Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Talk About Hell?

Isn't it primitive? Don't only really super-religious fanatics and superstitious fundamentalists believe in hell anymore? I mean, a place of fiery punishment where you go after you die unless you believe a certain thing? Aren't we beyond this?

Isn't it arrogant? I mean, how do we really know what's going to happen after death? And even if we did know, who are we to say who will or won't be where?

Isn't it just unseemly? "The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night" (Rev 14:11)? Can't we talk about more pleasant things? Isn't God a God of Love?

Such questions pour forth from the hearts of those people both in the world and, sadly, in churches throughout the world. Hell exists. Knowing and believing that is the first step toward being saved from being there.

Luke 16:23-24 - In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'

A while back (around six months ago), one of my mother's uncles died. He wasn't a believer. That caused me to think about Luke 16:19-31. After meditating on that passage for a while, I was struck with four reasons that Christians need to preach to our congregations about hell.

Christians need to know and to be affected by the fact that:

(1) Hell is what you deserve.
(2) Hell is what you were saved from.
(3) Hell is what Jesus endured for you.
(4) Hell is where the world is going.

#1 sparks the terror inside of me of God's righteous judgment and wrath and holiness. The rich man was in agony. His tongue was burning. And he had no hope of relief. Ever.

#2 speaks grace and relief to me. It is good news. I deserve to be there. But because of the grace of God to me in Christ, the power of the fear of death has been defeated. There is no longer any sting. I am saved.

#3 focuses all my affections of thankfulness, gratitude, joy, and delight, onto Jesus, because it was He who provided me #2. Because of the righteousness of Jesus, the perfection of His sacrifice, and His willingness to endure the full exercise of God's wrath -- hell -- in my place, I am saved. There is not one ounce of wrath or condemnation for me. Jesus fully satisfied God's anger against my sin.

But as I was meditating, #4 is what really gripped me. #4 hits the chord of compelling compassion as I consider that others are in the situation of #1 without #2 and #3. The world is dying. They're dying, and they refuse to believe it. Christians need to hear about hell from the pulpit because we need to have the magnitude and terror of what we were saved from compel us to take the Gospel to a world which is in that very desperate situation.

Hell is what you deserve.

And hell is what you will get apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ, from the One who promises that if you believe in Him for all your righteousness and rely entirely on Him for your acceptance before God (and not at all on yourself and your own works), that He literally endures hell in your place. He promises that you can be saved.

Hell is what Jesus endured in the place of those who believe. The agony that the rich man experienced with no hope of ever getting any relief is what you can be saved from by trusting Christ for righteousness and receiving Him as your Treasure.

And that's why we talk about hell. It forces the world into the ugly, disgusting reality of our deepest need -- really, our only need -- and then presents the most glorious and beautiful and satisfying and delightful Person as the alternative. The second question of the Heidelberg Catechism is: "How many things are necessary for thee to know that thou in this comfort [of knowing you belong to Jesus] mayest live and die happily?" The answer is:
Three. The first, how great my sins and miseries are. The second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries. The third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.
In order to live and die happily, we need to know: (1) Hell is what I deserve; (2) hell is what I was saved from; and (3) hell is what Jesus endured for me.

But while we live in the satisfaction and the rest of being beneficiaries of the perfect work of Christ, let our souls also be afflicted by #4, that the terror from which I have escaped is the very hell to which the world is going. Let that compel us in compassion to take the Good News to that world, even one person at a time.

Open your mouth.

How will they hear without a preacher?

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