March 21, 2021
"Saved From Hell"
We ended last week turning away from hell, and turning toward how we are saved from hell.
A huge point from last week, and one that is often overlooked in a rush to move beyond the perceived negativity of the wrath of God, is that Jesus hammers on God's judgment no less frequently than any of the Old Testament prophets. The seven woes Jesus pronounces in Matthew 23 is powerful in its judgment. And then we have Revelation 6:12-16:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
What did John the Baptist cry out when he saw Jesus walking toward him? "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." The Lamb who was slain…who took our punishment for our sin upon himself on the cross…is the same Lamb who pours out the wrath of God on unrepentant sinners. These unrepentant sinners, who were given more than enough opportunity to repent, are now facing judgment. And they are terrified.
Judgment is a terrible thing. When you have embraced faith in Jesus Christ, which is a gift from God, you have no fear of final judgment. You know that every evil of your heart has been laid on Jesus. Every debt has been paid for by his death. And every one of Jesus' beautiful acts of love is credited to your account. Your salvation is a wonderful gift from God.
Here's something I saw last night:
"I still can't get over the reality that Christ's righteousness was imputed to
me, by faith alone. Not my works, but Christ's. Every one of His God-pleasing efforts - credited to me! Christ is my righteousness. My Righteousness is in heaven. It is never changed or damaged."
- Justin Bullington
But for anyone who rejects the gift of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, the full weight of the wrath of the Lamb will be felt. If Jesus is the Bread of Life, loss of Jesus means starving. If Jesus is the Light of the World, loss of Jesus means darkness. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, loss of Jesus means wandering alone and lost. If Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, loss of Jesus is eternal death. And if Jesus is the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sins, loss of Jesus means sinners paying the price themselves.
One day, the Bible warns, the unsaved will see Jesus in all his glory. Their eyes will be painfully open to his majesty. And they will have to bear the full weight of punishment for their sin.
This tragedy is reflected in the classic Russian novel, Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin. Tchaikovsky later turned it into an opera of the same name. I only know that because I Googled it. I'm not an opera guy. All I know about opera is what I learned from the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, "What's Opera, Doc?" I thinks it's still safe to like Bugs Bunny.
In the story, a bored aristocrat, Onegin, meets a plain, simple girl in the countryside. Tatyana writes him a letter, offering him her love. Onegin does not reply. When they meet again, he turns her down. The letter was touching, he tells her, but he would soon grow bored of marriage to her. Years later, Onegin enters a party in St. Petersburg and sees a stunningly
beautiful woman. It is Tatyana. But she is now married. Onegin falls in love with her. He tries desperately to win her back. But Tatyana refuses him. Once, the door was open - she offered him her love. Now it is shut.
For many people, it is easy to reject Jesus now, for a variety of reasons. But woe to those who reject the free gift of salvation through Christ and Christ alone. One day, those who reject him will be rejected by him. That is eternal devastation.
But here we are. We have freedom, life, and love in Jesus Christ. So what
does that mean contrasted with the reality of hell for the unsaved?
First, it must mean the end of any sense of triumphalism or smugness. Our salvation has nothing to do with anything we've done or not done; thought up or devised; earned or worked for. Our salvation is totally and completely rooted in what Jesus Christ did on the cross and the faith God spoke into our hearts and minds. We didn't come to some brilliant conclusion or make some insightful determination. God called us. God chose us. God gave us hearts and minds to believe. And it should break our hearts that there are
those who reject such an amazing gift. Amazing love, how can it be:
I'm forgiven because You were forsaken I'm accepted, You were condemned I'm alive and well, Your Spirit is within me Because You died and rose again
Amazing love, how can it be That You, my King, should die for me? Amazing love, I know it's true And it's my joy to honor You In all I do, to honor You
We live for Jesus because he died for us. We honor him and serve him and worship him. That's what we do. And there are all kinds of people in the world who don't do that and who won't ever do that, and in this life our hearts break for them. We all have family or friends…people we know and love…who have rejected Jesus like the rebellious people mentioned in Revelation 6. We pray for them and share the Word of God with them.
It ought to grieve our hearts to know that people who reject Jesus will not
be saved. We don't want them to be crushed under the full weight of the wrath of God. The thought breaks our hearts. But just because it breaks our hearts doesn't mean we should make the Word of God say something it doesn't say. In other words, knowing that those who reject Christ in this life will be rejected by him in the life to come doesn't mean we should concoct a gospel of universal salvation where everybody goes to heaven. It is neither loving nor Biblical to tell people that when they die, they get one more chance to come to Jesus. Worse, still, would be to tell people it doesn't matter what they do or believe, love wins in the end, so all are saved.
It saddens our hearts to know in this life that people, either willfully or ignorantly, turn their backs on Jesus. But here's the thing. It won't matter to us in heaven. That might sound cold, but the Bible says none of these earthly causes or concerns will follow us into heaven. Heaven is the fullness and richness and blessing of being in relationship with God. Heaven is where, in resurrected bodies, we will know the kind of relationship with God and brothers and sister in Christ that we can only dream about in this life. And so we will have no thoughts of regret or
sadness for who is not there. When you are in the presence of the fullness
of the glory of God, nothing else matters.
Revelation 5:6-14 says:
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of
the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and
the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
One day, the Bible promises, we will see Jesus in all his glory. In him, there is freedom and life and love. Without him there is hell.
So, to sum up. There are three basic questions concerning judgment and hell:
WHO SENDS PEOPLE TO HELL?
WHO KEEPS THEM THERE?
WHO METES OUT THE PUNISHMENT IN HELL?
And the Biblical answer to all three is - God.
The problems some people have with this clear Biblical understanding is that they want only a loving God. They can't believe in hell and wrath because they think those things diminish God's primary attribute of love. But as we've seen over these last few weeks, God's active judgment on sinners and the topic of hell are hard truths. And yes, the justice of God is rooted in His love. Yet some are never able to embrace it. While for others it takes a long time to embrace it. But whether someone embraces it or not does not make it any more or less true. Are you with me on that? How we understand or don't understand something doesn't change the truth of
what God has revealed to us in His Word.
I know these past few messages have been a challenge. No doubt, for some they've been hard to hear. As we cherish the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are commanded by our Savior to be kind and charitable toward one another, challenging to each other, but also encouraging to one another,
as we embrace the hardest reality:
It Is a Fearful Thing to Fall Into the Hands of the Living God, Who Actively Judges Rebel Sinners for Their Cosmic Treason.
And so we plead with sinners to trust in the Christ who absorbed God's wrath on behalf of us all. As Jesus said to Martha in John 11:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
As Jesus said to Martha, so he says to you and me.