Tag Archives: Isaiah

WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?

WTH 1 – Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Hell

Hell can be a difficult thing to get our minds around.  Perhaps the most difficult part of it is reconciling a God Who is love with a God Who created hell.  We will be spending the next couple of weeks considering this topic.  I do not promise that at the end we’ll have all the answers arranged in neat rows, but I do hope that as we work our way through it will help you to get a better handle on the matter and on Who God has revealed Himself to be.  That being said, the first step we’ll take in our little journey is to consider what hell really is.

The Scripture that we are going to look at is Mark 9:42-48.  Here, Christ gives a warning about what awaits us if we remain in sin.  Christ does not literally say “hell”.  Instead, He speaks in metaphor, making a comparison with something that His audience would have been familiar with:  Gehenna, also known as the valley of Hinnom.  Located just outside of Jerusalem, it functioned as a city dump where garbage and all manner of unclean things (such as dead animals) were thrown and all of this garbage was ultimately disposed of by burning.  Thus, the image that Christ paints of hell is a place where unclean things are disposed of.

Here’s a brief thought experiment to try:  envision a place filled with garbage, and not just empty cans and candy wrappers, we’re talking animal guts and other such refuse that rots and putrefies.  You can almost feel the filth rising off of everything and clinging to your skin.  That’s not all, everything is burning and the smoke carries the stink up into the air, up into your nose, and the soot that rests on your already dirty skin is itself infused with the stench and rot of the garbage.

That’s the kind of place that Christ uses to describe hell in terms that we can understand.

Here are some more passages where the Gehenna imagery is used of hell:

Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33

Luke 12:5

James 3:6

Christ also speaks of hell as a place where “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  This is actually a quotation from Isaiah 66:24 where God describes the corpses of those who transgressed against Him.  In that particular passage, it is added that, “They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh”.  Think back to the thought experiment and, instead of merely imagining being in the place, consider being that which is constantly putrefying and being consumed by fire and worms.

Having these analogies in mind makes it easier to understand why Christ would use such strong language when making the case that it is better to enter into life maimed rather than to enter into hell.  Christ says that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck, to lose a hand, to lose a foot, or to lose an eye and enter into life rather than to go to hell.  Of course, Christ is not advocating self-mutilation as a means to avoid sin; such physical acts cannot prevent us from sinning (which has its origin in the heart).  However, He is making a point of how much better it is to enter the kingdom of heaven and have life than it is to choose hell.  Another way we may think about it is to recall the various stories that have been told about people and animals severing their own limbs in order to escape from certain death.

Using such graphic imagery and intense language, it is apparent that Christ isn’t talking about a metaphorical or figurative place but a reality that awaits us should we not enter into life.  Notice that hell is not itself a metaphor, the metaphors are used to describe hell.  Jesus’ statement is not “It would be better to lose a hand and enter into life because otherwise it would be like going to a place which is like…”   Instead, His statement flows as, “It would be better to lose a hand and enter into life than to enter into the place which is like…”  Christ sets up a dichotomy where there are two possible outcomes:  1) we enter into life and are with God forever.  Or 2) we enter into death and spend eternity in hell.  If God is real, if heaven is real, if sin is real, then hell must also be real; but more on that next week.  For now, let’s sum things up with the following:

  1. Jesus describes hell as a place where unclean things are disposed of.
  2. Jesus uses metaphor to describe the reality of hell, He does not speak of hell as a metaphor itself.

Practical questions:

  1. What or who have been the greatest influences on your idea of hell?
  2. What does that idea say about God’s character?
  3. How does Christ’s description of hell differ from your own idea of it?
  4. What does Christ’s description tell us about God’s character?

Advent 1 – Dirty Laundry

Scripture:  Romans 3:23

As we enter the month of December, we begin making preparations for the upcoming Christmas holiday.  Typically these preparations involve putting up Christmas lights, sending out Christmas cards, and checking items off of Christmas shopping lists.  We also make spiritual preparations for Christmas by meditating on the upcoming celebration of Christ’s coming into the world.

With it being the Christmas season, we are surrounded by the many signs of the season, including stockings.  While there are multiple stories as to how this particular holiday symbol came to be, they usually have the stockings being hung by the fireplace to dry.  They were dirty laundry that had been made reasonably clean and hung to dry.  We all have dirty laundry that needs to be taken care of, so says Romans 3:23

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

The word that gets translated as “sin” carries the meaning of “missing the mark” or “to err”.  In our attempts to be in a right relationship with God, we often wander off track to the left, to the right, up, down, and any other direction than straight.  Sin describes any way in which we turn away from God.  The all-encompassing nature of sin means that it will thwart us at every turn as we try to reconcile ourselves to God.  Our sin will always keep us from getting our stockings completely clean, as it were.  Doing so is, very simply, beyond our reach.  This is the condition that we find ourselves in without God’s intervention.

Of course, we may try to reach God’s level of righteousness by doing good things or things that we think God would approve of.  However, even a life that is righteous by all the standards of the world has not taken care of the sin problem and, as the prophet Isaiah laments, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags”.  Sin really is like a filthy spot on us, everything that comes in contact with it is also made dirty.  Until our sin is dealt with, everything we do is tainted by it.  It is a harsh truth, but this also includes our “good” deeds.

There is another problem with trying to become righteous by our own efforts.  The belief that we are able to work our way into heaven carries with it the assumption that either we are not accountable for the wrong that we do while we are still in the process of becoming righteous, or we are able to atone for all of them so that it is like they never happened (that we can erase what we did in the past with what we do today).  The first option is inconsistent with Scripture which states:  “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil things.  But I say to you that for every idle word men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-38 emphasis added).  We are accountable for everything we do, past and present.  The second option is inconsistent with history and experience.  The very best that we can do is forgive and be forgiven, but we cannot undo that which is done even if we make it up to the person.  Balancing our moral scale this way doesn’t remove the contents of the pans.  Using our stocking analogy, it is like drawing a spot on our other stocking to match the stain that we can’t get out of the other.

Try as we might, there is no way around the sin problem and the way it contaminates our lives.  What we need is nothing short of a miracle.

Practical Questions:

  1. How does the fact that we don’t have the power to rid ourselves of sin make you feel?
  2. In what ways do we try to make ourselves righteous?
  3. Why is the idea of overcoming sin by our own power so attractive?