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Blind faith or spiritual blindness?

June 3, 2018

lazarus

“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.’”

Luke 16:19-31

What do you think about hell? Surely you will answer me that if heaven exists, which is our goal in this life on earth, hell must also exist because that is also stated in the word of God.

Have you heard about those investigations about experiences that are supposed to happen beyond life? They are called near death experiences (NDE)? These are perceptions of the environment narrated by people who have been about to die or who have gone through a clinical death and have survived.
Such experiences may consist of a variety of feelings including disconnection from the body, feelings of levitation, total calmness, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light.

Generally, everything starts with a blinding light. They leave their bodies, stand up and look at their lying corpse in a hospital bed or on the stretcher of an ambulance. Then, they cross a long, bright tunnel at breakneck speed, and on the other side a fascinating place awaits them. Embarrassed by the beauty, they claim to meet a person who radiates light: God, Jesus, the Father, a Guide … it depends. “Your time has not come yet, you have a mission to fulfill on Earth,” the shining entity tells them.
After this encounter, they perceive how their soul returns to Earth, abandoning the warmth and security of light to return to their lifeless bodies. People who have lived a near-death experience (NDE) claim that there is something beyond and, with a few exceptions, all agree that they have been able to see the same heavens.

There are, however, some who claim to have seen the dark side of the beyond, a dark place populated by creatures of the satanic imagination: demons, harpies and similar monsters. In 1975, the book “Life after Life” was published by Raymond Moody, the first book to collect the stories of people whose hearts stopped beating for a few seconds and who were then revived. The American pastor John W. Price has been studying near-death experiences since 1969 and published: “Revealing Heavens: The Christian Case for Near Death Experiences”. Almost all stories follow a similar pattern: separation from the body, tunnel, and luminous entity, peaceful place in which there is a division of some kind-a fence, a stream or a low wall-that symbolizes the irreversible transition to the beyond that the people never get to cross.

However, few researchers in this field deal with the “negative”, “opposite” or “infernal” types of NDE in their books. The people in the first category are those who go through the usual process, although in this case there is a component of suffering or resistance to leaving the body. In the second type, the person is trapped in a vacuum, in a dark space of absolute calm, sometimes full of geometric figures, seized by the feeling that everything is absurd, that nothing makes sense. In the third case, the person is in the true hell, surrounded by flames and demons, locked in a sordid space and with no possibility of escape. Around 5-10% of people with NDE experiences saw this.
Here is the testimony of a negative experience:
“I started to go down, everything was dark and there were people screaming, fire, everybody wanted to drink (…) It was more than a tunnel, it was a gigantic passage, I was floating down … I saw a lot of people screaming .. I would say that there were at least a million, they were miserable people and with a lot of hatred inside them that kept saying they wanted to drink, there was not a drop of water … Suddenly I saw it, in front of me, with little horns, and I recognized it immediately: it was the Devil himself! ”

Is this all really true? We do not know yet. What we do know is that the lives of all these people changed dramatically after these experiences.
Our reading for today tells this kind of story: “‘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.’”

If we analyze these contemporary stories with Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus, there seems to be no contradictions. Surely Jesus composed his parables with facts of reality, reality that living people don’t know about.
I am convinced that there is a heaven and a hell because the Bible affirms it. And that there is a place reserved for believers and another place for those who do not want to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of the one God. Although today’s sermon topic is not concretely about the reality of hell, our subject is about a reality even sadder than hell itself. It is the reality of those who are spiritually blind. Those who are not able to believe, those who are not able to entrust their lives to Christ, those who make fun of the word of God and who do not have the spiritual capacity to believe in this as God’s Word.
We always say in the church that Christ invites us to believe in his word, nobody is forced to be part of the church. Jesus says:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”(Rev 3:20)

Christ invites us through his call. Every time we read his word he calls us. At this precise moment when we hear this message, Christ is also calling us, inviting us. It is our decision to accept believing, confide and put God first in our lives, (which is called trusting him) and regard his word as the true Word of God and not merely the words of men. When we are able to take that ‘leap of faith’, or to open the door to Christ, then our life begins to change radically and surely, like it does for those who have returned from a supposed encounter with death.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31) There we have the certainty of salvation. That personal decision does not transform us into perfect people overnight. Rather, it is a process of change of our essence that is been built with the goal of daily obedience to the word of God. That decision does not make us perfect, but it does save us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) That’s Jesus’ invitation and that is the guarantee for everyone who decides to start believing in Jesus Christ: heaven, eternal life, and paradise await them, but not hell.

What was the sin of the rich? Being wealthy? No, the sin of the rich man was to not believe in God. The sin of the rich man was to not put God in the first place of his life. He made riches his priority, in such a way that he even forgot his neighbour at the front door of his very same house. The sin of the rich man was to worship the material with indifference to the will of God. The sin of the rich man was indifference to the church, the communion of saints. The sin of the rich man was the lack of respect for the things of God. The sin of the rich man was not taking God seriously. The sin of the rich man was, as the language of the Bible states, the lack of fear of God, and also godliness.

As I said earlier, this is sadder than hell itself. Being able to choose heaven or hell and because of a spiritual blindness not choosing knowingly. Not being able to choose for the good is already a curse and it is something very sad. When we speak of believing, we are not referring to merely believing with the lips, as many people used to say that they do “believe in God”. Truly believing in Christ means having a fear of God. As Martin Luther once said, there is a great difference in being able to say ‘Jesus is the Lord’ to saying ‘Jesus is my Lord’. The second can only be said by a true believer, one who fears God. And when we use the word “Lord”, we refer to someone we choose to obey.

The saddest thing is spiritual blindness. Jesus says: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”(Jn 9:39)
And so the parable continues: “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.’”

Being able to believe in God, as Christ, Lord and Saviour, and to fear God is a blessing that not everyone can show. It is the same thing we read last Sunday when Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”. (Jn 3:3) Today, God invites us again. Like every Sunday, He invites us to believe or to reinforce our faith. Not everyone can believe; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says:
“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Cor 3:16)

People who choose to work in the church for God, as is the case today with the installation of the new church council, should be very aware of all this. The task they assume is of great importance. If we really do it with fear of God, it will be a great blessing for this church and an abundance of blessings for every one of you. When we begin to work and give our talent to God with true faith, even if we can only do little, that little will be miraculously multiplied and magnified because we will be doing it for God. This is so for it involves the action of a faith that is addressed in the first place to God.

God does not look for people who can do great things; God only seeks for us to surrender to Him. He is the one who performs miracles not us, but for His miracles to take place we must be His instruments, we must remain in true faith, in surrender and in the fear of God. I read a great phrase of the well-known missionary to China, Hudson Taylor: “God uses people who are weak and feeble enough to lean on Him.”

Let’s show God that the faith we confess is not a mere tradition but a living faith, instilled with fear of God. Let us show Him that we want to give him the first place of importance. That way God will not only intervene in the believers’ life, but He will also give us eternal life.
Amen.

E. P.

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