Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Where do we go when we die? Part 4: Making the Choice

Once upon a time there young married couple that loved each other very much. They had a lot of love in their marriage but not much else. She had recently graduated with a degree in Celtic Arts (and we all know the booming job prospects open for Celtic Arts majors) and he was an artist. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around and they struggled to make ends meet. However there came a time when the young man had enough quality paintings to have a gallery opening. On their way to the opening, the young couple was in a car accident. The young man came out without a scratch, however the young woman was severely injured. She was in a comma for months and eventually passed on. When next she opened her eyes she was standing before the pearly gates and St Peter was there.

“I guess this means I am dead,” she said.

“I am afraid so,” replies St Peter.

“I see you have the Book of Life open … is my name there?” she asks.

“Why of course it is!” replies St Peter. “However, before you may enter in there is a test.”

“Oh? What do I have to do?”

“All you have to do is spell the essence of God … you know … what God is.”

“That is easy” she said “L-O-V-E.”

“Correct you are,” smiles St Peter “Come on in.”

About 50 years later the young woman is walking by the pearly gates and notices that St Peter is looking a little weary.

“St Peter … you look a little tired … would you like to take a little break? I will gladly keep watch over the gates for a while.”

“Thank you very much,” replies St Peter. “I really would like a break.”

No sooner does St Peter leave than her husband appear at the pearly gates. She is overjoyed to see him and says “So what has been going on with you over the past 50 years?!”

“Well,” he says “things have really been going well. The tragic story of our accident and you dying on the way to my art opening brought national attention. A lot of the rich and famous came and bought my art and ordered pieces. I ended up marrying the nurse that looked after you while you were in a comma… she was a former Miss America. Queen Elizabeth and President Obama both commissioned paintings from me and I have paintings hanging in the Louvre. I guess I can truly say that the best thing that ever happened to me was your death.”

After a long awkward silence her husband says “So … ummm … I am at the pearly gates … does that mean I’ve made it to heaven.”

“Why of course!” she replies. “However, before you may enter there is a test.”

“Oh? What do I have to do?”

“All you have to do is spell the God’s favourite animal.”

“Geez … can you give me a hint.”

“Sure can,” she says smiling wickedly “Czechoslovakian hippopotamus.”

Today we are concluding our series on Where do you go when you Die?   When we began this series we said that our world and our lives are made up of more than just physical realities, there are spiritual realities too. We said that this realities are that God made you to love you; you were made to last forever; God has prepared two eternal places – heaven and hell;  we get to choose where you’ll spend eternity; and we have a lifetime to make this choice … but no longer. These are the spiritual realities that will shape the course of our lives in this world and the next.  

Today we are going to touch on these last two realities -- we get to choose where you’ll spend eternity; and we have a lifetime to make this choice … but no longer.

When we start thinking about choosing where we’ll spend eternity the first place to start is John 3:16. This is the most famous verse in the Bible. When I was in Sunday School that was the first verse everyone had to memorize. In fact, Mrs. Kroft wouldn’t assign any more memory verses until EVERYONE in the class had it memorized. John 3:16 This is the verse you see the guy with colored hair standing in the end zone holding up at all the ball games.  John 3:16. It’s the most important verse in the Bible.  If you only memorize one verse in the entire Bible this is the one.  This one is your ticket to heaven. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”   

Why is this verse so important? Because these 6 words: God’s – only – Son – perish – eternal – life.  The first letters of these words spells gospel. This verse is the heart of the Gospel. 

What is gospel?  Gospel is the old English word for “good news.”  Gospel is good news.  When you hear about gospel music that means music that’s about what Jesus did for us.  When you hear about gospel preaching it means somebody’s teaching what Jesus Christ did for us. When you read this verse you are reading the heart of the gospel … that God’s only Son came and gave His life for us so that we would not perish but have everlasting life. 

Let me summarize what this verse teaches; Let me summarize how you can make you choice between Heaven and Hell. Let me summarize how you can walk through the door named Jesus to get into heaven … it is as easy as A, B, C, D. 

A – Admit

The first thing we do is admit we need a savior to get to heaven.  That means we admit we’re not perfect.  Heaven’s perfect and we’re not.  Admit we’ve blown it.  We’ve made mistakes. We’re flawed.  We’ve sinned.  We just admit it.  We own up to it. 

This is a hard one for some people.  Why?  Because of pride.  There’s one thing that will keep us out of heaven – our ego.  Our pride.  Our unwillingness to say, “I need God in my life.” I’ve heard people tell me countless times “I’m a self-made man.”  But one thing I’ve noticed is that  self-made men tend to worship their maker.  That’s deep!  We have to admit “God is God and I’m not.  I need a savior.  I can’t earn my way to heaven.  I can’t pay my way to heaven.  I can’t be good enough to get to heaven.  I need a savior.”

Believe me.  If you didn’t need a savior God wouldn’t have wasted the time sending Jesus to die on the cross.  If there was any other way for you to get to heaven, don’t you think He would have done a less painful way than come Himself and die on the cross for you?  There was no other way for you to get into heaven.  So first I admit that I need a savior. 

B – I Believe that Jesus died for me. 

Believe means more than head knowledge.  It means I trust in, I rely on, I surrender to, I commit myself to.  It’s more than head knowledge.  Romans 10:9 says this “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead [that’s what Easter is all about] you will be saved.”

What does it mean to confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord.”  We don’t have lords and ladies today.  We don’t have a feudal system.  We’re a democracy.  So what does it mean Jesus is Lord?

“Lord” is just the old English word for “boss, master, the guy in control.”  It means making the things that are important to Jesus important to you. It means loving what Jesus loves. Valuing what Jesus values. Doing what Jesus did … using you time, talents, and gifts, and supporting what Jesus supported … using your finances. And you do that be getting to know Him and beginning and deepening your relationship with Him.   

That’s what it means to make Jesus the Lord of your life. We spend a whole lot of time pursuing what this world says is important. This is how we start doing the things that God says is important.

So I admit I need a savior to get to heaven.  I believe that Jesus died for me, I confess Him as Lord.  And…

C – Commit yourself to Jesus.

I say “Lord I want to do Your plan for my life.  I want to do the purpose You put me here on earth to do.  Not my purpose.  I’m going to go, not my way anymore.  I’m going to go Jesus’ way.  I’m going to go God’s way.  I’m going to go the way God created me to go.  I commit myself to You.”

That commitment, you need to do it publicly.  Imagine if I said to Ruth, my wife “Honey, I’m committed to you.  So let’s get married but let’s don’t tell anybody about it.”  What kind of commitment would that be?  Imagine what she would say, “Hey Buster!  Are you ashamed of me?  You won’t tell anybody about me?  If you won’t tell anybody about me then you aren’t really committed to me.”  A private commitment is no commitment at all.  You’ve got to make it public

So I stood up one day in public and I said, “I do,” in front of a bunch of people.  And I wear a ring everywhere I go.  This wedding ring says the same thing MC Hammer used to say “Ladies, can’t touch this.”  The point is, I wear this because I’m proud of my wife and I love her and I am committed to my wife.  Till death do us part. 

What is the wedding ring of the Christian life?  There are two ways – baptism and joining the church.    

Being baptized and joining a church doesn’t make you a believer.  It shows that you are.  It’s the wedding ring.  This ring doesn’t make me married.  It just shows that I am.  Have you been baptized?  If you haven’t been baptized what are you waiting on? Does anybody know that you’re a believer?  If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you? Are you ashamed of Jesus Christ? 

Jesus said this, “If anyone acknowledges Me publicly here on earth, I will openly acknowledge that person before My Father which is in heaven.  But if anyone denies Me here on earth,  I will deny that person before My Father in heaven.” 

Baptism isn’t only for the infants, I was 30 when I was baptized. The minster needed back surgery after he picked me up and carried me around the sanctuary. Are you embarrassed or too proud to get baptized? If so remember my comment earlier about pride keeping us out of Heaven.  

Another way you can stand up publicly is join a church.  Friends, it doesn’t matter which church you join as long as it’s a good Bible teaching church.  We shouldn’t be in competition with any church.  We’re all on the same team.  Whether it is here or elsewhere find a good Bible teaching church and join … don’t just attend … join. What does joining a church mean?  It means supporting it financially. It means using it to deepen your faith. It means getting involved and using your gifts, talents, and time to do the church’s ministry.   

One day you’re going to stand before God, you’re going to stand before Jesus Christ, your Savior, who died on the cross for you.  And there will be nail prints in His hand.  He’s going to say, “What did you do with your life?”  He’s not going to be interested in hearing, “I joined the country club.”  Yeah?  “I joined the PTA.”  Yeah?  “I joined a sewing group.”  Yeah  “I joined Save the Whales.” Yeah?  “I joined…” any other social or service organization.  He’s going to say, “Did you join My family?  Did you join the body of Christ, My body.  Did you join My church, which I died for?  You joined everything else and you didn’t join My body?  My family that I’m going to take with Me forever?  What were you thinking?” 

I admit, I believe, I commit – my public expression of that commitment is baptism and being a part of the church.  That doesn’t save you.  It just shows that you are.  It’s not the root, it’s the fruit. 

D – I depend on God’s promise.

When I depend on God’s promise, what is the promise?  That “Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 

In order to remember that promise, God gave us two symbols – baptism and communion.  He said I want you to remember this, what I’ve done for you, what it cost for Me to get you into heaven.  You couldn’t get to heaven on your own so I came to earth, I loved you, I taught you, I inspired you, on the cross I died for you, and if you’ll put your trust in Me, you will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and into the presence of God, into heaven.    

God gave us 2 symbols to remember His promise to us, Baptism and Communion. On the night Jesus was betrayed, before He went to the cross, the Bible says He gathered the people He loved the very best to His table. He invited Mary and Martha, two women whose devotion to him were unwavering, He invited Peter, James, and John, men of great faith but who let Him down in the crunch, He invited Judas, a man perhaps of great intentions but who would betray Him in the most intimate of ways, yet they were all invited inspite of their success, inspite of their failures, they were invited. When they had gathered He took bread and He broke it and He blessed it and He took the cup and He said, “This represents My body and My blood that will be shed for you.”  Communion does not save us.  These are the symbols of the reality that saves us.  That Jesus Christ died for us, paid for all of our sins.  On that day Jesus said, “I don’t want you to ever forget how much I love you. I don’t want you to ever forget what I am willing to do to bring you home. I am don’t want you to ever forget how much this costs. I don’t want you to ever forget my promise 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

And my friends that is the same promise that God is making to you today 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him6 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

It is through the belief in God’s Son, His mission, Ministry, and promise that we are able to choose our eternal destiny.

Finally I would like to end with the final spiritual reality that we first started talking about a month ago. We only have a lifetime to make this choice. But that raises a great problem As Paul says in Romans 1013 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

Where can we go to hear about God? The church. Where can we go to be surrounded by believers? The church. Where can we go to deepen our faith? The church. Where can we go to practice our faith? The church. Where can we go to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ? The church.  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

This is why this church is so important. It is one of the very important tools that Jesus Christ uses to save us. It is one of the very important vehicles He uses to bring us home. That is why coming to this church is important. That is why getting involved in this church is important. That is why giving your gifts to this church is so important. That is why giving to this church financially is so important. Not just because God is using it as a vehicle for your salvation, but because God is using it as a vehicle for everyone’s salvation … for your children … your grandchildren … and everyone who comes. Our finance committee has asked us to increase our givings by 15%. Don’t you think it’s worth it? Just imagine, there are people in heaven because of what you have done and have given to this church. 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

My friends, as we seek to conclude this series, I just want to say this this series has not been about death and dying, it has been about how to live right here in this world ... and by the grace of God … in the next.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Where do we go when we die? Part 3 Divine Realities

When I was in the Miramichi I met a man named Joe Irving. Joe Irving was a man from the greatest generation … that generation of men who grew up during the deprivation of the Great Depression, then went on to fight in World War II (not for fame or recognition, but because it was the right thing to do) and then came back to rebuild our nation into one of the greatest countries on Earth. Joe was one of those men for whom the war was never really over … he lived and relived the horrors of that war every day of his life. I remember when I would stop by to see him he would always bring the conversation around to the war and then he would say “Reverend, tell me that there is a Heaven. Tell me that it is better place where people don’t hate, or hurt, or destroy. Tell me there is a place where there is no killing and where I don’t have to watch my friends die. Reverend, tell me that there is a Heaven because I already lived through hell on earth.” 

My friends, I don’t know what kinds of trials or tribulations that you have lived through, are going through presently but I am sure that you have gone through times or will go through times that will make you say “Tell me that there is a Heaven.”  

The Bible says this in Colossians 3:1 “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s hand in the place of honor and power.” 

Today, in the memory of Joe Irving, and for all of you who have ever asked these questions we are going to look at the realities of Heaven. More specifically we’re going to look at these three questions.  What is heaven?  Where is it?  What is heaven like? 

1.  What is heaven?

The Bible tells us three things.

1.  It’s where God lives and rules.

Through the Bible it’s called “the dwelling place of God… the house of God.”  It’s called “the city of God.”  Thirty one times Jesus calls it “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven” actually. It’s where God not only lives but He rules. 

2.  It is a real place.

Heaven is real and hell is real.  They’re not just states of being.  They’re not some kind of Morpheus, no body, float in the clouds.  They are literal places.  There’s a real place called heaven and there is a real place called hell.  Jesus said this in John 14:2-3 “I’m going to prepare a place for you.”  Notice.  Heaven is not an accident.  It’s a prepared place.  He says “I’m going to prepare a place for you.” It is an actual place, not a state of being, and who is heaven prepared for?  For you.  God prepared it for you.  To be a part of His family.  He says “And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am you may be also.”  I am there and I want you to come to. That is the miracle of Easter. 

3.  Heaven was designed for us

Since the very beginning God has been working to bring His children home. In fact, the Bible says that in heaven there are streets, there are trees, there is water, there are homes.  In all likelihood there’s going to be animals there.  It was designed for you and for me.  Specifically designed for us.  The Bible says, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you.”  Heaven was prepared for you and it was prepared for you from the foundation or the creation of the world.

Friends, this is such an amazing expression of the love of God.  The Bible tells us that God created the entire universe because He wanted a family.  He said, “I want to express My love by creating human beings.  I’m going to make them in My image.”  Why you might ask? Ephesians 1:5 “God’s unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ and this gave Him great pleasure.” 

So what is heaven?  It’s a place He’s preparing for His family. It is the home God is preparing for you. 

2.  The question then is Where is heaven?

The answer is I don’t know.  All we know is this.  It’s out of this world!  We know that.  We definitely know that it is not on earth.  That’s why the Bible says in many places like Psalm 53:2 “God looks down from heaven at people on earth to see if there are any who are wise, and who worship Him.”  While we don’t know the location of heaven –it’s a specific place but we don’t know the location – but we do know the way.  Jesus said, “I am the way.”  “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by Me.” 

3.  So what is heaven like?

This is the one we really want to know the answer to.  The Bible says that heaven is a mystery.  Part of it is, there are some experiences in life that are simply indescribable. When we were taking Sam to Disney World we tried to explain to him what it would be like but it was a lost cause. No matter what we did we couldn’t tell Sam how cool it was going to be. We had to wait until he experienced it for himself. Some experiences are like that … indescribable. When you see your newborn child for the first time, when you kiss your wife for the first time, watching the Leaf’s win the Stanley Cup (nobody as seen that in 46 years). You can’t describe these feelings. They have to be felt. That is an indescribable feeling.

There are some things in life you simply have to experience.  All the art and all of the songs and all of the writing and poetry and everything can’t describe what heaven is really like because the truth is there’s really nothing on earth to compare heaven to.  We are a poor carbon copy.  A Xerox.  An imitation of something much, much greater, more fulfilling, more beautiful, more exciting. 

The Bible tells us this in 1 Corinthians 2 “No eye has ever seen, and no ear has heard, and no mind has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 

So I don’t really know.  And even the things I’m going to share with you today are just a pale explanation of what heaven’s like, but the Bible does give us some very important information on heaven.  I’m going to give you four things that will not be in heaven and five things that will be in heaven. 

1.      The first thing that’s not going to be in heaven is sickness.

The Bible says in  Phillipians 3:20-21 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. The Bible says that there won’t be any sickness in heaven.  Why?  Because you’re going to get a new perfect body.  You will have a body in heaven.  When Jesus arose and came back to earth and He walked with, spoke with, they touched Him, and ate with His disciples. He wasn’t some spirit, He had a body.

The Bible says this “Just as each of us now has a body like Adam’s [that means we have a human body] so someday we shall have a body like Christ’s.”  We will have a body, the new body like Christ’s.

2.  Second, no sadness.

The Bible says, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Did you know that the Bible says God has stored up every tear in heaven that you’ve ever cried?  He’s kept a record of it.  Your tears, your pain, God knows about.  He cares about.  But when you get to heaven there’s going to be no more sadness.  No more broken hearts.  No more rejection.  No more loneliness.  No more sorrow.  No more sadness.  No more grief.  No more heartache.  That is heaven.  He will wipe away every tear from your eyes.    

Those of you who are right now going through grief and you’re carrying the grief for a loved one, or you’ve been going through a period of depression, one of the things that does in our life is it just makes heaven be a little bit more close.  We want to go to heaven when we’re in pain.  Why?  Because there is none there.  Not only is there no sickness and no sadness, the Bible says…

3.  No suffering. 

The Bible says, “No more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching heat.”   But the truth is there’s no suffering.  Every one of your needs will be satisfied.  Not only that but no suffering, no sadness, no sickness…

4.  No death.

Immortality.  The Bible says this “There shall be no more death.  No sorrow, no crying and no pain.  All of that will be gone forever.” 

Those are four things you won’t find in heaven.

Now the list of the things you will find in heaven.

1.  The first thing you’re going to find in heaven is reunion with every other believer. 

All those people I love who know the Lord when we get to heaven, we’re going to have a party.  We’re going to be reunited together.  The Bible says this, we looked at this verse earlier “This is God’s purpose that when the time is right He will gather us all together.  [There’s going to be a reunion.  He will gather us all together…] from wherever we are to be with Him in Christ forever.” 

Who’s going to be in heaven?

Good question.  Who’s going to be in heaven?  God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit are going to be in heaven.  Angels are going to be in heaven.  The church is going to be in heaven – everybody who’s put their trust in Christ.  And all the believers who were believers in God before Jesus came – in the Old Testament.  We look back to the Messiah.  They looked forward to the Messiah.  The people in the Old Testament were saved the same way that people today are saved.  By looking forward to a savior.  And we look back to a savior.  But we’re saved the exact same way.

Hebrews 12 “You have come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem [heaven] and to the gathering [notice all the people he mentions] of countless happy angels, and the church [the church is going to be there – every believer] composed of all those registered in heaven and God [obviously God’s going to be there] who is the judge of all and the spirits of righteous people made perfect.”  Who is that?  That’s the people born before Jesus Christ who in faith lived and listened and looked forward to the promise that God had made “One day I’m sending a savior.”  And Jesus Himself.  They’re all going to be there in heaven.

One of the most common questions I hear is What about babies?  What about babies who die? 

Friends, they’re all going to be in heaven. Miscarried babies. Aborted babies. Still birth babies. Unbaptized babies.   Every one of them will be in heaven.  Every single one of them.  Why?  Because we are not responsible for what we cannot understand.  The same is true of a child who grows up to full adulthood but does not have the mental capacity to understand the love of Jesus Christ.  They can understand some.  It’s interesting that when they first communicated to Helen Keller who was blind and deaf, they communicated to her the concept of God she said, “I’ve always known Him.  I just didn’t know His name.”  Isn’t that interesting? 

Often children are more in contact with God than we are.  They’re much more sensitive.  That’s why the Bible says, “Unless you become as children you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”  Kids are humble.  They’re open to God.  We close off with our pride and we say no.  God says they’re going to be in heaven. 

When they have not reached an age old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, good and evil and they are not the age when they could come to Christ and make that decision to come to Christ, the Bible says they are safe.  Not saved but safe. 

In fact the Bible says in the book of Psalms, “The Lord preserves the simple.”

You may have grown up in a religion that taught that unless a child is baptized before they die they’ll go to hell.  It’s wrong.  It is not in the Bible.  It is unscriptural and it is just wrong.  The Bible tells us very clearly that children who are not old enough to make a wise decision, who have not come to the age of accountability, they are not old enough to understand that if they die before they understand, before they have a chance to choose Christ, they certainly haven’t rejected Him, and they don’t have the knowledge to understand.  They go straight into the loving arms of Jesus.  Every miscarriage, every still birth, every abortion…

So the first thing we’re going to have in heaven is we’re going to have a reunion with these that we love in the family of God. 

2.  The second thing there’s going to be in heaven is responsibilities.

You’re not going to sit around on a cloud doing nothing in heaven.  You will have work in eternity.  Here’s the difference: you’re going to enjoy it.  Here’s the difference: there aren’t going to be any heartaches with it.  Here’s the difference: you’re going to be fulfilled one hundred percent.  Your role and your responsibility the Bible says in heaven will be meaningful, it will be fulfilling, it will be enjoyable, and you’re going to enjoy doing it in eternity.

What is my responsibility?  What are my roles going to be in heaven?

I don’t know.  But I do know this.  It’s based on how faithful you are with roles and responsibilities He gives you on earth.  God is watching you and He’s testing you.  Life is a test.  And life is a trust.  And life is a temporary assignment.  In Luke 16 “Jesus said, ‘Unless you’re faithful in small matters [talking about here on earth] you won’t be faithful in large ones.  If you cheat in little things you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities [He’s talking about in heaven] and if you are untrustworthy with worldly wealth [in other words, the money, the possessions God gives you here on earth] who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?’ 

3.  Rejoicing.

What does that mean, “rejoicing.”  We’re going to worship in heaven.  We’re going to fellowship in heaven.  We’re going to celebrate in heaven.  We’re going to enjoy each other in heaven.  We’re going to love each other in heaven.  We’re going to party in heaven.

The bottom line is here on earth, we’re put here to practice all the things we’re going to do in heaven.  We’re going to love God in heaven.  We’re going to love each other in heaven.  We’re going to serve God in heaven.  We’re going to believe God in heaven.  We’re going to honor God in heaven.  What does God want you to do while you’re here on earth?  Practice!  So that when you get to heaven you know what you’re doing.

When we started this series we started by saying that there are the spiritual realities of life. We said God made you to love you; you were made to last forever;  God has prepared two eternal places – heaven and hell;  we get to choose where you’ll spend eternity; and we have a lifetime to make this choice … but no longer. We have spoken about those two eternal places, next week we will talk about How do I get to heaven?

Friday, 3 May 2013

Where do we go when we die Part 2: Infernal Realities

Once upon a time there was a shrewd business, and when I say “shrewd” I mean he was a crook, who used his skills to make a lot of money. However, like us all, he grew old and eventually there came a day when his doctor told him he didn’t have much longer to live and suggested that he take some time to get his affairs in order. So the businessman goes to his wife and says, “Dearest … I have taken half of all we own, sold it, and put the cash in a trunk on the roof.”

Fearing for her husband’s sanity the wife replies “Why did you do that?”

“Honey, I don’t have much longer to live. Soon I will be in heaven. It took me a lifetime to build up my fortune and I don’t want to have to start from scratch so I am putting half of all I have in cash in a trunk so when I die I can just grab it on my way up.”

It wasn’t too long after this conversation that the businessman died and true to his wishes he died at home. Shortly after the funeral, when everyone went home, his wife and children got a ladder and went to the roof to see if the trunk and the money was gone. After climbing the ladder and seeing that the truck and the money remained on the roof the wife turns to her son and says “I told him that if he wanted to take it with him where he was going he should have put the trunk in the basement.”  

Today we are continuing on in our series “Where do you go when you die?” Last week we said that our world and our lives are made up of more than just physical realities, there are spiritual realities too. We said that this realities are that God made you to love you; you were made to last forever;  God has prepared two eternal places – heaven and hell;  we get to choose where you’ll spend eternity; and we have a lifetime to make this choice … but no longer. These are the spiritual realities that will shape the course of our lives in this world and the next.

Today we are going to talk about one of the two eternal places where we can go. Today we are going to talk about hell. Specifically we will talk about: Why does hell exist?  What is it like? 

First, Why does hell exist?

There are two fundamental reasons why hell exists: 

            The first is because sin and evil exist; and
            Second, because our God is a Holy and Just God. 

There are some people that want to deny the existence of evil.  They think that actually the world is full of people and we’re basically good; that human beings are fundamentally by nature unselfish, always kind, always good, and always thinking about others.  However, I just can’t reconcile that way of thinking whenever I read the newspaper, listen to the radio or watch the news on T.V. When we read about the marathon bombing in Boston, or 9-11, or some politician abusing the public trust to line his pocket, or the latest murder, or child molestation we know the world is filled with evil of all kinds of shapes and sizes. Indeed, it’s all around us.

The Bible is full of stories telling us of people who have lived amazingly good lives who have blessed many, and people who have done horrendous evil. It tells us that we are capable of being incredibly selfish or incredibly selfless. It all depends on how we choose to act and behave.

I say it depends on “how we choose to behave” because God gave us a free will.  That is our greatest gift.  It is also our worst curse because we don’t always make wise choices.  God gave us this ability to choose right or wrong, good or bad, evil or righteousness – He gives us this choice because we’re created in His image.  He gave us the free will – we often choose the wrong thing.  As a result people get hurt – intentionally and unintentionally. Free will makes evil possible since it's the power to do otherwise.  If you're free to love God you're also free to hate him.  If you're free to praise God, you're also free to blaspheme him.  Why did God do that?  Because He wants us to choose to love Him.  He wants us to choose to do right. God wants you to become godly -- taking on his values, attitudes and character. As the Bible says in Ephesian’s 4 "take on an entirely new way of life -- a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you" How you act and behave on this world is your choice and your choices will develop your character. We can choose to live towards Heaven and develop a godly character or not. The trouble is, that leaves us living in a world where some people Don’t live towards Heaven, where evil exists and where some people seek to perpetrate evil against us … Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, the tyrant boss, the abusive husband, the school yard bully, etc.  

That begs the question, if God is all-good, he would defeat evil. If God is all-powerful, he could defeat evil.

How can a good and just God defeat evil and still allow everyone to freely choose their destiny so freedom is preserved. A good and just God can defeat evil and still allows everyone to be free and they choose which way they want to go by one day separating good from evil. Heaven and Hell.

You know what bothers good people - evil. You know what bothers evil people - good.

I used to work at Cameron’s Lumber Yard when I was growing up. You know what bothered me? The evil people swearing, cursing, telling filthy stories, blowing their smoke in my face, trying to steal from the company. You know what bothered them? Me. Reading my bible, praying, stopping them form stealing from the company, and just not joining them in their behavior.

There's a solution to that. In eternity there's going to be a smoking section and a non-smoking section. You can guess which is which. Separating evil from good forever.
The Bible says that in terms of the sheep and the goats, the good fish and the bad fish. Separating good from evil, by quarantining evil forever.

You know what we do with contagious diseases? We quarantine the people. You know what we do with people who are violent criminals? We quarantine them from society. We have programmes to rehabilitate them but we put them in a separate place.

There has to be a hell or there's no solution to the problem of evil. As long as somebody wants to do evil and as long as evil disrupts good people then there has to be a place where it's separated.

Think of it. Heaven is a place where they'll be no more evil to frustrate good people. Nobody swearing, nobody cursing, nobody doing anything evil to me. Praising God forever.

Hell is the place where there is no more good to frustrate evil people. Where the hounds of heaven stop barking. And where when the last scroll of time is rolled up and the last candle is extinguished, people will forever be in exactly the place where they chose to be.

2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “We will all stand before Christ to be judged.  We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or the evil that we have done in our bodies.”  Why does hell exist?  Because sin and evil exist and because God is holy and just.

The Bible says this in 2 Thessalonians 1 “God will do that is right.  God is a righteous God.  and He will bring suffering on those who make you suffer.  And He’ll give relief to you who suffer as well.  He will do this when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven to punish those who reject God who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord.”

Notice the last phrase – “separated from the presence of the Lord.”  That’s the number one characteristic of hell.  Separated from the presence of the Lord.  When I was a young lad my best friend’s mother used to tell me all the time “There is no hell down below, hell is right here on earth. We are living in hell right now.” When I got older I discovered that a lot of people had that same opinion, but that is incorrect. You see, here on earth, even when I reject God, He shows me grace.  I can be going out here totally ignoring God and I get all kinds of gifts from God because everything you have in your life is a gift from God.  The air you breathe – that’s a gift from God.  The water you drink – that’s a gift from God.  Your heart beating – that’s a gift from God.  Everything you have in your life is a gift of God’s grace.  So even people who don’t know the Lord experience God’s grace every single day of their life.  Life itself is a gift from God.  Everything you have on this planet is because of God’s grace.  People don’t realize how bad “separated from the presence of the Lord” is because we have the Lord’s presence here. 

What is hell like? 

It’s really hard to explain because we don’t have the human experience to explain it.  It’s kind of like trying to explain the Internet to an ant.  If you had never eaten or seen a piece of pizza how would you explain it?  So it’s really kind of hard. 

But what is hell like? 

The Bible describes it as a place of torment.  In fact, Matthew 8 “In darkness they will cry out and grit their teeth in pain.  I can’t tell what it looks like. I don’t know if there are lakes of fire or anything like that. I don’t preach on it because I don’t know, but I can tell you what it will be like.

1 Corinthians 16:22 “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be separated from God- and lost forever.” That means I am totally apart from God’s love, totally apart from God’s grace.  Total separation from God. 

What is hell like?  Think about this.  If it’s total separation from God, then it will be the exact opposite of everything God is.  We know that “God is love.”  That is His nature.  God is love.  What would it be to live without God completely?  It means no love. 

The Bible says, “There is no fear in love.  Perfect love casts out all fear.”  The opposite of love is fear.  You know what it means to live without love in your life?  It means you’re scared to death all the time.  That’s hell.  It means you’re lonely all the time.  That’s hell. 

Jeremiah 29:11-12 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God is hope and has a glorious  future planned for you. People have survived wars, illnesses, natural catastrophes, draughts, depressions because of hope. Hell is a place where there is no hope for a better tomorrow. Maybe that’s why it is always depicted as a place of torture and anguish, because there is no hope there.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hell is a place where there is no grace, no forgiveness, where there is no help.

This is what hell is all about. It’s the total separation from God and everybody else. Where there is no love, there is no light, there are no friends, there is no mercy, there is no hope for a better tomorrow, there is no forgiveness. There is only darkness, despair, loneliness, and fear.

Will Satan be in charge there? No. Satan’s not in hell right now.  You may not know that.  The Bible says he’s on earth.  It is going to be a place of punishment for him too.

My friends this is awfully hard stuff to hear, but if you are feeling fearful about all of this just remember that verse from Jeremiah For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  God had a plan, we now have hope, and God has provided us with a glorious future which I will sum up in 2 simple words, Christmas and Easter. If Jesus hadn’t come at Christmas, and if He hadn’t died on the cross and then come back to life three days later on Easter we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  We would all be hopeless but God came up with a plan. 

Colossians 2:21-22 says “At one time you were separated from God.  You were His enemies in your minds, and the evil things you did were against God.  But now God has made you His friends again.  He did this through Christ’s death in the body when He died on the cross so that He might bring you into God’s presence.  [What’s God’s presence?  Heaven.  And when He brings you in how are you going to be?  It says…] as people who are holy, with no wrong, nothing of which God can judge you.”  He said I’m going to wipe the slate clean. This is the etch-a-sketch verse of the Bible.  You make all the mess, turn up and shake it and it comes up clean and pure again.  He said that’s what I’m going to do in your life.

My friends, the Good News of the Gospel is that the place we spoke about today does not have to be the place where we end up. We can freely choose to go to Heaven and that is what we will be talking about next week.