rev-joaquin-willis_web.jpgBritish scientist Aubrey de Grey predicts that science will one day offer us a 1,000-year life span. He claims that molecular biology has finally placed a cure for aging within our reach.

But, regardless of how long you live, no one lives forever, no human is immortal and eventually death knocks on every door. Rich or poor, powerful or powerless, healthy or ill, all one day will face not only death but eternal destiny. Therefore, Mission 1 should be getting into God’s Kingdom. What determines that, in my opinion, is our relationship with God. Our present relationship with Him determines our eternal relationship.

No one starts a journey without a plan. If you ran into me at Miami International Airport in January dressed in a short sleeve shirt and no luggage and I said, “I’m heading to Alaska,” you would worry about me, thinking, “He does not know much about Alaska and he’s not ready for his trip. Only a fool plans a trip to Alaska in January and carries no winter clothes.”

A wise person wants to know where he or she is headed. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, Luke 16:19-31, Jesus warns the disciples about two possible destinations: heaven and hell. Jesus, in Luke 16:19, paints a picture of the rich man and he cites a man who resembles America today. Christ portrays in this parable the struggle between the rich and the poor.

Donald McCullough, in Waking from the American Dream, quotes Robert Maynard Hutchins, who observes, “Our real problems are concealed from us by our current remarkable prosperity, which results in part from our new way of getting rich, which is to buy things from one another that we do not want, at prices we cannot pay, on terms we cannot meet, because of advertising we do not believe.”

At the gates of many rich men are poor homeless people. We have become so callous, so used to seeing homeless people living on the streets and, in the north, sleeping on the grates to keep warm and outside luxury apartment buildings begging for money that it doesn’t faze many of us anymore.

The eternal conditions of the two men in the parable reflect the eternal conditions of the two worlds we live in today. Conventional wisdom of society back then and even today still suggests that Lazarus’ misery was due to God’s disapproval – but Jesus, in the parable, suggests otherwise.

On the other hand, the rich man’s experience sets before us three terrifying facts. First, Hell is real and Jesus, more than anyone, teaches us about it. Second, Hell is not a good place to be; the rich man is thirsty, “tormented” and “in agony.” Apparently he knows he deserves to be there, because he doesn’t ask to be released but, rather, for relief. Third, Hell is final; no graduation, parole, purgatory or suspended sentence, just a constant separation from God.

The question therefore arises, “Why is Lazarus welcomed in heaven and the rich man is not?” Many think Lazarus got into heaven because he was poor – and that the rich man didn’t because he was rich. If that were the case, then Abraham (the host) wouldn’t have been there, for, when he lived, he was the richest man on earth.

It is clear the rich man has made no provision for his journey, no provision for his tormented soul. Ultimately, it is made clear the rich man is in hell not because he was rich. It’s not his wealth that has excluded him from heaven; it is his unbelief.

As we become confident in the inherent truth and power of scripture, we bring to the rich of our time that which they need the most, the Word of God, and to the hurting and homeless (Lazarus) that which helps them eternally. We cannot leave the poor at the gate or the rich man ignorant at his dinner table.

For believers in God’s word, there are many biblical descriptions of heaven we must all come to understand. For believers, Mission 1 should indeed be getting into God’s kingdom and this takes believing God’s word, listening to His prophets and doing what God’s Word requires of us.

The Prophet Micah, in 6:8, tells us, “God has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Miami.  He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or

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