What’s the greatest DANGER people face today?
There’s the destruction of THE ENVIRONMENT. Everyone’s worried about THAT. There’s even a MINISTER for climate change.
So there’s the danger of greenhouse gases and ozone depletion. There’s the danger of fossil fuels running out, and of rising sea levels.
Things are changing so much, it even seems like NUCLEAR ENERGY is back on the agenda. Even if it’s just exporting uranium, and opening new mines. But it would have been UNHEARD of in the 1970’s in Australia. When the danger of NUCLEAR WAR was so great. Which doesn’t seem so likely THESE DAYS.
Instead, there’s the danger of IST ATTACK. You can’t even take a bottle of water on a plane anymore. In case it might be a liquid e.
Then there’s STRANGER danger.
Or the danger of LOSING YOUR SUPERANNUATION in the stock market collapse.
There’s the danger of people losing their HOMES with the high interest rates, and the real estate bubble bursting. The world financial crisis and job losses.
But as Jesus looks out at the world. He sees a danger much greater than any of these things. It’s hidden and seems irrelevant and distant. It’s a danger you never hear preached on too much. It’s not PLEASANT. We don’t like to talk about it. Or even to THINK about it. But the reality is Jesus spoke about it over and over again. Warning people to FLEE it. Not to RISK it.
It’s the danger of HELL. God’s just, eternal, conscious punishment of sinful rebels.
Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible. Nearly half of his 40 parables have HELL as their subject. And someone’s calculated that 13% of Jesus’ recorded words are to do with JUDGMENT and HELL.
Here’s some of what he said
Mt 5:29. Better to lose an eye or a hand than your whole body be thrown into hell.
In Mt 7:19. He urges that every tree that doesn’t PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT will be cut down and THROWN INTO THE FIRE.
And in Mt 10:28 He warns us to be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
And Mt 25:41 He describes what he’ll say to the goats on judgment day, ‘DEPART FROM ME, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
In Mk 9:48 He describes hell as a place where the worm doesn’t die, and the fire isn’t quenched.
And in Mt 8:12, it’s a place of DARKNESS, where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where people are BANISHED in LONELINESS.
So, according to Jesus, hell is a place of ETERNAL, CONSCIOUS PUNISHMENT, BANISHMENT, and DESTRUCTION.
We may not LIKE it. We may not UNDERSTAND it. We may be uncertain whether the images are LITERAL or SYMBOLIC. But, if Jesus can be TRUSTED, then hell is REAL, and we need to CONSIDER it. FLEE it. And be MOTIVATED by it to WARN OTHERS, TOO.
If you get nothing else out of the Bible talk today, let it be this. If Jesus can be TRUSTED, then hell is REAL, and we need to CONSIDER it. FLEE it. And be MOTIVATED by it to WARN OTHERS, TOO.
The most famous sermon ever preached in the history of America was delivered by Jonathan Edwards, in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741. More than 250 years ago. It was titled, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” And its theme was THE DANGER OF HELL.
The town of Enfield was resistant to a wave of revival sweeping New England. Jonathan Edwards had been invited to preach by their minister who thought his congregation were particularly stubborn to the message of the gospel.
It was a sermon delivered without showiness or emotional manipulation. One of his biographers describes him as using few or no gestures, reading his sermon closely from a manuscript on the pulpit before him. “He set his eyes on the bellrope at the rear of the church, and spoke the words in a level tone and with no high pomp of rhetoric or oratory.”
We’ll find out THE EFFECT the sermon had a little later.
In the 250 years since, some have, unfairly, criticised the sermon as focussing on the PUNISHMENT of non-Christians in the fires of hell. But Edward’s focus is exactly where God wants the focus to be. The DANGER people are under. And the sermon is all about WARNING people.
1. God’s mercy warns us about it.
You see, that’s what God WANTS. The sinner to be saved. It’s entirely by God’s MERCY that we KNOW about hell. Which is the first thing I want to say about the subject. God’s MERCY WARNS us about it.
He WARNS us about it in the Bible so that we might TURN from it. It’s why Jesus spent so much of his time TELLING people about it. That we might FLEE darkness, and LOVE the light. And be saved from his wrath, and infinite separation from him, the source of all goodness and light.
If God WANTED people in hell, he wouldn’t WARN us. We saw it last week. 2 Peter 3:9 “God is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, but EVERYONE TO COME TO REPENTANCE.”
So let’s be THANKFUL for the clear and consistent warnings in the Bible. And the sermons of people like Jonathan Edwards.
2. God’s justice demands it
(pause) He doesn’t WANT people in hell, but his JUSTICE demands it. That’s the SECOND point.
At the moment, wicked people get away with things. Injustice rules. But that will only go on for so long. Eventually God will settle all accounts. The final, ultimate DIVINE GET-EVEN. He HAS to. That’s his CHARACTER as perfectly HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS AND JUST.
There’s a fearful picture of God’s JUST JUDGMENT in Revelation 20. From v11.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the , great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the that were in it, and and Hades gave up the that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second . 15 IF ANYONE’S NAME WAS NOT FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF LIFE, HE WAS THROWN INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE.
That’s the fate of all who don’t belong to Jesus. The life of everyone laid bare before God who sees EVERYTHING. And judges with PERFECT JUSTICE and PERFECT WISDOM. And everyone who doesn’t belong to Christ is cast into HELL.
Many Christians have a hard time getting their heads around it. How LIMITED AND FINITE sin / can be justly punished with ETERNAL punishment and separation from God. It seems too severe.
Let me say three things about that:
1. We can’t possibly see sin the way God sees it. So we just have to trust his measurement of how SERIOUS it is.
2. There’s no indication that people will repent of their sin once there in hell. People will certainly recognise who Jesus is – they’ll HAVE to. But it seems likely that their rebellion will continue. Their anger at God for sending them to such a place. Their pride, even THEN, refusing to submit their will to God’s.
So, if the REBELLION is eternal, then it’s appropriate for the PUNISHMENT to be eternal too.
And 3. The fact that we STRUGGLE with this idea of eternal punishment. That we VALUE people, and don’t want to see them in hell. REFLECTS THE DESIRE OF GOD HIMSELF. He LONGS for all men to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
We bear his IMAGE. And so, we reflect something of his love for his valuable creatures. So, it’s RIGHT for us to grieve that people go to hell. But the response to that is to WARN people, and point them to Jesus. And not to doubt God’s justice. That DEMANDS hell.
3. God’s patience preserves us from it.
The third point I want to make about hell is that God’s patience PRESERVES us from it. You can see that in the parable of the wheat and weeds we read earlier. Mt 13:24.
The kingdom of heaven is like a field where a man sowed good seed. But during the night, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. Industrial sabotage!
Both types of plants sprouted and grew. The servants came and told the owner. There’s weeds all through the field. What should we do? Should we try and pull them all out? Separate the weeds NOW?
But the owner says (v29)
29 “‘NO,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 LET BOTH GROW TOGETHER until THE HARVEST. At THAT time I will tell the harvesters: First collect THE WEEDS and tie them in bundles to be BURNED; then gather THE WHEAT and bring it into my barn.'”
This is a parable about TWO SORTS of PEOPLE, and about JUDGMENT AND HELL. A bit further on Jesus EXPLAINS the parable. Down in v37. Jesus is the owner. The field is THE WORLD. The weeds are the sons of the evil one – those who AREN’T Christians. And the wheat stands for the sons of the kingdom. And the world at the moment is a MIX of BOTH sorts of people. And harvest time is judgment day.
And he gets a bit MORE specific in v40.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, LET HIM HEAR.
And the point I want to make from it is that it’s Jesus who WITHHOLDS his servants from heading out into the field TODAY, and pulling out all the weeds. “Wait until judgment day,” he says. Then it will be EVEN CLEARER who belongs to me.
2 Peter 3:9 – we read it earlier – explains THE REASON. God’s delay in judgment is not because he’s SLOW, but because he’s PATIENT. It’s not because people don’t DESERVE it – they DO. It’s just that he wants AS MANY AS POSSIBLE to come to him.
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. HE IS PATIENT WITH YOU, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God, this very minute, could send people to an eternity without him. They’d DESERVE it. And there’s nothing they can do to AVOID it, apart from turn to Jesus.
It’s purely God’s PATIENCE that preserves people from it.
Let me quote you a bit from Jonathan Edwards. It points out a of things. What DANGER people are in. And what PATIENCE God shows in keeping them from it.
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God… his arbitrary will…
There is NO LACK OF POWER in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: THUS EASY IS IT FOR GOD, WHEN HE PLEASES, TO CAST HIS ENEMIES DOWN TO HELL.
The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.
The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The devils watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls.
That’s the DANGER. And Edwards wants to warn people who CAN’T SEE the danger. Who think everything’s SAFE. He goes on.
It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of at hand. It is no security to a man, that he is now in HEALTH, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any , and that there is NO VISIBLE DANGER in any respect in his circumstances.
The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows THIS IS NO EVIDENCE, that a man is NOT on the VERY BRINK OF ETERNITY, and that the next step will not be into another world.
The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable.
In other words, just because everything LOOKS safe, doesn’t mean you’re not a heartbeat away from . Listen to this description.
Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. .. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear that God had need to be at the expense of a MIRACLE, or go OUT OF THE ORDINARY COURSE OF HIS PROVIDENCE, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment. All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world, are so in God’s hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned in the case.
It’s TRUE, and we don’t SEE it.
God is in control of all of our destinies. Every beat of our hearts, every breath of our lungs. Is by his say-so.
God’s PATIENCE / PRESERVES people from hell.
4. Hell is self-chosen
The 4th thing I want to say about hell flows out of the first three things. If God WARNS us about hell, and if he’s PATIENT, not wanting anyone to GO there. Then hell is SELF-CHOSEN. It’s what they’ve CHOSEN.
People may not want to BE in hell. But they spend their lives choosing to ignore God, and doing their own thing. And so hell, is just the logical consequence of that. 2 Thess 2:10 says
the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. THEY PERISH BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO LOVE THE TRUTH AND SO BE SAVED. … all will be condemned who HAVE NOT BELIEVED THE TRUTH but have DELIGHTED IN WICKEDNESS.
Jesus backs that up in John 3. But he gets MORE SPECIFIC. Talking about HIMSELF, he says (v18)
18 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. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but MEN LOVED DARKNESS instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 EVERYONE WHO DOES EVIL S THE LIGHT, AND WILL NOT COME INTO THE LIGHT for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
The key to people’s fate is the attitude they have TOWARDS Jesus. Choosing JESUS means choosing eternal life. REFUSING to choose Jesus means choosing condemnation.
Hell is SELF-CHOSEN.
Dominic Steele tells the story about trying to meet up with a family member who’d cut off contact over a misunderstanding. No one remembered what they original fight had been about. But it had been YEARS since anyone from the family had spoken to him.
And Dominic was going on holidays to the town this guy was living in. So when he arrived, he phoned him up. “Hi, Jack, it’s Dominic Steele. Just wondering if you’d like to meet up for coffee. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve spoken. But I’d really like to try to mend some fences. What do you think?
“No I’m not interested. Please don’t call again”. And he hung up.
Dominic looked at the screen on his mobile phone. Call time: 23 seconds. After years not speaking, that was the limit of the conversation.
That probably would have been enough for ME, but Dominic stewed over things for the rest of the day. And later he phoned back. “I know you said you weren’t interested, but perhaps I can just leave you my phone number. I’ll be in town for the rest of the week. If you change your mind, I’ll meet you. Anywhere, anytime.”
“No. I don’t want your phone number. No I won’t change my mind.” And he hung up again. Call duration: 18 seconds. Not getting better.
I think perhaps Dominic is a slow learner. But he said he had the most miserable holiday. He spent the whole time thinking about those two conversations. What he could have said differently. Whether he should ring back.
And as he drove down the freeway on the way home, he came to the exit that would take him to Jack’s place. And he said it took ALL THE SELF-CONTROL HE COULD MUSTER to keep driving, and not take the exit to Jack’s place.
But he KEPT DRIVING. Because Jack had made it perfectly clear what he wanted. And Dominic was respecting his choice by leaving him alone.
And hell is God’s ultimate display of respect for man’s choice NOT to want a relationship with him.
CS Lewis, in his book The problem of pain, (127-28.) says “Sin is man’s saying to God throughout life, ‘Go away and leave me alone.’ Hell is God’s finally saying to man, ‘You may have your wish.’ It is God’s leaving man to himself, as man has chosen.”
The fourth thing to say about hell is that it’s SELF-CHOSEN.
Probably lots of other things we COULD say. But I want to leave it there. And finish with the question we’ve been asking each week through this series. So what?
Fairly obvious I think. It’s 100% relevant to 100% of people here today.
If you’re NOT a Christian, you’re in danger of hell! Turn from your rebellion. Turn to Jesus and trust him for your salvation.
If you ARE a Christian, then let the awfulness and reality of hell MOTIVATE you to warn people. Your family. Your workmates, Your children. Or your parents.
God LOVES the world so much, he sent his only son to SAVE people from hell. That whoever BELIEVES in him will not PERISH, but have ETERNAL LIFE.
That’s our message. That’s our motivation.
Here’s how Edwards summed up. His APPLICATION.
THE USE OF THIS AWFUL SUBJECT MAY BE FOR AWAKENING UNCONVERTED PERSONS IN THIS CONGREGATION (That’s God’s mercy WARNING us). This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. — That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.
Hear that warning. And DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Let me finish by describing the EFFECT that sermon had as Edwards preached it. Before the sermon had finished, people were moaning, and crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?” An eyewitness account from another minister reported that “there was such a breathing of distress, and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence that he might be heard.”
(slowly) Another eyewitness wrote in his diary,
“Prayer was made, and after that we descended from the pulpit and discoursed with the people – some in one place and some in another – and amazing and astonishing the power of God was seen – and several souls were hopefully wrought on that night. And oh the cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances that received comfort – oh that God would strengthen and confirm. We sung a hymn and prayed, and dismissed the Assembly.
Which is what we’ll do NOW. Let’s pray.