If you were looking for an ideal place and time to reintroduce the idea that hell doesn’t exist and that the early Christian church got it all wrong – today in America would be absolutely perfect.
Pastor Rob Bell, a “seekers” mega-church pastor has done so (“Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”). Bell doesn’t argue – at least not yet – whether Jesus came to die for the sins of the world. He just thinks that Jesus’ death saved everybody from hell – whether they’re Hitler or Gandhi.
The secular world has long focused on heaven and hell as being the good and bad places you go after you die, depending on how you lived your life. The idea is that God throws all your “works” on the balance, and it tips in one direction or the other. Thus Jesus becomes completely unnecessary.
The only problem with that view is that God gave his standards to the Jews a long time ago. It’s called the Ten Commandments. As God told Moses: Ten simple rules. Just keep all of them for your entire life and we’re buddies!
Unfortunately, the list proved more difficult than at first thought. And given God’s standard of perfection – all ten, all the time – well, if you busted one, why not just go for it?
God understood this, and a religious class developed to facilitate sacrifices from the less-than-perfect, so they could give it another go. Which they did. Over and over again. For a long, long time.
The situation became somewhat like an eighth-grade dance: God in his perfection on one side of the room, and all of humanity in their many varieties of imperfection on the other. The system just wasn’t working, and nobody was having any fun.
That’s pretty much the world Jesus came into – and turned upside down. The professional religious class, which had developed books and books of rules over the years and argued about all of them among themselves, were suddenly united: This guy has to go!
The problem was, the crowds of ordinary people Jesus preached to had grown rather fond of being healed of their infirmities, forgiven their sins and seeing the dead raised in front of them. And since the religious class could do none of these things, Jesus’ continued existence became a real threat to their prosperity and position in life.
It didn’t help Jesus’ networking efforts that he humiliated the religious elites with his questions about their rules – while they were still naive enough to enter into those debates with him.
So they killed him.
Depending on how you’ve sifted out the truth and lies of this world, the story ends there. Or it continues on, because the hundreds of people who saw Jesus alive that first Easter told us the truth and accurately recorded what they saw and heard.
In one sense, Rob Bell is right: Jesus did die for every human being who has ever lived, or who ever will live. That’s the offer: If you can’t live a perfect life, don’t worry about it. Trust that I did, and that God is good with that. Then let’s get to know each other.
Have you ever made an offer to buy a house? Until the other party accepts your offer – it’s just that. An offer. If the seller doesn’t accept your offer, don’t plan on moving in next month, because it ain’t gonna happen! And don’t bother taking out a loan and paying off the mortgage – because you’re never going to live there.
There are a lot of Bible verses that could be cited to show that salvation is an offer awaiting an acceptance before it activates. The verse I’m going to cite probably isn’t among them. I like it because of its human honesty. Click and scroll down to verse 36, in the seventh chapter of Luke.
Simon, sitting across the dinner table, and the prostitute at Jesus’ feet both knew who Jesus was. The difference was, Simon was weighing whether Jesus was really better than he. The woman crying at Jesus’ feet had no illusions about her life. She wanted what Jesus had to offer.
Ultimately, heaven will be filled with those of us – who like the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet over her life – have no illusions about just who we are. The Simons will be very rare.