We here in the greater-Seattle-area all know what it’s like to root for a team whose record does not reflect the potential we know they have. But did we ever consider that the Seahawks are a fantastic metaphor for the invisible spiritual battle going on right beneath our feet?
When I first walked up to Pastor Brian at Reach Church to ask who the church’s communication director was, I happened to let Pastor Brian know that it was my husband’s and my second Sunday service at the Kirkland outpost. Pastor Brian responded with a grimace of worry that read an embarrassed “great” and said, “Just in time for Hell.” Even I made a joke about not being sure just exactly how “public relations” friendly the sermon might be, but, in a very personal way, I was not prepared for what I was going to hear. To clarify, Reach Church has been running through a series for the entirety of 2017 that breaks down the Bible into a six-act play. Currently, the church has begun the portion of “Act VI: Jesus is Coming Back,” a.k.a. “the part with Hell, fire, and brimstone.” Now, I’d never thought I’d be like my grandfather and ever respond in a positive way to a preacher who taught the unpleasant stuff, but I sat in the auditorium of Lake Washington High School in silence, my soul filled to the brim with a strange word that most often don’t associate with a sermon on sin and judgement: I felt “hope.” Unabashed, unhinged, uncontained hope at a message that blasted through today’s generational misconceptions about Jesus and brought a certain truth and life to the equation that I had never heard before – even as a lifelong Christian.
Sure enough, there were quotes about “tasting the fullness of the hope” and “feeling the weight of the urgency” at Jesus’ second coming. But then, Pastor Brian started by breaking down the “generational” impressions of Heaven and Hell versus the Biblical versions. Whoa, wait…What? They’re not the same? You bet they’re not; and thank goodness, as Pastor Brian said, that God is not indifferent to our pain. He described – via the stats of a survey/study – that today’s culture generally believes that “Heaven” is where “people who have lived good lives are eternally rewarded,” and “Hell” is where “people who have lived bad lives and are not sorry undergo eternal punishment.” However, Pastor Brian simply pointed to Scripture and left us all stunned at the results. In summation: God’s wrath is arguably compatible with the image of a God of love. And here’s how that works:
God is angry toward sin and the fact it has condemned His children to death. He refuses to address it in the manner that He could (being the God of the universe and the only rightful judge) because He loves us. The Lord – like humanity – loves justice. The reason there is an intellectual conflict with this notion is because God’s version of justice and man’s version of justice are completely different impressions. But if God were to automatically release His anger upon sin and destroy it, we’d be destroyed in the process. A little similar to not “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Instead, the Lord sent His son – Jesus – to die for our sins. By His sacrifice according to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Jesus stands between the misery we bring upon ourselves since sin is a choice, and declares to God that there is “no debt,” no payment to be made…we are one of His and are, therefore, identified with Christ. The enemy has no hold over us anymore. But, also because God loves us, He assures us – from the very beginning in Genesis – that one day, “justice” will be done, Christ will return, and the enemy will find himself at the unpleasant end of God’s wrath. In the meantime, the Lord has offered us relief from the pain of this world in each other. Every one of us has the opportunity to care for whoever you might consider “the least of society” (Matthew 25), and, in doing so, care for Christ by easing the burdens for His people – even if ever so slightly.
The Bible is very clear. Satan, the enemy, is referred to as “the accuser” in the present tense. This spiritual conflict we were born into was a raging war then, and is a raging war now. Make no mistake: It is humbling to truly understand that Christ is interceding for you at this very moment, including knowing what you are going to do in the future. Faith in Him is, quite simply, the only way for salvation. That being said, in the midst of a “Hell, fire, and brimstone” speech from the pulpit, we should realize where our “hope” comes from. When Christ returns, God will – by Christ’s intercession on behalf of those with faith in Him – judge the faithful from the faithless and avenge the pain the suffering of this world has caused. It’s a little like watching the underdogs – even though we all know they’re not really the underdogs – finally and epically win the Super Bowl…”just in time.”
Questions for Reflection:
- What hope has this news brought to your life?
- If you already know Jesus, how has this good news added a fresh perspective to the depth of God’s love for you?
- If you do not yet know Christ, or are choosing to know Him for the first time, how does this Biblical perspective on Heaven and Hell revolutionize the way you’re used to considering the two places? (If you are making this decision for the first time, you are encouraged to talk to a pastor on staff at Reach Church who would be more than happy to talk to you!)
- How does the analogy between sports and spiritual warfare alter your perspective about the existence of such a war?
- How does hearing the good news of Christ’s impending and definitive victory change your opinion of God being “the only rightful judge?”
House of Worship: Reach Church – Kirkland, WA