As you drive into Bournemouth at 70 mph you see the 'Welcome to Bournemouth ' sign and immediately smell the sewage farm. You are then hit by a 50 mph sign and you slow down. Cars flash by you ignoring the sign - after all it's a clear road and a sunny day, and still a dual carriageway with a crash barrier, what harm could come? However, you know that at the crest of the hill there are speed cameras and you chuckle to yourself as the speeding BMW is flashed at 90 and will undoubtedly shortly receive a fine for £60 and three points on his license. You are feeling smug about it for knowing about the trap, when you pass the camera at 54 mph and you are flashed too. You will receive the same punishment. It's not fair. It's even more unfair when his smart lawyer gets him off on a technicality - he says it contradicts his human rights by admitting that he was driving the car - he has the right not to incriminate himself by anything he says. He even takes it to the European Court. It doesn't seem fair.
But if it is justice you want, then when you send in your £60 don't forget all the times you passed the camera at 51, 52, or 53 mph and it didn't flash and especially the time when you went by at 65 and it did flash, but luckily someone had forgtten to put film in the camera. So send in not £60 but £600 and send in you license for the extra points to be added and hire a chauffeur, since you are certainly going to be banned from driving for a long time, and you might as well sell the car because you won't be able to afford the insurance premium when you are allowed to drive again. You see what most of us want is not justice, but mercy.
At the end of chapter 9 of Mark's Gospel there are 9 verses where Jesus talks about Hell. That's the only place in the whole Gospel where he mentions it. Nevertheless, it is clear from what is written that Jesus believes in Hell. Modern day Christians tend not to talk about Hell. Some believe that when you die, unbelievers are simply snuffed out like a candle. Others talk of Hell as being separated from God. CS Lewis, in The Great Divorce pictured it as a dreary place like a wet and foggy street in a London suburb, waiting in a bus queue for a bus that never comes, with unpleasant people who never speak to you. In the middle ages it was pictured as a place of torture where the Devil thinks up ever more unpleasant persecutions.
Jesus's Hell is a terrible place. It is worse than death (v 42), even a terrible death of drowning in the sea because you are weighed down by a huge stone tied round your neck. It is worse than being maimed or crippled by having your hand or foot cut off (vv 43 & 45). It is worse than being blinded (v 47). It is everlasting: the fire never goes out (v 44) and the fire is not quenched (v 48). The phrase 'their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched' is a quotation of the last verse of the Book of Isaiah, referring to the fate of those who rebel against God. 'They will be loathsome to all mankind'.
If Jesus believed that such a terrible fate awaited unbelievers why aren't we out there with banners? Turn or Burn! Is it that we don't believe it? Or don't we care that so many are perishing? Come to think about it, why does mark wait until chapter 9 before telling us about it? Why doesn't he mention it again? Why does Paul never mention it in any of his sermons in the book of Acts? Why doesn't he mention it in any of his 13 letters?
Because it isn't the Gospel. The Good News is not that unbelievers go to hell. The Good News is that sinners go to heaven, saved by his precious blood.
Andrew Bonar was talking to his friend, Robert Murray McCheyne. McCheyne asked him what he had preached on that morning. Bonar replied, "Hell."
"Could you preach it with tenderness?" asked McCheyne.
No-one should talk about Hell, without tears in their eyes.
If we talk to our friends about Hell they may well think we are gloating over their misfortune, or bragging that in some way that we are better than they. Before we tell them about Hell we must show them that we love them.
They may say to us that they couldn't believe in a God who could send people to Hell. They will probably tell you that they couldn't believe in a God that would allow Auschwitz either. Or Tsunamis or AIDS.
Perhaps they might see Hell as the punishment for Auschwitz. If they come to understand Genesis they might understand how Tsunamis and AIDS are the consequence of sin. Then they might see Jesus as the remedy for sin.
Based on a sermon preached by Chris Kelly at Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth, 29th Ocrober 2006.