Every now and then the school where I teach asks me to offer a prayer (or “to say a few words”) before certain events. Last year after hearing one such invocation and discovering that I’m a minister, a colleague asked me what church I pastored. I answered and then inquired as to what church he attended. The man told me what denomination he had been brought up in (I’m not sure that he still goes there) and followed it with a somewhat snarky remark declaring that all he heard in the church of his youth was “fire and brimstone.” He was somewhat surprised with my response of “we need more of that!”
My co-worker is not alone in his disdain for and dismissal of “fire and brimstone” preaching. Non-Christians of course have many reasons for denying the doctrine of Hell. Some disbelieve anything spiritual while others don’t want judged for their own sins so they don’t want to judge anybody else for anything either (they do tend to lose their distaste for judgmentalism when it comes to judging those who judge—I know that’s a lot of “judging” but just reread the sentence a few times and you’ll be nodding Amen!) Some non-Christian religious folks believe in Hell, but rather than making faith in Jesus the issue upon which eternity rests they subscribe to a works based mentality where following a man-made moral code or worshipping a man-made god forms the dividing line between bliss and damnation. More troubling than the aforementioned groups, however, are the many professing Christians who either disbelieve in or are embarrassed by the doctrine of Hell and shy away from preaching on the evils of sin, the necessity of repentance, the exclusive salvation found in Jesus alone, and the eternal judgment that awaits unbelievers. This is evidenced by the fact that the largest “church” in the United States and the most watched “Christian” broadcast in the world garners its audience by promising promotion in this life rather than preaching fleeing from the wrath to come in the next. That being said, if one wants to be a Bible-Believing Christian, then the doctrine of Hell is a nonnegotiable. Jesus spoke more of Hell than He did of Heaven, and He spoke more on Hell and more vividly on Hell than did all other prophets and apostles combined. So, while there no doubt has been “fire and brimstone” preaching that has been poorly done, merely advocating some legalistic holier than thou attitudes while manipulating guilt ridden and gullible people; if you don’t have a measure of “fire and brimstone” preaching, then you’ve probably fallen for a bunch of “phony and baloney” platitudes. For the next few paragraphs we will take a brief look at some salient points regarding the Judgment of God.
The Judgement Of God Cannot Be Fled, No One Gets Away (Matt. 13:47-53)…Have you ever played one of those “stuffed animal in the box-claw games”? (I’m sure they have an official name but I’m unsure what it is.) Let me describe. There is a big clear box with stuffed animals in it. You put a quarter in the machine and get the privilege of using a joystick to guide a claw to a certain area of the box. When you think you have the claw positioned correctly over the desired prize you hit a button and the claw descends. Most of the time the claw gets nothing at all. Sometimes it picks up a stuffed animal, perhaps not even the one you were aiming for, but drops it in transit before it can be successfully deposited into the pick-up bin. Only occasionally does the player ever successfully get the prize he wanted. Only every now and then does a stuffed animal ever get caught by the claw. In fact you can play the game one week, come back the next, and find that most of the prizes are safer in that “stuffed animal in the box-claw game” than any real animal in a wildlife refuge could ever hope to be!
When Jesus describes judgment He doesn’t use the parable of the “stuffed animal in the box-claw game.” He instead teaches us the parable of the dragnet. This kind of fishing net was large and all inclusive. It took two teams of fisherman to operate. Its ends were dropped from two far away locations and it would catch everything and anything in its path for as much as half of a square mile of sea. No doubt there were some fish who felt the edges of the net and swam away from it. They thought they were getting away from its clutches, but in reality they were only swimming deeper into the very thing they were trying to escape. When the net was brought to shore it would contain anything from sea-trash to seaweed, everything from bad fish to good fish. The fishermen would separate out the good from the bad and throw the bad away. Jesus said this was akin to what would be done at the end of the age, where the righteous would be separated from the unrighteous and the unrighteous then be thrown into a furnace of fire where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The judgment of God CANNOT BE FLED, no one escapes. Every sin, be it in word, thought, or deed, will be punished. Either you will put faith in Christ who took the wrath of God upon Himself for the benefit of believers, or you will be justly and righteously punished forever and ever and ever and ever in a fiery Hell for the transgressions you have committed against a holy God. Like some of those fish, you may think that you can swim away, but if you are denying Christ then you are simply going deeper into the very thing you think you’re escaping. The judgment of God CANNOT BE FLED, the only way to be saved is to turn to Christ!
The Judgment Of God Is Final, There’s No Appeal (Heb. 9:27)…I recently saw a popular news host interviewing a woman with a terminal disease, at least medically speaking. She had just won a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a large corporation that manufactures a product which she blames for her malady. (I don’t know anything about the merits of the case one way or the other and either way I certainly pray for the healing of the woman.) One of the exchanges between her and the host that stood out to me revealed that, barring miraculous intervention, the afflicted woman would not live long enough to see a penny of her judgment. The large corporation is going to appeal the decision, and then there will be an appeal of the appeal, and then an appeal of the appeal of the appeal; and on and on it goes for perhaps a decade or more before any ultimate resolution truly solidifies.
Of course that’s the way it is with our judicial system in America. We’ve all heard of some terrible murderer who’s been proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, sometimes caught in the very act itself on videotape and affirmed by the culprit’s own confession of his sordid deeds. They are sentenced to death row. And then there’s the appeal, and the appeal of the appeal, and the appeal of the appeal of the appeal, etc.; and decades later the sentence is finally carried out. It seems that very few verdicts are actually final, there’s nearly always a future appeal that awaits. The judgment of God, however, is far different. Hebrews 9:27 puts it as succinctly as possible, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” God is the judge. He knows all. There is nothing to add to His knowledge of your case. God is the judge. He is all powerful. There is no higher authority you can appeal to. God is the judge. He is righteous. There are no mistakes or iniquities in His decisions. If you have not genuinely repented of sins, if you have not genuinely put faith in Christ as Savior, if you have not been genuinely born again, then the wrath of God will abide on you. You have this life and this life alone to surrender to Christ and receive His pardon, one life to submit to His lordship willingly. When your days here are done, your judgment will take place. Either you will be received into everlasting glory by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or you will be condemned to eternal damnation because you have rejected our Lord’s sweet offer of salvation. Either way, there will be no appeal. The judgment of God is final!
The Judgment Of God Is Full, Affecting Every Part Of Your Being (John 5:29; Acts 24:15; Mark 9:43-44; Heb. 10:28-29)…Nearly 20 years ago (a little over truth be told!), I was privileged to be a part of a group of college students that went to a local retirement/nursing home on Sunday afternoons to conduct church services. We would sing hymns, offer a short Biblical message/devotion, and then visit residents individually. I remember giving a brief sermon on Biblical love one day and then having a woman named Ina complimenting me about its eloquence and organization. (I know some of you are thinking, “what happened?!”). Ina was nearly 100 years old and had been an English teacher for 60 years! She was a wonderful woman to get to know and I appreciated her compliment and kindness. Ina was 103 the last time I saw her in this life. Her physical health was such that she could no longer get out of bed, but her mental health was still strong as evidenced by the stack of books by her bedside that she was in process of consuming. During our conversation she told me, “I still remember how eloquent and organized your message on Biblical love was when you first began coming here (that had been 4 or 5 years earlier).”
Throughout my years in ministry I’ve seen people who are mentally afflicted (such as my grandma (mama) who was plagued with Alzheimer’s) but their bodies are in pretty fair condition. I’ve been with others, such as Ina, with bodies that are failing but with minds that are fertile. I am thankful for the assurances of Scripture that those who are in Christ, those who have repented of sin and put genuine faith in Him as the Savior, will one day have a physical resurrection where they will enjoy a glorified body with no physical ailments and an understanding mind with no mental diminutions. As glorious as is that truth, it is also true that unbelievers will have a bodily resurrection. The suffering that they will forever endure will affect every part of their being; their physical pain, their mental stability, their emotional torment, every facet of their existence will be fully touched by the eternal conscious torment that is the righteous wrath of God!
The Judgment Of God Is Forever, It Will Never End (Mark 9:43-44)…In case you haven’t heard me say it in church and you haven’t seen it announced on the news and you don’t have kids or grandkids affected by it and you don’t notice the yellow buses on the road, let me tell you here in bold print, school has started! (Keep reading, though some teachers and students might disagree with me, I’m not calling school the judgment of God! I’m going somewhere else with this). As a teacher at the beginning of a new year, I put the bell schedule in big print on the board for all to see. I can lose track of time (as some of you who hear my sermons can testify) and having the schedule visible is a necessity. It helps me know when to wrap it up so that students can get to their next class on time. Now…confession…in addition to helping me with time management, the posted bell schedule, depending upon the behaviors of certain classes throughout the years, has also been a source of great hope. However bad the group of students may have been, there is a constant countdown reminding me that it won’t last forever! (Of course, there are some students that no doubt have felt the same way about not having to be in my class forever!)
The judgment of God, on the other hand, has no bell schedule. There’s no time clock pressing you ever closer towards 5 pm and a relaxing evening after the daily grind. Jesus puts it plainly, without nuance or qualification, telling us that Hell is a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm dieth not! The judgment of God cannot be fled, the judgment of God is final, the judgment of God is full, and the judgment of God is forever. People may not like this “fire and brimstone”, but to deny it would be “phony and baloney.” That being said, the good news is that the salvation of God is free, a free offer that is extended to all who will repent of sin and turn in genuine faith to Christ alone as Savior!