“When I’ve watched you preach on your TV program or at a crusade,” he said, “I’ve noticed whatever topic you’re dealing with, you always come back to eternity.
“So why do you do that?” he asked me. “Why do you always come back to the eternal in your messages?”
After thinking about it for a moment, I answered, “I guess when you get down to it, it’s the most important thing there is.”
As a pastor I want to teach the Word of God and help people grow in their faith as followers of Jesus. I want them to learn how to know God’s will, resist temptation, build a great marriage, walk in integrity, and all those things we talk about as pastors and teachers. But when it’s all said and done, the most important thing to me is intercepting people on their way to hell and pointing them toward heaven instead.
I want people to change their eternal address.
That is why I do what I do.
Most people believe in some kind of heaven, and also believe they’re going there. Statistics show that for every American who believes he or she is going to hell, there are 120 who believe they’ll end up in heaven.
That is a direct contradiction, however, to what Jesus said.
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. 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)
No matter how fervently we might wish it otherwise, Jesus teaches that most people today are not headed to heaven. If we believe the Bible we have to accept this simple fact. Most people are actually headed to hell, though none of us like to hear that.
It’s interesting to me that even though many in our culture don’t believe in a literal hell, people will use the word to punctuate their sentences.
Someone will say, “All hell just broke loose.” Or maybe, “He really gave me hell.” Or even, “You go to hell.”
That last phrase is used a lot to insult someone. But at the same time, if someone had a great time somewhere they will say, “Man, we had a hell of a good time together.”
I actually had a guy come up to me after a message on a Sunday morning, shake my hand and say, “That was a hell of a speech, Reverend.”
I actually laughed. I didn’t know what else to do. I suppose in his own way he was trying to compliment me. I said, “Well, I was hoping it was a heaven of a speech.” But I understood what he was saying.
It’s funny how someone will say to another person, “You can go to hell,” but at the same time they will say, “I don’t believe a place called hell actually exists.” I guess it’s not quite as effective to yell at someone and say, “You can just go to a place that doesn’t exist!”
Why do people say, “Go to hell”? Because deep down inside, even if you are a nonbeliever, you know there is a hell.
Hell is a real place, but because people are uncomfortable with that idea they make jokes about it. Did you know that there is an actual town in Michigan called Hell? Can you imagine? It was founded in 1841, by a man named George Reeves, who had discovered a low, swampy place in southeast Michigan and didn’t know what to name it. Someone said to him, “What do you want to call it?” And he replied, “I don’t care. Name it Hell, if you want to.”
And so they did. Hell, Michigan.
People feel free to joke about the topic of hell. Comedian Woody Allen said, “Hell is the future abode of all people who personally annoy me.”
But there is a hell. A real hell. And it’s no joke.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ spoke more about hell than all of the other prophets and preachers of the Bible put together. Most of the teaching we have on the topic of hell was given to us by Christ Himself.
That fact surprises some people. They will say, “Really? Wasn’t Jesus the very personification of love and mercy and grace? Why would He talk about hell?”
For that very reason! It’s precisely because He was and is the personification of love and grace and mercy that He doesn’t want any man or woman uniquely made in His image to spend eternity in this place called hell. And Jesus, being God, knows about it because He has seen it with His own eyes. As a result, He carefully, sternly, and repeatedly warns us about its existence.
It has been estimated that of the forty parables that Jesus told, more than half of them dealt with God’s eternal judgment and hell. Make no mistake about it, there is a real hell for real people.
J. I. Packer said, “An endless hell can no more be removed from the New Testament than an endless heaven can.”45 It is there.
It’s interesting to me how the concept of judgment in the afterlife becomes more or less popular, depending on the time in which we are living. I think belief in hell probably went up after 9/11, because when some great evil takes place, people tend to believe in a place of final retribution. But when things aren’t going as badly, and the memory of mass murderers fades a little, then a belief in hell actually starts to tail off.
Years ago John Lennon famously sang, “Imagine there is no heaven. It is easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.”
Dear John: We can “imagine” all we want, but it won’t change eternal realities. There is a heaven. And there is a hell.
Greg Laurie, Essentials: Foundational Topics for Christians in Today’s World (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2011).
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