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The Matter of Hell

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(10/10) A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though they were a very large mammal their throat was very small. The little girl stated Jonah was swallowed by a whale. The teacher reiterated a whale could not swallow a human; it was impossible. The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah." The teacher asked, "What if Jonah didn’t go to heaven?" The little girl replied, "Then you can ask him." That story is more sad than funny.

A year and ½ ago I shared with you a sermon that answered the question, "Would a Loving God Really Send Anyone to Hell?" In that sermon we dealt with the fact that Hell is a reasonable place. I read to you part of an article that appeared in the August 12th, 2002 edition of Newsweek Magazine which I will read again. There Kenneth Woodward wrote the following:

"The most famous sermon in American History was a graphic evocation of the horrors of the damned in hell. As Jonathon Edwards expanded on his subject, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," so many moans and cries rose from his proper New England congregation that the learned theologian had to pause while his listeners recoiled in fear of their fate in the life to come. That was July 16, 1741. Such a sermon could not be preached today-not even by Billy Graham, who has eschewed the fire-and- brimstone sermons of his youth. If the modern pulpit is any index, hell has but disappeared from the modern religious imagination, and so has Edwards angry God.

Historians tell us that hell began to fade, at least among liberal Protestants, during the 19th century. By the end of the millennium, it was a doctrine that most Christians cheerfully ignored. Today few Roman Catholics line up on Saturday night to confess their sins, even the, "mortal," kind. For born again Christians, hell functions mainly as a goad for the unconverted. Once saved, the twice born have only to worry-as Graham himself once put it-about how high a place they will reach in heaven. On television, celebrity preachers discourage negativity. Robert Schuller says he hasn’t preached on hell in 40 years. Asked which kind of God they believe in, most Christians prefer to think of Him as a friend in high places, (Apparently no one reads Job anymore). And hell, for those who think about it at all, is a place for other people."(An excerpt from a longer article)

Although Hell is a teaching of the world’s three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), many people are finding it a repulsive belief, and are denying it altogether. The last 20 years has seen a revival of an old heresy that believes that the wicked will either eventually be saved to enjoy heaven, or will be annihilated out of existence like a soap bubble. (Pause to recommend Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, as an answer to Rob Bell’s, Love Wins, which implies that there is no eternal hell)

Many cults within the realm of Christianity deny the existence of hell.

• Universal Unitarians believe that everyone will be saved

• Christian Scientist believe that hell is just an error of the mortal mind

• Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that all be given a second chance after death and those who aren’t saved will be annihilated. Hell itself is interpreted as being the grave. In fact, it was because of the Bible’s clear teaching on Hell, the Charles Russell came up with his own theology and started the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (J.W’s)

• Mormons that believe in hell believe that it is temporary and that everyone will eventually make it one of the 3 levels of heaven.

• 7th day Adventist believe that God will someday blot out all sins and sinners and create a clean universe once again.

• Noted Theologians of the 20th century like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, and Bishop James Pike either denied or downplayed the seriousness of hell.

• Many have concluded that since there is so much pain and suffering in this life, that hell must be the pain we endure before death here on planet earth.

• Still many, if not most, have concluded that if there is a God and He is good and a God of love, He would not assign anyone to an eternal place of torment and suffering.

• Many are repulsed by the idea that family members and friends that have died may well be in such a place of torment, or the ones we love, or the ones who have never heard of Jesus may well go to such a place to suffer for eternity with no possible escape or relief, ever.

• Even the word, Hell, has lost its punch for most of us. 40 years ago AC/DC were on a Highway to Hell, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, sang that. If You want to get Heaven you had to Raise a Little Hell. When we use it, it is often as an expression of anger, or to make a point, or tell a joke. In anger we tell people to go there. As a point, we say, ‘sure as hell,’ or, "hell no," or, "when hell freezes over." When we get a reprimand we say that we caught hell. When there are consequences for our actions we say there is hell to pay. We use to describe awful suffering; like, "war is hell." I have described a recent trial in our lives as being, "pure hell for a year." Hell is for cartoons in Gary Larson’s old Far Side or for movie lines like those of Ghost, Hell-Boy, Drag Me to Hell, or Ghost Rider.

I. Saved From What? The purpose of this sermon today is to look at what the Savior, our Lord Jesus had to say about the place and the purpose of Hell. Are you ready? Open your Bibles to Matthew 18:11, "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. As I told you last week some ancient manuscripts did not have this verse and so some think that a scribe included it because it fit and it says what Luke 19:10 says, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." It also fits the context of Matt. 18, of the shepherd that leaves the 99 to search for the one sheep that is lost. The key word here is, "Save."

The basic meaning of the word, "Save," is to rescue from danger or harm. There is a drama on TV called, Chicago Fire, about Chicago Firemen and though I haven’t watched much, the few times I have watched, the show has been about rescuing people from fire or accidents. What is the danger or harm that Jesus came to rescue us from? His very name is Jesus, for Jehovah saves, or the Lord is Salvation. The angel said, call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins, (1:21). What is the point of verses like John 3:16? How do people perish? In a nut shell, Jesus came to save us from 3 things:

• The Penalty of Our Sins

• The Power of Sin

• The Presence of Sin

Our God told our first parents not to eat from a particular tree and if they did, the consequences would be death. It could have been any kind of fruit. But to eat would be disobedience and the result would be sin and that would break a relationship with a Holy God. You will remember that they did not eat and fall over without a pulse. They lived for a long time, but their relationship with God was destroyed, they were removed from Eden, life became hard, the battle of the sexes began, pain entered human child-birth, work became hard, and unless atonement was made man was destined to live forever separated from God. That is the pure meaning of death. It is not non-existence, it is separation. Your life separates from your body and, your body is separated from the living in the ground, the ocean, or it is burned. Your soul, without atonement will be separated from God forever. Look with me at 2 Thess. 1:3-10, "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; 6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, 7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed." And Revelation 20:11-15; "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

It is because God is a Holy God, and His holiness demands just laws and righteous penalties for lawbreakers, which we all are. Sin and Holiness cannot mix just as oil and water cannot mix. Without a Savior, a rescue operation from God we are all condemned to be separated from God and His goodness, love, light and peace forever. Romans 5:12 reminds us, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." Listen to me carefully, unless you understand the holiness of God and His Holy justice, you can’t understand His love and Grace or the real purpose of Christmas or Easter.

II. Sheol – We won’t spend a lot of our time in the Old Testament this morning, but the O.T. word for hell is Sheol. All the dead go there to await the resurrection and judgment. Many believe it was divided into two compartments; one for the saved and one for the un-saved until Judgment Day. Many believe that Luke 16 and the story of the rich man and Lazarus refer to this. The word Sheol appears 65 times in the O.T. 31 times it is translated as the grave and 31 times as hell, and 3 times as the pit. Some like the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that it should always be translated as the grave, but the truth is it should be the exact opposite. In nearly all the cases it should be understood as the place of the departed dead. Let’s briefly look at Genesis 37:35. Jacob thought that his son Joseph had been eaten entirely by wild animals and there was no body to bury but it says, "And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, "For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning." Thus his father wept for him." His son was not in a grave, he thought he had been devoured, where did he expect to go to him? Sheol! The place of the dead.

III. Hades – In the New Testament there are 3 words used for hell along with some other descriptions like the 2 Thess. and Rev. 20 passages that we read. One of those words is Hades. Hades is the place that the rich man went to in Luke 16:23, "… in torments in Hades…" Hades is used 10 times in the N.T. and of those 10 times Jesus uses it 5 times, John uses it 3 times in the Revelation and Peter and Paul each use it one time in Acts as a reminder of Psalm 16:10. Hades is used of a place of detainment of the guilty and un-redeemed dead. They are held there until the Day of God’s Judgment in Rev. 20:11-5. I often use the county jail as a picture of Hades. People are held there until their trial and sentencing occur and then they are transferred to the federal or state prison system.

IV. Tartarus – Peter uses the word Tartarus to refer to the pit where some of the angels that followed Satan are detained (2 Peter 2:4, cp. Jude 6). It is where the legion of demons feared to go in Luke 8:31 called the abyss. Rev. 9 refers to it as the bottomless pit.

V. Gehenna- This word is used 12 times in the New Testament, and though it is translated as Hell, it refers to the place of final penalty. It is compared to the state or federal prison where the penalty of sin will be served. It is where the un-saved dead will spend eternity. It is also referred to as the Lake of Fire burning with brimstone (Rev. 19, 20, cp. Matt. 25:41). Of the 12 times Gehenna is used, our Lord used it 11 times. Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. Gehenna was a reference to the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom that was on the south side of Jerusalem. It was there that the wicked Kings, Ahaz and Manassah sacrificed their own children to the god Molech (2 Kings 16, 21). In Jesus’s day it was the trash and sewage dump where the fires never seemed to go out. It had a constant stench and was a gloomy and a dark place. Some have even said that the bodies of criminals were sometimes taken there as a final expression of absolute indignity. This was the place of Matt. 18:9, 10:28; & Mark 9:43ff.

VI. Hell Described – What will it be like? Our Lord Jesus described it for us. While I am not trying to be exhaustive, I can tell you 10 characteristics of this awful place. Our Lord Jesus refers to it as:

A. A place of intense anguish and remorse. Luke 16 and Rev. 19-20 refer to the torments of hell. My opinion, is that this is not just physical pain, but the awful pain of memory. The word, torment means, "great distress, anguish, pain, sorrow." I am guessing that the pain will include the remorse of selfishness, the pleasure of sin, and shunning the grace of God and never turning to Him for forgiveness. I imagine that Charles Dickens had this in mind when he showed us Marley’s ghost and the torment he experienced from a life of greed and not caring for mankind. I imagine that he got that character from the rich man in Luke 16. Such will be the eternal experience of hell

B. A place of intense thirst. (Luke 16:24)The rich man wanted so desperately for just a drop of water to cool his tongue. But there is no water in hell, neither physical water, nor spiritual water, no refreshment from God’s word. And the heart will cry for both.

C. A place of darkness. Matt. 22:13; 25:30 refer to it as outer darkness. The light of the world; the light of life will not be there; neither will the sun, nor moon. There will be no truth, or love, none of the things that bring light and life.

D. A place of frustration, anger, and pain. This is pictured by the wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42; 22:13; 24:51). We know that what the un-redeemed will do in this life they will do in eternity (Rev. 16:10-11). That is, they will gnash their teeth and curse God.

E. A place where one will want to be non-existent. Mark 9:44, 46, and 48, refers to the worm that never dies. Verses 46 and 48 are omitted in some manuscripts but they repeat v. 44 and it is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24. It is probably a reference to the soul, but it could be referring to the guilt of the mind that eats away at the soul. One will wish he or she didn’t exist, but there is no end to this torment

F. A place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:44-50). Is this a real or figurative fire? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that it is real. It burns like the bush that wasn’t consumed in Ex. 3 and it stinks of sulfur and brimstone. It smells rotten. It is called the Lake of Fire by Jesus and in the Revelation. Burning flesh smells a lot like rotten eggs.

G. A place in which the body will be raised and united to the soul again and both will be tormented forever (Matt. 10:28; Rev. 20:20).

H. A Place of eternal suffering (Matt. 25:41; 46). The suffering will never stop. You were created to be an eternal being and you will be either in Heaven or in Hell. Some want to see, eternal non-existence, but the language clearly implies eternal existence.

I. A Place shared with the Devil, his demons, and all the unsaved of all time. (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10; 21:8). John 3:18ff and Romans 1:18ff makes it clear that those who go there aren’t just Christ rejecters, they are those who have never received the cure of the terminal disease of sin. Sin’s penalty, regardless of whether one rejects the cure or ever hears of the cure, remains the same-death to the un-inoculated. This is the fate of the millions and billions that will die without the Salvation that Jesus offers. This is what you and I who have received grace have been saved from.

J. A Place of Prayer. Our Lord said in Lu. 16:27-30 that the rich man prayed for someone to go and tell his brothers about this place and how to avoid it. If we could hear the cries of hell we would hear the pleas to warn their families of this place Please urge them to be saved. Don’t let them come here.

Our Lord will tell us in Matthew 10, "not to fear the one who can kill the body but to fear the one that can put body and soul into hell." In Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9, and Mark 9:43-47, He tells us that if we blame our hands or eyes or feet as the cause of our sin, we should cut them off or gouge it out because it would be better to enter life blemished than to be whole and go to hell. But the point He is really making is that it isn’t a hand, foot or eye problem, it is a heart problem. You must do what God prescribes to fix the heart problem and in verse 3 He has told us that unless one is converted he or she cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You must turn from sin and turn to and receive the gift of grace from the one who paid for your sin and wants to be your Savior. Have you done that?

VII. How does this apply to me? 4 things

A. It should affect your Worship causing you to want to worship the Lord fervently, praising Him for His awesome grace and expressing adoration to Him

B. It should affect your Witness causing you to want to warn and urge people to receive the grace of god in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When is the last time you told someone of the penalty of sin and the grace of God? In the long run it doesn’t matter what they think of you. What does matter is that they know what awaits them and the way to be saved; that there is a God that loves them and wants to adopt them as His own and have them spend eternity with Him. Listen to Jude 20-23, "And on some have compassion, making a distinction;] 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire,[b] hating even the garment defiled by the flesh."

C. It should affect your Work for God. There is no more important thing you can do in life than to serve God from gratitude for His grace.

D. It should affect your Willingness to receive His grace and His gift of eternal life by receiving Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Benediction – Jude 24-25 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

25 To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman