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The Reality of Eternal Retribution

The Reality of Eternal Retribution: Luke 16:19-31

“Hold the fire and brimstone,” Los Angeles Times, June 19th, 2002: “Mention of hell from pulpits is at an all-time low. The downplaying of damnation shows the influence of sectarianism on Christian theology.” –Staff writers, Mike Aaron and William Lobdell

“Bill Faris believes in hell, that frightful netherworld where the thermostat is always set on high, where sinners toil for eternity in unspeakable torment. But you would never know it listening to him preach at his South Orange County Evangelical church. He never mentions the topic; his flock shows little interest in it. “It isn’t sexy enough anymore…

In churches across America, hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves increasingly hesitant to sermonize on Christianity’s outpost for lost souls. “There has been a shift in religion from focusing on what happens in the next life, to asking, ‘what is the quality of this life we’re leading now? You can go to a whole lot of churches week after week, and you’d be startled even to hear a mention of hell.’” –Harvey Cox Jr., eminent author, religious historian and professor at Harvard Divinity School.

Hell’s fall from fashion indicates how key portions of Christian theology have been influenced by a secular society that stresses individualism over authority and human psyche over moral absolutes. The rise of psychology, the philosophy of existentialism and the consumer culture have all dumped buckets full of water on hell. The tendency to downplay damnation has grown in recent years as non-denominationalism ministries, with their focus on everyday issues such as child-rearing and career success, have proliferated and loyalty to churches has deteriorated.”

“It’s just too negative,” said Bruce Shell, a senior professor of church history at Denver Theological Seminary, “…churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented. Churches today feel the need to be appealing rather than demanding.”

A 1998 poll by Barna Research Group found that church-shopping has become a way of life. One in seven adults change churches each year; one in six regularly rotate between congregations. That fickleness has helped give rise to mega-churches, evangelical congregations of more than two-thousand people that mix Scripture with social and recreational programs in a casual atmosphere. Mega-churches routinely pay for market research on what will draw people to their ministries and keep them coming back.

“Once pop-evangelism went into market-analysis, hell was just dropped.” Said Martin Marty, Professor emeritus of religion and culture at Chicago University Divinity School. “When churches go door to door and conduct market research analysis, they hear, ‘I want better parking spaces. I want guitars in services. I want to have my car greased while I’m in church.’”

But Hell is far from dead! A May, 2001 Gallup poll of adults nationwide found that seventy-one percent believe in hell, they just don’t want to hear about it.

The landscape of evangelicalism is rapidly changing. In an article by Robert Brown in Christianity Today, entitled, “Evangelical Mega Shift” about “New Model” evangelicalism, is really nothing but “old model” modernism or liberalism. For example, New model evangelism redefines hell, ie: “No one could possibly be in hell who would rather be in heaven. The wrath of God never means sending people to an eternal hell, it can simply be translated bad consequences.”

The tendency to deny a literal hell has penetrated Evangelicalism deeply. In a recent survey forty-six percent of evangelical students said, “Preaching about hell to unbelievers is in poor taste.” Worse, three out of every ten born again believers surveyed believe good people will go to heaven when they die, even if they have not trusted Christ as Savior.

Quite often I have been asked in my 60-plus years of ministry, “Are you a fire and brimstone preacher?” or “I don’t like fire and brimstone preaching.” Here is just a sampling of Newspaper advertisements from Evangelical, User-Friendly churches:

“There is no fire and brimstone here! No Bible thumping! Just witty messages.”

“Our services have an informal feeling. You won’t hear people threatened with hell or referred to as sinners.”

“As with all pastors, the answer is God. But our pastor slips Him in at the end, and even then he doesn’t get heavy. He doesn’t even use the H-word. Call it the light gospel.”

“The sermons are upbeat, relevant, and best of all, short! You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin and damnation. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching, it is sophisticated, urbane and friendly talk.”

“The pastor preaches a very upbeat message. It is a salvation message, but the idea is not so much being saved from then fires of hell. Rather it is being saved from meaninglessness and aimlessness in this life. It’s more of a soft-sell.”

After reading these commercials from some of today’s Evangelical churches, we do not have to wonder, when looking at the church of the “last days” Jesus says to them, “You make Me sick!” Revelation 3:16, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

I know we live in a world where Bible doctrine in any form is considered outdated or old-fashioned. We live in an enlightened age and the old narrow-minded doctrine of the Word of God seems to be passé and completely out of touch with the real world. Sometimes I feel like an antique! But I do not want to be more narrow-minded than God. I don’t want to try to be nicer than Jesus, or more modest than the apostles in my preaching!

I know eternal retribution is not a popular subject, but as a man called by God to preach His Word, I can do no other. Paul writes, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). He also writes, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

“On one occasion Robert G. Ingersoll, the agnostic lecturer of the last century, was announced to give an address on hell. He declared he would prove conclusively that hell was a wild dream of some scheming theologians who invented it to terrify credulous people. As he was launching into his subject, a half-drunken man arose in the audience and exclaimed, ‘Make it strong, Bob. There's a lot of us poor fellows depending on you. If you are wrong, we are all lost. So be sure you prove it clear and plain.’ No amount of reasoning can nullify God's sure Word. He has spoken as plainly of a hell for the finally impenitent as of a heaven for those who are saved.” –H. A. Ironside

Luke 16:23: “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments…” What can we learn about eternal retribution from this passage about the rich man and Lazarus?

I. Hell is a Real Place! Our Lord Jesus spoke about the fires of hell thirteen times to every one time he spoke about heaven. Several times Jesus said, “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9).

There are fifty-six passages in the English Bible that use the word, “hell.” Most are translated as “sheol” or “hades,” meaning, “grave” or the “unseen state of the dead.” Ten passages use the word, “Gehenna,” a place of burning, referring to the Valley of Hinnom where refuse was burned outside of the city of Jerusalem. Bodies were dumped there. The fires burned continually. Gehenna is described as the future abode of those who do not know Christ.

•Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

•Matthew 13:49,50, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just…”

•Matthew 25:41, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

•Matthew 25:46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

•Mark 9:43, “ If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.”

•John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

•2 Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…”

•2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

•Revelation 20:15, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

•Revelation 21:8,“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

The Bible describes hell: “Lake of fire; furnace of fire; fire and brimstone; hell fire; outer darkness; everlasting punishment; everlasting fire; and everlasting destruction.” Hell is a place where you die, die, die, die, and yet you never die! It is everlasting punishment from the presence of the Lord!

II. Hell is Place of No Mercy: Luke 16:24: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

We hardly understand “mercy,” because our world is permeated with mercy! We see it every day in a loving mother, a compassionate gesture, and a kind deed. There’s mercy in life!

In a French courtroom when one is given the death penalty, someone will shout out, “coup de gras,” referring to a merciful stroke putting a fatally wounded person out of misery. Or the quick execution of one convicted of a capital crime. “If he must die let him die swiftly.” Why? Because there is mercy in the courtroom.

When a ocean liner is sinking, the cry is for “women and children first!” Why? There is mercy on the high seas.

When in the military, one is to be executed, the rifleman with the live ammunition doesn’t know it is him who will fire the fatal shot. Why? There is mercy in the military.

The smallest act of mercy in this life is a “cup of water offered in the name of a disciple” (Matthew 10:42). But in hell, Lazarus would not ask for a cup of water! “Father Abraham, send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Not a cup full, but just the amount of moisture that can be contained on the tip of a finger! And Abraham says “No!”

God is a merciful God. But if you are without Christ, one second after you die god’s mercy ends!

Depths of mercy can there be, mercy yet reserved for me?

Can my God His wrath forbear, me the chief of sinner spare?

I gave long withstood His grace, long provoked Him to His face.

Would not hearken to His calls, grieved Him by a thousand falls.

–Charles Wesley–

Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” said, “The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and Justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood…The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation don't slumber, the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth under them. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back…”

III. Hell is a Place of No Hope: Luke 16:25: “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed…”

Over the door of Dante’s Inferno are the words. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” As long as there is life and breath there is hope! But in hell, there is just darkness. Picture a man in a darkened cave, hollowed out by thousands of years of erosion. He is groping along the wall of the cave, struggling to find his way, with not a single ray of light to guide him. Everything is blackness and hopelessness! That’s a picture of the one who dies without Christ.

•2 Peter 2:17, “These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.”

Matthew 22:13 NLT reads, “Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This refers to the place of punishment or the exclusion from God who is light!

The Greek word for “darkness” is skotos literally “that sphere in which light is totally absent.” What a horrible fate! Now add to that painful blackness the fact that there is no God!

There will be no Christ, no Holy Spirit, no friends who have gone to heaven, no kind words, no mercy and no hope for eternity. Add to that the flaming fire, burning constantly. I don’t quite understand how you can have darkness and fire, those two elements are contradictions. It may be flowing rivers of molten lava on some dark planet, it may be the center of the earth, or a special place that God prepared “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41). All we know for sure is that it is place of eternal punishment.” (Matthew 25:46).

Just how long is eternity? If we could by some miracle of time-lapse take a tiny sparrow, and have that sparrow fly to the Pacific Ocean and take a beak full of water and fly to a distant planet, 240,000 light years away. He would deposit that beak full of water on that planet and return to earth for another beak full, flying again to that distant planet and depositing that water, then he flies back again and again until he has emptied the Pacific Ocean , then he could start with the Atlantic Ocean one tiny beak full at a time. After he had removed every drop of water from the earth, depositing it on that distant planet, he could bring it all back again, take it all back again, and do it again and again, after all of that it would only be breakfast time in eternity!

Oh eternity, God has wound up your clock and it shall never run down! And the great pendulum swings from planet to planet, and it chimes out, forever and ever, forever and ever, forever and ever…and on and on throughout the ages!

You say, ”Eternity, great! I’ll see all my friends there, it’ll be eternal party time!” Your friends may be there but you won’t see them, you’re in outer darkness! You’re in torment, not much fun in that!

Then you say, “I don’t believe in hell!” Let me tell you my friend, your unbelief will not make hell one degree cooler. You say, “God is a God of love, He can’t be so cruel as to send someone to hell.” Oh, listen my friend, God doesn't send anyone to Hell. You send yourself there. God has done everything He possibly can to keep you out of Hell and still leave you as a person with free will and not just a robot. God gave everything He has to keep you from eternal retribution. You can’t blame God if you end up in a place He warned you about if you do not accept Jesus. He has given His Word, His church, His people, and this message, then He says, “What more could I have done?” so “Last of all he sent His Son,” (Matthew 21:37).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity” (Isaiah 59:1,2).

But you say, “I didn’t know.” “I haven’t rejected Christ.” Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30). Preacher, you make God sound like a horrible monster! God is a God of love! But He is also a God of justice.

•Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.”

•2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, “Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

•Romans 3:22-26, “Even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

IV. Hell is a Place of No Eased Conscience: Luke 16:27-31: “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

Give any resident of hell a five-minute furlough, and he will become the greatest evangelist you’ve ever seen! He is concerned about his five brothers, and wants this beggar that he had abused in life to tell them about this place of torment.

Do you really believe in hell? If so how can you not do all that you can to rescue the perishing?

Preacher, how can you ignore what the Bible says about hell?

•Ezekiel 3:18,19, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”

0ne-hundred-thousand souls a day

Are passing fast away in Christless guilt and gloom!

Without one ray of hope or light,

With future dark as endless night,

They’re passing to their doom!

Oh church of Christ, what wilt thou say,

When they charge you with their doom?

–Albert B. Simpson–

Life is short, death is sure, eternity is long. Two people die somewhere in this world every time your heart beats. Feel your pulse and think about that!

“One day, when Vice President Calvin Coolidge was presiding over the Senate, one Senator angrily told another to go ‘straight to hell.’ The offended Senator complained to Coolidge as presiding officer, and Cal looked up from the book he had been leafing through while listening to the debate (his Bible). “I've been looking through the rule book,” he said. “you don't have to go.” –Crossroads

You don’t have to go, Jesus died so you could escape the fires of hell. If you accept Him, he will guarantee your future with Him in heaven.

When my mom was dying, she grabbed her chest and said, “I’m going to a better world than this one.” How true! And she’s waiting there for me!

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV) and The Living Bible (TLB).

Permission is hereby granted to use any of Dr. John Sparks’ materials. If this message was helpful, please E-Mail me:

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