Tormented in a Flame
September 9th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
TORMENTED IN A FLAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-9-1984 8:15 a.m.
Thank you choir and orchestra, and God bless the great multitudes of you that are sharing this hour with us on radio. And God bless Ed Rawls and our men, as they prepare for the tremendous stewardship appeal, as we underwrite God’s work in the earth for this year that will be pressing upon us in the not-too-distant future.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Tormented in a Flame. It is an exposition of the last part of the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke; Luke chapter 16, beginning at verse 19:
There was a certain rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores.
He was so hungry and starved that he wanted to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
For I have five brothers; that he may testify unto them, lest them come unto this place of torment.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they would repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
This beggar named Lazarus; Lazarus is a Latin form of the Greek wording, spelling, of the Hebrew Eleazar. Eleazar is the Hebrew El azar, "God is my helper." And this beggar is named "God is my helper." And every day they brought him to the gate of this beautiful palatial home, and he was so hungry he wanted to be fed with the crumbs. To us crumbs are little things that fall from, say, broken bread. They didn’t have any knives or forks or spoons in those days, and they used hunks of bread for napkins. So they dried off and they cleansed their fingers and hands with those lumps of bread, and they were thrown out; and the beggar ate them. And the dogs came and licked his sores [Luke 16:21]. A dog in all Oriental imagery is a most unclean animal. And he had no strength even to fend them off, to push them away. "And it came to pass that the beggar died" [Luke 16:22], and that’s all. Apparently they flung his body on a carrion heap, or they put him in a potter’s field.
I can well see how the infidels and the critics and the scornful gather around that beggar and point to him and say, "Ha! Look at him, look at him, this heap of wretchedness and this lump of misery. And look at the name written above him, ‘God is my helper.’" You could not find, say, the infidels and the scoffers and the scorners, you could not find a more eloquent refutation of your religion than in that bunch of misery and heap of wretchedness found there under that name "God is my helper."
But God isn’t done: it says, "It came to pass that the beggar died, and" – you could never imagine so much beyond that little conjunction "and" – "and he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom" [Luke 16:22]. Angels came for him. And when he closed his eyes on this world, he opened his eyes in glory. He was in paradise; he was in heaven.
"Now it came to pass, that the rich man also died, and was buried." You notice he was buried with great pomp and ostentation. It doesn’t say that the beggar was buried; they flung him away, that the vultures and the jackals and the carrion-eaters consumed his flesh. But the rich man was buried. Do you notice also that Lazarus has a name, "God is my helper"? He has a name here in the Bible. He has a name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. But the rich man doesn’t have a name. In order to distinguish him, he’s usually called by the name of Dives, which is a Latin word for "rich man." In Greek it’d be plousios, plousios, "rich man." So, because he doesn’t have a name, neither in the Bible nor in God’s Book of Life, we just call him Plousios, or we call him Dives. And I just am overwhelmed by the ability of our Lord in a sentence or in a word to describe a whole gamut or spectrum of living. He describes this Plousios or Dives, he’s clothed in purple; his inner garment is made out of the most luxurious garment fabric in the world; and fine linen, his outer garment is woven out of the most expensive Egyptian flax. And the translation is "he fared sumptuously every day" [Luke 16:19]; euphraino means "making merry," and lampros means "brilliantly." That man lived it up, ostentatiously merry. He had everything; wasn’t anything the heart could desire that he didn’t possess, and all of his interests and all of his life were in this world.
Then it says, as I read a moment ago, "He was buried" [Luke 16:22]. There was a tremendous funeral. When he died it was flashed all over the financial world. He was the head of great corporations. And when he died the stock market wavered. And when he died, the most elegant and impressive of all the funerals that part of the earth had ever seen came to pass before their very eyes. The long line of black, sleek limousines, and the flags at half-mast, and they drive up to a wealthy church; the pulpit is lighted, the altar is banked with flowers. And the pastor, preacher, orator stands there, and he speaks at great length of the achievements of this Dives, this Plousios. He doesn’t say anything about God, and he doesn’t say anything about death, and he doesn’t say anything about the life to come; he can’t. There wasn’t anything to be said about God in this man’s life. There wasn’t anything to be said about the life to come in this man’s life. The orator just spoke of the tremendous worldly achievements and success of this plutocrat, this tycoon.
But the orator didn’t fool God, and the fine funeral arrangements and accouterments didn’t deceive the Almighty. It says here, "And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments" [Luke 16:23]. Was he down there in the flame because he was a rich man? Not at all, not at all. Abraham was a rich man. The Bible will reiterate that over and over again. God blessed Abraham with flocks, and herds, and cattle, and lands; Abraham was a rich man. But when Abraham looked out on the world, he never saw his pastures and his flocks and his herds. When Abraham looked out, the Bible says he confessed that he was a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth [Hebrews 11:13], and that he saw a city whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10]. "Wherefore," the Bible says, "God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them that beautiful city" [Hebrews 11:16].
This man was not in hell, he was not in torment, he was not in flame because he was a successful man or a rich man. He was tormented in the flames and fires of hell [Luke 16:22-23] because his world was all that he could see. He had no interest beside. He thought in this world, he lived in this world, he planned in this world, his life was centered and encompassed and described by this world. Everything that he had or longed for or thought for was in this world. The context of the story emphasizes that. These Pharisees and scribes and elders were gathering around the Lord, and they derided Him. I’m reading here Luke 16:14, "The Pharisees," it says, "and those scribes and Sadducees," it says they were covetous, and they derided Jesus when He said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" [Luke 16:13]. And it was out of that context that the Lord was saying this story about Lazarus and Plousios. He was lost, he was in hell, he was in a flame because all of his interests and all of his life were in this world. As Mark 8 says, "He was not rich toward God" [Mark 8:36; Luke 12:21].
Now, down there in hell, the father Abraham, which is a Jewish picture of paradise, father Abraham says to him, "Remember? Remember?" [Luke 16:25]. Isn’t that an unusual avowal from heaven to a man who is damned? "Remember. Remember." When I think of that, "Remember," I can think of Cain forever remembering the blood of his brother Abel as it cried unto God from the ground [Genesis 4:8, 10]. "Remember"; I can think of the antediluvians, for one hundred twenty years mocking at the preaching of Noah, and ridiculing the ark there on dry land, a thousand miles from enough water to float it [Genesis 6:3, 14]. "Remember"; I can well think of Judas. How could he ever forget the kiss by which he betrayed our Lord? [Luke 22:47-48]. "Remember"; I can think of Felix, who answered the appeal of the apostle Paul, "Some more convenient season I will call for you, but not now, not now" [Acts 24:25]. Remember. Remember.
I went to Waterloo one time in Belgium, where Napoleon was defeated, and there is a picture, there is a picture of Napoleon in hell, and he is surrounded by the thousands and thousands of dead whom he slew in the Napoleonic wars. "Remember." And he remembers the days when he could have turned to the Lord. Isn’t that an unusual thing? He now, Dives, Plousios, in torment, he is now the personal soulwinner: "Please, father Abraham, I have five brothers; I remember them, five brothers. Send Lazarus back that he may plead with them, that they repent, turn, change, lest they come to this awful place of disaster and hurt. Send him back" [Luke 16:27-28]. Isn’t that unusual? This man is a personal soulwinner. He wants to go up and down the streets pleading with men to turn, to change, to repent.
In his own lifetime and in his own day, if one had gone to that palatial home and had somehow got inside and made appeal to Dives, Dives would have turned him over to his secretary, and his secretary would have turned him over to the doorman, and the doorman would have turned him over to the gardener and the yard keeper, and the yard man would have turned him over to the gatekeeper, and the gatekeeper would have thrown him out on the street, where Lazarus and the dogs are. But not now, not now. He’s a soulwinner, he’s a pleader, he’s asking for repentance. What a change.
And when Abraham says, "It is unthinkable, it is unthinkable, it is unthinkable,"
then Dives has a smart device – and when I first read it, I think, "You know, that might work." Dives says, "Father Abraham, if Lazarus could rise from the dead they would turn, they would repent, they’d change, they’d accept the Lord, they’d be converted. If he would just appear from the grave they would turn" [Luke 16:27-28, 30]. Now when I first think of that, that’s a pretty good idea, don’t you think? If he’d just rise up from the dead, and tell Plousios, and tell all those other rich people, and tell those Dives, just tell them all the horrors of hell and the splendors of heaven, that’s a good idea. Then I begin thinking about it further. Suppose he did rise from the dead and witnessed to these who are lost, how would it be? Well, I can think, first of all, the infidel and the skeptic would confront the fellow and say to him, "You say that you were dead?" And he says, "Yes sir, I was dead."
"Well, how do I know that you didn’t fall into a swoon? Or how do I know that you didn’t faint?" That’s what the infidel said about the death of Jesus: "He didn’t really die; He just swooned, He just fainted, He was not really dead." And that’s what they’d say to him: "How do we know that you were really dead? How do we know that you weren’t in a swoon, or that you didn’t faint?" And so this man raised from the dead, Lazarus, he replies, "I know I was dead. Here’s the undertaker, ask him"; and the undertaker says, "Yes, he was dead." And then the infidel says, "Well, how do I know you were buried? How do I know that?" And he says, "Here is the sexton, here is the gravedigger; he says I was buried." And then the infidel and the unbeliever says, "Well, how do I know that you were the one who was buried? How do I know that? It is incredulous, it is unthinkable, it is against reason that you would rise from the dead and come back to life. Dead people don’t rise." And the skeptic and the infidel is as unbelieving as he ever was.
So we look at it further. This man has been raised from the dead to convince the lost of the horrors of hell and the glories of heaven. Now when he appears, it isn’t long, it is no time at all, until he’s a commonplace. Everybody when they see him says, "Look at that guy. This is the fellow that says that he rose from the dead! This is the fellow that says, ‘I know what the horrors of hell are, and I know what the splendors of heaven are.’ Look at that guy." And in no time at all, he’s a bore, he’s a commonplace. And if the whole cemetery, if the whole graveyard were to rise from the dead, the next miracle would have to greater to confirm that one, and that greater miracle would have to be confirmed by a more stupendous miracle; and finally, if God were to pluck the stars out of the sky or throw mountains into the sea or turn the earth into its course, we would still be bored by those unceasing phenomena.
My brother, look around you. Don’t you see miracles every day of your life that only God could perform? Here’s one: how does that come out of the dirt and dust of the earth and be beautiful like that, but the hands of God? Look at your own life. How is it that you were framed, or a baby was born? That’s God. Look at the stars that shine, and the sun that rises on this earth, and the earth, look at it all. This is God! And we’re unconvinced. These miracles such as one raised from the dead are nothing at all compared to the miracles in which we live; and still we don’t believe.
Or look again: this man rising from the dead, raised from the dead, what is he going to say that the prophet and the apostle and the Lord Jesus didn’t say? How is this man raised from the dead going to be sent to the world with a portfolio and with credentials as an emissary from God greater than that of the prophets and the apostles and Jesus? The voice of that man raised from the dead, how would it be greater than the voice of God that was heard from Sinai in Moses? How could it be greater than the voice of the prophets? How could it be greater than the voice of the Lord Jesus, whose words are written here in this Book that I hold, in the Bible? And how could his words be greater or more powerful than those of the apostles, that are written here in the Bible I hold in my hand? How could a man raised from the dead tell us more about God than the apostles, and the prophets, and the Lord Jesus Christ? If we’re not going to be converted by the gospel, how is it we’re going to be converted by a ghost? And if the people who are unrepentant and lost will not turn at the voice of the pleadings of the Holy Spirit of God, how is it that they’re going to turn by a sheeted dead?
What could he say more than God has already said to us? And not only that, would we be convinced by the resurrection of somebody from the dead? I turn in my Bible to a Lazarus who was raised from the dead [John 11:43-44]. And the Book says, in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, "From that day forth, they took counsel together how to put Jesus to death" [John 11:53]; because He had raised Lazarus from the dead. And not only that, but in the next chapter, it says, "The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus" [John 12:10-11]. That’s the most astonishing reaction to the resurrection you could think for. Here is a man named Lazarus – the same name – raised from the dead, and because he was raised from the dead, they took counsel to put Jesus to death, and finally the chief priests themselves gathered together to put Lazarus himself to death.
And just one other: whether the resurrection of one from the dead would convince us that we were lost and needed to be saved. Jesus was raised from the dead. And in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Matthew that describes the glorious resurrection of our Lord, the guard at the tomb [Matthew 27:66] who saw the angel come and break the seal and roll the stone away, and the Lord Jesus live [Matthew 28:2], they went to the chief priests and told them what things they had done, that Jesus was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:11]. "And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money to the soldiers, saying, Take, say ye, His disciples came at night, and stole Him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and said that the disciples came and stole Him away" [Matthew 28:12-15]; the resurrection of Jesus Himself, the Son of God.
You can understand therefore why it is that Abraham says to this lost man and to those five brothers, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, if they do not listen to the Bible, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" [Luke 16:31]. Isn’t that a tragedy? Refusal, denial, "I’ll not turn, I’ll not accept, I’ll not repent, I’ll not believe, I’ll not be saved." When a man makes that decision in his heart, all that God could do and all that God has done will never turn that man’s heart toward God. You can pray, you can plead, knock at the door, you can visit – if he makes his mind against God, he dies as Dives dies, as Plousios dies; he dies, lifts up his eyes [Luke 16:22-23], in torment. I have to close.
Let me read a little sentence, that I came across this week in my studying, out of an old Puritan. "Brethren, take a look out of your graves. Brethren, take a look out of your graves." When I came across that sentence by that old Puritan who lived three hundred years ago, I thought, "That’s one of the strangest sentences I ever read in my life."
"Brethren, take a look out of your graves." Just a little, just a little further, and we’re in them. Some of us may be days, some of us may be weeks, some of us may be months, some of us may be a few years, but it’s just a short distance from here to that grave. "Brethren, take a look out of your graves. Take a look from underneath the sod, and what is it like?" I can think of two things. Number one: our eternal destiny is fixed in this life. As Ecclesiastes 11 says, "As the tree falls, so shall it lie" [Ecclesiastes 11:3]; that’s it forever. And the second thing: the only way that God can save us is listening to the gospel from Moses and the prophets. There’s no other way. There’s no other way. And if I turn from this only way, I turn to darkness, and to perdition, and to death, and to damnation. We don’t have but one way. We don’t have but one Savior. We don’t have but one hope. And if we turn aside from that one way, we face inevitable judgment and death.
I went to see a sainted young woman who was dying. And she said to me, "Pastor, would you read to me out of the Bible?" And I read to her from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Then she said, "Would you sing me a song?" And I sang "In the Sweet By and By." Then she said, "Pastor, would you kneel here and pray?" And I knelt by her side and prayed. And she closed her eyes and was with our Lord in glory. That’s our only hope. There’s not any other. "Read to me out of the Book. Sing me a song of hope, and kneel by my side in prayer."
Will you do that? Will you do that? It is the difference between heaven and hell, whether you do or not. If you live for this world, you will die in this world. If you live for God and for heaven, the very gates of glory are open to you.
As we sing this hymn of appeal, a family, a couple, you, "This is God’s day for me, pastor, and I’m on the way." Make the decision in your heart; do it now. And out of that balcony, down a stairway; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles. "Pastor, I’m coming. This is God’s call to my heart and I’m answering with my life." May angels attend you in the way while you come, while we stand and while we sing.