The Good News and the Truth of Hell

“John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:16-18).

I was reading a chapter in John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals that dealt with feeling the truth of hell.  This passage in Luke came to mind.  Hell has its place in God’s good news.  John the Baptist exhorted the crowds saying, “Christ will gather the wheat into his barn.”  This we can readily identify as “good news.”  But he also exhorted the crowds in the same breath saying, “Christ will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  And this clause is included in what follows: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”  That Christ will burn unbelievers with unquenchable fire hardly seems like it should have any part in God’s Gospel.  But Luke says that it does!

While there are many veins that could be followed in attempting to understand this, I would highlight two of them:

1.  Because the Gospel is not only that by which the sinner is born again, but also the food upon which the believer daily lives, the biblical notion of hell – belonging to this good news – should be frequently reflected upon by the Christian.  Why?  Because we are reminded of so many of God’s near unfathomable graces in plucking us up out of the pit to which we were all at one time quite close to inhabiting.  I praise my God this morning for His free grace, mercy and compassion; that He has saved me from a just condemnation, and an eternal fury of fire on account of my sin; that He, by the truth of hell, would magnify the grace involved in my becoming the wheat of Christ which He will gather into His barn.  This does not produce morbidity in my soul, but an intense joy in God my Savior, a humility (If I may speak thus), and a passion to make Christ known.  And to be quite frank, how is your joy this morning, you or I, who think little on the torment from which God in Christ rescued our souls?

2.  The truth of hell, if truly recognized, will produce a holy passion for Christ-saturated preaching, earnest teaching, holy living and evangelism.  We will recognize the true nature of the Gospel task.  It is a task that holds eternity in the balance.  People have been appointed to die once, and then comes judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  They will go one of two eternal places.  One involves a just and unquenchable fire.  The other involves the infinite glory, praise, and worship of the One, True, and Living God.  The Gospel of Christ – the wills rejection or reception of it – is the bridge which will either condemn you to hell, or rescue you from it unto glory.  While we then have glory to make known in hopes of the sinner’s salvation, we have flames to make known as well.  Let them both – the glory and the flames – and the soul’s recognition that we by God’s free grace in Christ Jesus have been redeemed from the one for eternal life in the other – move us as Christians to daily bear the weight of eternity in all things, to make the Good News of Christ known.

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