WOULD A LOVING GOD
Terra Bella Presbyterian Church March 4, 2012
2 Peter 3:8-15 2 Pet. 2:4 Gen. 1:1, 26, 27 Isa. 1:17 Ezekiel 18:21-23 Ps 103
Would a loving God create a Heaven AND a Hell? I suppose I could make this a really short sermon and simply say, “No, He wouldn’t, but we would.” End of sermon.
Seriously, though, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that, when some-one asks that question, there’s still another shoe that hasn’t dropped. It’s their reason for asking. Either they want to put God in a box, or they have some major issues with accountability.
Anyone who has read even a few of the books in the Bible must surely realize that God doesn’t share his authority. He can do anything He wants. Remember? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image; in our likeness . .” (1:26) and “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (1:27) In the account of all God created, it never mentions Him creating Hell. So where did it come from?
In Matthew 10:28, we read, “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.”
And in 2 Peter 2:4 it says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell . . . if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment . . . .”
In both Old and New Testaments, it seems that Hell’s existence is taken for granted. So let me stretch this just a bit. If God didn’t create it, but it does exist, could it be that Satan – or even we ourselves – have created it?
Around 450 AD, St. Augustine – the Bishop of Hippo – wrote this about Hell.
It is, “That condition of dreadful torment; to depart from the Kingdom of God; to be an exile from the City of God; to be alienated from the life of God; to be deprived, with so great a multitude, of the delightful fellowship of God.” (112f.)
The first inhabitants of “the Abyss” or “Hell” we are told were Satan and the angels that fell with him. This is the consequence of their rejection of God. So why would it not follow that, by our own rejection of God, we too could dwell there as well? It is a consequence – a judgment by God who did not desire it.
If someone says they believe in God, but they don’t believe in a Judgment, then they don’t believe in God. They may believe in “a god” but not in “God”. Their belief is restricted by their un-belief. They want God on their terms or not at all. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Our own souls tell us there is right and there is wrong. We know this because there is a reflection of God within us. We each share a part of that reflection, and one day God will make the parts whole.
There’s the story of a preacher who was preaching to a crowded church. The preacher was wound up to a fever pitch speaking on the 2nd coming of Jesus. Quoting Jesus’ promise, he shouted out, “I am coming soon!’” He preached some more and said even louder, “I am coming soon!!” He preached a little longer and threw his arms up in the air and cried out, “I am coming soon!” At this point, he lost his balance and tumbled off the stage into the lap of a gentleman in the 1st row. The preacher got up and apologized to the man, but the man replied: “Oh, that’s ok, you warned me three times.”
Jesus IS COMING soon. For each of us individually, it could be at any time – at the moment we die, we will be face-to-face with our Creator, and we will be held accountable before His terrifying holiness.
Back in May of 1969 a national magazine told the story of Port Royal, Jamaica. It said, “No disaster quite matches the one that struck Port Royal, Jamaica, at 11:43 a.m., on June 7, 1692. In the space of less than 10 minutes, the thriving pirate port, reputedly the wickedest city on earth, sank convulsively into the Caribbean.’
“An eyewitness described the scene: ‘The earth heaved and swelled like the rolling billows, and in many places the earth cracked open - opened and shut – with a motion quick and fast. In some cases, people were swallowed up; in others, they were caught by the middle, and pressed to death. The whole was attended with the noise of falling mountains at a distance, while the sky was turned dull and reddish, like a glowing oven.’”
Upward of 2000 people perished in the chaos. Even today, many Jamaicans believe that Port Royal’s destruction was the price exacted by an angry God for its sins.
Today we read in 2 Peter 3:10 which says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” The image of Port Royal’s destruction seems to pale in comparison with Peter’s description of the day of the Lord. God’s judgment is imminent and inevitable. With this in mind, there are a few things that we need to think about in order to understand God’s judgment.
1st - People who desire to live without God’s standards will always find a way to ignore God. For those people, however, the unfortunate consequence of ignoring God is that they cannot avoid God.
In the 5th century AD, St. Augustine wrote about the “4 States of Man”:
• The first state of man (the haec sunt prima) is “living according to the flesh – with reason making no resistance.” This can be seen in so many ancient cultures and religions (and unfortunately more than a few in our own time) with their human sacrifices, their idols, their pagan ceremonies, and even cannibalism. Human life – without power – was lightly regarded. Animals, especially domesticated animals, were often valued more highly than human life. Reason often vanishes when weighed against lust and self-gratification. Even today, this seems to be coming full circle.
• The second state of man is “recognition of sin through the Law . . . but sinning knowingly.” It was so important for Satan to remove the Ten Commandments from our classrooms and courtrooms. It was critical for him to “separate church and state.” So long as people knew the Law, it would not be so easy to ignore the Law. Without the reminders of the Law, we easily return to the first state of man. Does any of this sound familiar?
• The third state of man is “faith in the help of God – but he perseveres in seeking to please God.” Man has begun to be moved by the Spirit of God. We are already standing with one foot in the hell which we have created, but in the “third state”, man knows it. So he still struggles against his own sinful nature because he has not yet been fully healed.
• The fourth state of man is “the full and perfect peace in God.” This we find in harmony with Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the person of Jesus Christ, we see how far we have departed from God.
Augustine adds, “The will of man is always free, even and particularly when it can no longer will to do evil.” But Adam and Eve were not gods, “and their ‘free will’ would not have sufficed, even in paradise, to merit immortality. Divine assistance was needed. Their immortality could only continue by their continued relationship with the Divine. So how much more do we need God’s help since our fall?”
Augustine continues, “Even the good merits and qualities which people may display toward one another are gifts from God. Every good quality comes from His grace. God’s mercy is the ground of salvation. Therefore, let no man boast. Out of faith spring hope and love. We hope only in God – not in men and not in ourselves.” (“The History of Doctrines”, Reinhold Seeberg, p. 366)
2nd …Those people who ignore the potential of God’s judgment do so at their own peril. (vs. 5-7). God has a reputation for judgment. In any conversation, let someone bring up... Noah’s Flood – Sodom & Gomorrah – the 10 plagues of God upon Egypt – just to mention a few. Believe it. God has a reputation for judgment.
The 3rd thing we need to understand about judgment is that God takes no pleasure in it. Ezekiel 18:21-23 God says: "… if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. . . . Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
We can understand that intellectually - up to a point. But there does come a point at which we’re not sure certain people ought to have the chance to repent. People who’ve done things – so evil, so foul, so unspeakable… we just know there’s a special place in hell just for them. We would not be nearly as merciful to them as God would. And yet, if God weren’t willing to be merciful to them, His promises would be empty. For instance,
HOW COULD GOD SAY: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool . . .” … all except your sins. Or,
HOW COULD WE BELIEVE: Psalm 103 which says, “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger for ever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” – and that will be true for everybody… except you…
If God were not able and willing to be merciful to the worst of sinners, how could we be sure He would show mercy even to us? But God didn’t want us to wonder about such things, and so in the Old Testament, He prepared us by showing us His mercy:
1. To a back stabbing brother named Jacob
2. To a prostitute named Rahab
3. To an adulterer and murderer named David
4. To a vile and evil ruler named Manasseh
God showed mercy to those whom the world would have rejected. He showed mercy because they turned from their sins and sought God.
Paul wrote in I Cor. 6: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Lastly: Be assured - God’s judgment is coming.
Dorothy Sayers wrote, “If men will not understand the meaning of judgment, they will never come to understand the meaning of grace.” Grace is God’s mercy on those about to be judged – those who believe His Word and seek His mercy. It is His love which redeems us from our own Hell.
One day, an ambitious university student was talking with a wise older uncle. "Joe," the uncle asked, "tell me what you plan to do after you graduate."
"Oh, I guess I’ll start my career," said Joe.
"That sounds prudent," said the uncle. "What then?"
"I guess," said Joe, "I’ll get married and have a family."
"That’s wonderful," said the uncle. "What then?"
"Well," replied Joe, "I guess I’ll make my fortune."
"Good for you," said the uncle. "What then?"
"Then," said Joe, "I’ll buy a country home, retire, and then one day, I’ll die."
"That sounds well considered," said the uncle. "But what then?"
If you have not surrendered your heart and your life to Jesus Christ, then the question, “What then?” may well be worrying you now. But that worry need not continue if you will surrender yourself to God this day and seek a new and vital life in relationship with Jesus Christ. He loves you so much that with His blood, He has provided you a way to Heaven. To accept His invitation,
Please join with me in prayer:
Heavenly Father, I am a sinner in need of salvation. Without Your grace, I am lost. Please come into my heart today, here and now; forgive me my trespasses and create in me a new heart by the overcoming power of your Holy Spirit and for the glory of Jesus Christ whom I confess as my Lord and my Savior. Amen.
Benediction: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; may He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”