"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 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.' "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. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'" Luke 16:22-26
Keep in mind that Jesus told this story as a parable and parables are about illustrating truths and not revealing details. To build a theology of heaven or hell around this story would not be a solid approach to faith.
But, having said that, there are some principles and truths that can be learned from what Jesus told these religious leaders. It has some helpful insights for us. I want to highlight three of them in this post.
First, eternity is not a joke.
I am sure you have heard many jokes about Heaven and probably even more about hell. I guess it is human nature to laugh at what frightens us. But one of the truths that Jesus wants to communicate is the important fact of a heaven and a hell. While almost everyone believes there is a Heaven many of those same people deny the existence of hell. Wishful thinking does not lead us anywhere except hell. It takes eternal truth to lead to eternal life.
Heaven exists and it is a place of perfection because it is the presence of God. Wouldn't you like to spend your eternity in the presence of God? Jesus tells us that is a real option!
Hell exists and it is a place of punishment and pain because it is separated from God. Spending eternity being separated from God is almost unimaginable. It is a real option but it is one we should avoid at all costs and do our best to keep others from ending up there.
Second, eternity brings justice.
Maybe you have noticed that life is not fair. You know good people who suffer very bad things, unfair and unjust things. They spend their lives believing good and doing good and seemingly receiving only hard things - bad things. Perhaps that is you. Doesn't seem right does it?
Similarly you may have noticed that there are also people who are bad - maybe even evil - and yet everything seems to fall their way. They cheat and win. They cut corners and prosper. Their shortcuts seem to lead to success. All their shady efforts seem to be rewarded with sterling results. How can that be?
That is the story Jesus told. One man was ultra rich and lived in luxury and self-indulgence. We have no idea how he got his wealth. It could have been by virtue of hard work. That would be good. Maybe he inherited it. No problem with that! Or, perhaps he was corrupt and shrewd in the obtaining of his wealth. Regardless of how he got it. He hoarded it and lavished it upon his own desires while neglecting the obvious needs around him. Not fair? No, but real life!
And there was the other guy, Lazarus, who found himself in abject misery. Seemingly everything that could wrong for this fellow did. We have no idea if he was careless with his money and became poor. We don't know if he had a catastrophic event that drained his wealth or maybe he was just born poor and became even more destitute. All we know is that he needed help and didn't receive it from the rich man. Not fair? No, but it happens in real life.
BUT, then after each of them died - and that is real life - justice evened up the game. The rich man went to hell because of his love of money and his lack of love for the beggar. He mistook his wealth as God's seal of approval on his life-style and thought the poor man was cursed for being evil. This arrogant and presumtuous attitude cost him his eternity. Not, wealth was gone and he faced the eternal consequences of his spiritual poverty.
On the other hand, Lazarus who had nothing in life now had everything in eternity. All the injustices of life were suddenly replaced with the abundance of God. Everything he lacked in life, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually was now given to him in extravagance!
Third, eternity brought joy.
For Lazarus, eternity brought complete joy for he landed in the place of God's presence! In the presence of God is fulness of joy! Jesus is there! The Spirit is there! The saints of all the ages are there! You can be there and so can I.
But there was no joy for the rich man because his arrogance and greed kept him separated from God. Hell, is eternal separation from God. Therefore, it is the absence of any vestige of goodness or grace or light or truth. It is complete darkness and absolute despair in the presence of the Devil and the doomed.
Heaven is a real place and hell is, too. They are places where eternal justice is meted out. One is a place of great joy while the other is just - well......HELL!
The good news is Heaven can be attained and hell can be avoided. The eternal destinies of these two characters were determined by the decisions made during life. You are still in the land of the living and have opportunity to choose a personal relationship with God through Christ and gain eternal life.
A happy ending is still possible for those who believe the story!