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—44 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43–44, NKJV).
Did you know more is recorded in the New Testament about hell from the mouth of Jesus than anyone else? The eternal fire of hell’s unending punishment is real and a substantial deterrent against evil. In today’s passage, Jesus used hyperbolic language (cut off the offending hand, foot, eye, Mark 9:43, 45, 47) to describe the urgent need to eliminate sin in our lives lest we fall under eternal condemnation. The fire of Jerusalem’s refuse dump (gehenna, “hell”) was a fitting figure of the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and those who do not follow Christ’s will (Matt. 25:41, 46). We gain nothing when we choose not to repent of sin. In the final judgment, those who “do not obey the truth” will suffer the corruption, agony, and darkness of being removed from God’s blessings forever (Rom. 2:5-11). Better to surrender the sin that seems most important to us and do God’s will than to “go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43). While the goodness of God leads us to repentance, so does the wrath of God (Rom. 2:4-5). So, “sing to me of heaven” and warn me of hell. Jesus spoke of both to persuade faithful, righteous living (John 14:1-6; Mark 9:43-48). Purged of sin and tried by fire, the sacrifices we make to live for Jesus will preserve us unto the day of eternal bliss (Mark 9:49).
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14, NKJV).
We look for ways to make our lives easier, more convenient. Innovations in industry, transportation, technology, and communication produce greater efficiency for countless lives. However, striving for convenience can also have unintended consequences. It can lead to neglect and unrealistic expectations. A harmful entitlement mentality may develop, expecting and demanding comfort and convenience. Jesus uses the simple desire for things to be easy to teach a crucial spiritual truth. The broad path is easy, convenient, and desirable but leads to ruin and loss. Sin is easy, and its outcome is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Many people walk this spiritual path. All of us have entered the wide gate at some point, for we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23). But we can choose a different path. The narrow gate opens to a path that is “difficult” (confined, like the walls of a narrow canyon) yet leads to life. Turning from sin, seeking, finding, and following Jesus is possible for all, but few choose this path (Matt. 11:28-30; Luke 13:23-24). Following Christ demands self-denial (Luke 9:23). The road to heaven is not lined with the pleasures of sin (1 John 2:15-17). Trials will come when we choose to follow Jesus. Convenience is not the motto of Christians. Faith is refined by trials, strengthening us as we live for heaven (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27–28, NKJV).”
Jesus challenges us to get to the heart of the matter when identifying and turning away from sin. Of course, adultery remains a sin as it was under the Law of Moses (Exod. 20:14; Rom. 13:9). Even the first covenant called on Israel to love the Lord God with all their heart (Deut. 6:5). Jesus drills down to the root of this (and every) sin; the heart’s desires and impulses (1 John 2:15-17). Lustful looks at a woman are adultery in the heart, and so is the act. The heart is the source of sin. Sin lurks in the recesses of the heart’s desires, emotions, and motives (Gen. 4:7; Matt. 15:19-20). God’s word has the power to pierce the heart and reach its thoughts and intents (Heb. 4:12). By doing so, it convicts us of our sins and calls us to repent (change our heart, Acts 2:37-38; 26:20). Jesus vividly described the severity of repentance: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell (Matt. 5:29–30).” Jesus will forgive our sins when we repent (Acts 17:30; Matt. 11:28-30). And drastic steps are necessary to repent to avoid sin’s eternal punishment.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:21–22, NKJV).”
Jesus challenges us to inspect our attitudes toward others and the words they prompt us to use (Matt. 12:33-37). Brotherly kindness and love (attributes Christians add to our faith, 2 Peter 1:5, 7) go far beyond not murdering a person. The apostle John assures us that “whosoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Jesus expects citizens of the kingdom to follow a path that leads from hate to harmony. Unjustified anger, contemptuous words, and hateful conduct bring a judgment that endangers the soul. So, we must be careful how we speak to others and speak of them to others. We must remove animosity, contempt, bitterness, malicious speech from our hearts and mouths (Eph. 4:31). Kindness must prevail to be a faithful follower of Jesus (Eph. 4:32). Remember, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Prov. 15:4). Furthermore, the perverse tongue condemns the soul.
4 And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:4–7, NKJV).
Friends tell us what we need to know because they care for us; they look out for us. Jesus is our truest friend who tells us not to be afraid of those who can kill us. They have no power over our immortal soul. God has the power to judge and punish our sins in hell. That is where we ought to place our fear. God is not a terrorist who threatens us. He cares for us and tells us of the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). He loved us and sent His Son to save us from our sins (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 6:23). Fearing God is an act of faith, not terror. God does not forget the sparrows, and He will not forget you. He knows you better than you know yourself. (Quick, how many hairs are on your head? God knows, even though you do not.) Your value is far greater than sparrows. So, do not fear people who threaten you because of your faith. Confident faith leads us to confess Jesus instead of being afraid (Lk. 12:8-9).
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4–5, NKJV)
Faith is the victory that defeats the world of evil. A good brother reminded me that the righteous die victoriously (Sword Tips #2226), as assured in Revelation 2-3. Let us briefly note those assurances to “him who overcomes.” 1) Access to the tree of life (Rev. 2:7). Eternal life, forever sustained by God’s provisions. 2) Protection from the second death (Rev. 2:11). The faithful have no part in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8). 3) Identification as God’s chosen (Rev. 2:17). This one is known and kept by God forever (Rev. 14:1; 22:4). 4) Share in the glory of Messiah’s victory over every evil enemy (Rev. 2:26-28). The faithful one will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). 5) Confessed before the Father (Rev. 3:5). The pure life that unashamedly lived for Christ is written forever in the Book of Life (Mk. 8:38; Rev. 20:12). 6) Secure citizenship with God in His eternal kingdom (Rev. 3:12). Forever dwelling with God, serving Him in full fellowship is the reward of those who hold fast (Rev. 3:11; 21:2, 22). 7) Reign with Christ over sin and death (Rev. 3:21). To forever share in His great victory over every enemy of God will be the indescribable reward of the righteous (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 22:5). These are our hopes and expectations in Christ. He will keep His word to us. Let us keep our word to Him and be faithful even to the point of death (Rev. 2:10).
49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49–50, NKJV)
Hell is real, and hell is horrible. Jesus often spoke about hell and warned of “everlasting fire” into which those cursed by sin will “depart” (Matt. 18:8-9; 25:41). This sorrowful scene of “wailing and gnashing of teeth” will not be God’s doing. Some who do not believe in hell try to convince us God does not punish people, and if He does, then He is a horrible God. Their attempt fails miserably. The eternal punishment of hell’s corruption results from sowings seeds of sin in our lives (Gal. 6:7-8; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:1-11). God sent His Son Jesus to save us from sin’s eternal death. We do not rely on poets’ imaginative journeys to explain hell (i.e., Dante’s Divine Comedy). We listen to Jesus. Denying hell’s existence and its eternal punishment of sin denies Jesus (Matt. 25:46). It is that simple. We believe the Son of God and the truth He taught about hell (Jno. 1:14; 14:6). Those who accept the Bible as God’s word believe in eternal hell (and eternal heaven) because we trust His word as truth (Jno. 17:17). If you deny hell is real, you do not believe Jesus (“Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire,” Matt. 25:41); you believe the devil (“You will not surely die,” Gen. 3:4). We urge you not to believe the liar and father of lies (Jno. 8:44). Believe and obey Jesus, who warns us to escape the condemnation of hell (Matt. 23:33).
Shall I not punish them for these things?” says the Lord. “And shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this? (Jeremiah 5:9, NKJV)
The cup of Judah’s iniquities had reached the brim: “Their transgressions are many; Their backslidings have increased” (Jer. 5:6). Like her sister Israel to the north, idolatry, adultery, selfish indulgence, oppressive leaders, false prophets, and faithless neglect of God headlined her sins (Jer. 5:7-8, 11-13). Yet they were sure punishment would not come upon them (Jer. 5:12-13; Micah 3:11-12). Even to this moment, many have created a view of God that takes everyone to heaven. Sin is minimized out of existence; therefore, they eliminate the prospect of punishment. “A loving God will not send people to hell!” they proclaim. We must divest ourselves of this illusion. Yes, God is love. His severity is also real (Rom. 11:22). Our God is a consuming fire against evil (Heb. 12:29). Over and over, God called His people to turn from their sins and return to Him (Jer. 3:14-18, 22; 4:4; 7:13, 25-26). Because Judah and Israel rejected God’s word and refused to repent, God had no choice but to exact punishment. God’s word is clear; those who “do not know God” and those “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” “shall be punished” when Christ returns (2 Thess. 1:8-9; Matt. 25:46). Now is the time to repent and turn to the Lord. Now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1-2).
31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31–33, NKJV)
Of course, we understand Jesus is describing people under the figure of sheep and goats. The setting is the day of His glory and judgment. Attended by a heavenly host, Jesus will be arrayed gloriously on His throne of judgment (2 Cor. 5:10). All the tribes of humanity from Adam to the last day will gather before Him, where each person will give an account of our lives (Rom. 14:12). Christ will judge impartially and righteously according to God’s truth, and each of us will receive judgment according to our deeds (Rom. 2:1-11). Judgment involves a moment of decision and separation, and Jesus describes it as separating sheep and goats (a common practice to this day). The question on our heart should be, “Will I be a sheep or a goat?” The answer is up to us. Jesus describes the sheep as those who loved their neighbor as themselves (Matt. 25:34-40). These will inherit a kingdom of eternal life (v. 34, 46). The goats are those who failed to regard others before themselves. By failing to serve others, they failed to serve Christ (Matt. 25:41-45). These will inherit an eternal punishment of fire (v. 41, 46). Instead of denying the judgment, denying our sins, or denying eternal hell, we should believe Jesus and serve Him by serving others. Prepare for Judgment Day. Sheep or goat; Which will we be?