O Holy Night, 6 December 2020

O Holy Night
Luke 2:6-14

Series Big Idea: Carols are the soundtrack of the season as we celebrate Advent.

Big Idea: Jesus brings a thrill of hope to a weary world, prompting us to fall to our knees in worship.

I love music! There are few things I enjoy more than playing, composing, and singing music. Whether it’s nurture, nature, or both, music has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandpa could play virtually every instrument in the orchestra. My dad could, too. I’m a third-generation musician, and our son, Trevor, carries the baton today.

Music is powerful. It can energize us during a workout, bring tears to our eyes, or relax us before we drift off to sleep. A song can excite a crowd at a concert or transport us back to nostalgic moments of childhood. Perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever heard is that some Jewish rabbis believed when God created the universe, He sung it into existence! Imagine our world the result of a song!

Although it will be unusual this year, I love Christmas. I like buying gifts for family and friends (especially when I find a deal!). I enjoy the parties…especially white elephant exchanges! Christmas cookies are amazing…especially gingerbread! But perhaps my favorite thing about Christmas besides people is the music. No other holiday has a soundtrack so robust, whether it’s “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” or “Silent Night.”

What is your favorite Christmas carol? Comment online.

Most of you are familiar with the Christmas story, but this year we’re going to look at it from the perspective of composers who put the scriptures to song. We begin this morning with what might be my all-time favorite Christmas carol: “O Holy Night.”

In 1843, the church organ in the French city of Roquemaure was completely renovated. To celebrate the newly finished organ, the parish priest had the local poet, wine merchant, and mayor, Placide Cappeau write a poem. Cappeau was an interesting fellow. A fireworks accident blew up his right hand at age eight, and he was known to “enjoy the bottle,” so to speak. This French poet was moved by Luke chapter two…

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

This is a familiar text to anyone who’s ever attending a church at Christmastime. What would it be like to be an eyewitness of this moment? This is what Cappeau considered as he wrote his poem.

We’re in the season of
Advent, a season based upon the Latin word “adventus” or “coming.” It’s a time of preparation for the coming of the LORD Jesus Christ. We look back at those who were anticipating his first entry into our world. Timing is everything, they say, and Dr. Luke includes this detail that “the time came for the baby to be born.” Imagine waiting hundreds of years for something. The Messiah had been prophesied throughout the pages of the Jewish Bible, and Luke records this historic moment.

What are you anticipating? Maybe it’s a COVID-19 vaccine or recovery from the virus. Perhaps you are waiting for a prodigal son or daughter to come home. Children can’t wait to open those presents under the tree. God’s timing is perfect. I often say He’s never late but rarely early! While we look back at the first coming of Jesus, we look forward to his return. He is coming—soon—but rather than a baby, he will coming as a king…the King of kings, the LORD of lords. I don’t know anyone who likes to wait, but I know Jesus will be worth the wait!

Luke continues…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)

This was unremarkable. The land was likely filled with shepherds and flocks. But then something incredible happens!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:9)

Angels are real. They are found throughout the Bible.

Have you ever encountered an angel? I’ve heard stories of angels appearing as ordinary humans, only to suddenly disappear. This is not one of those occasions! This angel appears along with the glory of the LORD. It was terrifying! For the shepherds, this was not a silent night, but a scary night!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

This would’ve been enough to get my attention…but there’s more!

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (Luke 2:13)

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

Imagine the sights! Imagine the sounds! This is what Cappeau was pondering when he wrote his poem.

O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

What a night.
What a light.
What a sight.
What delight!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

This is an odd phrase to the modern reader. To “pine” means to long for something. The world was filled with sin and error. Hope was scarce. The world was pining or longing for something…for someone.

'Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

The Messiah changed everything! No person has ever had such a transformational impact on our planet. I can’t even imagine life without Jesus. The next phrase might be the most fantastic lyric in this or any other carol.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

Could there be a more relevant declaration in this moment, in 2020? Our world is weary. It is broken. It is suffering in so many ways. I love Cappeau’s line “a thrill of hope.” Pastor Keith spoke of hope last week, also the theme of the first Advent candle.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Followers of Jesus can experience a thrill of hope…and rejoice! Pastor Keith said hope is “holding onto promises earnestly.”

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

What thrills you? Some people like watching thriller movies. I love the thrill rides at Cedar Point! But there’s nothing more thrilling than hope, especially in the midst of despair.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

In the distance…up ahead…yonder…breaks a new and glorious morn. It’s coming! It’s around the corner. Get ready!

The prophet Jeremiah wrote in 586 BC

I well remember them,
and my soul is
downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are
new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will
wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose
hope is in him,
to the one who
seeks him;
it is good to
wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
(Lamentations 3:20-26)

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!

The shepherds were terrified when they heard and saw the angel. I’m quite sure their knees hit the ground. We’re not a culture that’s used to bowing, to kneeling, to stooping down. Posture matters.

If you’re physically able, fall on your knees right now, wherever you are. How does it feel? Do you feel a loss of power? Do you feel in control? Is it a humbling position?

My frequent prayer—especially this year—has been for our nation and its leaders to fall on our knees, to cry out to God, to be awestruck by His power and wisdom and humbly recognize our own frailty and inadequacy. I don’t care who the mayor, governor, or president is, I pray for them to fall on their knees. And I want that for you, too…and myself. Kneeling is not comfortable, but it’s effective! It will shift your perspective in a hurry.

Ever since the pandemic began, I’ve been praying that this might be the moment God uses to get our attention, to spark a spiritual awakening, to prompt a revival, to free us from the bondage of our idolatry of money, sex, and power and instill in us awe and wonder of the LORD God Almighty.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but politics has not been the answer. Education has not been the answer. Entertainment has not been the answer. Science has not been the answer. The economy has not been the answer.

Only Jesus is the answer. Only the Messiah can bring real hope. Our desperation and God’s awesome presence should cause us to fall on our knees.

O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O Holy night, O night divine!

Cappeau captured the scene so vividly from Luke 2. What a night. What a holy, divine night!

There’s actually quite a bit more to the story of “O Holy Night.” Composer Adolphe Adam was approached to compose music for the poem. Adam was a Jew! He was asked to write music for a poem about the Messiah and it was composed within a day!

On Christmas Eve, 1847, the song was sung and was so well-received that it spread throughout the community. When the church leaders learned about who wrote it, they tried to shut it down! Religion can destroy just about anything! Fortunately, it couldn’t stop this song. It eventually made its way from France to England and a man named John Sullivan Dwight brought it to the USA. Dwight was a Harvard graduate and a minister, but he had panic attacks whenever he preached. He resigned as a pastor and created a journal of music. He took the French poem and translated it into English in the mid-1850s. Do you know what was happening in our nation in the mid-1850’s? There was a little debate going on about the issue of slavery. Let’s return to the song.

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is Peace

Jesus taught us to not only love God, but to love others…even our enemies. Most of us see law as a heavy or negative word, but what would happen if love was the law? The gospel or “good news” is peace.

Hope. Love. Peace. Could we use a little bit of that today? Family, this might be the moment our world has been anticipating. We serve the God of hope. Our trademark is supposed to be love. We follow the Prince of Peace. We have what the world needs more than a vaccine! We have life…the way, the truth, the life! We have Jesus! We need to share Jesus, proclaim Jesus, follow Jesus!

As if the song couldn’t get more relevant, the next line says,

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother

Do remember Dwight, the man who translated the French into English? He was a strong abolitionist. He recognized the sin of slavery.

And in His name, all oppression shall cease

The Black Lives Matter organization will not solve racism. Laws won’t change wicked hearts. Sin has invaded all of our lives…but there is power in the name of Jesus. There is salvation in the name of Jesus. There is healing in the name of Jesus. Demons tremble at the sound of the name of Jesus. In His name, all oppression will end. Prejudice. Racism. Injustice. Slavery. Bondage. Sin. Death.

So What?

How shall we respond?

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us Praise His Holy name
Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim
His power and glory evermore proclaim

In 1870, there was war in Europe, On Christmas Eve, a French soldier leaped out of his trench and started singing this (in French). This led a German soldier to start singing a German carol. In the midst of the conflict, they had three days of peace. O Holy Night brought peace in the midst of the war. Maybe it’s exactly what our world needs today.

There’s one more story. In 1906, a man named Marconi invented…the radio. The technology was so primitive it only transmitted morse code signals! Reginald Fessenden was trying to increase the range of the radio. On Christmas Eve 1906, people were listening for morse code but, instead, heard the Luke 2 passage read and then Fessenden playing this song on the violin…the first song ever transmitted on radio!

This song was requested by a forgotten priest
Written by an irreligious poet
Put to music by a Jewish composer
Translated into English by a minister unable to speak
It interrupted a war
And became the first song ever heard on radio!

Some of those men knew the story of Jesus, but they didn’t know Jesus. Do you? Family, this season is a reminder of the thrill of hope that our weary world desperately needs. It should cause us to fall to our knees in worship, in adoration, in praise. Christ is the LORD. O praise his name forever! He is here. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Hallelujah! Let us worship Him…every day!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Jesus on Divorce, 8 November 2020

Jesus on Divorce
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 10:1-16

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: God designed marriage and family for our flourishing, not our frustration.

I guess I’m a glutton for punishment! It’s not enough to talk about politics, race, theological differences, and hell! Today we’re talking about divorce. Actually, Jesus is talking about divorce.

One of my professors told me years ago, “Always put the Bible between you and your audience so when they’re offended, they’re offended by the Bible, not by you and your opinions.” Great advice! You don’t have to always agree with me. In fact, I’d be worried if you did! There are many things in the Bible that simply aren’t clear. My boyhood pastor once said, “There are some things the Bible is silent about, and we should be, too.” Some things are debatable and others essential and indisputable.

If you didn’t know by now, my favorite biblical character is…Jesus! I love the book of Mark because it’s the shortest, most to-the-point of the four gospels, the good news of the Messiah. Many of your Bibles have words in the color red, indicating they are the words of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the challenging, counter-cultural wisdom of God.

Today we’re looking at what Jesus said about divorce in Mark chapter ten.

In the beginning, God created marriage. Well, first man was created. Then, …

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

A few verses later Genesis reads,

So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22)

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23)

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)

The two were one flesh, both physically and emotionally. They complemented one another. Loneliness was shattered. Community was established. And one of the most beautiful realities of their differences allowed them to reproduce and form a family…father, mother, child. This is God’s design. It makes perfect sense. For thousands of years, the biological family of father, mother, and child has been the foundation of societies from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

The family—biological and spiritual—is vital for everyone.

I wish the story ended there, a naked husband and wife experiencing paradise, free from shame, sin, and sorrow. Unfortunately, the very next verse in Genesis introduces the tragic event known as The Fall when Adam and Eve sinned, felt shame, were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and experienced punishment…not the least of which was marital conflict which leads us to today’s text in Mark 10.

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. (Mark 10:1)   

Mark is giving us details which might seem trivial, but this district was under the rule of Herod Antipas, the one John the Baptist preached against due to his adulterous marriage—marrying his brother’s wife—which might be one reason for the question that follows.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (
Mark 10:2)   

There are several reasons why we ask questions. Often, it’s out of genuine curiosity. Sometimes, we are seeking clarification or confirmation. In this instance, Mark tells us these religious leaders were testing Jesus. Divorce was a controversial subject, and the original Greek verbs convey the idea that they kept asking Jesus, trying to get him to say something incriminating. As is often the case, Jesus responds to a question with a question, knowing their impure hearts.

“What did Moses command you?” he replied. (Mark 10:3)

Rather than debating rabbinical schools of thought, Jesus went right to the scriptures. It is believed that the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, were written by Moses. When he led the Jewish people out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, hundreds of laws were written to instruct the people on everything from diets and hygiene to murder and rest. One of the topics was divorce.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” (
Mark 10:4)   

Moses never commanded divorce. He merely allowed it to protect the vulnerable women from exploitation. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 offers a provision for divorce when there is “some uncleanness.” Rabbi Hillel and his followers interpreted that to mean a man could divorce his wife for any reason, even burning his food! Rabbi Shimmai taught this only applied to premarital sin, such as discovering his new bride was not a virgin.

The provision for divorce was not to encourage it, but rather to protect the wife if her husband scorned her. Jewish women could not divorce their husbands. If a woman was rejected, she was often destitute. The certificate of divorce declared her free to remarry. Remarriage of the woman was expected for her survival. The question was, “What are the legal grounds for the man to divorce his bride?” Adultery was not grounds for divorce because it resulted in the stoning of both the adulterer and adulteress (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10; John 8:1-11)!

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. (Mark 10:5)   

Marriage is not a contract. A covenant is an unbreakable commitment. Obviously, some covenants are broken, causing great harm to everyone involved. Since marriage is a picture of God’s covenant with His people (Hebrews 9:15), divorce made a mockery of the covenant relationship. In fact, the relationship between Jesus and us—the Church—is used to illustrate that of a husband and wife in Ephesians 5.

Jesus continues…

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ (Mark 10:6)  

I never imagined the day when this would be a radical, controversial statement! This article speaks volumes! If we’re all just random accidents—blobs of tissue with no value—I suppose we can think and do whatever we want because we have no purpose, no destiny, no meaning. But if we were created, if we have value, if we are masterpieces, then we must submit to the Creator.

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ (Romans 9:20)

I don’t want to get on a soapbox here, but the story of the Bible is so beautiful, so creative, so redemptive, so unbelievably good! If it’s true—and I’m betting my life on it—we are not God. We don’t write the rules.

I know the Bible isn’t politically correct, but if it is followed carefully, it results in human flourishing like nothing else. God made us male and female. He made us to complement one another. He made husband to become one with his wife for the purpose of pro-creation, the establishment of family, mutual submission, pleasure, love and respect, a reflection of Jesus and the Church.

Obviously when the Bible is not followed carefully, abuse emerges. Sin affects us all on a daily basis. We see signs of it all around us, yet it’s not God’s fault. The plan is perfect. It’s the poor execution that results in pain, injustice, hatred, violence, deceit, misogyny, corruption, and the like. God has given us free will, the ability to make choices. All of the brokenness in our world is the result of poor choices…sin.

Let me explain it this way: Heather and I have been watching a show called
Nailed It. The baking show gives three contestants a cake to make in an hour or two. They are presented with the model cake and are asked to recreate it. The recipe and ingredients are provided. The results are usually hilarious!

I am no baker! I might be able to buy one of those tubes of cookie dough and make some simple cookies, but these
Nailed It cakes are truly works of art. The baffling thing to me, though, is when the bakers ignore the recipe, make up their own measurements, or even substitute ingredients! One person decided baking a cake was too difficult and, instead, found a Rice Krispie treat and decorated it!

Nailed It bakers are given the freedom to do whatever they want, but the winners are the ones who play by the rules and follow the recipe.

The same is true for life. You can argue about God’s rules—and He has given you the freedom to ignore them—but I promise you the results will never be as good as if you obey the Master, the Author of life.

Back to our text, Jesus echoes the words of Genesis when he says,

7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:7-9)   

I often think of marriage like super gluing two pieces of paper together. Don’t do it if you want to separate them! Use Post-It notes for that! If you super glue two papers together, it will be nearly impossible to separate them without damage to them both.

That’s a pathetic metaphor for marriage, I know, but hopefully you get the point. Marriage is intended to glue two people together…to become one…for life…’til death. Married people are not supposed to separate, but sometimes they do…and it is always painful and unfortunate.

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.
11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:10-12)   

Jewish women could not divorce their husbands, but Roman women could. Adultery was a pretty big deal. It’s in God’s top ten list, the Ten Commandments. It’s still a big deal today because it destroys trust, the foundation of any relationship.

Adultery—like all sin—hurts us and offends God.

All sin leads to death, whether it’s physical, relational, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc.

Can divorce be forgiven? Absolutely.
Can adultery be forgiven? Yes!
Does divorce solve every problem in a broken marriage? Of course not.
Is it sometimes unavoidable? Yes, in certain circumstances.

God hates divorce, but not divorcees.

I think everyone hates divorce…except, perhaps, for divorce attorneys! It’s not the way it’s supposed to be…like so much of life.

So What?

Marriage was
God’s design, intended for life.

This is seen throughout the Bible, including Romans 7:2 and 1 Corinthians 7:39. Can people survive in “alternative lifestyles?” Sure. But living outside of God’s plan will never allow you to truly thrive. I didn’t write the book, but I’ve read it and I’ve experienced it. It works!

God designed marriage and family for our flourishing, not our frustration.

I know it’s cool and edgy and progressive to be into polygamy, polyamory, fornication, adultery, gay marriage, orgies, BDSM, pedophilia, and other forbidden arrangements often described under the heading of “sexual immorality” (mentioned more than twenty times throughout the Bible; e.g. Numbers 25:1; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; Ephesians 5:3; Jude 7; Revelation 9:21). But why settle when you can have the best? Daddy knows best, He loves you, and He wants the best for you.

Let me be clear: following Jesus is not always easy. It’s certainly not popular. God has given us the freedom to make choices, and with freedom comes responsibility and with actions comes consequences. You’ll get the best performance out of life if you follow the recipe, read the owner’s manual, obey God’s instructions in the Bible (which is also why it’s so important to read and study it to know what’s in there!).

If you’re involved in any form of sexual immorality, God doesn’t hate you. I don’t hate you. Quite the opposite. God’s love desires for you to experience the ultimate satisfaction and joy. I want the best for you. I’m not here to judge you or condemn you, but simply point you to Jesus where you can find forgiveness, freedom, and true peace.

If you’re struggling with any form of sexual issue, I urge you to seek help. Celebrate Recovery and Christian counseling are two things offered here on our campus. I’d love to talk with you or you can even talk to Karen Thompson, our office manager, in confidence. She attends another church so you need not worry about seeing her here on Sundays. I’ve given her resources to share with anyone seeking help.

In addition, if you are struggling in your marriage, help is available. Divorce will not fix everything. Again, contact the office and either ask for me or, if you prefer anonymity, get some resources from Karen our office manager. We are here to serve you…and our God is the God of miracles! Several years ago friends of ours came to Heather and I shared the dreadful news that their marriage had been violated by not only pornography and affairs, but prostitutes. This good Christian couple with the perfect family was on the verge of collapse. The woman had every right to seek a lawyer, but by God’s grace she chose forgiveness and a very long, very painful road of reconciliation and restoration. Today, they help other couples on the brink of divorce and have a beautiful marriage, a brilliant portrait of redemption and healing.

I said earlier,

God hates divorce, but not divorcees.

Some people picture God as this angry judge out to get us. Yes, Judgment Day is coming for all of us…and followers of Jesus have a wonderful ally to help us. But I think often the consequences of sin are enough on their own. Like a judge telling a parent who accidentally killed their child they have suffered enough, I wonder if the pain of divorce needs any additional penalty from God. I can’t prove that, but it’s just a thought. I’ve not been divorced, but I have yet to meet someone who enjoyed it. One person expressed this online: “That’s the horrific loss in divorce, it’s not losing your spouse - that’s just a breakup - it’s the loss of that new family you created, it’s devastating beyond words.” Sadly, many divorcees never had a say in the matter. Others were hasty in getting divorced and now live with regret.

Let me add,

God hates sin, but not sinners.

We’re all sinners. Every one of us has struggles, and the enemy wants to deceive us into thinking we’re the only ones. If you think you’re the only one listening to me struggling with porn, same-sex attraction, lust, fornication, divorce, adultery, or the like, you are mistaken! The first step in experiencing freedom is to admit it, confess it, get help. The reason our mission involves “restoring God’s masterpieces” is because you are a masterpiece, but a broken one. Me, too. God wants the best for us, but He has also given us freedom…and sometimes we don’t make the best use of that freedom.

If you want to get married, choose wisely.

Many single people don’t want to marry, and Paul says it’s better if you don’t marry (1 Corinthians 7:8). If you are seeking a spouse, remember it’s for life. Do your homework. Pray like crazy. Seek input from wise counsel. Don’t rush into it.

One more thing

Divorce is devastating for the husband and wife…and also the children, even adult children. Now they enter the picture…literally.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)   

Children are a blessing from God.

There’s nothing quite like kids! There is an innocence, a humility, a vulnerability that allows them to have precious faith. They have no filter, which is wonderful when it comes to intimacy with God. They are trusting and have the most incredible curiosity. We are to approach our Heavenly Father like a child, filled with awe and wonder, desperate and surrendered. We are not to be childish, but childlike!

May God bless all of our families, marriages, singles, and children.

The Christian & Missionary Alliance statement on divorce:


You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Hell is for Real, 1 November 2020

Hell is for Real
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 9:38-50

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Hell is real…and avoidable!

Hell. There are few words which conjure up more images, more controversy, more fear. It’s a word found in English Bibles which has been used both as the name of a Michigan community and a swear word.

There are a lot of myths about hell, and while we won’t probably answer every question, our text today as we continue in the book of Mark will reveal some of Jesus’ teachings on hell.

More people believe in heaven than believe in hell.
More people believe in angels than believe in demons.
More people believe in God than believe in satan.

What does that tell you? We are optimists!

It may not be politically correct, but the Bible is abundantly clear that there are two roads, two teams, two sides, two armies at war with one another…good and evil. Spiritual warfare is real, and we’re in the middle of it every day.

However, there is much we don’t know for certain about the spiritual world. There are many things we don’t know about heaven and hell. Theories about the afterlife abound, but the Bible is not as clear about some things as we may have been led to believe.

Let’s begin with our scripture for today.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” (Mark 9:38)

John is worries about someone performing an exorcism. I can just see it: “Jesus, the guy is from a different denomination! He’s not on our team! He probably hasn’t even been ordained yet or gone to seminary! We need to stop this, right?”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:39-40)

Wait, is it “whoever is not against us is for us” or “whoever is not for us is against us?”

Twice Jesus says, “Whoever is not against you/us is for you/us,” here and in Luke 9:50.

Twice Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23).

Which is it, Jesus? Actually, the context matters. “Whoever is not against you is for you” applies to other believers, while “whoever is not with me is against me” is a reference to those who are anti-Christian. The point is, you cannot be neutral about Jesus. Are you with Jesus or against Jesus?

It’s not a question of do you like Jesus or do you believe intellectually some events in history. The question is are you with him. If so, you need to be all in…heart, soul, mind, and strength; time, talents, and treasures; 24/7/365. He’s not looking for fans. He is seeking followers. Disciples.

Back to our text, Jesus continues,

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
(Mark 9:39-41)

I think this is a statement of unity. As we stated last Sunday, there are theological arguments which separate followers of Jesus, yet we are all children of God. We will spend eternity with God and one another. We need to be careful about judging other believers simply because we have disagreements. But that doesn’t mean we can be careless about our theology, our study of God.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42)

A quick read may cause you to think of children, but I think the reference is to those new to the faith. A biblical millstone was huge. Jesus is graphic about the consequence of causing others to stumble, to fall into sin. Now Jesus gets even more graphic.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. (Mark 9:43)

Some people have taken this verse literally! The message is following Jesus demands sacrifice. Anything that gets in the way of following Christ must go. Jesus is saying the consequences of sin are real. Hell is for real.

The original Greek word translated here as “hell” is “geena” from the valley of [ge] Hinnon or Gehenna in southwest Jerusalem, used figuratively as a place or state of everlasting punishment. I’ve been there! Gehenna was the place where idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech, and later where bodies of the dead were disposed. In the first-century, it was a garbage dump with everything set on fire, hence Jesus’ phrase, “Where the fire never goes out.”

Does this mean hell is a literal lake of fire that will burn forever? Maybe.

Much of our understand of hell—fire and brimstone—comes not from the Bible, but rather from art and an Italian poem by Dante called Divine Comedy. Inferno is the first part, describing Dante’s journey through hell with vivid language.

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven as a present reality, not merely something in the afterlife. In the same way, our choices now can create what many call “hell on earth.” Sin has consequences. Hell is real, I don’t want anyone to experience it. God doesn’t want anyone to experience it. Jesus’ friend Peter wrote,

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

C.S. Lewis said,

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find to those who knock, it is opened.”

There are so many things we don’t know about heaven and hell, but my simplest definitions are

Heaven is where God is present.
Hell is where God is absent.

To restate C.S. Lewis,

God does not send people to hell. We choose to be present with God now and for eternity or we choose to ignore God now and He will honor that choice for eternity.

Some of your Bibles are missing verse 44. That’s because many of the oldest manuscripts of the Bible lack this phrase:

“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:44, NKJV)

This is a quotation from Isaiah 66:24. Some believe the worm represents internal suffering and the fire external. This is added detail to verse 43. Together they read in the NKJV,

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— where
“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:43b-44, NKJV)

Let’s look at a few more verses and you’ll understand why there are missing verses.

And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:45)

Verse 46 is missing in most translations, too. The NKJV reads exactly the same:

“Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
(Mark 9:46, NKJV)


And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“ ‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:47-48)

Verses 44, 46, and 48 are exactly the same in the NKJV. The translators likely added 44 and 46. The meaning of the text doesn’t change with or without them. It’s as if the NKJV did a copy-and-paste for emphasis. This is one of a small number of textual discrepancies in the Bible. Since we don’t have the original manuscripts, there are some variations, but virtually all of them are like this, having no bearing on the meaning. If someone tells you the Bible is full of errors, they are literally correct, but those errors are inconsequential to the meaning, reliability, and authority of the Bible. Out of 66 books, there are a few occasions where the copyist was unsure whether something was a semi-colon or a comma with a speck of dust on the page. No big deal.

To my knowledge—I am not an expert on the original, ancient documents—there are absolutely no controversies surrounding any essential truths of our faith such as the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Any problems are extremely minor such as punctuation.

Tony Evans says hands represent things we handle, the foot represents where we go, and the eye symbolizes things we look at, all potential doors to sin. Jesus continues,

Everyone will be salted with fire. (Mark 9:49)

Fire can destroy, but it can also test and purify. Salt purifies, too. Old Testament sacrifices were offered with salt, which both preserves and purifies.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

So What?

The Alliance Statement of Faith says,

Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God: he fell through disobedience, incurring thereby both physical and spiritual death. All men are born with a sinful nature, are separated from the life of God, and can be saved only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The portion of the unrepentant and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment; and that of the believer, in everlasting joy and bliss.

The verse used to support “the portion of the unrepentant and unbelieving is existence forever in conscious torment” is 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.” (Revelation 21:8)

My purpose today isn’t to debate nuances of hell, but merely to encourage you to avoid it! The Bible never describes it as a wild party for demons and rock stars. It’s the one place in the universe where God is absent. I can’t imagine how dreadful it is. You think this world is bad?! Imagine our planet without God. Literal or figurative fire, eternal or temporary…does it really matter?!
Alliance pastor Skye Jethani writes, “An afterlife in heaven or hell is the residue of tradition, but it is decidedly not the emphasis of the New Testament. Scripture has a far more physical and terrestrial vision of the future. It depicts a renewed earth in which God dwells with his resurrected people in a redeemed, glorified creation. The Lord is focused on redeeming his world, not abandoning it to the enemy. The goal of the New Testament is not disembodied souls escaping the earth and occupying a celestial heaven for eternity…Its emphasis is not heaven or hell but on a choice between life or death.”

I know this isn’t the most uplifting of subjects, but there’s good news. That’s the meaning of the word “gospel.” The good news or gospel is Jesus.

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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

Without Christ, our sins would automatically condemn us to hell, separation from God. He is allergic to sin. But Jesus died to pay for our sins, to forgive us, to wipe the slate clean, to reconcile us to the Father. If we choose to follow Jesus, we will not perish, but will have everlasting life. Could there be any greater news?

Today we remember the sacrifice Jesus made, leaving heaven to come to earth for about thirty-three years to live, die, and resurrect.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)


If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us
our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Hell is for real…and avoidable…not because we are good enough, but because of Jesus.

But as I said, Jesus isn’t looking for fans. He wants followers. If you want Jesus simply for a “get out of hell free” card, you’re in the wrong place. He wants to give you life—abundant life, everlasting life, real life…now and forever. You simply need to say “yes” and respond to his gift, the gift of himself. Repent and turn away from your sins…and follow Jesus.

While there is much we don’t know about hell, one thing is certain: God will judge evil.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

You are not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

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