Deadlines and Second Chances
Most people these days are used to working to deadlines – ‘due dates’ to pay our bills or complete tax returns, Business Activity Statements or school assignments. There are ‘closing dates’ for entering competitions or buying tickets. Although there can be disadvantages or disappointments if we miss those deadlines, there is usually some sort of second chance or a way around our misfortune. Even angry football fans that miss out on grand final tickets are still able to watch the game on TV.
There is one thing in life though for which there is a final deadline, after which there is no turning back. That has to do with whether we accept the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and live for him, or whether we choose instead to live for ourselves, worldly wealth and material possessions.
Jesus talks about that deadline in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. First, we are told about the enormous difference between the material wealth of these two people: There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury. There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs would come and lick his sores (v.19-21).
Next, Jesus tells us about the enormous difference between the spiritual wealth of these two people. Lazarus was the one who was spiritually rich and the ‘rich man’ was the one who was spiritually poor. The evidence of that is what Jesus said about them when it came to the final deadline. Their roles were reversed at the point of death: The poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven. The rich man died and was buried, and in Hell where he was in great pain, he looked up and saw Abraham, far away, with Lazarus at his side (v.22, 23).
The one who enjoyed comfort and pleasure on earth was now in torment and pain because, with all his earthly riches, he had neglected the greatest riches of all – the riches of God’s grace. The one who endured torment and pain on earth was now enjoying comfort and pleasure because, in all his earthly poverty, he had found the greatest riches of all – his faith in God, and in God’s promises.
Both men had reached the deadline where their eternal fate would be decided forever. There would be no second chance now, no way around the dilemma. Their decision was now irreversible.
Suddenly the rich man thought of four things he should have done while on earth.
First, he lifted his eyes up to heaven. He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus at his side (v. 23). He focused on the Father’s house above and the comfort, which believers receive there. He had opportunity to do that during his earthly life, like David who said: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple, for he will hide me in his shelter” (Ps.27: 4,5). He could have done that instead of focusing on himself, his own wealth and enjoyment. Now it was too late!
Second the rich man prayed for God’s mercy. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” (v.24a). He became aware of his real condition before God. He was not worthy to stand before God on his own. He was spiritually bankrupt, separated from God forever because of his sin. He needed God and his mercy. He could have received God’s mercy and salvation beforehand if only he had realized his own condition and prayed for mercy while he was living life on earth. Now it was too late!
Third, the rich man began to think of Lazarus. He called out, “Send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water and cool off my tongue, because I am in great pain in this fire” (v.24b). Lazarus had been in pain on earth but the rich man had thought only of himself. The scraps that Lazarus received were not given; they “fell”. Now the rich man became aware of the need for compassion – when he was the one who needed it! Now he noticed Lazarus. But the gap that he had created between himself and others was as wide and “unbridgeable” as the gap between heaven and hell (v.26). Abraham reminds him that he once had an opportunity to bridge that gap. Now it was too late!
Fourth, the rich man had a ‘burning’ desire for evangelism. The rich man said, “Then I beg you, father Abraham, send Lazarus to my Father’s house, where I have five brothers. Let him go and warn them so that they, at least, will not come to this place of pain” (v.27, 28). In his life he had the Word of God, the warnings of Moses and the Prophets and the words of eternal life to share with them then, but he didn’t. Now it was too late! One of the greatest torments of Hell will be that people there will suddenly have a ‘burning’ desire to do all those things they should have done on earth, but will not be able to do them. Christ’s warning is that we have only one lifetime to ‘get it right’ with God.
But isn’t God ‘a God of second chances’? Doesn’t he want everyone in heaven and no one in hell? That’s true! That’s why he sent Jesus as our Saviour. In Christ, God has provided a second chance for every human being who will receive it. He has provided a much better alternative to the life that is lived to self and worldly pleasures and possessions.
Through Christ, God has offered us a fresh opportunity to focus on the father’s house above. We know that Jesus’ death has paved the way to the Father’s house for us, and that if we trust in him we need never be worried because, as he assures his faithful people, he has gone to prepare a place for us. We have ample opportunity to renew that focus now through God’s Word and worship.
Through Christ, God has already bridged the gap that could have separated us from him eternally. His amazing grace has given us the cross of Jesus as a secure bridge across that gap and Jesus’ resurrection as an assurance of his eternal victory over death and hell for all believers. Every person has the opportunity to pray the ‘Sinners Prayer’ for mercy and to receive his free gift of eternal life.
Through Christ, God has given us the power and motivation to show love and compassion for others. Jesus said: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34), and “As much as you have done it to the least of one of these, my brothers, you have done it to me” (Matt. 25:40).
Through Christ, God has given us the hope of having our families share God’s place of eternal happiness instead of the place of eternal pain. Someone has risen from the dead and come to us to help us turn from our sins. We have the Word of God – Moses and the Prophets as well as the word of Christ and his Apostles – to share God’s good news with our families and friends.
The fact is that, for us, God is providing the riches of his grace – and his second chance – right now. What are the priorities in our lives at the moment? What sort of riches are we really interested in – material or spiritual? Are there some things we ought to look at changing now, before it is too late for ourselves and our families?
When it comes to the deadline, when our life is over and we stand before God in judgement, there will be no more second chances. God has given us our second chance, in Jesus. Let’s not forget to put our trust in Him alone! Amen.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.