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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - To Hell and Back

John Bradshaw - To Hell and Back

John Bradshaw - To Hell and Back
John Bradshaw - To Hell and Back

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. It seems to me that many people have a strange relationship with hell, an odd sort of relationship. I mean, think of the way people talk about hell, the way people refer to it. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". You can debate the appropriateness of a statement like that, but think of what it means. It means that as bad as hell might be, it's not as bad as an angry woman.

Now, I know we can't afford to take these phrases literally, but it really sounds like people aren't taking hell seriously. "The man was hellbent on doing something". I don't even know what that means, to be honest with you, although we know it means he was determined. "It isn't going to happen, come hell or high water". Which is five more words that don't logically mean anything at all, but we interpret that to mean that something just isn't going to happen no matter what. "It was a living hell". Oh, look, it really wasn't, but we get the point. It was bad. It was terrible. And typically that's said in connection with something really very bad. A country's civil war was "a living hell".

Living with the injury as a result of that accident was "a living hell". Being in a terrible prison... we get the idea. "It will happen when hell freezes over". "It was looking tense, and then all hell broke loose". "The road to hell is paved with good intentions". That's actually a fairly useful one. Good intentions aren't enough. You've got to follow through on your promises and your plans. The saying indicates that there will be people who don't make it into heaven who had every intention of getting things sorted out between them and God, but...never happened. When it's said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, that's really a bit of a philosophical statement intended to help people to see the need to take serious things seriously.

But there's one saying about hell that we're actually going to see through today. We'll actually do it. Have you ever heard it said that somebody went to hell and back? Well, today on It Is Written we're actually going to go to Hell and back. I don't mean that figuratively, and I'm not trying to be funny. We really are going to go to Hell, and we'll really come back. Now, if I were to tell you that today we are going to go to Hell, you shouldn't be all that surprised about that. And here's what I mean. There are some people who have claimed that they have visited hell. They've then come back from hell, written books about it and spoken about it. And the remarkable thing is they've even been taken seriously.

My wife and I were driving across northern Idaho a good number of years ago, and because we needed to make a phone call, we stopped at a pay phone. Now, if you're a little younger, and you're not sure what a pay phone is, ask someone 30 years of age or older, and they'll be able to fill you in. There used to be 2 million of them in the United States, but that number has dropped by about 90 percent. In some states there's only 2 percent or so of the pay phones there used to be. Then came cell phones, and pay phones started disappearing. And now you don't see them lining the walls of train stations and airports. That was back in the old days. So we stopped at a pay phone in Idaho, and as I approached the phone, I noticed that little phone booth was festooned with small pink pieces of paper. They were everywhere, tucked into every crack that they could possibly be tucked into.

Now, even though curiosity killed the cat, I bravely took one of the pink papers and with some interest looked to see what it said. What I read fascinated me. Whoever had written this had, well, they claimed, visited hell. That's right. They had been there. These were little homemade tracts that had been stuck all over this little pay phone booth. In fact, I still have some of them. I have no idea who wrote them or who wrote the excerpts. Somebody suggested to me these might be excerpts from a book written by somebody, written by somebody who claims to have been to hell. Maybe you recognize this. I mean the writer no harm, but it's worth looking at this. Let me read to you. Jesus is acting as a tour guide and is chaperoning this individual around hell.

Hell is shaped like a body and is "in the center of the earth". This person says that just as there is a body of Christ, hell is shaped liked a body. And then the description goes on, of brimstone pits and people whose flesh is being melted away by the heat and the flames. There are rats and there are snakes, and there are angels, fallen angels, the size of grizzly bears with wings that are broken down at the back, pushing people back into the pits who would be trying to escape. What strikes me as strange about this is that hell doesn't seem to destroy snakes and rats.

A lot of people would hope that those things would be among the first things to be destroyed. And something truly bizarre: Tracts like this make the devil out to be in charge of hell. Sinners suffer while the devil is in cahoots with God; he's helping God by causing the lost to suffer. Have we forgotten that Jesus said in Matthew 25:41, that hell is "prepared for the devil and his angels"? And not in the sense that it's prepared for them to do their business. Prepared for them. So is that what hell is like? No. So what's hell really like? Well, I told you a moment ago that we would go to Hell and back, and we're almost there. We'll go there in just a moment.

Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. We are going to Hell and back, although this place doesn't look a lot like what you'd think hell would be like. It looks more like what you'd imagine paradise to be. The island of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean really is beautiful. It's about 200 miles south of Cuba and about the same distance west-northwest of Jamaica. Mexico is about 400 miles in that direction. Honduras is a little closer, about 320 miles to the southwest. A little over 50,000 people live on Grand Cayman. About 9,000 others live on other Cayman islands. And unless you don't like sand and the ocean and sunshine and breathtaking scenery, this place is beautiful. There's a reason cruise ships stop here. Scuba diving and snorkeling are big, some of the best in the world. Beautiful beaches. Tourists flock here. The country is home to some of the world's largest banks, most of the world's largest banks. And Caymanians and Cayman Island companies are not taxed. So that old saying about death and taxes? Only half of that really applies here. And did I say it's beautiful here?

The largest town on Grand Cayman is George Town, the island's capital. Bodden Town is in the middle of the island, and there's East End and North Side and West Bay. And oddly enough, there's a place up in the northwest of the island called...Hell. Now, it isn't a town, strictly speaking, but there's a service station and a post office, and you can send a postcard home from Hell. So why in the world is there a place called Hell on an island like this? Well, I said we'd go to Hell today, and I was serious. We're going to Hell to find out.

This isn't the only spot on earth that there's a place called Hell. There's one in Michigan, northwest of Ann Arbor. And in the cold winters there, you know what happens. This is Hell, Cayman Islands. And why did it get its name? Well, Hell in the Cayman Islands is an area about half the size of a football field, and it's covered in short black limestone formations. So you can imagine someone once said something flippant about the geography, someone else was amused, and once it drew tourists, the name stuck. How many places in the world are there where you can go to Hell? But you see what's happened?

If hell was 10 percent as serious as the Bible says it is, 5 percent, 1 percent, no one would be joking about it. It seems you wouldn't be naming a tourist attraction Hell if you really thought that hell was a place of final destruction for lost people, people who have no hope of ever experiencing salvation and eternal life. Serious business when you think about it, isn't it? Hell represents the end of the line, the no-turning-back point, the place of utter hopelessness for people, where folks are eternally cut off from God. Is that something you joke about?

So think about this from God's point of view. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". Well, what for? We were created for God's glory, according to Isaiah 43:7. God created you so you could live with Him forever, so close that the relationship between God and His children is described in the Bible as a marriage. The book of Song of Solomon is a love story, the story of Solomon and a woman he loved. But it's also descriptive of the love of God for His church. God's love for humanity is serious. And if you've ever doubted that, you just look at John 3:16, which says that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life".

Who dies on a cross? Who's crucified for someone else, especially for people who've almost entirely rejected Him? Who does that? You've really only got two choices: either a mad man or Someone compelled by love to demonstrate that love in a desperate effort to save the lost. So that's how God feels. And then, hell is going to take place, where God's own children will perish. And when you consider what the Bible has to say about the fate of the lost, well, it's pretty descriptive.

Revelation 14:9-11 says, "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, 'If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.'"

Revelation 20:9 and 10, "And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever". So, does the story of the rich man and Lazarus fit in with this? Well, not if you're being theologically consistent. If you're being theologically responsible, you'll realize the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. God isn't teaching us that the saved and the lost can speak to each other from their various abodes. No suffering soul is going to ask for a drop of water to relieve its stress.

The point of the rich man and Lazarus story isn't a commentary on the fate of the lost or the saved, but to teach us various things. Number one, being rich doesn't necessarily mean you're blessed, and being a beggar, for example, certainly doesn't mean that you've been cursed by God. But that's what the Pharisees believed. This teaching was for them. Second thing, the story teaches that you cannot be saved by your family tree, by heredity. You certainly cannot be saved simply because you belong to a certain church. Who does the rich man call out to in the story of the rich man and Lazarus? He calls out to Father Abraham.

The religious leaders in Jesus' day proudly said, "Our father is Abraham," and yet these children of Abraham had the Messiah in their midst and rejected Him. The prophecies that they were studying told them when the Messiah would come, which is why Jesus, when He was baptized, said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand". That's Mark chapter 1, verse 15. He was telling them that the prophecies in the book of Daniel that pointed out the timing of the coming of the Messiah had been fulfilled. The Messiah was in their midst, and yet they're all about "We are the children of Abraham". Their hope was in the wrong place, and this story was given to show them that.

And further, point number three, the rich man said this: "I have five brothers. Send Lazarus to them so that they'll know that they should make sure they don't come to this place". And in the story he is told, "They have Moses and the prophets". If they won't believe that, they won't be convinced, even if someone went to them from the dead, which is interesting because an actual Lazarus did come back from the dead, and still they rejected Christ. So the story is told to convince them, and us, that we should take Moses and the prophets, the Word of God, seriously. So should we be scared of hell? And do many people even believe that there is a hell anymore? I'll have that next.

Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. We've come to Hell, Hell on Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Years ago someone took a look at the geography and made a remark, and the name Hell stuck, and so today tourists can come here from all over the world and say that they have been to Hell. You can even send a postcard or a letter home from Hell, with the Hell postmark right on it. Now, Jesus certainly believed in hell. Matthew 10:28, Jesus says, "Fear not them [that are able to] kill the body, but [cannot] kill the soul: but rather fear Him [who] is able to destroy both soul and body in hell".

The Bible speaks plainly about the subject, but it's fair to say that often people wildly misconstrue what the Bible says about hell. Take the story of the rich man and Lazarus. That's helped a lot of preachers over the years because it sounds as though you can point to the rich man and make the case that lost people are condemned to suffer in a place of fiery torment for all eternity. But you don't need to misinterpret the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to make the point very clearly that hell is no laughing matter. Every time someone refers to hell in a casual sense they're trivializing something that's phenomenally important. It's like those cartoons depicting the devil wearing a red suit and brandishing a pitchfork. It diminishes the solemnity of the subject, makes something that should be taken seriously nothing more than a laughing matter.

So hell is serious. Now, it seems that not that many people believe in hell anymore. A survey by Pew Research indicates that a little more than half of all Americans believe in the existence of hell. One would think that back in the days when Jonathan Edwards was preaching about "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," those numbers might have been a little bit higher. "The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them". It might even be that sermons like that have got something to do with those numbers dropping. You see, when you present God as cruel, when you portray God as, as rubbing His hands together with glee at the prospect of another suffering soul, thinking people reject that. You cannot on the one hand say that God is love and then depict God as though He's loving the process of tormenting suffering sinners.

In Ezekiel 33:11, God says, "As I live...I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel"? But again, while Jesus believed in hell, and He made clear that sinners will ultimately be destroyed, there's no reason to become theologically inaccurate when you talk about this. I believe you'll find a lot of people have rejected God because of what people say about hell. The thing is this: Hell is ultimately going to destroy sin. The very sad fact is that there will be many people who are attached to sin. When God destroys sin, the unrepentant who've chosen sin will be destroyed along with it.

So should a person live in fear of hell? Well, anybody ought to have a healthy respect for what the future holds for them, should they choose to live in opposition to God. But live in fear of hell? No, your focus is in the wrong place when you do that. In the old days, the preachers used to do everything they could to make hell sound absolutely horrifyingly bad, but when you focus on that, and when you talk about a God who just can't wait to fry people, there's no wonder people give up on God altogether. Now, you can use the subject to portray God as hateful and cruel and vindictive, but He isn't. He is just, and He is going to get rid of sin. But He's not a tyrant. Too often people get told that God's going to send bad people to hell. While you can make a case for that, it's a pretty lazy case. The people who will be lost are those who've chosen not to accept God's gift of eternal life through Jesus.

Once you start saying, "You'll be lost because of your drunkenness"; "You'll be lost because of your, your dishonesty", that sort of thing, essentially, all you're doing is being a legalist, telling somebody that they will be lost because of this deed or that deed. Oh, now, of course I agree sin is bad; I wouldn't say otherwise. Romans 6, verse 23: "The wages of sin is death". But people are lost because they don't have Christ. The drunkenness and the lying and whatever else, they're just a symptom of that. Jesus said in 1 John 5:12, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life". And I want you to notice what Jesus said in John 5, verse 40: "And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life".

So how are things with you? When the subject of hell comes up, it's usually presented one of two ways: the hottest, the worstest, the roastingest, God is the cruelest and the most unhappiest, or the subject just presented as though it's of no concern. Well, it's of great concern. And God is love; He's not cruel. It doesn't mean this is not serious. It is. But if we focus on the flames, we're really not focusing on the most important thing. And the most important thing is your heart and whether God has it. If Jesus has your heart, you have His life as your own. The Word of God says, "He that hath the Son hath life". First John 5, verse 12. So the question really is, do you have the Son? And you can have Him now by simply opening up your heart to Jesus and saying, "I choose You; I accept You. Come into my life. Be my Lord and Savior". Would you do that? I encourage you to do that now. And make certain that you have secured a bright, a joy-filled eternal future with a God of love.
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