The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His Kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:41-42 (NASB)
In college, I studied Dante’s Inferno for a semester. He pictures hell as nine circles in a kind of a whirlwind leading to a center where Satan is entombed in ice The outer three rings are reserved for “minor” sinners, and more “severe” ones get progressively drawn in where it’s darker and more tormented as they are deemed more evil. While it’s a beautiful and fascinating poem, it’s Biblically incorrect. The Bible describes hell as a furnace or lake of eternal fire, damnation and torment. It’s not a pretty picture at all.
Many years ago, pastors used to regularly preach hellfire and brimstone. We had a pastor who would get so red in the face that I often feared he would have a heart attack if he didn’t calm down. When my daughter Kara was four years old, she went running down the aisle of the church after one such sermon screaming, “Please Sir, please give me Jesus! I don’t want to go to hell!” at the top of her lungs.
I honestly think that was the wisest moment of Kara’s life. Even at four, she knew she didn’t want hell as her final destination, and she knew that the Way of escape was Jesus! She got it. Isaiah says, “And a little child shall lead them.” That verse is talking about Jesus. But that day, there were many in the congregation who heard Kara’s voice, and followed her right down that aisle to salvation.
Preachers don’t talk much about hell these days. And when they do, they tend to apologize for it. It’s politically incorrect. I’m told that 70% of Baptists don’t even believe in a literal hell anymore. Why? Maybe because they never had a preacher like ours, so they never heard it! It’s much easier to talk about a god of love and mercy and forgiveness. And our God is all of those things. But He’s also a God of justice. If someone raped your sister, or murdered your brother, would you want to see them get off scot free? Of course not! Justice demands a penalty.
That’s the beauty of our God. He is a God of justice and a God of mercy. He created hell for the devil and his angels. When man sinned, his own sin doomed him to follow Satan there. But God also provided a Way of escape for man from the torment of Hell. Jesus. Jesus paid the penalty for us. Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t it just thrill you right down to your toes? It should.
But maybe we say, “But I’m not a rapist or a murderer. My sin isn’t nearly that bad. Why should I have to go to hell?” In God’s eyes, sin is sin. His demand is perfection. And we’re not perfect. No one is. No one except Jesus, that is. It’s only because He was able to come, live an absolutely perfect life, and die as the payment for our sin debt, that we can have life, It’s a free gift. All we have to do is take it. But there is a string attached. He won’t be our Savior unless we also allow Him to be our Lord. We have to surrender that old filthy life, and let Him exchange it for an abundant life of joy, peace and love. His Way is the best Way. It’s the only Way that leads to Life. It’s the only Way to escape the fires of hell and damnation. Christians need to go back to that old way of speaking the truth. It is Not hate speech. It’s love. If you saw a small child playing with a lighter, would it be hate to take it away from them? Of course not! Because we love others, we want to rescue them. People nowadays are playing with fire. Hell’s fire.