When I was a teen one of my favourite singers was folk singer Harry Chapin, you probably know that from my many references to different songs that I’ve used in messages through the years.
And one of my favourite Harry Chapin songs is a song called 30,000 pounds of bananas. And it based on an actual event that happened in Scranton PA in 1965 when truck driver Eugene Sesky lost control of his tractor trailer which was carrying, you guessed it 30,000 lbs of Bananas.
It is assumed that the brakes on his truck failed and by the time it reached the town its estimated speed was 140 kmh. Sesky flipped the truck in an attempt to keep anyone from being hurt and was killed in the accident.
It was a folk song.
But if you ever heard Chapin in concert he tells about how in writing the song he actually wrote four different endings to the song before he found the one that he recorded. And each of the different endings puts a different twist on the song.
If you have ever read Ernest Hemingway’s novel “Farewell to Arms” you might be surprised that he wrote 47 endings before he found the one he finally used to conclude the novel. In 2012 “Farewell to Arms” was republished with all 47 alternate endings.
If you’ve read the book then you might remember how the book ended, it told about the the death of Frederic Henry's lover, Catherine Barkley; "It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain."
One of the rejected endings was, “That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”
Completely different ending.
Maybe you remember this great ending to a classic movie. But that wasn’t the original ending, that showed Butch and Sundance dying in a hail of bullets and their bodies lying in the sun.
Back in the 80s and 90s there was a series of Children’s books called “Choose Your Own Adventure” Anyone ever read those? Even if you haven’t read them you know the basic concept. You come to a place in the story where you make a choice, if you turn left then you continue to read and get one ending or if you turn right then you skip to page 232 and get a completely different ending. It’s like the author couldn’t decide which way to go.
Some movies that come out on DVD come with different endings, you can see the good guys win or you can see the bad guys win.
Sometimes you read a book and it has one ending and then you see the movie and it has a completely different ending.
The ending of this book is kind of like that, you get to choose how the story ends. You come to a place where basically if you have committed your life to Jesus Christ your ending is found in Revelation chapter 21 verse 7 and if you’ve never committed your life to Jesus Christ then your ending is found in Revelation chapter 21 verse 8.
And the great thing is you get to choose the ending. Nobody else can choose for you, it’s your decision and yours alone.
And really we don’t get many decisions in our life where the choice is ours. When we are young our parents make our decisions for us and once we are married and have children decisions are made based not only on what’s in our best interest but also what’s in the best interest of our spouse and children. But here is a decision that you get to make all by your lonesome.
And in order to help you make that decision we are going to take a look at the two different endings to the story, so you can decide which direction you want to go, because that's important.
In the book Alice in Wonderland we read this encounter “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”
So as we come to the end of the story it would be wise to know where we are going because as Yogi Berra said “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else!”
So here we are at the end of the story. We began our summer series, “The Story of the Book” in July and over the past 11 weeks we’ve toured the Bible.
Through the period we looked at the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, The Books of Poetry and Wisdom, The Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. Over the past four weeks we’ve looked at The Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Letters of Paul and the General Letters. Which brings us to where we are today, the end of the Story.
And here we are at the end, the book of The Revelation, did you catch that there’s no S, it’s not many revelations, never has been, never will be it’s only one revelation.
Sometimes it’s called The Revelation of John, but actually it’s the Revelation of God to John. It says that in the first verse and so I guess that makes the Author God.
The human author or scribe is identified as John who wrote down the revelation and sent it to the seven churches in Asia.
The book was written around A.D. 90 to warn the 7 churches of Asia against falling away from their faith.
Although we don’t know exactly which John this was, tradition holds that it was John the Apostle who wrote this book while an exile on the Island of Patmos which is located in the Aegean Sea just off the coast of modern day Turkey .
And so that brings us to the end of the book, the part where you get to make a decision. Actually the decision is one that needs to be made now, the result of that decision will echo in eternity. So you ready? Here we go.
At the end of the story there are two destination, not one, not three but two. And every person who has ever lived, every person who is living now and every person who will live until the end of the story will wind up in one place or the other.
Now when I was at Bible College studying homiletics, which is how to preach, they taught us that if you were going to deal with a negative topic and a positive topic in the same sermon you ought to deal with the negative topic first. Which makes sense.
So we are going to start with Revelation 21:8 “. . .their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” The first thing we want to look at is 1) Where You Don’t Want to Go!
Today when we talk about the alternative to heaven we call it hell. Which is one of several different names used in the Bible to describe the final destination of the unrighteous.
The term Sheol in the Old Testament or Hades in the New Testament are used interchangeably and literally mean the place of “Departed Souls.” In some instances the term is used to simply mean the grave or death, and in other instances it refers to an actual place, what we call hell.
In the New Testament there is a word that is used by Jesus almost exclusively for hell and that is the Greek word Gehenna which is a form of the Hebrew phrase that means “The Valley of Hinnom” which was a valley Southwest of Jerusalem.
Now I know that’s not very nice to refer to a specific area as Hell. In 1981 I joined the Crew of a salvage tug in Miami and it had just come from Brownsville Texas and I asked one of the crew what Brownsville had been like, and they described it as being like Hell without your friends.
But you have to understand the history of Gehenna. It was in this valley that the Canaanites worshiped Baal and the god Molech, they did this by sacrificing their children in a fire that burned continuously. In the book of 2 Kings 23:10 we discover that King Josiah put an end to this worship and “defiled” the valley so it would be unfit for even pagan worship.
By the time of Jesus this area was used as the garbage dump for Jerusalem, into it was thrown all of the filth and garbage of the city, including the dead bodies of animals and the bodies of executed criminals.
To consume all of this, fires burned constantly. Everybody knew what it was like and when the wind blew from that direction, everybody in the city understood its awfulness. To the people Jesus spoke to there could be no worse fate then spending eternity in Gehenna.
And so Jesus said “do you want to know what hell is like? All you have to do is look at Gehenna. The garbage, dead bodies, the fire and the smell, now multiply that by eternity and that’s what the unrighteous have to look forward to”
And so hell could be described as God’s “Cosmic garbage dump.” Everything that is unfit for heaven is thrown there.
Sometimes because of the symbolic nature of the description of hell people question whether it will consist of actual fire.
Don’t deceive yourself, the reality will be worse than any description that a person could conjure up, and it will last forever, and ever and ever. It’s worse than can be described and longer then can be imagined.
But who is this particular verse talking about? It has to be speaking of somebody because it says: their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Whose fate? Well eight specific groups are listed; this is not meant to be an exhaustive group but an illustrative group.
Cowards, The idea being conveyed here is not someone who expresses fear but someone who at one time or another professed to be a Christian but turned away from their faith because of some type of persecution.
It might have been physical as in the case of the early church where believers were afforded the opportunity to deny Christ in order to save their lives.
And while some took that opportunity a great many others were willing to surrender their lives instead of denying Christ.
Jim Elliot was a missionary to Ecuador who was killed by members of the tribe he had gone to minister to, it was Elliot who said “A man is no fool who loses that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
The martyrs understood that they would die anyway eventually.
On a more subtle level, people have denied their relationship with Christ in order to gain friends, a spouse or an economic advantage in life.
Those are the people that Jesus is referring to here. There are some who would say “then those people didn’t have a real relationship with Christ to start with.” Ok, that’s fine but the end result is the same.
2) Unbelievers This is the group who rejected the claims of Christ. They didn’t have the confidence in the salvation that Christ had to offer. And so they simply refused it.
Perhaps they sought the road to heaven in some other means, followed another god or another creed or trusted in their own goodness. For some it was simply that they refused to believe anything, that there was a heaven or a hell or a God they were unbelievers.
3) The corrupt This is an all inclusive term which take into account all types of immorality. It’s translated by some as the vile, or the abominable. And it means those who are religiously and morally filthy.
4) Murderers Pretty simple here, the takers of life. I take a very strong pro-life stand, although I probably don’t talk about it as much as I should these days.
But I would suspect that those who kill the most defenceless members of our society, the unborn would fit into this category as well.
One commentator says “These are not only those who have actually taken the life of another in an intentional, evil way, but also those who have hatred in their hearts which motivates murder.”
And he references that back to 1 John 3:15 Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.
5) The immoral. The reference here is to sexual immorality. And I know that when I speak of the sexually immoral everyone has a mental picture of someone. But this statement encompasses the full range of sexuality practiced outside of heterosexual marriage.
Sorry, I know there are some out there who are saying “Yeah But?” no “yeah buts”. The bible is very clear that God created sex, it’s a gift and for our own protection it is a gift that is only to be enjoyed inside the institution of marriage.
And there are those who are saying “What do mean for my own protection?” Unwanted pregnancies, aids, sexually transmitted diseases, emotional hurts, need I go on?
6) Those who practice witchcraft Again let’s not narrow this down to one activity. And in our minds we see the witches in their black capes and pointy hats gathered round a caldron chanting Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble. But this encompasses the whole range of the occult and the supernatural, including by not limited to witchcraft, divination (that’s talking to the dead), astrology and the psychics hotline.
7) Idol worshipers If you worship something other then God, you are an idol worshipper. Doesn’t have to be a little stone shrine that you bow down to, it could be your career, your hobby, your children, money etc. Anything that takes God out of first place in your life is an idol.
8) All liars If you’ve hung around me enough then at one time or another you’ve heard me ask the question “You know where liars go?” and then answer it with “Ottawa”.
Here is the reality folks. Liars go to hell. A liar is any person who does anything to deceive. They might pervert the truth or simply manipulate it, they might convey a wrong idea by speaking or by remaining silent but they are not honest people. They may lie by word or by deed.
And never forget that half a truth is a whole lie.
A transition is in order at this part of the message and so I will tell one of my favourite stories which I have told numerous times. The story is told that when Calvin Coolidge was Vice-President of the United States he was chairing a congressional meeting that was becoming very heated. During the meeting one Congressman stood up and told another, “Sir you can go straight to hell”. Well the victim was understandably upset and looked to the Vice President for support and saw that he was reading a book.
“Mr. Coolidge” cried the victim “Did you hear what he told me to do?” “Yes” replied the Vice-President, “But I checked the rule book and you don’t have to go.” Well friends I have checked the rule book and you don’t have to go.
And maybe you have Obeen checking things off the list and figure that you have already made your choice and there is no hope. Listen to what the bible says in Hebrews 10:22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
You see verse 8 is only half the story, if we go back to verse 7 we read Revelation 21:7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. Which brings us to
2) Where You want to Go! So who goes there? Vs. 7 said all who are victorious, but what does that mean? The who are defined in John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”And then in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
And the blessings are defined in verses 1, 3 & 4 of Revelation 21. The first one is a little abstract because it says And the sea was also gone. Now for someone like me who loves the ocean, this doesn’t necessarily sound good.
However if we allow ourselves to see the ocean from the perspective of the original readers of this book we begin to understand. 2000 years ago the sea was an uninviting and hostile environment.
Without a compass the only safe way to go to sea was to stay within sight of land, and so when the Revelation was written this was a poetic way to say that confusion, turmoil and danger would be no more.
The blessings get clearer as we go along. In verse three we discover God’s home is now among his people! If hell is the absence of all that is good and all that is pure, then heaven is the presence of all that is good and all that is pure. For it is in heaven that we come into the presence of the almighty God, the creator of the universe.
We will be restored to what we were created for and that is to have fellowship with God. We will be in his presence and in the presence of all that is good.
In the next chapter we are told the result of this will be that there will be no more night or darkness because of the presence of God. And listen to what will be missing in heaven.
There will be no more death. Never again will the old enemy death crouch next our bed or the bedside of a loved one. I am a firm believer in heaven, I think it’s a wonderful place, and I truly believe with all my heart that heaven is better than earth.
But I still weep at the funerals of believers, not because they are in heaven but because they had to die to get there, and I’m truly believe that while most Christians don’t fear death that we do fear dying.
I spoke about this last week and how most of us would agree with Woody Allen who said “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
It’s the fear of the unknown, of not knowing how we will die, not knowing if it will be peaceful or painful.
It’s not wanting to be separated from our loved ones, even for a little while. The Bible calls death the enemy, and it is the enemy but it is a defeated enemy because while we may die physically we will never die spiritually.
There will be no more sorrow. When I think about not having any sorrows I think about not having any regrets. No regrets, no what ifs, or if only.
I am the world’s worst second guesser. Take me to a restaurant and after I order the nachos I say darn I should have had the fajitas. Let me buy anything and after I get it I think I wonder if I should have shopped around a little more? And the worst part is that I’m not smart enough to stop looking.
If I buy a car, the next week I’ll be looking at car ads, shoot if I had of waited a week I could have got a better deal. I wonder what would have happened if I had of. . . When I get to heaven there will be no more regrets and with no more regrets there will be no more sorrows.
We won’t think about missed opportunities because there won’t be any missed opportunities, we won’t dwell on dumb mistakes because there will be no dumb mistakes.. There will be no more sorrows.
There will be no more pain. Think about the pain that we go through in our life, from birth to death. Physical pain, emotional pain, pain caused by sickness, old age and accidents.
What’s hurting right now? Your knees, your back, maybe you have a headache or a toothache. Maybe you can’t pinpoint it exactly you just know you hurt and you’ve hurt for a long time.
There’s great news folks, if you are a Christian, when you get to heaven there will be no more pain. None, zip, zero, nada, no pain. Sometimes I marvel that we are so eager to hang onto a existence of pain.
And we can talk about what heaven will have, the streets of gold, the gates of pearls, the walls of precious stone, but I’m looking forward to what it doesn’t have. No death, no pain, no sorrow.
Some of you are thinking “Denn you spent more time on Hell then you did on Heaven”, yeah, well so did Jesus.
You understand that the Bible exhausts human language in describing heaven and hell but here is the reality, heaven is more glorious, and hell is more terrible, than language can ever express.
And this we discover at the end of the story, everybody here will end up in either heaven or hell and it will be decided by only one person and that person is you.
So let me leave you with the words of my favorite philosopher, because it was Yogi Berra who said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
You are at that fork right now, which path will you follow, which destination do you want to arrive at? We’ve told you before the promise of the Bible is this, confess your sin, ask for forgiveness and you will live forever with your Creator and Saviour.