Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

Salt Is Good!

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Pentecost 18B
September 30, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is the 50th verse of our Gospel lesson.  “Salt is good, but it if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? [Mark 9:38-50]


What is the kingdom of God?  Where is the kingdom of God?  These are a couple of questions I want you to keep in the front of your minds as we receive God’s message this morning.  At first, the apostles thought that the Kingdom of God would be a brand new world order, where Jesus would rule, destroy the reign of Cesar and the Roman Empire, and make all things right.  They wanted the Kingdom of God now, and they wanted it according to their estimation.  In their minds, it was Jesus and them against the world!  But Jesus had other ideas.  He always does…He is God.  Where the apostles saw the kingdom of God consisting in a select few, Jesus has other ideas: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.”  Again, Jesus had other plans… “Don’t stop him” he said.  “Don’t you see that anyone who does a mighty work in my name will not be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  Listen, the one who is not against us is for us.”  

And there you have it…the kingdom of God is a lot bigger than we think.  So some might say this is proof that denominational differences are unimportant—as long as your heart is in the right place.  Right?  Well, let’s keep reading and see if Jesus agrees with that.  

Do you remember the child Jesus took into His arms in our gospel reading last week?  Well, this is a discussion that continues that teaching.  The child is still in His arms, and now He looks at His disciples and says: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”  

So what causes children to sin?  What causes adult Christians with a simple faith, like the stranger that was casting out demons to sin?  In both examples it is a lack of knowing and understanding God’s Word, both the Law and the gospel.  How can you help protect the young and the simple?  Teach them biblical truths…good doctrine.  Teach them that there aren’t many ways to the kingdom of Heaven.  Teach them that God doesn’t require any work from us before He will give us Jesus’ kingdom of Heaven.  Without faith in the true gospel, a faith that clings to Jesus alone friends, you cannot be saved.  In fact, bad doctrine can actually give us the opposite of salvation…it can lead to damnation… an eternity in hell!

What is hell?  

Jesus compared Hell to the garbage dump right outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was called the Gehenna.  There, trash fires were always burning as refuse was disposed of.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “Imagine that the Gehenna is like a picture of hell with one big difference.  Where the fires of Gehenna are temporary, in hell they are eternal.  Where maggots eat rotting flesh until the flesh is no more or the maggots die, in hell the fire never goes out, there is an endless supply of flesh, and the maggot never dies.  So what?  Well friends, the fire isn’t burning the demons that are in hell, and the maggots aren’t eating them either, because demons are spirit and they do not have flesh.  So who is burning, and who is being consumed?  People!  People who willing rejected God’s simple method of salvation—the cross of Jesus Christ!  People who refused to cling to Jesus alone and decided there was a better way to the kingdom of Heaven.  These are poor fools who decided that doctrine didn’t matter, and because of that they willingly set aside the kingdom of God and embraced a lie! What is hell?  

Scripture says Hell is a domain where people are eternally banished from the sight of God—eternally excluded from His love and the sweet communion with Jesus Christ.  To these damned souls, Jesus says “Depart from Me” [Matt. 25:41]; (and) “They shall be cast out into outer darkness.”  [Matt. 25:42]  

Friends, we were made for God; we were made to have communion with God.  That is the supreme joy and delight of man—that is the kingdom of God.  But sadly, many people reject the offer of peace with God the Father, because they reject the means to that peace…God the Son, Jesus Christ.  Through their own sinful choice they have embraced a state of damnation where they will experience intense agony of body and soul that scripture calls “tribulation and anguish” [Rom. 2:9], “being in torment” [Lk. 17:4], “tormented in flames” [Lk. 16:24], “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matt. 8:12; 13:50]  There in hell, those poor damned souls will see “the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever; and they (will) have no rest day or night. [Rev. 14:11]  Friends, think of the horror that awaits those poor souls… for an eternity they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” [Rev. 20:10], simply because they have rejected God’s only means to save them. 

You know, it doesn’t matter whether you believe that the fire of hell is real fire or a metaphor for unspeakable torment, the point is God doesn’t want you there; He wants you to escape the agony of hell.  It wasn’t designed for people created in His image—it was created for the rebellious and fallen angels…the devils.

So how do we make sure that we never go to hell? 

Well, before we actually answer that question, let’s allow Jesus to stress how important not going to Hell is: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life crippled than with two hands to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter (eternal) life lame than with two feet (and then) be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes (and) be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” [Mark 9:43-48] 

Does that sound crazy to you?  It should, it was meant to be absurd.  Jesus was addressing the mindset that people in that time had about sin.  They like many others in their day were trivializing their personal sins, much like people do today.  “I guess I can’t help steeling, I was born with itchy hands and sticky fingers.”  OK, cut them off!  “I can’t help looking at women that way, I must have been born with a wandering eye.”  OK, pluck it out!  “What do you mean?  I can’t” you say.  Friend, do you want to go to hell?  Well then get rid of the offending body part.  If you had diabetes, and your foot or leg was diseased you would let the doctor amputate it so you could live wouldn’t you?  Well…go ahead, cut it off and pluck it out.  Keep cutting and plucking until there is nothing left of your body!

Absurd and ridiculous isn’t it?  And that is the point Jesus is making.  Your hand, foot, eye, tongue, or any other body part is not to blame.  They can’t think independent of you!  Sinners like us today are to blame…sinners like us have a wicked heart, and there is only one cure for a wicked heart… IT MUST BE SALTED!

You must be salted with fire.  

In the time of Jesus, salt was both a preservative and an antiseptic. When someone had an infected wound they would pour salt on it.  It burned like fire, but that was good because it meant that there was still some life in the tissue that could be saved.  We must be salted too, because we carry with us dead tissue that must be removed.  

How are we salted?  With the Word of God!  God’s Law must be applied to our sin so that we will feel the fire and wrath of God.  We must know that we are sinful throughout every fiber of our being.  We must stand before God knowing that we deserve all of the punishments of hell.  We must be silenced and simply surrender to His perfection and Holiness!  That is the work and sting of God’s Law.  It is at this time, when the Law has had its way with us that we are moved to cry out to God, “Have mercy Lord!  Forgive me!”  

And then…then when we feel our very life slipping away, we must listen—we must listen to God’s mercy.  “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we should be called the children of God.”   How are we made the children of God?  Through the salting of His Word.  And it is that Word that tells us about the cross—the cross where He allowed His Son Jesus Christ to willingly and in agony give up His life for those very same sins that condemn us.  And then by faith, we must hear His Son shout loudly from the cross, “IT IS FINISHED!”  “What is finished Lord” we ask?  “My Father’s anger for your many sins” He says.  “How” we ask? “Friend” he says, “the Father no longer sees your many sins because I have covered them with my precious blood.  The blood I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your brother and friend shed for you.”  

Will you be salted?  Will you teach your children about this salt, this life saving Word of God that both terrifies and saves us?  This Word has been with you since your own baptism…will you grab onto it and live it out until your last breath is taken on this earth?  Will you remember that in your baptism God made you a mortal enemy of sin, death, and all the devils?  

Friends, think about what God has done for you through the cross of Jesus and the holy waters of your own Baptism.  You have become Satan’s mortal enemy and God’s own child.  How will you survive the constant attacks and temptations of Satan’s devils?  By being salted constantly with the Word of God.  

Now do you understand how important it is to always be in God’s Word?  Do you finally understand how important it is for parents to bring their children to church, Sunday School, and to read and share the Word of God with them?  Do you understand how important it is for you to live this kind of life that clings to God’s Word and Sacraments?  Do you understand that God’s kingdom can only be found at the cross?  Do you understand that the kingdom of God, Jesus’ kingdom was given to you in your baptism?  And do you understand that every time you hear the Word preached and taught, every time you come to His table of mercy, you are being reminded that you are even now part of that kingdom of God?

Friends, don’t lose your saltiness.  Seek this salt in your life always.  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will hunger for this salt, and be at peace…peace with God and peace with each other.  In Jesus name…AMEN!

Abraham’s Bosom?

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

This morning God’s word jumps out at us like a Hollywood movie.  It’s a story of contrasts and a story of tragedy.  If it was a movie, we might call it “Rich Man-Poor Man” or “Eternally Trading Places”.  Remember from last week’s gospel lesson that there are three different groups of people listening to Jesus teachings.  There are Jesus disciples, the open sinners who are drawn to Jesus Word because they really hungered for a life of forgiveness and peace with God, and then there are the Pharisees who have been eavesdropping.  Well eavesdrop no more you brood of self-righteous vipers, because now Jesus is going to talk directly to you, but in doing so He is also talking to everyone else who longs for God’s love and forgiveness.  In short, He is talking to you and me!

Jesus sets the stage for His parable by telling a story of two men.  Both were Jews who worshiped the same God.  One was empty but would be satisfied and full; the other was already satisfied and full but would be emptied.

The first character that we are introduced to is the “Rich Man”.  Jesus says that he was “clothed in (a) purple (robe and wore) fine linen (under his robe), and (he) feasted sumptuously every day!” [Luke 16:19]  In other words he was living large; he was living a lifestyle of the rich and famous.  His lifestyle was so opulent that even Robin Leach would have blushed!

The second character that we’re introduced to is Lazarus, who was more than poor; he was a terminally ill beggar who counted on the pity and care of others.  Listen to how Jesus introduces and describes him: “And at (the rich man’s) gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” [vs. 20-21]

Like a Hollywood script, these two men are flashed before our eyes.  One lives in the lap of luxury and the other in extreme poverty.  Now we must remember that being rich is no sin, but how you use your riches can be!  The Pharisees were lovers of money in addition to being self-righteous, so they knew that Jesus was talking to them.  They knew that Jesus was forcing them to look into their own hearts and they didn’t like it one bit! 

Now, did you notice that the rich man had no name but the poor man did?  His name was Lazarus.  Do you know what that name means?  It means “God helps”!  This was a direct appeal to Levitical Law where God commanded that the poor be taken care of by those who had plenty.  You can be sure that the Pharisees knew that this story was aimed at their hearts.  In the character of the rich man, Jesus had put his finger or their love of money by comparing it to the nameless rich man’s greed and opulence. 

Poor old Lazarus!  He was dumped at the rich man’s front gate by some people who thought, “Surely this rich man will give him a little something!”  Did he?  No, not one thing!  I’m sure that a lot of other rich people came by every day to visit, and none of them gave him a thing.  The only comfort that Lazarus found was the companionship of roaming dogs that licked his sores with their soft tongues!  God provided brute comfort when human comfort failed!

Now Jesus moves us to a place where all good stories and Hollywood movies seem to start and end… in death!  We are at a cemetery.  On one side of the grounds we find well-kept and peaceful tombs.  This is where the body of the rich man is laid.  Oh, you can be sure that his tomb was the finest that money could buy and that all of his rich friends were there to say their last good-byes.  If this was a Hollywood movie, they would all have on designer suits and dresses and their Limousines, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces would be lined up as far as the eye could see!  And on the other side of the grounds, where the poor people were laid to rest, there is another burial taking place.  But unlike the rich man’s funeral no one attends.  Like the Beatle’s song Eleanor Rigby, nobody came… nobody cared!  There was only the grave digger and the Rabbi and the body of Lazarus.  How sad!  Was the good life only a dream for poor old Lazarus; a dream that never became a reality?  No, because Jesus’ story flashes to another reality; not an alternate reality but an eternal one. 

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” [vs. 22-24]  Like a bit of Hollywood magic, Jesus’ parable somehow combines two places into one.  Now we are simultaneously taken to heaven and to hell, and there we observe both the rich man who still has no name because God has forgotten him, and Lazarus, who once was hungry, poor, and pitiful but now is rich, blessed, and seated at God’s heavenly banquet table leaning on Father Abraham himself! 

What determined the fate of these two characters in Jesus’ story and what determines our fate?  This was the question that Jesus was confronting the self-righteous Pharisees with; it’s the answer to this question that we all must hear and learn from this morning.   And to get that answer, let’s get back to the story. 

“But Abraham said (to the rich man), ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime receive your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are (there) in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’  And (the rich man) said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send (Lazarus) to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (that is holy scripture), neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’’” [Vs. 25-31]

Dear friends, Jesus is teaching us that it is God’s selected and declared means of grace alone that will save us from sin, death, and the devil.  It is His holy Word alone that has saved us, is saving us, and will save us!  It is God’s means alone that not only directs our lives here on earth but determines where we will spend eternity.  Jesus wants us to understand that it is God’s Word alone and our treatment of it which creates faith and the ability to do two things: Please God and to have a desire to be with God!

We please God when we desire to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament.  When we receive these things, they change us by giving us not just forgiveness of sins but the faith to believe in that forgiveness.  Hearing God’s Word and believing it are the only way to please God.  His Word is the only way that a sinful heart, your sinful heart can be cleansed.  But our sinful hearts don’t like to hear this, so we invent new means, our own means that we think God should have provided but didn’t, so we take it upon ourselves to fix what we feel God overlooked.  This is why the rich man wanted a miraculous raising of Lazarus’ dead body.  He wanted the dead to do the proper work of the living Word of God!  He wanted Lazarus to bring repentance and faith unto salvation instead of God’s law and gospel!

Friends, God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and nothing else, are the very things alone that change our hearts so that they desire to do the things that please God.  How do we please God?  By hearing His Word and then building His kingdom!  How do we build His kingdom here on earth?  We do it by hearing His Word and then sharing that same Word with whomever He puts in our lives!  When we share His Word with those who are living without it we are opening the very gate of heaven to them.  Will they enter and be saved or will they reject His Word and only know the torments of Hell?  God alone knows and not us, so we continue to feed them God’s only means of salvation!

But what of those who are physically poor and pitiful like Lazarus?  What does God want us to do for them?  Well they too need the Word of God, so we also speak it to them, but they also need acts of loving kindness here on this sinful earth, so we feed them and care for their physical needs as well!  You know, our church pantry is a wonderful way to do this very thing!  We can always use donations of food and even financial support so that we can continue to show simple human kindness and compassion to them.  But we could also use your time there as well!  What a wonderful way to spend a few hours, sharing God’s Word and a sack of groceries with some of our neighbors!

Dear friends when we become centered in God’s Word, we will also begin to see it changing us and leading us.  And when that happens we will begin to find ourselves doing the things that need God.  And as you are doing the things that God wants done you will begin to see something else wonderful happening within your heart… you will begin to want to be with God!

When we desire to be with God we will also desire to stay in His Word and receive His sacrament, and when we stay in His Word and are fed in His Sacrament we discover that we are already with God!  Friends, through His Holy Word God draws all men, all sinners unto Himself, even you and me!  Through His Word He creates our desire to come to His heavenly banquet table and feast on a meal of forgiveness!  At His table and through His Word we discover that we’re already where we shall always be… at Abraham’s Bosom!

 What is Abraham’s bosom?  It is the living Word of God; the very person who has just shared this wonderful story with us; it is Jesus Himself!  He alone is Abraham’s heart and He is ours as well!  His living Words are real food and drink and they are the only thing that moves us not just to the gate of heaven but into heaven itself where we will discover that our place at His banquet table has always been our place.  It is a place where we have been communing with Him and we will continue to commune with Him.  It is the only place where we are assured of real rest and peace and peace with God!  I pray that God’s Word continues to do this mighty work within our hearts.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!