January 31, 2010
A Tale of Two Cities
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So begins the book A Tale of Two Cities by
Today I am going to paraphrase Mr. Dickens – “It was the best of places, it was the worst of
places.” Today I want to take a look at two places of eternal importance. These two destination
cities are the final stop for all of mankind. I want for us to learn about these two places and
discover what God’s Word has to say about avoiding one and how to be sure you are in the other.
The two places I am talking about are Heaven and Hell.
I have always hated when someone says to me – “I have some good news and some bad news.
Which do you want first?” I tend to choose the bad news first. I want to get it out of the way so I
can find hope in the good news. So as we look today at Heaven and Hell, I will begin with the
bad news first.
As I began writing this sermon I realized that this is a huge topic. So this week we will look at
hell and next week we will take a look at heaven and why it is important for us to understand the
truth about these two places.
Before we take a look at what the Bible says about hell, let’s take a look at popular folklore to
see how many people view hell.
While walking down the street one day a US senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies.
His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.
"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We
seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."
"No problem, just let me in," says the man.
"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in
hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."
"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the senator.
"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."
And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The
doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a
clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked
Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and
reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people.
They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.
Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and
telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.
Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises...
The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.
"Now it's time to visit heaven."
So, 24 hours pass with the senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to
cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24
hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.
"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."
The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I
mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."
So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.
Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste
He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more
trash falls from above.
The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder.
"I don't understand," stammers the senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course
and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great
time. Now here's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What
The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning... Today you voted."
I have heard many times people say that they won’t mind going to hell as it means one wild part
with all their old friends. Looks like the senator in that story bought that one as truth and look
how it ended for him.
We have seen cartoon depictions of hell where the fires are here and there around a rocky
wasteland and demons with red skin and tails poke the suffering people with pitchforks. We see
in movies how the devil is a smooth character who looks for people weak enough to take
pleasure now in this life and not worrying about the consequences of the after life.
So what is the truth about hell? Is it really the way the television shows and movies and books
describe it? Can we really know what hell is like? There is a place where we can turn for the
truth about hell, God’s Word. Let’s examine what God has to say about hell.
I believe that one of the first things we need to know about hell is that it is a place where we have
When Kathie and I were first married – I once made the comment that I believed that we were
living our hell right now. Which didn’t make me Kathie too good as a newly married wife
(especially as she thought we were doing good) but what I really meant was that at that stage of
my life I was floundering around and didn’t really know what my purpose in life was – so I just
went through the days living life, trying to avoid the pain and going through the motions as I
sought my own purpose. But we are created by God for His purpose, not ours.
Hell is like having no sense of God’s purpose for our lives. We live by just going through the
motions. We are wired to have passion, to be fulfilled by that passion – to be fueled by that
passion. That passion is individual and specially placed there by God. It orchestrates all we do,
every decision we make, and what gets us excited. Ultimately our passion and the outlet of that
passion completes the circle that God placed there in us in the beginning. Our purpose is to
please God and have fun doing it.
Paul writes these words to the church in Galatia –
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you
from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is
good,” (Galatians 4:17-18a – NIV)
What does it mean “provided the purpose is good?” I think a better way to say this phrase would
be to say “provided the purpose is of God.” A purpose that comes from God is a good purpose. If
we don’t have a good purpose from God in our lives we will follow any purpose that looks good
Hell is when that purpose of God in our lives no longer exists because we live for eternity in a
place where God does not exist. The circle will never be completed. We can no longer try to
please God – it is too late. Hell is a life without God’s purpose.
I just made mention of our second point today and that is this – hell is place where there is no
Hell is simply put – the absence of God. We find that hard to imagine because God is always
with us – but imagine for a moment – the absence of God in this world.
Kathie once came home from work when it was snowing and 16 Mile Road was in its typical
gridlock – so it took her 2 hours to get home from Troy to Sterling Heights. She stomped into the
door and said – “now I know what hell is like – 16 Mile when it snows!”
Everyone is in a hurry to get home – and they become very selfish. It is bumper to bumper, but
they feel they are entitled to go through that yellow light – so they stay on the bumper of the car
in front of them and then when the light turns red – they are blocking the intersection. The
people coming in the opposite direction are now mad because they can’t get across on their green
light, but they creep up as far as they can too and end up doing the same thing. No one can go
anywhere because their selfishness and “Me first” attitude has grid-locked the whole street.
Actually the Scriptures mention a time like this. In the book of Judges we find these words – “In
those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25 – NIV) What is scary
about this passage of Scripture is that it is not that long after the nation of Israel was led out of
Egypt, out of the desert and into the promised land. Enough generations had passed that the
people forgot that God was their King and they began to live as if there was no king and no God.
People served self and didn’t worry about others around them. Without God in our lives – we
would all be selfish. There would be no compassion, no conscience, no guilt or sense of right
and wrong. Everybody would be out for themselves.
Holding a door open for someone, stepping aside to let someone pass, smiling at someone,
letting someone merge in traffic – these and many other niceties of life would all cease. We
would just be lawless – no longer caring about anyone but ourselves. There would be no order. If
someone is in your way – you would just shoot them. No one would stick up for anyone – there
would be no compassion or caring – we would all exist as selfish entities always looking over
our shoulders. It would be like living in an insane asylum, everyone at the mercy of people’s
moods and no excuses or reason being given. We might not like the 10 commandments, but at
least they keep some type of order and make sense for humanity. There will no longer be any
need for 10 commandments – no God – no need for listening to 10 commandments. I think we
will long for that structure and law and long for our conscience in ourselves and in others.
Many people today are living in a hell of their own making because they live a life with no
purpose and they have no room for God in their lives. What makes life hell for most of these
people is that they live as if they have no hope.
Notice I didn’t say they don’t have hope, I said they live as if they have no hope. They aren’t
able to see beyond their own existence to see that God is wanting to be in a relationship with
them. They are missing out on finding their purpose in God. Mostly they are living without hope
because of lack of purpose and lack of God in their lives.
And when they pass on from this life they will spend an eternity in hell suffering from profound
Think for a moment about moments in your lives when you felt regret or shame. The look in
your spouse’s eyes when you say something hurtful that you wish you could take back, the
minute the words leave your lips. When you do something wrong – and everyone finds out.
When you feel like a schmuck and don’t see how anyone could forgive you. When you realize
that you lost an opportunity that could have changed your life. When you won the big lottery, but
lost the ticket. When you discipline your young child – and they yell the words “I hate you” to
your face. When you miss the chance to say “I love you” one more time to someone that has just
died. Imagine all the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s in your life – hitting you all at one time.
Regret – profound and deep. That is hell. You see what you could have had – but you can’t make
it better – ever. Never. You don’t have a second chance – there is no sunrise for you. The sun has
set – and it is forever dark and hopeless. How many times in our lives have we “started again” –
whether with a relationship or a job, or a new year etc. But there are no more fresh starts, just
endless regret for what could have been. No chance for a relationship with God – ever. No
chance for the light bulb to go off and we charge ahead with new perspective. Just regret. That is
Kathie used to work with a man. His wife and him were atheists. They were good people who
gave to charities and supported all kinds of good causes. One day they were on their motorcycle
and they didn’t stop in time to avoid the semi in front of them. Both of them died instantly. I
wasn’t able to make the memorial service but Kathie did. She told me that it was so crowded that
it was hard to find a parking spot. She said that she only saw one parking spot open – a spot
marked “For Clergy.” Inside people shared stories of how much this man and his wife touched
the lives of many people. But when all was said and done, there was nothing left to say. There
was no message of hope. As atheists they believed that you live and you die and that is all. There
was nobody to share the hope of the gospel that reminds us that to be absent from the body is to
be present in eternity with our Lord and our loved ones. After the last person spoke, it was just –
“Thanks for coming. Good night.”
What an awful feeling to think that we live and we die and that is all there is. Paul wrote on this
subject in his letter to the Thessalonians.
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the
rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that
God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 –
Paul writes these words to give hope. He warns that others – those who do not know Christ –
have no hope beyond this earthly existince. They are going to end up in the place where there is
no hope at all; they are headed for hell. I know what it feels like to live with no hope for a short
time of live and I cannot begin to comprehend what it would be like to have no hope for all of
When I was going through my dad’s illness and eventual death – I remember thinking that it was
never going to end. There seemed to be no hope – everyday was more disappointment, more
sadness, more things happening that I could not make better. I remember the worst feeling was
stepping off the hospital elevator and trying to brace myself for what I might have to face that
day – knowing it could even be worse than the day before. I knew logically – that someday death
would come – and knew that death would be a relief of sorts – but I dreaded it all the same. My
father’s death would end this roller coaster ride – he would be out of pain and suffering – and my
normal life would eventually return to me.
In hell – there is no end to the torment. There will be no return to normal life. There is no light at
the end of the tunnel. There will be no “next stage” to look forward to. It will never get better, it
will only get worse. And this will be for eternity – forever and ever – longer than our tiny brains
can even fathom. When you think about it – our lives are a constant circle of learning lessons,
gaining wisdom and becoming better for it. We learn not to make the same mistakes twice. We
don’t want to repeat the pain – so we get better and wiser. In hell – we are the product of our
mistakes, with no chance to fix it or improve. We just are a mess of our own doing.
The three points we looked at today don’t even consider all the other things that the Bible tells us
of hell – the lake of fire, the moaning and gnashing of teeth, the demons, the pain, the suffering,
the darkness - all of these and more for eternity.
In this world we experience some of these things now – but God provides refreshment – like a
waterfall or a glass of lemonade. We can escape from the heat, we can quench our thirst, we can
get morphine for the pain, we can receive a hug when it is not deserved. But in hell - there is no
relief, no refreshment, no chance to feel better either physically or mentally or emotionally or
Hell is an eternity of pain and suffering. Hell is an eternity of living without purpose, living
without God in our lives and living without even a glimmer of hope.
And make no mistake, hell is real and it is the final destination for those who do not follow God.
Near the end of the book of Revelation we find these words
“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If
anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
(Revelation 20:14-15 – NIV)
There are no second chances in hell. Death and Hell are thrown into the lake of fire. God’s
judgment is finished. The lake of fire is the ultimate destination of everything wicked—Satan,
the beast, the false prophet, the demons, death, Hades, and all those whose names are not
recorded in the book of life because they did not place their faith in Jesus Christ. John’s vision
does not permit any gray areas in God’s judgment. If by faith we have not identified with Christ,
confessing him as Lord, there will be no hope, no second chance, no other appeal.
President Clinton died and knocked at the Pearly Gates. "Who goes there?" inquired God.
"It's me, Bill Clinton".
"What bad things did you do on earth?"
Clinton thought a bit and answered, "Well, I smoked marijuana but you shouldn't hold that
against me because I didn't inhale. I guess I had extra-marital sex but you couldn't hold that
against me because I didn't really have 'sexual relations.' And I lied, but I didn't commit perjury."
After several moments of deliberation God replied, "OK, here's the deal. We'll send you
someplace where it is very hot, but we won't call it 'Hell.' You'll be there for an indefinite period
of time, but we won't call it 'eternity.' And don't 'abandon all hope' upon entering, just don't hold
your breath waiting for it to freeze over."
When I first heard that joke I realized that it held a lot of truth about hell. It is place that is very
hot, your stay there lasts for eternity and it is a place where hope will not be found.
Another thing I thought of when I read that joke is that God doesn’t send people to hell, they
choose to go there themselves. In this joke Bill had the opportunities on earth to do right, instead
he chose to follow his own way – a way apart from God.
I have heard the question many times, why does God send good people to hell. The answer is –
He doesn’t. God sends nobody to hell. Hell is a choice of destination for those who don’t want to
love and serve and follow God. Bob Dylan sang a song with these lyrics:
“Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Now those lyrics make it all seem so simple and that is because it is. There are no other choices.
You either serve God or you serve the devil. You might argue that good people don’t serve the
devil. Is that true though? If they serve self, they are serving the devil. If they reject Christ as
their Savior, they are serving the devil. If they don’t believe in the existence of God, they are
serving the devil.
What it all comes down to is this. You either serve God and believe in God and trust in God – or
you don’t. Unfortunately if you turn your back on God there is only one other being you can face
– the devil. The devil is the default setting for those who want to serve their own purpose and
ignore God. Just as the devil is the default setting for who we serve, hell is the default destination
for those who don’t know God. God grieves when people choose hell, but God loves us so much
that He gave us free will so we can make our own decision about where we want to spend our
Lately Kathie and I had to redo our trust and will. If you die without a will or trust and have no
living relatives the state is the default receiver of all you own. If you create a will and trust and
leave a line of recipients you insure that what you have worked for all your life will do good for
someone and not just get wasted by the state. The person receiving the gift you leave is getting
Did you know there are two parts to an inheritance? It must be offered and then it must be
received. Could you imagine being homeless and learning that a rich uncle died and you are the
sole heir? You go see the lawyer and he tells you that to inherit all your uncle owned you merely
have to agree to live in his mansion and run his businesses. If you don’t agree you are back out
on the street. Your uncle didn’t send you back to the streets. The lawyer didn’t send you back to
the streets. It was your own decision because you don’t want to follow the stipulation that goes
with the inheritance.
So it is with God. God offers us a mansion to live in for all of eternity. He promises eternal life
with no pain, no suffering, no illness, no death. All we have to do is be in a relationship with
Him through the sacrifice of Christ. If we can’t accept that we end up in hell. Did God send us to
hell or was it our choice that sent us to hell. Remember this next time asks you why God sends
good people to hell. We either choose God and heaven or by default we end up sending ourselves
to hell. The choice is ours.