(…continued) In Luke 16 Jesus told a parable about a similar reversal of fortunes. The story opens with a rich man who has everything, living in luxury every day. At this rich man’s gate is a poor man, covered with sores and hungry. Lazarus is so poor that he longs to eat what falls from the rich man’s table. He longs for it, the parable says, but he receives nothing. Jesus doesn’t say anything about the rich man giving the poor man even so much as a crumb.
In time, both men die, and then the tables are reversed. The rich man is in agony in hell, but the poor man is with the angels. Jesus is encouraging his listeners to think beyond just today. He wants us to see ourselves in this story, and to think about our eternal destiny. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers about the terrors of the life to come in that terrible place. But Abraham says no, that will not be done. Abraham tells the rich man they have Moses and the prophets (the Scriptures). If they won’t listen to God’s Word, Abraham says, they won’t be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead to speak to them.
A little phrase that is repeated many times in the Bible is, “And it came to pass.” Someone once had a ring made and had inscribed on it some words based on that little phrase. As a constant reminder to keep this larger perspective on life, the inscription read: This too shall pass. Explaining the inscription, the person said: “This too shall pass; when one is happy, this makes one sad; but when one is sad, this makes one happy.” Things do keep changing. When you are in troubled times, just hang on, things will get better. But this also works the other way. When all is well and you are happy, just wait, that too will change. There is trouble ahead for everyone.
But the Bible adds to this endless back and forth is the eternal promises of God. We do get jerked around in this life, back and forth between bad times and good, between happiness and sadness. And if this life is all there is, then the last act is a sad one, and it does end up badly for all of us. Good King Azariah suffered from poor health for his entire life, and wicked King Jeroboam II enjoyed success, prosperity, and luxury; but they both ended up dead and in the grave.
However, the Bible is always telling us that death is not the last act. Death does not have to be the end of the play for us, but for those who believe in God’s promises, death is nothing more than the end of the beginning. The rich man and Lazarus both die, but that’s not the end of the parable. Life goes on for both of them, and the parable ends not with the grave, but with Jesus’ command to hear and believe God’s Word now while you still have the chance.
The Bible’s message is a word of hope like nothing else this world has to offer. This world is filled with countless opportunities for fulfillment and enjoyment, but it will not last. So the Bible calls us to a much larger world and a much bigger life. Death, for those who believe in Jesus, is not the end of anything, but merely an interruption before we are ushered into the vastness of God’s greater kingdom.
“He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” Jesus said. That’s what it means to be saved– not guaranteed prosperity here, not necessarily being healed whenever we ask for it here, not rewards and punishments handed out precisely according to our good and bad deeds here; but SAVED for all eternity in God’s home, far beyond the ups and downs, mysteries and injustices, problems and confusions of this brief life.
If you enter Colorado from the east on Interstate 70 you will not, at first, impressed with the beauty of the state. It will look like just more of the same empty, rolling plains that you have been coming across for a few hundred miles already. But it would be a mistake to then conclude that Colorado is not a beautiful state. You have not yet seen anything of the mountain lakes and streams, snow-capped peaks, towering forests, and the endless kinds of wildlife. There is much to see and experience in Colorado, and a 15 minute drive in from the eastern border of the state does not even begin to hint at all that is there.
In the same way, the few years of life we get in our little home on this little earth tell us only a little of all the beauty and blessings that are ahead of us in the infinite magnificence of God’s eternal kingdom. The apostle Paul once had a vision of heaven and wrote that it is far beyond even our wildest imagination. It would be foolish to conclude from our limited experience here that God is not good or fair. In this life God gives us only a glimpse of what there is to come. Amos and Paul and Luke and all the other Biblical writers are always trying to open our eyes and broaden our perspective. There is indeed another day coming, and even our best days here give just a hint of what that will be like.
John 11:25 — Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though they die.”
II Corinthians 4:18 — So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
II Corinthians 5:7 — For we live by faith, not by sight.
Thy Kingdom come.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.