Recently I was reminded of one of the most popular sermons ever preached in America. A sermon that was given by Jonathon Edwards on July 8, 1741 in Connecticut was more spoken than preached but has gone down in history as one of the most powerfully preached sermons in history. While I have heard that Jonathon Edwards read in a monotone expressionless voice with his written sermon raised in front of his face where he couldn’t see the congregation, it is also reported that it was so powerful that people we’re groaning, crying out loud and digging their fingernails right into the pews in front of them. What was this sermon he preached, and what was it about? The message title was, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, and the theme was the fate of those who reject Christ as their savior and hell as it awaits them.
Hell is not a popular subject to talk about in churches anymore, and why is that? We live in a time when it is more popular to talk of the promises and grace of God, with what many have called a “seeker sensitive” gospel, than we are of the justice and wrath of God. Don’t get me wrong, we need to hear of the promises and grace of God, but if that is all we hear then the message is incomplete. This is also true of those who talk only of the justice and wrath of God without the promises and grace of God.
People don’t like to talk about hell, or that there is a chance they could find their eternal destination there, but nonetheless it is something that needs to be talked about. People like to think that either hell is a mere fabrication of those who seek ways to control others or to scare them into the Christian faith, or that if it does exist they are somehow exempt from going there. Many believe that if they live a good life and help others then they will somehow not go there, but that is under the premise one can work or earn their right to avoid hell, much like a ‘get out of jail’ free card. The problem is that no one can avoid hell apart from a saving relationship with Jesus.
Hell, a place of unending torment, was a place that God had prepared for Satan and the angels that followed him in the rebellion against God. Satan, once known as Lucifer, was one of the highest ranking angels in Heaven, but when he decided to elevate himself to be equal with and independent from God he was then kicked out of Heaven. Unlike what many may think, hell was never created or intended for humanity, but it was instead created and intended as punishment for Satan and the fallen angels. It wasn’t until sin entered humanity in the Garden of Eden that the penalty for that sin became the same as that of Satan and the fallen angels, eternity in hell. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus tells us that hell was prepared for Satan and the fallen angels, but in Isaiah 5:14 we’re told that hell enlarges itself daily and opens up its mouth without measure waiting for the descent of many into it. Hell was not intended for humanity, but humanity in its sin finds its eternal home there unless they obtain salvation through Christ, and Christ alone.
Many people believe that God is out there waiting with eager anticipation to hurl the wicked into eternal damnation and torment in hell, but that is not the truth. We read in 2 Peter 3:9 that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” In John 3:18 Jesus tells us, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” God has prepared a way by which all can be saved, that being through Jesus His only begotten Son, and it is ones choice to reject the only way God has provided that sends each one to hell.
Despite the fact that God has provided a way by which each one can avoid the eternal judgment of hell, it is amazing to me that so many will go to such extremes to avoid hell on their own merits. I mentioned earlier that there are some who want to deny the existence of hell, or at least change it into something far different and less than what it is. Others want to go one step further to deny even the existence of the one true God, or to say He is no different than any of the other man-made gods many believe in.
Whether it is someone that is bent towards proving the theory of evolution as true, or someone who chooses to believe that hell doesn’t exist, or even someone who cites their reasons for not living for Jesus, one of the core reasons for this is the determination to discount the existence of God in their lives. Many don’t like the idea of living the way they choose being judged as right or wrong by any person other than themselves, much less by a God who has the power to send them to a hell they don’t want to believe is real. People want to believe that there is no eternal penalty for the way they live, and in order to do so they must discount the existence and role of God in their lives, or at least create their own version of a God that is nothing but love and grace that will overlook the way they lived in conflict with His will and instructions. Many look at the injustices they see all around, especially those they’ve suffered themselves, and can’t see how a loving God would allow such things and therefore want nothing to do with Him. When it comes down to it each of them want to discount God and His Son, Jesus, as having any pertinent role in their lives, and that in doing so many want to believe they won’t be held accountable by God and suffer an eternal punishment in hell.
No matter how hard one tries to discount God and hell, or even their existence, this doesn’t change the fact that both God and hell exists. Hell is not a place in ‘fantasy land’ or a new vacation spot where you can party with your friends, but it is a place of unending torment with flames of fire that burn continuously. Hell is so bad that I wouldn’t wish it upon the worst person in humanity, but the fact still remains that those who reject the person of Jesus as both the only begotten Son of God and as their savior will find themselves there. While many want to focus on God being a loving God that wouldn’t send them there, they forget or don’t realize that they are in fact sending themselves there if they choose to reject Jesus in their life. People also want to discount the fact that God is not only a God of love and grace, but He is also a just God that will punish the ungodly. In Exodus 34:7, God tells us that “He will not clear the guilty”, holding them accountable for their decisions and actions.
If we want to focus on God’s love we also need to understand that it is because of His love that He will not allow the ungodly to escape hell and find their eternal home in heaven. You say that doesn’t make sense? Think of it this way. If a person chooses one way or another, directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, to reject Jesus and not surrender their lives to Him, God would be unloving towards those who chose to serve Him if He were to allow the ungodly into Heaven. His love for those who choose to follow and serve Him is great and He will not allow them to be exposed to sin and the ungodly that rejected Him in Heaven. Hell is a very real place, and while it was not intended for humanity to dwell there it is true that those who reject Christ will get their wish eternally by spending eternity there without Him. God is not going to violate the free will of anyone that rejects Jesus in this life by having or forcing them to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. The life we lead and the choices we make in this life will forever determine our eternal destination whether it be in Heaven or in hell. If you want to reject Him for whatever cause you deem sufficient, He will honor that by allowing you to choose, but you have to be willing to endure the consequences of those decisions.
In closing, no matter what your excuse for not surrendering your life to Jesus and living only for Him, you alone will be accountable for your decision. When you stand before God, and you will, your excuses will not be allowed, and those you seek to blame will have no bearing at that moment. Regardless of your excuses you will be judged by one thing, what did you do with His Son, Jesus? The Bible will be the standard by which all will be judged and there is no way to get around that.