First Lesson: Exodus 32: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-13
Second Lesson: Philippians 4: 1-9
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22: 1-14
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”-Matthew 22:13-14
The next two weeks during services will consist of a very brief sermon series in preparation for the Afterlife Conference to take place at New Life Lutheran in Duluth on Saturday October 25th. I invite you all to attend. The background of the Afterlife Conference is as I have been in the ministry for over a half-decade now the most basic question of every Sunday morning worshipper that I ever encounter is “What happens when I die?” Similar themed questions pop up along with this big question such as:
“What will my reunion with family members look like?”
“What happens to us both before and after Christ’s final resurrection?”
These are the most basic and ultimately important questions of the Christian faith. With these things in mind, I want to talk this morning about one of the most confusing questions that we attempt to answer in relation to the nature of a loving God and Hell? What I want to talk about today is how we should think about Hell as Christians.
Let me begin with a common misconception about Hell, it’s one of the greatest misunderstandings of the entire Christian Faith. One of the great misconceptions of Hell is that Satan is the ruler of Hell. This idea is not a Biblical idea but rather comes from a very popular book in the 17th century called Paradise Lost. Milton begins Paradise Lost by describing a scene where Satan and other Fallen Angels awaken after enduring defeat in the War in Heaven.
Paradise Lost describes Hell as the living place of Satan and his minions. Milton’s ideas about Hell seem to influence nearly every popular portrayal of Hell ever since from Disney’s Fantasia to the video game Mortal Kombat to Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoons to the popular TV show South Park. The problem with Milton’s ideas is they don’t mesh with the scriptural ideas of Hell.
For example, the Book of 2nd Peter describes Fallen Angels as not dwelling in Hell, but rather being cast down into Hell where they are thrown into chains and tossed into prison.
Revelation 20 deals with the theme of Satan’s role in Hell. Revelation 20 mentions perhaps the most famous image of Hell in the Lake of Fire. Although the interesting thing about Revelation 20 is that describes Satan not tormenting people within the Lake of Fire, but rather Satan’s final destination being the Lake of Fire upon Christ’s Second Coming.
The great misunderstanding about Satan has to deal with the extent of his power. Scripture never describes Satan as maintaining any degree of power within Hell. Satan and his minions' only real power exists here on Earth through their ability to make sin attractive and beautiful. The ultimate reality of Satan is that he maintains no power in either Heaven or Hell in either the face of death or the power of the Gospel.
So with this misunderstanding of Hell cleared up, we should now move on towards how Christians should understand Hell. Occasionally, you will run across Christians who seem to delight in the list and types of people that will burn in Hell.
As we consider Hell this morning, the first thing that I should say is that Christians should be uncomfortable with the idea of Hell.
Writer C. Michael Patton describes it best when he says “I have often said that the doctrine of hell is simply the most disturbing doctrine thing known to man. If I could get rid of one of my beliefs, this would be it. Hands down.”
For as we consider the famous images of Hell from eternal fire, bottomless pits, and the great weeping and gnashing of teeth, these images remind us of the great pain that is caused by a separation from God for all eternity. The eternality of it all is probably the scariest part about considering Hell. Some church groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists try to deal with this scary notion by holding to the idea that instead of Hell, unbelievers merely cease to exist after the Second Coming.
Yet one would have to deny the clear words of Jesus to not hold to the belief of Hell’s eternity for the unbeliever:
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”- Matthew 25:46
As we consider Hell on this day, we have a few things to remember. The first thing to consider is the nature of God.
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”-1 Timothy 2:3-4
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”- 2 Peter 3:9
For as we begin a discussion about Hell what we must remember is that our God’s desire is that all people shall come to salvation that no man, woman, or child shall end up cast into Hell.
To inform our discussion about Hell let us consider a parable for this morning in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet from Matthew 22. It’s a parable that deals with our themes for this morning of Heaven, Hell, and unbelief.
Our parable for this morning is another one of Matthew’s parables that Jesus tells during the last week of his’ life. Jesus is telling this parable to the religious authorities of his day, within this parable; he is seeking to confront their misunderstandings about salvation coming to the whole world. The parable about the nature of God as told about a benevolent king.
The King has a Son who is about to get married. The King begins by sending out invitations. The first people that the King invites are the type of people you would expect a king to invite: the powerful, the beautiful, the popular, the winners, the rich and the famous. The King desires that this be a wedding feast beyond what the human mind could ever begin to imagine. The King sends his servants to invite all the Big Shots personally throughout the land. The Big Shots’ reaction though is not what the King expected; the Big Shots just didn’t seem to care.
Now most people would get mad at such blatant disrespect being displayed towards them. Many of us know people who always get on our nerves, by never being able to make time for the most important events in life. How often do we hear other people say that they will only forgive, after someone repents for how they wronged them?
The King’s attitude is different though; he did not take personal offense like most other people would, instead the King decides to send his servants again to re-extend the invitation. The Big Shots though were annoyed by the King’s persistent offers at this point, so their attitude towards from one of indifference to one of vengeance as they kill the King’s servants.
The King was not going to let this behavior though spoil his good time, so the King decides to pursue a different tact. The King is going to send his servants out instead to invite anyone they could find. This scene probably produces some people that you wouldn’t expect to see at a royal wedding. The servants invite outcasts, losers, failures, and the servants even dared to invite those who could not afford a decent shirt to wear to the wedding. The King looked over this moteliest crew of guests and just didn’t care. The King was going to see to it that this crew would look like a million bucks before the night was over. Some people didn’t want to come to the party; this was a failure on their part rather than the king.
Perhaps the greatest misunderstanding that we have of hell is best-summed up by Robert Farar Capon. Hell is not the place for sinners; Hell is rather the place for people who can’t believe in the seemingly absurd terms of God’s grace. The people that can’t believe that Christ’s cross is enough, so they instead desire to pursue their paths to God. Hell is the place for those who can’t come to terms with the power of the Gospel to raise the dead.
When I was in high school, My Dad invited me to attend an event put on by the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce where the keynote speaker was former Minnesota Viking and broadcaster Joe Senser. The thing to know about my Dad is he is very rarely on time for anything. A while back when staying at the parsonage right next door, he couldn’t even make church on time. So my Dad and I were late to hear Joe Senser speak, by the time we got there only two seats sit empty in the room. Both seats were in the presence of the honored guest Joe Senser.
People would rather sit by those they knew and felt comfortable then encounter someone whose experiences were so foreign to their everyday existence. I was embarrassed to go sit down by the honored guest after showing up late, yet my Dad has no shame. He marched us over there as being as worthy to sit there as anybody else. Whatever people in this room think of Joe Senser due to his wife Amy’s legal troubles, what I remember is one of the greatest meals of my life. Joe Senser told story after story along with quite a few jokes in my presence because others did not want to encounter someone on unfamiliar terms.
As we think about Hell this morning. Consider the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. In the 19th Century, C.F.W Walther, who was one of the founders of the Missouri Synod, wrote a book called The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.
Walther’s book dealt with the idea that there are only two words that a Christian can speak to another Christian. They can either speak a word of judgment or a word of forgiveness. What we need to remember is who needs to hear the following words.
Whenever Jesus spoke words of judgment, it was too the religious crowd like the Pharisees who thought they had a leg-up when it came to the Kingdom of God, yet it is often the religious who can’t come to terms with the nature of belief. Whereas within the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, we hear a word of grace, a word that those who one might not expect to see will be the ones who got invited to the Wedding Banquet purely according to the King’s terms. The key thing to remember about every one of Jesus’ parables is that winners often turn into losers with losers turning into winners. Jesus is all about extending grace to those who down on their luck, and those who are uncertain that the grace of God could be true! Jesus tells these people this parable to let them know that this grace extends to you.
So how should we understand Hell and how a loving God could allow such a place to exist? I think what we must remember is that God’s ways are often hidden from us.
What we remember this morning is the following truths:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. God does not wish for one person to fall into Hell. God’s love is why he sent his son. We take comfort in the fact that God revolts at the idea of Hell as much as anybody in this room. The only difference in this case is that God’s control is such that he can do something about his disgust. We remember that Christ’s death was about rescuing people from Hell, so that the Resurrection of God becomes a promise to all who believe.
What we must remember about Hell this morning is that God is not to blame. C.S. Lewis describes Hell best when he says “All that are in hell choose it.” “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”
We cannot put the blame for God on Hell any more than we can put the blame on the firefighter for seeking to put out a fire that someone else started. Hell is a reality of human sin that separates from God. God is the not cause of hell; God is rather the solution to Hell as evidenced by his resurrection. Amen
 Revelation 12:7-13 describes this War in Heaven. The difference between the Biblical description though and Paradise Lost is that the time frame for the event. Paradise Lost describes the War in Heaven as occurring before the Fall of Man. The Book of Revelation though is centered on the future event of Christ’s Second Coming. The War in Heaven occurs at the end of time, rather than the beginning.
 2 Peter 2:4
 Revelation 20:10
 C. Micheal Patton. “A Word About Hell”. Credo House Blog. 17. May.2010. Web. Oct.9.2014
 Capon, Robert Farar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Print. Pg.464.
 This is a common statement by Capon throughout his previously mentioned book.
 John 3:16
 Lewis makes these statements in his work The Great Divorce.