Craig Groeschel - The Horrors of Hell
Well, we are in a message series called One Minute After You Die. What happens after life on earth? If you were with us last week, we talked about the soul separating from the body. We looked at The Judgment. What is The Judgment for those who are followers of Christ? We looked at the great white throne judgment. We looked at rewards. Next week, what we're gonna do, is we're gonna look at really good news. I have a special message planned that I believe will build your faith, relieve your fears, give you an anticipation of what is to come, and an urgency to live for Jesus today. We're gonna talk about, what is heaven like?
Today, what I wanna do is talk about something that could be a little bit challenging. I prayed a lot about how to teach this message. For today's topic, what I wanna do is I wanna talk about the righteousness of a holy God and the indescribable horrors of hell. Why are we gonna talk about hell? Because if we don't accept the reality of hell, we will never appreciate the glory of the gospel and the goodness of Jesus, and so, I want to go ahead and invoke God's presence in prayer today. Would you pray with me as we dive into today's subject?
Father, we ask that you would empower me to teach your Word with grace and in truth in a way that would inspire us, God, to live differently today knowing that there is so much at stake eternally. Impart your truth in a way that would change lives. We pray this in Jesus's name, and everybody said, Amen.
I remember the first time really being confronted with the idea of hell. I was probably in the second grade or so, and I went to a Backyard Vacation Bible School. If you don't know what VBS is, it's kind of a cool place for kids to go. There's a lot of fun, and there's some teaching about Scripture and such. I remember being nervous going because I didn't know everybody there. I didn't know a lot about God, and so being in a spiritual environment with people I didn't know made me uncomfortable, but they did a good job of putting me at ease. We played lots of games, we drank soft drinks, we got really excited on caffeine, and had a lot of fun. And the whole week was great.
The last day, though, something happened that it kind of, it was difficult for me to handle. At the very end of all the time together, they put us down in the driveway of a back yard of someone's house, and we kind of sat in a circle, crisscross applesauce, like we're gonna play Duck Duck Goose, and they said, "Close your eyes in a minute in the circle, and we wanna just have you answer a question honestly". They asked the question, if you don't know for sure that when you die that you'd go to heaven, would you raise your hand? I'm in the second grade, I don't know for sure, who knows for sure? I thought to myself, nobody knows for sure, so I was certain that everybody would raise their hands. Little did I know that this was a Baptist Vacation Bible School, and evidently, all the Baptists on my street knew for sure except for me, and so I was the only kid to raise my hand that was unsure.
Well, these, I'm certain, well-meaning adults picked me up, like, by my little torso, took me behind the garage, and there was a garage and a little alleyway next to a chain link fence, and stood over me, and probably very lovingly, although it did not feel lovingly, said to me, "If you don't know for sure, then when you die, you're going to hell". When they said "hell," I cannot prove it, but my memory is clear, it echoed, and it reverberated fear throughout my tiny soul. If you do not know, then when you die, you're going to hell, hell, hell, hell, hell. That's how I heard it. It scared the hell out of me. I remember thinking distinctly, I'm getting the hell out of here. And I did. It was like a scene from The Little Rascals. I escaped and ran all the way home, hid in my closet, and night after night, for a long time as a child, I would go to sleep praying, God, don't send me to hell. Don't send me to hell. I would fall asleep praying, don't send me to hell and wake up going, crap, I didn't say amen. God would've sent me to hell for not signing off at the end of my prayers.
And so, this is true story, what I did is I gave God extra amens. I just said, amen, amen, amen, amen, and then I would multiply them, and I'd say amen, amen, amen, times, amen, amen, amen, amen, and I just stored up what might be millions of amens in spiritual places asking God to credit that to my account if I ever fell asleep while praying. If you ever fall asleep and forget to say amen, you can have one of mine. They're in heavenly places. They're there for you, take one any time. Don't send me to hell, amen, amen, amen. Why are we talking about hell? We just wanna have a good time on earth. The reason we're talking about hell is the same big fault from last week if you're taking notes because what you believe about eternity determines how you live today. If you believe that you are an accident, that you're going nowhere, then why not just live for now and live for yourself? If you believe you were created by a good God for his glory and you will live somewhere forever, it will change the way you live today. What you believe about eternity will determine how you live today.
I've got some statistics for you about what people believe about heaven and hell. 74% of Americans believe in heaven, 74%. But only four in 10 believe that those who do not know Christ will spend eternity in a place called hell. Who's going to hell? If you ask the general public, only one half of 1% would say that they are likely going to hell. In other words, most people, if they do believe in hell, believe it's for the really, really, really, really bad people, like the murderers, and the rapists, and the terrorists, and such, but probably not me, 'cause God would never do that to me. Certainly, I'm not going to hell. That would be for just a very few, and most of us are probably gonna be okay. Jesus said something that might imply otherwise. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus said this, Chapter 17, Verse 13. He told us to enter through the narrow gate, narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. In other words, there's a lot of people that are probably on the wrong path. Then he said, "But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it".
I thought about this. If I were the devil, what would my strategy be? I think, if I were the devil, I would try to convince you that there is no hell, and, if there is, let's not take it seriously, and let's believe that most people would not be going there. If I were the devil, and I could convince you of that, then you would probably live however you want, you would justify your sin, you would reject Christ, you would live with no real fear of God. If you are a follower of Christ, and I could convince you that hell isn't real or not that important anyway, you would live ridiculously self-centered lives. You would very likely idolize comfort and fall in love with this world. You would reject sacrifice. You would avoid persecution. You would love now, and you would not likely share your faith with very many people and have no real sense of spiritual urgency much the way so many of us live today.
If I were the devil, I would probably try to convince you there is no hell, and if there is, let's not take it very seriously. This kind of raises an obvious question, which, if God is so good and God is loving, why does hell exist? Very fair question, one that deserves an answer. I could give you more reasons, but what I wanna do is keep it simple. Let me give you two reasons that Scripture teaches hell exists. Number one, hell exists for God to deal righteously with Satan. Hell exists for God to deal righteously with the devil. Many of us, when we think of Satan or we think of the devil, we tend to think of some harmless dude in a red suit with a pitchfork and horns and such. We need to understand that the devil is the embodiment of all evil. Behind every addiction is our spiritual enemy. Behind all abuse, every bit of fear, all pain, all shame, it comes from the prince of darkness. The devil is called in Scripture, the destroyer, the deceiver, the dragon, the dark angel. He's called your adversary, the tempter, your enemy, the wicked one, the thief. He is the father of lies. He is the prince of darkness. He is the angel of the abyss. He is the thief that comes to steal your joy, to kill your faith, to destroy your health, to ruin you financially, to obliterate your marriage, to destroy and hurt your children.
Hell exists for God to deal righteously with the devil. John said this in Revelation 20, Verse 10. He said, and the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the beast and the false prophets had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Why does hell exist? Hell exists for God to deal righteously with Satan. Hell also exists for God to deal righteously with unbelievers. This is where things get complicated. Many people would say this, well, that just doesn't seem fair. I mean, my neighbor's not a Christian, but my neighbor's a good person, God could never send them to hell. My neighbor makes me brownies, and they're really good brownies. You can't send a person that makes good brownies to hell. My neighbor watches out for my dog even when I'm gone. That God could never send this good person to hell, we'll come back to that thought. What's so interesting to me is this. That almost everybody would argue against that idea is equally indignant any time there's any injustice on earth.
In other words, if there's some type of injustice, most people would say, somebody should pay. If you hurt somebody, then someone should pay for that injustice, and yet, the very same people who are defenders of justice on earth often argue for a God of love, of mercy and grace without any justice. Think about this. People today, I would argue, want to remake God in their own image to justify their own lifestyles. God is love, right? So he's just gonna kind of give a little wink towards sin. I mean, he understands. I mean, he's holy and righteous and everything, but if you live the way you wanna live, I mean, yeah it's okay. Hey, it's cool and everything, I mean you know, I had standards, but for you, it doesn't really matter. It ain't no thang. You can do whatever you want. I'll just kind of look the other way. Here's what we have to understand. It is impossible for God to be holy without him being just. It's impossible for him to be holy without being just. Hell exists for God to deal righteously for those who are dead in their sin and don't know Christ.
Scripture says this in Second Thessalonians 1:8. He, God, will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with an everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord. This is no fun to talk about. I'm sure it's no fun to hear about, but if we don't accept the reality of hell, we'll never appreciate the glory of the gospel and the goodness of Jesus. Let me try to give you a brief glimpse of hell. We're gonna look at Luke 16, and Jesus is telling a story that gives us some insight to what hell might be like. This is the story that Jesus tells. He says, "There was a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen. He lived in luxury every day". Now, when Jesus said this, his audience understood it in a way that you don't understand it. The way they heard it was, Jesus essentially said in the Greek, this bro was Kardashian rich. That's what he's sayin'. Because when he said the guy dressed in purple, that, number one, implied royalty, two, to have anything in purple meant that you had to have your clothing infused with a very rare, very expensive dye. That color alone meant that you were rich.
When he said "linen," I read one commentary that said if you sold anything in linen, you could pay for someone's food for an entire year. When Jesus described this guy, everyone's like, oh my goodness, this guy is crazy down rich. Verse 20 says, at the rich guy's gate was a beggar named Lazarus. So we got a rich guy, we got a poor guy. Lazarus was covered with sores, and he was longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. What was he hoping to eat? Well, when you are filthy Kardashian rich, the way you would wash your hands at the end of the meal, is you would actually take a loaf of bread, and you were so rich, that you could cleanse your hands with bread. You'd wipe off whatever from your hands, and then the crumbs from your bread would fall on the plate or fall on the floor, and your servant would come and take the crumbs and offer them out to the dogs as an act of mercy or generosity. The Lazarus, the beggar, is out there going, may I please just eat the crumbs that you used to clean your hands? That would be a great blessing to me. The story goes on that both Lazarus and the rich man die.
What happens to them after life on earth? Verse 22, there came the time when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. Verse 23 says, in Hades, somebody say Hades. In Hades, where he was in torment, let's stop there. What in the world is Hades? Hades is the Greek word used in the New Testament that is the equivalent of the Old Testament Hebrew word, Sheol. If you're reading through some translations of the Old Testament, you'll come across the word Sheol again and again and again. Hades is the same thing as Sheol. This is not the same thing as hell. What is Hades? Hades evidently is a temporary place, after life on earth, before The Judgment, where people go without Christ. You'll read in Scripture elsewhere that later Hades is actually thrown into hell. What exactly is Hades? I can't tell you exactly, but it's some temporary place where those without Christ go, and is a place evidently that you don't wanna be.
Let's look at Scripture again. In Hades, where the rich guy was in torment, in other words, he was hurting, he looked up, and he saw Abraham, you may remember Abraham from the Old Testament. Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had Father Abraham? There's a song. If you went to that Vacation Bible School with me, you might know that song, 'kay? They saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. So evidently we've got the rich man in Hades. There's some kind of chasm where there's a gap, and far away on the other side, you've got something much more pleasant than Hades. You've got Abraham's bosom, and you've got Lazarus. So the rich guy calls out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue". Why? "Because I am in serious pain. I am in agony in this fire".
Last week, we saw that, to a Christian, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. For those who are without Christ, to be absent from the body is the beginning of suffering. When we read about what it will be like, we get a glimpse of what one day will be a place of unspeakable torment. Hell is called, in the Bible, the fiery furnace. It's called burning sulfur. It's a place that's described where there's weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. When I was in seminary, I had a fraternity brother, and he used to joke about going to hell. He goes, yeah, we'll probably all go to hell. At least there'll be company in hell. We can have a party in hell. We'll all be there together. Actually, it appears that hell, although it might be populated, won't feel like a real party.
Hell appears to be a place of isolation. It's called outer darkness, where there's no light. Evidently it's implied there's no people. We know for certain there's no hope. The angel described what will happen to those who are separated from Christ in Revelation 14, Verse 10 and 11. It says this, they too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of holy angels and of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. Sounds horrible.
The Greek word that's translated as hell is not the word Hades. Remember, that's a temporary place. The Greek word that's translated as hell is the word Gehenna. This word comes from the valley of Hinnom, which was a very real place, and that Jesus used this word multiple times reflecting a real place that was south of Jerusalem, where they would burn waste and sewage and flesh. This fire outside of the town continually burned, where they'd throw dead animals, they would throw the bodies of criminals, they would throw human waste. The fire was always smoldering with maggots and worms and burning flesh. The smell was beyond sickening. What is hell? Based on my study in Scripture, hell is a nonstop, eternal fire with tortuous suffering and unending pain.
One commentary that I read called it The Land of No More Good, and the author said, there's no more beauty, no more laughter, no more peace, no more friendship, no more joy, no more hope, and no more second chances. And that's why the rich man, then, cries out from Hades, and he cries out to Father Abraham, and says, "I beg you father, I beg you, I plead with you, Send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they will not also come to this place of torment? Please, can you do anything to reach those who are still alive on earth? I love them and don't want them to experience what I'm experiencing".
When I look at that story, I see four lessons that are really important to understand. Four lessons from the other side. The first one is this. We need to know that the rich man was fully conscious and aware. He has a memory of what's going on on earth. What he did, what he didn't do. He's experiencing very real physical pain. Perhaps the worst pain, though, for him, may have gone beyond physical. It might be the pain of regret that he couldn't go back and change what was gonna happen from there on out. The second thing we learn is this, the rich man's eternal destiny was irrevocably fixed. There was nothing he could do to change where he was. He didn't ask for it, he couldn't reverse what it was, he just recognized this is what's going to be like for him. The third thing to me is interesting. Apparently, the rich man knew that his suffering was just, was fair.
If you'll notice, he complained about the pain, but he never complained about the injustice. He said, "This hurts, this is bad," but he didn't say, "God, this isn't fair". Evidently, he came to some sort of realization that he hadn't done what was expected, believe what was believed, lived how he was supposed to live, and just accepted the judgment even though it was very painful for him. And the fourth lesson we see is this, the rich man begged and pleaded for someone to help his brothers know Jesus. Please, somebody, get back there and tell them about the goodness, the grace, the beauty, the forgiveness that is available to them. There are so many people that are on the wide road. I thought I was okay, but I wasn't okay. I didn't understand from this perspective everything is now different, please, somebody go tell them.
Why are we talking about something that's so difficult, so weighty, so hard to digest, so painful? Because what we believe about eternity impacts how we live today. If I were the devil, what I would try to do is convince you that hell is not real, or at least tell you it's not that big a deal. Nobody's really going there. Everybody's okay, we're all probably going to heaven. Don't worry about hell. Because if I could convince you to believe that, then you could easily just live for today. Do whatever you want. Justify your sin. Reject Christ. Live with no real fear of God. If you are a Christian, but yet I could put eternity in the back of your mind and convince you not to take hell seriously, then you would live ridiculously self-centered lives. You'd idolize comfort. You'd reject sacrifice. You'd avoid persecution. You'd fall in love with this world and believe it is all that really matters, and you would rarely, if ever, share your faith with those who don't know Christ. Because if I were the devil and could convince you that hell isn't real, then you would completely live for today and forget why we're really here.
I'm completely aware that many of you right now are thinking, I don't know if I wanna believe in a God like this, a God who would send good people to hell. This is the fundamental breakdown of where our society is today In fact, this may be the number one root problem and misbelief about our nature and about God, because God doesn't send good people to hell. We have to understand is inherently by nature, we are not good. We're not good, and I know this goes against everything that culture teaches you. We've got a good heart, no our heart's wicked. Oh, we're a good person, no, I lie, I cheat, I've stolen. I'm guessing you have too. If you for a moment stood in front of the holiness of God, you would recognize the depth of your wickedness. We are not inherently good people. By nature, we inherited a sin nature. We are bent towards sin. You never have to teach a toddler to sin.
Today, we're gonna have selfish lessons. What I'm gonna do is take this from you, and I want you to scream, mine! That was my nature. We're sinful. We've all sinned. We have to recognize this about God. He is holy, and he is just. He cannot be holy without being just, and because he is just, he must punish wrongdoing, but God is not just just. He is also love. Love is not just what he does. Love is who he is, and I wanna read to you some verses from Scripture, and some of you who were in the Vacation Bible School, you've heard these verses before, but I want you to hear them like you've heard 'em for the first time. Those of you who maybe have never heard them, I want you to embrace them as truth from a holy, just, and loving God. Feel the love of your Heavenly Father. For God so loved the world that he gave his Son, his one and only Son, Jesus, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
For the wages of our sin is death, that's what we deserve, but the gift of God from his goodness, his love is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. How did God show his love? God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners, while we still rejected him, while we didn't know him, while we were spitting in his face, and since we've been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation. What did Jesus's death and resurrection do? It paid the price for our sins, satisfying God's justice, and simultaneously displaying his amazing grace and unquenchable love. Jesus said, "If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets away, he will leave the 90 and nine to go after the one". That's how good he is.
Some of you, you need to understand. He's coming after you, not in judgment, but in love. He desires that none would perish so much so, that he sent his Son. No one loves more than that, than to lay down their lives for those who do not know him. Jesus didn't come for the perfect, he came for sinners. He didn't come for the healthy, he came for the sick. Satan is a thief, he is a liar. Scripture says this, the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and life to the full". That's why we want people to know him. Not just to avoid the horrors of hell, but to experience the grace, the goodness, the power, the love, the mercy, the holiness, the righteousness, and the love of a good God. Why do we talk about hell? Because what you believe about eternity affects how you live today, and if we don't understand the horrors of hell, we'll never truly appreciate the goodness and the grace of the price that God paid by sending his Son that we could have eternal life.
So, Father, we pray that your truth would transform us. God, just like the rich man on the other side with his sense of urgency to reach his brothers, God, give us an eternal perspective. God, help us to live for what lasts. We know the enemy. He's gonna tells us hell's not real, it doesn't really matter, but, God, help us to know you, your truth, your power, your grace, to live in light of what lasts forever.
As you pray today at all of our different churches, I wonder how many of you would say, I am a follower of Christ? I am a Christian, and I know some people that are not. I don't want to be on the other side, sad, hurting, wondering. God, help me to reach them today. Those of you who are Christian and say there is someone that I love and know that doesn't know Christ, would you lift up your hands right now, lift up your hands. I want you to take those people and just put 'em the front of your mind right now, and we're gonna pray for them.
Father, we ask that you would do whatever it takes, use us, God, give us wisdom, give us the words to say, surround us, God, send people to their workplace, into their family, God. Bosses, friends, fraternity brothers, God, teammates. Shine light into the darkness. God, I pray that you would send people that know you to show your love, not out of a condemning way, but out of a grace-filled, loving way. May your loving kindness, God, draw them to a place of repentance to know the goodness and the grace of your son, Jesus. God, we thank you in advance for those that seem unreachable. We thank you, God, that your Spirit is moving, that you hear the cries of a heart, and we believe by faith you'll use us, you'll use others, you'll use your Holy Spirit, you'll use circumstances, you'll use whatever, God, to bring them into your family. Use us, God, use us, God. Give us a sense of urgency.
As you keep praying today at all of our different churches, I'm gonna keep this really short. You recognize, some of you right now, you're not good. You'll never see your need for a Savior until you recognize you're a sinner. When you know you sinned, you see that you need grace. You are never made right with God by being good enough. You cannot be good enough, and that's why the gospel is such good news. Jesus was good enough. He was perfect, he was righteous. He never sinned. He died on the cross for our sins. God raised him from the dead so that anyone, and this includes you, listen, anyone who calls on his name will be saved. Jesus came for the sinners, he came for you, he came for me at all of our churches, there are those of you, you may, kind of like me, you grew up around the church, but you didn't recognize your need, maybe you're not a church person at all, but you recognize, oh my gosh, I have sinned, I need his grace. When you turn from your sins, and you call out on him, he hears your prayers, he makes you brand new. You will never ever be the same forgiven by the grace of Jesus.
At all of our churches, those who say, I need his forgiveness, I need his grace. I don't wanna just live for me. I don't wanna live for today. Today, I turn my life over. I trust him, I surrender, Jesus, save me. I give my life to you. That's your prayer, lift your hands high. Now, all over the place, lift them up. Right back over here, God bless you. Over here as well. Right back here, others of you today. Way back over here, toward the back, lift them up, sir, right back there, God bless you, and here as well. Oh, somebody give God some praise. Church Online, you click right below me. Others of you today, say, I need his grace, I need his mercy. Would you all pray with those around you? Just pray aloud.
Heavenly Father. I surrender to you. I give you my whole life. Save me. Forgive me. Change me. Fill me with your spirit, so I could follow you every day of my life. Give me urgency to show your love, to live for you, to live in light of eternity. My life is not mine. I give it all to you. Thank you for new life. Now you have mine. In Jesus's name I pray.