Does a good God send people to Hell - Joseph Barkley

Last week's sermon in Ecclesia's "I Don't Buy It" series was about hell, and more specifically, how could a good God send good people to hell. The sermon can be found here. It's based off of Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

That's really tough teaching and it's brought up all kinds of stuff in me. I think, deep down, I want to believe that people who go to hell just stay as long as it takes to "pay off" the sin they've accrued in their lifetime. I'm not sure that's true though, but it's a lot nicer than "eternal punishment."

It's really easy to avoid an ugly topic like hell; just push it away until it's necessary or comes up. I know I do that all the time! Not that I want to be morbid and just think about hell all the time, but if it were at the forefront of my mind, even on a weekly basis, wouldn't I be more urgent about sharing my faith? It's just way easier to not think about it, and not be confrontational with others about it either.

Reading Jesus' account though is terrifying. Similar to my post on fear, I imagined myself standing before Jesus, in a mass of people, some on his right, some on his left. I imagined myself on the left, the wrong side -- immediately I get that sinking feeling you get when you're pulled over by the police -- only times 1,000! That's not only the biggest mistake you'll make, but the last! Even if you don't believe in this stuff, I urge you to imagine yourself in that place and tell me how you feel...

Another insight that hit me today -- Jesus really blindsides a lot of people here. These are people who thought they were doing the right thing, but because they didn't know Jesus and their motivation for doing good works was wrong, they don't get in! I asked myself, "Am I a sheep or goat?" What is my motivation for the good works I do? Do I even feed people, clothe them or visit them in prison? Are these literal or figurative examples of the kinds of deeds Jesus looks for?

As I examine my motives in my ministry and what I want to do in life, I often find myself wanting to lead something or be in charge of something awesome. Why? If I'm honest, I'd say it's for personal glory and recognition. Now take that person (me) and set him next to a guy who has volunteered to keep the grounds of a church for his whole life, sincerely believing that this is what God called him to do in order to make a better place for people to meet God. He is merely playing a small, often unnoticed role in a bigger ministry. Who is the sheep and who is the goat?

This is one of the toughest questions out there: how could a good God send good people to hell? I think one of the best answers offered here is found in this sermon: Most people would agree that God is a way higher Being than us. So maybe our sin, which seems so measly to us, is a really big deal to a Being like God -- like so big that He can't even look at us when we're covered in it, or have that in His presence. As Joseph said, we don't know how much our sin hurts God. There's no way we could ever understand that really, but scripture definitely supports it. There is also a great illustration in the notes below about this that I'd encourage you to read.

I think the most important thing that came out of this sermon for me was a wake up call -- this is really important; people are dying and I need to at least tell them the truth that will bring life. Hell needs to be at the forefront of our minds sometimes, as uncomfortable as it may be, if we are to really be effective in making disciples. Also, Joseph does a good idea of pointing out that Jesus doesn't talk too much about hell, and maybe it's because He is so much better!

Here are my notes from the sermon:

How could a good God send good people to hell?
  • Jesus gives a vision of the future in Matthew 25:31-46
    • Jesus separates the sheep from the goats
      •  Jesus claims to be a king that will return to judge
      • Jesus categorizes:
        • Two motivations, two hearts = two kinds of people
        • NOT IN SERMON - but I heard a great teaching by Ray Vander Laan about difference between sheep and goats in that, sheep are very dependent on the shepherd, but goats will go their own way
    • Jesus surprises them
      • Jesus tells them that, even though both people have done the same deeds, they did them for different reasons/ motivations
      • It's not the work, but the heart behind it
      • It's not "good" people and "bad" people, but those who have been given a righteousness not their own who get to life.
  • Is God unjust?
    • Hell is "eternal punishment:" forever
      • Does Hell fit the crime of sin? It seems extreme.
    • God is a Being so far beyond us that it's difficult for us to calculate how a sin would hurt or offend a Being of that nature.
      • Illustration: killing a person and totaling a car incur totally different punishments because they are totally different "beings" that are destroyed
      • It's possible that all of this "extreme" behavior makes perfect sense to Him, and we don't get it because God's sense of morality or justness is more developed than ours.
      • Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
            neither are your ways my ways,”
        declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
            so are my ways higher than your ways
            and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • Is God unloving?
    • A loving God wouldn't force people to choose Him.
    • Judgement day is getting to the place I was already running towards
    • Would a loving God just remove the penalty of our sin?
      • Sin is a big deal in scripture (this is a good illustration of how seriously God takes sin)
    • Sin must be so incongruous with God's nature, and His love must be so extreme, that He was willing to bear hell to save me from it.
  • The bible doesn't say a whole lot about what hell is like
    • It says more about what is missing, and what is better (Jesus).
    • Jesus gave us just enough about hell to know that it's urgent that we tell people about him.
    • Jesus is way better than hell.
    • Jesus gives us just enough to keep us awake, knowing everyone will spend eternity somewhere.
  • The call is not to avoid hell, but to run to Jesus