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Where the Worm Does Not Die

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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January 3, 2021 12:01 am

Where the Worm Does Not Die

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 3, 2021 12:01 am

In our day, the doctrine of hell has almost disappeared from Christian preaching. By contrast, no one in Scripture spoke more about the eternal wrath of God than Jesus. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Mark, urging us to flee from the coming judgment into the safe embrace of Christ.

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Today, on Renewing Your Mind. Well, those are just some of the responses I received when I asked people on the street about life after death, about heaven and hell, and you can certainly hear the confusion there. With regard to hell, some deny its existence.

Others would rather not think about it. But Scripture is clear. It is real, and it's described as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

Here's Dr. R.C. Sproul preaching from the Gospel of Mark. He'll be reading from chapter 9 beginning at verse 43. Now he says, if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, for it's better for you to enter into life maimed rather than having two hands to go to hell. Now, what Jesus does here is makes a comparison. In the first place, He's understanding the Jewish tradition that repudiated any acts of self-disfigurement. In the Old Testament, it was a serious sin for people to disfigure their own bodies.

The Jews were not like the Greeks who despised all things physical. The hands, the eyes, the feet were seen as gifts of God to be enjoyed in this life. And so a person's hands, a person's legs, a person's eyes were seen by the Jew as a most precious possession. And yet Jesus says here, as precious as your hands are to you, you would be better off to cut off your hand and be maimed like that rather than to have two hands that you take with you to hell. And in like manner, He says, if your foot offends you, it would be better to cut it off and be crippled than to have two good legs that take you to hell. If your eye offends you, you'd be better to pull it out than to have perfect vision that takes you to hell.

So the obvious comparison that our Lord is making here is that whatever is precious to you, no matter how precious it is, it is not worth having as much as it is worth having the kingdom of God. The worst calamity that can befall any human being is to go to hell. Now we know that in former generations, preachers would preach fire and brimstone sermons warning their flocks about the imminent danger of going into hell.

But in the 21st century, the doctrine of hell has all but disappeared from Christian preaching. And people don't even want to think about it, or if they do think about it, they water it down to such a degree that people are no longer living in fear of going to hell. How many people walk through their lives in this day, give much thought or concern about going to hell? How much time have you spent in your life worrying about your final destiny, worrying about whether you might at the end of your life be consigned by God to everlasting punishment? Jonathan Edwards, who was an expert on this subject, says, the most wicked, impenitent sinner in this world constantly assures himself that he will escape the judgment of God. And God's patience by which the judgment does not fall on us already, instead of leading us to repentance, leads us to a false sense of security, to being at ease in Zion and say, well, God hasn't punished me yet. Obviously, all this talk about everlasting punishment is just a scare theology that has no correspondence to reality.

Well, beloved, here's what I want us to see this morning. Nobody in the Bible talked more about hell than Jesus. Secondly, we need to face the reality that Jesus talked more about hell than He talked about heaven. I wonder why it is that so much of what the Bible teaches about hell comes to us from the lips of Jesus.

I can only guess at the answer, and my guess is this, that we would scarcely believe it from anybody else. We hardly believe it from Jesus. And if Jesus didn't say anything about it, and instead it came from Isaiah or Jeremiah or Peter or Paul, we could then dismiss it as saying, that is not the teaching of Jesus. But the reality is we hardly believe it when it comes from Jesus. Little Jesus, meek and mild.

Jesus, meek and mild. The Jesus of love and of mercy and of grace is the author of so much of the biblical information about the doctrine of hell. Now before we go on with this, I want to say this that people ask me all the time in teaching theology. They say, well, you see, do you believe that hell is a literal lake of fire?

And my normal response to that question goes something like this. Well, I doubt whether hell is literally a lake of fire. It may be, but I doubt it. And when I say, I doubt it, you can feel the relief of the people. They sigh, and they say, oh, we're so glad to know that. I say, wait a minute.

Before you feel relieved about it, you need to ask some more questions. Why is it that when Jesus talked about this problem of hell, He used the most ghastly graphic images of punishment that He could think of? And then think about this, that in most cases when we use language symbolically or figuratively, we understand that the reality that we are describing by the symbol or by the figure is more intense in reality than it can possibly be in the symbol.

Let me say it again. The reality is more intense than the symbol. And if that's the case, then my guess would be that the sinner in hell, dear friends, would do everything they could to be in a lake of fire rather than where they are. Then I hear people say, well, what hell really is is the absence of God. And again, the breath of relief is given with a gasp, oh, is that all? Is that all, the absence of God?

Let me say two things about this. We are glib in describing calamitous earthly situations with our language of hell. Common is the expression, war is hell. We hear people all the time describing the misery that they've experienced with their afflictions or whatever has disturbed them. They'll say, I've been going through hell. My life has been hell on earth. You've heard those comments. You've heard those expressions.

Maybe you've used them yourself. When I hear people say, war is hell, or I went through hell, or my life has been a living hell, the first thing that they are saying to me is that they don't have a clue about the reality of hell. Because we would find right now the person in this world who's still alive and is in the worst state of suffering of anybody on this planet, that person still enjoys a certain measure of grace at the hand of God. But to be removed totally from the mercy of God, to have Him take all of His grace away from you is an experience that I wouldn't wish on anyone. So the first thing about this business about being separated from God is that, again, people don't realize what a dreadful thing it would be to be totally separated from God. That's one part of the equation. The other part is paradoxical. On the other hand, there is nothing the sinner in hell would wish for more than to be separated from God.

Let me say it again. There is nothing that the sinner in hell would wish for more than to be separated from God, because God is there, and He's there. And the sinner in hell would wish for more with His wrath, with His punitive judgment on people. And it is a fearful thing, a dreadful thing as the Bible says, to fall into the hands of the living God, to be exposed day in and day out to His wrath.

Well, how long does it last? You know there's been this movement in the last twenty years in the evangelical world to discount hell in terms of the doctrine of annihilation. The idea is that what happens to the sinner who is not redeemed, the impenitent person, is at the end of his life when he draws his last breath, that's what it is, his last breath. He has nothing to fear after death except eternal unconsciousness, because he will be blotted out of existence, and the eternality of his punishment will be simply that which he misses out on.

He will miss the great joy for which the believer has been made to look forward to with the everlasting life in the presence of God and with Christ. And so the person's hell, according to annihilationism, is that he misses all of that, and he misses it forever. But there's no ongoing punishment after death. As soon as the person dies, they go into oblivion, and that's it.

In a very real sense, they've gotten away with their cosmic rebellion against God in their earthly life. Now over against that view, which has been deemed heretical for two thousand years, is the biblical idea that hell has no ending point in time, that the punishment goes forever. Now I struggle with that. I can't imagine any Christian not struggling with that. As I said, I wouldn't wish for my worst enemy to be in hell for five minutes, let alone to be there forever.

I just can hardly contemplate such a dreadful thing. And I hear it when people say to me, how could God be a good God and allow people to suffer His punishment forever? And of course, the answer to that, glibly if you will, is because He is a good God. And because He is a good God and He's a holy God, He will not look through His fingers at human sin. He has appointed a day of judgment for those who refuse to leave their sins and cling to the Redeemer.

Now if I can make this on a personal note, I have to say this. As much as I've struggled in my lifetime with the very idea of hell, when I think of people I know who in all probability died in their sins, to think for a moment that they're there is more than I can bear. However, as God is my witness, if God spoke audibly right now and said, R.C., if God spoke audibly right now and said, R.C., your destiny is hell, and you are consigned to the outer darkness forever. If I heard those most dreadful words from the mouth of God, obviously I would be devastated, but I have to say this.

I know that if I heard those words from God, I would have no right to complain. As much as I hate the thought of anybody's going to hell, I know it would be perfectly just of God if He sent me there. That's why I cling to the cross, because that's my only hope in life and in death, to escape the wrath that is to come, that Jesus went there for me is the only reason I don't have to go.

But if I did have to go, I would have no grounds to complain. Now let's look quickly at the images Jesus uses here when He says, it's better to go into life maimed rather than having two hands that go to hell. Into the fire that shall never be quenched, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Then again with the foot, into the fire that shall never be quenched, and again their worm shall not die and the fire is not quenched. And then a third time, it would be better to have one eye plucked out than to have two eyes to be cast into hell fire, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Do you hear the refrain that Jesus uses three times? The worm doesn't die, the fire is not quenched.

What's the point of those graphic images? Well, to understand that, the principal image for hell that is used in the New Testament and the word that is used beginning in the Old Testament days is the word Gehenna. And the word Gehenna is related to an area just outside of the city of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom, which became known as Gehenna.

And the Valley of Hinnom is this steep ravine that is on the southwestern corner of the city of Jerusalem. And if you look back into the Old Testament book of the Kings, you will recall that during the reign of Asa and of Manasseh, the people of Israel got involved in one of the worst of all pagan practices that ever infected the people of Israel. And it was the sacrifice of human beings and children to the pagan deity Moloch. And this was one of the darkest periods in the history of the Old Testament, where not only were the people worshiping pagan gods, but they were offering human sacrifices to this repugnant deity, Moloch. And of course, this came later on under the judgment of the prophet Jeremiah, and finally, in the reign of King Josiah. Josiah put a stop once and for all to these human sacrifices to Moloch. And what Josiah did was that he wanted to deconsecrate the place where they were making these human sacrifices. And the place where they were making the human sacrifices were just outside the city of Jerusalem in the southwestern region, which in order to add insult to injury to that form of paganism, King Josiah turned the traditional place of human sacrifice into a garbage dump, and it became the garbage dump for Jerusalem. So the refuse from the city, the awful from the animals, was carted out on a regular basis and dumped into this massive garbage dump outside of the city that was always burning with fire. That's how the Jews got rid of their garbage in this huge burning garbage dump. And because garbage was added newly and freshly to it all the time, they didn't have to ignite the fire one week, and then again the next week, and then again the next month. The fire never went out. And the worms that were eating the carcasses of the animals never ran out of a food supply.

Think about it. Worm in this case was a parasite, and the worm would eat the host, and when the host would die, what would happen to the worm? The worm would die unless he was supplying the food to the host.

The worm would die unless he was supplied with a new host to continue his parasitical existence. And it's those dreadful images that Jesus uses to paint the picture of hell. Hell is a place where the worm doesn't die because the host is never consumed.

Do you believe in the resurrection of the body? The Bible teaches not only the resurrection of the body of the saints, but also the resurrection of the bodies of the damned, that they may be fit to receive their everlasting punishment in hell where the worm never dies. Well, nobody ever pours water on the flames, and the fires never go out. If Jesus ever used ghastly images to speak of the duration of eternal punishment, it was these images of the worm and of the flame that He could look and point to the object lesson of the garbage dump and say, see that? Those fires never stop.

Those worms never die. And you would be better off to have your hand cut off, your leg cut off, your eye plucked out, then with a whole body and all of your possessions go to that place. You see, Jesus said there is nothing more valuable than the kingdom of God, nothing worse than the abode of the damned.

And He put that before His people. That's why He said it's worth an arm and a leg. It's worth your eye. It's worth your hearing, it's worth your hearing, your seeing.

It's worth anything to get that pearl of great price and to flee from hell. If you've never thought about it before, think about it now and ask yourself, not where am I going to be next week because you don't know, where am I going to be next month because you don't know that. You might guess, and you might be correct in your guess.

But ask yourself this question today. Where am I going to be a hundred years from now? You will be somewhere, and you'll be conscious. You'll be awake. You'll either be among the damned or in the state where joy never ends and felicity is never dampened, where before your eyes will be every second the beautiful vision of the loveliness of Christ that you will gaze upon forever. If it takes an eye, an arm, or a leg, make sure you're there and not in hell. A plea doesn't get much more compelling than that.

Anything we have here on earth is utterly worthless compared to the glories of heaven. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Sunday. I'm Lee Webb.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is taking us verse by verse through the Gospel of Mark here on the Lord's Day edition of our program, and this week we wrapped up Chapter 9. This has been a rich study, and we'd like to help you work through the book on your own with Dr. Sproul's commentary on this Gospel. It's a 400-page volume filled with Dr. Sproul's signature, easy-to-read explanation of each verse. You can go online and request it with your gift of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.

Our web address is Well, we know that when we study topics like this, we know that you may have questions that R.C. didn't cover today. That's why we offer a live chat service that we call Ask Ligonier. Your biblical and theological questions can be answered in real time by our trained team members.

We're available 24 hours a day, Monday through Saturday. But if you'd like to ask a question today, they will get back to you. This is a wonderful resource, and I encourage you to check it out.

Just go to Well, next week, Dr. Sproul will address another difficult topic, What Did Jesus Say About Marriage and Divorce? We'll find out as we turn to Mark Chapter 10. We hope you'll make plans to join us next Lord's Day, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-08 12:05:40 / 2024-01-08 12:13:34 / 8

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