Hell & Vengeance is Real, Not Purgatory
Mark Twain once wrote: "Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell & I have only a vague curiosity about one of those." (Letter to W. D. Howells, 5/20/1891)
by Bill Martin
I was talking to the other day with a friend about the church we both attend. A newer Christian, he was especially excited with the praise/worship service. He told me it left him in a great mood, ready to tackle the day with renewed enthusiasm.
The praise/worship part of the service is a great time for me as well. It's a great time to get close to God, but let me go ahead and burst the bubble. I believe we're all missing a critical part of the salvation equation.
We all love talk about heaven, our new lives in Christ and eventually sitting at the right hand. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
But talk of Hell has all but disappeared from church. Scripture says "Therefore, many are invited, but few of those are chosen to stay." Mathew 22:14
Granted, Hell is not the cheery Sunday sermon but how are we supposed to understand our salvation if we don't think about life without Christ. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 Just what are the consequences of just going through the motions?
The concept of Hell appears in the Old Testament 24 times.
"But if the Lord does something totally new-if the ground opens up, swallows them and everything that belongs to them, and they go down to their graves-then you'll know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt." Numbers 16:30
The Hebrew word for grave is Sheol. It refers to a "place of death"; not only the concept of a grave but also Hell, the eternal fire. (Mt 25:41, Jude 6, Rev. 20:10, Mt. 18:8, Mk 9:43, Mk 9:48, Is. 33:14, Luke 3:17, Mt. 3:12.)
"because your mercy toward me is great; you have delivered me from the depths of hell." Psalm 86:13
Jonathan Edwards made one of the most famous talks on Hell on July 16th, 1741, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". The sermon was preached at Enfield, Massachusetts. (Pastor Edwards lesson is taken from Deuteronomy 32:35.)
"And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favour to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men's hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind."
How many of you would sit still for a sermon not filled with happy talk. How many Pastors are willing to lay it on the line?
Sadly, the facts are clear. Historians say the Hell concept began disappearing from sermons not long after Edwards's great sermon. The 15th century painting by Hans Memling with the tormented naked bodies falling through the fiery gates of hell, more Steven King movie now than terrifying spiritual reality.
Scripture is clear that at death we will be judged and find ourselves in heaven or hell "For the wages of sin is death." -Romans 6:23 (note for those looking for a place to hide: Older Testament scholars agree, purgatory is man-made and not biblical.) The living can always anticipate death but for the unsaved dead there is no more any possibility of reward.
"whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Ecc. 9:10
Which is why death is so ultimately serious for those apart from Christ.
God loves you.
"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." -John 1:12
God wants to bless your life and make it full and complete. He wants to give you a life, which will last forever, even after you experience physical death.
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." -Revelation 3:20
The Choice is yours.
Bill Martin is a multiple winner of Emmy and Associated Press Awards for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism. He was also inducted into the Ohio Television/Radio Hall of Fame in 1999.