Two Legitimate Worries For Today

Title: Two Legitimate Worries For Today

Text: Ecclesiastes 9:5, Hebrews 9:27, Matthew 10:28

Time: August 25th, 2010

Probably the main concern or worry today for most people in modern America is over the economy – whether it will recover or not. Put in context, placed in historical perspective, this worry may appear trivial or even superficial, because after all for most of history, most people feared things like sudden invasion from enemies or sudden death through plague, for example. But for most Americans today, in the year 2010, the immediate fear of death is probably not one of the most troubling worries they face, although sudden illness or injury is always a concern for everyone, but not a constant or immediate worry. So we live in a period of anomaly or in other words, we live in a strange time in which the typical fears and worries that have perennially concerned people don’t seem to bother us too much. Again, most people aren’t too fearful of death, or so it appears – at least most people don’t seem to be too terribly fearful of death today; although, like I said before, there is always a fear of illness or injury. But I’d like to ask the question, even though we modern Americans don’t seem to be preoccupied with the fear of death, is that something good or bad? In other words, that we as a people don’t seem to be overly bothered by the thought of our own demise, our own physical extinction, should we be? I’m amazed, for example, when I’m talking with an avowed atheist who says there is nothing beyond the grave, that death is simply total annihilation, that when you die you die forever, you fall asleep and never, ever wake up – I’m amazed that this same atheist isn’t bothered more by his own belief. As a Christian, as a believer in Christ, I carry the hope of everlasting life through salvation of the soul, so I’m not upset at the thought of my physical death, because I’m counting on living again in the Kingdom of God in the afterlife. But I’m still amazed that a professed atheist can treat the matter of his own death – something he says he believes is final and absolute – I’m amazed that he can treat it so casually or doesn’t fear that kind of death more. I think he should fear death, that kind of death especially, more! But I think that atheists especially, and all people in general, should fear something in addition to physical death – divine judgment. Hebrews 9:27 of the New Testament states, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then after that the judgment.” So then there are really two things that people generally don’t fear today, but should fear today, and these two are death and divine judgment. It could be seen as a triumph of modern civilization that its citizens don’t fear these two things anymore, but I see it as a tragedy. It seems to me that there is a superficial optimism, especially among Americans, that helps them avoid thinking about potentially unpleasant things – like death and judgment — but it also keeps them from dealing with these important realities of life. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is a slogan that many follow. And death and divine judgment do indeed seem to be out of sight, at least for now, so then we can forget about them. But God doesn’t want us to forget about them because they are found everywhere in the Bible for our consideration. We aren’t called to live in denial of difficult realities; instead, we are called to come to grips with them in a godly way. Unfortunately, America is full of reality-deniers rather than those who embrace reality with God’s help and salvation. Let’s look for a moment at three things all people, especially non-Christians, should fear and not deny.

First, we should all have a healthy fear of death. Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die. . . .” If things happen on earth as they normally do happen, as they have happened to everyone in the past, all of us here, today, will die. Our body will be placed in the earth and permitted to rot until what once we looked like is no longer recognizable. Our body will rot and stink, like all dead corpses stink because of the breakdown of the flesh and its consumption by living organisms. The only thing, eventually, that is left of us is our bone skeleton. Now, will we survive death? Is there something that isn’t physical that survives physical death? Some soul, some spirit, some consciousness? Or is all of what we are in the body and brain so that when these disintegrate in the grave, we are finally and utterly gone forever? That’s what atheists believe and what agnostics and skeptics think probably will happen to them. Now is that fate enough to make someone fear death? It should, but strangely enough, today, for many people, even their own annihilation doesn’t bother them. And I think it’s because they haven’t sufficiently reflected on the subject long and hard enough. Of course, some really are bothered by the prospect of total extinction, but they put up a brave face and fake confidence, when it really does bother them. But for most, because of superficiality and distraction, they really haven’t come to grips with reality enough to be fearful of what they say they believe about death. An atheist, agnostic, skeptic or un-believer in life after death should be afraid, very afraid! I like to put things in the most blunt way when talking to an optimistic agnostic or atheist. “So you say you totally expire when you die? Nothing of you survives, no soul, no spirit, no mind, no personality, everything gone?” “Yes,” replies the skeptic. “Do you mean to say everything you love about life, you will never experience again? Everyone you’ve ever loved in life, you’ll never see again?” “Does it sadden you to know that the world you leave behind will also ultimately come to ruin? – if the scientists are correct about the end of the earth and universe.” “All human civilization, all human accomplishment will perish, leaving no record that anything or anyone ever existed. Doesn’t that sadden you?” “Isn’t it tragic that you had a life for just a short window of time, you experienced life, but now with death everything that you ever had will be taken from you and never returned?” “Isn’t that sad, depressing, tragic?” “Isn’t it also true that trying to dress up what you believe about death, it’s finality, with some positive spin or psychological mental trick is a form of pathetic denial?” What I do when I talk with an apathetic atheist or skeptic is try to get them to take serious their own beliefs about death in order to show them they really should fear it. I don’t want to leave them in the casual sleep of denial when coming to grips with reality is of vital importance. The gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t make any sense to someone who doesn’t have a healthy fear of death. Death is a big deal; it shouldn’t be minimized or trivialized the way our modern culture treats it. People who don’t know the salvation of Jesus Christ should fear death; they should be terrified with it. That healthy fear should drive them to God’s Word and to intense spiritual reflection, ultimately leading them to faith. If it doesn’t, they should carry around inside of themselves the awful fear of death, the coming of their own tragic demise. We Christians too shouldn’t live in denial of death, because only by understanding it and facing it can we fully appreciate what Christ has done for us. Let’s not fall into a lazy cultural apathy concerning death. Let’s not live in denial. Let’s face reality with the Word of God to comfort and console us.

Second, we should all have a healthy fear of divine judgment. Hebrews 9:, “It is appointed unto man once to die, after that the judgment.” As I said before, our modern culture has trained us to not fear death through distracting us through work, entertainment and recreation – among other things; but it also teaches us not to fear divine judgment by focusing our attention so much on earthly, worldly things that anything that involves after-life issues is pushed so far away that they become nearly meaningless. That’s what has happened to divine judgment. What’s even worse is that we hardly hear about Judgment Day in churches! It’s not spoken of much in Christian teachings on television or radio, in print, or in any other form. Why? Because it’s not pleasant, it doesn’t make us feel good – and for many people, the essence of religion is to make them feel good! Yet when we open up the pages of the New Testament, divine judgment is a frequent theme. The gospel can’t be explained without the backdrop of divine judgment. The irony of our modern age is, in all truth, atheists, agnostics, skeptics and un-believers really have nothing to fear about the mere fact of physical death because according to the Bible everybody will survive it! But what should be the main fear in everyone’s heart is facing God on Judgment Day and having to give account of sin, disobedience and rebellion. For the Christian, for the true Christian and not just for those who are Christian in name only, they don’t have to fear Judgment Day because they are forgiven their sins through the blood of Jesus and given Christ’s righteousness by faith. They will stand justified by God’s grace through their faith in Christ. But for everyone who isn’t justified already by Christ blood and righteousness, there should be great fear of Judgment Day. If the New Testament is true – and we are counting on that it is – then the only way to be justified on the day of divine judgment is through faith in Christ. When we acknowledge and repent of our sins, when we trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on our behalf for sins on the cross, when we believe in his resurrection from the dead, we are justified and saved from all judgment and damnation. But everyone who hasn’t been justified through Christ is vulnerable on Judgment Day. This is something to fear, and fear greatly! Have you been saved through Christ’s blood? You may not fear physical death because you believe in life after death, but you’ve got to ask whether your life after death will be with God or apart from God. According to the Bible, if you think you can make it through divine judgment without Christ you are wrong. If you try to face judgment without Christ you’ll pay for your own sins by yourself. That payment means eternal damnation in a place of everlasting suffering. Does that scare you? It should. If you haven’t humbled yourself and bowed the knee to Christ for his forgiveness and righteousness, do so today. “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Have enough wisdom to get yourself ready to meet God today. Don’t delay. Tomorrow may never come.

Third, we should all have a healthy fear of God.. Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” These are the words of Jesus Christ trying to instill a healthy fear in the hearts of men and women towards ultimate things. Our modern culture in denial needs to hear these words, and hear them well, because it’s trying to do everything it can to deny death and eternal judgment, or anything else unpleasant. What the Bible teaches us is that there are things to be afraid of and things not to be afraid of. For example, according to Jesus, we aren’t to be afraid of the threats and persecution we might receive from the enemies of our faith on earth. What can they do but kill us? If they do, they’ve only pushed us ahead to something that we were already facing anyway, death. But if we are truly saved, we’ve already dealt with death and have Christ as our hope in facing death. As the Apostle Paul says, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54-55. We’ve also dealt with Judgment Day and the same Christ who we are counting on in going through the physical death process, we count on in going through the process of facing God the Father face-to-face. In fact, because of Jesus Christ we no longer will even face the kind of Judgment Day outlined for unbelievers, where sins, disobediences and rebellions will all be reviewed, judged and condemned to eternal damnation. No. We escape this whole scene through the blood of Jesus which we embrace by faith for salvation. But for everyone who has never embraced the salvation of Christ, Judgment Day should be a terrible scene for them. They should think about it today and be motivated to avoid it at all costs by coming humbly to Christ while there is still time and repenting of their sins and committing themselves to Christ for salvation. Some people object to talk of Judgment Day and eternal damnation of the soul in hell. They say it’s a form of verbal abuse. In the case of teaching this to children, they call it child abuse. But since when is teaching the truth abuse? Not telling everyone, including children, about divine judgment is criminal, just as not warning children to stay away from the edge of a cliff is criminal. Threatening people with the torments of hell would only be abuse if it weren’t true; but since it’s reality, not to warn people about it would be criminal. The whole plan of salvation is addressed to saving us from sin and the consequences of sin, which include judgment and damnation. Soul salvation depends on avoiding the damnation of the soul. If physical death should make someone rightly afraid, how much more the possibility of losing one’s eternal soul in hell? This is why Jesus says, “Fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in heal.”

I know it isn’t very popular to talk about Judgment Day and hell in polite company. It’s getting to the place where it’s not even polite to talk about these things in church, but if we can’t talk about them in church, where can we talk about them? If Jesus talks about them, if the Bible talks about them, then we have to continue to talk about them no matter how unpleasant it may be. In our society today, there’s a whole industry that is dedicated to making people feel better about themselves and live in denial about unpleasant things — it’s the whole counseling industry. Now I don’t want to label all counselors and therapists as reality-deniers, but it is fair to say that the majority of them are enablers of other people in the process of denial. I also don’t want to cast all counselors in a bad light, because there are many who help people in legitimate ways. But it’s clear that as an industry, generally speaking, counselors have more or less through their secular and humanistic approaches have helped people deny death and divine judgment – or at least helped their clients overcome fear of these things outside of Christian salvation. The truth is, these two things, death and divine judgment, are meant to frighten people in order to motivate them to not deny reality any longer but to deal with it in the will of God through Christian salvation. Any counseling that helps a person deal with the fear of death or the fear of divine judgment without the cross of Christ is enabling denial. If someone goes to a counselor to “fix” their problem of fear and the counselor helps them outside of Christian salvation, how good is the fix? What good is it for a person to overcome a healthy fear of death and judgment only to eventually face these two realities ill-equipped? No. Like the Book of Ecclesiastes says in chapter three, verse one, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” and that truth would also include a time for healthy fear. There is a proper season for fear of death and fear of divine judgment. These are necessary emotions that motivate us to seek out God’s solution for us concerning these two issues. Far from running away from these realities, we should encourage people to reflect upon death and divine judgment from a Christian perspective. We should encourage people to seek the answers to these problems that the Bible outlines. We should hold up Jesus Christ as Savior who delivers us from the awful consequences of sin and death, who saves us to eternal and everlasting life. If the church has any message, if it is to have influence on society in this modern world, it should be supplying the world with this answer of salvation. Our message should not be to help people deny the fear of death and judgment, but to help people face these with God’s help.

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