Summary: What the Bible says about heaven and hell rather than what popular opinion might suggest.
TOPIC: What the bible says about heaven and hell
SCRIPTURE: 1 Peter 1:3-9
AIM: To have my hearers be clear on the biblical concepts of heaven and hell, and to do something positive to be sure that their destiny is heaven.
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let me give you the good news ... the Bible tells us clearly that there is a place called heaven. Now the bad news ... the Bible also tells us of a place called Hell! But there is some more good news ... no-one need ever go to hell. The gospel ... which literally means ‘good news’ ... tell us that God wants us all to go to heaven - but he has left the choice up to us.
This morning we are looking at what the bible says about heaven and hell. It is a subject that has many misconceptions surrounding it, and in our modern world, a general lack of understanding about the significance of a heaven/hell theology. And yet the bible is very clear that there exists both places - heaven and hell, and what is more, the ultimate destination of all people is for one or other of these places.
1. The attitude of the world
a. Illustration: In his book "Growing strong in the Seasons of Life", the author Charles Swindol tells a story about the 19th Century agnostic Thomas Huxley (some of you might know that it was Huxley who promoted Darwinism and Humanism in his attacks on Christianity). The story goes like this - Huxley was in Dublin and was rushing to catch a train. He climbed aboard one of Dublin’s famous horse drawn taxis and said to the driver -"Hurry, I’m almost late ... drive fast". Of they went at a furious pace and Huxley sat back in his seat 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. Realising that he hadn’t told the driver where to take him he called out ‘do you know where your going’. The driver replied "No your honour, but I am driving very fast’.
Its a good story - but its also a good illustration of the reality of many people who live in our world today. Life is lived at a fast pace, full of activity and things ... but direction-less ... many many people who have not yet discovered what life is all about or where they are going.
The problem is, they are heading for a destination whether they know it or not. Heaven and Hell are the destinations of all people. The Bible tells us this ... but many people do not acknowledge it.
b. Hugh Mackay, the Australian social researcher collected some interesting information about Australian attitudes to this subject. In 1999, 74% of Australians indicated a belief in God of some sort (although no attempt was made to clarify their idea of God). But to the more specific question of the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, 43% of Australians said they believed. But (and this is an interesting comparison) only 33% believed there was a Devil.
On the question of heaven and hell - 53% believe in heaven ... only 32% believe in a hell.
2. The description of hell
a. I think hell is disbelieved because of two reasons - firstly is the unpopular nature of the idea of hell. Its an unpleasant thought and so rather than worry about it, its much easier to pretend its not there and hope it will go away. Its much easier to understand hell in a third world country were life isn’t as sweet ... but here in Australia its too much of a threat to the pursuit of happiness.
The second reason is one of the illusions of Satan -and that is to trivialise it. We are constantly confronted with comical figures of Satan with his long tail, pointy beard and pitch fork. He is usually red and sits in a lake of fire or something like that. These days we see Hollywood (hardly the example of upright morality and truth) giving the world movies in which the devil and demons are depicted as mischievous creatures trying to create a little bit of good natured chaos. And hell is depicted as not much more than a place where the wicked just keep enjoying the things they did on earth.
Such images are a million miles from the truth. They may have taken their ideas from some of the imagery of the Bible, but they have missed the significance of the imagery and created fiction which is a lie.
b. The Bible’s description of hell is a dreadful place. The word Gehenna is used to describe hell. This word has a very literal origin - it refers to the valley of the son of Hinnom, a valley which ran down the south-west wall of Jerusalem. It had a bad reputation. There were times in Israel’s past when she was rebelling against God that the valley was used for human sacrifice. King Ahaz and King Manasseh had sacrificed their sons to the pagan God Molech there. It became known as a place of death. In later years, it came to be used as Jerusalem’s rubbish tip. Its bad reputation increased because of the filth, the smell and the constant smoke from the fires burning the rubbish. Gehenna was not a pretty place. And when the ancient people wanted to describe the very worst place on earth - reference to Gehenna was the way they did it.