Jesus praises the faith of the centurion. A Roman, without all of the background of what we now call the Old Testament and Scripture. “Truly, I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But, the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” Now, He says this, after having said, just a few verses earlier at the end of the sermon on the mount that He has the authority to determine who enters the consummated kingdom and who does not. He is the one that will say, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” And He is the one who grants entrance. And now He says, “On the last day, there will be many people there who will exhibit the same faith this centurion exhibited,” even though this centurion is not an Israelite, he’s a gentile, part of the overlord party. But, he has this faith is Jesus that is so transparently submissive to the authority of God in this God man, that he understands that when God speaks, Jesus speaks. It’s the same faith of an Abraham, who heard the voice of God and went out, not knowing where he was going. And thus, in the consummated kingdom, such people will gather around Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They will be part of this consummated glory, where elsewhere it is described as resurrection existence in the new heaven and the new earth- the home of righteousness.
And, meanwhile, many who have had the privilege of being part of that old covenant heritage, with all of its revelation and its sacrificial system, and its Godly prophets, and its wisdom literature, many who are absorbed into the kind of religiosity that really does not bow to the authority of Jesus, they will be cast out, we are told- where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not popular today to talk about hell. Indeed, many Christians are trying to find ways of interpreting the Scripture in such a way that ‘hell becomes a little less embarrassing’: …maybe it doesn’t go on forever… maybe God’s love is so sweeping that somehow, eventually, everybody in hell will repent and hell will be emptied out.And God’s love will win.
Many, many voices like this are heard. It sounds so gentle, and so loving, but, it is very hard to square such notions with what Jesus Himself says. Most of the most startling metaphors for hell are first voiced in the Scripture by the Lord Jesus Himself. He is the one here, who speaks of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Revelation 14 and Revelation 20 speak of hell as a place of ongoing terror. I think that one of the reasons why people will not face what Scripture plainly says is because we have talked ourselves into thinking that perhaps, that perhaps we should recognize that our sins can’t be eternal sins, or infinite sins. Our sins are finite, we’re finite people, who commit only finite sins, so, why should we be punished infinitely? And, if that’s the case, we must have some other explanation for infinite punishment. But, that presupposes that once we get to hell we all want to repent and we don’t want to sin anymore. But, I have ransacked Scripture and I cannot, for the life of me, find a single place anywhere in Scripture that suggests there’s a word of repentance in hell.
Even in the account of the rich man and Lazarus- he doesn’t want to be there. But, he lifts his eyes up, being in torment, the Scripture says, and somehow sees Abraham and Lazarus a far distance off. What do you think he will say? “Oh, Lazarus, did I get that one wrong? I am so sorry, would you forgive me please? I really did abuse you. I didn’t show any generosity, compassion. I left you ill and broken, and poor outside my gate, even though I was filthy rich. I really am very sorry. I do want to repent, I am so sorry.” Is that what he says? No, what he says is, “Father Abraham,” playing the race card, “Father Abraham, why don’t you send Lazarus to dip his finger in some water, so that he can bring it to me?” Lazarus is still the ‘Joe’ boy, he’s still the menial. He doesn’t even address him. He’s gonna pull strings and get father Abraham… There’s not a hint of repentance anywhere. Hell is not filled with people who are deeply repentant and wanting to get out. It’s filled with broken rebels who still want to justify themselves and think of them selves as at the center of the universe for all of eternity- sinning and being punished, sinning and being punished, world without end. At the end of that conversation with Abraham, the rich man is actually contradicting Abraham, “No, father Abraham, your interpretation of things is wrong. Let me correct your theology.” This man, even in hell thinks he’s got a superior theology to Abraham in heaven. It’s unbelievable.
And, the person who is exclusively, finally responsible for making the decisions about who goes to heaven and who does not, and on what ground is Jesus Himself. The authority of Jesus is great comfort to the eyes of faith and a great terror to the merely religious.
Reblogged from agnus dei – english + romanian blog