BELIEVE IT OR NOT SERMON SERIES
IS THERE REALLY A HEAVEN OR HELL?
APRIL 25, 1999
The students, who were tragically slain at Columbine High School this week had no idea when they awakened Tuesday morning, ate their breakfast and said farewell to their parents that it would be their last day on planet earth. They had no clue when they went to school in cars and buses, when they went to their lockers and talked to their friends that in just a few moments they would meet face to face a couple of crazed, teenaged killers wielding sawed-off shotguns and pipe bombs. Massacre. It reminds us once again of how sin-sick our society has become. It also reminds us of the tissue-like veil separating this existence from forever.
Over the next several days there is going to be a lot of talk about this ordeal. People will discuss gun control. People will mention the personality problems of these killers. People will talk about security and safely measures that institutions can take in order to keep this from happening again. And people will blame things. People will blame prejudice, Adolph Hitler, movies and even Marilyn Manson. But there is going to be one thing missing for all of the rhetoric, from all of the talking heads, from all of the editorials and discussions. Talk about securing one’s eternity. Talk about how to know where you will spend your time in the afterlife. Those issues will not be brought up. For some reason, our society is scared to talk about death and eternity.
What happens, what really happens when you die, when you close you eyes in this life and open them in the next? What happens? To show you how freaky we are about death and eternity, the next time you are at a social gathering, just bring up the subject. Just say, let’s talk about death and eternity and watch people scatter like quail and awkwardly try to change the subject. We don’t like to talk about it, do we?
It is kind of interesting because eternity and the evidence for eternity is all around us. Everywhere you look you see signs of forever. My mind is drawn to the cycle of life in the natural realm. Seeds die and give birth to plants. A caterpillar encases itself in a tomb-like structure and one day bursts forth as a butterfly. A man we talked about last week, Plato, alluded to this fact in his writings. He said that the cycles of nature give us a hint on what is going to occur, he believed, in the afterlife. Think about the laws of physics. The first law of thermodynamics written by Albert Einstein states, “Matter may change states but it probably will not be created or destroyed.” Einstein and others said, yes we are going to change states but it is highly unlikely that we will be destroyed. Another sign for eternity.
The philosophers also agree. Immanuel Kant, no lightweight thinker, said these words. “All people on planet earth seem to have a concern for ethics. Because justice is not applied fully in this life, it must be applied in the afterlife by a judge who finally settles all accounts.” Kant said that we have this justice thing going on and surely everything is going to be settled in the next realm of existence. Anthropologists have seen this in human beings for years. Every tribe and culture and religion that they have studied seems to have a developed aspect of eternity going on. Whether it is the happy hunting ground for the Indians or the sensual pleasure of eternity for those who follow Mohammed, it is there.
When I read children’s books to my four kids, most of the books end this way. And they lived happily ever after. When Lisa and I go to a movie on a date night, we like movies that have good endings. And they lived happily ever after. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that God has set eternity in our hearts.
Another evidence of eternity is all the life after death experiences. Bruce Guyerson has studied these accounts for years and there are close now to probably ten million people in our culture who have had these life after death experiences. My grandfather had one and it changed his life. And Guyerson said that every person he studied who had one of these experiences has come back a different man or different woman. They are less materialistic and they are more concerned about the things of God.
So all of these rationales are out there. All of these reasons are out there. All of this evidence is out there. And we haven’t yet cracked open the Bible. God spoke volumes about eternity. Jesus was an authority on the matter. Over and over He talked about heaven and hell, about our ultimate and eternal destinations. Hopefully everyone in here understands the fact that death is imminent. We are all going to die. We are going to die from heart attacks, strokes, cancers, diseases, accidents, natural disasters. We are going to die. It could be next week, next month, next year or maybe six or seven decades from now if you eat healthy and do tae bo. We are going to die. I think that everyone here would agree. They might not like to think about it but they know that one day they will close their eyes in this life and open them in the next.
Well, the Bible comes out and says that after death we will take a trip, a forever trip, through eternity. In a couple of weeks, 65 of us from the Fellowship Church will take a long, long plane flight to Israel. And after we have been there for about six days we are going to walk to a spot and look at a hill where many people think Christ was crucified. There our Savior hung suspended between heaven and earth paying, the Bible says, for your sins and mine. The gospel writers tell us that He was crucified between two common criminals. And one of the criminals, right before death, turned and looked to Jesus and said, “Remember me, Lord, remember me.” And Jesus responded with these words found in Luke 23. “I tell you the truth, today…” not next week, next quarter or next year, today… “you’ll be with me in paradise.” There is no purgatory, limbo, minor league system or some farm club out there, we will immediately experience the ever after.
For the most part everyone has been with me thus far in today’s message. You have agreed with what’s going on. But the next part of the message is where most of us are foggy. We are cloudy. We have different beliefs and different opinions. We might think that they are Biblical, but they are not. Scripture boldly states that, once we experience eternity, our first scheduled stop is judgment, the day of reckoning, the time when accounts are settled. Hebrews 9:27. “Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment.” At this point, popular opinion says that if you are a good guy or a good girl, if you are kind and considerate and compassionate, at the end of your life God will shake your hand, pat you on the back, look you in the eyes and say, “You did a good job. You were a good guy or a good girl. You wore a white hat. Welcome to heaven. Your mansion is one street to the right on that gold boulevard. That is where you are going to live. Popular opinion also says that those people who are evil, the Eric Harrises, the Dillon Cleabowls, the Charles Mansons of the world, the ax murderers, the reprobates, those people who are really ugly and terrible and horrible and have no character, that during the judgment, God will look at them and hurl them into hell. That is what popular opinion says. But Jesus said popular opinion is wrong. Word on the street is not the word. All these polls don’t really reflect the reality of what God was driving at over and over and over as He communicated His word to us.
The judgment is going to be all about distance. It is going to be all about distance. And to show you what I am talking about, I want to do a distance diagram for you. On one end of this distance diagram, we have evil. And we are not saying at all that Owen Goff represents this behavior but we do appreciate Owen bringing out evil. Evil is bad. Evil is a serious distance away from God. On the other end of the continuum we have Pastor Preston Mitchell bringing out God. And this represents God’s standards. And God’s standards are pretty high, they are perfect. God is unable to err. The Bible calls Him holy. He can’t wink at sin. He can’t explain it away. He doesn’t grade on some cosmic curve. God is perfect. He is our transcendent one, our loving one, the God of the universe. So we have God and we have evil on this continuum. The distance diagram, we will call it.
This past week as I was thinking and praying about this message, I said God, show me how to illustrate this. So I started thinking about people who sort of represent the different aspects of this continuum. So I thought about evil. When I think about evil and think about some evil acts, my mind turns to Timothy McVeigh. Timothy McVeigh, the man who masterminded the Oklahoma City bombing, the man who murdered 168 people. I do not pretend to be a judge. I do not pretend to be God and tell you where Timothy McVeigh would be placed, but I think that we would all agree that there is some serious distance by the deeds he has done over the span and course of his life. We will come back to Timothy in a minute.
Let’s put Timothy right here on this distance diagram. Then I ask myself who is the best Christ follower on the planet. Who is the person who really walks the talk and lives the life and my mind rushed to another person, Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Billy Graham has spoken to more people than any human being who has ever lived. My parents have had the privilege of knowing Dr. Graham for two decades. And I am here to tell you, he is a true man of God, a great human being, a servant, a man of humility. So, one more time, we have this distance diagram going on. We have God and His standards and Billy Graham, pretty close to God, not God but close. Then we have evil and we have Timothy McVeigh who having done some serious evil is close to this edge.
Where would you put yourself on this distance diagram? Before I ask you that, let me talk about myself. I have been a pastor for a long time. I have been a Christian for years and years. I follow the Lord. But thinking about the good works in my life and the things I have done for Christ, I would put myself well south of Billy Graham. In fact, it is a pipe dream for me to ever accept the fact that one day I could somehow surpass Billy Graham in the good works column. That I could somehow be kinder or more compassionate or more considerate than he. I could not do it. It is not going to happen for me. So I place myself about right here. I have got some distance between myself and God.
Stan, I want you to come up here for a second. Stan is our worship coordinator and leader. Stan is the one who writes most of our drama, coordinates everything that is happening on stage. I have known Stan since I have been in High School. Well, Stan, if I am placing myself right here, you would place yourself pretty near me, wouldn’t you? Let’s just say for example that Stan and I are right here by each other. OK, we have got some problems up here. Don’t you see it? We have got some serious problems. Billy Graham has got some distance between himself and God. And Billy Graham has said publicly over and over again that he has fallen miserably short of God’s standard of goodness. Dr. Graham has said that if he had the chance to live his life over again, he would have spent more time with his wife, more time with his children and would have spoken less and traveled less. Dr. Billy Graham has said that, that he has fallen miserably short of what God wanted him to do. So Billy Graham has a problem, the distance between himself and God. God cannot erase this distance. God does not grade on a cosmic curve. God is not going to say, “Well, Billy, you were incredible, man. What a preacher. What an evangelist. Come on in. I will fudge a little bit.” God can’t do that. God can’t do it for me or for Stan. We have got problems. We have got some serious distance between ourselves and God. God can’t do it for Timothy McVeigh. There is some serious distance going on.
A lot of people here think that they can good work themselves into heaven. A lot of people think that if they are just a little bit better, pray a little bit harder, go to church more often, then somehow at the end they will be able to wheel and deal and God will accept them. If that is what train you are on, it is not going to get you to where you want to go. It is not. It is not.
There is one of two places that we will spend eternity. The Bible says either in heaven or in hell. I want to direct your attention to Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. There is some serious distance between ourselves and God. Romans 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death…” See the word sin there? Sin is sin. Whether you have been greedy or lust driven or told a white lie or had a bad mood or if you have taken the lives of 168 people. Granted there are greater implications and consequences for this stuff than that stuff, but sin is sin. And the Bible says that the wages, the compensation, for sin is death. Eternal death. Eternal distance from God. So if we got what we deserve, it would be hell. It would be utter isolation from God.
Now at this point, God could have said, “Well, Dr. Graham, there is some distance caused by sin. Well, Ed, there is some distance caused by sin. Well, Stan, there is some distance caused by sin. Well, Timothy, there is some distance caused by sin.” God could have said forget you, I am going to do something else. But He didn’t. What did God do? God did something that we don’t deserve. Our distance-closing deity commissioned His only son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for all of our sins, to experience the guilt and the pain and the turmoil and the frustration and the alienation just so we could be brought to God. God did that for humanity. God’s supreme act of love demands a choice. It demands a decision. The ball is in our court.
Look at the last part of Romans 6:23. “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The gift. It is a gift. So our Christianity is not based on what we do or what we do not do. It is based on what we receive, on what we accept that has already been done for us.
How do you like this outfit here? Pretty cool, don’t you think? Four years ago a friend of mine gave it to me. It is one of my favorite outfits. I wear it all the time. If you have been hanging around here at the church you have seen this coat before, this shirt before, these pants before. They were given to me and I accepted the gift. Now when my friend gave this outfit to me, he didn’t force me to wear it. Receiving it demanded a choice, a response. I’m not crazy. I said, “Yes, man. I’ll take it. Thank you for your generosity.” God gives us Christ. God gives us the ultimate gift that demands a response. He says, “Billy, here it is. Ed, here it is. Stan, here it is. Timothy, here it is.” It is here for your taking. You either receive it or not. And here is the great part. I Peter 3:18. “For Christ died for sins once, for all, to bring you to God.” To close the distance. So our distance-closing God sent Christ to pay the price on Calvary for all of our iniquities and rise again. And if we appropriate this gift into our lives, if we put it on, if we apply it we are brought to God. Billy Graham’s got problems. He has got distance. But guess what. I have heard Dr. Graham say, “I have received and appropriated what was secured for me on the cross.” Christ has brought Billy to God.
So now when God sees Billy, he doesn’t see a self-centered sinner. He sees someone who has applied his ultimate gift. Years ago, I made a choice in my life, to receive the Lord Jesus. And once I accepted His terms, His gift, then Christ brought me to God. Now when God see me, He doesn’t see some self-centered sinner. No, no. He sees someone who has applied what His son did for him on the cross. Same thing with Stan Durham. Stan has been brought to God through Christ. You have a long way to go, Stan, but Jesus did it. And even Timothy McVeigh, I am no judge, only God is, but even if Timothy McVeigh bowed the knee and turned, he would be brought to God through Christ.
God is not going to do a bunch of slam dunking on Judgment Day. People think that God is going to hurl people into heaven, hurl people into hell. It is not going to be that way. I believe God will give us an ultimate version of what we desired on this planet. Now stay with me. For those of us who distanced ourselves from God, those of us who did the Heisman, those of us who were always putting God off even though God was loving and pursuing and tugging at us, those of us who kept our distance from God, once we get to the judgment we will hear God say the following. “Hey, you want distance? You distanced yourself from Me at every turn. You want distance? I will give you distance, ultimate distance. You will spend eternity in hell.”
Those of us who committed our lives to Christ, those of us who walk with Him, who yearn for Him, at the end of our lives God will say the following. “You loved my Son, you loved Him and now I am going to give you an ultimate version of what you yearned for. Heaven.” That is what I believe will take place based on the scriptures.
What about heaven? Why don’t you look at the side screens for a second? Heaven is described in the Bible as light. I am not talking about light like the sun on some Caribbean island. I am talking about the light that reflects the brilliant blaze of God’s glory, ultimate light. Paradise. The Bible says that Stan Durham, Billy Graham, Ed Young and many of you who have received Christ will experience paradise. Take, for example, the best that you have ever felt. OK. Multiply that exponentially. And then take it to the billionth power and it pales in comparison to what heaven is like. There is going to be worship in heaven with our lives and our lips. But it is not going to be a church service for eternity. We are going to do things, experience things. There will be no relational hindrances, no problems, no crime. Let’s look at another slide. Ultimate satisfaction. The Bible says that we will be satisfied ultimately. Our quest and thirst for adventure will be satisfied. It is going to be a place like we can’t even fathom. Words can’t do it justice. That’s heaven. And only those who have bowed the knee to Christ will go.
Well, how about hell? What is hell going to be like? The Bible talks about hell. The Bible says that hell will be a place of darkness. That means complete isolation. There will be no friends, fellowship, or parties going on in hell. You will not know if there is another person there. You will be alone, totally alone. Ultimate and eternal distance. Fire. The Bible uses this word to describe the pain and the turmoil and the feelings that we will experience forever as we are in this condition.
This last term, gnashing of teeth describes utter remorse. That is the people who say they cannot believe how stupid they have been. That they knew Christ was the way, they saw it in people’s lives and heard the evidence. But they kept their distance. God will say, “I pursued you, I loved you, I tugged on you but in hell I am not going to pursue you any more. I am not going to tug on you any more. And I am not going to love you any more.
The reality of heaven and hell. Thanks, Stan, I appreciate your being up here. Where would you put yourself on this distance diagram. Where? Are you trying to perform your way in? Are you trying to be kind and compassionate and considerate enough for God to wink at you and wave you on through the judgment? It is not going to happen unless you come to Christ. It is not going to happen. The Bible says that God is patient. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. We all have these opportunities to bow the knee or not.
Do you remember the question that I asked the guy this Wednesday morning about eternity? I never told you what he said. We were talking about spiritual matters because he had found out that I was a pastor. When I asked him about his eternity he said, “Ed, it is not going to be in heaven.” I answered that I would love to talk to him about how to get to heaven and know Christ personally. I explained it to him in about ten minutes. “Ed, before I make this decision, I want to know what the hell is going on.” I thought to myself that was what I was trying to keep him from. Hell. I said, “Tommy, if one of these eighteen wheelers was to kind of swerve a little, smash our car and kill both of us, you would go to hell. Take the step now. Make the commitment now.” He said, “I want to think about it.” I am going to write Tommy tomorrow and encourage him again to take this step. And I am going to give him this tape because he is one prayer away from heaven, one prayer away from being free. Is that you? Could that be you? Your distance determines your eternal destination. Your distance determines your eternal destination. Make the call. Allow Jesus to bring you to God. It will be the greatest thing you have ever, ever done.