The Eternal Fire Prepared for the Devil and His Angels (Matthew Sermon 135 of 151)
August 22, 2010 | Andrew Davis
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of going out in the neighborhood here, sharing the gospel, as we were preparing for Summer Sizzle. We were talking to a group of young men in their teen years, 14, 15, 16 years old, just sitting there, hard to get them to focus on what we were saying. Quite honestly, it was hard to get them to take us seriously. They were shooting looks at each other, making little smiles, talking on their cellphones or checking for text messages or whatever while we were talking to them. All of that until I said, "You know, I really would just like 20 minutes of your time. I'd like 10 minutes to go with you to hell, and then 10 minutes up in heaven, then I'd like to come back here and share the gospel with you. I think you'd give me full attention then." That got their attention, I think. We talked a little bit longer after that. This morning, I feel the weight of the gospel ministry, the weight of preaching. I have for the last handful of days. It seems to me that one of the responsibilities of a pastor, of a preacher of the gospel, of an evangelist, is to make these eternal issues, the future issues of heaven and hell vivid and real through words and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I need to make it come alive, make it real so that people can be wise and do what they need to do now while there's still time to prepare for death.
That's what I want to do today, but it eludes me. It's beyond what I can do. I also have been asking the last couple of days, what demeanor should I have as a man standing here in front of you preaching about hell? What should my face look like? What should my tone of voice be like? My yearning was that it would be genuine, it wouldn't be an act, I wouldn't have to be acting in front of you, but that I would be genuinely caught up with these things and be able to tell you the truth. I'd like to ask that you pray for me while I preach because these things, I think are important. It's important that when you hear about hell, when you hear about an issue like this, and I think you have to be honest, you don't hear about very often, not to this level, that you hear it properly. I want it preached to you properly for the glory of God, and that's my desire. We're coming to The Sheep and the Goats now for a second week, we're going to have one more week next week, in which I talk about mercy ministry based on The Sheep and the Goats.
As we come for a second week to The Sheep and the Goats, we're coming to a concentrated look on the doctrine of hell. We've already had several sermons in which we have unfolded in detail some aspects of the doctrine of heaven. It would be well worth doing in parallel with this, but I'm not doing that today, but just focusing on hell. Christ did not stop at talking about the glorious and joys and rewards of heaven but warned many times about the doctrine of hell. In Matthew 24 and 25, we've come against it again and again, but I haven't really stopped and focused on it like I'm going to do this morning. I'm going to concentrate on this one verse, verse 41, in the message this morning. "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." At the end of Matthew 25, also this statement, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." This issue of hell has been hanging over us for some time in the Gospel of Matthew in Chapters 24 and 25 as Christ got the apostles there on the Mount of Olives and through them, the church and the world, ready for His Second Coming and for Judgment Day.
The Timing of the Second Coming & Judgment is Unknown
If you go back to Matthew 24:30, talking about the Second Coming of Christ, "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn." Why are they going to mourn? Because Jesus is bringing judgment back with Him. It's a time of judgment. He likens it to the days of Noah, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage right up to the day Noah entered the ark, and they had no idea what would happen until the flood came in and swept them all away." That's how it's going to be at the coming of the Son of Man. Christ likens the Second Coming to the circumstances of the flood at the time of Noah. The flood was a devastating act of judgment around the world. So also, in the parable at the end of Matthew 24 of the faithful and unfaithful steward that the master put in charge of the house where Jesus focuses on the case of the wicked steward who says, "My Master's staying away a long time," and then he begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards. "His master's going to come at a time he's not aware of, an hour he's not expecting. And he will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Then in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, we get just a touch of it, but in the larger New Testament context, we know exactly what Jesus means when the five foolish virgins come late and are pounding on the door and they want to enter in, they want to be led in, and he won't let them in. And he says, "I never knew you. I don't know you." He doesn't open the door for them. Then in the parable of the talents, in verse 30, concerning that one that hid the talent in the ground, the judgment on him is this, "Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." We've seen this again and again in Matthew 24 and 25. To be fully faithful then to Jesus is to embrace everything He teaches, not just some of what He teaches. To be fully faithful to Jesus is to emphasize what He emphasizes, to the degree to which He emphasizes it, and therefore, we can't pick and choose. We have to understand this doctrine of hell.
Two years ago, some members of our staff and I went to Ridgecrest for a conference, and we were just stunned, convicted, moved by a sermon by Don Whitney, entitled, “Hell is Real.” He began with these words, "Those who are not church-goers believe that men who preach from the Bible are always preaching about hell. Those who are church goers but who are not Southern Baptists typically believe that Southern Baptist preach frequently about hell. However, regardless of your denominational background, can you remember the last time you heard an entire sermon about hell? More and more evangelicals are now moving toward an inclusive position on how people get to heaven. That is, that the gates of heaven are opening wider to people of other faiths and that hell is less of a threat than previously preached for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others. For professing Christians who are not evangelicals, the consensus is fast becoming that in the end no one or almost no one will go to hell." Recently, R.C. Sproul said, talking about the doctrine of justification by faith that was uncovered and emphasized by Luther at the Reformation, "Justification is God's righteous declaration that sinners are not guilty in His sight and will not go to hell." That's what justification is. But R.C. Sproul was saying, "The prevailing doctrine of justification today is not justification by faith alone." It's not even justification by good works or a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in Western churches today is justification by death. It is assumed that all one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die. There is no hell, or if there is, God would never send anyone but the worst people to hell, and therefore, as long as you're not a Hitler or a serial killer or a terrorist or something, you're definitely not going to go to hell. In January of 1996, the Church of England and its American counterpart, the Episcopal church, officially rejected the traditional view of hell and embraced what is known as annihilationism: The view that those who aren't allowed into heaven will be annihilated, they will cease to exist after death. They said that the orthodox view of hell implies that God is, "A sadistic monster who consigned millions to eternal torment." In October of 2007, on the front of USA Today, the question was, "Is there a Hell? and 48%, or almost half of American adults said “No, there is no hell.”
So, this morning, we have to focus on what Jesus taught about this and understand the prevailing currents and eddies of our evangelical culture, of the wider Christian culture, and of American culture. Now, what do we mean by hell? What does the Bible teach about this doctrine? Wayne Grudem put it this way, "Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment or punishment for the wicked by God." Eternal conscious torment as a punishment by God. Jonathan Edwards, in probably the single most famous sermon in history, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” warned his hearers at the end with these words. "O sinner, consider the fearful danger that you are in. It is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned who are already in hell. You hang by a slender thread with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and that thread every minute is ready to be singed and burned apart. And you have no interest in any mediator, you have nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you for one moment more."
Hell: Annihilation vs. Eternal Torment
I said that that was one of the most famous sermons in history, because it seems that a lot of English literature classes ask, "Have you read that sermon?" It's fascinating to me that they'd want you to read those kinds of things. In that message, Edwards was struggling, it seems, with language to describe Revelation 19:15, “Christ treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." Edwards said this, "The words are exceeding terrible. If it had only been the wrath of God, the words would have implied that which is infinitely dreadful, but it is the fierceness and wrath of God. The fierceness of Jehovah. O how dreadful must that be. Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?" John Piper, a pastor in Minneapolis, was commenting on the fact that so many high school students read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, and in some way minimize its language and some way critique it or despise its message as echoes from a puritanical era that thankfully, we are now out of it last. You never need to go there again. But John Piper asked a deeper question, "Why did Edwards wrestle with that kind of language?"
Piper says, "What high school student is ever asked to come to grips with what really is an issue here?" If the Bible is true, and if it says that someday Christ will tread his enemies like a winepress with an anger that is fierce and almighty, and if you are a pastor charged with applying Biblical truth to your people so that they will flee the wrath to come, then what would your language be? What would you say to make people feel the reality of texts like these? Edwards labored over language and over images and metaphors because he was so stunned and awed at the realities that he saw in the Bible. Did you hear that one line in the quote I have just read, "Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?" Edwards believed that it was impossible to exaggerate the horror of the reality of hell. High school teachers then would do well to ask their students the really probing question, "Why is it that Jonathan Edwards struggled to find images for wrath and hell that shock and frighten, while contemporary preachers try to find abstractions and circumlocutions that move away from concrete, touchable Biblical pictures of unquenchable fire and undying worms and wailing, and gnashing of teeth?" If our students were posed with that simple, historical question, my guess is that some of the brighter ones would answer, "Because Jonathan Edwards really believed in hell, and most preachers today don't."
I understand that there is a natural human repugnance to this topic. Mark Twain said this really strange thing, at least he read the New Testament, we'll give him that. But he said, "It is believed by everyone that when God was in heaven in the Old Testament era, he was stern, hard, resentful, jealous and cruel, but that when he came down to earth as Jesus, he became the opposite, sweet, gentle merciful, forgiving. But Jesus was a thousand billion times crueler than ever he was in the Old Testament.” Meek and gentle? By and by, we will examine that popular sarcasm by the light of the hell that he invented." Twain went on to say, "The invention of hell is the prodigious crime of the Bible." Charles Darwin, in his autobiography wrote of his spiritual slide from acceptance of general Christian doctrine to complete unbelief. "The key step," he said, “was his rejection of the doctrine of hell." He said, "I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true. For if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother, and almost all my best friends will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."
So, searching around for some other way to think of the universe, I think led him toward natural selection, toward evolution. Clark Pinnock, a Canadian theologian who is drifted far from his evangelical roots, said, "I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds." Did you hear that? "It wasn't the Bible that led me away from the doctrine of hell, it was just that I was personally morally revulsed from it and didn't like the doctrine." Back to Pinnock, "It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life. It's time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment."
John Stott shocked many of his evangelical friends by supporting this view, annihilationism. He said, "Emotionally, I find the concept of eternal conscious torment intolerable, and I do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth." Thank God he said that. “Emotions must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. My question must be and is not what does my heart tell me, but what does God's word say?" And then he went on a, I think, empty quest to try to redefine some words so that hell wasn't eternal. But at least he was trying to do it biblically. Now, Matthew 24 and 25, and some more evidence I'm going to give you in just a minute, shows very plainly and clearly that Christ warned us about hell again and again.
Dorothy Sayers said, "There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the, ‘Cruel and abominable medieval doctrine of hell,’ or ‘The childish and grotesque medieval imagery of physical fire and worms.’ But the case is quite otherwise. Let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not medieval, it is Christ's. It is not a device of medieval priestcraft for frightening people into giving money to the church, it is Christ's deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from medieval superstition, but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it. One cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate hell without altogether repudiating Christ.”
It is a biblical fact that Jesus Christ taught far more about hell than any other figure in the Bible ever did. Most of the clear imagery we have about hell comes from Jesus. I want to give you a partial listing of some of the verses in which Jesus refers to hell and you get a sense of it. This is just a partial listing, this is not just something He mentioned once in a while, He mentioned it again and again and again. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapter 5:22, "Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool' will be in danger of the fire of hell." Matthew 8:11-12, "But I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 10:28, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell." In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13, "The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all those who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." In that same chapter, at the end of the parable of the good fish and the bad fish and the dragnet, Jesus said, "This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The parable of the wedding banquet. The king comes in and finds a man there who's not wearing the proper wedding clothes. He said, "Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?" The man is speechless. The king told the attendants, "Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen."
Jesus in His sevenfold woe to the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 said, "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" In Mark Chapter 9:43-49, He said, "If your hand causes you to sin, then cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot cause you to sin, then cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Everyone will be salted with fire." Luke 13:23-28, "Someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?'" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to, and once the owner of the house gets up and closes that door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, you taught in our streets.' But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers! There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.’” Then very pointedly, in the rich man and Lazarus account in Luke 16, the rich man is thrown into hell, and it says, "In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side so he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire.'" That's just some of Jesus's teachings on hell. It is very plain and clear that Dorothy Sayers is right, Jesus taught this doctrine. Friends, He came into the world, He took on a human body to deliver us from hell. Isn't it appropriate that God, the Father would assign to Him the job of teaching us about it? I don't think a Sunday goes by without me looking at that wood cross up there in that latticework and thinking about it. This morning, more pointedly than usual. When we're singing, "Jesus, Thank You," that's what was in my mind.
Jesus taught us about hell. It's not some scheme originated by hellfire and brimstone preachers to get more money or to manipulate people, it is something Jesus taught, because it's real. What I want to do is draw out aspects of the doctrine of hell from one verse in the text. Look at Verse 41, and I'm going to go phrase by phrase, and leaning on these other verses, teach you what Jesus teaches us about hell based on this one verse. "Then He will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" That's the verse I want to focus on. First of all, let's understand who's speaking, it's Jesus, who has returned in heavenly glory, He's seated on the throne of judgment, He's judging the whole human race, everybody's gathered in front of Him. They're all there. He has already divided the entire human race into two categories, not seven, not 12, whatever many categories there are now, there's going to be two on that day, sheep, goats. Those on his right, the sheep are already blessed with the blessings of heaven. We talked about that in the last message. But then the King, the one seated on the throne, the one of authority to judge because He is the Son of Man, Jesus is going to say to those on his left, these words. Look at the first phrase, "Depart from me." Depart from me. The goats, the lost people, the wicked, the sinners, they will be driven from Jesus's presence. He doesn't want to spend eternity with them. He doesn't want to be with them. They are His Creation, He created them, but He doesn't know them, and they don't know Him. So, He says, "Depart from me." They're going to be driven from His presence. It is a command given to them. They don't have an option in this matter. He wants them away. "Depart from me. Go away from me, I never knew you." This, I believe, is the worst punishment of all, being away from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, being out of the presence of God. It's spoken of as outer or black as darkness because I think God is light. I think there'll literally be no light there, but God is light, and so you're away from the presence of God. It's commanded by the King, "Depart from Me. Go away from me." But no one is going to be able to obey that command. The goats will not move. They can't because they will not willingly throw themselves into hell. They will not willingly walk or gladly walk as some lost people think, like Mark Twain said, "Go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company." Nobody is going to make the choice to go to hell when hell is clearly revealed with your own eyes of what it's like. The King will dispatch his angels with these kinds of commands, "Bind him hand and foot and throw him outside." The verb is consistently “thrown out” or “cast out”, this kind of thing. There's no choice in the matter. The goats will not be able to argue back or run or hide, or any of that. Angels are sent and they will bind them hand and foot and throw them outside into the darkness. One thing we have to understand when he says, "Depart from me," we should not imagine that the power of God is not in hell. Hell is powered by the Word of God. You need to understand that there's no place in the universe that isn't God's. Hell is God's hell. It bothers me when evangelicals make stupid statements such as “God doesn't send anyone to hell. People go there of their own free choice, and God merely ratifies the decision they've made their whole lives.” That's complete bunk. This seems to me like God is sending people to hell. I tell you, not a single one of the goats would willingly choose to go there on that day. It's a terrifying place. They're cast there, and the power of God is there, sustaining their existence and their torments. It's biblical doctrine.
But God is not there to bless, and so He says, "Depart from me, you who are cursed." What is that phrase or that word “cursed” mean? Understand it with its biblical tandem, bless, blessings and curses. Someone who is blessed is first and foremost in a right relationship with God and God with them. They're in a reconciled relationship. God loves them, they love God, they're in a right relationship with God. Out of that right relationship, God wants to give them good things, and his power is motivated toward those blessed people to bless them and give them good things. That's what it means to be blessed. To be cursed is the exact opposite. There is no good relationship. He doesn't know them, they don't know him, they're not in any good, reconciled relationship, and then God's power is unleashed toward their destruction, not to do them good, but to do them harm. That's what a curse is, and Jesus says, "Depart from me, you who are cursed." Hell, then is the ultimate curse from Almighty God.
Then He says, "Into the eternal fire." First of all, look at the word “into.” This is going to be a judgment that will surround or in which someone is immersed, therefore in the Book of Revelation, we have this language of the lake of fire. It's like plunging down into the wrath of God, into eternal fire. It's not near you, it's not by you, it's not around you, you're in it. It's full immersion, a lake of fire. It's never-ending. Look at Verse 46, the annihilationists don't have any good explanation for Verse 46. Stott does what he can with it, but he can't change the language there. It's very plain. There's a parallelism. "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." How can it be that we're counting on when we've been there 10,000 years bright, shining as a sun, there's no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun. Timeless, eternal, it never ends. That's heaven, right? Well, so also must be hell, friends. It's eternal, it never ends, and it's an eternal fire. I thought a lot about that word, even this morning as I was praying and thinking about this. Again, and again, the image of fire is used. Jesus speaks of Gehenna, which was a fire pit right outside of Jerusalem where the garbage was burned that had a sordid, wicked history. Isaiah 30:33 says, "The wrath of God sets it ablaze." It's a place where wicked kings like Ahab and Manasseh burned their children to Molech and it became a symbol of hell. Jesus uses it in that passage I quoted earlier in Matthew 5:22, “It's better for you to lose one part of your body than to go into Gehenna, which is this burning place.” It's always fire, friends. Fire.
It's not multiple metaphors or images, it's the same thing over and over. It's always fire, a blazing fiery furnace. That kind of thing. Recently, we were doing some American history, and we were talking about September 11th when those planes crashed into the Twin Towers. I hadn't thought a lot about it in the days and weeks that preceded that, but when I put on the YouTube video and watched the plane crash in there, I started to cry, I couldn't help myself, it was just very poignant to me. I have three very powerful images in my mind from that day. One of them is when the second plane crashed into the other tower, because we were watching the news at the time and it happened, and I remember the CNN people or whatever, didn't notice, and they kept on talking about whatever topic they were discussing, and it's like we knew before they did what was going on. Then you could hear the change, and something had happened with the second tower. That's one image. The second image I have is when the towers actually collapsed, how they just seemed to get sucked to the ground, how they seemed to melt and fall like a house of cards and fall so quickly. But those two actually are small compared to the third memory, that of people who threw themselves off the high floors to escape the fire. It's estimated that 200 people did that that day. 200 people threw themselves from a thousand feet off the ground. Most of them were in the North Tower because the plane hit a little bit lower, and it was mostly the smoke that made them go, it wasn't the fire, or they would have been burned immediately. But the fire was coming their way and they knew it, there was no escape, and they were up there, and they had to make what they thought was a better choice, and they chose rather to die by falling and, I mean, there's no chance, they reached 150 miles an hour and they were just immediately killed upon impact, they knew they would be. But imagine it's about 1,000 degrees centigrade, smoke billowing up, and they have a choice, you see. You see the choice, and what was the choice? Stay there with the fire or throw themselves out the window. And they chose to throw themselves. With hell, there's no choice, there's no escape. There's no death, it’s an eternal death. This is the image that Jesus has given us.
I was thinking, "Do I even share that?" It's too painful. But then I thought about the words at the beginning of my sermon, isn't that my job? This isn't a pleasant topic, it’s a painful one. Flee the wrath to come, friends. Flee it now. This isn't mythical. This is real. Jesus said again and again and again, it’s an eternal fire. You may ask about this word “eternal.” "Where is the justice of God?" you may say. Clark Pinnock said, "How can it be that we get an eternal punishment for things done in finite space and time?" The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime. Even God gave us eye for eye and tooth for tooth so that there wouldn't be an escalation of punishments. “You took out my eye, I'm going to kill you.” No, we're going to go even; if there's a tooth then a tooth. So, we, with our developed sense of justice, we sit in judgment on God on this issue of hell and say it is unjust for God to do that.
Let's just stop and talk about our capacity for justice compared to God's. As I've said before, it's like a flickering candle compared to the raging inferno of the sun. God is far more committed to justice than you are. Do you understand that? He killed his Son out of justice. That's how committed God is to justice. Secondly, does that punishment fit the crime? What is the crime? There is lust and there is anger and pride and selfishness and stealing and all kinds of things, and all kinds of horizontal things we do to each other, but David in Psalm 51 said, "Against You and You only have I sinned." All sin is coming short of the infinite value of the glory of God, and that is an infinite sin, and it deserves an infinite punishment. It's the only thing my mind can do with it. That's why hell is eternal, because God's glory is of infinite value.
The final phrase is, "Prepared for the devil and his angels." Do not believe the mythology that the devil thrives in hell or loves it, or is comfortable there, or that's his home address. He's not there yet. It's prepared for the devil and his angels. They're not there yet. The devil's angels are demons. They dread the wrath to come, they dread the justice of God that's going to come on them. Why would we human beings share in the punishment made for the devil and his angels? Because we shared in their rebellion against God. We joined Satan in his rebellion against God, in Genesis Chapter 3, when Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we joined Satan at that point. We are born sinners, we joined Satan, we became children of the devil, as Jesus called someone of his enemies, "You are a child of your father, the devil,” and we deserve his punishment. Do you know that there is no gospel release for Satan?
There's no message of salvation for him or for the demons. They have no possibility of escape, but we human beings do because God became a man in Jesus. Isn't that the good news that that we actually have a way out, we have an escape, Satan doesn't. But if we don't take that way out, we will share the devil's judgment. That's what it means, “prepared for the devil and his angels.” What will that torment be like? There will be a physical side to it, and there will be a psychological or mental side to it. The wailing and gnashing of teeth or weeping and gnashing of teeth, the gnashing of teeth, I think of in terms of physical pain. The wicked are going to be raised out of their graves, they will receive some kind of body and that body will be sustained forever in hell, so there's a physical torment aspect, but there's also a mental and psychological aspect, and I think a lot of it has to do with memories. Remember in Luke 16, when Abraham was speaking down to the rich man who's in torment and he said, "Son, remember, remember, remember that when you were in your life, you had all your good things and Lazarus, he had nothing. He's a poor man at your gate, you wouldn't give him anything. Remember that. Remember." We're going to remember. They will remember. We remember in heaven, but lost people remember in hell. What are they going to remember? They'll remember the sins that brought them there.
I think more than anything, they're going to remember times just like this one, where they hear the gospel plainly, and they didn't repent and believe. What would they give to be delivered out of hell for just one more hour with another chance to hear the Gospel again at that point, what would they give? All the rich man wanted was somebody to wet his tongue with a little water. What brings us there, sins of commission — actual acts of adultery and murder and theft and selfishness, but also sins of omission. "Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat." It's all omission and in Matthew 25, it's all omission, what you didn't do.
What applications can we take from this doctrine. First, I said at the beginning, it's just my dread. I've tried to visualize what it's like that I am likely speaking to people who are going to end up in hell right now. I don't know how many, I don't know who you are, I don't know your names, I don't know your faces, I don't know for a fact that what I said is even necessarily true. But Jesus gave us a sense of the percentages, didn't he? Many enter through that broad road to hell, but only a few find that narrow gate. I know this is a concentrated assembly of the people of God here. You've come together for worship, and so the percentages are different here, but is it impossible that there is some nominal Christian listening to me, somebody who just thinks they're saved, but they're really not? Somebody who's on the road to destruction, they're self-deceived. I'm just asking you to consider the seriousness of this doctrine and flee to Christ. He shed his blood on the cross for sinners like you and me. This is the good news of the gospel. This is the good news that Jesus will receive you even now. Forget your pride, forget your reputation, forget what's happened up till now, just say, "Am I saved or not? Have I trusted in Christ or not? Am I ready to face judgment or not?" And flee to Christ.
Second, if you've already done that, you're saved, you've been saved for years. You know you're saved. You see the fruit of God in your life. You are by the power of the Holy Spirit, putting to death the misdeeds of the body. There's good fruit in your life, you have the testimony, the indwelling spirit that you are a child of God. Romans 8:1 says, “therefore for you, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." You're not going to go to hell. The more we meditate on this incredible doctrine, the more grateful we're going to be to God for our precious salvation. Thank you, God for saving me. The paradox here is that this doctrine actually has tremendous power to make you happy for the rest of your life, it really does. We deserve hell, we're getting heaven. So, let me say this tenderly, stop complaining about your bodily aches and pains. God has delivered you from eternal hell, eternal torment and hell. I'm not saying don't tell the doctor what hurts, definitely tell your spouse as much as you want, and they'll tell you right back but stop complaining about your bodily aches and pains. Stop complaining about your temporary financial setbacks, God has delivered you from eternal loss. Thank him in the midst of your struggle financially, thank him for your salvation.
Stop complaining about your feelings of loneliness or isolation or desolation. God has delivered you from ultimate expression of that, the darkness where they're weeping and gnashing of teeth. You're free from that, you're going to be welcomed into eternal habitations with blessed people. You'll be there forever. I don't minimize feelings of loneliness that widows, or widowers or other people may be feeling, the church is the answer to that, find them and dissolve that loneliness with good fellowship, but until that happens, praise God anyway, because you're delivered from loneliness. Let this make you happy. Remember Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Remember Scrooge after the visit of the third ghost, the ghost of Christmas yet to come, who consigns him to hell. Then he wakes up in his bed there. What is he feeling at that moment? Incredible relief and unbelievable joy. He just starts jumping around in his night shirt, he goes crazy with joy, and then he just starts spending money hand over fist. He can't spend it fast enough on the poor and needy, and all of that, dear friends without a single mention of Jesus. We should do better than Dickens, don't you think? We have been delivered from hell by Jesus, and we should be giving him thanks. We should be thankful people, and we should worship Christ for his incalculable courage. Stott said, "We can't bear this doctrine day after day after day, unless we become callous or start to deny it." I think God hides the full weight of this from us so we can live our lives. I think to some degree, he did that to Jesus. Jesus knew he was going to die on the cross, he knew he was going to stand in the wrath of God, but what would that really be like while Jesus was flesh and blood. God didn't fully press that on to him until Gethsemane. In Mark's Gospel, it says that Jesus was amazed and fell to the ground, and then, "Great droplets of blood were coming as sweat from his face." Like the capillaries inside, were just bursting. You can't live like that. Then God the father asked Jesus a very important question, "Will you do it anyway, even though this is what it's going to be like?" There the second Adam, reversed the bad decision of the first Adam, and said, "I'll do it. Not my will but yours will be done." The single greatest act of courage in history, praise him for it. Worship Jesus for that. For drinking your cup to the bottom. There's no wrath left for you, no wrath because Jesus stood under your wrath for you. It's a motive also to personal holiness. Hell is God's response to sin. He hates sin that much, so you ought to hate it that much. If your right eye causes you to sin, then gouge it out and throw it away. If your right hand cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It's better for you to lose a part of your body than for your whole body to be destroyed in hell. When does Jesus say that? Jesus said, “You've heard that it was said, ‘You shall not lust or to commit adultery’, but anyone who lusts at a woman has committed adultery within his heart. If anything is causing you to sin, get rid of it out of your life." The meditation on hell is a strong inducement to personal holiness for Christians.
Finally sorrow for the lost resulting in zeal in evangelism and prayer follows. Both Jesus and Paul wept over this doctrine. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Paul said, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for the Jews who are lost.” We should grieve over lost people, and we should pray for them. Paul said in Romans, "My prayer for the Israelites is that they may be saved." Understanding the incredible immensity of this doctrine of hell and that most people around us are on the road to destruction should motivate us to greater faithfulness in evangelism and missions. Hudson Taylor was speaking at a missionary convention, I believe it was in Canada, maybe in England. He had been on the mission field in China for a while, came back, and he was rather shocked by the low level of intensity of missionary zeal among the people that were attending this missionary conference. He told a true story from his own experience there in China. While traveling by boat, one day Taylor entered into conversation with a Chinese man who had once visited England, and while he lived there, he went by the name of Peter. Hudson Taylor shared the Gospel thoroughly with this man, the man was moved, he was interested, but he didn't make a commitment to Christ, he couldn't do that at that point. Later on, that same boat trip, in a mood of great depression, this Chinese man jumped overboard and sank. In agonize suspense Hudson Taylor looked around for assistance and saw really close by some Chinese fishermen with a dragnet furnace with some hooks, "Come." He shouted to those fishermen. "Drag over this spot, a man just sunk here, he's drowning right now." Chinese fishermen answer with no emotion at all, "It's not convenient." "Don't talk of convenience, a man is drowning." "We're busy fishing, we cannot come,” they responded. Taylor begged them and offered to pay them for their time. They asked, "How much?" He offered them an equivalent amount of about $5. They said it wasn't enough and kept fishing. He cried out one more time. He said, "I'll give you everything I have." "How much is that?" "About $14." They agreed to come. Within a minute or so, they were able to get the individual up out of the water, but he was already dead. To Hudson Taylor, the incident was profoundly sad and pathetic, almost as a parable. He said those fishermen were in some way guilty of the death of that man because they had the means to save him but didn't do anything about it. But he said to this missionary convention, “Before you start judging those Chinese fishermen, let's pause, let someone greater than Nathan stand in front of us and point the finger at us and say, 'You are the man, you've had the resources to save people and you haven't done it because it wasn't convenient.'" I don't know if it's ever going to be convenient to witness. The Lord is glorified when we are courageous, the Lord is glorified when we love, but this doctrine of hell is part of God's motivation to missionaries and evangelists, to teach us to be faithful to share the gospel. Let's be bold. Let's see things from an eternal perspective. It's not going to be long, friends. We'll be standing before Jesus, and He will welcome us into his presence. Meanwhile, there are around us people who are enroute to hell who can be rescued by the gospel if we share with them.