“Straight Talk About Hell”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
During our recent trip to Hawaii, my wife and I saw many amazing things. Of them all, though, the most amazing was the active volcano. Lauren saw that Kilauea had begun erupting again just before we left, so we decided that we wanted to visit the crater rim after dark, when it would be most visible.
We ended up on the rim about a mile away from the molten part. We could see steam hissing out of vents all over the caldera floor, one of which was stained a brilliant yellow by the sulfur coming out of it. After dark, we could see molten orange cracks forming and closing, and the sides of the crater were lit with red.
As I took the spectacle in, I thought to myself, “Well, I know a sermon request when I see one!” I literally saw a lake burning with fire and brimstone, but I was quite safe from it. However, the day is coming when billions will encounter a lake burning with fire and brimstone, and they will not be safe from it. That’s not a fate I would wish on anyone, so I figured it was time for some straight talk about hell.
The first thing that we must understand about hell is that IT IS A HORRIBLE PLACE. Consider Jesus’ description of it in Mark 9:42-48. Note first of all the list of things that Jesus said are preferable to being cast into hell. It’s better to have a millstone hung around your neck and be drowned. It’s better to have your hand chopped off. It’s better to have your eye gouged out. It’s better to have your foot severed.
None of those are things we want to have happen to us! However, if we were offered a choice between those things and hell, we would be wise to say, “Bring on the millstone. Bring on the axe.”
In fact, Jesus describes hell as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, a description He takes from Isaiah 66. Most of us have experienced a burn, though hopefully only a minor one. Most of us have seen roadkill in the summer that is seething with maggots. Other passages describe hell as utter darkness.
Those things are what hell is like, except that hell lasts forever. In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about eternal fire. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul describes eternal destruction. On earth, eventually what burns is burned up. The maggot-ridden corpse is consumed. The darkness is ended by dawn. However, there is no relief from the torments of hell.
Of course, these things are not literal. Instead, they are meant to convey to our minds what it’s like to be eternally separated from God. When some people hear this, they say, “Well, that’s not so bad!”
However, we only say such things because we never have experienced the complete absence of God. Every good gift that every one of us enjoys in our lives comes from Him. When God leaves, He takes all the good with Him, and all that is left is misery, suffering, and all the cruelties that the devil can devise.
Second, IT IS FOR SINNERS. Look at Revelation 21:6-8. As the words of the Father here make clear, there are only two choices. Either we inherit eternal life from Him, or we are cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. There’s no third way.
Also, the catalogue of sins in v. 8 is meant to be representative rather than exhaustive. Hell is not only for those who practice those particular kinds of wickedness. It is for anyone who practices any kind of wickedness. If we practice sin, hell will be for us.
For many, this is their single biggest problem with Christianity. The Bible teaches both that God is love and that most people will spend eternity in hell. Isn’t that a contradiction?
However, I think that those who propose this dilemma have failed to reckon with what God has done for us. First of all, God has been fair. He has revealed Himself to every human being through His creation. He’s given every one of us a conscience.
We all had the opportunity to honor Him and walk righteously before Him. Did we take it? We did not. We chose to reject Him and be evil instead.
In addition, God is merciful. He gave us the opportunity to find salvation through His Son. Do most take advantage of that? They do not. God is reaching out to them, pleading with them to accept the most precious gift anyone ever has been offered. In response, they turn their back on Him and go on being evil.
What’s God supposed to do? Confirm His word with lots of miracles? He’s tried that lots of times. It didn’t work. Reveal Himself directly to people? Last time God did that, they crucified Him. Win them with kindness? He’s doing that right now. It also doesn’t work. Warn them with suffering? He does that too, again with little success.
In short, there is nothing that even God can do with hard-hearted, wicked sinners. He sends them to hell because it’s the only option left. That’s not a loving God’s fault at all. It’s 100 percent theirs.
Hell is a horrible place, it’s where all sinners go, and ONLY JESUS CAN SAVE US FROM IT. Let’s read from His words in John 14:5-6. To begin with, let’s notice here that the alternative to being gathered up and cast into the fire is abiding in Jesus. This means two different things. First, it means being connected to Jesus. We must be saved through Him. We must become His disciples.
Second, abiding means staying connected to Jesus. After we rise from the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life, we actually have to live that way. If we’re uncertain about whether we’re abiding in Jesus or not, He proposes a simple test here. Those who abide in Him and vice versa bear much fruit. There are many things in their lives that show they are disciples. However, if we are living fruitless lives, we should be concerned about that. It shows that we aren’t abiding in Him, and the alternative is not good.
However, we must be careful about assuming that discipleship is nothing more than another opportunity to justify ourselves by works. That’s not it at all. Our good works reveal us as His disciples, but they do not and cannot establish our righteousness before God.
Now that I know that my life is going to be considerably shorter than I had anticipated, as you might imagine, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to its end. Let me tell you, brethren—if I believed that my eternal destination was determined by the things I’ve done, I would be terrified. I know that the only name I can claim on my own is “sinner”.
However, I don’t rely on myself. I rely on the mercy of the One who justifies the ungodly. I know Him too, and I know that I can trust Him. Only He can rescue me from the horrible fate I deserve, and when He does, I will spend eternity praising Him for His salvation.