The First Sunday after Trinity: Heaven and Hell

Lessons: Genesis 15:1-6, 1 John 4:16-21, Luke 16:19-31
Hymns: LSB 696, 768, 505, 618, 713, 718

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Many Christian hymns reflect upon living with Christ forever in Heaven. Far fewer make mention of Hell. In Christian preaching, we emphasize the eternal salvation of the Christian. We do not emphasize as much the eternal condemnation of the non-Christian.

Part of the reason for this is that the Gospel must always predominate in Christian preaching. Preaching Christ—His death and resurrection, the cross and forgiveness—are to be the center and focus of what Christians hear when they gather in the Divine Service.

Heaven is also emphasized because Heaven is the eternal home for the Christian. Hell is not. Church services are for Christians. Thus, Christian preaching is directed to Christians.

Also, Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel that preaching Hell does not normally alarm those who sinfully love the ways and pleasures of the world and do not have saving faith. You see, after the rich man had suffered awhile in Hell, he was granted a conversation with Abraham. At the end of the conversation, the rich man asked to raise Lazarus from the dead and warn the rich man’s brothers of Hell, so they do not also end up there. Now, this may seem to be a reasonable request. Since the rich man is stuck forever in Hell, he doesn’t want his brothers to face the same condemnation. But Abraham refused. Not only would that have been horrible for Lazarus to leave the joys of Heaven and come back to this sinful world filled with sorrows and suffering, but Abraham also made it clear that if people won’t listen to the Bible, they won’t listen to anyone who rises from the dead.

Here Jesus gives His stamp of approval on the entire Old Testament. Jesus is telling this story of the rich man and Lazarus, using Abraham as the one who dialogs with the rich man. When the rich man asks to send Lazarus back to earth, Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” But Moses and the prophets have died. So how do they listen to Moses and the prophets? They hear them through the Bible. “Moses and the prophets” was the phrase often used to describe the entire Scriptures at the time—the entire Old Testament. Jesus’ point is we have the Bible. The Bible is sufficient. If we won’t believe the Bible by the working of the Holy Spirit, nothing will cause us to believe.

Now many like to pick and choose from the Bible what they feel is best to believe. So, if they don’t like something, they discard it. If it fits with their system of belief, then they hold to it. But Jesus teaches us we cannot do this. Jesus here affirms everything written in the Scriptures. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The rich man may have felt he did not need to listen to the Scriptures for his salvation. If he ever cared to think about matters of faith, he fully convinced himself of his salvation. He probably figured, “God has certainly blessed me. My wealth is an indication of God’s love and favor toward me.” Another reason why he figured he stood in God’s grace is indicated in how he addressed Abraham. He called Abraham, “Father Abraham.” You see, many in those days believed they would be saved simply because they could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They took faith out of the equation and figured that all descendants of Abraham would be saved no matter what. The rich man was a descendant of Abraham, but he was not saved. He was not saved because he did not believe. He addressed Abraham as father not out of faith, but because of the family tree.

True children of Abraham are children by promise. Romans 9-11 and Galatians 3-5 teach us that, as Christians, you are children of Abraham because you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Children of Abraham are heirs of the promise. We are children—we are heirs—because we believe the Gospel. This also means that the rich man, who called Abraham father, was not a true child of Abraham because he had fallen away from the faith.

What this all means is no one is saved except through faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in Jesus are saved. The rest spend an eternity in Hell. This also shows that the path to Hell is rather broad.

The rich man may well have asserted his salvation and claimed to be a believer, but found himself in Hell anyway. Why? Even if he thought he believed in Jesus, he trusted in his possessions even more. His love for his self and his stuff is evident in his failure to help Lazarus. True faith is always busy and active in love. The rich man had no faith busy and active in love. The rich man was self-serving. And the rich man never repented for this sin.

Lazarus was counted as a child of Abraham because he believed in Jesus. He could not trust in his abilities or possessions because he had none. He could only trust in Jesus. The name Lazarus means, “God has helped.” He may have had doubts from time to time. He may have prayed, “God, if you love me, why do you let me suffer this way?” Such doubting is not good since God loves him dearly. Yet, God allowed him to suffer such agonizing pain so that he would not turn his faith away from God. Many call upon God in times of trouble, but then ignore Him when the times are good. Lazarus had no opportunity to let good times get in the way of his salvation.

Now, much of Christianity is centered on the salvation of our bodies and souls. That’s what God promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden. That is the purpose of the Old Testament: to teach salvation history. That’s why Jesus came: to take away our sins. That’s what you hear week after week: Law and Gospel, which draw you to Christ. That’s why Jesus instituted the Sacraments. That’s why the Word was written. All of this is for the salvation of your bodies and souls.

Because Jesus offers salvation, those who do not receive this offer are not saved. They are condemned. Just as Heaven is real, so is Hell.

All people will spend an eternity in either Heaven or Hell. There is no crossing over from one to the other. There is no second chance. Once a person dies, his soul goes immediately to Heaven or to Hell. There’s no in-between place. And there is no such thing as people waiting around on earth in spirit form. People do not live on as ghosts. If you think someone’s soul is haunting a house or communicating with the living, know that that is not the case. Instead it is probably Satan, or another fallen angel seeking to deceive God’s people.

Hell was created by God, but it was not part of his original plan when He made everything good. When some of God’s angels were not satisfied with their class as servant, they tried to defeat God by fighting Him. Obviously, these corrupt angels could not win against the almighty God who created all things, even the angels. And so, God created Hell for those rebellious angels who will suffer forever in the fire.

Because man also followed suit by eating of the forbidden fruit, those who do not receive Christ in faith will also be condemned to Hell for all time.

 An eternity is a long time. It seems like we’ve been dealing with the coronavirus for a long time. Yet, these past few months are nothing compared to the eternal torments of Hell. I could not imagine suffering there forever. Yet that is the way for all who reject Christ.

And in the same token, the joys of Heaven will never grow dull or diminish. The joys and pleasantries of Heaven will also last for an eternity. In Heaven we will be in the presence of God. We will know Him as He is. Everything will be perfect all the time. There will be no suffering and there will be no temptation to sin. All will be good.

Yet, things will even get better in Heaven someday.

How can that be? Well, Jesus will return to Earth on Judgment Day. All the dead will be raised. Their bodies and souls will reunite. On that day we will be made whole and complete in every way possible. On that Day we will then experience the full glory of Heaven because we will be with God and we will see Him face to face. With our own flesh we will see God. We will have those perfect bodies that God intended for us all along. That truly will be Heaven!

On that Last Day, God will recreate the Heavens and the Earth, and we will live with God forever. This means that we will live with Him on the new Earth. That will be Heaven to us because everything will be perfect, and we will be in His presence, singing His praises.

This salvation is only possible because Jesus gave up His glory in Heaven and took the role of a servant. Jesus became Man at His incarnation. Through His righteous act on the cross, He has quenched the fires of Hell. God’s anger against our sinful ways and selfish lives and hateful words and deeds was directed against Jesus who bore all our sin in our place. He suffered the wrath of God in our place as He was forsaken by God the Father on the cross.            

God’s anger is replaced with love, for our sins are taken away and we appear before God as righteous. Therefore, let us rejoice this day that Heaven is open to us.  Let us listen to the Bible—the Law and the Prophets—as the sole source of legitimate Christian teaching. And let us receive with joy the gifts which He gives for our salvation. Let us lead lives of repentance, turning continually to the Lord. For we now have peace with God. No matter how much we may suffer in this life, we know we still stand in God’s grace when we walk by faith, as Lazarus did. Amen.   

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen