Don’t Perish the Thought 05/10/2009
ORIENTATION: Our current series is called “3:16.” We are taking an in-depth look at John 3:16 and discovering all the power, hope, and the love that this verse contains. Our verse starts with God and what does it tell us? It tells us that He loves and because He loves He took action. He gave His Son to die for us.
But then there is a very strategic turn in the Scripture. It goes from two things we need to know about God to two things we need to do. The first thing we need to do is believe. Believe what? Believe in Him. The second thing we do is receive. Receive what? Eternal life “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In between believing and receiving is the word “perish.”
IDENTIFICATION: Perish speaks to us of one of the most somber of Christian realities: hell. No topic stirs greater resistance. Who wants to think about eternal punishment? But we cannot perish the thought: hell is a reality. And by keeping it on the forefront of our minds it will cause us to pray harder, reach out more, and have greater compassion for those that are outside the faith.
People make light of the issue, making jokes about it or turning the noun into a flippant adjective. “That was a hell of a fight.” We don’t do the same with lesser tragedies. You never hear “This traffic is pure cancer.” Or “That was an aids of a game.” We have turned it into a curse word when it is actually a cursed place. In the grand scheme of thing the devil would like nothing better than to have the reality of hell minimized.
Some prefer to blow off the subject, dismissing it as a moral impossibility.
Atheist Bertrand Russell said, “I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”2 Or, as is more commonly believed, “A loving God would not send people to hell.”
Such an opinion is easy to understand. Any person who discusses hell in a jokingly or carefree manner has failed to seriously meditate on it. Scripture describes it as the “blackest darkness” (Jude 13), a place of “everlasting destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9) where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). We cannot allow the idea of hell perish from our thoughts.
A glimpse into the pit won’t brighten your day, but it will balance your understanding of Jesus. He didn’t avoid the discussion. In fact, he spoke of hell often. Thirteen percent of his teachings refer to eternal judgment and hell.3 Two-thirds of his parables relate to resurrection and judgment.4 Jesus wasn’t cruel or careless with this subject, but he was blunt. He was clear about the tragedy of hell.
GOD: Let’s look some of the words of Jesus on this subject. The rich man pleads for Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24). Words such as finger and tongue speaks of a physical state in which a throat longs for water and a person begs for relief—physical relief.
Exactly where is hell? Jesus gives us a clue: “outside.” “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness” (Matt. 22:13). Outside of what? Outside of the boundaries of heaven, for one thing. (Read Luke 16:25-26.)
Abraham, in paradise, told the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26). There is no interstate between heaven and hell. No hell-to-heaven toll road. Hell is to heaven what the edge of our universe is to earth: outside the range of a commute.
Jesus describes the length of heaven and hell with the same adjective: eternal. “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Hell lasts as long as heaven. A lot perishes in hell. Hope perishes. Happiness perishes. But the body and soul of those that deny Jesus continue outside; outside of heaven, outside of hope, and outside of any possibility of change.
The apostles said that the betrayer of Christ, Judas Iscariot, “might go to his own place." (Acts 1:25 nkj). The Greek word for place is topos, which means geographical location.5 Hell, like heaven, is a location, not a state of mind, or a dimension of floating spirits, but an actual place with actual physical beings.
Hell is reserved, not for those who seek God yet struggle, but for those who defy God and rebel. For those who say about Jesus, “We don’t want this man to be our king” (Luke 19:14). God, because He is just must honor their preference. “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezek. 33:11).
God is a just and holy God and He must exclude evil from his new universe. God, eternally gracious, never forces his will. C. S. Lewis wrote, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”9 How could a loving God send sinners to hell? He doesn’t. They volunteer.
INSPIRATION: The best news about hell is that Jesus went there so you won’t have to. He died so we can have life. “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) Where hell is horrible, heaven is wonderful.
God will “wipe away every tear . . . there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Heaven is a perfect place of perfected people with our perfect Lord. And this is the invitation he gives: “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3 nlt).
APPLICATION: This earth can be the nearest you come to hell. But apart from Christ, this earth is the nearest you’ll come to heaven. Facing death with fear or faith, dread or joy, what is it going to be? “Whoever believes in him shall not perish . . .” God makes the offer. We make the choice.