Luke 12:4&5 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
As Dr Gresham Machen once pointed out, these words were not spoken by Jonathan Edwards. They were not spoken by John Calvin, or John Knox, or Billy Graham. They were not even spoken by the apostle Paul. They were spoken by the Lord Christ, yes, by gentle Jesus, meek and mild. He said them, and in fact they are recorded twice in the gospels, here and in Matthew 10 and verse 28. Some might claim that our text is a simple aberration in Jesus’ message, quite exceptional, out of character with him and his words of love, that he mentioned hell just on a couple of occasions and that these are examples of figurative language, and so too much mustn’t be made of them. That is not the case. Consider who he is, the incarnate God. He and his Father are one. If you have seen him you have seen God the Father – so he told his disciples. He could have truly added that if you had heard him you had heard the only God there is. Christ could thank God at the end of his life that he had succeeding in telling men all that the Father had given him to say to the world. “I gave them the words you gave me” (Jn. 17:8). He told us everything, and so God spoke aloud twice when he ratified all Jesus had done and said; “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” When he heard Jesus speak these words of our text then God would say, “I am well pleased you said that my beloved Son.”
THE LORD JESUS SPOKE ON THIS THEME OFTEN.
The Son of God said four things about hell: (I appreciate Robert Peterson gathering these verses together). Let us limit ourselves to just one of the four gospels for a moment:
i] Hell is real. Not all men are eternally safe. Not everyone will go to heaven. Jesus holds out another place, the solemn possibility of perdition, the reality of hell. Matthew 5 and verses 21 & 22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:27-30 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Matthew 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”
ii] Hell is ruled by God. The devil has no power to throw us into hell. He himself is thrown into the bottomless pit by God. So Jesus said in 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 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Matthew 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”
iii] Hell involves rejection. It is outside God’s love and presence and protection. Matthew 7:23 “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 8:11&12 “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Matthew 25:30 “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
iv] Hell involves pain. In other words, it is not a theoretical place; it is an occupied place. Matthew 13:30 “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:40-43 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the 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 fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” 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 fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 18:6-9 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” Matthew 24:50&51 “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So, just from the first of the four gospels, from Matthew, we have heard the words of the Lord Jesus on this subject, and he has told us that hell is real, hell is ruled by God, hell involves rejection and hell involves pain. Your quarrel, if quarrel you have over the subject of endless punishment, is not with me or John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards. It is not even with the apostle Paul. Your quarrel is with the Lord Jesus Christ. Although his apostles, Peter, Paul and John, did speak of it, nobody spoke of it more than our Saviour. It was he who told the parable of the rich man in hell and Lazarus in heaven. It was he who told the parable of the sheep and the goats, the goats being condemned to a place prepared for the devil and his angels. It was Jesus who told the parable of the man condemned to outer darkness because he had no wedding garment. It is singularly impressive that God’s own Son felt this burden to refer to hell so very clearly.
We are told in this passage in Luke 12 that thousands of people had gathered to hear Jesus, so much so that there was some danger of people being crushed. Then, after a brief word of warning to his disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, Jesus began his sermon to the multitude, and these verses of our text are his opening words: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” What is he saying? Certainly this that there is a hell, and God has the power and righteousness to consign men and women to it, but that none of them need fear entering hell if they but fear God. “Yes, I tell you, fear God!” No one who has feared God has entered hell.
Let us always remember that God never sends men to hell out of malice, but only out of equity. God has no pleasure in it. He does not gloat over human misery. He is not willing that any should perish. Hell is a necessity of God’s righteous nature, but it wrestles with the tenderness and compassion of God. It is as if God were saying ‘why do you make me do it?’ When our end comes, and we stand before God, face to face, God will listen carefully, hopefully, to every word in mitigation, every excuse, every plea. God will bring into consideration every factor. God wants it to be right. Every circumstance will be examined. Every plea in self-defence. Every fact will be carefully examined. And if you have a good case, a case that stands, then there is nothing to fear.
So where are we today? You went home from church one Sunday morning and your friends or your partners or members of your family said to you, “What did your preacher preach about this morning?” “Oh, he read to us many words of the Lord Jesus.” “Oh, that was nice.” “No it wasn’t. I couldn’t wait for him to stop. It was almost unbearable.” There are people who have come to us across the years and they have complained, and they have said, “Don’t give us doctrine. Give us Jesus. We want to hear Jesus. Sir, we would see Jesus.” So today I have given you Jesus, just the words of Jesus, and you can hardly bear them. I can hardly bear reading those words, but my calling is not limited to what I can bear; I am not limited to my feelings in what I believe and preach but to the words and teaching of the Son of God because for us he can say no wrong.
Now you can hear such words as Jesus’ on the place of woe, and then you can read the speculations of Bultmann, and Barth, and Dawkins, and Hawkins – to say nothing of Bertrand Russell. All of them are offering their intellectual theories and their scorn and a theatrical sense of horror in their attempts to discredit the notion of hell. They are some of the most brilliant minds of the last 100 years, with the highest I.Q.’s, men of the most superior intelligence – intimidating personalities. They are smarter than every one of us, and yet I prefer the words of our Lord, and the life of our Lord, and the death of our Lord, and the resurrection of our Lord, and the influence that our Lord has had on the lives of thousands of people I know, whom I consider to be the loveliest and the best people I have been privileged to meet because of what God has done in their lives. I cannot escape from the clear and unambiguous language with which Jesus of Nazareth often warned people like me of hell. I cannot believe that he was crying wolf, telling people of a non-existent danger simply in order to agitate them and make them run to him. That would be utterly unworthy of our gracious and good Saviour. How can he claim to be ‘the truth’ and deceive the world so horrendously by speaking of a place that did not exist and a God who would never do what Jesus said he would do?
2. WHY DID JESUS SPEAK ON THIS THEME OFTEN?
i] Because of the wrath of God – towards all that contradicts and defies God’s pure and sinless nature. Jesus saw how men were treating the house of God, the Jerusalem Temple, cheating people out of their money by forcing them to exchange their hard-earned coins for Temple coins, the only currency in which worshippers were allowed to buy animals for sacrifice. He heard the shouts of the hawkers, and the offers of fine lambs and pigeons, the bidders out-doing one another in ripping people off. Guilty, ashamed, needy worshippers had gone there for God’s pardon, to make atonement for their sins, looking at the ground and beating their chests and crying, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” but the atmosphere around the Temple’s great altar was like Petticoat Lane and a car boot sale run by brazen criminals, and this was the house of Jehovah. What did Jehovah Jesus do when he saw this scene? You know that he didn’t shrug and whistle, “Always think of the bright side of life.” He made a whip out of cords and lashed the shoulders of those men. He overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and he drove them all out of the Temple. He took them on and threw them out. They fled from his indignation. Jesus did not sin, but Jesus was full of wrath.
That is the nature of God. It has to be the divine response to that which is contrary to his nature. When he sees the torturer, and the rapist, and the wife-beater, and the thief, and the drug-dealer, and the pimp, and the merciless chiseling business-man there is in the holy nature of God a controlled and permanent opposition to all such sins. That abhorrence of sin on the part of Jehovah is not a whim, it is not capricious, it is not a decision of his will, it is not uncontrolled temper. It is the reaction of his holy, and glorious, and loving nature to all that contradicts it. The wrath of a sin-hating God is as fundamental to the divine nature as his love. Without any wrath towards wickedness God would not be God. He would be a monster.
Jehovah is permanently opposed to sin; he has always been opposed to it; he will always be opposed to it; he is opposed to it at this moment. The wrath of God is being revealed as I speak at the stoning of women to death in Muslim lands for their adultery, or receiving 99 lashes – think of whipping a woman that much. His anger is directed to honour killings by fathers of their own daughters who have been raped by other men and so the father thinks that the rape victims have brought shame onto the family name and he kills her – a father killing his daughter – and God doesn’t care? What sort of God would that be? His wrath is revealed towards unspeakable cruelty to animals all over the world, for child sacrifice in parts of Africa, for the sex trade in girls, for theft, and blasphemy, and violence, and drunkenness. God cares how men and women behave in his creation because they are made in his likeness and he sustains and keeps them day by day. He is patient with them and speaks through their consciences and the things of the law are written on their hearts, and he inquires, “What are you doing? Don’t do that!” He pleads with them to repent and cease their sinning. They are living God-defiant lives and they are without excuse.
The Bible is full of such examples of the wrath of the Lamb as Jesus showed when he made a whip and flogged the backs of those cheats cleansing the Temple. Think of his language towards the Pharisees, his utter scorn and hatred of their wickedness. In the Old Testament – that Jesus said was ‘truth’ and that could not be broken – there are many examples of God warning his people, sending them prophets and pleading with them to desist and repent and come back to him, but when they refused he judged them. It wasn’t just saber-rattling; it wasn’t just words. Jehovah acted in judgment and sent a flood, or fire and brimstone, or a barren wilderness, or exile into slavery, or the destruction of a great city and its Temple. God is not a helpless, doddery, old pensioner. The Judge lives.
All those Old Testament and New Testament examples of divine judgment are simply pictures of the last and final judgment that awaits all the world, the day of wrath, a revelation of the righteous condemnation of God. Paul said to some people, “You are treasuring up to yourselves wrath against the day of wrath” (Roms. 2:5). So Jesus spoke about hell because of his wrath against what is evil. Also . . .
ii] Because of the majesty of God. Consider how sin is an affront to the majesty of God, an offence and insult against the infinite dignity and majesty of God. Think how this majesty is described at the opening of Isaiah 6. The prophet was given a vision of the glory of the Lord. The Hebrew word is adonai, which means the God who is able to carry out all his purposes. There is no weakness or failure in accomplishment in God. He is the Almighty One. He declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). The prophet sees the Lord “sitting upon a throne”, and that throne is not a mere symbol. The Lord is actively ruling sovereignly over heaven and earth. Then we are also told that he is “high and lifted up”, that is, he is utterly apart from such specks of dust as ourselves. He is wholly other than ourselves, transcendent and exalted above everything. That is the infinite majesty of God; he is surrounded by seraphs who cry out incessantly to one another the words, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts . . .” (Isa. 6:3). “Isn’t he holy? What holiness!” They never weary of seeing their God. If you view sin with the eyes of those angels as they survey the living God then you won’t marvel that God is angry with the sinner and that he determines to cast him into hell.
Sin is an offence and insult against this glorious Person. “When they knew God,” writes Paul, “they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but . . . changed the glory of the incorruptible God” (Rom. 1:21,23). Sin involves a despising of his divine majesty and greatness; it is an offence against an infinite Being. As dreadful as hell is, consider the greatness and glory of the Being you defy throughout your whole life. The wrath of God that you’ve heard of is not more dreadful than that awesome Majesty which you’ve despised and trampled on.
It is in relation to God that sin assumes its essential significance: it is not merely immorality, or crime, or alienation, or inauthentic existence, or ecological neglect, but rather it is an offence against God. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight,” confessed David for his adultery and murder (Ps. 51:4). “How then can I do this great wickedness,” exclaims Joseph to Potiphar’s wife, “and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Sin is active rebellion against God, an affront to his authority; it is contempt of his person, the breaking of his law and the despising of his Word and love. It would dethrone God if it could. Every sin cries, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” So hell is the logical end of a sinner’s defiance of the majesty of God. Jesus also spoke of it . . .
iii] Because of the holiness of God. Jehovah is free from all sin. You go into him and you cannot find one atom of sin. You go in and in and in and there is no sub-atomic particles of sin in him whatsoever. He has no past; no regrets; no lack of love; no failings which only show when he is under pressure. How different from ourselves. We live in a world dominated and permeated by sin, so it is far from easy for us to conceive of an infinite and immense Being wholly free of all sin. Yet this is the testimony of the Bible: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). There is no trace of evil or imperfection in God; even the holy angels veil their faces at the sight of uncreated holiness.
Such divine holiness means that God hates sin with an intense hatred. Any deviation from his pure and spotless nature, and from the law which mirrors that holiness, is abhorrent to him. Let me illustrate this point, very simply. I have been trying to help a man who has been sending me Emails during the past summer. I have not met him and neither have any of you. Then on Thursday night before I went to bed I checked to see if there was any mail and he had written to me and he said some things of such utter repugnance that I could not sleep for a long time. I lay there with a feeling of the deepest abhorrence. I felt angry and sickened at what I’d read. Christians who are indwelt by God react as God would react. Consider the apostle Paul when he saw the city of Athens wholly given over to idolatry. People were bowing down and making sacrifices to hideous idols. Luke records of Paul that “his spirit was stirred in him” (Acts 17:16); that is, he was angry, and there was a fire of indignation and grief and detestation burning within him.
Now multiply by infinity and you begin to approximate to God’s intense and perfect hatred of sin. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness,” writes the psalmist, “neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity . . . the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man” (Ps. 5:4-6). The holiness that even the angels possess is by comparison with God’s holiness like the light of one match being struck on a dark country road comparing that light with the blaze and light of the sun at midday. ‘Hell’, remarked one preacher, ‘is scorched through and through by the holiness of God.’ It is the naked flame of his holiness. So sinning is no light and trifling matter. How hateful is sin to us? Are the truths of the wrath and majesty and holiness of God, for us, only theories which leave us unmoved? But there are still other reasons why Jesus spoke much on the theme of hell . . .
iv] Because of the death that lay before Christ. If we ever have doubts about the reality of God’s wrath we need to consider what happened to Jesus Christ. The experience of our Lord confirms the reality of God’s anger. Jesus was his only Son, but when our sins were laid on him, when he stood in our place, under our judgment and in our condemnation, when he was made sin for us, when he gave himself as our bridegroom and took all our liabilities as his bride then his Father did not spare him, but God delivered him up to condemnation for us. God loved Jesus more than we can ever imagine, but still he punished him. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. On the cross Jesus ‘descended into hell.’ On behalf of all those given to him by the Father, Jesus underwent the torments of the damned. He took upon himself the just punishment that sins deserve and he experienced the unmixed, unmitigated wrath of God. He bore in his own soul the torments of a condemned and ruined people. There is no greater vindication of the reality of hell than the cry of Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He looked for his Father’s fellowship but he found only his anger. The sinless one had been made sin and so suffered what sin deserves. That’s why in Gethsemane his soul recoiled at the thought of all that. He became ‘sore amazed.’ That’s why there was such heaviness, such solemnity, such anguish. If ever we need proof of hell, it is there: in the drops of bloody sweat in Gethsemane and in the cry of dereliction at Calvary. But there is one more reason why Jesus spoke much of hell.
v] Because of the compassion that filled his heart. When Francis Schaeffer was 71 – my age – he was dying of cancer, and a friend called David Bryson wrote to him and asked him how it was that he could keep on serving God with such intensity. This is how Schaeffer replied, “Sorrow for all the lost. This should press us on to be faithful tellers, regardless of the cost. To preach the eternal lostness of unbelievers without tears would be a cold and dead orthodoxy indeed. And to teach it without a great emphasis upon our own responsibility, in the light of hell, to do all we can, regardless of the cost, so that men might know the gospel – that would be totally ugly and opposed to this biblical message that those who are lost are my kind.” Jesus Christ was bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. He was ‘my kind.’ He said those words about hell that have been read in your hearing today.
On his first furlough in Britain after his years of missionary work in China Hudson Taylor spoke to a crowded meeting in Edinburgh. He told them how once he had stood on a jetty waiting for a boat to pick them up for a journey on a river and then a man fell into the river but no one moved; no one batted an eyelid. No one did a thing to rescue him. There was no stir, nothing but a casual interest in his drowning. They looked and listened to his crying for help, but they took no action at all, not one of them, because their acquaintance with death and their fatalism had seared their consciences. The Scottish congregation was shocked hearing of this incident, and then Hudson Taylor applied it to them; “You are very upset by their refusal to do anything to rescue a drowning man from physical death, but what of your indifference to the spiritual death and hopelessness of thousands and thousands who die each year in China without ever hearing about God’s love in Jesus Christ his Son.” Our response to the words of Christ should lead us to compassionate lives of evangelism.
SO ‘FEAR HIM WHO HAS POWER TO THROW YOU INTO HELL.’
There are those who say that fear should be banished from religion. To hold up the fear of hell before men is said to be ignoble. If people do believe that theory then they will get no support at all from our Lord, for he often warned people to fear hell, and Pharisaic religion, and false prophets, and the activities of the devil, and temptation. So you have a choice between the person that you call ‘Jesus,’ and the real Jesus of the gospels. Is fear altogether some ignoble emotion? Is a person degraded by being afraid? I think that it all depends on that which you fear. In our text Jesus tells us of what we are not to be afraid – Do not fear men who can only torture your body and kill you. The history of the church has shown the heroics of men and women, young and old, who have stood bravely before men and have said, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” They have been hung and drawn and quartered. They have been burnt alive because they did not fear the verdicts of men, but they did fear the living God. It is indeed an ignoble emotion to be afraid of mere man, but is it degrading to fear God? Well, if your god is just such a one as you are, a tyrant, full of envy and cruelty, then you will never rise above a groveling fear of such a monster. But if you stand before the One who in the beginning said, “Let there be light and there was light,” the One in whom we live and move and have our being, the One who is the source of all the moral order of the universe, the Judge of all mankind, when all our puny deceptions will fall off and we stand so terribly exposed before his piercing eyes and total knowledge of us, the one who has power to throw us into hell – then we should and must fear him!
“Are we to live our entire lives subject to fear?” you ask. Do we simply face an unavoidable date with the God who will condemn us? God sent his Son Jesus into the world to tell us No! He came to deliver us from fear. He did not do this by looking the other way and encouraging us to forget about our past falls and our present lusts. He did not come to tell us that God was indifferent to how we live. Jesus came to fulfil in his own life all that God requires of sinners. Where the first Adam failed, the last Adam succeeded. As our head he did all that God requires; he fulfilled all righteousness. On the cross he took the judgment of the broken law and he exhausted it in his own body. He has reconciled the Judge of all the earth to us law-breakers. Jesus has satisfied divine justice; he has attained our redemption; our boasting is now in his cross. There is now no condemnation to those who are joined to the Saviour.
We Christians fear God; we fear what might have been our destinies if we had dismissed Jesus and turned away from him. We fear what our eternities might become if we did not have Christ as our advocate with God. We fear we might yet grieve him by acts of foolish defiance like David or Peter. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. So take my heart and seal it! What a glorious Saviour he is. Love so amazing – to have suffered our hell in himself on Golgotha – demands a life of total love and obedience. Do not be afraid of man, but fear the high and holy one who inhabits eternity whose name is holy. Fear him ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear, no fear of hell, of the place of woe, of the unquenchable fires, of the place of the devil and his demons. No fear of them because you regard God with the deepest, tenderest, most reverent fears and the strongest love for saving you at so great a cost, and all because of God’s grace in Jesus.
12th September 2010 GEOFF THOMAS