Transcript of a Sermon Preached at Morgan County Correctional Facility in Wartburg, TN on Sunday, June 4th 2023
God is a relational God. Keep that in mind as we go through this message. Everything with God comes down to relationship, especially when we think of eternity and the afterlife. Turn with me to Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
So we see here that God made us with a built in understanding that there is something beyond this four dimensional world that we experience.
We think of eternity as being a really, really long time but it’s much more than that. Eternity is actually apart from time. It’s a state of being where all of the restraints of time are removed. That can either be the most beautiful thing you could imagine or the most horrifying thing you could imagine. It all depends on the direction you are going.
So the title of this message is “Heaven, Hell, Eternity and You.” As we go along, I want you to really focus on the “and you” part. In other words, deeply personalize what you are going to hear me say to you. Every one of us is going to live forever somewhere.
I’ll begin with the good news for those of us who are in Christ. How many of you know that it’s easy to default to the cliche images of Heaven being about floating around on clouds playing harps? I’m reminded of the Far Side cartoon that has a line of people going into Heaven and they are being given harps. Below there is a line of people going into Hell and they are being given accordions!
Seriously though, let’s look at the beautiful words of Jesus in John 14:1-6 ESV
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The imagery here comes from a Jewish wedding. The bride’s father would build a room into his house for the bridegroom to bring his new bride to make their home! We are His bride and He is building onto His mansion to give us places to live with Him when we get there!
Think about this: Jesus has been working on our home for more than 2000 years! When you see all the beauty of the earth, all of the mountains, the trees, the oceans and consider how God made all that in six days, it blows your mind to think of all He can do on over 2000 years!
What we see first of all in this passage is that
Heaven will be a place of relationships
How many of you think that Heaven will be one big church service? While there will definitely be plenty of worship and we’ll talk more about that shortly, but that’s not all there is! Much of what makes Heaven what it is will be relationships! We will all have our own living quarters we will visit each other and fellowship and share with one another!
At a church where I used to go, the pastor’s teenage son died suddenly. After taking some time off, he returned and did the most powerful sermon series on Heaven I have ever heard. One of the things he said that has always stayed with me is this: ” Streets of gold are nice, but I don’t long for a street of gold. I long for my son.”
So how does the family relationship continue in Heaven? I know what Jesus said about how we won’t marry or be given in marriage in Heaven but that only means that it will be something greater, not something less. Think about it this way: Do you like hamburgers? Do you miss them when you are eating a tbone steak?
We’re going to look at the first of several times in the Bible that a particular phrase is used. Genesis 25:8: Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
Similar things are said about Ishmael, Isaac , Jacob, Aaron and Moses. Scholars have different opinions on what that means but in my view it means that when a believer dies, they are reunion with their believing family members who went before them.
Which brings us to another question we often ask: What happens to animals when they die? Will our beloved pets be with us in Heaven? While the Bible does not give a concrete answer to this question, it does describe animals having a very prominent role in Christ’s future kingdom on earth. Let’s look at Isaiah 11:6-9
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Again, there may not be enough here to say for sure that pets would be included here, but if your happiness in Heaven is dependent on your dog being there, he will be!
Next, Heaven will be a place of serving.
“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.”
Yes, we will have jobs in Heaven! But don’t worry. We will love every last bit of them! We won’t dread going to work. We won’t call in sick. We won’t have to report anyone to HR. In fact, we will have the best boss ever!
Yes, we will have jobs in Heaven! But don’t worry. We will love every last bit of them! We won’t dread going to work. We won’t call in sick. We won’t have to report anyone to HR. In fact, we will have the best boss ever!
The work will be joyful and fulfilling, not a drudgery like we may think now. It’s so exciting to think that as wonderful as Heaven is, we will have a role to play in it’s operation!
Heaven will be a place of learning
Friends how many of you know that one of the most exciting things about life is discovery? Don’t you love to learn new things? I do! So think about that as we read Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
All of eternity will be a continual revelation of God’s goodness, mercy and kindness. Trust me, you won’t be bored!
One of the reasons we don’t grasp this the way we should is that we’ve been sold a really short sighted idea of Heaven. I referred earlier to the image of floating on clouds playing harps. Not only is that image false, it’s actually insulting to the glory of God! Let’s unpack that a little before we go on. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
When a believer dies there is a time of being absent from the body and present with the Lord and while that is wonderful, our blessed hope is not to spend eternity as a disembodied spirit. Our blessed hope is our resurrected bodies!
Even then, that’s not all! Here’s another truth that will challenge some of the things you might have been taught and as we said before, sacred cows make the best hamburgers! Did you know that you are not going to spend eternity in Heaven?
Revelation 21:1-5 ESV
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This is where Heaven and a fully renovated earth come together! Friends THIS is ultimately where we have our eternal home in our immortal bodies, enjoying God’s goodness and blessings forever!And yes,
Heaven will be a place of worship.
Ultimately that’s what it all comes down to! Go to
“They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
So the greatest thing about it all is being directly in the presence of Jesus! Looking directly into His face! Only in our immortal, resurrected bodies can we stand the glory of it all! Is anything worth missing out on all of this?
Of course, to get the whole picture, we also have to look at the other side. Yes, there is a literal place called hell and it’s just as terrible as Heaven is wonderful. Obviously, it’s not a pleasant topic, but in order to fully appreciate the good news, sometimes we have ponder on just how bad the bad News is!
In his television heyday, Phil Donahue once had a minister on his program whom he asked whether or not he believed in Hell. The minister replied that he did. When Donahue responded that he did not, the minister shot back, “Well, you will when you get there!”
Of all the truths of the Christian faith, perhaps there is none more difficult to fathom than the reality of a literal, eternal Hell for those who reject the saving work of Jesus Christ. After all, how could a loving, merciful God create such a horrible place?
We see the answer as soon as man falls. Let’s go back to the Book of Genesis, chapter 3. I’ll begin with verse 1:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:1-8 ESV
Notice in verse 8, it says Adam and Eve hid from God. People in their sinful state don’t want to be in God’s presence anyway. They hide like Adam and Eve did. So God simply honors their wish. We saw before about how God’s presence would be the most wonderful thing about Heaven. In Hell it’s the direct opposite.
Now skip down to verse 22:
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:22-24 ESV
So God has to cut them off from the Tree of Life. Allowing people in their sinful state to live forever would allow the sin to grow and fester with no limits. Talk about terrifying! That is, why we have to receive new natures through being born again in order to enter God’s Kingdom.
God’s wrath is just as much a part of His character as His love and John 3:36 tells us how unbelievers are under God’s wrath. If you read in the Book of Acts how the early believers shared the Gospel, the tone was very different from what we hear today. The message wasn’t simply “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” as true as that may be. The emphasis was on God’s wrath and how we must turn from sin and receive the Gospel in order to escape it!
Sadly the modern Church has often neglected or outright dismissed important Bible teachings in an attempt to make people feel more “comfortable”. Once upon a time, preachers would regularly teach the people about the eternal fate of the wicked. Now, most especially in more liberal or “user friendly” sects, the Bible’s teaching of eternal punishment is denigrated if it is even mentioned at all and this is to the shame of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:1).
As a result, the Biblical concept of Hell has been replaced by the world’s distorted definitions. Did anyone grow up listening to AC/DC? I did! “Highway To Hell” After describing Hell as “party time” and boasting that all his friends would be there, too, lead singer Bon Scott chillingly proclaims the following: “Hey Satan, paid my dues playing in a rockin’ band. Hey Momma, look at me! I’m on my way to the promised land. I’m on the Highway to Hell!” As you might remember, not long after recording these words, Bon Scott died suddenly after a night of heavy drinking. If we could talk to him today, Mr. Scott would give us a radically different description of Hell. It is certainly no party, and although his friends may very well be there, he will never see them again. In the words of the great preacher Jonathan Edwards:
That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.
With this in mind, I want us to examine the most common questions and misconceptions about this crucial truth. What is Hell? What is it like? Who goes there? and most importantly, how can we avoid going there?
Jesus Himself did not see a contradiction between His message of God’s love and the reality of God’s wrath. In fact, He taught more about Hell than He did about Heaven, did you know that? He described it as “Everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8, 25:41), “Eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29), “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30), “Place of torment” (Luke 16:28), “Outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13) and “Everlasting fire, everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:41, 46).
We vividly see this in Jesus’ most detailed teaching on Hell: The dramatic story of Lazarus and the rich man, as seen in Luke 16:19-31.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Luke 16:19-31 ESV
This account is not a parable. Rather, it is a true story of a “certain” rich man (tradition tells us that the man’s name was Dives), and a beggar named Lazarus who ate crumbs from Dives’ table. However, the roles were dramatically reversed after both men died. Lazarus was carried away into Paradise, or “Abraham’s Bosom,” while the rich man found himself in the flames of Hell. His agony there was so great that he begged for even one drop of water to cool his tongue, but even this was refused. Think about this: Even after 2000 years, he still has not received that drop of water.
Also notice that those in hell seen to be able to see into Heaven. That would be one of the worst parts about it, to spend eternity seeing what you could have had.
Turn to Hebrews 6:1-2
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The fact is that eternal judgment is one of the foundational doctrines of the New Testament. To not believe this doctrine is, putting it bluntly, to call Jesus a liar. It is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). No matter how much a person may try to ignore it, the human conscience bears witness to the fact that there will one day come a reckoning. Dr. D. James Kennedy sums it up well: “If the Bible teaches anything at all, it is that there is an everlasting too late-that there will come a moment when the door of grace will be slammed shut forever. Then the sinner would give the universe itself for just one minute to repent and turn to Jesus Christ.
If the Bible teaches anything at all, it is that there is an everlasting too late-that there will come a moment when the door of grace will be slammed shut forever. Then the sinner would give the universe itself for just one minute to repent and turn to Jesus Christ.
I was once presented with a Gospel tract entitled “What Must I Do To Go To Hell?” When you opened it, the page was blank! In other words, in order to go to Hell, simply do nothing. By neglecting or rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, your fate in hell is sealed. Again, God is a relational God, and he would dishonor His Covenant with His people if he were to allow those that did not partake of the covenant to enjoy the same eternal state as those that have . The good news is that anyone can be part of that covenant! The first step, however, is to confront the root of the problem, which is our own human sinfulness. Yes there are lots of sins that will keep you from Heaven, you can read about that in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8, but there is one sin especially. Do you know what that is? It’s pride, self righteousness, self sufficiency. It’s the idea that “I’m not so bad. I don’t need God’s grace. I can make it on my own.” Once that illusion gets shattered, our perspective on the other sins will change. We’ve discussed this passage before but let’s go to Isaiah 6, beginning with verse 1:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah 6:1-5 ESV
Friends this is how it all begins, when we get that glimpse of how holy God is and how sinful we are. As Romans 3:23 puts it, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In other words, every one of us has been guilty of disobeying God’s holy laws and commandments. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever had an immoral sexual thought? Have you ever put anything in your life ahead of God? If we will be honest, we all have to plead “guilty as charged,” and acknowledge that we are fully deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. Bad news? Yes, but it brings us to the best news of all!
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He (even) gave up His only begotten (unique) Son so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life (John 3:16, Amplified Bible).
Imagine being on death row waiting for your execution. But one day the warden comes in and tells you that someone died in your place! They took that punishment for you and now you are free!
Friends, that’s exactly what Jesus did for us! As we wrap up, let’s look at John 1:12
“As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name”
Could the choice be any clearer? As Jesus said, what will it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?
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