Online Text Sermon - A Glimpse of Heaven and Hell, Matthew ch.8 vv.11-12
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||A Glimpse of Heaven and Hell|
|Text||Matthew ch.8 vv.11-12 |
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"And I say unto you," says Jesus Christ, "That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8, 11-12).
1. From The East And West
2. A Glimpse Of Heaven
3. Children Of The Kingdom Shall Be Cast Out
Jesus, here, is really referring to a soldier. He has the name of a centurion. You would have noticed that, I'm sure, in the course of reading these words. Let me point it to you in verse five. "When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion." Now, we need to know what a centurion was. A centurion was a soldier in the Roman army. The Romans had power over the Jews at this time. The Jews were a conquered nation and so the land of Israel had many soldiers travelling up and down its roads. They were there, of course, to keep order and to keep the peace; very much as we have soldiers in different parts of the world; perhaps Ireland would be an example of that. However, a centurion was not just a soldier. He was a soldier who had the power and the authority over one hundred soldiers; hence his name. Everybody knows that the word 'centum' is the Latin for one hundred. Therefore, a centurion is an officer who has control over a hundred Roman soldiers.
This particular centurion obviously had a servant who had fallen ill. When Jesus Christ came to this village in the north in Galilee called Capernaum, the soldier came to Jesus and explained. "Master," he said, "I have a servant who is ill." Jesus Christ offers to come immediately and to heal him. The centurion says something which makes Jesus marvel. "O," he says, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come into my house. I wasn't asking you to travel to my house or come under my roof. I am nobody. I am nothing. All you need to do Lord, is just to say the word, and from this very place where you are standing, he will be healed. I don't expect you to trouble yourself to come into my very house."
Then he uses this illustration. He says, "I am a man with authority and I know that when I command my servants to do something, they do it. If I say to him, "Go!" he goes; if I say, "Come!" he comes." What he means is, "I know Lord that You are the same. You also, like me, have authority, only Your authority is over heaven and earth. I know Lord that you don't actually have to move an inch; all You need to do is to speak the word and my servant will be made better. I don't expect anything more than that. Forbid that I should trouble You, Lord, to come under my roof." When Jesus hears these words, as I said, He marvels. He is astonished and He makes this comment: Jesus said, "In the whole of Israel, I haven't found one man with the same degree of faith as this centurion has." You can understand what He meant. Most people took Jesus for granted. They didn't believe that He had such great power. However, this man, who was born a pagan Roman - not a Jew with the Gospel, not a Jew with the Bible in His hand - but a heathen man, "This man has greater faith than anybody I have met before in the whole nation of Israel."
1. FROM THE EAST AND WEST
Then Jesus makes the statement which forms our text, "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (text). That's what we are looking at here tonight. You may immediately want to say to me, "How did this pagan person - this centurion - how ever did he come to have this faith?" We don't know in detail, but it would be a safe enough guess to believe that when this man came to Israel, he came in contact with those who were genuine believers. As a soldier, he was converted, either through reading the Old Testament part of the Bible, of which the Jews had many copies, or, by starting to go to the synagogue of the Jews, which, like this, was a place of worship; or else, by talking to those who were godly. Nevertheless, by one means or another, we may not know how, this soldier - this centurion - had come to a living faith in God. Jesus says, "Isn't it amazing? The day is coming when people will enter heaven from the west and from the east, and the children of this nation of Israel will be cast out. They will come in and the others will be cast out."
THERE WILL BE MANY IN HEAVEN
What then is there here for us to learn tonight? I would like to suggest to you the very first lesson to be learned is this: There will be many, many, many people in heaven at last. Notice the way Jesus puts it. "They will come from the east and from the west." He was looking into the future; we can't do that, of course. We can't see into tomorrow, but He could. As the Son of God, He could very well see into the future. "They will come from the east," He said. Now, wherever is that? What did He mean? Well, He meant Russia. The day is going to come when people would come out of Russia and China into the kingdom of God. You know, don't you, there are millions of Christians in China today: thirty or forty million, probably. I just hope in a few days time to have the great privilege of meeting someone from mainland China who is coming to Inverness to talk about the Gospel, and translating good books into Chinese. There are millions of Christians in China today, and in Japan, the Philippines, and Korea - thousands upon thousands of Christians. All these countries that I've named, today, have the Bible in their own languages: Russians do, Chinese do, Japanese do, Koreans do, Philippinos do, and I could go on and mention other places in the east.
Let's look the other way round. Not just the east. Let's turn from Jesus' point of view to the west. What could He mean? Which countries had He got in mind in the west - Great Britain, Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, United States of America, Canada, Brazil and so on. In all these countries, and many others like them, the Bible is now translated into these languages. There are churches in all these countries today. Jesus knew that that was going to happen.
A LINE OF ARGUMENT
Let's stop for a moment and think. You boys and girls, and people at school and college, you are going to meet people who will say to you, "How do you know Christianity is true. It's a lot of guesswork. How do you know there is any truth in the Bible? You prove it!" Well, here is a line of argument. Take this line of argument that I am going to give to you and use it with these people that don't believe. Say to them, "Well, in Matthew chapter eight, Jesus says they are going to come from the east and the west, and they are going to become Christians: they are going to sit down at the kingdom of God. They are going to become believers in the Gospel." So then, you can say to them, "If what Jesus says is a lot of rubbish, how do you explain that two thousand years after He said it, it came absolutely true. True to the very letter: from the east and from the west." You need to be more than a good guesser to know that that was going to happen, and Jesus wasn't guessing, He was prophesying. He was foretelling future events. You say, "How could He do that?" Because of what He is: He is God come down into human nature; God in our flesh; God in our nature; the God man; the Son of God; God the Son. He had prophetic powers and He saw very well that this was going to happen.
"AND THEY OF THE CITY SHALL FLOURISH LIKE GRASS OF THE EARTH"
You see the point He is making. Heaven, in the end, is going to have lots and lots and lots of people in it. Not only thousands, but millions. Not only millions, but billions, and probably trillions of people in it. Let me just give you some verses from the Bible to prove that this is what the Bible says all through from Genesis to Revelation. The whole Bible tells us that heaven is going to have lots and lots of people in it. Can you remember now what God said to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12? I'll tell you. God said to Abraham, "In you and in your seed ALL the nations will be blessed." The seed of Abraham is Christ who was to be born of that family. So this is really what God said to Abraham: The day would come when all the nations of mankind would be blessed in Christ. That is exactly the same point, isn't it, that Jesus is making here? Alternatively, take this one; I like this one that you get in the Psalms. This is God speaking to and through King David, probably. David says this in Psalm 72:
"The city shall be flourishing,her citizens abound in number shall, like to the grassthat grows upon the ground."
Well here's a good test. If you ever get someone who says to you, "How many people are there going to be in heaven?" You have a ready-made answer here. I'll tell you what it is. Say, "Go into the field across the road and count all the blades of grass and that will tell you how many people are going to be in heaven; but not simply that. All the grass in the world, count all the blades of grass and that will give you some idea how many people are going to be in heaven. Of course, as you smile back at me, you say, "Impossible, of course it's impossible. Nobody knows. It's too big a number. You can't count all the grass in a field. Nobody could do it. It would take a lifetime, and then you couldn't do it accurately. No, no, in heaven, it says in the book of Revelation, an innumerable multitude, uncountably great: thousands upon thousands, millions upon millions of people are in heaven. That is what Jesus is saying here: Heaven is going to be full of people. "They shall come," He says, "from the east and west" (text).
MORE IN HEAVEN or HELL
Here is an interesting point. Some Christians think this; I'll put this to you to see what you think. Some Christians think that in the end there will be more people in heaven than there will be in hell. It doesn't look like that, does it, as you cast you eyes about you in this world? It seems that the number of Christians is fairly small compared with the number of unbelievers. Now, here is a verse for you in the New Testament. "That in all things he (Christ) might have the pre-eminence" (Colossians 1, 18), and there are Christians who very seriously believe that when the end of history comes, more people will be in heaven than in hell to show that Christ would have the pre-eminence over the numbers whom He has saved by His death and by His blood. That might seem impossible until you think; I hope you are still thinking with me.
Look at it this way. Do you know today, standing up upon the earth, there are probably almost as many people living today and breathing, as have ever lived in all the previous generations. It may not be exactly and precisely true, but the population of the world is growing, growing, growing so fast by geometrical progression that the day could easily come soon in which there are more people living and breathing and walking on the face of the earth, than all the other generations put together. Are you with me? Now, because that is so, as you look into the future, all it would take is for a great revival of religion to occur at that point in history when there is a massive world population, far greater than ever before. In one generation, there could become more Christian believers than unbelievers, simply because of the sheer force and weight of the population of the world at that moment.
Therefore, it is not so foolish to think that there are going to be more in heaven than in hell. I am not saying, we know for sure, I'm saying it could easily be the case.
SMALL FLOCK MENTALITY
What is the good of telling you that there are going to be so many people in heaven? What's the point of saying that? Well, two or three reasons. Firstly, because some people sometimes get the 'small flock' mentality. They think to themselves, "What's the point of being a Christian? What is the point of going to church? What's the point of reading the Bible? There are only a few people doing it." No, no, no. Don't you believe it! Yes, in this country now, at this time, there may be only a few doing it; but if you take the world as a whole: African countries are flowing with Christians, millions and millions of them. There, congregations number thousands and they worship from early morning until about one o'clock -hours and hours of preaching. They can't take any less they are so hungry. You go to other countries like Korea and it is the same there.
Some football event is taking place soon I think in Korea. Forgive my ignorance. I am completely uninformed about these matters, but I just happened to glance at something and the Koreans are praying that this event will take place in their country, not because they want to sell souvenirs to the football spectators when they get there. Christians are praying in Korea that all these world people will come to the event - thousands of them - so they can give them the Gospel. They are praying for their conversion. When they come, they can give them the tracts as we do in the High Street, and preach the Gospel to them. They are not so interested in the football as in the souls of the people. That's their attitude. So, my dear friends, don't allow anyone to give you a 'little flock' mentality or to browbeat you into thinking that Christianity is dying on its feet. Not at all! There are going to be great numbers in heaven in the end. Of course, our Lord is saying this to you so that you'll make sure that you yourself will get there.
2. A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN
Well that is the first thing. Let me come to the second. Not only does Jesus say that there will be many, many people in heaven, but He also tells us a little bit about what heaven is like. I call this a glimpse of what heaven is like. You understand the Bible tells us there is a place called heaven, and it tells us just a little bit about what it's like, but don't expect the Bible to tell you everything about heaven. It is impossible for us to understand very much about what heaven is like, impossible. It would be like a little child of three being given lessons in atomic physics or brain surgery. A little child doesn't understand higher mathematics or how the brain works. You'd be a fool to try to teach a primary school child about these academic subjects; they are quite beyond their capacity - so it is with us. We are like babes when it comes to the subject of heaven. We know so little about heaven, and even if we were told, it would make little sense to us.
HEAVEN: THE END OF A JOURNEY
The Bible tells us just a little, giving us a glimpse of what heaven is like. This very verse of Scripture here gives us a glimpse into heaven. What does it tell us? What does the glimpse tell us? First of all, Jesus here tells us that heaven is the end of a journey. How does it do that? Well, look at verse eleven. "Many shall come"; so they are travelling. It's the journey of faith. It's the journey of the pilgrim going through this world. It's essentially the same journey for everybody, whether they are Chinese, or Americans, or Australians or whatever; it is the same journey. Every Christian has a journey through this life. The journey begins the moment they are converted, and it goes on until the moment when they die: that's the journey of faith. Ah, but, when they get to heaven, my dear friends, it is the end of the journey. There is no more journey then. They come to heaven. They come to their desired haven.
Oh, my dear Christian friends, the lesson for you is, don't get weary but keep on going. You are very close to the end of your journey. It can be a very tiring thing to keep the faith - year in, year out; day in, day out; it is no easy thing. Unbelievers have no idea how difficult it can be for the Christian to go on steadfastly, all the way through life. But heaven, my dear Christians, heaven - whatever else we don't know about it - heaven will be the place where your journey will end. As soon as your feet get inside the City of Glory, your journey is over for ever more. That is the first thing our Lord tells us.
HEAVEN: A PLACE of EVERLASTING REST
What is the next thing? The second thing said about heaven is, it is a place of everlasting rest. Did you notice that? It is in verse eleven. "Many shall come from the east and west." And what will they do when they get there? They "shall sit down." It is a place of rest. Heaven is a place where the weary people of God sit down. O, I hope you understand that being a Christian is not a picnic. We don't, as Christians, expect to go through this world in silver shoes or in fair weather every day or treading upon royal red carpets. No, no, it's a thorny world. It's a difficult journey: difficult to be praying every day. The alarm clock goes; out of bed you get, dressed, downstairs, on your knees, pleading with God, reading His Word. Not simply on a Monday and a Tuesday, but on a Wednesday and a Thursday; not simply in 1999 but in 2000, 2001: over and over again, all through life - reading, fighting, resisting sin and temptation. But my very dear friends, this is what is said about heaven. When they get there, what do they do? They sit down. No more fighting, no more struggling, no more praying of that kind. Their fighting days are done. No more wrestling to get a sermon, no more struggling to get a decision as to what to do, what to say - to this one and to that one and to the other one. They sit down.
HEAVEN: A GREAT FEAST
The third thing Christ tells us here is that heaven will be a great feast for eating and drinking and being everlastingly happy. "They shall sit down." They are sitting down, of course, at a table. We are told this from other passages of the Bible. When you study the parables of Christ, it is very clear He represents heaven as a place where they sit down to feast: to eat and to drink in glory, so it will be. I am not suggesting it will be literal eating and literal drinking, but it is a way of putting it. At a feast people laugh, they are happy, they are glad - of course, they are. Christians will be glad to get to heaven because now they are in their heavenly Father's House, and what could be better news? All the angels will be gathered there and we will be made to eat and to drink of the blessings of the kingdom of glory and that is what heaven will be: eternal happiness with God and with His angels.
HEAVEN: THE BEST OF COMPANY
What else is here? Well, the next thing I notice is this: In heaven the very best people will be there who ever lived. You know it is very important to your happiness, as to what the company is that you keep. Some people are so difficult to live with that you can't be happy, ever, in their company. But the company of those in heaven will be the best company. Jesus tells us who they are. He says, "Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob" (text). They will sit down with these people.
We know a little bit about these people from the book of Genesis. Abraham, what do we know about him? We know that He was the friend of God. We know that He put God first. God came first in Abraham's life. At every decision in his life, God came first. He was even prepared to sacrifice his own son when God commanded Him to do so. God came first. That's not easy. I wonder if you are living your life like that: if you are putting God first conscientiously? Well this man Abraham did. Abraham we are told, believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Here was a man who had faith; he lived by faith. He is the very embodiment of living by faith. When you get to heaven, Christian, you will be with that sort of man. Isaac was the same, Jacob was the same: men that prayed and wrestled with God; men who loved worship; men who built altars to praise God; men, and women later on, who had their whole hearts' desire in God. So that is the kind of people we are going to meet in heaven. Of course, there are far more than these three as I said earlier. These are a specimen, if you like, of the quality of people in heaven: those who lived for God, those who believed in God, those who served God here below.
HEAVEN: A KINGDOM
There is one further thing Jesus tells us. He says, these people will come, they will sit down with Abraham and others, where? Where will they sit down? "In the kingdom of heaven" (text). 'Kingdom', notice: a 'kingdom'. It is a well-ordered country with a great King, and the King is Christ. Heaven is a well-ordered country - no crime there, no misery there, no poverty there, no illiteracy there, no graffiti on the walls, and no dirt on the streets. The streets are paved with gold. Everyone content. Everyone ecstatically happy for evermore, and all in the presence of their own great King; seeing the King Himself, Jesus Christ our Lord; with Him, in His presence, under His smile, enjoying His love in their hearts. O, this is heaven, and this is the way Christ portrays it. Heaven is all of this, says Christ, and they will come from all countries of the world to sit down in this place.
Well this is only a glimpse, but it is a wonderful, wonderful glimpse of heaven, is it not? Is this not something that whets our appetite to be there? Is it not like seeing a photograph of some wonderful island in the South Seas and you would say, "What a place! Look at the sand. Look at the blue sea. Look at the blue sky. Look at the palm trees. I long to be there." Well, heaven is a million times better than the South Sea Islands, which are so attractive in the photographs you may have seen. Christ tells us this to whet our appetite so that you and I will desire to be there. That is why He is telling us this, to give us a desire and an appetite to be in heaven.
3. CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM SHALL BE CAST OUT
I have time to say one further thing, thirdly. Here, Jesus Christ becomes very serious, and begins to speak in a slightly different tone of voice. "But," ah, the word 'but' means there is a change of tone here. "But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (text). Our Lord is telling us this: My friends, not everybody will be in heaven. He says, "The children of the kingdom shall be cast out." I have to explain who the 'children of the kingdom' are. "The children of the kingdom" mean people who heard the Word of God in this life: who came to church; who had the Bible at home in their own language; who may have had a Christian father or mother or grandparent; who went to Sunday School, Sabbath School, Bible Classes and Catechism Classes. They were possibly baptised and they lived where the gospel was preached. They knew quite a bit about the Gospel. They heard it from time-to-time. These are "the children of the kingdom." But, Jesus says, many of the people who are like this will be cast out. You are entitled to ask me, "But why would God cast them out?" The answer is very simple, "Because they were not like this centurion. They didn't believe in Christ."
The thing which is being praised here is this centurion soldier's faith, isn't it? That's how we began. Do you remember how he said to Jesus, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only". That is all we need: Your word is enough. This is exactly what happened. Jesus said to the centurion, "Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour" (verse 13). This was a miracle. All Jesus needed to do was to say to this man at a distance, "Be healed!" and because Jesus is God, His power was such that this man was healed at a distance. Of course, Jesus could have come along to the house; He could have put His hands on the man; He could have put spittle into his ears, or any of these things which Jesus did on various occasions and for various reasons best known to Himself. We may not always understand, but on this occasion He did not do any of that, He simply spoke a word, "Be healed!" and He was healed. It was a miracle.
The thing that Jesus was praising here, is not that this centurion was a brawny soldier - that wasn't important; it wasn't that he had a brilliant intellect - that doesn't enter into it; it wasn't that he was born in a wonderful city like Rome or somewhere, and had all the prestige of a first class education - that doesn't come into the story in any way. The one thing this soldier had was FAITH! That is all you need. You need to believe in Christ for Who He is: the Son of God. The moment you believe, all your sins are forgiven. The moment you believe in Him, you become a child of God. But on the other hand, here is the meaning of verse twelve here: you can come to church, and hear the preacher, and have a Bible, and have a Christian father or mother, and all these other things; it is possible to have all of that and more and not to believe - and not to obey Christ's words. However, some of you will go on your way home again and say, "Oh, that was an interesting sermon about a centurion. I never heard about a centurion before. Great stuff. That fellow speaks so well." When you get home, you forget all about it. If that is all people do, you see, it's just so much waste of breath as far as you are concerned - you get no good. On the contrary, you get terrible judgement and that is what Jesus talks about.
WEEPING and GNASHING OF TEETH
If you don't believe the Gospel, even though you might have been 'a child of the kingdom' in the senses I've explained, look at the end of verse twelve. Terrible words. Jesus said, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth". Whereabouts will all that be done? He tells us in the middle of verse twelve: "They will be cast out into outer darkness." I don't like being in the dark, do you? I don't like pitch darkness. I have never been in the pitch dark really, I think, but only once, as far as I remember. I was a student for the ministry and a young man, many years ago when I was preaching in the island of Arran. I was staying with an old lady who was kind enough to give me full board. She was very kind to me. All the students stayed there and they preached next day.
It was a Saturday night and I travelled to Arran, had my supper, and went for a walk to get some fresh air. I said to the lady, "I'm just going out for five minutes to get some air." "Oh," she said, "you must have a torch." I said, "I'm used to walking in the dark." I had no idea what I was talking about. I had never been in the dark. In Inverness, for instance, it is never pitch dark; you have these lights all round the streets. In Arran, there were no such lights. It really was pitch dark; I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Being proud, I said to myself, having closed the door behind me, "I'll make the best of this", and I set forth until I heard the gravel under my feet and I heard the sound of running water from a brook or stream. I literally crawled back on hands and knees - glad to get back. I had never been in darkness until that hour. I don't like darkness.
Most of us don't like to be in the dark. My dear friends, if you don't believe the Gospel the end of your life will be in outer darkness. That means darkness for ever more, away from God. 'Outer' means miles away from God and angels and parents and loved ones; miles away in darkness, which never ends. That's what the Bible says. It means it. It is not a joke. What do people do in the darkness? He tells us. He says, "They weep," which means cry. They cry because they are utterly, utterly miserable. You see they are in hell. You understand it is hell: utterly, utterly miserable. Not only do they weep but they grind their teeth. They gnash their teeth. You do that when you are in terrific pain, you gnash your teeth. That is how they will be for ever, says Christ, in hell.
TAKE IT TO HEART
Why did the gentle, loving Jesus tell us this? Not to give us nightmares. That is not the purpose. He told you this, my dearly beloved, that you may take it to heart. That you may realise that you mustn't live without Christ; you mustn't live without God. You need to be truly converted to faith so that this will never happen to you. All you need is faith, like the centurion, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All you need is faith in God, faith in Christ. To believe that He is the Saviour Who shed His blood on the cross, for you and for me, and for the world. When you believe in Jesus Christ, you cross from death unto life, and from darkness into light. You become a child of the kingdom, not only in a general sense, but in that special sense of being heirs of the everlasting kingdom of glory and of heaven of which our Lord tells us, "That many shall come from the east and west," and enter there (text).
HAVE YOU THOUGHT
As we close, let me ask you, "Have you thought of your life in the light of these words? Are you going now to seek the Lord when you get home, and to pray to Him to give you this faith?" You can't produce it without His own help and without His own grace. Seek the Lord and He will give you blessing on earth. He will give you your heart's desire, and in heaven, you will sit down and everlastingly be at rest.
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