Hell is Real

A few years ago, there was a book titled, “Heaven is Real.”  It related the story of a young boy who was said to have gone to heaven.  The gist of the story is that, because of the experiences of this lad and his family, we can be assured that “heaven is real.”

In my last post, I said that, because of our sin, we have no claim on God, but He has a claim on us.  I said, “That claim concerns His justice.  We have broken His Law.  We have come under its penalty.  We have incurred a debt.  That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.”  Then I said I would have more to say in a later post, Lord willing.

This is that post.

Based, not on experience, but on the clear and authoritative teaching of our Lord, we can be assured of another truth about the future:  Hell is real.

There is a lot of discussion about the existence of Hell.

To some people, it’s nothing more than a curse word.

To some, who deny any existence beyond death and the grave, it doesn’t even exist.  Neither does heaven.

To some, the bad experiences of this life are hell.  One place I worked, one of the ladies there said she believed this life is hell.  Based on the difficult place we worked, I could understand her feelings, though I didn’t agree with her.  It’s the only job I ever held that, when I woke up in the morning, I was sorry I wasn’t sick, so I could call in.

To some who will knock on your door, “hell” is just the grave.  If that’s true, then why did our Lord warn us in Matthew 5:27-30 that if a part of our body leads us into sin, it would be better to cut off that part, rather than your whole body be cast into hell”?  Hell is not just the grave.

To some, hell is just about remorse and sorrow that one has missed out on the blessings of salvation.

In contrast to these ideas, our Lord gave a different view.  In Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV),He said,

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and say Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’.”

There’s some discussion as to whether this portion tells a real story or is just a story, a parable.  I think it’s real, but that doesn’t really matter.  Even if this is only a parable, well, Jesus’ parables were designed to teach and illustrate truth.  There is truth here.

1. There is existence after death.

If we had only the phrase, the rich man also died and was buried, we might be able to say that was the end of things for him.  But we have the account of the death of Lazarus and what happened, as well as the conversation he and the rich man had afterward.

This is in agreement with other Scriptures.  Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment….  There is an “after” as far as death is concerned.  It isn’t the end of things.

This portion also tells us –

2. There is a time of reckoning after death.

…after this the judgment….  Matthew 5 doesn’t tell us everything about what happens to people after their death.  It’s designed to warn us that there is something after death, and that what happens in this life isn’t necessarily an indication of what will happen then.  The rich man lived a life of luxury and plenty, yet he wound up being tormented; the beggar lived in sickness and poverty, yet he wound up being comforted.

It’s widely believed that there is only “a better place” out there after death.  According to our Lord, that is not true.  There is also, if I may put it like this, “a bitter place.”    There is a time, and a place, where the things of this life will be examined and judged, a time when those who have “gotten away with it” will discover that, no, they haven’t.

3. There is a place of torment after death.

Luke 16:22b-24 says, The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

This isn’t the only place where the Lord mentions such things. In Mark 9:43-49, He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone shall be seasoned with fire….”

This is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, especially in this day when the Word of God is generally held in such low esteem, and when faulty views of God are so prevalent.  How can a “God of love” send men and women to a place of torment?  People just can’t reconcile this idea with the idea that God could do such a thing, and so, reject it.

Our Lord teaches otherwise.

You see, as I said above, we have broken God’s law.  We are guilty and under sentence of its punishment:  eternal separation from God.  Though the body dies, the soul lives on, and the body will one day be resurrected, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” or as the KJV put it, “the resurrection of damnation,” John 5:29.

Don’t misread that “good” as though there are some who will go to heaven because of it.  Our Lord was speaking from the viewpoint of being under the Law, wherein there were some who were considered “blameless,” for example, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.  Luke 1:6 describes them as both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

“Blameless.”

Even the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, considered himself “blameless,” Philippians 3:6.  But, as he put it, “I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died,” Romans 7:9.  This has nothing to do with his “fellowship with God” being broken after his conversion, but rather, the cataclysm that occurred in his life as he traveled toward Damascus with the sole purpose of rooting out and destroying those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, cf. Acts 26:9-11.  Afterward, he looked at those things of which he had been so proud as no better than the refuse of his own body, Philippians 3:8.

Later in life, he wrote, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside, Romans 3:10-12.

“None righteous” –

None who measures up to the standards and requirements of God’s holiness.  There is a lot of “religion” among men, but, apart from the Lord Jesus, there is no righteousness for all that.

“None who understands” –

None who understand that we come short of what God requires of us.  None who understand that nothing we can do measures up to what God requires of us.  Indeed, some are offended at the very idea that God can “require” anything of us.

“None who seeks after God” –

None who understand that the only place to get that righteousness God requires is from God Himself.  That righteousness is the righteousness of Christ imputed to those who believe on Him.

Apart from that righteousness, we all stand condemned in the sight of God, John 3:18, He who does not believe is condemned already.  In a very real sense, to the unsaved person, this life is little more than a cell on death row, waiting for the day of execution.  For the unbeliever, a place in hell is as assured as a place in heaven is for the believer.

But how can that be?  How can that be “just”?

We question the “justice” of this because we minimize sin.  Let me put it this way.  If one swats a fly, nothing is thought of it.  If one were to assault me, well, that might be considered more serious.  If, however, one were to assault the President of the United States, that would be considered very grave indeed.  Why the difference?  Because of the dignity and position of the person assaulted.

Sin is an assault against God.  Since we have brought God down to a level below us (in that we believe that we can confound His will and prevent His purpose), we don’t think of it like that.  However, because God is infinite, acts against Him bear infinite consequences.

Sin brings an infinite consequence:  an eternity in hell.

When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, He suffered that consequence.  That doesn’t mean that He actually went to Hell; He did suffer that separation from God that is the essence of hell, Mark 15:34.

With our sanitized crucifixes and pictures, our superficial, “contemporary” Christianity, we have no idea whatever what that means.

It means that there is no salvation apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It means there is no escaping our sin and its eternal consequence apart from Him.   Apart from Him, everything we do is sin, Proverbs 21:4, even the providing of the necessities of life.  Why is that?  Because we do it with no thought of Him.

And, apart from Him, there is no hope, Ephesians 2:12.

This is why Scripture urges us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because there is no salvation anywhere else, only condemnation, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.

March Memories: Just A Piece of Wood.

Hezekiah broke in pieces the brass serpent which Moses had made; for until that day the children of Israel burned incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan (a piece of brass), 2 Kings 18:4.

Nearly 700 years (!) earlier, Moses had made this brass serpent in obedience to God’s instruction, Numbers 21:1-9.  The people had sinned and poisonous snakes had come among them as judgment.  Those who looked at this serpent of brass held aloft on a pole were healed.  In John 3:14, 15, the Lord Jesus used this incident as a picture of His own coming death and of the salvation of sinners.

By Hezekiah’s time, the brass serpent had become an object of superstition, as if it had the power to heal.  When Moses destroyed it, how do you suppose the people felt?

What do you suppose would happen some Sunday morning if a pastor, holding up a wooden cross, would stand before his people and, after announcing, “This is just a piece of wood,” would break it into pieces?  It might depend on the church, but we suspect a ripple of shock would sweep through the congregation, much like the shock when a priest tore up a picture of Pope Benedict after Benedict announced his retirement.

We’re so used to hearing about “the cross.”  But the cross itself has no more power to save than that brass serpent of old.  Even the cross on which Jesus died was “just a piece of wood.”  Other men may have died on that same piece of wood.  Their deaths held no meaning.  Why did His?  Scripture gives three reasons.

1.  The death of Jesus was a SACRIFICE.

From the very first, sin has brought death.  Even Adam and Eve were taught this.  Death had been promised them “the day” they ate of the forbidden fruit.  Yet they did not die, at least physically, that day.  Instead, animals died and Adam and Eve were clothed with their skins, Genesis 2, 3.  Further, every time an Israelite brought an animal to the altar, he put his hand on its head.  This was a symbolic confession that he deserved to die, but the sacrifice of the animal meant that he could continue to live.  So Jesus came to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, Hebrews 9:26.  We live because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

2.  The death of Jesus was a SATISFACTION.

God has instituted physical and moral laws which govern all life.  Breaking these laws has consequences.  If you jump off a tall building, the consequence for breaking the law of gravity is serious injury or death.  To break God’s moral law brings only death.  The soul that sins shall die, Ezekiel 18:4.  The wages of sin is death, Romans 6:23.  God’s justice is as inflexible as His love is immeasurable and must be satisfied.  God cannot and will not overlook or ignore sin.  The penalty for sin – death – must be paid and there are no exceptions.

Isaiah 53:10, 11 brings these two thoughts together.  V. 10 speaks of the offering – the sacrifice – of the Lord Jesus, and v. 11 says that God was “satisfied” with that offering.

What does this mean to you and me?

3.  The death of Jesus was a SUBSTITUTION.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says that Jesus took the place of those for whom He came to die.  Though sinless Himself, He took their sins as His and, dying, paid the penalty for those sins.  So completely did Jesus satisfy God’s justice that it is impossible for a single person for whom He died ever to come under condemnation for sin.  Jesus was their Substitute.

Sin will be punished.  Your sin will be punished, and mine.  Either we will be punished for them, or we must find a substitute.  The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute.  Though sinless, He took a place as a sinner, to die for sinners.  Have you taken, will you take, your place as a sinner?  Will you confess that you are guilty?  That you deserve to die?  That God would be just and fair if He punished you?  Will you turn from your sin and turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation?

Do you in this way believe on the Lord Jesus?  Do you rest in His sinless life and sacrificial death as your only hope and confidence before God?  You see, the cross is more than just a pretty piece of jewelry, or a decoration on a building.  It’s more than just a “sign.”  It’s the instrument on which Jesus died for sinners.  It is His death and His death alone which gives any hope for sinners like you and me.

Do you believe like this on the Lord Jesus?  If so, God’s Word says you have been saved from your sins, Romans 3:21-26.  If not, consider….  Are you willing to stand before God on your own, Hebrews 9:27?
_______________

(originally published May 13, 2013.)

 

If Jesus Is The Answer…. What is the Question?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen or heard the saying that “Jesus is the answer,” but I got to thinking about it the other day.  Though I understood what was being said, I always wondered about it.  I posted this on fb a while back and the answers indicated that Jesus is the answer to any question we could ask.  Without wishing to be difficult or disrespectful in any way either to Him or to those who answered my question, I can think of several questions to which He isn’t the answer, questions which by their very nature deny Him as the answer.

However, I’m thinking of a particular question, a question to which Jesus, and He alone, is the answer, a question asked very early in human history, a question which is basic to human existence.  It’s found in Job 9:2, “how can a man be righteous before God?” (NKJV)

“How can a man [or a woman] be righteous before God?”

If, as some believe, this life is all there is, and death is the end of everything, then this question is of no importance at all.  If though, in contrast to this view, the Bible is true, then what it says is of paramount importance.  It’s not my purpose here to defend the accuracy and/or authority of Scripture, but simply to record what it says: …it is appointed for man to die once, but after this…. 

“After this.”

What?

…the judgment.

There’s an almost universal undercurrent in the back of our minds that there has to be something “out there” to make up for or take care of all the things in this world that aren’t right.  If there isn’t, there should be.  After all, how can human justice really take care of the Stalins, the Hitlers, the kidnappers of little girls from their school, regardless of how this latter situation is resolved?  It just seems like “death” isn’t enough for such people.

Well, it turns out that “death” isn’t all there is.  There is something “out there” –

…the judgment.

It’s not the purpose of this post to deal with what this judgment might entail.  It’s purpose is to point out that all of us, even if we’re not Stalins or Hitlers, are going to be in that judgment.  Nor is it the purpose of this post to get into the discussion about the different “kinds” of judgment there may be, that is, is there just one “general judgment” in which all will participate, or are there judgments based on whether one is a Christian, a Jew at the time of Christ’s return, or an unbeliever?

It’s enough for this post that the Scripture teaches that we all, every single one of us, will stand before God and give an account of our lives.

Job asked, “How can a man be righteous before God?”

Isn’t it enough, as many think, that we just do our best?

Is “our best” good enough?

The short answer is, “no.”

There’s a strange Scripture in Proverbs which says that “even the plowing of the wicked is sin,” Proverbs 21:4 (NKJV).  Some of the newer versions translate it as “the lamp of the wicked.”   The Hebrew words are very similar, if not identical.  Nevertheless, the idea is, that even when the wicked do those things which are basic to life, they are sinning.

How can this be?

Romans 3:23 says. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”  There are a lot of good, valid definitions of sin in Scripture, showing the varied aspects of it.  Yet, perhaps Romans 3:23 aims at one of the basic thoughts of sin, it doesn’t glorify God.  This means that when a wicked person, and that is all of us apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, even when a wicked person plows his field to prepare for planting or lights a lamp so he can see in the dark, he is sinning because he has no thought for the glory of God.  Indeed, his thought, even if unconsciously, is, “Why should I do that?”

There’s an Old Testament verse which bears on this.  In Daniel 5:23, after telling what Belshazzar had done with the Temple vessels captured by his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar, using them in idolatrous revelry to praise his own gods, Daniel said, “and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, YOU HAVE NOT GLORIFIED,” (emphasis added).

So, among other things, sin is a failure to glorify God.

But, how can we know what glorifies God?

There’s another verse from Paul: “There is none righteous, no, not one,” Romans 3:10.  This brings in the Moral Law, put in capsule form in the Old Testament, though there is more to it than a few verses in Exodus 20.  It is mentioned throughout the Bible.  Paul wrote that none of us is righteous, that it, has ever kept that Law.

We may think we live by the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount or some other portion of Scripture, but if we’re honest with ourselves and with God, we know better.

There’s only been one Person Who could ever truthfully say, “I do always those things which please Him, that is, God, John 8:26.  That is why John calls Him “Jesus Christ the righteous, in 1 John 2:1. No one could ever be called that in and of himself, like the Lord.

This brings us back to Job’s question, “How can a man be righteous before God?”

Paul answers in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. “In Him,” not in ourselves.

What does this mean?

On the Cross, there was an exchange.  The Lord Jesus exchanged places with sinners. Though sinless Himself – “righteous” – He took their sins as His own.  Doing so, He placed Himself under the wrath and judgment of God against sin.

On the other hand, those who believe on the Lord Jesus are counted as “righteous.” The righteousness of Christ, gained through His obedience to the Law and ability to say that He pleased God in all things, is credited to believers as if it were their own.  Believe me, it is not.

The Psalmist rejoiced in this grace of God when he said, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  He dealt with the Lord Jesus according to them.

People sometimes say that they want what they deserve.  That may be true in this world, but it’s not a good thought for the next.  One of the Puritans used to say that anything outside of hell is more than we deserve.

The question:  “How can a man [or a woman] be righteous before God?”

What is YOUR answer?

Just A Piece of Wood

Hezekiah “…broke in pieces the brass serpent which Moses had made; for until those the days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan (a piece of brass)” 2 Kings 18:4 (NKJV).

Nearly 700 years (!) earlier, Moses had made this brass serpent in accord with God’s instruction, Numbers 21:1-9.  The people has sinned against God, and poisonous serpents had come among them as judgment.  Those who looked on this serpent of brass held aloft on a pole were healed.  The Lord Jesus, in John 3:14-15, taught that this incident was a picture of His own coming death and of the salvation of sinners.

By Hezekiah’s time, the brass serpent had become an object of superstition, as if it had the power to heal.  How do you suppose the people felt about this destruction?

We wonder what would happen if, some Sunday morning, a pastor holding up a wooden cross would stand before his people and, while announcing, “This is just a piece of wood,” would break it into pieces.  It might depend on the church, but we suspect that a ripple of shock might sweep through the congregation, much like the shock that followed when a priest tore up a picture of Pope Benedict after Benedict had announced his retirement from the papacy.

We’re so used to hearing about “the cross”.  But the cross itself has no more power to save than did that brass serpent of old.  Even the cross upon which Jesus died was “just a piece of wood.”  Other men, before and after, may have died on that same piece of wood.  Their deaths had no meaning.  Why did Jesus’?  Scripture gives three reasons.

1.  The death of Jesus was a SACRIFICE.  From the very first, sin has brought death.  Even Adam and Eve were taught this.  Death had been promised them “the day” they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Yet they did not die that “day”.  Instead, animals died and Adam and Eve were clothed with their skins, Genesis 2, 3.  We can’t greatly enter into this teaching, but every time an Israelite brought an animal to the altar, he put his hand on its head.  This was a symbolic confession that he deserved to die, but the sacrifice of the animal meant that he could continue to live.  So Jesus came to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,” Hebrews 9:26.  We live because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

2.  The death of Jesus was a SATISFACTION.  God had instituted physical and moral laws which govern all life.  Breaking these laws has serious consequences.  If you jump off a tall building, the consequence for breaking the law of gravity is serious injury or death.  To break God’s moral law brings only death: “the soul that sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18:4; “the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23.  God’s justice is as inflexible as His love is immeasurable and must be satisfied.  God does not and cannot ignore sin.  The penalty for sin – death – must be paid and there are no exceptions.

Isaiah 53:10, 11 brings these two thoughts together:  v. 10 speaks of the “offering” – sacrifice – of the Lord Jesus for sin, and v. 11 says that God is “satisified” with that offering.

What does this mean to you and me?

3.  The death of Jesus was a SUBSTITUTION.  2 Corinthians 5:18-21 tells us that Jesus took the place of those for whom He came to die.  Though sinless Himself, He took their sins as His, and, dying, paid the penalty for those sins.  So completely did Jesus satisfy God’s justice as the substitute for sinners that it is impossible for a single person for whom He died ever to come under condemnation for sin.  Jesus was their Substitute.

Sin will be punished.  Your sin will be punished, and mine.  Either we will be punished or we must find a substitute.  The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute.  Though sinless, He took a place as a sinner, to die for sinners.  Have you taken, will you take, your place as a sinner?  Will you confess that you are guilty?  That you deserve to die?  That God would be just and fair if He punished you? Will you turn from your sin, and turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation?

Do you thus believe on the Lord Jesus?  Do you rest in His sinless life and sacrificial death as your only hope and confidence before God?  You see, “the cross” is more than just a pretty piece of jewelry or an ornament on a building.  It’s more than just “a sign.”  It was the instrument on which the Lord Jesus died for sinners.  It is His death and His alone which gives any hope for sinners like you and me.

Do you thus believe on the Lord Jesus?  If so, God’s Word says you have been saved from your sins, Romans 3:21-26.  If not, consider….  Are you willing to stand before God on your own account, Hebrews 9:27.