In this episode, we continue to explore the language and ideas The Bible uses to describe hell, particularly in the New Testament. Then we move on to investigate how personal sin interacts with these ideas. Sin is a bad idea. It is not productive. it leads to death, in many forms. Much of the Biblical history of prophecy is to warn us of the dangers and inefficiency of sin and to present us with a better way.
Gehenna in the New Testament
Now we come to Matthew. Matthew is the first place where gehenna shows up. Matthew 5. This is the Sermon on the Mount. I’m just going to mention this, then I’m going to spend my time in Mark 9 because these two episodes are really the place where we see gehenna. And I’m just going to say gehenna when I read it. I think that’s the way it ought to be translated. The translators are not allowing us to make our own interpretation when they say hell.
It would be like if we wrote something, and somebody said, you know, Eric went to Wall Street to work; and someone comes along later and translates it and says, “Eric became a thief,” or “Eric became corrupt,” or “Eric became rich.” You know, you take a stereotype of something and just—
So, Matthew 5:30 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 Gehenna.
Let me go to Mark 9 because he says something real similar there. I’m going to skip the one that says “Don’t fear the one who can kill your body but the one who can put both body and soul in Gehenna”; and I’m going to focus on this one.
There are the three episodes: the Sermon on the Mount, this episode, and the one where he says “don’t fear the body,” that’s where gehenna shows up in the gospels. That’s pretty much it.
Who’s the greatest?
So Mark 9:33. Then He—this is talking about Jesus— came to Capernaum—Capernaum was their headquarters city, northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And when He was in the house He asked them—He’s talking to the disciples. The disciples are walking along with him. This is Jesus in the house with his twelve disciples. And he asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”
But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.
They were actually the twelve Muhammad Ali’s. This was actually their favorite topic. You know, two of them even got their mom to come and try to get them the “greatest thing.” And I think this is one of the reasons God chose them. They wanted to be great, and they were willing to die for it.
And He sat down—he’s going to give them a lesson on greatness now. That’s what’s about to happen. And so he set them down, and he called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first—Who of them desires to be first? All of them. If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Music to their ears, right? You think that’s what they were disputing on the road? Probably not.
Receive a child
Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms—So you get the picture. He’s got this child he’s hugging. He said to them,
“Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
Put yourself in the disciple’s shoes. You just got through arguing, very vehemently. It’s loud enough to where Jesus hears it, right? That you are the greatest. And now you’re listening to this little sermonette where Jesus says, “If you serve a child, you’re becoming great.” How’s that strike you? How’s that going to sit with you? Is it going to be, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I was thinking!”?
Now John answered him. This is very clever how John answers.
What about someone outside the twelve?
Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us—not one of us, not one of us twelve—casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
What’s he saying?
Who can do something nice for a child? Who all does that qualify to be great? Anybody! Right? Even a woman.
How do you feel? You’re chagrined right now, right? So the question is—You’re just talking about us, though, right? Just among the twelve of us. We’re not talking about just anybody here, are we, Jesus? You’re just talking about us, right?
Jesus said, nope. Don’t forbid him.
But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.
For he who is not against us is on our side.
It’s really amazing. He’s really chastising them pretty severely.
The first thing he says is, yep; it’s actually anybody. Anybody can be great.
Does that make you happy if you’re one of these guys? It’s not really what you wanted to hear.
But then listen to what he does next. “He who’s not against us is for us.” Who’s us?
See, you are on my team. You are on my team. But this is a bigger game than just us. We want to serve everybody. I want you to be great by serving. But you spread it around. Anybody can be great.
—because you belong to Christ—What do they do? They what? Belong to Christ.
Who do these guys belong to? Christ.
Are they believers? Yes.
Do believers belong to Christ? They belong to Christ.
—because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
If you treat children well, you get a reward. What were they after on the road? What do they want? A great reward, right? The reward of what? Being the greatest when Jesus comes into his kingdom. I want to sit on your right hand.
You don’t want to cause a child to stumble
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble—He’s holding a child in his arms while he’s saying this. He’s got an object lesson going on. —it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
Does anybody know what a millstone is? It’s very heavy. You use a horse to turn this giant rock—two big pancake-shaped rocks—and the top one turns on top of the bottom one that stays stationary. It has a hole in the middle. You pour the grain in the middle. The grain works its way out through the millstone in between—there are some channels that are carved into the stone so that the grain can work its way out to the outside. And when it gets to the outside and falls around the tray, it is flour. You can mill corn, and you can mill wheat, whatever. A millstone. It’s by its nature heavy so it will crush the wheat.
If you have a millstone tied around your neck, you would not be able to walk to the sea. You would have to be carried in a cart. If you have a millstone tied around your neck, you’re not going to float on the surface for a while. You’re going straight to the bottom.
And that would be better than if you lead a child astray. It would be better. I think it would be better because it’s over quickly.
We’re talking about rewards, right? You want to be great? Serve the child.
What happens if you lead the child astray? Well, I’m not telling you specifically just yet, but I’m telling you it would be better if you had a millstone tied around your neck and were thrown into the ocean.
We’re talking about rewards to people who belong to Christ.
If your hand causes you to sin…
If your hand causes you to sin—Now, what sin, in particular, are we talking about here? What is it? Stealing? Don’t think so. Causing a little one to stumble? For sure. What other sin might we have in view here? What’s the root sin behind leading little ones astray? Pride. They’re all lifting themselves up and making it all about me, right? No one in here has a problem with that one, do we? We’re making everything about me, elevating ourselves instead of serving others.
We’re creating division among the body, right? Because when they’re arguing down the road, are they all together and unified, or are they dividing one another? They’re dividing one another.
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—
If you translate this hell, you see my problem with the translation hell? You’ve got people who belong to Christ, the twelve disciples, in fact, and the basic subject is who’s greatest, and how do you become great, and what is your reward; and all of the sudden they’re going to hell because they didn’t cut their hand off for sin.
Is that the way we go to heaven is cut our hand off if we sin? Is that the way we do that?
They belong to Christ. This is not talking about eternal destiny. It’s talking about consequences of sin. This is why I’m saying it gets worse. Because what we tend to do with the idea of hell is it always applies to someone else. This is not actually talking about the lake of fire as the place where unbelievers live forever. This is talking about the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom.
Who went into the valley of slaughter? Whose bodies filled up the valley of slaughter? Israel. Did Jesus cast Israel aside? Let’s go back to Jeremiah real quick. Keep your finger in Mark. We’re coming right back to it.
The Valley of Slaughter
Let’s look at Jeremiah 29.10. This is what God says about this horrific event that’s about to happen.
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon—They’re about to be deported after half a million people die, and so many people that the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom is called the valley of slaughter, and they fill it up with dead bodies of Jews. They’re about to be exiled into Babylon for 70 years.
—I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place—back to Israel.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
Now this seems bizarre to us, but God’s purpose in this horrific event is to purify Israel of these horrific practices that have polluted the land. Take them off to Babylon.
What we know of as Jewish people today was actually created in Babylon.
The Jews have a really disproportionate number of geniuses. That was born in Babylon. They began the scholastic tradition, the synagogue tradition, the memorization of the scriptures, the rabbinic tradition—all that was born in Babylonian. It has served humanity and the nation tremendously ever since.
But the message in Jeremiah is “I’m going to bless you one way or the other. Please don’t take that path. Please don’t take the path through Gehenna.” But they insisted on it. So that’s the path they took.
It’s a bad idea to sin
Back to Mark. It’s the same thing. You can either get rid of sin, set it aside—does it hurt to set aside pride? Is it painful? It’s painful, isn’t it? It’s as painful as cutting your hand off.
Does it hurt to go ask for forgiveness or to admit you’re wrong to bring unity back when a group of people are divided? That’s about as painful as cutting your hand off, isn’t it?
The alternative is you either go through that pain or you go to Gehenna. Because the wages, the reward, the consequences of sin is death. Death is separation. If we want to be separated from the work that God’s given us to do, separated from peace and unity, separated from the joy of walking in the Spirit, then all we have to do is sin.
And this is the big point of all this, right? It’s really a bad idea to sin. It’s just not worth it.
And God’s giving us the most graphic picture that he can come up with to explain this. He’s giving it to his disciples. When these guys hear—“cut off your hand”—remember, they were just arguing about who’s the greatest, and he’s saying, “Cut off your hand rather than go over there to Tophet.” Now what’s in their minds? It’s a valley full of dead bodies and wickedness. Is that what they want?
What’s going on in Tophet? The worm doesn’t die and the fire is never quenched. That’s the way sin is.
You know in our culture, we tend to think of sin as something you can manage. We’re on the “highway to hell.” “We’re on the highway to hell!” It’s fun! And all you gotta do is just moderate. Sin is something you need to moderate.
Well, no, that’s not the way it works. It’s death. You can’t just have a little division, and it’s OK. Purge it out!
If you’ve got something against somebody, and there’s something you can do about it, go do something about right now.
If you’ve got pride that has a hold in your life, go do something about it right now. Otherwise it will create massive destruction in your life.
Do you see the picture?
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into the Valley of Slaughter, into the fire that shall never be quenched–where‘Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna fire— where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
“For everyone will be seasoned with fire—everyone seasoned with fire—and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.
Salting the sacrifice
Why all the sudden are we talking about sacrifice? What do you do with a sacrifice? You cook it. Most sacrifices are eaten. A few are burned all the way up. You probably don’t need to salt that one.
You salt a sacrifice because you going to eat it. You give part to the priest, and the rest, you go and have a barbecue with your family. So it’s a celebration.
Why do you salt the sacrifice? So it tastes better.
Who is happy at the sacrifice? Who’s happy at the barbecue? Everybody except the goat. The goat’s dead. He gave his life so you can enjoy.
What are we supposed to do? Be a living sacrifice, to give our lives so that God can be pleased.
—every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.
Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? So here’s the whole point of this lesson, boys: Have salt in yourselves—please God—and have peace with one another.”
What were they doing when this thing started? Arguing on the road.
Please God, love others. Have you ever heard that before?
The alternative is the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. It’s pretty graphic, don’t you think?
Who went to the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom in this group? At least one person. Remember Peter after he had rejected Jesus or denied him. Remember what he did after Jesus caught his eye? Weeping and gnashing of teeth. That’s what sin brings.
Is there restoration? Absolutely, there’s restoration. Look at Jeremiah 29. How can you get any worse than Jeremiah 19? Then God comes right along and says, “I have your best interests at heart.”
Why did the city put Gehenna out there to burn all this dead stuff and everything? It was in the best interest of the city to get that stuff out of there. You don’t want it living by you.
Absolutely there’s restoration.
The point is you don’t have to go there. You can just get rid of it. Just cut it off.
Our first lesson on hell is if you want to translate Gehenna hell, you can. It’s hell on earth. And we can invite it into our lives by continuing to sin instead of cutting it off. And the reward we get is death, death of relationships, death of living a life of joy and peace. And who wants that?
See, it’s pretty graphic, don’t you think?
It may take me three weeks to do this topic because I got about half way through what I thought I was going to cover today. Next week we’re going to talk a little about the lake of fire, which I think you’ll find really interesting. And just to give you a little preview, I think part of what the lake of fire is about has to do something with the Lord of the Rings. We’ll have a nice picture from that.
So if you’re going to be here next week, we’re going to use your considerable drama skills for a short skit. We may need to use Gollum a little bit.