Summer is here. Last week we hit triple digits for the first time this summer. I’m sure it won’t be the last.
As the temperatures rise here in South Texas, there is one thing I can always count on. I know I will see at least one church sign that reads:
“You think it’s hot in South Texas…”
The implication is clear. If you think it’s hot here, hell is much worse.
The Bible again and again describes hell as an eternal fire, a place of excruciating pain, a place of regret and anger and sadness. Hell is where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). It is place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
A number of years ago, Gallup surveyed Americans about their belief in the afterlife. Eighty-one percent said they believe in the existence of heaven. Surprisingly, 70% said they believed in the existence of hell. Ever the optimists, 77% of Americans rated their chances of going to heaven as “good” or “excellent,” while less than one half of one percent believed they would end up in hell.
Though most people in our country believe in the reality of hell, few believe there is actually a possibility they could end up there.
And nobody wants to talk about it.
Nobody wants to go to a church where they preach fire and brimstone. Nobody wants to hear about sin. That’s too negative. We want smiling preachers on TV telling us to think positive and all our dreams will come true.
As a pastor, I don’t particularly enjoy talking about hell. It is not fun to confront people with their sins. It definitely doesn’t win me any popularity contests.
The problem is that hell is a very real place. The problem is we do sin every single day. The problem is that each and every one of our sins – both big and small – deserve an eternity in the agonizing fires of hell.
You think it’s hot in South Texas…
We need to hear about hell to recognize the danger we are in. We need to feel the flames nipping at our heels to appreciate what God has done for us.
If there is no hell – or at least if there is no real chance we would ever end up there – what do we need God for? What do we need Jesus for?
But hell is real. You and I do deserve to burn there forever. Though nobody likes to hear that, it is important they do. Only then will they see and appreciate how much we need Jesus.
We need to hear about hell, but that shouldn’t be all we hear about. When the message of a church is only fire and brimstone, we are missing the point. Church isn’t about beating us down. It’s about building us up. The purpose of the Bible isn’t to doom us to hell but to give us the gift of heaven.
God loved you and me so much he became one of us and suffered the fire of his own anger for our sins as he hung on the cross. His promise is that all who believe in him – all who believe in Jesus – are forgiven forever.
The truth is that we will never fully be able to appreciate what Jesus did for us because we will never have to personally know what hell feels like. We will never have to feel the fire or the anger or the sadness of hell because Jesus suffered it in our place.
But we do need to hear about it and be reminded of it so we remember how much we need Jesus – so we remember what is waiting for us if we leave Jesus behind.
So as things heat up here in South Texas – as you run and hide in the air-conditioned comfort of your homes – maybe it’s not bad to take some time to think about the hell we deserve – the hell Jesus saved us from.
Because if you think it’s hot in South Texas…