A Prayer From Perdition
In Luke 16 we find the story of how a rich man became poor and a poor man became rich. Here we see incredible contrast. On earth, the rich man lived in luxury while Lazarus lived in poverty. The rich man enjoyed a life of ease, while Lazarus endured a lifetime of suffering. The only thing that these two men had in common was the fact that they both died .
When the rich man died, the pallbearers carried him to his tomb. When Lazarus died, the angels took him into Abraham’s bosom. “The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died… And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” (v. 22, 23). What had been true on earth for these two men was reversed in eternity. Lazarus had suffered on earth, but now he was comforted. The rich man, who had lived in comfort on earth, was now tormented in hell. On earth, the rich man never had a desire unmet, but in hell he will never have a single desire fulfilled .
The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. Lazarus did not go to heaven because he was poor. Possessing wealth is not a sin and being destitute is not a virtue. The sole reason that the rich man went to hell was because he was content to live without God! On earth Lazarus had nothing but God, while the rich man had everything except God. But in eternity Lazarus had everything and the rich man had nothing. In life, God meant nothing to the rich man, and in death, the rich man meant nothing to God. Those who defy God, deny God, and disregard God should not expect to be welcomed into heaven.
According to this passage, people in hell can see, feel, remember, thirst, and as strange as it sounds, they even pray. Note three things about the rich man’s prayer. First, his prayer was misdirected — he prayed to Abraham. Second, his prayer was misappropriated — he prayed too late. And third, his prayer was miscalculated — he was in no position to get an audience with God. He prayed to the wrong person, at the wrong time, and from the wrong place. As far as his prayer was concerned, he made three fatal mistakes. However, there are five valuable lessons we can learn from this man.
The Rich Man Prayed
The rich man may never have prayed on earth, but the first thing he did when he lifted up his eyes in hell was pray! Verse 24 states, “He cried.” Note three things about his intercession.
His Prayer Was Zealous
He was not saying his prayers; he was praying his prayers! His cries were earnest and heartfelt. There is much which is thought to be prayer which in reality is no prayer at all! A lot of make-believe prayer takes place at political rallies and sporting events. It is more like a good-luck charm or incantation than intercourse with a holy God. Back in high school, our baseball team would always recite the Lord’s Prayer just before the game began. Only seconds prior to the “prayer” our team members would be boasting of their immoral exploits, taking God’s name in vain, and telling dirty jokes. But every hat went off when it came time to rub the lucky rabbit’s foot, and every one of us would repeat aloud the Lord’s Prayer. WE DIDN’T MEAN A WORD OF IT! Similarly, a lot of bedtime prayers are little more than spiritual nursery rhymes. It is entirely possible to say your prayers for years, kneel in family worship, and bow your head a thousand times in Sunday services, yet never really pray! Brownlow North said, “Saying prayers without praying prayers is blasphemy.” The rich man’s prayer issued from deep within his heart — he was zealous.
His Prayer Was Sincere
On earth he never felt the need to pray, but in hell he was compelled to pray. There can be no real prayer apart from need. He was not praying like he meant it — now he was praying because he meant it.
His Prayer Was Solemn
Throughout Scripture you find men crying out to God. Moses cried out at the bitter waters of Meribah. Elijah cried out when the widow’s son died. Jonah cried out from the belly of a great fish. Jesus cried out from Golgotha.
One windy day a fellow had let out a huge amount of line while flying his kite. Low-lying clouds moved in, which removed the kite from sight. A gentleman came along and saw the string going up in the air, but he could not see the kite. The skeptic said, “I don’t believe there is a kite up there.” The flyer responded, “It’s up there.” To which the man replied, “How do you know it’s up there?” The young man said, “I can still feel the tug.”
The rich man’s eyes were finally opened to the ultimate reality. On earth he had been a graceless and prayerless man. Now in hell he was still graceless, though he was praying his overdue prayer. Brethren, indulge every desire to pray.
He Appealed For Mercy
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me.” God’s mercy is not in question. Scripture teaches that God is rich in mercy, has tender mercy, and has abundant mercy. The problem is, the rich man had prayed too late. He had sinned away his day of grace.
There is no reason on earth for any to remain one moment without God. In the Bible there is invitation upon invitation and promise after promise. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
One day a neighbor told me he liked Hinduism because of its teaching on Karma. The basic idea is that through reincarnation an individual reaps the consequences from his former life. The belief is that justice is meted out and the scales are balanced as people reap in their current life what they have sown in their past life. My neighbor thought this system was fabulous. The main problem here is sinners don’t need justice. They need mercy!
The rich man pleaded for mercy, but it was too late. NOW is the time to appeal for mercy!
The Rich Man Had Heart-Felt Concern
“I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house” (v. 27). He was deeply moved on behalf of his family. Once he realized there was nothing to be done about his situation, he immediately turned his attention to others. His main concern now was the eternal well-being of his brothers. How horrible hell must be if a man who is eternally doomed is concerned enough to cry out on behalf of others!
The pastor’s secretary handed him a piece of paper with a man’s name who had requested a visit. The pastor stuffed the piece of paper in his pocket. His secretary said, “Pastor, I really think you need to go visit this man.” The pastor was extremely busy and said he would go visit him sometime later in the week. His secretary insisted, “Pastor, I really think you need to go see this man.” Irritated by her insistence, the pastor left the office and slammed the door behind him. Moments later he pulled up into the driveway of a house in a run-down part of town. As he knocked on the door he heard a voice from the back of the house, “Come on in.” The pastor found the man weeping in his bedroom, “Pastor, I am going to hell tonight.” The pastor asked what he meant. The man said, “I am not right with God. I am going to die and go to hell tonight.” The pastor responded, “Sir, you do not have to go to hell tonight.” He proceeded to lead this fellow to Christ. Upon hearing the Gospel, this man cried out to God for mercy. The pastor then gave him Scripture verses and sang hymns about heaven to the man. Night had fallen when the pastor said, “Sir, I am going to have to leave.” The man replied, “It is quite all right. You pointed me to God and tonight I am going to meet Jesus. It is okay for you to leave.” The pastor felt ashamed of his attitude earlier that day and left with a fresh realization that men’s souls are the most important things in the world.
R. A. Torrey said, “It’s impossible to witness to the wrong person.” If you lack concern for souls, start talking to people about their souls. As you listen to people and talk to people, your compassion can be reignited. The rich man in hell had heart-felt concern — do you?
The Rich Man Had A Burden For Souls
“For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (v. 28). Hellfire was real to the rich man. Maybe the reason we are so casual about eternity is because the fires of hell do not seem real to us! The rich man was stirred up for evangelism. Is it possible that he had a greater desire to see people saved than we do?
William Booth said the best education his preachers could have would be to spend 24 hours in hell. If this were possible, he felt this would do more to promote earnest preaching than a good education.
On a train ride in India, Praying Hyde led a young Indian to Christ. Newly saved, this young man went to the mission station in search of the man who had pointed him to the Savior. Upon approaching the compound, the young man asked about the missionary whom he had met on the train, but he did not remember his name. Since there were so many missionaries at the station, the gentleman did not know to which missionary he was referring. The Indian was then asked to describe the missionary. The Indian gave the following description, “He is the one with the tears in his eyes.” Immediately, the manager knew he was looking for Praying Hyde. John Hyde was known for his compassion. His burden for souls grew to the point where he led four souls to Christ every day!
Paul had such a burden for his kinsmen that he was willing to be “accursed for Christ” if only his brethren might be saved. He warned people day and night with tears. What is your first thought when you meet a person for the first time? “I wonder if this person is prepared to meet God,” is your primary concern when you carry a burden for souls. One of the sure marks that a church is backslidden is when they only pray for sick people — not for lost people. Consider this, every time you take a breath ten souls go out into eternity unprepared to meet God. The rich man had a burden for souls — do you?
The Rich Man Interceded With Desperate Desire
The rich man’s initial request to send Lazarus back to his brethren was denied. He pled the second time, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” (v. 30). His longing was such that it demanded all his reasoning and persuasive skills. With desperation he interceded on behalf of his brothers.
During WWII, a missionary, his wife, and nine-year-old daughter were put into a concentration camp by the Japanese. The missionary and his family were given one cup of water and one cup of wormy rice each day. They were literally starving to death. To make matters worse, the guards would read off a list of names every day, and those whose names were called were lined up and executed. The guards forced the prisoners to witness the executions through the bars of their cells. Day after day they held their breath, hoping their names would not be called. Though they felt relieved when their names were not called, they still felt guilty that others were sentenced to die. One bright sunny day the missionary’s nine-year-old daughter’s name was called . The missionary said to the guards, “I will go in my daughter’s place. She is only a child . She has not done anything.” The guard responded, “Whoever is on the list is selected to die. We cannot change the list.” They grabbed the girl from her mother’s arms and put her against the wall. The machine gun mowed her down. The father was then forced to pick up his daughter and bury her in a shallow grave.
The next day the prisoners heard rumblings, gunfire, and bombs exploding. The missionary looked out the window and saw the star under the wing of a United States plane. Not a single prison guard could be seen at this point. The U.S. Army blew the gate open and soldiers poured in, going from cell to cell liberating the prisoners. When they opened the missionary’s cell he fell on his face and kissed the muddy boots of the soldiers and said, “Thank God you have come.”
Later the missionary met one of the soldiers who had been a part of the invasion. He said to the soldier, “If you had only come one day earlier, my daughter would still be alive.” The soldier explained that the Japanese were planning to evacuate the camp and kill all of the prisoners. After which the soldier said, “If we had come one day later, you all would be dead.” One day was the difference between life and death for everyone in that concentration camp. If the soldiers had come one day later they all would have perished. What we do or refuse to do, what we say or choose not to say, has eternal consequences.
The rich man was earnest about getting his brothers saved. If he could come back to earth he would be the best soul winner on the planet! He was pleading over their souls.
When asked how he built a church in a large northern city, the pastor replied, “Bent knees, wet eyes, broken hearts.” When was the last time your heart was broken over souls? Are you earnest about getting your family, friends, and acquaintances saved?
In France during the Reign of Terror, victims were brought by the droves to the crowded dungeons. One night in July, 1794, an old man was roving about the dark prison among his fellow prisoners. He came upon a sleeping figure and discovered it was his son. His father was unaware his son had been seized and brought to that despicable place. Overcome with grief, he asked himself, “What can I do to save my son?” He thought, “We both bear the same name. Tomorrow I can answer for him and go to the guillotine in his place.” He prayed the night through that his son would not wake up.
In the early morning hours three soldiers stamped into the dungeon. They called his son’s name, “Jean Simon de Loiserolle.” The father sprang to his feet and answered clearly, “Here!” On the way to the guillotine they passed through the bureau where the names were marked off. The guard said, “Jean Simon de Loiserolle, age 37?” The father said, “that’s my name, but my age is 73.” “Stupid mistake!,” muttered the guard, “73 not 37!” Seizing a pen the guard made the correction and the old man was taken to the guillotine and killed . The next morning a prisoner told the son how a man watched beside him all night and when his name was called he went in his place. When he realized his father had died for him, he was filled with bitter anguish.
The son waited, expecting to be called to his fate at any moment. Three days passed and there was one final execution. The Reign of Terror had ended and all the prisoners went free. His father had paid the supreme sacrifice which saved his life.
Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins so we could be saved. There was One who was willing to die in my stead, That a soul so unworthy might live. And the path to the cross He was willing to tread, All the sins of my life to forgive!
It’s time to get over our fear of man and fear of rejection. The main thing is still the main thing! If a man would intercede from hell on behalf of lost souls, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to get the Good News to others? There are valuable lessons we can learn from a man who prayed in hell.