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Sin Is Serious, Hell Is Real

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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August 17, 2023 4:00 am

Sin Is Serious, Hell Is Real

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 17, 2023 4:00 am

Topics like sin and hell are often considered offensive. It’s far more comfortable to focus on heaven and forgiveness. But discover how we rob the Gospel of its power when we ignore the reality of sin. Study along with Alistair Begg on Truth For Life.


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A lot of people don't like talking about sin or hell. Those topics are considered offensive in the Bible, and even when we're sharing the Gospel, it's often more comfortable to focus on heaven and forgiveness. Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out how we rob the Gospel of its power when we ignore the reality of sin.

We're listening to a message from the Encore 2023 series, a message titled, Sin is Serious, Hell is Real, and Alistair Begg is teaching from Mark chapter 9, looking at verses 42 through 48. And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Everyone will be salted with fire.

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other. Amen. The mention of hell, of course, is immediately tied to the passage that we've just read. And in this passage we discover Jesus telling his listeners that sin is serious and hell is real.

And the gravity which attaches to the words of Jesus is more than matched by the levity which characterizes our contemporary culture's view of such ideas. I was just in New York a couple of weeks ago in the mornings. I went for coffee at a particular place where I liked to meet a man that I've known for some years.

He lives in a trailer park there. His name is Stanley. And he told me with great mirth that his favorite thing in the morning was seeing if he could be the first amongst all of his acquaintances to tell somebody to go to hell.

And that is their early morning greeting, and if you can be the first, then I think you get a free coffee or whatever it might be. And I said to him, Stanley, I don't think you know what you're saying. And I'm here to tell you, Stanley, you should go to heaven.

And he said, Well, I don't know about going to heaven. Well, he's really representative of the majority view, isn't he? But the fact that an approach is taken or a view is held by a majority doesn't mean that it is true. And in fact, the notion serves to reinforce what Jesus says in Matthew 7, enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide, and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

In other words, the population is filling it up. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Now, the fact that most people believe something doesn't make it true. And there is, we must confess, an understandable reaction to the whole notion of hell.

It's not my purpose this morning to address this subject topically, but just a couple of observations as we move into our text. The fact of the matter is, hell shows us just how much God loves us. That may seem immediately crazy, because people's reaction is usually to say, What kind of God is this that would execute wrath and judgment and speak in terms of hell?

How could God be a good God, be a loving God, and yet be a God that entertains the notion or devises the notion of hell itself? Well, doesn't love often fill you with anger? Aren't you often angry because of the intensity of your love?

If an acquaintance with whom you spend little time turns his back on you and walks away, you feel a little pain. If your spouse walks out and says, I want nothing to do with you again, I never want to hear your voice, see your face—wouldn't you be justifiably angry? And what the Bible says is that God, because of his love, expresses his love by stepping back from any thought of indifference.

A father can never be indifferent if he loves his son to the drug abuse of his son. He will be angry beyond description—not because he doesn't love the boy, but because he loves him with such a passion. God's wrath, as expressed in hell, is not a fiery outburst.

It's not a cranky emotional explosion. God's anger in relationship to this is his settled opposition to the cancer of sin, which is eating the insides of humanity. And it is wrong for us to see an antithesis between what Jesus here says about the reality of hell and what he does in himself in his death on the cross. Because in his death on the cross, he takes hell for us. It is in his not only bearing our sins but enduring hell for us that the love of God is magnified.

People want to have it one way or the other, but you can't have it one way or the other. And the fact is that the same is true—that if you remove the bad news of hell, you actually interfere with the balance of theology, and you gut any significance from the good news of heaven. But as I say, it's not my purpose this morning to address the issues of hell, per se, but just to get you thinking in the right direction. The reaction of men and women to the notion is not, I fear, simply because of the cultural and philosophical preoccupations of the twenty-first century, but is in part a reaction to the way in which some of us who actually want to believe the Bible and take it seriously have gone about the business of proclaiming a passage such as this. How can you speak about hell dispassionately? How can we ever take seriously what the Bible says about the eternal destiny of our loved ones, our work colleagues, our friends, our next-door neighbors, and somehow or another just propound it like hell, fire, and damnation?

Sometimes you listen to some people talk—I do—on the radio or on the television, and it sounds to me that they're actually delighted about this, that somehow or another this really gets them up in the morning, you know, that they're able to make sure that everybody understands this. Well, do they understand that Jesus wept over Jerusalem? Do they understand that God does not desire the death of a sinner but prefers that that sinner turn from his or her wickedness and live? Do they not realize that Jesus laid down his life as, if you like, right at the very entryway into hell so as to say to men and women, Don't go there. You need not go there. I have gone there so that you don't have to.

I have gone there because your predicament is so grave that only by my expressing the Father's love in this way could deal with it. No, a man or a woman, as one of our preachers some years ago told us, a man or a woman needs to trample over the body or the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ if they're going to go to hell. Having said all of that, the strongest words of the Bible concerning hell come from the lips of Jesus, who died in order that we needn't go there.

You need to keep that in mind. And interestingly, when you read the Bible—and I think you could check this for yourselves—you never actually hear Jesus expounding hell to publicans and sinners. No, actually, fascinatingly, the Lord Jesus spoke of hell to those who profess to be saints, and he spoke of heaven to those who were prepared to admit that they were sinners. Something is really wrong when from my pulpit I seek to reverse it.

Huh? Well, that's what we think of when we think of this subject being addressed. And we have to be honest and say, We're killing ourselves with friendly fire. We're shooting ourselves. Well, to our text. Verse 42, if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Not a good day, I think you would agree. We have a warning here, first, about causing others to sin. In verse 41, the cup of water verse, we have been reminded that God doesn't overlook even the smallest act of kindness by which the life of a believer may be enriched, nor does he ignore the act which endangers the life of a believer.

And so from 41 he goes to 42. Now, the context is such that Jesus is clearly not here simply referring to children. He's used the child as an indication of the fact that those who become the followers of Jesus are little, and they're small, and they're vulnerable. And so he says, if anyone causes any of these little ones who believe in me to sin, I want you to know this morning that I am a little one who believes in Jesus. Therefore, since I am a little one who believes in Jesus, what verse 42 says is, if you are responsible for causing me to sin, to shipwreck in my faith, to fall apart in following Jesus, it would be better for you for a large millstone to be placed around your neck and you were drowned in Lake Erie.

And the same is true in reverse. The gravity of what Jesus says here is unmistakable. The picture is actually grotesque. The millstone here is a large millstone in the time of Jesus that would be pulled at the mill by a beast of burden.

It had a large hole in the middle of it as a mechanism. And so the picture is absolutely unbelievable. It is like it'd be better that you wore it as a collar and were thrown into the depths of the ocean. What is Jesus saying? You dare not be indifferent about the impact that your life has on those who are the little ones who follow me. Now, in verse 43, the thought moves on.

As you can see, it moves on from causing someone else to stumble and sin to causing oneself to stumble and sin. Now, I did a little bit of stumbling two nights ago as I was trying to make my way in the darkness from one side of the room to another. And I had occasion to mention some things to my wife, which she didn't think were very apropos. But I realized that if I turned the light on, I wouldn't have been in the situation in which I found myself.

I think, if I recall, she pointed that out to me. And it was a perfect reminder to me of the fact that it's easy to trip up in the dark. It's easy to stumble in the dark. And the entrance of God's Word brings light. And that is one of the primary reasons that we study the Bible together, so that the light of God's Word might shine into our darkness, tell us bad things that we don't really want to hear but need to hear, and tell us good things that go with the bad things that make sense of the entire story. But unless we're actually reading the Bible for ourselves, looking into it, considering it, having it preached, then we will discover that we are much more vulnerable to the possibility of stumbling and falling. And so the exhortation here is apropos. If verse 42 is a warning about causing another to stumble, then verse 43 and following is a warning about playing fast and loose with sin—an approach to the Christian life which says it doesn't really matter.

Nothing really matters. Jesus paid it all, all to him, I, oh, sin had a crimson stain, he washed it wet as snow, I can go out and do what I like. Jesus says, No, you'd better not even think that for a moment.

No. Because the Father's love for you has set you free from the tyranny. That which held you in its grip has been dethroned, but it hasn't been destroyed. That sin no longer reigns in the believer's life, but it remains in the believer's life. And therefore, the way to progress and the way to heaven for the Christian is the way of understanding how to deal with sin when it comes and approaches us. And as we've seen earlier on in chapter 7 verse 20, every sin is an inside job. Remember, Jesus had to explain that first to the Pharisees and then to his disciples.

They were getting uptight about the fact that they weren't doing the ceremonial washings and so on before their meals. And Jesus jumps on this and uses it as an opportunity to say, If it were only that simple—if it was only so simple that you could fix it on the outside with externals—but it isn't, he says. Because the things that defile a man come from inside a man. And then he lists them all—I won't read them all—evil thoughts, immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, and so on.

He says all of that is an inside job. What he's saying to us is, immediately you are confronted by these things in these areas, you have to get on and deal with them. In fact, says Jesus, if you find that you can't stop yourself from going, chop one of your feet off. That'll help you. Or if you find you can't stop yourself and your eyes taking a third and a fourth and a fifth look at whatever it is or whoever it is, then poke one of your eyes out. Which in contemporary terms means, take a large ten-pound hammer to your internet mechanism.

Just smash the sucker up. It's hyperbole. It's about dealing with it immediately and graphically. It's about realizing what Paul says. You're not your own. You were bought with a price. You don't belong to yourself. Everything belongs to Jesus. Therefore, glorify God with your body. And when we're gonna do this, we need to do it in a way that is absolutely radical, because without holiness, no one will see the Lord. In other words, if you know yourself, your own heart is susceptible to A, B, or C, then the answer to that is not to sit around and wait for God to intervene in your life and transport you to, you know, another arena.

No. The answer is for you to devise a strategy to prevent yourself from ending up in that predicament. And Jesus says it is so important, because what we're talking about is life and death and heaven and hell.

You'd be better, he said, to be limping around and go into the kingdom of God than be dancing around and go into hell. In other words, we have to work out a strategy to eradicate sin. Either we kill sin or sin will kill us.

That's what he says. Therefore, we need to deal with it when? Let me tell you when the devil says to deal with it. Starting tomorrow. Always tomorrow. I always tell you, this is a very good sermon. Don't worry about it tonight.

You've got places to go, people to see, things to do. Start tomorrow. It's always the devil's word. It's always tomorrow. The Bible's word is always today.

It's always now. Therefore, when this needs to be dealt with, it needs to be dealt with immediately, it needs to be dealt with decisively, it needs to be dealt with radically, and it needs to be dealt with consistently. What this passage reminds me of is in part the need for humility on our part—that we're humble enough to say, This is a very important passage for me. Because I know how susceptible I am to all of this. If you find yourself saying, This is not really that significant to me. I dealt with that some time ago, you know, whatever it might be.

You're in greater danger than you realize. Also, it is a passage that smacks of such reality, doesn't it? There's no denial of things. There's no suggestion that things are different than what they are.

It's very realistic. I like how realistic it is, because it's a reminder of what Paul says in the second half of Romans 7. The good that I want to do I don't do, and the bad I don't want to do I end up doing—that I am, in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as a Christian, involved in a continual and irreconcilable war.

All of my inclinations that are sinful, I say again to you, have been dethroned, but they haven't been destroyed. And so when I read my Bible and when I'm confronted by passages like this, as in Romans 7, I'm reminded of the fact that although I am in Christ, I am failed, I am weak, and I am guilty. How many days of the week? Seven. Seven days of the week, I'm failed, I'm weak, I'm guilty. Chapter 8 of Romans tells me that I am loved, I am saved, and I am safe. How many days of the week?

Seven. Well, what's going on? Well, the reality of Christian experience. We are a work under construction.

We're like a building site. And God hasn't finished with us. And what he's saying to us in a passage like this is, don't ever be indifferent to the impact that your life, your words, your example will have on the people that are around you. And don't, whatever you do, fall into the trap of saying, I can play fast and loose with sin. I'm above this. I'm a pastor.

I'm a… whatever. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity has a wonderful little section, and with this I'll stop, in which he uses that very same analogy of God being at work in constructing us. And he says, imagine yourself living in a house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he's doing—making basic repairs. But then he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts, abominably, and doesn't make any sense. And you say to yourself, what is God doing?

Well, says Lewis, I'll tell you what he's doing. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. And he intends to come and live in it himself. You want to be a miserable little cottage? Or you want to be a palace? Do you want to be a little dark cottage, tolerating your lustful gazes, and your tramping-into-by-path meadow, and your dalliance with that which God says you're to leave alone?

Well, why would we ever settle for that? No, he says, take seriously my word. Respond to what I'm saying. He never hurts us to harm us. Every bitter blow that falls from his hand falls from the hand of a Father who loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever, whoever believes in him, need never go to hell, but will have everlasting life. It's a great story. It's the story of the Bible.

You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. In addition to the daily Bible teaching you here on this program, we work hard to carefully select books we can recommend to you to help you better understand Scripture. And today, we're recommending a book that dives deep into the New Testament book of James. The book is titled Radically Whole, Gospel Healing for the Divided Heart. If you're familiar with the book of James, you know it overflows with practical instruction that often goes against the grain. Things like, how do we tame our tongue? How do we keep from boasting? How do we purge our hearts of covetousness? The book Radically Whole examines the entire letter of James section by section and provides a kind of toolkit for how to better align our thinking and our behavior with the Bible's instruction. Ask for your copy of Radically Whole when you give a donation at slash donate.

I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Great leaders come and go. Mighty nations rise and fall. But the Bible reminds us that God has ultimate authority. Does this give us the right to challenge or despise earthly authority? We'll hear the answer tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-27 12:35:42 / 2023-08-27 12:44:16 / 9

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