Summary: What eternal punishment will be like for those not going to heaven.
“Headed in the Other Direction?”
Text: Luke 16:19-31
As Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea, we notice there is no in-between for Christians – we are either cold or hot. We’re either Christians or we’re not. We’re either saved or we’re lost. We’re either faithful or unfaithful. We’re either headed for heaven as we studied two Sundays ago or we’re on our way to hell. It’s interesting how some of us are motivated by the positive. We listen to what heaven is going to be like and we want to go there. However, some of us are negatively motivated. One close-up view of a jail cell when I was a teenager has motivated me all these years to obey the law. We need to hear about the horrors of hell and those, in turn, should motivate us to do all within our power to avoid it. So this morning’s sermon is addressed to any and all who are not headed for heaven. It’s entitled: “Headed in the Other Direction?” For the next few minutes, I want us to talk about the alternative to heaven and what it is like. Hopefully, it will make you resolve to make it to heaven. And, if you are indeed headed toward the other eternal destination, we pray you will take the necessary steps this morning to change your direction. As always, we want you to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and search your Bibles daily to make sure I’ve preached the truth from God’s word.
Some of our concepts of heaven and hell are taken from this story Jesus told – yet neither one of these words is mentioned here. Since Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom when he died, we assume this is heaven. Actually, he is in the intermediate state of the dead – the Hadean world – Sheol in the Old Testament. In fact, two different places await the dead in Hades. The first is Paradise – the waiting place of the righteous. It was the temporary abode of Jesus between His death and His resurrection – a reward given by our Savior upon the cross to one of the thieves – Luke 23:43. Yet Peter cited Psalm 16 in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost and then made this statement about the resurrection of Christ in Acts 2:31 – “that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” The other compartment of the Hadean world became the abode of the rich man in Luke 16:23 – he was in torments in Hades. The correct term for this place in Greek mythology as well as scripture was Tartarus. Turn with me to 2 Peter 2:4 and let’s read this verse together: For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (Greek: tar-tar-oh´-oh) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; This passage clearly states that angels who sinned were cast down to Tartarus to await the judgment. As we can see, the translators into English chose to call Tartarus “hell” in this verse – its only appearance in scripture. However, if you are using the NKJV, you will find the word “hell” twelve more times in the New Testament – backed by an entirely different Greek word which we’ll look at in just a moment. Do you remember two weeks ago how we talked about heaven being described with valuables our finite minds can understand like gold and jewels? And yet these materials cannot possibly do justice to the eternal home of our Creator. Similarly, the intermediate abode of the lost as well as their eternal home must be described with words our finite minds understand. And, yet, they can’t possibly capture the reality of this place of punishment. The rich man was being tormented by fire and yet, in this last verse, it was described as a place of darkness. Most of us as parents have had to teach our children not to be afraid of the dark when they go to bed. Total darkness on the other hand is to be feared. It worked well as the ninth plague on the land of Egypt – a darkness that could be felt. Anyone who has taken a tour into a cave where they turn out the lights so you can experience total darkness is thankful to see light again. Notice how this darkness is further described in Matthew 8:12 after Jesus had healed the centurion’s servant: “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus uses this phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” three more times – all in Matthew’s gospel – to describe a place for the wicked. Now consider the rich man once again in Luke 16. Do you think he could possibly carry on a rational conversation in an eternal fire? I say that to remind us that this is told like a parable and we must be careful not to view this as what Paradise and Tartarus are exactly like. Earlier we looked at a verse that talked about Tartarus as hell – 2 Peter 2:4. And then I remarked that the word hell appears 12 more times in the New Testament in the NKJV. With one exception, only Jesus uses this Greek word translated hell. The exception is by His half-brother in James 3:6 where he writes about the tongue being set on fire by hell. But the Greek word behind “hell” here and in the eleven other uses by Jesus is gayenna or, as we have transliterated it into a proper noun “Gehenna”. Let’s look at four or five uses by Jesus of this word and then we’ll talk about its meaning. First of all, turn with me to Matthew 5:29 – an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount – “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (gayenna).” Jesus uses the word again in the next verse as He switches from the eye to the hand for illustration.