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Out Our Way: Crossing the Ridgeline - Luke 16:19-31


Last updated 4/22/2022 at 9:29am

       Out our way, we know that every trail goes somewhere, and not all trails lead to the same place. Where we end up depends on what trail we follow. That is why picking the right trail and then keeping alert to make sure we stay on it is important. Up on the Tiger Ridge, trails criss-cross and if you are not paying attention and just drifting without care, you could easily mistake one for the other and end up somewhere you had not intended to go.

As we have just celebrated Easter, most Christians have some renewed sense of the joy of following the Boss to the end of the Trail and beyond. We now know that on the other side of the ridge is something more and have been assured the green pastures and still waters will be more than worth the journey. The Boss told us all about it - went over the ridge Himself - and then came back again to prove it was all true. Everyone goes over the ridge at some time, but where they end up depends on which trail they follow. 

The Creed reminds us that Jesus died and " descended into hell." That confuses many people. You may also recall Jesus telling the "good thief" "this day you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) Notice - He did not say Heaven. Again, this confuses many folk. So let us sort this out.

In the traditional Jewish and Christian faith, after death the soul went to what the Greeks called " Hades" or "place of the dead." As illustrated in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the place of the dead is divided into two places: Paradise and Gehanna. Gehanna, where we find the rich man, is a place of torment. Paradise, where Lazarus finds himself with the patriarch Abraham is the land of peace and joy.    

Now, as you know, the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, and some words simply do not translate easily. When the Bible was translated into English, the word " hell" - small 'h' - and " Hell" - large 'H' - were understood as two different things. Small "h" hell was the place of the dead, i.e. Hades. Large "H" Hell was Gehenna - the place of torment. Today, many people don't know this and so are understandably confused. So what the Gospels and the Creed proclaims is that Jesus died, was buried and His spirit went amongst the dead. On the third day He arose - Easter - and after meeting with many followers who all bore witness even at the cost of their lives, he ascended into Heaven. Now comes the exciting part!

Having made and fulfilled so many promises, and proven Who He is, especially by His resurrection; Jesus promised to come back again and the "sheep and the goats" (Matthew 25:31-46) warning will be fulfilled. The souls who are in Paradise and Gehenna will be raised on the final judgment as will we, who are still alive.   

I understand that many folks are impatient for Christ's return, but consider - once He comes there will be no longer any opportunity to change trails if you are on the wrong one. The word " sin" fundamentally means " to go the wrong way," and the word "repentance" means to "change direction and turn around." Maybe Christ delays His return to allow time for us to change trails if we are on the wrong one. Lazarus chose the trail blazed by Moses and the Prophets, while the rich man ignored that trail and rode another of his own choosing. Lazarus' trail led to Paradise and the rich man's trail led to Gehenna. In the end, Lazarus' trail leads to Heaven and the rich man's leads to oblivion. The trail to Paradise is hard while the trail to Gehenna is easy (Matthew 7:13).  

For me, the issue is to check and double-check my bearings and look for signs I am on the right trail. Between the resurrection and the ascension, Christ spoke with His followers and encouraged them to not quit even if the trail seemed hard. They did not, and although nearly all died for refusing to deny Jesus or the resurrection - John was believed to have been imprisoned and exiled - they rode the same trail over the ridge. May I do the same. You as well? 

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John


The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected]


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