“A Place For Sinners”
In the name of the Father, and of the † Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Jesus speaks about hell. It’s real not make-believe. He describes it as a place of unquenchable fire and where worms do not die. Jesus speaks about being thrown into hell similar to someone who is thrown into jail. There is no escape once the gates of hell have closed behind the prisoner.
Have you ever noticed that lots of people are willing to imagine what heaven is going to be like? We speak about meeting our loved ones. People say that they would like to talk with Peter or Paul or Mary the mother of Jesus. Less serious suggestions include heaven being a beautiful golf course or a reunion with a favorite pet.
We are willing to talk about heaven, but hell is not something we want to try and describe. In fact many people who believe in heaven are not willing to believe that hell even exists. Jesus, however, tells us it does.
It is real. Hell is a place worse that we can ever imagine. It is a place without God. It is the place for sinners. It is the “reward” for those who rebel against God, those who fail to love him and fail to love their neighbor.
Hell is a place so terrible that if you could avoid it by cutting off your hand or foot or taking out your eye by all means you should do that. If you could avoid going to hell by being drowned with a millstone around your neck it would be better than the alternative.
Hell is a place for people like Cain who murdered his brother, Judas who betrayed Jesus, and mass murders like Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein. It is the place for evil people, terrorists, murderers, rapists, and the like.
It is a place for sinners “and if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There are the words that should send chills of fear down our spine. We are sinners and so hell is a place for us. Let me make it as clear as possible, you are a sinner therefore hell is a place for you.
No Running Away
There is no running away from the reality that you are a sinner. People try to keep themselves from going to hell. Instead of cutting off a hand or taking out an eye people try to earn a get out of jail card.
Instead of stealing with one’s hand, people use their hands to write checks to charities or volunteer at food pantries or help out at a nursing home hoping to avoid hell. Do not fool yourself, the works of your hands will not save you.
Instead of reading smutty books or watching “x” rated movies, people put Bibles on their tables or hang crosses in their car windows hoping to avoid a guilty verdict. Do not fool yourself, what your eye sees will not save you.
It is not the hand or foot or eye that causes sin. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus say, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21–23)
We are sinful from within. Call it the sinful heart, the sinful human nature, or the Old Adam we are sinners. What you and I deserve is the place where worms do not die and where fire is not quenched.
There is another place for sinners. There is a place where the sinful heart can be healed. There is a place that we do not deserve but that is given to us as a gift. We cannot get there by ourselves, we must be brought there.
When you were baptized, God gave you his Holy Spirit to bring you to God’s Holy place for sinners. Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit teaches you to repent, to fall on your knees in front of God saying, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
We are all beggars before the Lord, begging to be saved from ourselves and saved from that place of unquenchable fire. The Holy Spirit leads us to the place where we know that we ourselves are helpless. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we admit, confess, and repent of our sins.
The place where the Holy Spirit takes you next is God’s answer to your sin. The Spirit takes you to Jesus. You are brought as a little child to the arms of Jesus and he receives you as one of his own. You are brought to Jesus weak, helpless, and defenseless. You are brought to Jesus as a sinner.
Jesus is the one who makes you Holy. Holy does not mean that you are “without sin.” It means that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus you now “belong to God.” You belong to God because Jesus paid the price for your sins “not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood.”
Jesus is God’s Holy Place for you. In Jesus you find rest, rest from trying to save yourself, rest from the fear that you have failed. By God’s grace, the Son of God invites you to abide in him. He wants you to live each day knowing that through faith in him your sins are forgiven.
We fear death and hell, but Jesus tells us that when we live in him he takes away those fears. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” We do not fear death because we have already died with Christ.
Our sins were placed on him and he died for us. Saint Paul wrote, “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who had died has been set free from sin.”
Because Jesus lives in us and we in him, we are free from sin and death. If we are free from sin and death that means we are free from the hell. That place for sinners has been replace with Christ himself.
Saint Paul finishes the good news with these words, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” We live with him now. Jesus is God’s place for sinners. He feeds us his own body and blood to take away our fear and to give us peace.
We are freed to participate in all the things that the Body of Christ does. We are freed to build each other up in the faith by witnessing to each other what the Lord has done for us. We are freed to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who only know about the place of unquenchable fire.
God has blessed us with a Holy Place for sinners, a Holy Person, who for us came down from heaven, was crucified, buried, and rose again so that we might live with him forever.
In the name of Jesus. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria