11th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 16 – C)
August 21, 2022
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah.
What’s the worst thing someone can say to you? You’re a loser? I hate you? I don’t love you anymore? All of those cut deeply, don’t they? Whoever said, “Words will never hurt me” must never have been insulted. There is one phrase that’s worse than any other; something that should never be said to anyone at any time, no matter what. Do you know? “Go to Hell!” These are true curse words, words that summon God’s wrath on the individual. How much do you have to hate someone that you want them to go to hell for eternity? Now, don’t get me wrong: there are horribly evil people out there who deserve the full brunt of God’s wrath, and most of them will. However, that’s God’s judgment to declare, not ours. While it is God’s judgment to pronounce, it’s one that He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t. Rather, God would have you know that His glory is for everyone.
The results of a recent survey reveal that, depending on the denomination, between sixty and eighty percent of Christians believe in hell. I find this to be quite shocking because the Bible is clear that Hell is a very real place. Some Christians reject the Bible’s teaching on Hell because they’ve rejected much of the Bible. Others, such as the author Rob Bell whose books you may have seen, teaches that since God is love, no one goes to Hell. Or if they do, it’s only temporary before they find their way into Heaven. Then there are those who don’t want Hell to be real because members of their family who don’t believe, and no one wants to think about their loved ones being damned.
I don’t know where you fall in your beliefs, but I assure you Hell is real. If it wasn’t, why would Jesus talk about it so much? Hell is one of the topics that Jesus mentions the most, including our Gospel: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” And God says through Isaiah: “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Hell isn’t temporary either; it’s as eternal as Heaven. People aren’t destroyed when they go to hell, rather they endure it in body and soul for all eternity. This is the price for rejecting God’s divinity, love, and forgiveness. Isaiah condemned the Jews for rejecting God, and those who reject Him now are condemned. Those who do not regard God as their most prized possession will lose Him. Of course, we don’t want to hear that, even if it’s true. But we must confess that we do put Him last, we do refuse to hear Him, and for these reasons, among plenty of others, we deserve nothing but God’s anger and punishment.
Praise God that King David tells us something that is crucial to believe. He writes: “[God] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Instead of showing His overwhelming glory by damning us, God brings to light the glory of His wondrous love for us in Christ Jesus. According to this grace, He not only saves us, but He makes us thankful priests in His service and heirs of His eternal kingdom. The Lord says, “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain.”
God’s glory is for you, and it doesn’t matter if you strayed or sinned or struggled in your faith. We’ve all committed those things, especially in our sin. But that’s not where this all ends! Look at the cross and see the glory of God. It’s there even if it’s hidden behind thorns, nails, and blood. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”, He was receiving the full brunt of His Father’s anger for your sin. He suffered the flames, He gnashed His teeth, He wept for you! He went to Hell so you don’t have to! When you confess you sins, when you look to Christ for help, you will see God’s glory in the forgiveness of the sins. Your sins are forgiven, judgment is lifted, Heaven is open and Hell is shut tight. This is what God wants to do! He doesn’t find joy in the damnation of the wicked, rather He finds joy in your salvation and invites you to bask in His glory.
If “Go to Hell” is the worst thing anyone can say, what’s the greatest? How about, “Go to Heaven”? That’s it! There is no greater message than the Gospel news of salvation that’s for everyone, and it is offered to everybody. The Jews as God’s chosen people thought salvation belonged exclusively to them, and except for limited exceptions, non-Jews were outside of God’s love. They couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, they were God’s chosen people, from whom the Savior would come, but that didn’t mean others were excluded. In his prophecy, Isaiah writes that God will send messengers the nations that surround Israel to the north, south, and west – Tarshish, Pul, Lud, Tubal, Javan, to the coastlands far away. Jesus says the same thing: “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
These words are still true today! Those who come to God’s kingdom will not just be the German Lutherans, there will be us Scandinavian Lutherans too. So also, there will be Africans, Asians, Hispanics, every tribe, race, and language will be basking in God’s glory. There’ll be those with tattoos, purple hair, and ratty jeans. There’ll be the rich, the poor, and those in between. There will be addicts, sinners, and the unexpected. There will be former Muslims, Jews, Mormons, and Pagans. These are the ones who come from every direction on the compass to the joy of the Lord.
These lost and condemned people won’t just stumble into God. They won’t wake up one day and magically believe. They’re brought to faith the same way you were, through the Word of God. It’s by the proclamation and teaching of the faith that people will come to know the joy of salvation. The Lord says: “I will send survivors to the nations…that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations.” That’s you! God sends you to declare God’s glory to those who don’t know it, or who have forgotten it, or those who have rejected it. Warn people of God’s judgment and that Jesus says in the Gospel just knowing Him isn’t believing in Him. Speak the Law, without being mean or judgmental. They may not want to hear it, maybe you’ve tried in the past, but pray and persevere, for without faith, they are lost. They will indeed go to Hell.
But don’t leave them hanging! Share with them the promise that God forgives the sins of all who call on Him, that He changes lives, that the glory of God outshines anything that catches our eye in this world. Some would say that you have the obligation or the duty to tell others about Jesus. And you do, but it’s not one of compulsion – “Do this or burn in hell”. It’s one of joy! There is nothing more important that people need to hear! There is nothing that is greater than the news that Jesus calls sinners and forgives them. What would your life be without Jesus? That’s their life right now! And don’t worry about what to say – just say what you know! Speak God’s Word and let Him do the rest. This doesn’t mean give up though. Never give up, keep praying and speaking and loving, you never know when or how God’s going to work.
“Go to Hell” or “Join me in Heaven”, two different sentences and connotations. One a curse, one an invitation. One to be spoken only by God, one to be spoken by God’s people. One that the people of God will never hear, one that all God’s people will hear. Hear these words! God has called you by the Gospel, He has given you faith, your sins are forgiven. Go with joy and share that same news with others. Let them know of God’s eternal glory, a glory offered to all, an eternal life will all those who call on the name of Jesus.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen