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Archive for the ‘Hell’ Category

The 9 Marks Newsletter for Sept-Oct 2010 was recently posted on the internet.  This issue is entitled “Hell: Remembering the Awful Reality” and it is a clear, biblical reminder of the existence and purpose of hell.  Although hell is an unpopular topic today (even among conservative Christians), it is a reality which we must never forget.  Our belief in the eternal judgment of God provides much of the impetus in our evangelism and worship (i.e. shouldn’t we rejoice that we have been saved from the everlasting wrath of God by the work of Jesus?)

Following is the introduction to this issue, written by Jonathan Leeman:

“Wisdom so often in life prescribes moderation. It‘s wise to eat with moderation, to speak with moderation, to feel with moderation, some would even say to believe with moderation.

But there‘s absolutely nothing moderate about the doctrine of hell. It‘s extreme in every way. It‘s an extreme idea for the mind. It‘s an extreme confrontation for the heart. And it blows against all the rules of social etiquette.

Embracing the reality of hell means setting aside moderation. It means admitting that our sin is dark and heinous to the point of eternal damnation; that the white light of God‘s character and glory justly destroys those who have fallen short of his glory; and that that our non-Christians friends have nothing greater to fear. That‘s tough to do when you have moderate views of your sin, your friend‘s sin, and of God‘s glory.

Embracing the reality of hell also means going against the fallen cultural structures and belief systems of this world, all of which conspire together with our own hearts to repeat the serpent‘s promise of a moderate outcome, “You will surely not die.”

As hard as it is to stare at the doctrine of hell, surely it must be salubrious to our faith to do so from time to time. It forces us to once again reckon with who God is and who we are.”

It is worth your time to read this newsletter.  (I was particularly encouraged, convicted and edified by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson’s article entitled “What Then Shall We Preach on Hell?”)  You can find the newsletter available for online reading or downloading here http://www.9marks.org/ejournal/hell-remembering-awful-reality.

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Good advice from Pastor Mark Driscoll…

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The following is a sermon preached at Sunnyside Baptist Church on Sunday, September 14, 2008.

Do you believe in hell?  It seems like very few people do anymore.  And no one… virtually no one thinks they will end up there.  A study conducted in 2003 showed that less than 1% of Americans think they might go to hell.  Could it be that is because no one talks about hell much anymore? 

I remember as a kid hearing pulpit pounding, fire and brimstone sermons by old Baptist preachers on a regular basis.  And I remember being scared to death (not literally) that I might go to hell.  But no one seems scared anymore.  Could that be… at least in part… because no one talks about hell anymore?

Today we come to a passage of Scripture which contains probably the best-known and most-loved verse in all the Bible… John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16.)  It is not a verse which we typically associate with hell, but that is probably because we don’t think through the whole context of this verse.

What does this passage really teach us about God?  What does it teach us about ourselves?  What does it teach us about Jesus?  What does it teach us about heaven and hell?

John 3:16-21 (ESV) – 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Now in most of our Bibles this is in red letters, which implies that these words were spoken by Jesus.  However, most scholars don’t think that is actually the case.  It is clear that somewhere in this passage, the Apostle John stops recording the words of Jesus to Nicodemus and he begins offering some commentary on Jesus’ teaching.  For technical reasons, I think John’s commentary begins right here.  For example, Jesus never speaks of Himself as “the only Son” (τν υἱὸν τν μονογεν).  However, Jesus does speak of Himself as “the Son of Man” (τν υἱὸν το νθρώπου) as in verse 14.  Therefore it seems like what follows here are the explanatory words of John and not a quotation from Jesus.

Either way… whether these are the words of Jesus or the words of the inspired Apostle John are irrelevant… because this is the very Word of God to us.

As we look at this passage today, we are going to see three things…

                                                            1)      We will start with some bad news…

                                                            2)      Then we will see some good news…

                                                            3)      Then we will see how we should respond to this news.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish…” (Jn 3:16.)  “Perishing.”  We don’t talk much about “perishing.”  It’s kind of an old fashioned word.  The Greek term is πόλλυμι (pronounced apollumi) and it means to be destroyed… or to be lost… or to disappear.  Most importantly… it means to come under the judgment of God for our sin.  It speaks of the consequences of our sinfulness.

Over and over again, Scripture affirms that “perishing” or “death” is the consequence of sin…

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV) – 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV) – 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

Romans 6:23 (ESV) – 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Death.  Destruction.  Perishing.  This is the consequence of our sin.  That is what John is talking about here. 

But what is this perishing like?  To answer that question we have to look beyond this passage of Scripture and see how God describes the consequences of sin elsewhere. 

In Matthew 25:41, Jesus says that those who perish… those who face the judgment of God for their sin… will be cast into a place “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  It is a place where the fire never goes out… a place prepared for demonic beings… but used by God to judge sinful people as well.

Several other passages describe for us in detail what the experience of “perishing” will be like…

Revelation 14:10-11 (ESV) – 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Isaiah 66:24 (ESV) – 24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”  (also Mark 9:43-48.)

The imagery here is of an ancient garbage dump.  There was a valley outside of Jerusalem called Gehenna, where the city’s garbage was burned.  This was also the place where the dead bodies of those who were unclean or foreigners were disposed of.  I know this is disgusting, but it is important to understand the imagery here, so that we can grasp the full significance of what it means to perish.  As the bodies decomposed, they would be infested with maggots… worms.  But eventually the bodies would decay completely and the maggots would die.  But not here.  Those who perish will be always decomposing.  They will be forever falling apart at the seams… deteriorating always… because their worms will never die.

In Matthew 8:12, Jesus describes this experience as being cast into “outer darkness.”  This probably implies loneliness.  Those who perish will not be comforted by others in their torment.  They will suffer alone. And this suffering will be great.  In this same verse, Jesus says that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” for those who are perishing.  How much pain must you be in to grind your teeth forever and ever?

This suffering… this agony… this “perishing” will never end.  Not only do most of these passages I just mentioned speak of the eternality of “perishing”, but this passage here in John does as well.  Notice how “perishing” is contrasted with “eternal life.”  If the life described here goes on forever… then this perishing must last forever as well.

Let the full weight of this sink in.  This is awful.  But this is what we all deserve.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23.)  We have all failed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength.  None of us love our neighbor as ourselves.  We have all lied and stolen.  We have all coveted what others have.  We are all sinners.  And the wages of that sin is death (Rom 6:23)… perishing.  This is what we all deserve.  I deserve it.  You deserve it.  Our spouses deserve it.  Our children and grandchildren deserve it.

And that is clear here in this passage.  In verse 16 we see that if God had not intervened and sent His only Son into the world… we would all perish.  In verse 18 we read “whoever does not believe in Him… meaning in Jesus… he is condemned already.”

That describes all of us naturally.  None of us are born believing in Jesus.  As we saw last week, unless there is a supernatural work of God causing us to be “born again” then we cannot even “see” the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3.)  Unless God does something miraculous in us… we can’t even begin to believe in Jesus.  Naturally… we are all condemned already.  We are all on our way to perishing.

This is all very bad news.  But don’t blow it off.  Let it sink in.  Because unless we realize the full depth of the bad news… we won’t really appreciate the beauty and grace of the good news.  The diamond never appears as beautiful until we see it held up against a black backdrop.  It is only when it is contrasted with a dark background that the true brilliance of the diamond shows forth.  The same is true here.  Until we see the blackness of the bad news, we cannot fully see the beauty of the good news.

And the good news is that “God so loved the world…  This is an amazing statement.  God loved the world.  Not just a few people in some remote part of the world.  Not simply Jewish people… but all types of people… men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  God’s love extends out to all.

But even more amazing is that God loves the type of people found here in the world.  You see, when John speaks of the “world” it is always a reference to the sinfulness and rebelliousness of human beings.  The world hates God and wants nothing to do with Him (Jn 15:18.)  Yet God loved the world anyway.  And this is no mere emotion.  It wasn’t that God simply had some warm, fuzzy feelings about the world.  No!  His love for the world resulted in Him taking action on behalf of the world.

Out of love for the world, God “gave His only Son…  His “only Son.”  This speaks of the uniqueness of Jesus.  This speaks of the preciousness of Jesus.  God didn’t just give an angel or a cherubim or seraphim.  God gave the only One like Him… His only Son… very God of very God.  God gave His beloved Son on behalf of people who had sinned against Him and rejected Him.

What does it mean that He gave His only Son?  Verse 17 tells us… “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  He gave Jesus by sending Him into the world… not in order to condemn the world, but He sent Jesus to bring salvation.  Jesus Himself makes this clear in Luke 19:10

Luke 19:10 (ESV) – 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The interesting thing in that verse is the word “lost.”  It is the Greek verb πόλλυμι (pronounced apollumi)… the same word we have here translated “perish.”  He came find the ones who were perishing… those who were already condemned… and to save them.  God didn’t send Jesus on a “seek and destroy” mission.  He sent Him on a rescue mission.  This was a mission that would ultimately cost Him everything, for Jesus said…

Mark 10:45 (ESV) – 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A price had to be paid to save us from our condemnation.  We might say… someone had to pay our fine.  Some had to “perish” for us.  And Jesus is that Person.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV) – 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

God entered human existence in His only Son, Jesus, so that He could perish on our behalf and we could be saved from perishing.

But the good news is even more than the fact that we can avoid “perishing.”  No.  We can have “eternal life”.

What does it mean to have eternal life?  It is the exact opposite of “perishing.”  Whereas perishing is experiencing torment forever and ever as a consequence of our sin… eternal life is experiencing the blessings of God forever and ever.

One of the most beautiful descriptions of this anywhere in the Bible is found in Revelation 21:3-5

Revelation 21:3-5 (ESV) – 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

This is eternal life. 

1)      It is being with God forever.  It is Him being our God and we being His people for all time.  Despite our sin… it is being reconciled to God and being in His presence forevermore.

2)      It is no longer experiencing pain.  God will wipe way every tear.  There is no more mourning or crying or pain.

3)      It is being set free from the power of death.  No longer will we live in fear of death.  Because it is gone.

4)      And so will be all “the former things”… everything that is fallen and broken and sinful on this earth.  It will all be no more.

5)      Because all things will be made new.  Including us.  Our bodies and souls will be made new and incorruptible (I Cor 15:52-53.)  Whereas those who perish will be deteriorating for eternity… we will be imperishable… incorruptible… perfect in every way forever and ever.

This is good news!  Despite our sin, we can escape from perishing and be freely given eternal life, but only if we respond rightly to this news. How must we respond to this?  We must “believe” in Jesus.  This is by far the most important verb in this whole passage.  It occurs 4x here.  In verse 16, it is those who believe in Jesus who will not perish, but have eternal life.  In verse 18, it is those who believe in Jesus who are not condemned, while those who do not believe in Him are already condemned.

This is more than simply believing facts about Jesus.  It means to actively trust in Him.  It means to come to Him in faith and rely upon Him to save us.  This is made clear in verses 19-21.  Light has come into the world and this Light is Jesus.  But naturally people love darkness rather than light, because our deeds are evil.

Picture with me for a moment being alone in the middle nowhere.  It is night.  It is dark.  There are no man-made lights anywhere.  The night sky is veiled in clouds.  There is no moon.  There are no stars.  There is no light period.  You are surrounded by inky blackness.  You can’t even see your hand in front of your face.  You are alone and covered in blackness.

Then suddenly you are bathed in brilliantly white light.  The light is streaming down from a helicopter overhead and you are completely illuminated by this light.

Is this good news?  Or bad news?

It depends on your situation.  If you are lost in the wilderness, then this is good news.  It means you have been rescued!  You are saved!  This is good news.

But if you have just escaped from prison and are on the run for crimes you have committed… then this is bad news.  You have been found!  You will not escape.  There is nothing but an even greater judgment awaiting you.

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (Jn 3:20.)

Those who are still actively living in sin… running from God… seeking their own will, rather than the will of their Creator… they will run from the Light.  They will flee from the presence of Jesus.  Because they don’t want to be caught.  They are trying to escape.  They don’t want their sin exposed.  They don’t want to face the humiliation of repentance.  They would rather run.

But you can’t really run from God.  One day everyone will stand in His presence and all wicked deeds will be exposed and we will perish forever, unless we humbly come to Jesus in faith, repenting of our sin and pleading with God to forgive us because Jesus died for our sin.

This is what it means to “do what is true.”  This refers to responding rightly to the Truth… which is Jesus Himself.  Those who come to the True Light…Jesus… know the truth about who they are… that they are sinners.  And they know the truth about who Jesus is… that He is the Son of God who was died and rose again for their sins.  And they act appropriately.  They repent of their sins and trust in Jesus.  This is what it means to “do the truth.”

Those who know the truth and respond rightly come running into the arms of Jesus… “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Notice carefully what this says.  This person comes boldly into the light… not for his own gain… but so that everyone can see what God has done in Him.  In the final analysis, we all deserve to perish forever because of our sins and if you are saved… if you are trusting in Jesus alone to save you… then one day it will be clearly seen what God has done in you… to the glory of His love and grace.

It’s no wonder that John 3:16 is one of the most memorized verses in all the Bible.  But it isn’t enough to simply know this verse.  We must understand the truth contained here.

1)      We must understand the bad news… we are sinners who deserve to perish forever.

2)      We must understand the good news… that Jesus is the only Son of God who died for our sins, so that we could be saved and have eternal life… all because God loved the world and sinful people like us in it.

3)      And we must come to the Light… we must repent of our sins and trust in Jesus… and receive the free gift of eternal life.

Notice that there are only two types of people described here… those who are perishing and those who have eternal life.  Those who are condemned and those who are saved.  Those who run from the Light and those who run to the Light.

Which type of person are you?

Are you one of those who is fleeing from Jesus?  Or have you come to Him?

Are you drawing nearer to Jesus… or are you drawing nearer to perishing?

There is a heaven to be gained… and a hell to be shunned.  And where we spend eternity is solely based upon our relationship with Jesus.

Are you trusting in Him?

Is so, then my challenge to you is simple.  Remember these things.  Don’t forget them.  Remember the bad news.  Remind yourself every day that you are a sinner who deserves to perish.  Remember the good news.  Remember constantly how much God loves you and what He has done to save you.  And may your whole life be about others seeing clearly what God has done in you.

 

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How often do we hear preachers talk about hell? 

I remember vividly sharing the gospel with a group of children in a church setting about a year ago and mentioning that unsaved sinners go to “hell.”  The children gasped!  I think they thought I had said a bad word!  It is a bad word… in more ways than one. 

First of all, let’s be honest, preachers are often encouraged not to speak of hell and the wrath of God (despite the fact that Jesus spoke often about hell!)  We are told that talking about hell will only turn people away from the truth of the gospel, therefore it is a bad word to use in preaching.

Secondly… and much more biblically… “hell” is a bad word… because hell is a bad place.  That is an understatement, isn’t it?  Hell is awful beyond compare.  Hell is torture beyond our wildest imaginings.  We should tremble and weep when we speak of it… it is that bad.

But we need to speak this bad word.  We need to talk about hell.  We need to remember that we are saved from hell.  Remembering this serves to heighten our appreciation of what we have been freely given… salvation to heaven.  The diamond looks most brilliant when it is seen in contrast to the black backdrop.  The same is true of heaven.  When we see the free and glorious gift of eternal paradise in contrast to the blackness of outer darkness… heaven shines forth all the more beautiful!

I was reminded of the importance preaching about hell by an article written by Tim Keller.  It is worth reading.  You can find it here http://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/articles/the_importance_of_hell.html .

Praise the God of our salvation who has delivered us from the eternal damnation of hell and given us an inheritance incorruptible stored up for us in heaven!

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