Summary: What lies beyond death's door? The Bible describes three realms: Hades, Hell and Heaven. The second in this three-part sermon series, this sermon explores what the Bible really says about Hell and final punishment.
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 5/24/15
Have you heard about the farmer from Illinois who died and went to Hell? The Devil really wanted to punish him, so he put him to work breaking up rocks with a sledgehammer. To make it worse he cranked up the temperature and the humidity. After a couple of days the Devil checked in on the man to see if he was suffering adequately, but he found the farmer was swinging his hammer and whistling a happy tune.
The Devil said, “I don’t understand this. I’ve turned the heat way up, it’s humid, you’re crushing rocks and sweating. Why are you so happy?” The man smiled, looked at the Devil and said, “Oh, this just reminds me of the hot humid August days back in Illinois. It’s just like home.”
The Devil decided to change things a bit. He dropped the temperature, sent down driving rain and torrential wind. Soon, Hell was a wet, muddy mess. But the farmer was happily slogging through the mud pushing a wheelbarrow full of crushed rocks. When the Devil questioned him, the man replied, “This is great. Just like April back in Illinois. It reminds me of working out in the fields doing the spring planting!”
The Devil was completely baffled. In desperation, he tried one last ditch effort. He made the temperature plummet. Hell was blanketed in snow and ice. But when he checked in on the famer, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The man was dancing, singing, and twirling his sledgehammer in glee. “How can you be so happy?” the Devil shouted, “Don’t you realize its 40 below zero!?” The man replied, “I told you, I’m from Illinois and Hell is frozen over! Don’t you know what that means!? The Cubs won the pennant!”
That story may not be very theologically sound, but I wanted to open with something lighthearted this morning because the rest of my sermon will be just the opposite. Last Sunday I began a short series entitled Afterlife, in which we are peering through the peepholes of Scripture into the hereafter. What we discover are three different places—or realms—that lie beyond death’s door. The first is Hades, which we discussed last Sunday. The last is Heaven, which we’ll talk about next week.
Today I’m going to talk about Hell.
The very mention of the word Hell conjures up images of pitchfork-toting demons delighting in the torture of condemned souls who writhe in the licking flames of some fire-lit volcanic cavern. It’s a grisly caricature. But the reality is still sobering.
I agree with the words of Francis Chan in his book, Erasing Hell: “As we roll up our sleeves and dig into the topic of hell, it’s important that you don’t distance what the Bible says from reality. In other words, don’t forget that the doctrine you are studying may be the destiny of many people. Hell should not be studied without tearful prayer. We must weep, pray, and fast over this issue, begging God to reveal to us through His Word the truth about hell.” I want to urge you embrace this attitude as we explore Hell.
The word hell appears in the Bible only 12 times. 11 of those 12 times all come from the lips of Jesus (the twelfth comes from Jesus’ little brother, James). What’s especially interesting is that Jesus only uses the word hell when speaking to a Jewish audience and only when he’s in or around Jerusalem. There’s a reason for that.
The word translated hell is gehenna, which literally means “The Valley of Hinnom,” and refers to an actual, physical valley on the south side of Jerusalem. This steep gorge was once used to burn children in sacrifice to the Ammonite god Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Jeremiah denounced such practices by saying that Hinnom Valley would become the valley of God's judgment, a place of slaughter (Jer. 7:32; 19:5-7). As the years passed, a sense of foreboding hung over the valley. Gehenna was a place so despised and cursed by God’s people that they turned it into the city dump where feces, refuse, and the dead bodies of criminals were devoured by maggots, while flames were kept burning 24/7. So when Jesus spoke of Hell, he was using this actual literal valley as an object lesson—a metaphor for final judgment.
Most of Jesus’ references to Hell are only passing and don’t offer any details about what happens there. One exception stands out, however: “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” (Matthew 10:24 NIV). I believe this verse should be the chief cornerstone in constructing our views about Hell.