As I sat in a circle of teenage girls, our assignment was to close our eyes and envision heaven, and then with our eyes still closed we were to describe what we “saw” envisioning hell. Tentatively words were pitched out, “silent”, “hot”, “lonely,” and “dark”. Within moments, one of the girls blurted out, “Mrs. Bush, can we be done with this activity?” All of us giggling, I obviously had unintentionally tortured them long enough lingering on the reality of hell.
Our youth pastor discussed with the students in further depth of passages in scripture when Jesus refers to hell. He presented the truth, not to scare the kids, but to increase their concern for the lost (those who would deny Christ and by doing so, result in eternal death in hell). He explained that hell was created for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41) and that God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:9) My girl’s response is a perfect example of how we all deal with the thought of hell; we don’t like to think about it.
My Bible study leader mentioned this week as well, “If you want to go to hell, do nothing.”
There is a false-teaching running ramped today that claims there’s no hell – how could there be a hell if God is love? When considering any teaching, we must be careful not to take one aspect of God’s character – we have to take ALL of who God is. His love is also holy. A holy God has to deal with sin and injustice. He is proved right by his just actions. His wrath has to be poured out against the godliness and wickedness of this world.
So, I must ask – if there is no hell or eternal death, then why do we need a Savior? These teachings nullify and diminish the work on the cross. Why would a man perform miraculous deeds, suffer extreme rejection, and experience the most excruciating death in history, for no purpose?
I’ve been amazed as we approach the Easter season, that in my own studies – I just “happen” to be reading about the prophecies of Jesus’ death in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage provides the answer for our sin and guilt in the most poignant description of Calvary in the Old Testament.
Jesus was mocked, struck in the face, and beat over the head “again and again” (Matthew 27:30). He was “disfigured beyond that of any man” – of human recognition (Isaiah 52:14). His back was so torn up that authors have referred to it as looking like ground beef. He suffered beyond any pain, abuse, and rejection that we would ever encounter. It was a humiliating and excruciating death. The enormity of our sin was placed on him.
“Who would have thought God’s saving power would have looked like this?” (Isaiah 53:1 MSG) Even Jesus wondered, “I have labored in vain for nothing?” (Isaiah 49:4) But Jesus did eventually “see the light of life,” God’s plan and purpose. (Isaiah 53:11) I have learned the cross is a paradox. Jesus’ appearance of weakness was in reality great strength… God’s strength revealed – the salvation of us all!
Oh, what hope this gives me (and I hope you too)! When we are weak, and feeling like a droopy flower – God can come in like a “pent up flood” and redeem and empower us, use what looks weak and purposeless for his glory! So many days, I feel uncertain about where publishing and writing is leading me. I don’t know what I am doing! I have had my share of doubts and wonder if people even understand my book, and this principle has brought me so much hope. In my weakness God can bring understanding and touch people through his own power, in his own way, and in his perfect time.
What also amazes me, after all the beating and abuse, Jesus “did not open his mouth” to retaliate. How could he even do that? His silence indicated his absolute commitment to his mission. Do we respond with grace to those who disapprove of us? I know I don’t. I am still learning with my teenagers to be silent at times! I’ll give you an example: We have been praying about our car situation – my husband’s truck has been around for 13 years and needs major engine repair. But God provided a nice, used car instead of us sinking money into a car that’s hardly worth the amount required to fix it. Well, my 14 yr. old middle school daughter simply refused to be thankful by saying, “I am never riding in that car.” I let it get the best of me and I retorted with a jab, “Well, then you can just walk!”
How did Jesus do it? With not only the self-control to keep his mouth closed, how did he willingly die such a gruesome death without an instinctive desire to fight physically for his life? His love for us had to have been so great that it constrained him to the cross. He knew that love covers a multitude of sins.(1 Peter 4:8) Jesus knew that love is greater, more powerful than hate, and that life conquers death.
There has to be a place called hell. Why would a man die for us, and our sins, if not to keep us from a life separated from him? According to the scriptures, those who profess their faith in Jesus, there’s no more rejection! We are accepted and it is forever. (Isaiah 41:9-10; 56:3)
Jesus asked his disciples in one of their last moments together as he washed their feet, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” And now in turn I ask, do you? Do you understand the magnitude of his love for you?
When I was a young girl, I remember every Easter morning, I’d go sit on my front stoop and look at all the dogwoods, magnolia trees and azaleas in bloom. I’d enjoy time with God praying.
It’s harder to find that time now as a mom, but I hope this Easter you (and I) can spend time with the One who was beat “again and again” to save you from hell and eternal wrath. In contrast to the appearance of his weakness, I pray you find his great love and strength, “He will again have compassion on us.” (Micah 7:19) Again, and again, and again. He is worthy of our worship!