According to Scripture there are certainly realities we can always count on. These include the fact that we will all die, we will all stand before our maker and judge, and we will all live forever in one of two eternities. While our surrounding secular culture rarely if ever thinks or speaks about such realities, sadly many churches are no longer doing so either.
Our feel-good, self-centred churchianity of today has long ago stopped preaching the hard words of Scripture, including the hard words of Jesus, and has instead concentrated on making people feel good about themselves. We tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
And one of the things they most need to hear today is the truth that Jesus is not some peace-loving hippy but the holy and righteous God of the universe with whom we all have to do. He came offering us a way back to the Father, but it was always meant to be on his terms, not ours. Faith and repentance are key parts of this.
Indeed, repentance was a key theme in the preaching of Jesus. I am just now reading through the gospel of Mark and we find this as a constant:
Mark 1:4-5 – John preached repentance
Mark 1:14-15 – Jesus preached repentance
Mark 6:12 – the disciples preached repentance
Also preached constantly by Jesus was the reality of wrath to come for those who do not repent. He spoke more about coming judgment, hellfire and the just judgment of God than anyone else in Scripture. Indeed, if it were not for Jesus, we would know much less about the reality of hell and what awaits the unrepentant.
Having just been through the gospel of Matthew again, let me simply list what Jesus said there about this topic:
Matthew 3:11-12 [John the Baptist speaking about Jesus] I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Matthew 5:22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
Matthew 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 7:13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.
Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matthew 8:12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Matthew 13:40-42 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:49-50 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 18:8-9 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.
Matthew 22:13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 23:33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Matthew 24:51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 25:26-30 You wicked, lazy servant!… throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Wow, that sure is a lot of strong and ominous talk about judgment, wrath to come, and hell. It seems that every other chapter at least has stern warnings about hell and future judgment. Those Christians who want to paint Jesus as just some nice guy who wants everyone just to be happy and smile a lot have obviously not bothered to read the gospel of Matthew.
But there is good news here in the face of all this bad news. We can avoid this eternal judgment of God by simply availing ourselves of what Christ has done for us. He took our place at Calvary, suffering on our behalf, so that we might find forgiveness and new life if we turn to him in repentance.
We not only can get right with God and know that we can enjoy his presence forever, but we then have great hope and comfort in this life as well. Tragedy, hardship and suffering befall all of us in this life, but knowing about our future hope gives us the ability to keep on.
Because Jesus arose from the dead we too can have this tremendous hope. All this is rather poignant for me at the moment because a good friend my age has just passed away. It has been a time of grief and sadness, and I miss him already.
But I am sustained by knowing that I will see him again. One day we will meet and resume our friendship. He was a forgiven disciple of Christ, as am I. Therefore even though he is gone now, he is not gone forever. We will one day be reunited.
More importantly we will one day be reunited with our Lord. So despite the pains and sorrows of life, the believer has a rugged hope and an assured expectation of the future. We have been transferred from death to life, from the wrath of God to the grace of God, all because of what Jesus did for us.
That is great news indeed. Why anyone would refuse all that Christ offers us is quite puzzling. But we have an obligation to keep proclaiming biblical truth: the hard bits as well as the good bits. And that I shall continue to do.