven stories. First from Matthew 17: 1-3: "Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. As the men watched, Jesus' appearance changed so that his face shone like the sun; and his clothing became dazzling white. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus." Now there are several things we could explore in this passage, but what I want to make note of is that Moses and Elijah came down from Heaven to meet with Jesus. Wouldn't you love to know what the conversation was about: They came back from Heaven ALIVE AND WELL. BUT Jesus cautioned the three disciples: "Don't tell anyone what you have seen until I, the Son of Man, have been raised from the dead"(Matthew 17:9). Aren't you glad Jesus let us get in on this heavenly visit?
Now I'd like to share a contemporary touchdown story from the life of J.B. Phillips, the translator of the J.B. Phillips New Testament. Phillips was not only a translator and author, but a priest in the Church of England. He was also tough minded, biblically sound, and would have nothing to do with some of the La, La, stories that creep into the Christian Faith. The account I want to share with you comes from his book, "Ring of Truth", dealing with the power and authority of the scriptures.
Phillips writes: "...the late C.S. Lewis, whom I did not know very well, and had only seen in the flesh once, but with whom I had corresponded a fair amount, gave me an unusual experience. A few days after his death (Lewis died on the day President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963), while I was watching television, he 'appeared' sitting in a chair within a few feet of me, and spoke a few words which were particularly relevant to the difficult circumstances through which I was passing. He was ruddier in complexion than ever and, as the old-fashioned saying has it, positively glowing with health. The interesting thing to me was that I had not been thinking about him at all. I was neither alarmed nor surprised...He was just there... large as life and twice as natural.' A week later, this time I was in bed, reading before going to sleep, he appeared again, even more rosily radiant than before, and repeated that same message, which was very important at the time". (Phillips, "Ring of Truth", pp. 118-11). So what do you think?
Until next time,