Hell Is For Real - Part One
March 15, 2015 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Hell Is For Real
Scripture: Luke 12:4–5
Hell Is For Real - Part OneLuke 12:4-5
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
Pollster, George Barna informs us that only 32% believe that hell is "an actual place of torment and suffering." 40% believe it is "a state of eternal separation from God's presence." 64% believe that they will go to heaven and only 0.005% believe that they will be "sent to the flames."[i]
In a recent article from USA Today, columnist Kirsten Powers said, "In a 2013 survey, 62% of respondents said they are going to heaven. Only 1.5% think they're hell bound. Is this old fashioned American optimism or its evil twin of epidemic narcissism? Only God knows… It seems the omnipresent self-esteem movement has expanded its reach to the afterlife. I'm OK, you're OK and I'll see you in heaven. Books about euphoric visits to heaven rocket up the best-seller list, while those recounting bone-chilling sojourns to Hades languish. You might be surprised to learn they even exist."[ii]
Alan F. Segal, professor or religion at Barnard College and author of the book, "Life After Death", said, "Hell is disappearing, absolutely."
One reason is that most people simply do not believe they or others warrant or deserve going there. Segal again, "Hell is for nonbelievers, and most Americans don't believe there are nonbelievers next door, even if their religion is different… They believe everyone has an equal chance, at this life and the next." The bottom line is that hell is not fair if most people are somewhat spiritual or basically good. Even if one's assignment to the dark abyss were based on one's deeds, how can we reconcile eternal suffering with a few sinful blunders along the way? Of course Hitler and many ISIS terrorists deserve to go there, but the average person who drops some foul language from time to time and cheats on his taxes, the "mediocre sinners" so to speak, will no doubt be exempt.
Others simply dismiss the concept and existence of hell altogether. Even many modern Christians struggle to reconcile a loving God with one who would condemn humankind to eternal torment. The masses reason, isn't God kind and gentle and forgiving? Why would He create only to eternally punish the majority of His creation? Should finite sins receive an infinite punishment?
These common beliefs of society have led people to shy away from even using the word. Jason Boyett, author of "Pocket Guide to the Afterlife" remarked, "I think some people hesitate to talk about hell because they don't want to continue to deliver only bad news instead of something that is encouraging and inspiring. The existence of hell is difficult and a challenging part of Christian theology. If you think too much about it, it is really kind of frightening."[iii]
Preachers are not exempt. "Rev. Michael Simone believes the people who come to his church want to know how to improve their lives, their marriages. He has even delivered a sermon called, 'Sex and the City.' He says preaching a sermon like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" wouldn't work today, when most Americans seemingly have it all. 'Today, I think the title of that sermon would be, 'I Went on Vacation and Felt Empty Inside,'' he said."[iv] Many pastors feel preaching on hell is unproductive. Who wants to hear about a judgmental God? Who wants to believe a God like even exists? Many pastors argue sermons on hell scare off visitors and portray Christians as puritanical, narrow-minded simpletons.
Paige Patterson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary remarked, "You can traverse the entire United States on any given Sunday morning, and you very probably will not hear a sermon on the judgment of God or eternal punishment… Evangelicals have voted by the silence of their voices that they either do not believe in (the doctrine of hell) or else no longer have the courage and conviction to stand and say anything about it."[v] R.C. Sproul is even more direct. "I think what we face in the church today is a virtual eclipse of the character of God… I can't think of anything more politically incorrect to preach in 21st century America than the wrath of God, or the justice of God or the doctrine of Hell."[vi]
One author concluded, "Americans, it seems, believe hell exists but they aren't as sure as they once were. And many question whether it will last forever. They can't fathom hell for themselves but are okay with others going there - particularly those they consider really nasty sinners… As moral people, hell is often difficult to justify. As rational people, hell is difficult to understand. As emotional people, hell is difficult to fully accept."[vii] Historian Martin Marty hit the nail on the head when he succinctly said, "Hell disappeared. No one noticed."[viii]
But though this is the current trend of society and most churches, should we be concerned? Can the doctrine of hell be relegated to the back shelf of our theology? Should it be spoken about when we know others will dismiss us upon simply hearing the word? Should pastors preach a "more positive" message in fear of being categorized as a "fire and brimstone" preacher? Should we rethink hell's existence or perhaps reconsider its recipients or the length of its duration? Does the doctrine of hell have any impact on our understanding of God and the gospel? Heaven is trending. Hell is disappearing. Should we just let it go to die a painless death? Does it really matter?
I have a three weeks before Resurrection Sunday and after that the start of a new series. I thought I'd devote some time to answering these questions about the difficult, confusing but yet indispensable topic of hell. We'll examine this based not upon an emotional or popular outlook, but based upon the teachings of Scripture.
So many places we can go in our Bibles, but let's start in the most basic and fundamental location. What did Jesus say? If we can agree that Jesus Christ is God's final and greatest prophet, and Jesus Christ is the Lord who we should follow, and the Word of God which recorded what He said is indeed without errors, there is really no further place to look. So did Jesus Christ have anything to say about hell? And if so, what did He teach us?
As respected evangelical leader, Kenneth Kantzer said, "While I am deeply impressed by the arguments of brilliant thinkers… I prefer our Lord's words to theirs. Those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord cannot escape the clear, unambiguous language with which He warns of the awful truth of eternal punishment."[ix]
So let's do a jet tour through just the Gospel of Matthew and observe for ourselves what Jesus Christ had to say about the subject of hell. I'd encourage you to follow along and draw your own conclusions.
Matthew 5:21-22, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."
Matthew 3:7, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Mathew 3:10, "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Matthew 5:27-30, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery': but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."
Matthew 7:13, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it."
Matthew 7:23, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"
Matthew 8:11-12, "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Matthew 13:30, "Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'" Matthew 13:40-42, "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:49-50, "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 18:8-9, "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell."
Matthew 23:15, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."
Matthew 23:33, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?"
Matthew 24:50-51, "The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 25:30, "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 25:41, "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.'"
Matthew 25:46, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
I am going to stop right there because I believe it proves my point. That was only the Gospel of Matthew. If we kept going, we'd read about the repeating of these accounts in Mark, Luke and John as well as other ones from Jesus that testify to the existence of hell. It is clear that our Savior spoke of hell more than He spoke of heaven, and He spoke of hell more than all of the other New Testament authors combined.
So from just our brief survey, we can conclude that Jesus believed that hell is a real place that many will experience. He believed hell involves conscious, eternal suffering. He believed God rules hell, yet it involves the absence of His benevolent love. He also believed that there was hope to be spared from hell if we would believe the good news that He brought. I'll come back to that in a moment.
So let me ask you, do you believe what I just read? You see, there are many so-called Christians that can read and hear these passages and still reject the clear teaching about hell from the Bible. Theodore Parker, all the way back in 1853 speaks for many who fill the churches today. "I take not the Bible for my master, nor the church; nor even Jesus of Nazareth for my master… I am ready to believe that Jesus taught, as I think, eternal torment…[yet] I do not accept these things in His authority."[x]
You see, if you get rid of hell, well then you need to get rid of another subject that Jesus taught about, like heaven. And if we can't trust Jesus' teachings on the only two eternal destinations, can we trust His teachings on salvation in His name? And if He is not Savior, why bother following Him as our Lord? Moreover, why bother following Him at all?
Jesus' teaching on hell couldn't be any clearer. Now was it because He was harsh, cruel and unloving? Absolutely not! It was because hell is a real place of endless torment. It was because His primary mission was to rescue us from this awful place. In the book of John He said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (Jn. 3:16-17). The solution is not to dismiss hell as an unloving concept. The solution is to accept the reality of hell and trust the love of God in Jesus Christ to save us from this awful reality.
The passage I read earlier was from Luke 12:4-5: "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!" The reason we do not take hell seriously is because we do not take God seriously. He's not just the man upstairs or a grandfatherly-type of figure that winks at our sin. Who fears a God like that? He becomes the punchline for jokes. His name is taken in vain without any regret.
Yet God is sanctified. He is separate from His creation. He is perfectly holy. Habakkuk 1:13 declares, "His eyes are too pure to approve evil." And in His holiness, God hates sin. As a violation of all He is and all He commands, God must punish sin. Hebrews tells us He is a "consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29).
We are sinners. Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We fail by doing that which is against His law. We fail in not doing all His law commands. There is no such thing as a small sin in His sight. Each sin is cosmic treason against our Creator. Each sin is an infinite violation against an infinite God that deserves infinite justice and an infinite punishment. A failure to punish sin would be a failure to allow God to be God.
Yet society doesn't like this. They have chosen to redefine His love whereby He is no longer holy. They have chosen to define His sovereignty so that human autonomy is still preserved. The biblical notion of a God that would send people to hell, according to Al Mohler is "too restrictive to human freedom and offensive to human sensibilities."[xi] Mohler goes on to say, "The societies that gave birth to the decades of megadeath, the Holocaust, the abortion explosion, and institutionalized terror now demand that God answer their questions and redefine Himself according to their dictates."[xii]
Is it our job to prove God's ways to others? Is it our job to make God more marketable? Or is it our job to simply proclaim what the Bible teaches, regardless of the cost? God doesn't owe anyone an explanation or excuse or apology. He is God! Psalm 115:3, "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." There is nothing you can do to alter His perfect character or will. So the most loving this you can do for Him and others is to proclaim who He is as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. We should fear misrepresenting God and thus misleading people more than fearing political correctness or cultural relevancy. As one observer has asked, "Could it be that the only result of attempts, however well-meaning, to air-condition hell, is to ensure that more and more people will wind up there?"[xiii]
The late John Walvoord, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, said, "Though it is common for all Christians to wish that there were some way out of the doctrine of eternal punishment because of its inexorable and unyielding revelation of divine judgment, one must rely in Christian faith on the doctrine that God is a God of infinite righteousness and well as infinite love. While on the one hand He bestows infinite grace to those who trust Him, He must, on the other hand, inflict eternal punishment on those who spurn His grace."[xiv]
Jesus Christ did not bring us the Gospel to enhance our self-esteem, clear our sinus infections or make us prosperous. Jesus Christ brought us the Gospel to save us. To save us from hell which is the consequence of our sin. Matthew 1:21, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." The moment you get rid of hell is the moment you no longer have any need for the Gospel. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Rom. 5:8-9).
The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said, "When men talk of a little hell, it is because they think they have only a little sin, and believe in a little Savior' it is all little together. But when you get a great sense of sin, you want a great Savior, and feel that, if you do not have Him, you will fall into a great destruction, and suffer a great punishment at the hands of the great God."[xv]
Our goal as Christians is to be a mouthpiece for Christ. Yet in a desire to make the message more palatable, we have a tendency to dilute or forsake mentioning hell. When we do that, we don't represent Christ's teaching but rather present to the unbeliever a message that can easily be rejected. With the eternity of their soul on the line, people need to desperately and urgently understand that salvation depends on what they do with Jesus Christ who paid the full penalty for sin. And that they may be saved from hell by trusting Him and receiving His gift of everlasting life. We must share the bad news about hell so that others may come to embrace the good news about the Savior.[xvi]
Hell is real. And yes, according to God's standard we all deserve to go there. But God in His love and mercy sent Jesus Christ on a rescue mission to take our sin upon Himself and be punished in our place. He painfully faced God's wrath. He experienced hell as the substitute for all who will receive Him as their Savior. Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Are you compelled to flee to the beauty of Christ and His work on the cross?
So are you simply awaiting the awful and terrifying judgment of God or are you secure, having been totally forgiven because Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior from hell?
More in Hell Is For Real
March 29, 2015Hell Is For Real - Part Three
March 22, 2015Hell Is For Real - Part Two