End of Days Part 4
Final Destination: Eternity in the Balance
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 22, 2003

 

Main Passage: Revelation 21:1-8 (NLT)

 

Have you ever read one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? You know, the books where you’re reading along and you have to make a decision. If in they story you’re walking down the street and decide to turn left, you go to page 52 and your story continues from there. If you decide to turn to the right, you turn to page 39 to continue, and you keep making those types of decisions which eventually determines how the story ends.

Sometimes DVDs are like that. Now with all the extra features, sometimes you can watch an alternate ending. The studio wanted one ending, the director wanted another ending, so both of them end up on the DVD. And you can watch them both and decide which one you prefer.

The Bible is the story of us and our relationship with God. And it has two possible endings. And which ending becomes reality in your life depends upon the decisions you make along the way.

Here are the two possible endings, both laid out for us in Revelation 21:

Revelation 21:7-8 (NLT)
All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshipers, and all liars—their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur. This is the second death."

There are two possible endings, and it’s up to you to decide. No one else can choose for you. Your parents can’t choose for you, your children can’t choose for you, your spouse can’t choose for you, your friends can’t choose for you. You make your own decision. Your first option is this: You can decide to accept the life Jesus offers you and enjoy all the blessings of spending eternity with your Heavenly Father. This is the path the leads to eternal life in Heaven.

Or your second option is this: you can choose to reject that life, turn away from Jesus, and spend eternity apart from God. The verses we just read refer to the second death. You should know that the second death does not mean that you cease to exist. A lot of people think that there’s no such thing as eternal punishment in Hell. But the Bible is quite clear that Hell is a reality, and once you’re there you’re there for all time. In this case, the word “death” means that you will be eternally separated from your Creator, and you will never experience the life you were meant to live. That’s the second death.

And that’s it. There are only two options. Not one, not three, just two. You, me and everyone else we know will each choose one or the other.

In the book Alice in Wonderland we read this encounter:

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” was his response.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

It would be wise for us this morning to know where we want to go, because as Yogi Berra said;

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else!”
~ Yogi Berra

So let’s take a closer look at the two options.

 

Eternal Dwellings:

 

1. Where You Don’t Want to Go: Hell

Actually, Hell is just one of the terms we use to describe this final destination for people who reject God. The terms Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the New Testament can be used interchangeable and literally mean, “the place of Departed Souls.” Sometimes the terms are simply used in reference to death or the grave, and in other instances the terms refer to an actual place, which we usually refer to as Hell.

In the New Testament there’s another term which Jesus used almost exclusively to refer to Hell. And it’s the word, Gehenna. Now over the past several weeks in our LIFE Group we’ve been watching a video series which has taken us through some of the locations where Jesus walked and where He taught. And one of the big things we’ve noticed is how relevant and direct Jesus was with His hearers. For example, this past week we talked about the words He had for the believers in the Church in Laodicea. Jesus talked about how he wished they were either hot or cold, but because there were only lukewarm He was about to spit them out of His mouth. Well, there were two other cities that shared the same valley as Laodicea. Hieropolis was known for the cold, refreshing water that flowed to it from the nearby snow covered mountains. Colossae was know for its hot springs which could soothe and relax and bring healing. Laodicea was stuck in the middle with lukewarm water that wasn’t fit for anything. So Jesus used the reality of their situation to help them understand spiritual truth.

Well, here we have Jesus using the word Gehenna to tell them about Hell. That Greek word actually referred to a valley southwest of Jerusalem, known in Hebrew as the Valley of Hinnom. Here’s a picture of the valley today, as it looks toward Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, this valley was used by the Canaanites to sacrifice their sons and daughters to the false god Molech. In 2 Kings 23 we’re told that King Josiah put a stop to all of that by desecrating or defiling the valley. I’m not sure how he did that, but whatever he did made the valley unfit to be used.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the valley had been converted into a garbage dump. All of the filth and garbage of Jerusalem, including the dead bodies of animals and criminals would be thrown out into this dump. There were always fires burning there to consume all of the waste that was there. And think about the smell. It’s bad enough for me when I forget to empty the compost… I can’t imagine what that would have been like.

This is what Jesus was referring to when he said;

Mark 9:43-48 (NLT)
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It is better to enter the Kingdom of God half blind than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, `where the worm never dies and the fire never goes out.'

What was Jesus saying? He was saying, “If you want to know what Hell is like, look at Gehenna. The garbage, dead bodies, the fire, the smell… multiply that by eternity and that’s what the unrighteous have to look forward to in Hell.”

Who is it that have Hell as their final destination? Well, the verses we looked at earlier identifies eight different groups of people. I don’t think this is meant to be an exhaustive list, but it simply illustrates the type of people who have this to look forward. So let’s take a look at it again:

Revelation 21:8 (NLT)
But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral, and those who practice witchcraft, and idol worshipers, and all liars—their doom is in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur. This is the second death."

 

Who is destined for Hell?

First of all…

a) Cowards who turn away from Jesus

The implication here is that these same cowards perhaps followed Jesus at one time. But the cost got too high, the effort became too much, they were embarrassed or ashamed be associated with Jesus, and they turned away. Perhaps gaining friends, power or an economic advantage was more important to them than being associated with Jesus.

Let me tell you about a man who put his relationship with Jesus above everything else. His name was Jim Elliot. He was a missionary to Ecuador a number of years ago, and he knew going in that there was a pretty good chance that he would be killed. He was going into the jungle to share about Jesus with a tribe that up to that point had very little contact with the outside world. It was a violent tribe, with its own beliefs and with a fear of strangers. And you know what they did? They killed him.

Listen to some of the words Jim had said earlier:

“A man is no fool who loses that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
~ Jim Elliot

And years later, his wife went back to the same tribe and was able to successfully reach them for Christ.

 

b) Unbelievers

These are the people who reject the claims of Jesus. They reject the life He offers. They reject Him as Lord of their lives. And there are a lot of people in this world who fall into this category.

 

c) The corrupt

If something is corrupt, that means it’s tainted, unusable or distorted. So it’s really a catchall word for those who reject the values and standards of God in favour of something less.

 

d) Murders

Obviously, a murderer is someone who has taken the life of someone else other than for self-defence. But you should know that the Bible talks about hatred as being as bad as murder. Check out Matthew 5:21-22;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NLT)
"You have heard that the law of Moses says, `Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

 

e) The immoral

This is a reference to sexual impurity, and includes any sex outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship. Sex is a gift from God, and for our own protection it is meant to be used within this kind of a relationship. What happens when we take sex outside of this kind of a relationship? Well, why don’t you tell me.

What are some of the consequences of sex outside of the marriage relationship?

PARTICIPATION

(Unwanted pregnancies, AIDS, Sexually transmitted diseases, emotional hurts…)

 

f) Those who practice witchcraft

This isn’t just a reference to black capes, pointy hats, and broomsticks. It’s a reference to any messing around with the occult, séances, astrology, psychics and trying to tap into supernatural powers we’re not supposed to be tapping into.

 

g) Idol worshippers

If you worship something other than God, you are an idol worshipper. It doesn’t have to be a little stone shrine you bow down to. It can be your career, a hobby, your family, your money… Anything that takes God out for first place in your life is an idol.

 

h) All liars

I have a friend who thinks he knows where all liars go… Ottawa. Well, the truth is that liars go to Hell. A liar is a person who deceives. They may do it by twisting the truth, manipulating it to their own advantage, saying something that is simply not true, or allowing someone to believe a lie by remaining silent.

 

I read a story this week about when Calvin Coolidge was Vice-President of the United States. Apparently, he was chairing a congressional meeting when one Congressman stood up and told another Congressman, “Sir, you can go straight to Hell.” The victim was taken aback, and looked to the vice-president for support. “Mr. Coolidge,” he cried, “did you hear what he told me to do?” “Yes,” replied the vice-president, “But I checked the rulebook and you don’t have to go.”

We started out by saying we had two options for our final destination. We’ve looked at the first option where we don’t want to go: Hell. So that leaves us one more option.

 

2. Where you want to go: Heaven

 

Revelation 21:7 (NLT)
All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

The verse makes reference to blessings. But what blessings? To find out, we’ve got to go back a bit earlier in the chapter. Let’s jump back to verses 1-4;

Revelation 21:1-4 (NLT)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever."

Okay, let me highlight five blessing mentioned in these verses;

 

The Blessings of Heaven:

a) And the sea was also gone

This sounds a little cryptic. How can this be a good thing? Here we are living in PEI and we enjoy having the sea. Well, understand what this meant to the original recipients of these words. 2000 years ago, the sea was a hostile, uninviting place. Without a compass the only safe way to travel by sea was to stay within sight of land. And so this blessing was a message that confusion, turmoil and danger would be gone in heaven.

 

b) God is now among His people

If Hell is the absence of all that is good and all that is pure, the Heaven is the presence of all that is good and all that is pure. We will be in the presence of the Almighty God. Our relationship with Him will be completely restored and unhindered. Just like we were originally intended to live before we as a race rebelled against God.

 

c) There will be no more death

We sang about this earlier in the service. Never again will we experience the loss of someone we love. Never again will we have to be separated from them that way. Never again will we have to wonder how we will die, and what kind of pain or disease will accompany our death.

 

d) There will be no more sorrow

No more regrets, no “if only’s”, no “what if’s”.We won’t sit around rehashing the mistakes we’ve made or the things we wish we had done differently. We won’t spend forever dwelling on missed opportunities. There will be no more sorrow.

 

e) There will be no more pain

That’s one thing we sure know a lot about in this life. The older I get the more I get acquainted with pain. And it’s always something… my back hurts, I’ve got a headache, my feet hurt, I get a toothache… there always seems to be some kind of pain. It can be physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain… there always seems to be some kind of pain we’re dealing with. Well, enjoy it while it lasts, because there won’t be any more pain in Heaven.

 

Those are just some of the things that those of us who have a relationship with Jesus have to look forward to. Heaven will be a wonderful place, more wonderful than we can expect or comprehend right now. The Bible describes Heaven to some extent using metaphors, like streets of gold, gates of pearls, and walls of precious stones. But the glory of Heaven will be greater than words can describe, and the torture of Hell will be more terrible than words can describe. Those are the two options. And you get to decide what your final destination will be. As Yogi Berra said;

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
~ Yogi Berra

 

There’s one question I want to address just as we finish up here. A lot of people ask the question, “How can a loving God send anyone to Hell?” That’s an interesting question, and it makes the assumption that God is sending people to Hell. But here’s what I believe: I believe we all start out in life heading toward Hell because of a decision made way back in the Garden of Eden. I believe Adam and Eve set the whole human race on a trajectory toward Gehenna. God’s not sending anyone there. We’re going there by our own choosing.

But what God has done is this: He has offered a way to enter eternity with Him in Heaven instead. And that offer is made to everyone. He’s not sending anyone to Hell; He’s offering the alternative. That’s the act of a good, loving God.

I know most of you have already made your choice. Most of you have already established Heaven as your destination by virtue of entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you haven’t, why not? You can join with the rest of us and spend eternity in the presence of God in Heaven.


 

 

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