“How Can A Grace-filled God Send People to Hell?”
The Case for Faith Series
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42
(quotes taken from the NKJV unless noted)
Wakelee Church ~ March 13, 2005
Theme: God sent His Son so that no one would have to be hell bound, but, as always, the choice is ours.
Introduction – A Meeting in a Hallway…
Illus. Back in college, I talked with a young woman about her faith. She believed in a gracious God, as did I. She believed that God didn’t want anyone to perish, so did I. She believed that God was so gracious and so bent on saving everyone that the whole hell thing was a myth. At that time I didn’t have the answers to give her. I wish I did.
There are some people who still believe that as long as they are mostly “good,” God’s grace will be enough. There are others who believe it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are, but that God won’t allow any punishment…therefore no need for hell. The Bible tells us differently.
I – What is Hell? Bottom line: Hell is a place far from God’s grace and no one should want to be there!
This is one point in this sermon series where I struggle with Strobel and the person Strobel
interviewed, J.P Moreland. In the book, Moreland attempts to create an analytical argument for a
softer, gentler version of hell.
As always, there will be some that will take the Bible more literally than others. As well as some who will take God’s Word more symbolically. Strobel and Moreland seem to fall in the symbolic camp. Instead of the place that Jesus describes, the book presents a hell as a place that is without God’s presence. All the descriptions of hell, they claim, are merely “representations” of how people will feel because they have missed out on God’s gracious offer.
I do have to say that Strobel and Moreland make the argument compelling. Deep in our heart of hearts, that part of God that lives in us, we don’t want to believe that God would allow anyone to go to a place of “hellfire” and “brimstone.” The struggle is that this is exactly what Jesus said it would be.
If you turn to your handout you’ll see just a few of the references Jesus makes. Jesus called this place “the eternal fire” and “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” In the story of rich man and his servant, the rich man cries in agony for a cup of cool water just because he “is in agony in this fire.”
And Paul used the same imagery when talking to the church at Thessalonica. He said that hell was the place of everlasting destruction, where people will be shut out from the Lord’s presence.
According to the Scriptures, hell sounds menacing enough for me. The bottom line in either theological argument remains the same however, “Hell is a place far from God’s grace and no one should want to be there, and if you end up being there, you would have wished that you hadn’t!”
Jesus said, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” – Matthew 25:41 (NIV)
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power…” – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NIV)
Jesus said, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out…And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” – Mark 9:43,47 (NIV)
Jesus said, “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’” – Luke 16:23-24 (NIV)
II. Each individual has a choice. It is a choice given by God, to God’s creation, so that they, by God’s grace, may choose to live eternally in God’s presence.
So, considering hell is the place that it is, the question still remains, "Does our gracious God actually send people there?"
A quick look at our Scripture lesson for today may lead us to say that it looks like it. When we start talking about casting people into the furnace of fire where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, it sounds pretty logical that it will be the Son of Man, Jesus Christ himself, doing the casting.
But we need to look at this scripture a little closer this morning. If you turn to your handout, you’ll note that I added some emphasis on one phrase. Do you see it?
“The Son of Man (Jesus Christ) will send out His angels, and they will gather together out of His kingdom all things that offend AND THOSE WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 13:41-2 (emphasis added)
Yes…Jesus will send out his angels.
Yes…they will gather together all things that offend.
But look who they are going to round up…THOSE WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.
The weeds, tares, or thistles (depending on your Biblical translation) are those who have already chosen to practice lawlessness. They have already turned away from God. They have already committed the unforgivable sin of blaspheming, or turning away from, the Holy Spirit. They have made their choice!
In fact, God is doing nothing but honoring their free-will decision.
Remember the quote we used a couple of weeks ago, “No human being consigns anybody to heaven
or hell. In fact, God himself doesn’t send anybody to heaven or hell; the person chooses to respond or reject the grace of God, although even that decision is enabled by his grace…”
God doesn’t send anyone to hell! – They are sent because of their actions…their choice.
III. If God is perfect and just to all, then God cannot be imperfect or partial with anyone.
And, according to God’s promises, that’s all he is able to do. God promised that he is perfect. He promised that he is just. He promised that he is fair. He promised that he would provide a way for those who believe, and he promised that there would be a way for those who didn’t.
If these promises are true, and I believe that they are, then God cannot be imperfect by being impartial with anyone. In a just system, the rules for one hold true to the rules for all.
Illus. Let me put it like this. Let’s say your relative is murdered in a different state. Although the murderer is captured, and all the evidence is clear that he was the one who perpetuated the offense, you’re surprised to hear the judge say, “Even in light of all the evidence, I’m setting this man free.”
Would you be horrified? Shocked? Of course. We expect a certain amount of justice to take place. And, in order for closure, the anger I feel in that situation must be met with a certain level of satisfaction.
For God it is no different. Listen to this quote from Cliffe Knechtle (neck-tle)
“God’s anger over evil is not like a temper tantrum thrown by a spoiled child. God’s anger over evil is a result of his inherent goodness and his settled opposition to all evil. Because God is a good God, because God is a just God, he must judge evil and destroy it.”
God and evil, in whatever form it presents itself, cannot exist together. Justice and impartially demand judgment.
Conclusion – Individuals decide whether they are wheat or weeds. God provided for all to become
wheat, unfortunately some will remain weeds by their own choice.
“But what about grace… “ do you say, “but what about God’s love and mercy.” That’s found in the fact that God has enough room for everyone in heaven. Do you remember that good-ole gospel song which sang, “Though millions have come there is still room for one. There is room at the cross for you?”
God’s grace is found in our ability to make the choice for Christ. That part of grace that leads us
toward our decision (prevenient) , that part of grace at the moment of our decision (justifying) , that part of grace that continues even after our decision (sanctifying), all centers on our choice.
God’s mercy is found with the fact that the dry erase boards of our lives, filled with all the negatives,
all the mistakes, all the sin, will be swept clean once we “take up and our cross and follow
God’s love is what provided the open door. It was God’s love that sent his Son so that we would
have the opportunity for everlasting life. It was God’s love for his creation, that gave us the
ability to choose for ourselves. It was God’s love, which simply said, “Because I created you, I care about you, especially the choices you make.”
D.A. Carson once said, “Hell is not a place where people are consigned because they were pretty good blokes, but they just didn’t believe the right stuff. They’re consigned there, first and foremost, because they defy their maker and want to be at the center of the universe…and who persist in their God-defying rebellion….What is God to do?”
Individuals decide whether they are wheat or weeds. God provided for all to become wheat, unfortunately some will remain weeds by their own choice.
Which leaves me with just one question left this morning, have you chosen? Do you know beyond all shadow of doubt that you are wheat and that one day, your ripe seed will be added to final kingdom?
As we sing this last song this morning, my pastor’s heart would like to believe that each person could say to themselves honestly, “I know whom I have believed in…” and if you are one of those, I invite you sing this song with all your heart, soul, mind and strength as a testimony to what’s found deep within.
But if you can’t sing this hymn honestly this morning, it’s my hope that you’d consider taking God up on his just and grace-filled offer.
Hear these words from 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Do you know whom who believe in this morning? I hope that once you leave here, there will be no doubt. God’s gracious and loving offer still stands.
Closing Song - #714 – I Know Whom I Have Believed
[If, during our time together this morning, you’ve made a commitment or recommitment of your life,
please let someone know about it. And, especially if you’ve made it for the first time, please
come and see me, let’s celebrate together.]
Lord, in the hallways of life, may your people have their answers ready.
In the midst of choices, may each individual turn their hearts toward you.
In the joy of your love, mercy, and grace,
may we be ever drawn closer to the people you would have us to be…
So that until we meet again, we will be held in the palm of God’s hand.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.