When I was about six years old my friend and I found a small book of matches. I’d seen some people light their paper match by flinging it across the striker with their thumb and then grabbing the end between their thumb and finger as it flew in the air. I thought that was so cool! I decided I would try it. I grabbed the matchbook and tore out the first match, pressed the head against the striker, and slid it as deftly as a six-year-old could. The flame roared to life. I quickly grabbed for the end of the match, just like I had seen it done by the cool guys. In an instant I learned a very important lesson. Always grab the unlit end of the match! I realized this the minute I firmly grabbed onto the flame. The light charcoaled brownish tan blister on my pointer finger and thumb served as a reminder. Thankfully, I had a canteen filled with water and poured it over my hand. My friend laughed like crazy while I writhed in pain. Finding no humor in the situation, I quickly challenged him to see if he could do any better. He boastfully took up the challenge.
He tore off the next match, pressed it onto the striker, and slid it as fast as he could. Just like mine the match lit up. However, he did not catch his match. We watched in horror as the blazing match flew directly into a giant pile of dry weeds. The weeds were between an alfalfa field and a tree filled gulley. They lit on fire and the blaze immediately spread to the field and trees. It all happened so quickly we could not extinguish the flames. We didn’t have any way of calling for help, but someone must have seen the smoke and called the fire department. They showed up in full force to fight the blaze.
We had been told not to play with matches. However, we thought the thrill would be greater than the punishment. Boy, were we wrong! As you could imagine, the discipline was far worse than the momentary thrill. The sores on my fingers, the water used to soothe them, and the punishment received calls to mind the story Jesus tells about The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“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 Hades, 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 set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The rich man played with spiritual fire through his selfish luxurious lifestyle and total lack of concern for others. It wasn’t until he found himself in Hell for eternity that he demonstrated care for anyone other than himself. Deuteronomy 15:10-11 calls for us to care for the “poor and needy.” James 2:5 says, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” In verse 25 of Luke the word “son” infers the rich man may have been a rebellious believer in Christ who failed to act on his faith. James 2:24 says, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
While the latter two passages may seem to contradict each other, they are instead making a distinction between those performing deeds for personal gain or recognition, and those doing works as a form of worship to God. No matter how much money a person may give, how much time they may spend feeding the poor, or how “good” they may seem on the outside that is not what saves them. Apart from Christ all deeds are worthless when it comes to eternity. It is only through grace bestowed to those who are “born again” in Christ that salvation comes (John 3:1-21). This true faith in Christ stimulates a person to do works justified by Christ, rather than performing boast-filled self-promoting deeds.
Jesus emphasizes that belief in what Moses and the prophets have foretold in the Old Testament are significant to faith in Christ. Jesus made it clear that even if a dead person were to come back to life, they would not have the power God’s “breathed” words have on drawing people to Christ (2 Timothy 3:16-17). “Let us not therefore desire visions and apparitions, nor seek the dead, but to the law and to the testimony (Isaiah 8:19-20) for that is the sure word of prophecy, upon which we stand” – Matthew Henry.
Luke 16:19-31 very clearly asserts when a person draws their last breath their eternal fate is sealed. We see that there are no requests granted in Hell and every sight and sound adds to the torment and aggravation Hell affords. Hell is a one-way ticket for those who choose eternity there. God does not send people to Hell. He simply allows the person’s choices in life to become a reality in eternity. Jesus himself emphasizes there are no second chances after death to accept him as your savior. He tells us today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2), and to seek Him while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6). His love, forgiveness, redemption, and abundant life are offered to whosoever will call upon Him (Romans 10:13). He is calling – will you turn to Him?
Rick Winegar is a layman at New Life Christian Fellowship.