Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Today, as we celebrate Easter from our homes, Christian Growth revisits one of Simon Manchester’s most memorable Easter Sunday messages presented during his time as minister at St Thomas’s Anglican Church, North Sydney.
I want to ask you on this Easter Sunday whether the resurrection has changed you, whether it has transformed you.
This is one of these funny things that there are people in the building this morning who’ve been completely changed by the risen Christ. There are others that haven’t changed. So you could be sitting in a seat next to somebody who has been transformed, converted, reborn, on their way to glory, while you have not yet been transformed or changed.
Disliking Easter is hard. I remember, even as a kid, coming to Easter services, and the combination of chocolate and Christ the Lord has risen today left me with a very happy feeling. And it is, it’s an excellent season. The chocolate is plentiful, the holidays are nearby, and there are some rousing, joyful songs to sing. But for many people, and it may be for you, this resurrection thing is as meaningless as the foil on an egg. It’s just here, and gone, and discarded. Something else may be gripping you but not the risen Christ.
There’s a story of a grandmother who’s in the park, a wealthy grandmother, watching her grandchildren play. And a lady says to her, “Are these your grandchildren? What lovely boys! How old are they?” And the grandmother says, “The lawyer is four, and the doctor is two.” And she is in the grip of their prosperity, and they were in the grip of her materialism.
Now, who’s going to break that? Who’s gonna get a person out of the grip of this world? Who’s gonna get a person out of this kind of tomb in which we live, so that we don’t just perish and die? And the wonderful reality is that Jesus Christ does this, He transforms people. One example from the first century is the brother of Jesus, His half-brother, James. We know from the New Testament that James was resistant, hostile, and opposed to Jesus. But when Jesus had risen from the dead, He went to His brother, His half-brother, and he seems to have been dramatically converted. He became a leader of the Church.
A 21st-century example of changing somebody, and we could pick millions of cases between the 1st century and the 21st, but the 21st-century example would be Peter Hitchens, the brother of Christopher Hitchens, the great atheist who died a couple of years ago. And Peter Hitchens was changed or converted when he stood in front of a painting in Europe somewhere, which was a painting of the last judgment. And that reminded him that he’s going to come face-to-face with the risen Christ. This very brilliant man, Peter Hitchens, was changed and transformed. He says in his book called, The Rage Against God,
“No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part. I could easily make up some other more credible story. But I have felt proper fear, enough to know that it is an extraordinary gift which helps us to think clearly in moments of danger.” The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens
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And that’s a good reminder as we come to a sobering part of the New Testament, which we just had read to us from Luke Chapter 16, the story of two men, one goes to heaven, and one goes to hell. And what I want to do this morning for a few minutes is I just want to think with you about the reality of being transformed.
Has it occurred to you that there are people in this building and all around the world who have been reborn, converted, transformed, given eternal life by Jesus Christ? And I want to talk to you about the reality of being transformed, and then I want to talk to you for a minute about the importance of it, and then finally, the secret of it.
So today is the day where thousands of preachers all around the world try and persuade people about the resurrection, and most church visitors are unchanged. And many churchgoers seem to be unaffected. So Easter Day may be not a life-changing day for you. But God is a life-changing God.
Jesus’ brother went from unbelief to church leadership, from darkness to light. And Peter Hitchens went from unbelief to courageous witness for Christ. Those of you who saw him some years ago on the ABC TV’s Q&A program held in the Town Hall will remember that he very boldly said that the most important message for the world today is that Jesus is the son of God and rose from the dead. He was hated for saying it. He says in his book, “The fury against Christianity is the same old power struggle of earthly utopians wanting absolute power.”
Luke 16 describes two men, one is transformed, and one is not. How do we know? Because one move to heaven and one of them moves to hell.The first man, we read in Verse 19, is a wealthy man. His clothes are beautiful; his lifestyle is luxurious, he looks fantastic. The second man, the beggar, verse 20, lives at the gate of the rich man, no doubt in rags, covered in sores. And the poor man, we’re told, dies and goes to heaven. And he is carried to Abraham’s side, it’s an unusual way of describing heaven, Abraham’s side, but you have to remember that Jesus is talking to Jews, and the Jews had Abraham as their model, so to end up with Abraham was ideal. The rich man, we’re told, he dies and goes to Hades. Hades is the word in the New Testament for the place of the dead. It’s like the cemetery, the burial place. It’s not the place of punishment, although it does look as though in this passage, that the rich man is in great distress.
- The first man (we read in Verse 19) is a wealthy man. His clothes are beautiful; his lifestyle is luxurious, he looks fantastic
- The second man, the beggar (Verse 20) lives at the gate of the rich man, no doubt in rags, covered in sores
The poor man, we’re told, dies and goes to heaven. And he is carried to Abraham’s side, it’s an unusual way of describing heaven, Abraham’s side, but you have to remember that Jesus is talking to Jews, and the Jews had Abraham as their model, so to end up with Abraham was ideal.
The rich man, we’re told, he dies and goes to Hades. Hades is the word in the New Testament for the place of the dead. It’s like the cemetery, the burial place. It’s not the place of punishment, although it does look as though in this passage, that the rich man is in great distress.
Now, why do they go separate ways? It cannot be that rich people automatically go to hell, and poor people automatically go to heaven. It cannot be. Why?
- First of all, because Abraham was wealthy. Abraham had lots of servants, plenty of flocks, lots of herds, lots of land, and lots of money
- The second thing is that Jesus never condemns riches. He’s perfectly happy for people to have money, as long as it doesn’t keep you from becoming a disciple, or being a disciple.
- The third thing is, poverty is not the way to be saved. Otherwise, as you get to the end of your life you give away all your money, and you just breeze off to glory. But it’s not the way to be saved.
No action on our part can save us. But it does look in Verse 25 as if Jesus is teaching a crazy swap. It’s as if he’s teaching, you know, “Rich man, you’ve had your good time, well, now you get hell. Poor man, you’ve had your tough time, well, now you get heaven.” But He can’t be teaching that that would contradict everything else in the New Testament. It would contradict everything that Jesus says and did.
Now, the reason the rich man goes to hell is that he’s never been transformed, he’s never been made new. The reason the poor man goes to heaven is that he’s obviously been transformed. And we need to look more carefully to see what this means. And that leads to my second point this morning, which is the importance of being transformed.
The Importance of Being Transformed
Do you see from this bit of the Bible that Jesus Christ teaches that death is not the end? There’s a lot of people who say it is, but we need to remember that Jesus Christ said it is not. The one person who knows what he’s talking about is Jesus, on this subject. He went through, and He came back.
The one person who’s got absolute integrity to say what is true is Jesus Christ, and He says that death is not the end. I could stand up this morning and say, “I hope there is life after death.” But it doesn’t make it true. I could say it very loudly, and I could say it over and over and over again, but it wouldn’t make it true. But the one person who spoke about eternal life all the time is Jesus Christ. And He proved it by raising people from their tombs, and He rose himself from His tomb. And He speaks again, and again, and again about life after death. So I can’t quite stop believing in it because He is so impressive. And, in fact, when Jesus was mocked for believing in life after death, you can read this in Luke Chapter 20, He said to His critics, “Look, I’m sorry you’re out of your league. You just don’t know what you’re talking about. I do know what I’m talking about.”
I was interested to read that the British Mountaineer George Mallory, who went up Mount Everest in 1924 and never returned, was found, as you may know, in 1999 with his body virtually unaffected as it lay on the ice. Seventy-five years later they found him, and there was quite a bit of damage to his body, some broken bones, a hole in his head. What they couldn’t work out was whether George Mallory was ascending on the way up or descending.
In other words, had he conquered Mount Everest and was now coming back, and had fallen, or had he got partway up and had fallen. And the issue was settled by George Mallory’s son, John, and John said this, he said, “If you conquer Everest, you come back alive. My father did not come back alive. Therefore we cannot say he conquered Everest.”
That’s a fascinating parallel, isn’t it? Because Jesus Christ went to the grave and came back alive, and therefore He is the conqueror or the victor of the grave. So not only does He have the authority to speak on the subject, but He tells us that there are two destinations. He says there is a place of great security and there is a place of great grief. Heaven, He says, is real.
Hell, He says, is real. And He repeatedly spoke on both places. He described heaven as a feast, and a home, and a wonderful place. And He spoke about hell as a fire, and a darkness, and a terrible place. And not only did He speak about these things to warn people, but He was frequently in tears when He spoke about it. And then He took himself deliberately, and personally, and sacrificially along to Jerusalem to be arrested and crucified to make sure that people didn’t go there.
So this information is highly significant, and interestingly, the world tries to say all the opposite and aims all its guns against what Jesus Christ has told us, and what our country and most of the West have believed for a very long time. So the world says, that there’s only one destination. Of course, Hitler won’t be there, but everybody else will be there. Because we’re lovely and we all deserve to be there, that’s the way the world talks. Jesus doesn’t talk that way. We’re told that hell is a kind of a sick joke, that’s only spoken about by mad monks and mad preachers. But Jesus spoke about it all the time. And we’re told that hell is now, you know, it’s the tough life that we’re in. Jesus said, “No, it’s still to come. It’s the place where there is no relief.”
When you go to funerals, there’s a lot of strong claims about how everybody is fine, but there is nothing to base it on. And it’s a complete contradiction of everything that Jesus has said. I cannot understand why the world when there is so much death around, and there’s been a lot around this week, hasn’t there? When the world might be saying, “Let’s rethink, whether there is any hope or future.” So much death this last week, so much sadness, the erasing of hope from our world, and the huge emptiness and sadness that’s coming up as a result, and anxiety, and tension, and dependency.
And yet the message of Good Friday comes around, that there is a God who loves you and wants to forgive you, and be in a relationship with you. And we say, “We’re not listening to that.” And then the message of Easter comes around, and we hear, “There’s a God who loves you and has made it possible for you to have a future hope.” We say, “We’re not listening to that.”
It’s very perverse, isn’t it? Jesus says that this poor man went to the place of perfection and the rich man went to a place of terrible affliction. Notice that the rich man, Verse 24, still thinks that the poor man is his errand boy. Even though he is in hell, he calls out, “Send that poor man to get me some water. Send him on an errand for me.” And the answer comes back, “No” because, Verse 25, “Good things are over.” And Verse 26, “There’s now a gulf, a chasm between the 2, places.”
There’s no middle place; there’s no purgatory. There’s no bridge; there’s no hope. And there’s no change. So he has a second request, “Well, send that errand boy…,” Verse 27, “…to my brothers. And tell him to tell them, ‘don’t come here.’” And the answer comes back, “No, we won’t be doing that because they’ve got all the information they need. In fact, they don’t need any more information.”
So I’ve tried to talk to you about the reality of being transformed, and then the importance of being transformed, and it is important. And now I want to talk to you for a few minutes about the secret; the lastly the secret of being transformed, something has happened to this poor man, which has transformed him. Something has not happened to this rich man.
I want to confess to you this morning that I’ve been watching a program on television called, “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!“ And I didn’t want to watch the program, but I watched the promo and then I had to watch it. I would record it and watch it each evening.
It features 12 celebrities, both A and B grade celebrities stuck in the jungle of South Africa, and forced to do disgusting things. And one of the things they had to do, which was not so disgusting, was that they had to stand underneath a mechanical egg that was about five or six meters above them, and they had to catch eggs that dropped out of the mechanical chicken. And if the egg survived, then they got, of course, to keep it. If it splattered, it was a loss. It created an interesting discussion among the people in the jungle, and the discussion amongst the celebrities, which I think had a combined IQ of somewhere between 10 and 15, said, “How does an egg get a chicken in it, and how do some eggs just be eggs?” This was a baffling issue for the group. And I don’t have time to explain it to you this morning, it’s a little bit complicated, and there are some children here. But I will just say that what is in involved in changing an egg into an egg with life in it involves a rooster. Come and talk to me afterwards if you want more information. But it needs help from outside.
And just as an egg needs help from outside to get life in it, a person like you and me, we need help from outside to get life in us, new eternal life. And Jesus tells us the difference in very clear terms if you will follow me, “What is it that changes a person? What is it that transforms a person?” It’s not their clothes. The rich man had magnificent clothes that did not equip him for heaven. The poor man had terrible clothes that did not equip him for heaven.
Nor is it the opinions of other people. You could say wonderful things about yourself. And you could get your friends to say wonderful things about you, but that’s not going to make your eternity. Imagine the funeral of this poor man, maybe half a dozen people came. They didn’t know what to say except he’d had such a sad life, and then they put him on the ground. And imagine the funeral for the rich man. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people came, maybe thousands. Tribute after tribute about how great he was. And then he went to hell.
The thing that changes a person, that comes to them from outside is the word of God. That’s why Peter says in his letter in the New Testament to Christian people, “You’ve been born again not of perishable seed but imperishable, the living word of God.” And that’s what changes people, that’s what changes some people.
Notice the last two things that Abraham says to back this up, and remember Abraham is the voice of God in this particular passage.
He says, “Your brothers, rich man, they’ve got the word of God. That’s all they need. If they listen to the word of God, if they listen to God’s message, and take it in, and believe it, they will have eternal life.”
And you know what the rich man says? He says, “No it won’t work. That word is not sufficient; it’s not enough for my brothers. What you must do is get this poor man back from the dead, send him to my brothers, they will see a man back from the grave and then they’ll believe.”
Look what Abraham says, Verse 31, “No, if they don’t take in God’s word, they won’t take in anything. Even a miracle will not change them.”
In other words, find somebody today who wants to know God. Find that person who wants to know God; you know the Bible will be joyful for them. Find a person who doesn’t want to know God; even a resurrection will not change them.
This is an incredible thing, isn’t it, to read on Easter Sunday? You see, the problem of unbelief at Easter is not the preacher, the preacher is really weak. He can’t do anything but stand up and speak. That’s all he can do. He can’t change anybody. Preachers all around the city, all around the country, all around the world are attempting to explain, but they’re so weak.
Now the problem is the listener. The problem is the deafness, the resistance.
We’re not explicitly told that the poor man was listening to the word of God, or the rich man wasn’t listening to the word of God, but we’ve got some clues. And the first clue that the poor man was listening to the word of God is that he had a name, Verse 20, “His name was Lazarus.” Jesus said in the New Testament, “My sheep, listen. I know them by name.”
It’s pretty obvious that this Lazarus was known by God because he’d listened to God. The other clue is in Verse 22 that the angels came and carried him to heaven. Again, Jesus said in the New Testament, “They shall never perish. No one can snatch them away.”
Old Bishop Ryle in the 19th century said, “Remember this, believer, when your last hour comes, that all that fall asleep in Jesus are not homeless wanderers, but lack nothing, and best of all, they will see Christ.”
See, the major clue that this poor man has been listening is that he’s got a name, and he is kept by God right through. The major evidence that the rich man has been refusing the word of God is that he’s deaf to his neighbour. He’s not been listening to the love of God, and the love of God has not been going through him to the neighbour at his gate. He hasn’t been changed at all. He’s as deaf as a post. He doesn’t hear God; he doesn’t hear the neighbour. Nothing has gone through. He’s not changed, he’s not transformed.
And why is he not changed? We’re told in Chapter 16, Verse 14, “He loved the world.” That’s what he listened to. He just listened to the world. And he stayed as deaf as a post, was never changed, and tragically, this is a critical message for us this morning, God’s word, I want to say to you today, is all you need for you to be a believer, a receiver, to have eternal life, to have a future, a place in God’s family, that you will never perish.
John says in his Gospel, I read these words in John’s Gospel, stated that “You will believe Jesus is the Christ and by believing have life in his name.” You could be on a desert island, and a bottle washes up on the beach and inside is a tiny little copy of John’s Gospel, and you’ve got enough information in John’s Gospel to be a believer, and to have eternal life, and a future in glory.
And if you do listen to the word of God, if you’re listening, if you’re listening to this morning and if you do listen to the word of God, it will tell you that God made you. And though you’ve turned your back on Him, He has sent His Son to rescue you. And all your denials of Christ up until now, and all the skeletons that are in your closet, He can forgive. And He can plant in you a new eternal life, and peace, and joy that no independence, no world, no pleasure, no sin, no business could ever, ever provide for you.
If you don’t listen to the word of God, I can safely tell you that no angel who comes to your bedroom, no name written across the sky, no Jesus just resurrected from the tomb, nothing will change you. Nothing will unlock the mind and the heart if it’s closed to the word of God. But if it’s open to the word of God, if you do listen, and so many here this morning have been helped by God to listen to the message of Jesus Christ. And if you’re one of those people, and you’ve listened, and if you want to be one of those people who listens, I can tell you by the word of God that today you’ll have a name in His family. However difficult life is, you will have a name and a place in His family. And tomorrow you’ll have a place in His presence. Well, that’s worth giving thanks for, let’s bow our heads together.
Let’s Pray: Our father on this special day, we thank you for sending your word: so clear, so loving, so life-changing. And we thank you that, that word tells us about your son, His life, His death, His resurrection, His invitation. There are so many of us here this morning who thank you for bringing that life, that message to us and changing us. We have nothing to boast about except Jesus. And there are some here this morning still to listen, still to hear, still to be changed. We pray that you would help them, that you would speak to them and enable them before it’s too late. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.
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