Hell is Real
Hell is Real
It’s not pleasant to be awakened at 2 AM by someone yelling “FIRE!” outside your bedroom window. Would you want to jump out of your warm bed, stub your toe, scramble around trying to find something to wrap around you, wake-up the whole family, and run outside with them onto a cold street? If upon so doing you discovered that someone was playing a practical joke, you would probably not be amused. But if you turned to find flames engulfing half your house, you would be immensely grateful that someone disrupted your sleep and saved your life. You would not be offended by the loudness of his voice, the inconvenience of his timing, the directness of his words, or all the commotion.
We don’t like to be warned. But if the warning is based on reality, it is the most loving thing we could hear.
Many today are embarrassed by the Bible’s persistent warnings about hell. A new book was published this week by a prominent mega-church pastor who argues that traditional Christian teaching about hell is “misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.” Apparently large numbers of professing evangelicals resonate with these sentiments.
But if we believe in Jesus, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus believed in hell. He warned us to fear the One who has power to cast body and soul into hell (Matt. 10:28), and his warnings are never false alarms. Hear the words of our loving Savior:
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
(Matthew 13:40-43 ESV)
A survey of the Gospels will reveal that the same Savior who prayed so tenderly and affectionately from the Cross for the forgiveness of his enemies, also affirmed without apology his Father’s sovereign right to punish unrepentant sinners in an eternal hell. And may we never forget that Jesus himself bore the equivalent of hell’s punishment for everyone who would ever repent and believe in him.
Ours is not the first generation to attempt to redefine the biblical teaching on hell. Dorothy Sayers, who died in 1957, recognized the same embarrassment in her generation — and she confronted it incisively:
There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the "cruel and abominable medieval doctrine of hell," or "the childish and grotesque medieval imagery of physical fire and worms."
But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not " medieval": it is Christ's. It is not a device of "medieval priestcraft" for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from "medieval superstition," but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. . . . One cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate hell without altogether repudiating Christ. (Dorothy Sayers, A Matter of Eternity, ed. Rosamond Kent Sprague [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973], p. 86)
Let us also remember that Jesus wept over unrepentant sinners (Luke 19:41). We have not appropriately embraced our Savior’s teaching on the reality of hell until we have learned to weep with him over the plight of those who are heading there.
A while back, Christianity Today had a penetrating article called “Learning to Cry for the Culture.” The author wrote about the late Francis Schaeffer:
He was a small man—barely five feet in his knickers, knee socks, and ballooning white shirts. For two weeks, first as a freshman and then again as a senior, I sat in my assigned seat at Wheaton College's chapel and heard him cry. He was the evangelical conscience at the end of the 20th century, weeping over a world that most of his peers dismissed as not worth saving, except to rescue a few souls in the doomed planet's waning hours… Schaeffer was the first Christian leader who taught me to weep over the world instead of judging it.
I must ask myself, if Jesus, the judge of all the earth, wept over a city of unrepentant sinners, should I not weep more than I do? May God give me the gift of tears. May my own heart be more tenderly moved with compassion. If I only weep over my own problems, I’m way too wrapped up in myself.
Do you know what it is like to have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in your heart for lost loved ones in your family, in your neighborhood? Let’s ask Jesus to give us his heart for people. What an amazingly gracious and compassionate Savior he is! Let’s ask Him to teach us how to weep with him—because hell is real.
Rescued to become a rescuer,
Pastor David Sunday
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