ďThe Four Last Things:† Hell (1)Ē†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† September 18, 2011
We are in the middle of s sermon series called
†† The Four Last ThingsóDeath, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.
I explained that the phaseóThe Four Last Thingsó
†† is an old way of summarizing what is called eschatologyó
†† the doctrine of last things.
What is going to happen at the end of my life as an individual?
What is going to happen at the end of the world?† Of human history?
Those are not hypothetical questions.† Very practical.
†† The way you answer them will determine the way you live every day.
INTRO:† I was once introduced to a man, who, when he found out I was a minister,
†† laughed and said:† You arenít one of those fire and brimstone preachers, are you?
†† For a moment, I was conflicted, and didnít know what to say.
I knew he was probably imagining a preacher pounding the pulpitó
†† taking great delight in describing all the terrors and torments of hell.
†† What it will feel like for sinners to burn forever in the lake of fire.
†† I didnít want him to think I was like that.
But I was bothered because I could tell he was mocking the very idea of hell.
He wanted me to say, Noóand laugh with him, like we were in on the joke.
†† Nobody really believes in hell any more.
And I could tell he was also laughing at the phrase ďfire and brimstone.Ē
†† But, of course, that comes right out of the Bible.†
†† Itís used to describe both the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and hell itself.
So I simply said:† ďI believe in hell.† Itís in the Bible.Ē†
That conversation bothered me, because I wonderedó
†† If I believe in hell, why donít I preach about it more.
If I preach about Godís grace that saves us from hell,
†† and if his grace only makes sense, and is only precious to us
†† because of what it saves us fromóthey why donít I preach about hell more often?
Why donít I talk about hell more if it is the eternal destiny of many?
Hell is a hard teaching.† Itís hard to get our minds and emotions around hell.
†† It is one of the teachings in the Bible that we constantly have to remind
†† ourselves that Godís ways are not our ways, his thoughts not our thoughts.
Different ways people try to tame hell, make it a little more appetizing.
†† Most people deal with hell by just not thinking about it seriously.
Sometimes you will hear people make jokes about hell, likeó
†† I hope I go to hell, all my friends are there.† That sort of thing.†
You often hear people use the word hell lightly.† ďWe had a hell of a good time.Ē
Iím sure that if you took a poll of Americans, a large majority would say they
†† believe in hell.† But itís not a concern.† Because only really bad people go there.
†† Hell is for the serial killers and child molesters.† Itís for Hitler and Stalin.
Hell is not for good people.† And most people put themselves in that category.
†† I may have done some bad things, but deep down, Iím a good person.
†† If my good deeds are weighed with my bad deeds, Iíll come out ok.
Within the church itself, there have been attempts to get rid of hell.
Universalism is one attempt.†
†† Everyone will be forgiven when die.†
†† Everyone will get Godís grace in the end.†
†† Godís love is so big, that he wonít send anybody to hell
There are lots of variations of universalism.†
†† Some say the death of Jesus covers everybody, no matter what believe.
†† Some will say there is a second chance after you die, and everybody will believe.
But the end result is that there is no hell and nobody in hell.
Annihilationism is another attempt to get rid of hell.
†† Itís the teaching that wicked are simply destroyed.
†† They are wiped out of existence body and soul.
So there is no eternal punishment.† Fires of hell burn people out of existence.
But even a child can read what Jesus says about hell and see that neither
†† one of those views work.† Hell is an eternal, conscious state.
It is a place of punishment and despair for rebellious sinners,
†† where they face the justice of God for what they have done.†
Why is hell in the Bible?† Because it is true.† Because we live in a moral universe.
†† There are consequences now and there will be eternal consequences.
†† Justice will be served.† God will be vindicated.
Rebels and scoffers who have rejected Godís law and his salvation
†† will receive the penalty for the lives they have chosen.
But mostly hell is in the Bible because of Godís grace.
†† Itís a gracious warning.† Because with the warning comes a way of escape.
†† Salvation through Jesus Christ.
It has been noted many timesóworth repeatingó
†† that the person who says the most about hell in the Bible
†† is not Moses, or Peter, or Paulóbut Jesus himself.
In fact, almost everything we know about hell came from the lips of Jesus Christ.
So letís look these words of Jesus about this serious subject.
†† Will do so under two headings:
† †1.† The Doctrine of Hell
†† 2.† The Warning of Hell
MP#1† The Doctrine of Hell
Jesus is speaking to his disciples.† Thatís significant.†
†† This is a doctrine for believers.† He wanted his disciples to take hell seriously. †
You can see how serious in that he mentions hell not once, but three times.
†† Each time, told them would be better to live mutilated, than to be thrown into hell.
The word for hell is the word Gehenna.†
†† Hebrew name for a place right outside of JerusalemóHinnom Valley.
In ancient times, the Hinnom Valley was the scene of Israelís worst idolatry.
†† There was shrine in the valley to the Ammonite god Molech.
If you wanted a blessing from Molech, if you wanted him to bless your farm
†† or your business or your future plans, if you wanted him to make your life easier
†† or happier, you had to make a sacrifice to him.†
Thatís the way idolatry always works.† You have to give something to your idol
†† in order for it to bless you.† Molech required a child.†
Residents of Jerusalem would go to Hinnom Valley to sacrifice their infants in fire.
So Gehennah was a place of deep spiritual darkness.
†† A place where evil was served.† Where people were destroyed body and soul.
In later years, the Israelites, ashamed of that valley, made it the dump for the city.
†† All the carcasses of unclean animals were thrown there.
†† The sewage of the city drained there.† Garbage was burned there.
It was a place of fire and smoke, where maggots were always feasting.
†† So Jesus built on the symbolism of that valley says that hell is the place
†† where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
What do these descriptions of hell in the Bible mean?
†† An undying worm, unquenched fire.† A lake of fire in Revelation.
Other passages describe hell as a place of outer darkness,
†† and gnashing teeth, and unsatisfied thirst, and utter despair.
These are all word pictures, they are metaphors, of a place and an experience
†† that is too terrible to describe.† These pictures are intended to sober us.
†† They are intended to make us say:† Iíll do everything I can not to go there.
Itís just the opposite of the word pictures of heaven in the Bible.
†† They are intended to delight us, and make us wonder and long to see it.
City forsquare, streets of gold clear as crystal, gates of pearl, river from the throne.
†† The tree of life bearing fruit year round with leaves for the healing of the nations.†
†† What do those things mean?† They mean wonderful things.
Are they literal descriptions?† No, Bible says words cannot describe what God has
†† prepared for those who love him.† Just hints to fill us with longing.†
Itís the same with the Bibleís descriptions of hell.†
†† Not intended to give us a physical description of the place.† Thatís impossible.
†† But to give us a deeper sense of what it is.† What it means for those who are there.
When you read this passage and others in Bible, give three strong impressions.
†† Three impressions that make you say:† I donít want to go there ever.
First, hell is clearly a place of punishment.†
When Jesus speaks of being thrown into hell, who does the throwing?
†† God does.† Popular idea is that the Devil throws people in hell.†
Bible tells us that Godís holy angels do this work at Godís command.
†† He commands people thrown into hell as punishment for wickedness, rebellion.
†† Hell is the satisfaction of Godís justice.†
And it will be perfectly just.† In hell, the punishment will fit the crime.
The wicked will not all be thrown into hell alike.† Jumbled up together.
†† Jesus says that some will be beaten with many stripes, and some with few.†
†† He also says it will be more tolerable for some than others.
But the Bible also makes it clear that the thing that will determine the severity
†† of the punishment is how much light, how much truth each person hadó
†† and how they responded to that truth.
So that means the people who will be held to the strictest account are people
†† like us, who have grown up in a place like Cullman, where there is Gospel light.
And the people who will be punished most severely in hell are people
†† who have grown up in Bible-believing churches,
†† and have heard the Gospel, and experienced some of its power,
†† but have turned their backs God and rebelled against him.†
It would be better for them not to have been born.
The second strong impression is that hell is a place of destruction, of eternal ruin.†
†† Another way to say this is that it will be a place of wasted lives.
Gehenna was a garbage dump.† What do you find in a garbage dump?†
†† Things that were once useful, but now ruined.
What is this rusted, twisted piece of metal?† It seems to be an old bicycle.
†† One Christmas morning a boy found that by the tree with a big red bow.
†† And he admired the green metallic paint.† Rode it around his neighborhood.
But now itís ruined forever.
Thatís what hell will beótwisted, wrecked livesóruined forever by sin.
†† Could it be the undying worm that Jesus speaks of is the hopeless regret of hell? For eternity person looks at the wreckage of the decisions he has freely made.
†† And the wreckage of other lives he has dragged down with him.
Third impression is that hell is a place of banishment.† Itís being utterly alone.
Jesus doesnít say that in this passageó
†† but in others he speaks of being thrown into outer darkness.
†† It is being excluded and cut off from all of the goodness of God.
Everything good in life comes from Godís goodness.
†† The rain that falls on the believing farmer and the unbelieving farmer
†† comes from Godís goodness.†
Hell is being cut off forever from Godís goodness.
†† The righteous are welcomed into heaven where there is feasting
†† and companionship, and laughter, and everything that makes life good.
But the wicked are banished from all goodness and consigned to utter loneliness.
Thatís the Bibleís description of helló
†† the place of punishment, destruction, and banishmentóall perfectly just.
But to complete the picture, we have to add one more thing.
†† Hell is freely chosen by people.† Itís our preference.
CS Lewis:† Hell is ďthe greatest monument to human freedom ever achieved.Ē
†† If you are honest with yourself, you know that if it were not for the grace of God,
†† you would choose a life of rebellion against him.
You would choose a life of greed or arrogance or lust or bitternessó
†† and hell is simply the eternal destiny of those choices.
†† Unlike heaven, hell is deserved.
If we face Godís law honestly, we know we deserve it.
†† We know we donít deserve heaven.† Thatís a gift of Godís grace.
We know we donít move naturally from selfishness and pride to love and humility.
†† Itís Godís grace that changes us.
So there is good news in this harsh teaching.† Jesus says these things to warn us.
†† So that we will avoid the worm and the fire.
He told his disciples this on his way to Jerusalem where he will descend into helló
†† so that all who trust him do not have to suffer Godís wrath.
Jesus is the way we avoid hell.† He endured it for us.í
He took the punishment, the destruction, and the banishment.
†† As the great lover of our souls, he wants us to be free from hell and Godís wrath.
Because of that, he tells us the next thing,
†† the warning of hell
MP#2† The Warning of Hell
Every time the Bible talks about hell, it warns about sin.
†† Because sin is what sends people to hell.
So Jesus says to his disciples:† You have to deal with sin drastically.
†† If your hand or foot or eye causes you to sin, cut it off, gouge it out.
†† Itís better to live life here maimed than to go to hell.
Within the church, there are two different ways that people respond
†† to these words of Jesusótwo wrong ways.
My guess is that every one of you here, in your heart,
†† tends to respond in one of these two ways.
Both are dangerous, because both twist Jesusí words and end up
†† causing you not to take sin seriously.† Not to do the very thing Jesus says to do.
Letís talk about both, and that will help us understand what Jesus actually meant.
First, some people in the church hear these words of Jesus and say:
†† Iíve got to buckle down.† Iíve got to quit sinning and start living right.
†† If I want go to heaven and not go to hell Iíve got to cut things off, like Jesus says.
So, you get strict with yourself.†
†† You set up all sorts of fences for yourself to keep yourself from sinning.
But you are missing the point of Jesusí words.
†† Jesus is not giving us a remedy for how to quit sinning,
†† heís giving us a command to take sin seriously in light of hell.
The fact is that no amount of external rules can cure your sin.
†† If you gouged out your eye, or cut off hand, would that keep you from sin?
You might put a filter on your computer so you canít see certain images,
†† that still doesnít cure you from looking at women as sex objects.
†† It doesnít enable you to look at women as image-bearers of the Creator.†
You might get anger counseling to keep from screaming at children.
†† But those techniques donít make you patient and humble.
You might set up a strict budget to try to control your spending.
†† But it doesnít make you content.† It doesnít keep you from loving money.†
Donít misunderstand me.† Fences and rules can protect us from temptation.†
†† We do need them.† But they canít change us in the way we need to be changed.
Jesus hates sin in us because he loves us.
†† Thatís why he went to the cross, to save us from the inside out.
If external remedies could cure our sin, then there was no reason for Jesus to die.
So if you hear Jesus words about cutting off your handó
†† and think he is saying, just buckle down and be strict with yourselfó
†† you will forever be dealing with externals, never taking the deep sins seriously.†
And you could go to your grave eaten up with lust or rage or greed or bitternessó
†† even though on the outside youíve learned to control yourself.
Second way people in the church respond to Jesusí words is like this:
†† What is there to worry about?† Iím saved.†
†† And they might even throw in some theology:†
†† Iím a Presbyterian.† I believe in eternal security.† Once saved, always saved.
But look who Jesus is talking to.†
†† Heís talking to his own disciples.† And heís warning them.
If you donít take sin seriously enough to fight it all your life,
†† and to fight it so hard that sometimes itís as hard and painful as
†† cutting off your hand or foot, or gouging out your eyeóthen you will go to hell.
Now, wait a minute!, someone might say:† Is Jesusí saying I can lose my salvation?
Heís saying that if you donít fight sin in your life,
†† then you have no reason to believe youíve ever been saved in the first place.
Itís not that your fight against sin saves you, Jesus saves you,
†† but your fight against sin is evidence of a regenerate heart,
†† and the work of his Holy Spirit within you.
If you are sitting in the pew this morning, and living in sinó
†† and I donít just mean sexual immoralityóthat phrase sometimes taken that way,
But if you are just living with sins of thought, word, and deed.
†† And you are just comfortable with them, not fighting against, not struggling with,
†† not trying by Godís grace to cut off and gouge outó
†† then Jesus says, you are in danger of being cast into hell.
Your profession of faith is proved to be real by your fight against sin.
Judas was one of the disciples who heard Jesus say this?† Judas loved money.
†† Instead of fighting that sin, he embraced it his whole life.
†† And in the end, he chose money over Christ and went to hell.†
None of us are perfect.† Jesus alone is perfect.
†† True believers can have life-long, besetting sins.† Bible full of examples.
True believers can fall very far, and many timesómany examples of that too.
†† But true believers know the stakes are heaven and hell,
†† They know sin must be fought to the very end.
And itís a violent process.† Any time you push against sin, it hurts.
†† Jesus not only compares it to cutting off parts of your body.
He also calls it being salted with fire.† Heís referring to use of salt in OT worship.
†† Before the sacrifice was burned, it was often salted.
This is very encouraging.† It means that Godís warnings are preparing us to be
†† people who are completely given to him has living sacrifices.
CS Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce.
†† About a bus ride from the outskirts of hell to the outskirts of heaven.
People in hell are given a glimpse of heaven, one more chance
†† to pick heaven instead of hell, but their sins hold them back.
†† Sins are depicted symbolically.
Only one man chooses to fight.† He has this red lizard on his shoulder, whispering.
†† Looks around, starts to get back on the bus to hell.
Angel says:† Are you going so soon?†
†† Yes, I told him if we came, have to be quiet, but saying things wonít do here.
Angel:† Would you like me to make him quiet?
Man:† Of course I would.
Angel:† Then I will kill him.† Reaches out his powerful hand.
Man:† Takes a step backwards.† Stop, youíre burning me.
Angel:† Donít you want me to kill it?
Man:† I know I can make him be quiet.
Angel: †May I kill it?
Man:† Letís think about this, plenty of time.
Angel:† There is no more time.† Now is the moment.† May I kill it?
†† Reaches again.
Man:† Itís burning, youíre killing me.†
Angel:† Iím not going to kill you, going to kill it.
Man:† Then why is it burning.†
Angel:† I didnít say I wouldnít hurt you.† But not going to kill you.† May I kill it?
Then the lizard starts whispering to the manóDonít let him near me.
†† He will kill me and you will be without me forever and ever.
Angel:† May I kill it?††
Man:† But it will kill me.†
Angel:† It wonít but even if it did, better dead than to live with this creature.
Man:† Damn and blast.† Go on.† Get it over with.† God help me.† God help me.
†† Angel closed his grip on the lizard, twisted it, broke itís back, flung it awayó
†† and the man let out a scream of terrible agony.
But then two things happenedóThe man began to changeóhad been ghostlyó
†† became solid, manly, strongóand the lizard began to changeó
†† became flying horse, golden tail, silver mane.
Man leaped on the horse, off like a comet streaking through the sky,
†† towards the mountains of heaven.
The things we have misused, good things in life we have turned to idols,
†† corrupted by sin, will, by Godís grace, by the good fightó
†† be redeemed for his glory.†
No longer will we be enslaved to them, tormented by them,
†† and punished for them in hell, but they will serve us, in heaven.
Thatís the great hope that the Jesus holds out for us.
†† What is the basis for this hope?
This is it:†
The God who takes sin so seriously that he demands justice
†† has endured hell for us on the cross.†
†† And so we can trust him, and know that he will enable us to be victorious.