THIS WEEK'S MESSAGE
The Worst Place Forever
October 20, 2019
Psalm 136:1-4, 26
Numbers 16: 25-35
James 4: 7-10
Mark 9: 38-48
I have limited travel aspirations.
I like to visit the cheese factory in Armstrong, the Planet Bee shop in Vernon and in Salmon Arm there's the Shuswap Pie Company, DeMille's Market and Rhona' brother and his family. I have seen a lot of this province - except the northwest and the north coast. As well as - large parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Washington State. I have holidayed down the west coast of the US, been to Texas, Hawaii and Baja Mexico.
When I was in the RCMP I went to such exotic places as Everette, Washington, Chicago, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. For work or training courses.
If I was to travel anymore there are a few places I might like to see - for example, the Mirimachi River in New Brunswick to fish for wild Atlantic Salmon - instead of the farmed stuff we get here - and maybe Scotland - to fish for more wild Atlantic Salmon and New Zealand to fish for record sized brown trout. And while in New Brunswick - we'd probably have to take a side trip to Upper Musquodoboit in Nova Scotia - where Rhona spent some 20 years of her life. And for me - that would be more than enough. I don't have the travel bug.
Even though there are places in the world that are part of God's amazingly beautiful creation - they're just not appealing to me. In fact, some are a bit scary like North Korea and Somaliland. - but the rest - except - maybe - for Scotland - I have no interest in going to. I usually use the excuse that they don't speak English - but the truth of it is - I don't have any interest or desire to go!
But there is one place in all of God's creation that no one ever wants to see or be in - hell - hades or as in the Old Testament - the pit, shoal, death or the grave . But the sad reality for millions or maybe billions of ungodly people from this secular, humanistic world is that they will see and experience it forever and ever and ever.
A little clarification here - in the Old Testament it was a dark place where your soul went after death. Both the good and the bad went there. It was not specifically associated with punishment. However, there are references to a person being redeemed from it. For example:
"But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me."
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit"
"God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life."
I'm pretty sure that hell is not a nice place at all - no nice beaches or mountain scenery or comfortable coffee shops. A place that is "...the fiery lake of burning sulphur." (Revelation 21:8)
A place where the love of and communion with God - is not.
I don't think that Hollywood or anyone's darkest imagination can picture what hell is really like.
If the God of all creation - whose desire is to redeem all humanity unto himself - was willing to enter our fallen, sin packed world as a frail human being, to be rejected, to be despised, to be called a demon, to be tortured, to have his body beaten and flogged nearly to the point of death and then to shed his blood and die an extremely painful death while hanging on a cross - to save an adulterous and sinful humanity - us - then hell has to be not just a pretty bad place but a very horribly bad place. It cost God his dearly loved Son to save us from it.
From some of the sources I read - I would define hell as; A dark place that is the final abode of the unrighteous - the ungodly dead - where they consciously suffer a punishment - that we all deserve - in that fiery lake of burning sulphur - for eternity. They will never die again to be relieved from what must be unbelievable physical and emotional pain - because "...the worm does not die..." (Mark 9:48a)
Consciously!! - it's not going to be a dream. In the parable about the talents - the worthless servant is thrown, "...outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:30) The weeping and gnashing of teeth suggest that he consciously regrets what he had done and he knows why he's there. And the rich man in the story of Lazarus is consciously aware of where he is.
I'm thankful that God has never provided a full description of hell. I suspect that it would make us so afraid of life that we would be unable to do much of anything. To create great works of art, literature, music - to enjoy family, friends, a great career or to marvel at the beauty of His creation - to enjoy the light of life. We'd be afraid to wake up every morning -- we'd be afraid of our own shadow.
Now - satan has done a great job with modern secular society by convincing people that there is no hell or if there is - it's not that bad of a place. Some picture it as a party place all the time - no inhibitions or restriction - just do what you want and there are no consequences. There's a movie called 'Drive Angry' where the character played by Nicolas Gage says; 'Even in hell there is compassion.' You can't have a party in a fiery lake of burning sulphur and there is no compassion.
Unfortunately, most people and all other religions promote the mistaken belief that if you are a 'good person' and your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds you avoid hell and go directly to heaven. Others believe that if you do the right symbolic things or you recite the right words or incantations or meditate on the right mantra then you go to heaven. Like the 12 step Alcoholics' Anonymous program to get you from the bad place you are to the nice place you want to be.
But these are all human ideas and million believe them - but they are not God's way. It's like flat earth thinking during the middle ages - people firmly believed it to be true - but it was absolutely false.
We can't get to heaven from here on our own effort or merit.
Some churches claim that if you have been a sinful person (which we all are) you will spend some unidentified period of time - like maybe a couple of hundred million years - in some place between heaven and earth to repent of your life of sin and then go to heaven. And there are others who claim that there is no hell. Wicked people are simply annihilated like some futuristic ray gun that disintegrates all your atoms into the flotsam of space. And Satan is perfectly fine with these and all hell denying views.
Jesus doesn't beat around the bush or shuffle his feet or use polite parables to tell of its existence. Do not be deceived - hell is a real place. And in this morning's gospel reading Jesus is exhorting people to do whatever they must do, to avoid hell.
"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."
Now do not read this and think Jesus is telling us to cut off some body part that is the cause of our sinfulness. He doesn't want us to maim or kill ourselves. It's that we have to be extra diligent and exercise extra physical and mental effort to resist the seductive temptations of a secular world - with its plethora of ungodly vices. To live by the Fruits of the Spirit; remember those: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Instead of living by the spirit of the sinful nature; sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery; idolatry, witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy; drunkenness and orgies. Clearly these are not a nice or pleasant way to live. In fact, some of these are restricted or prohibited by civil and criminal laws along with standards of decent conduct and behaviour.
And the sad reality of our lives is that we struggle continually against the temptations of worldly vices. While living under the gift of God's amazing grace and salvation through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death on the cross.
Now what else does Jesus say about hell.
Some churches claim that if you have been a sinful person (which we all are) you will spend some unidentified period of time - like maybe a couple of hundred million years - in some place between heaven and earth to repent of your life of sin and then go to heaven. And there are others who claim that there is no hell. Wicked people are simply annihilated like some futuristic ray gun that disintegrates all your atoms into the flotsam of space. And satan is perfectly fine with these and all hell denying views.
(Matthew 5: 22)
Raca was very derogatory - like calling someone brainless or stupid - it was slanderous.
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
And when Jesus is talking about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees;
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?"
And if there was any doubt that there is such a place as hell - the story of the beggar - Lazarus and the unnamed rich man make it abundantly clear that there is such a place.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “
(Luke 16: 22-24)
It doesn't sound like there's a party and there is no compassion.
But why are those who go there - there. To be sure they are sinful (like all of us) but more specifically - while in this life - they did not believe in Jesus Christ as the LORD and Saviour of all humanity - including themselves. For whatever reason (and there are many) they knowingly rejected, denied or ignored the Holy Spirit's leading them to believe in salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Their punishment for the sin of unbelief - is to be condemned to hell forever.
"Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
John the Baptist say much the same thing in his testimony about Jesus.
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
And not only have they denied or rejected Jesus as the Christ - but satan has compounded their unbelief. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians;
"The god of this age (satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
(2 Corinthians 4:4)
And Jesus is the only way to the Father in heaven?
"I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
One more thing - Jesus will come back to judge the living and the dead. This we confess in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. And hear what he says to John in John's Revelation.
"Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hades" (Revelation 1:18)
We can't get to heaven from here on our own effort or merit. Without faith in Jesus Christ - it is impossible. Without faith in Jesus Christ - there is only 'death and hades’.
So now for us - we should thank and praise God every second of every day - because hell is not the end of our existence. We are not condemned - because of faith we believe in our heart and know in our mind;
"...that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures..." (1Corinthians 15: 3-4)
It is through faith in Jesus Christ that we are made righteous before God. Paul tells us:
But the righteousness that is by faith says: ... If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is LORD,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved... for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
And by that same faith we know that the Word of God in his Holy Bible is absolutely true - it is inerrant, that is, without error.
As Christians we hold tightly to the promises of God through faith in Jesus Christ and this gift of faith is graciously imparted into us. We can't get it by taking a course of study at a university, or buying it off the shelf in a book store or a pharmacy. It comes from a loving God - to us by his sovereign will to give it to us.
We can't get to heaven from here on our own effort or merit without God's gracious gift of faith to us. This Paul says:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast"
In this life we will never feel completely at home or at perfect rest. This world is a place that always seems to be in turmoil - including our lives. Jesus tells us so; "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows" (John 16:33)
By any casual observation of community and world events - we can see that there is much pain and suffering. And as Christians we feel uncomfortable with what we see and hear continually going on around us. And our hearts hurt with those who suffer.
There is something missing in our lives - and I would suggest that - that something is being at rest and at home in heaven with our Heavenly Father. And this is the promise that Jesus proclaims to us:
"My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:2-3)
And why does God give us this promise?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
So - notwithstanding all the turmoil and unpleasantness that frequently is around us -- do not despair - wait patiently for the gift of the glory of heaven!!
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
(All) His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the LORD of lords:
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.
COME LORD JESUS
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