The Lighthouse Keeper

Greetings from Pastor Kerry, former pastor of Spring City UMC. This blog contains my sermon outlines and/or manuscripts from my pastorate among the people of Spring City PA, from 2006 to 2011. Pastor Dennis is now the lighthouse keeper. Come and worship on Sundays at 10:00 a.m.!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ask A Pastor: Who Goes There? Questions About Hell.

August 26, 2007

from Luke 16:19-31 and Matthew 8:5-13

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." – Romans 10:9

My sermon outline:

• Last week on death. It happens to everyone; there is bodily conscious life beyond death; there are spiritual powers in the world that are not to be trifled with; Christ has cancelled power of death. For those in Christ, life after death is glorious and in God’s presence.

And then there’s the questions on your bulletin cover today.

• I would love to simply turn to the KJV reading of 2 Peter 3:9 (God is not willing that any should perish; cf NIV et al, 'not wanting'), justifying that eternal punishment (conscious and bodily) is inconsistent with God’s abundant mercy, and that it is disproportionate to any crime we can commit (imagine being grounded for entire childhood because you lied, yet in many ways life as we know it is childlike compared to the life that is to come); however doing so somewhat takes away not only from God’s justice but from Jesus’ sacrifice.

Barna 2003: 76% of Americans believe heaven exists, 71% believe Hell exists. 39% describe hell as state of eternal separation, 32% it’s an actual place of torment and suffering.

There’s certainly enough talk of hell in the NT, that it’s difficult to deny. However, our 21st C understanding of hell may well be very different than Jesus’ 1st C use of the concept. Words do change. There was a time if you told your parents you had a gay time at the park they wouldn’t give you a queer look.

• Have you heard other terms for Hell? Hades, Gehenna, Sheol. Different concepts, somewhat merged.

• Sheol is the older concept, the OT/ancient Jewish concept. Uncertain meaning, shadowy, grave, pit. Neutral place of dead. Something between conscious and non-existent. Not a place of punishment, although the idea of despair (at not being in God’s presence) starts to kick in, and as history brings us closer to Jesus’ time, punishment starts to figure in a bit. What Dreams May Come, Annie is in a sheol-like existence, lost in her own despair When Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, he’s talking about Sheol, using the Greek word Hades, and we’re given a glimpse of a split afterlife: Lazarus in Bosom of Abraham, and rich man in fiery torment. It’s now that sheol/hades starts to merge with the more familiar image of hell, Gehenna.

• Gehenna was an actual place, bordering Jerusalem, and it was an unpleasant place. Today we might call certain sections of cities ghettoes, this would evoke similar images. Gehenna had in ancient times been a place where child sacrifices were made to pagan gods; naturally (or perhaps superstitiously) it didn’t morph into the high-rent district but turned into a garbage dump slash incinerator, where the fires always burned and the stench never ended. It is this word that is most often translated as hell in the NT, and just as Sheol/Hades changes meanings a few thousand years ago, Gehenna goes from geographical location to place of judgment and punishment.

Sidebar: Purgatory. Post-death place of purification, kinda grew out of concept of what if you are believer but die with unconfessed unrepented sins? You need cleansed before you can enter into God’s presence. There is scant scriptural support for this concept, plus it’s apocryphal. Sola scriptura, sola fide is enough for protestants.

• In the gospels, Jesus speaks the most about hell in Matthew (mostly Gehenna) and if you take a look at the contexts Jesus speaks about it, you find a few things: he is typically exhorting Pharisees, pointing out the differences between the spirit of God’s law and their heartless pretense. Jesus is speaking to religious leaders who should be humbled in the sight of the Lord but who have abandoned truth for power and position; it is such as these that fiery garbage pits are for. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus tells about the unfaithful, the ones who should have been examples of God’s mercy and love, being sent “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

There’s a difference between talking about being grounded for eternity for believing the wrong thing and telling stories designed to get you to change your ways and set you on the right path. Think of the bogeyman

• So there’s this muddied picture of hell, taking elements from the simple place of the dead plus the image of a burning garbage heap, plus judgment for religious leaders gone bad. Stewards. If you had two kids, and left one of them in charge of the laundry and asked the other one to help and you came home and the laundry wasn’t even started, who would you be more upset with? Jesus’ use of hell imagery was for the ones who were supposed to be in charge!
23 minutes in hell Bill Weise, went to hell, brought back by Jesus. “Some unusual things God is doing to help people awaken to the truth.”  Jesus is way, truth, life.

• Now. People of other religions? We may well be surprised at who is and who is not in heaven.
Matthew 8 centurion (outsider) sees the truth and power in Jesus and is edified/blessed, while Jesus says ‘twon’t be the case for all insiders even, for the stewards who have neglected their duty.
Psalm 71:14 I will always have hope
Revelation 20:12 the dead (sheol) will be judged by their deeds.
CS Lewis Chronicles, Last Battle. Hope.

• Bottom line, I trust there will be nothing to complain about. I trust that God’s sense of justice and mercy are far greater than mine, and that what God decides will be right.

• And cling to Romans 10:9: confess with lips JC=Lord and believe in heart that God raised him... follow Jesus, repent, believe.

• Hymn 562 Jesus, Lord, We Look To Thee

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 57 in worship. muggy.


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