Sermon - Heaven and Hell Highlights
** Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zR6ddNV3jkA
Thomas Huxley, a nineteenth century anthropologist and agnostic, was rushing to catch a train in Dublin. He climbed aboard a horse drawn carriage and said, “Hurry, I’m almost late ... drive fast.” The driver set off at a furious pace and Huxley sat back and closed his eyes. After a while Huxley opened his eyes and glanced out the window to notice that they were going in the wrong direction. Realizing he hadn’t told the driver where to take him he said, “Do you know where you’re going?” The driver replied “No your honor, but I am driving very fast.”
Unfortunately, this is the reality we are living in. Life today is lived at a fast pace, and is full of activities, but it is a life lived without direction. And whether people know it or not, everyone is headed somewhere in the end. And that end is either heaven or hell, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
Back in 2003, Barna Research Group said, “8 out of 10 Americans believe in an afterlife of some sort.”
In another survey over a decade ago they found that most Americans believe in life after death, and in a heaven and a hell, but not everyone was clear on their ultimate destination.
And so with little if any thought about their eternal destiny, people live life to its fullest without thinking about where they’re ultimately headed, that is, until it’s too late.
Seeing that death is the inevitable end of this life, and there is an afterlife, shouldn’t that be one of the things, if not the major thing, we should be certain about?
The Bible says that it has been appointed by God that each person die only once, and then they are to face His judgment (Hebrews 9:27). There are no do overs. It’s one and done, not one and then another one.
What God is saying is that we only have one shot at this life, so we better get it right. The only problem is that everyone is making up their own definitions of not only what heaven and hell are like, but also what it takes to get to either one.
They think it’s about what a person does, whether they are good or bad, or what religion or church they belong to that determine one’s fate. Literally, what they are doing is becoming judge and jury as to those who are worthy, which they believe they are, and those who are not worthy, which is never themselves, but always someone else.
But ultimately, it is the Lord’s judgment we will face. So, what does God say?
The Bible says there is no one who is righteous enough and does not sin (Romans 3:10), and that the wages of sin is death (Roman 6:23a). But God doesn’t leave us in limbo to try to make it to heaven on our own. Instead He goes on to give us a way out saying, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).
And because eternal life in heaven is a gift, it cannot be earned or worked for; it only comes through faith in Jesus Christ and in God’s wondrous grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Therefore, God’s grace through our faith is the determining factor, that’s what determines our ultimate fate.
In the Bible there is no doubt about the reality of heaven and hell and what it takes to get to either one. For those who believe in Jesus Christ and the death He died upon the cross for the forgiveness of sin, heaven is their final destination when this life is over. But the opposite is just as true. For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, and who do not get their lives right with God by being reconciled to Him through their faith in Jesus Christ, hell is their destiny and final destination, and it doesn’t matter whether they believe in it or not!
D.L. Moody, evangelist and pastor, said of heaven, “We talk about heaven being so far away. It is within speaking distance to those who belong there. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people.”
And of the existence of hell and of our need to talk about it, Billy Graham said, “If there was more hell in the pulpit, there would be less hell in the pews.”
For our teaching on heaven and hell, I’d like to look at some highlights for each, that is, if we can call any life in hell a highlight. Now, there are a lot more of these than what I am going to share, but these should explain the whole of what it will be like to live in either one of them for all eternity.
The Highlights of Hell
While there’s no lack of teachings and books about heaven, hell is hardly ever mentioned or written about. Sermons on heaven are five to one over those concerning the reality of hell, and while there are plenty of books talking about heaven, only a few cover the topic of hell.
But when we neglect this vital doctrine we’re actually doing irreparable harm and damage in understanding God’s love and grace. In other words, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, we also have to preach the hard truth of God’s justice, holiness, righteousness, and yes, hell.
The doctrine on the reality of Hell is one of the most neglected teachings in the church today, and one of the reasons is because whenever hell is mentioned it is generally ridiculed as old-fashioned, and that only the religious or naïve would ever believe that such a place exists.
But what I have found especially sad is that the church is not only ignoring the teaching about hell, but also attacking its reality. Bruce Shelley, a senior professor of church history at the Denver Theological Seminary, said, “It’s just too negative…Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented.”
Martin Marty, professor emeritus of religion and culture at the University of Chicago Divinity School, said, “Once pop evangelism went into market analysis, hell was just dropped.”
All of this is because of an overall shift that is happening in the twenty-first century church away from talking about life after death and the reality of heaven and hell to where it’s now about how to live a better life today.
Now, while there is a whole lot that can be said about this doctrine, I have chosen just three of it’s major highlights as outlined in God’s word, which should explain for horror of hell, and what it will be like to live there.
1. A Place of Endless Torments
Hell is filled with unimaginable terror.
In His parable of the Talents, Jesus said, “And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30 NKJV)
Hell is a real place, and one of constant pain and anguish.
In His parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, Jesus said that the rich man was in “torments” in Hell (Luke 16:23). Notice Jesus used the plural of the word. So great was the rich man’s pain and anguish that he cried out, “I am tormented in this flame.” (Luke 16:24b NKJV)
The Bible describes hell as a place of outer darkness (Matthew 22:13), blackest darkness (Jude 1:13), a lake of fire (Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; Revelation 20:24-25), a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28; Matthew 8:12; 13:42), a place of eternal separation from the blessings of God (Matthew 25:46), a prison (2 Peter 3:19), a place of torment where the worm doesn’t die (Mark 9:48).
Now some say that hell is merely symbolic, but that should bring little if any comfort to those who think that way. R.C. Sproul, pastor, theologian, and author, said this about symbols and symbolic language when referring to hell.
“If these images are indeed symbols, then we must conclude that the reality is worse than the symbol suggests. … That Jesus used the most awful symbols imaginable to describe hell is no comfort to those who see them simply as symbols.”
With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that hell is one scary place. And so, hell is a place of unimaginable eternal torments.
2. A Place of Unquenchable Fire
Hell will be a place of constant burning throughout all eternity. Speaking of the fiery horror of hell, as a comparison only, Jesus said it would be better to go through this life maimed than to go into the fires of hell. That is how horrific hell is going to be.
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” (Mark 9:43 NIV)
The Greek word for hell that Jesus uses is “gehenna,” which is where we get this idea of a continual burning. The Valley of Gehenna sat outside the city of Jerusalem, and was where all the trash along with the bodies of dead animals was thrown. To consume it all, fires would continually burn, and maggots would also do their work as well.
Jesus used this awful scene in describing hell. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “Hey, you want to know what hell is going to be like, look at the Valley of Gehenna, that will give you some idea.” In a way, hell may be described as God’s garbage dump, that is, all that is unfit for heaven will be thrown into the fires of hell.
Yet, with all this fire, what is interesting about hell is that it is also a place of complete darkness, and it is a darkness that can be felt. Jude describes it as blackest darkness (Jude 1:13).
This idea, or better yet, reality, of darkness being felt is seen in ninth plague of God upon the Egyptians.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.’” (Exodus 10:21 NKJV)
Imagine, not only will a person be feeling the burning searing heat of the flames, but they are also feeling the darkness that surrounds them, and both of these are for an eternity.
3. A Place of Eternal Separation
First, is the word, “eternal.” This is one of the most terrifying aspects about hell, and that is it’s forever.
“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14-15 NIV)
Literally, there is no getting out of hell once you’re there. There is no purgatory, no reincarnation, no chance of relief, no exit signs, and no way out. It is eternal.
The second word to pay attention to is the word, “separation.” Hell us going to be a place where people are forever separated from the presence of God.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV)
This may actually be the worst torment of them all, eternal separation from God. Hell won’t be a place where a person will go hang with friends having a good old time; rather it will be a place where a person’s only companion will be their memory of rejecting Jesus Christ, and His sacrifice that could have saved them if they only believed.
One Last Thought
Before we move on to the highlights of heaven, let me share with you a thought.
Jesus taught more on hell than He taught on heaven. And while we can point to the seriousness of the doctrine, I think it was because of God’s mercy, wishing none to perish, but all to enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 3:16).
God takes no pleasure in people going to hell. But, it’s a person’s choice. Instead God would much rather have them choose life by turning from their wickedness and live.
“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD . Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” (Ezekiel 18:23 NLT)
Someone said, “It’s time to wake up and smell the brimstone.”
The Highlights of Heaven
This world is not our home. Instead, heaven is our true home. Heaven is the place where every human heart longs to be, and it is the desire of every believer in Jesus Christ, and that’s because it is going to be a place of indescribable joy, which means that while I’d love to share with you what such joy is going to feel like, I can’t, because it’s indescribable.
And while there are many additional highlights than what I am going to share with you, these are what I consider the top vote getters.
1. A New Body
“While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4 NLT)
In heaven, once the rapture takes place, a believer’s body will be changed, as Paul says, in a moment, or in the time it takes to blink. And in that moment of time all believers in Jesus Christ will be given these brand new heavenly bodies. How great is that?
I think we call can say that living in these earthly bodies is no fun. They get tired, feel pain, get sick, and move slower with age and sag. Our eyes dim, our ears dull, and our hair and teeth start falling out.
And this is what has given rise to the cosmetic industry, and where we’re willing to spend small fortunes to reverse this process, spending billions of dollars to cover up, make up, and lift up.
Therefore, the first of heaven’s highlights is that we get a whole brand new body for free, a body without defect or flaw, and that will not age.
2. A Custom Built Home
Maybe you’ve noticed that over the years, like our bodies, our homes start wearing out as well. They develop flaws and defects as the foundation starts to settle. Toilets stop up, bathtubs don’t drain, the electric goes haywire, the carpet needs constant cleaning and the tables need to be continually dusted.
But when we get to heaven we’re going to get a brand new, never lived in home that won’t wear out or wear down.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2 NKJV)
By saying that He is going to prepare a place for us means is that Jesus is coming again and will bring us to where He’s living, that is heaven in a brand new body and in a brand new custom built home. A home built to last, just like our new bodies that are built to last as well.
3. A Perfect Place to Live
One look at the world around and we can see that the world is far from perfect. Mostly, living in this world in a downer, and to verify this reality all we need to do is read and look at the news. It is nothing less than depressing.
But heaven will be perfect and great. There is going to be a multicolored crystal clear wall surrounding heavenly Jerusalem, with twelve gates each being a massive pearl. The streets will be of such pure gold that they’ll be transparent. A river of the purest water will run out from God’s throne. There will also be no need for the sun to shine by day, or the moon by night, because Jesus will be the light and will completely illuminate everything, which means that darkness and night are gone forever.
But even more, it is a perfect place because it is a land of no-mores.
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 NKJV)
Living in a world where broken homes, lives, hearts, and bodies are a part of our existence, this, if nothing else, should inspire us to want to live in heaven for all eternity. It is a place where there is no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. But this isn’t all; it is also a place where there are no more hunger or thirst, or 100 plus degree temperatures.
“They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat” (Revelation 7:16 NKJV)
And as great as all this is, it isn’t the greatest “no-more.” There’s one more, ‘no more,’ that outdoes them all.
“And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.” (Revelation 22:3 NKJV)
In heaven the curse of sin is gone for good. The curse that separated us from God has been forever abolished. And because of that, the greatest heavenly highlight is ours.
4. We’re Going to See God
Like John in his Revelation vision, we’ll be blown away by what we’re going to see, because we’re going to see God in the fullness of His glory.
“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:2-3 NKJV)
The Apostle John, in his limited language and understanding, is trying to describe for our limited minds an unlimited God whose beauty is beyond words. But when we get to heaven such limitations will be lifted and for all eternity we’ll behold all the various aspects of God, and His beauty will blow us away for all eternity.
And so, as we’ve looked at the highlights of both heaven and hell, and by the way, there are plenty more than what I’ve listed, the question becomes, how can we escape hell and make it into heaven?
The answer is simple. It is by having faith in Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NKJV)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NKJV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
And so, the answer as to how we can escape hell and make it into heaven is Jesus Christ, and having faith in what He did upon the cross, as He took our place and died the death we all deserve, that whoever believes in Him will not perish forever in hell, but will have eternal life in heaven.
Or as Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV)