Tormented in a Flame
July 30th, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
TORMENTED IN A FLAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-30-86 7:30 p.m.
This is one, tonight, of one of the most elucidating studies that I have ever made in all of my days. We are going to turn tonight, and let’s get a Bible out of the pew if we do not have one, and all of us turn to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke; Luke chapter 16, and we are going to read this Word of our Lord beginning at verse 19 to the end of the chapter. This will be the second time that we have looked at it carefully on Wednesday night; and this one the most meaningful of all. Let us all get a Bible or share it with everybody and we are going to stand in a moment and read Luke 16:19 through 31, the end of the chapter. You have it? All right, let’s all stand together and let’s read it out loud. Luke 16, beginning at verse 19, to the end:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
And desiring 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 lift 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 brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into 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 will 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.
Now may we be seated and we shall begin.
There are two men who are speaking and present in this revelation of our Lord. The first one is Lazarus. His name is the Greek form of Eleazar, "God is my help." And he is laid at the gate of this rich man because there was a habit followed in that day that gave him something to keep from starving to death: in that day they did not use spoons and knives and forks at the table, so for a napkin those that were breaking bread together, eating together, would wipe their fingers on bread and then throw it out the door. And that’s what is referred to when it says that this poor man Lazarus was want to eat the crumbs from the rich man’s table: he ate those pieces of bread that were used as a napkin to clean the fingers and hands of those who were eating, and they were flung outside, and he picked them up and ate them. [It] says here in the twenty-first verse that the dogs licked his sores. It may have felt good, or doubtless he didn’t have strength enough to drive the pariahs away; so they fed themselves from his corrupting body. And it says in verse 22 that this beggar Lazarus died. Do you notice nothing is said about his being buried? Doubtless his body was flung away on a dung heap and that was the end of the life of Lazarus.
Now the infidel and the skeptic and the atheist look at that beggar and they scoff, and they cry, "Ha, ha! Look at this lump of wretchedness and at the inscription written above him in his name, ‘Lazarus, God is my help’." So the skeptic and the infidel and the unbeliever say, "Let’s just put it down; right here we’re going to fight our battle. His very name ‘God is my helper’ is a refutation of your faith and your religion." That’s what the infidel, and the skeptic, and the atheist, and the unbeliever fling the gauntlet at our feet. But there’s something more in verse 22: God is not done yet. It says in verse 22, "He died and," Can we, dare we believe all that comes beyond that little conjunction "and"? "He died and," is that the end? Is that the last? Is that annihilation? "He died and," No. He woke up in paradise. God gave him a name which is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and is written in heaven.
The other man: in the nineteenth verse he’s unnamed; he doesn’t have a name in the Bible, and he doesn’t have a name in heaven. We call him Dives, which is the Latin Vulgate name for "the rich man." If we were to use the word in Greek for him we’d call him plousios, a rich man. So if we use his Latin description we’d call him Dives; if we use his Greek description we’d call him plousios; he’s the rich man. You notice in the twentieth verse it speaks of this beggar being laid at his gate; so the man has a palatial home, he has a very gorgeous and impressive entranceway into the mansion where he lives. Not only that but it says he’s clothed in purple; that’s the costly, beautiful fabrics that are dyed in the murex, which is the color taken from a little sea animal. Do you remember in the Book of Acts, Lydia sold purple? She went to rich people, kings and queens, and sold the beautiful fabrics. This plousios, this Dives, was dressed in those expensive fabrics. And it says also he was dressed in fine linen, made out of the most beautiful Egyptian flax. And then it adds another: "He fared sumptuously every day." The Greek of that is one of the most impressive little descriptive adjectives, adjectival series that you could ever come across in your life: euphrainomenos, euphrainomenos. I don’t know a better way to translate that than to say "making good cheer, making good cheer," kath hemera, "day after day after day," lampros, we get our word "lamp" from that, "shining magnificently in splendor," translated "fared sumptuously"; every day that man put on an ostentatious show for all of his friends. He lived in luxury, in indulgence, in pleasure; and to show you a little turn of it, he was in the habit of having servants that do this and do that and go yonder at his bidding. You see that in verse 27: he says, "Send Lazarus," that’s his habit of life, "Send Lazarus." He sent servants world without end. That’s the life of this rich man, plousios.
Now do you know another little thing that is added here in verse 22? It says, "He was buried." It doesn’t say that about Lazarus; when he died they just flung his body on an ash heap. But when plousios died, dear me, he had an impressive funeral: the news was flashed all over the world; there was a wavering in the graph of the stock market; the flags were at half-mast; there was a procession of high-powered limousines and higher-powered politicians; and he was buried in a wealthy church; and the whole altar was covered with flowers. They even had the whole choir to sing and the oration of the priest or pastor in the church was beyond anything you could ever have imagined. Priest never said anything about God, he never said anything about the life after death, he never said anything about being converted or loving the Lord or serving Jesus, but he made a magnificent speech, one that the world would have written. But may I point out that the funeral and the priest didn’t fool God. In verse 23 it says, "And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments." What the pastor of the church says and what the preacher says isn’t always what God says about people who die.
I’d like to confess my own colossal weakness there. And to this day – and I’ve been a pastor for, soon, sixty years – to this day I have trouble with myself about funeral services. Do I dare stand up there at that memorial hour and say, "This man is in hell according to the Word of God. He never confessed his faith in the Lord, he never repented of his sins, he never asked God to forgive him, he never walked down any aisle or confessed the faith of the Lord Jesus before any congregation. He was a wretched, unforgiven sinner, and he died like that." I never said anything like that in my life; which means that I don’t tell the truth when I stand up for a memorial service. When I stand up for a memorial service, and the man’s not a Christian, I palaver all kinds of sweet nothingnesses; but I don’t dare tell the truth. And I don’t know what to do, and I repeat, after sixty years I am as nonplused now as when I first started at seventeen years of age being a pastor. But this beautiful funeral of this plousios, I repeat, didn’t fool God. He had an elaborate memorial service; but in hell, "He lifted up his eyes, being in torments."
Now I want to get into that thing, because the whole story greatly bothers me, disturbs me, the whole background of it. And that’s why I’m taking time for us to look at it carefully this solemn evening. Why was he there? This plousios, this Dives, why was he there? Was he there because he was rich? His very name, as I pointed out to you, means "rich"; he was affluent, he was wealthy, he was a successful man in the world. Was he there because he was rich? Absolutely not! Abraham was rich, described as so several times. Joseph was rich, next to the Pharaoh himself. David was rich; Nicodemus was rich; Joseph of Arimathea is described as a rich man; Philemon was rich, he had servants, one of whom ran away; Mary, Martha and Lazarus were well-to-do. But there’s a difference in rich people. Abraham was rich, but he sought for a city who hath foundations whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10]; and he confessed that he was a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth [Genesis 23:4]. Abraham was rich toward God. He had the affluence of this world as did these other godly men, but he also knew the Lord.
Well, why was this plousios, why was this Dives, why was he in hell? Because of worldly self-love. It’s not said that he was rich because he had unlawful gain or that he oppressed the poor or that he thought others, through others ruin he became wealthy by chicanery, or that he by fraud or by cheating or by robbing he became rich. He was not an evil man. What was the matter with him is he was worldly: he loved money and the things that money could buy, and he lived as though he would live forever. "There’s no judgment, there’s no God to face, there’s no record to review"; he lived for this world, and he loved the things of this world. He was worldly.
Now, when we look at that man, in hell, there are some things about it that are remarkable to me. Look at this one in verse 25: "Son, remember" – our remembrance, dear me! I think of Cain with his brother’s blood: how do you drown it from your memory? I think of the antediluvians: for a hundred twenty years Noah preached to them, and they refused and spurned his appeals of turning and repentance. I think of Judas and his kissing the Lord: how do you ever drop that out of your mind, blot that out of your memory? I think of Felix who answered the appeal of the apostle Paul, "When I have a convenient season, I will" [Acts 24:25]. I saw a painting one time in Belgium. It was a painting of Napoleon, and it was entitled "Napoleon in Hell." He was surrounded by the hosts he had slain in war. We have our remembrance in hell. And that’s why he pled with father Abraham, "I have five brethren, I have five brethren."
I want you to look at the turn in this man’s life; you won’t believe it. He is now a personal soulwinner: "I have five brothers." He himself is now going up and down, calling for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In life he would have kicked out a visitor from the church as a transgressor. He would have turned over a visitor from the church to his secretary, and the secretary would have turned over the visitor from the church to the doorman, and the doorman would have turned over the visitor from the church to the gardener, and the gardener would have turned over the visitor of the church to the gatekeeper, and the gatekeeper would have turned over the visitor of the church to the street. Isn’t that an amazing change in this man’s life?
You think that’s unusual? I’ve already told you I read Ann Landers every morning. Did you read this yesterday morning? Well, I have it here; I’m going to read it to you, lest you think that this is unusual about this plousios.
Dear Ann, I just read the letter from ‘Badgered in Texas,’ and I want to say I agree wholeheartedly with her complaint. However, I can take her problem one step further. I was a student at North Carolina State University last year, and lived on campus. I lost count of how many on-campus religious groups came to call on me. Their format was similar to the one described in Badger’s letter, only the people who pestered me were much more persistent. I had to throw them out of my room. When they asked me, ‘Do you know Jesus and accept Him as your personal Savior?’ I said, ‘I’m an atheist,’ to get rid of them. It’s really despicable, the way they operate.
Of course, Ann, who is a Jewess, writes back and says, "Thank you for making it plain: those dastardly proselyters who knock at the door and invite the people to the Lord."
That’s exactly plousios. Had you gone to his palatial home seeking to talk to him about Jesus, he would have thrown you out. But now in hell he’s a soulwinner, he’s an emissary, he’s a personal witness and testifier: "Lord God in heaven, what about my brothers? I’ve got five of them. What about my brothers?"
Now, he’s talking to father Abraham, and he says to him something that at first makes good sense to me, I just have to admit it. Down there in hell, talking to father Abraham, he says, "Father Abraham, I know they have church, and I know he has the Bible, and I know the people witness and testify, but if one went unto them from the dead, they would repent, they’d turn, they’d believe. If a marvelous miracle of a resurrection were to occur, they’d be converted." Now I want to admit to you that when I read that suggestion it kind of makes good sense to me; it kind of wins my approval: "Lord, I think that’s a pretty good idea. You have these five brethren here that are on the way to damnation. Lord, if You just send somebody from the grave and let that somebody talk to those brethren, they’d repent; they’d turn. Let one of them be raised, say, from hell, and describe the horrors of hell; and then let one of them be raised from heaven and describe the splendors of heaven. Lord, wouldn’t that be a marvelous way to convert these people?"
Well, then I began to think about it and to consider it. Do you think that they would really turn, that people would really repent and be saved if somebody went to them from hell or from heaven? Well, I want to look at that for just a moment, then I’ll have to quit.
Do you think they would believe the guy? "You? Did you really die and rise again? Did you? What are your credentials that you really died and rose again? How am I to know that? And what do you possess as an emissary from God, what are you going to say to me that the apostles and the prophets and the Lord Jesus haven’t already said to me?" Or, let’s take an instance of a man who is a critical blasphemer, he’s an out and out infidel. He’d say, "You? You really die? How do I know that you didn’t fall into a trance, or a swoon, or a blackout? You prove to me that you died and were buried. Is there a sexton that’ll swear to it? Then, are you the same man the sexton says he buried? Prove that to me." Finally he’d say, "I don’t think it is consistent with reason. It is ridiculous. Sensible men do not believe such things."
Well, lest you think, "Now, pastor, you’ve just gone off the deep end about that, the unbelief of these people. If they were really raised from the dead, they would be so amazed at the miracle that they would be converted and be saved, no matter how you put words in their mouths about their skepticism of this man having really died and come back to life and pleading with us to believe." All right, let’s just see if I am. Tell me, don’t you have in the Bible, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of John, the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, witnessed by an uncounted number of people? Then may I quote John [11:53]: "Then from that day forth they took counsel together to put Jesus to death"; because they could not answer the marvelous miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead; so they’re just going to put Jesus to death. Now may I read one other verse? In John 12:10 it says, in the next chapter it says, "But the chief priests consulted together that they might put Lazarus also to death." Here is a man who is raised from the dead before the very eyes of the chief priests, and the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisees, and the scribes, and the townspeople; but because of the miracle, instead of believing in the Lord Jesus, they took counsel to put Him to death, and because Lazarus was there as a sign of the resurrected power of God they consulted together to put him also to death.
Or let’s take Jesus’ resurrection. In Matthew 28, verses 12 to 15, it says that the people of authority and affluence in Jerusalem gave the soldiers money to say that, "While we were asleep, His disciples came and stole Him away." That’s the resurrection of our Lord.
May I conclude this, because I can’t elaborate on it forever? If a man in his heart will not believe the Bible, the witness of Holy Scripture, he’s not going to believe at all, even though one rose from the dead. The full witness of spiritual truth is on the pages of Holy Scriptures, as Abraham said to this plousios, "They have Moses and the prophets," the Bible, "let them hear them" [Luke 16:29].
Now may I make a final word? Even such living signs soon become commonplace, if God did it that way. If a whole church came to life, buried out there in the cemetery, they would cry for more. Do you remember – and I wrote it down here for this message tonight – in Matthew 12:38 and Matthew 16:1, in Luke 11:16, in John 2:18, and in John 6:30, after Jesus had done one miraculous thing after another, every one of those verses says the same thing: they said to the Lord Jesus, "Won’t you show us a sign from heaven?" After the Lord had raised the dead, fed five thousand on practically nothing, walked on the water, the Lord Himself amazed His disciples with the marvelous signs that He did affirming His deity, His messiahship, in all those passages; the people that didn’t believe in Him asked for more signs, more signs. If God plucked out a star, if God cast a mountain into the sea, if God halted the earth in its course, soon these wonders would pall and we would ask for new and more stupendous miracles to validate the previous miracles. Each new doubt would cry out for another marvelous sign.
We would view the voice of testimony of this man raised from the dead, do you think, any better than that of the prophets, of the apostles, and of Jesus? Don’t we have the voice of Moses from Mount Sinai? Isn’t it written there? Don’t we have the glorious message from heaven by the prophets, written here? Above all, don’t we have the testimony of the Son of God right here? What do we need more? Tell me, why would we believe the testimony of the sheeted dead more than the testimony of Jesus? If we are not persuaded by the gospel, why do you think we’d be persuaded by a ghost? If we have not learned the road to heaven by the Bible, how are we going to learn it from a specter?
In my preparing this message tonight, I came across a saying of an old Puritan; and I don’t know why it just grasped me like this. The saying was this: an old Puritan said, "Brethren, take a look out of your graves." That’s a strange sentence, and it never had occurred to me before; it just struck me. "Brethren, take a look out of your graves." My brethren, that can be done. If we run forward – I’m not talking about a long way – I’m talking about a few days or a few years, if we take that journey to the grave and see the world from the mound of earth above us, the view from beneath the sod, I say two things: one; our eternal destiny is settled in this life, forever and ever. As Ecclesiastes 11:3 says, "As the tree falls, so shall it lie." Forever and ever, our destiny is settled in this life. And number two: our only knowledge of salvation is the witness of Scripture; and if we refuse this, there is no other way, there’s no other hope, there’s no other gospel, there’s no other message. It is this or nothing at all.
But I want to show you, if I could, in just a little leaf in my life. I want to show you how precious it is. I’ve been a pastor, as you know, since I was seventeen years old. And in one of those country pastorates, way out, I went to see a young woman who was dying. And as I sat there by the bed, she said to me, "Would you read me out of the Bible?" And I read out of the Bible. Then she said, "Would you sing me a song?" And the best I could, I sang "In the Sweet By and By." Then she said, "And now would you pray?" And I knelt by the bed and prayed. She closed her eyes and was in heaven. That’s the way to die: in the love and grace of Jesus our Lord. "Read me a promise out of the Book, sing me a song of Zion, and pray to the blessed Jesus who stands ready to receive us." That’s the gospel! That’s the message of hope and salvation – and there is none other. And that’s enough; I ask for nothing more.
Lord, Lord, all that even God could do to save us has He done. It is just for me to receive His testimony, His grace; and I do.
Denny, I want us to stand and sing us a song. And while we sing the song, somebody this holy and heavenly moment to give his heart to Jesus, come and stand by me. Or a family to put your life in the fellowship of our wonderful church, you come and stand by me. Or to answer some call of God in your heart, welcome. As the Spirit shall lead, and the grace of God shall open wide the doors, and as angels shall attend, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
TORMENTED IN A FLAME
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The two men
1. Greek form of Hebrew "Eleazar" – "God is my help"
2. Infidel scoffs at his situation and name
3. But God is not done yet – "He died andâ€¦"
1. Unnamed in Bible – "Dives" Latin for "rich man"
2. Beggar laid at his gate, a palatial home
C. Why Dives in hell?
1. Because he was rich? (Hebrews 11:10, Genesis 23:4)
2. Because of worldly self-love
II. Existence in hell
A. We have our remembrance
B. Dives is now a personal soul-winner
III. Would a miracle of resurrection bring repentance?
A. Would we take him at his word?
B. Would the critical blasphemer believe?
C. The miracle of being raised from the dead would not make us believe (John 11:53, 12:10, Matthew 28:12-15, Luke 16:29, 31)
D. Even such living signs soon become commonplace (Matthew 12:38, 16:1, Luke 11:16, John 2:18, 6:30)
E. Would we view voice of testimony of raised man better than that of prophets, apostles, Jesus?
IV. The appeal
A. Our eternal destiny is settled in this life (Ecclesiastes 11:7)