Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hell

Sometimes it’s good to look at the details of Scripture. That’s what we did last week. We looked at one word: favor. But there are other times when it’s good to take the large view, to consider the bigger picture. That’s what we’re going to do this week. So, I’m going to read Genesis 6, the whole chapter. And then, I’m going to ask this question: What is God doing here? And we’ll go on from there.


When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. Genesis 6

What is God doing here? He’s evaluating what’s going on in His creation, and He sees rampant evil. So, He decides to act.

I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.

The flood that follows is all about God bringing to bear the just consequences of man’s rebellion. Destruction.

What are we to do with this? What does God want us to get out of it? When it comes to understanding the message of the Bible there are lots of tools that can be used. One of those tools has to do with types. A type is a kind of picture in the Old Testament that points ahead to some reality that the New Testament reveals more fully. It’s like a prophecy that uses pictures instead of words. So, Father Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac, on Mt. Moriah is a type of God, the Father, sacrificing His Son, Jesus, on Calvary. A type is a picture in the Old Testament that points ahead to a reality revealed more fully in the New Testament.

The flood is a type. It’s pointing to some reality more fully revealed in the New Testament. And what is that reality? It’s hell. At the end of this age God will do what He did at the flood. He will evaluate what has been going on in His creation. Seeing the evil that has occurred He will act. He will bring to bear the just consequences of the rebellion of so many. Hell.

Now, when I mention hell what image comes to mind? For most Christians we know, there is one particular image that comes to mind: fire. There is good reason for this. Listen to how Jesus described hell.

It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Jesus describes hell in terms of fire. But thinking of hell only in terms of ‘unquenchable fire’ will mislead you. Jesus also used other images to describe the horror of that place. He spoke of hell in terms of worms, the kind that eat corpses. He also referred to hell as the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And I think that we can say that there is also the image of hell as the great abyss, a bottomless pit where you fall forever. These are images that capture something of the horror of God’s justice.

All of these images reflect different aspects of one key notion about hell. Listen to Paul speak about the fate of the condemned.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might...

This is the essence of hell, to be cast away from the God whose presence gives life. The Apostles’ Creed refers to Jesus descending into hell. What is this but His being forsaken, cast away, by the Father. That’s hell. The images Jesus gives picture different aspects of the destruction that comes from being cast away.

Now, there is one aspect of this being cast away into hell that I want to spend some time on. I think that it helps us to understand an important aspect of God’s judgment. Listen to something Paul wrote. He’s describing God’s bringing to bear the just consequences of the rebellion of men. It’s just that this justice is experienced in this present life.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Three times Paul writes that ‘God gave them up’ to something. To say that differently, God no longer restrained these people from what they desired. He removed the leash, and let them run after what they wanted: the lusts of their hearts to impurity, dishonorable passions, a debased mind. They wanted these things and so, as an act of justice, God let them have those things.

While Paul is writing about what happens in the here and now, this also speaks about what happens later. Hell is letting the rebellious get what they want. But what they want will be as destructive as unquenchable fire, as disgusting as worms eating away at your flesh, as frightful as utter darkness where you see nothing but hear agonized wailing, as terrifying as falling, falling, falling forever. And to make it worse, even if the people there were to cry out to God, He won’t hear them. He won’t hear them because He’s not there. These people have been cast away from His presence. Hell.

In all the Bible the person who talked most about hell was Jesus. And that gets quite interesting when you remember that Jesus’ almost exclusive audience was the Church of His day. You won’t find Jesus talking about hell to Gentiles. Read Acts and the evangelistic sermons that were preached to Gentiles. None of them picture hell to motivate people to believe the Gospel. The preaching of hell is not to convince the lost. The preaching of hell is for the Church to hear.

Now, why would that be the case? Why preach about hell to the Christians? It’s a warning. Isn’t that what Jesus was doing when He spoke about hell to the Church of His day? He was telling them, ‘You don’t want this to happen to you. You really don’t.’

Could such a thing actually happen? Is it possible for some of the people of God to end up in hell? It must be so. Jesus taught it. Remember the apostle, Judas.

And that’s the point of this sermon. It’s a warning. You don’t want this to happen to you. You really don’t.

So, now for the practical question. What do we do so that we don’t end up in hell?

Here’s the most important thing. Never tell yourself, ‘That could never happen to me’. That’s not faith. That’s presumption. Remember, Jesus was warning the Church of His day. And He still does that today. He’s doing that right now. He’s warning us. Take His warning seriously. It could happen to you.

Obviously, that’s not enough. More needs to be done. And what is that? And the answer to that is nothing new: repentance and faith. When the Spirit points out your sin, quickly repent of it and come again to Jesus for forgiveness and change. This is not new. But let me explore it a bit further.

What’s going on when you sin? There is something in you that says, ‘I want that’. You want to enjoy that and what it promises, and you want that more than you want to enjoy God and what He promises. When you sin there is this desire in your heart.

But then, by the grace of the Spirit, you realize what you’ve done, and you want to repent. What do you repent of? It’s not enough to repent of the anger that spewed forth from your mouth. It’s not enough to repent of the impatience that boiled over. It’s not enough to repent of the lie that covered up. Your sin is much more subtle than that. It also includes those wrong desires in your heart. It includes your pride that was insulted by what that other person said which resulted in that angry tirade. It includes the demand that things go your way that expressed itself as impatience when they weren’t going your way. It includes the fear of exposure that tried to hide behind that lie that covered up.

So, when you repent you certainly need to confess your behavior: the anger, the impatience, the lie. But you also need to confess what was going on in your heart: the pride, the demand, the fear. Dealing only with the behavior is like chopping off the head of a weed. The root is still alive. It will grow another stem. You need to kill the root if you’re going to kill the weed. The same is true when it comes to your sins. Changing your behavior might make you a nicer person, but the roots of those sins are still there, and they will show themselves. You will sin in that way again. The pride or whatever will erupt again. And what’s so bad about that isn’t that you won’t be the good Christian that you might have become. What’s so bad about that is that you just might end up in hell. Your protection is a repentance and faith that go deep.

As I’ve told you before, I get the sermon first. So, let me tell you about something that happened when I was writing the sermon. After I wrote the part where I describe what people in hell will experience, I stopped writing. I thought about what I had just written, and I paused so that I could pray. I asked the Father to protect me so that I wouldn’t fall into the trap and end up in hell. I think that that’s where we all need to start. We need to pray. We need to pray that we would take Jesus’ warning seriously, that we would recognize that it really could happen to us. Then, we need to pray that it wouldn’t, that we would repent of our sins, as quickly as we can and as deeply as we can, as the Spirit points them out. And as you pray, remember that you can be confident of your future. Our hope is not in ourselves but in Jesus our Savior who promises to rescue all who look to Him in repentance and faith.

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