Now we're turning to our text, which comprises of two verses in Luke's Gospel chapter 12, where we read from this evening. The verses are verse 4 and verse 5, and our title as I have said is 'Something More Fearful Than Death'. These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him".
This verse is found in another form in Matthew chapter 10 and verse 28, where Jesus again says: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell". What powerful words!
The interesting thing about these words is that they are found within the context where the Lord Jesus is teaching how worthless it is for us as human beings to store wealth, to store riches and treasures on the earth, and then proceed to expend our energies worrying, and being anxious and fearful that we will lose them or have them stolen. Of course that teaching is summarised in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we ought to 'build up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust does not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal'.
The thoughts of the sermon, where we read in Luke chapter 12 the words of the Sermon on the Mount, are similar to those which we find in Matthew 6:25 where Jesus says: 'I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?'. The child of God, the person who fears God and has put their faith in Christ, having repented of their sin, has no need to worry about these temporal things in life - food, drink, and clothing and all the rest. Because what the Lord Jesus is saying is that the same God that feeds the birds of the air, the sparrows and the ravens, He will feed you. The same God that clothes the lily of the valley, and the flower of the field, is the God who will clothe you if you commit your life to His trust. If you turn from your sin, from your selfishness, from your own way, and seek first the kingdom of God, committing your life to His trust, He will care for you.
Sure, this God even numbers the hairs of our head, that's what Jesus says. In this portion that we read, He tells us that 'your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things'. He knows our need before we even ask it. You say: 'Well then, why does He wait until we ask for it?' - the reason being, He wants to know that we are trusting Him, we are fearing Him, we are committing our lives into His hand. Yet how many in our age today not only worry about the depletion and corrosion of their possessions and their wealth, but they worry about their failing health, and even losing their lives. Their present existence is destroyed and warped, compromised because they're worrying about death, or disease, or loss of wealth.
Now, of course, we must submit that it is a natural inbuilt mechanism, a safety mechanism if you like, in human beings to flee from mortal danger. God has made us to preserve life in ourselves, that's why we run from busses and men with guns, it's natural to us - we even have natural, knee-jerk reactions away from things like heat, and sharp knives and so forth. We naturally flinch away from them because of this inbuilt mechanism that looks after our own lives. But in society today there is an unhealthy anxiety about sickness and death that I think has reached, perhaps, epidemic proportions. Nearly every day now, or at least every week, as you read your newspaper, if you do so, you're faced constantly with health scares. The media is continually bringing to us new scares about this food, about this practice, about the ozone layer, and additives and preservatives that might be in our food. Of course, the latest that you've probably heard of is that eating too much red meat is said to, perhaps, cause bowel cancer.
It seems to be never ending, and whether there is a measure of truth in it is not the point: it breeds an epidemic of fear and anxiety in society, where people can hardly enjoy their lives for fear of warping them or losing them at worst. In fact, I read about a woman on one occasion who worried 40 years that she would die of cancer, and finally she died of pneumonia at 70 years of age. In effect, she wasted 40 years of her life worrying about the wrong thing. That is the lunacy of worry and fear, and of course that doesn't stop us from doing it. In fact, fear in the United Kingdom has shot to an unprecedented proportion recently in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in London, and now across the world in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Sharm el Sheik in Egypt. There's no doubt about it that worry and anxiety and fearfulness, nervousness, is perhaps public enemy number one in our modern age.
In the last decade the National Anxiety Centre in Maplewood, New Jersey, gave a list of the top ten anxieties for the 1990s. Number one was the fear of AIDS, number two drug abuse, number three nuclear waste, number four the ozone layer, number five famine, number six homelessness, number seven the national deficit, number eight air pollution, number nine water pollution, number ten rubbish. All of these things generally could be categorised under what the Lord Jesus Christ calls: 'Eating, drinking, and putting on' - the things of this life. The irony of our world is this: worrying is the greatest contributor to death in our society. Whilst I imagine you've never seen a gravestone with the epitaph 'Died of worry' on it, many gravestones are worthy to read such an epitaph. Our physicians tell us that anxiety and worry contribute to many of the diseases, many of the disorders that we suffer both physically and mentally in our world today. So in worrying, and being anxious, and trying to save his life, mankind is actually adding, increasing his fatality.
But what I want you to see this evening in the light of our text is that these symptoms of anxiety and fear are symptomatic of a society that has given up with God, a people or even an individual who has given up faith in a providential and in a sovereign deity. Men and women generally, at least in our Western society, don't fear God. Because they don't fear God, they fear everything else, and their lives are wracked and destroyed by worry and anxiousness - because as far as they are concerned, they are in the driving seat of their life, they are in control, and the ultimate result of their life and fulfilment is in their hands, they will determine by their life's choices what will happen to them. That is why, in a very general sense, this world is filled with unhappiness: because they have not made God their God, they have not given God the steering wheel of their lives, the control panel to do as He pleases, and to trust Him that He knows best. They do not fear God. It's put very well in the verse that many of you will know:
'Said the robin to the sparrow:
'I really do not know
Why these human beings
Rush around and worry so?
Said the sparrow to the Robin:
'I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me'.
That is the reason: men and women do not have our heavenly Father to commit their lives to every day, and because of that their lives are wracked by anxiety. The Bible says that as the return of the Lord Jesus Christ comes nearer, and all the events that will precede that coming, men's hearts increasingly will fail them for fear. Let me take you on a step further, because when a man or a society gives up faith in a sovereign God to provide for him in the things of time for his life and for his welfare, for those things, eating, drinking and what he will put on - the fact of the matter is, if he does not trust God for the things of time, the likelihood is that he loses focus of eternal realities. In other words, if you don't look to God for your livelihood, the likelihood is you're not looking to God to provide for your eternity.
What do I mean? Well, let me put it in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ what He means, for in verses 13 and 15 after He had spoken the words of our text, it says that a man came to him and said: 'Would You speak to my brother that he may divide his inheritance with me?'. They were fighting over the will, which is common even in our own day. The Lord Jesus said in verse 14: 'Who made me a judge or a divider over you? Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth'. So, into this real-life situation, where a man was not trusting God for things on earth, but was putting his faith in those things and therefore was fearing for loss of those things, Jesus spoke this tremendous parable of the rich fool. He told of this rich farmer, his fields yielded plentifully so that he hadn't any longer the stores to hold his goods. He said: 'I must pull down my barns and build bigger', and out of that success he said to his own soul, taking God out of the equation of his life, 'Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry' - but God said to that man one night: 'Thou fool, this evening thy soul shall be required of thee, and then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?'.
The Lord Jesus gives us a living personal illustration of a man who was concerned more for the welfare of his body, than for the eternal destiny of his soul - and God says a man like that, or a woman like that, or a boy or girl like that, is a fool! Man, what it is for God to call you a fool! Why was he a fool? Because he did not realise that your life consists of more than physical, material things! As He said at the end of this parable: 'So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God'. Maybe you're wealthy tonight, or maybe you don't have much wealth, but what you do have you're trying to conserve, you're trying to invest, you're trying to inflate - but you're here this evening, and your life is wracked by what you will do with those things, what you have or what you don't have, or to whom you will leave it to. Your whole anxiety and nervous tension in your life is because of things, the things of this life, and you don't even realise that you are a pauper before God.
Worldly wise friends will tell you where to travel for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. They'll tell you the best seaside resorts to retire to. They'll tell you what your next car should be. They'll tell you where to invest your money, and what stocks and shares to buy. The doctor, the fitness instructor, the dietician will advise you how to look after your health, and how you can live a wee bit longer - but only Christ is the true friend, the true friend of your soul who will give you wisdom concerning what really matters. 'Friends', He says - will you listen to Him tonight? - 'Friends, fear Him, I say fear Him', He says it a third time, 'Fear Him, that after the body is killed, can destroy both soul and body in hell' - the true reality of eternity! Fear God who has power to kill, and afterward cast into hell.
The message is simply that those who are not trusting in God for life and in life, need to fear God in death. The Bible is clear from the very front cover to the back cover that those who live a godless life, a life filled with sin and selfishness where God is absent, they will be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. I acknowledge to you that this is not a popular subject in our modern day and age, to preach on hell - it antagonises people, for people generally do not consider themselves to be sinners, and certainly do not consider themselves to be worthy of eternal damnation. It antagonises people, it gets their back up - but I need to tell you this evening that whether you believe in hell or not, whether you're comfortable with the concept of it, that does not diminish the reality that it exists, that God's word has declared and revealed to us the things that to us in time are unseen. Whatever the particular spirit of the age is, or what preachers and ministers are saying from their pulpits, or theologians are writing in their books, it matters little. As the poet said:
'In a day of illusions,
And other confusions,
Upon their delusions
They based their conclusions'.
Your conclusion tonight, if it is that there is no hell, is based on a delusion - you're confused about eternal realities. If you're an atheist, or you're an agnostic, or you're an annihilationist - an atheist is one who does not believe in God, an agnostic is one who says 'I do not know about God, heaven and hell, and eternal realities, whether they are true or not', an annihilationist even might call himself a Christian, but says that once you are judged for your sin you disappear, your life is extinguished and gone. There are no atheists, agnostics, or annihilationists in hell - for those in hell, it is an awful reality. It doesn't give me pleasure to preach on this subject, it never does. Vance Havner on one occasion, a great gospel preacher, was ministering in his first charge in North Carolina. A farmer didn't like him preaching about hell, and the farmer said to him on the way out: 'Why don't you preach something about the meek and lowly Jesus?'. Havner replied: 'That's where I got all my information on hell from'.
My friend, we need to sit up and listen that the One here who is speaking about this awful real place is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Would He not tell you the truth? In fact, did He not on one occasion in John 14:2 say: 'If it were not so, I would have told you'. If eternity was not a reality, if you just died like a dog and were done for, your life was blown out like a candle, do you not think the Truth and the Life, the One who said He was the way to God, would have told us that? But He told us the opposite: He told us that there is a heaven, but there is a hell. I want you to notice tonight that as He addresses us on this subject, He calls us 'friends'. Do you know what that tells me? His tenderness and His gentle meekness and His love are not compromised as He preaches fervently on the harsh realities of hell. My friend, I'm not trying to offend you, I'm not trying to turn you off the Gospel, I'm not condemning you of myself - I am, just as the Lord Jesus Christ, opening up, if you like, eternity; to show you that there is such a place as hell, and Jesus testified of it.
There is something more fearful than death, and that is what is after death for those who do not trust Christ in life. Not only did Jesus teach hell more than anything else, but do you know why the Lord Jesus Christ has supreme authority to tell us about something more fearful than death? Because the Saviour experienced hell more than anyone else. He told about it more than any, but He experienced it more than any, because if you go from cover to cover of this book, and take a pen and a piece of paper and note down all the graphic metaphors and similes and illustrations and representations of hell, you will see that those things are characteristics of the cross of Jesus Christ! For we read that when He was nailed to that tree for our offences and for our sins, everything that is hell was endured by Him.
I want you to see this very clearly, and I want you to mount with me Calvary's hill, where it says: 'Sitting down, they watched Him there'. I want you to watch Him there, and I want you to see that there is on that cross, weeping, there is wailing, there is gnashing of teeth. It may not be audible, but He is experiencing what the Bible describes as 'torment'. In Luke 16 we know that there is no water in hell, and there is a continual perpetual thirst - did not the Lord Jesus Christ, as He hung there between heaven and earth, say 'I thirst'? Prophetically, was it not said in Psalm 22 that His tongue cleaved to the roof of His mouth? Thirst! There He is experiencing it. Hell is described by the Saviour as outer darkness, and we read that when those three hours of judgment came upon the Lord Jesus, when He was becoming the substitute of humanity - that means taking your place - and while He was being punished for your sin, that you deserved to go to hell for all eternity for, darkness came upon it. It is insinuated, perhaps, that it was a supernatural darkness. Is that not what hell is? Supernatural darkness - how could it be anything else when there is fire in hell, yet there is darkness in hell? These are not natural things.
As Christ is tormented for our sins, there are flames there - not literal flames, but He says in Isaiah 53 that His soul was made an offering for sin. As the lamb was taken, and after it was slain, and the blood shed, and the fire consumed it; the Lord Jesus Christ, hanging on that tree, has the very fire of God's wrath in His bosom, and He is consuming, He is exhausting the flames of hell for sinners whom He will save. Do you not see hell at Calvary? If you want to know that Christ can save you from hell, you need to see Him crucified. He is enduring the wrath of God for you, but the other side of that awesome wonderful reality is that if you want to see what you will endure for all eternity in some measure if you reject Christ, look at Calvary! No man could ever endure what He endured for the sins of the world, and because He was the holy Son of God - but you will one day be in a place where there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, an eternal darkness, torment, flames.
Jesus says: 'Fear not him that can kill the body'. Man has a certain power over us, I know, he can wound our body, can't he? He can wound our spirit, perhaps that's the deepest wound: 'A wounded spirit, who can bear?', the proverb says. Perhaps a worse thing than those two is that he can wound us by tempting us to sin, but man's power is limited for man cannot follow us after death into eternity, the unseen realm - only God can do that! Therefore God ought to be feared, because He can cast us into hell after we die. Sometimes I'm astounded that even Christians who, when they're talking about people who are not believers but have suffered a great deal at the end of their lives with some awful disease, they say: 'Ah well, it's better for them'. Better for them? There's a person who is not living in the realities of eternity.
The word for 'hell' here is 'gehenna', which literally means 'the valley of Hinnon'. That was a valley that was situated around the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and originally it was infamous because when the idolatrous kings were reigning in Judah they worshipped the god of Molech, and they sacrificed their children to the fire, they burnt their own children as human sacrifices. When good King Josiah came and reigned, he was so abhorred by that awful idolatry that he defiled that place of pagan worship by dead corpses, and he burnt the corpses in order to get rid of the putrefying bodies. That awful place around Jerusalem became a figure, a metaphor for hell, and what an awful picture it conjures up for our minds, doesn't it? Can I ask you: what is conjured up in your mind when I say the word 'hell'? What does it communicate to you? Well, I say to you this evening: multiply that by a millionfold, and your conception of what hell is is still milder and colder than it will be as a reality.
Jesus said that this hell is not just for the soul as many perceive, but it is for the body. In Matthew He says God will destroy both body and soul in hell. The sufferings of hell will be adapted to both physical and spiritual entities. The body will not escape hell, and why should the body escape when the sins which we have committed and earned hell with were committed in the body? Who is living in the light of these eternal realities? The message of Jesus today, as it was then, is: fear men less, and fear God more! Is it the fear of man that is keeping you from Christ? Three times He says: 'Fear Him! Fear Him! Fear Him!' - what does it mean? It means shrink from the disfavour of the One who has power not only to kill your body, but to destroy both body and soul in hell, the One who can punish you according to your sins, and will - fear Him.
'Ye sinners, seek His grace
Whose wrath ye cannot bear;
Fly to the shelter of His cross
And find salvation there'.
Bishop Hooper, just before he was burned at the stake for his belief in the gospel of grace by faith alone, was asked by a Roman Catholic to recant of his Protestant beliefs. Do you know what he was heard to say? 'Life is sweet, and death is better, but eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death more bitter'. As Paul said: 'Knowing the terror of the Lord', that's why we seek to persuade you this evening to be reconciled to God.
In a closing point I would like to say to you that as well as fearing this One, you should seek His friendship. He calls you 'Friend' tonight. I know He was speaking initially to the disciples, but He still is the Friend of publicans and sinners. He does not desire to be your judge, he does not desire to condemn you to hell. He said: 'I came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through me might be saved'. He longs to be your Saviour and your Friend. He wishes to show you favour and love. He says: 'Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you'.
Person tonight, whoever you are, like millions before - if you make Him your friend, you will find Him a friend indeed, a friend in whom you may implicitly confide like none other, a friend who will stick with you when mother and father, and husband and wife, and children forsake you. Every day you grow with Him in grace, you will love Him the more as you see His beauty revealed in His word. You will know Him beside you as your guard and your guide, He will keep you from all fear, for He will be with you as you run the race to glory and to heaven and home!
People who have friends in high places, they say, don't need to fear. The highest place that heaven affords is His by sovereign right. If you commit your life to Him, trust everything in life to Him, repent of your sin and yourself and your waywardness, and say: 'Lord, I know that Jesus died for me, and His sacrifice alone can purchase my redemption', and ask Him to save you and submit to His rule in your life, and fear God, you will fear nothing else - not even death or hell!
I love the story of how one day Vice President Calvin Coolidge in the States was presiding over the Senate, and one senator said to another - a bit like Belfast City Council perhaps - 'Go straight to hell!'. Of course, there was an uproar about it, and the offender had offended the senator, and the offended Senator complained to the Vice President who was also the presiding officer of course. He brought the both of them into the Vice President's office and sat them down, and they both brought their accusations and their offences. Calvin Coolidge was seen to be flicking through a book, and unbeknown to those two men it was the word of God. As he leafed through the book and listened to the debate, he said this: 'I've been looking through the rulebook, and you don't have to go' - go to hell. 'I've been looking through the rule book, and you don't have to go'.
My friend, if Jesus endured your hell on Calvary, why should you? Oh, my friend, this is a sobering message. We had a funeral service here in the church not so long ago, and the preacher on that occasion said in the course of his message that there would be someone in that gathering who would be the next to be called into eternity. The following week a woman in her 40s who was at that funeral, without Christ, dropped dead without any warning. My friend, this is serious. Do not gamble with eternity! What if God should say: 'This night thy soul shall be required of thee'. Where would you spend eternity?
Oh Father, win souls tonight for the glory of Jesus, the Lord and Christ who suffered for our sins, was raised again the third day, and now is seated at Thy right hand - for His glory and none other, save the lost, we pray. Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Something More Fearful Than Death" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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