In this Sunday’s sermon, we talked about how we can be bold witnesses for Jesus. God commands us to share the gospel and that requires boldness because it is exclusive. It upsets the status quo of a relativistic culture that believes everyone can have their own “truth”. But I want to talk about another reason boldness is required: the terrible fate of man without Christ. We know a Christ-less eternity lies ahead for those who do not trust Christ.
After we die, the Bible says we will all face a judgment of faith. Hebrews 9:27 says,
“It is appointed once for man to die and after that face judgment.”
We will all stand before God and for those who accepted Christ, they will be welcomed into the eternal joys of Heaven in His presence. But for those who have not believed on Christ, they face a terrible fate in a place commonly referred to as Hell. This is a real place of eternal sentencing that is to be avoided (Matt. 23:33). 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says God will deal out retribution to those who do now know God and do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus. “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
The doctrine of hell has fallen on hard times in our day. You rarely hear it talked about, even though the Bible records Jesus warning people about it on many occasions. He talked more about hell than anyone else in Scripture. Hell being a rare subject in discourse is partially due to the fact that eternal damnation is not something comfortable to think about. We prefer a God of love rather than a God who is holy and just. Our emotions refuse to think of those we know and love ever being in a place of eternal torment. Whenever anyone dies, they’re always in “a better place” – never a worse place! If we believe that, we are deceiving ourselves. Hell is the broad gate and heaven is the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14).
Hell is often referred to as Hades in the Bible or equivalated with The Lake of Fire. Our word for “hell” is derived from the Greek word geenna (Gehenna), from the Hebrew ge hinnom, which means “Valley of Hinnom.” Gehenna, or the valley of Hinnom, was a valley outside of Jerusalem where Israelites sacrificed their children to a false god named Molech (2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 19:6). Because of this, God said His judgment would reside over this place. Jeremiah prophesied God would destroy these idolaters for their sin in the Valley of Hinnom and leave their corpses to rot, renaming it the “valley slaughter” (Jer. 7:31-34; 19:4-6).
It has also been said that this was a place where Jerusalem’s refuse and trash was burned, including the occasional dead body of criminals. Like a city dump, the fire was always burning and the smoke always rising. No wonder Christ used Gehenna as a metaphor for hell (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6; Rev. 20). Hell is a also described as “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43, 48), a “furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42, 50), and “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
The book of Jude encourages Christians to be like firefighters who snatch the unsaved from the fires of hell. After refuting false teachers that denied God’s eternal punishment for sin and lawlessness, Jude 23 says,
“Save others, snatching them out of the fire.”
Every Christian is like a firefighter!
False teachings about eternal punishment abound today. One false teaching is Universalism, which teaches that all people will be saved. Some false teachers will try to use Scriptures that talk about Jesus “dying for the whole world” to convince people that the whole world is saved. This weak interpretation is easily toppled by tremendous amounts of further revelation explaining the condition for salvation is faith in Christ. Yes, He died for everyone, but we must believe. John 3:18 is clear:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Another common false teaching is Conditionalism. This teaches that when people are “destroyed” in hell, they cease to exist. This idea comes from a misinterpretation of descriptions of hell like Matthew 10:28 where Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Destruction is not synonymous with extinction though. I can “destroy” a pop can by crushing it, but it doesn’t cease to exist. Scripture repeatedly teaches that hell is a place of conscious eternal punishment. It is a place where people weep and gnash their teeth in agony (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a figurative, but possibly actual, story about two men in the afterlife. A poor man named Lazarus went to “paradise” (heaven) to be with the Jewish father Abraham. The other was a rich man who ended up in Hades. He lived so comfortably in this life that he never longed for paradise beyond this world. He never stopped to consider his eternal destiny. While in Hades, he can see across this “great chasm” that is fixed between him and paradise, where they are. He lifts up his eyes, and being in agonizing torment, asks Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water for his tongue. Abraham cannot cross the chasm between them. He also asks Abraham to send someone from paradise to his 5 brothers who remain alive. Abaraham says “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them…. If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [the Old Testament], they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” There are no second chances in hell.
The way I see it, there will also be differing degrees of punishment in hell. Even though all are without excuse due to the evidence in creation and God’s law is written on their hearts (Romans 1:20; 2:14-16), passages like Matthew 10:15, 11:22-24, 26:24, Luke 12:47-48, John 19:11 suggest that those who received more truth-revelation concerning Christ will be responsible for more. I think the thermostat on the furnace of hell will be set highest for Satan. He will not be a ruler in hell. He will be the most punished.
The old preacher, Charles Spurgeon, described hell in an unforgettable way:
“there is never any sleep or rest or hope. It is a place where a drop of water is denied, though thirst shall burn the tongue; a place where pleasure never breathed, where light never dawned, where anything like consolation was never heard of; a place where the gospel is denied, where mercy droops her wings and dies; a place of fury and of burning; a place the likes of which imagination has not pictured."
Hades, to be precise, holds unsaved souls in torment until their future resurrection at the end of the Millennial Kingdom where they will stand before the Great White Throne for a judgment of works (Rev. 20:11-15).After this, they are thrown into the eternal location for unbelievers called The Lake of Fire (20:15). This is referred to as the second death (20:14). The term “lake of fire” is used 6 times in the book of Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14b, 14c, 15, 18) and is the final hellish state of punishment for unbelievers, fallen angels (including Satan), Hades, and death itself. It was prepared for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25:41). They will be tormented there day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10).
Have you ever seen yourself a firefighter for Christ? I think it would be helpful to start thinking this way. The great evangelist D. L. Moody used to envision people as if they were on fire until he knew they weren’t. He understood all are condemned until they come to Christ and made a point to share the gospel every day. Firefighting is also a noble task. It is an honor to serve as a firefighter. We look up to them and admire their difficult, self-sacrificial work. God will reward His faithful firefighters who are ready to answer the call any time of day. What a privilege to serve in Heaven’s fire department!
If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ today, know that you can simply receive Him as your Savior right now by telling Him through prayer that you deserve hell as a sinner, but want to accept His incredibly merciful gift of the cross for you. He died for you in your place and rose again from the grave to prove it. Right now, He sits in Heaven victorious, patiently waiting for sinners to receive His gift of salvation. He does not long to judge us but to save us (Jer. 17:15-16; John 3:17; 2 Peter 3:9). Will you receive His gift of salvation today? Romans 3:23-24 is like a cool drink of water for those who thirst:
“Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence but by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.”
In Christ with you,
One of the most impressive aspects of the early Church that we studied in Acts this Sunday is their continual devotion to apostles’ teaching. The church was hungry for the truth of the Word of God – a sure sign of a Spirit-filled church! The first thing you should look for when looking for a home church is a church that carry’s Bibles, opens their Bibles regularly, and sticks close to the text. That’s what the Bereans of Acts 17:11 are known for: searching the Scriptures to see if what the apostle Paul was telling them was true.
Just like the early Church, we need to be serious about understanding the Word of God for us and the generations to follow. Like a relay team passing a baton, each generation must do their part. When you study the letter of 2 Timothy, you catch a glimpse of this principle. Paul is writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-7 using a few analogies to depict the Christian life, but let’s focus on his athlete analogy, thinking of ourselves as “athletes in Christ.”
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Timothy is part of a spiritual heritage that has been passed down to him by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (1:5). Paul had also invested a lot in this young man’s life and now he is being asked to step up and step forward in the call to ministry. You even catch a glimpse of his ordination in 1:6. He is like an athlete in a relay race asked to pass on a baton he received. Paul refers to it as “the things which you have heard from me”, “the standard of sound words” or “the treasure” (vv. 13-14). It is the body of gospel teaching.
At least five generations are in view here: Christ, who entrusted the body of gospel teaching to Paul, who entrusted it to Timothy, who will entrust it to faithful men who teach others. I guess we could be considered the “other faithful men” because we are in a long line of truth that has been passed down and every believer should think of themselves as athletes in Christ, responsible both for receiving the gospel baton and passing it on in some way.
The sad context, however, reveals the tendency of people to drop the baton! In chapter 1:15, Hermogenes and Phygelus have “turned away” from Paul. In 4:9, Demas is described as having “deserted” Paul out of a love for this present world. And in chapters 3 and 4, Paul prophetically cautions Timothy about the “last days” when people will want to have their ears tickled – rather than listening to truth, they will want to hear what they want to hear. Timohty is being asked to preach the Word in a world that doesn’t always want to hear it, but he must not bend. The Word of God is what people need! That’s why you have one of the clearest affirmation of Scripture’s inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It is “God-breathed” and for “every season.” We must study the Word to compete “according to the rules” (v. 5).
But what is this going to require? Endurance. That may be the key word for the entire book of 2 Timothy: Endurance. Every soldier, farmer, and athlete must endure. They expect it. They go into it with that mindset. That way, they won’t get mad when things get difficult or give up when it gets hard.
But how do we endure? Is it by gritting our teeth and bearing it? No. Paul basically says, “by supernatural strength in Christ.” More precisely, verse 1 says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In other words, just as you entered the race by grace through faith in Christ (1:9), so continue on by the grace in Christ! To endure in receiving and passing the baton, you must depend on God’s grace. God has grace for salvation and for service. For pardon and power. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, right (Jn. 15:5)?
Let’s remember this as we go on day by day in ministry. And let’s keep our eyes on the prize to come – the future rewards for faithfully passing on the baton. The soldier pleases the One who enlisted him. The farmer receives his share of the crop. And the athlete wins the prize.
In Christ with you,
This week my family and I picked the pumpkins in our pumpkin patches, wrapping up a long and bountiful year of gardening produce. It was fun to watch the kids try and carry those heavy pumpkins and stuff their sweatshirt pockets and hats full of the small ornamental ones.
Those pumpkins, combined with all of the trees changing into their beautiful colors, has inspired in me a spirit of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a posture of the heart that seems to crop up (pun intended) a little more than usual during harvest time – and for good reason! Back in the Spring, I, like many others, prayed over my freshly planted garden for a good harvest to share with family and friends. This Fall, I made sure to thank Him for answering that prayer!
Luke 17:11-19 tells a wonderful and shocking story about thankfulness. Ten leprous men come to Jesus, asking Him to heal them of their terrible, isolating disease. Jesus instructs them to go and show themselves to the priests and as they are going, they are miraculously healed! The interesting thing about the story is that only one returns to thank Him for the healing. Only one! And a Samaritan of all people! This man, the text says,
“turned back, praising God with a loud voice;
This story is shocking in that it’s a sure sign of man’s depravity and wonderful in that it reveals the rarity of thankfulness to God (Rom. 1:21). It’s rare, like a precious diamond in the rough. Jesus uses this lesson to teach His disciples that an attitude of gratitude should characterize them as His followers.
At the top of the list of things to be thankful for is His mercy! Jesus tells the man who returned to thank Him that his faith had made him well. Based on the reality that all were healed, but not all had faith in Jesus, this tells us his healing is much deeper than the physical healing. More importantly, this man has been healed spiritually by His mercy. He is no longer isolated from God!
When we come to Jesus in faith, trusting Him as the Savior who died for us, we are also healed spiritually. Our sin that isolates us from God is dealt with and we are reconciled to Him (Rom. 5:10). 1 Peter 2:24 quotes Isaiah 53:5, saying,
"By His wounds, you are healed."
This healing is in the atonement (covering) Jesus’ sacrifice provides for us. It’s something we can be thankful for every moment of every day. Paul says in Colossians 2:7 that when we are rooted and built up in Christ, we will overflow with thanksgiving. Being rooted in Christ produces the fruit of thanksgiving!
At a pastor’s conference in Illinois years ago, I met a sweet, old lady who gave me her son’s book (her son is a pastor) on how to develop and maintain a daily quiet time with God. In addition to praying, reading the Bible, and looking for application to apply that day, one of his unique aspects was to write down one thing he was thankful for each day. In this way, he would start off each day with a grateful heart. Seems like a worthy habit to develop!
What can you be thankful for today? What answered prayers have you forgotten to thank God for answering? There’s a lot of moaning and groaning and complaining these days. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to those around us to be thankful? It would certainly refresh God’s heart! Let’s stand out from the world by thanking God for all He is and does for us, being watchful and thankful for how He provides physically and spiritually.
Colossians 4:2 says,
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”.
In Christ with you,
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