Monday, June 06, 2011

What's Up In Hell?

This sermon Podcast from CDPC Puchong can be downloaded here

Do you remember the first time someone preached the gospel to you? Was it a good or bad experience? My first experience with a classmate who tried to share the good news with me was not very pleasant. It was a rather forceful presentation with heavy emphasis on eternal punishment, hell fire and brimstone. I can’t recall the exact words but the gist of it was something like: “Hey, do you know where you go after you die? Let me tell you. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you will suffer forever, like barbecue roasting in hell. You will gnash your teeth and scary worms will crawl all over you”. You catch the drift… Have you come across zealous evangelists like that?

My friend’s evangelistic approach actually worked quite well for other classmates. There was a mini revival in school! Certainly God, in his sovereignty, can use even less-than-perfect methods like this to work out his good purpose. But the more he threatened me with the lake of fire for not believing in Jesus, the more determined I was to pick a quarrel with him.

Now that I look back on it, as a believer, I can understand that he actually means well. If there is such a thing as hell, then it would be loving and compassionate of him to warn me about it even if I don’t like to hear it. It’s like if you are asleep in a house that’s on fire, you would wish that the people who saw it will wake you up and tell you to escape quickly from danger. If hell exists, it would be cruel of him to keep quiet and let me die just because he is afraid of offending me. Yes, I can see that now…

But…Even though he probably means well, some classmates and I still think that his way of sharing the good news probably has plenty of room for improvement. Not sure about you but I felt like he’s trying to manipulate people with scare tactics. There was a hint of superiority and pride. Yes, it’s true that Jesus preached about hell and judgment, but He also cried and wept for sinners to turn away from sin and be rescued. Where is the sense of sadness? Where is the sense that: “Unless I am saved by the grace of God, I will end up in hell too? I am not any better than you are. All of us deserve hell unless Christ took our punishment on the cross, for us.”

You see… Unless people sense that Christ-like humility and earnest compassion in us, they may easily be put off by such graceless attitude and become hardened and reject the gospel because it seems to portray a God who is cruel, random and narrow, happy to burn people forever in hell if they happen to disagree with Him.

But… What about good atheists who are kind to other people? Are they going to hell too? How narrow-minded is that? How can God be full of love and yet send people to hell at the same time? These are difficult and serious questions that prevent people from coming to faith. How can we give a reason for our hope to people who ask such questions?

On the other extreme, for many people today, if they think about hell at all, they think of it as a joke or a cartoon strip. Probably you have heard of the one about: “How can there be gnashing of teeth in hell if some people die without any tooth left? Punch-line: False teeth will be provided.” And people go ‘hahaha’… With common jokes like that going around, it’s no wonder that the reality of hell is so often ignored, laughed at, ridiculed and trivialized. We hear people saying, “Oh I’d rather go to hell because all my friends are there and we are gonna party and play mahjong together. It’d be loads of fun.”

And if we are really honest, very often, even Christians are often embarrassed to talk about hell at all for fear of making people uncomfortable. “Let’s focus on the positive side of things instead and forget about all this hellish stuff”. As a result, the biblical teaching about hell is simply never discussed or preached from the pulpit. Most church goers do not even miss it all that much. Do you ever wonder, “Gee… I just can’t wait. When is pastor going to preach on hell again?” Over time, we just neglect and dismiss this doctrine altogether. So how do we affirm a biblical teaching of hell in a culture where tolerance is supreme and divine judgment is not taken seriously?

We probably cannot address everything in a couple of minutes. There is great mystery about the afterlife and what we cannot speak; we must pass over in silence. But we can look at what God has revealed in His word and say something about THREE questions that may help us get a more balanced perspective on hell, help us to comfort the spiritually fearful and at the same time, terrify the spiritually complacent.

Read on or download the full transcript

What the Hell is Hell?