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THERE IS A WIDE CHASM BETWEEN THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND THOSE WHO DONíT

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT

THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
American Baptist - United Methodist

21 JULY 1996

BY: Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Isaiah 1:21-31
Matthew 5:9
Luke 16:22-26
Romans 6:23
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10

If I were to say to most people, even perhaps to most of you, that there is a wide chasm between those who believe and those who donít, they would respond that they donít see it, or donít understand what I am speaking about.

The reason for this is because believers and non-believers speak to each other every day, shake each otherís hands, and associate with each other in many aspects of everyday life.

And they are correct, for their vision is limited to this world, and not the spiritual world beyond.

Let me give you an example.  In just a few seconds we can communicate with someone in Europe, but to meet them personally could take us a whole day.

But even with this example, we are still able to cross the gulf that separates us.

The spiritual chasm between believers and non-believers cannot be crossed in this manner.

Though in this lifetime believers can and do cross over to the heavenly side, they never really travel back and forth, as one can cross the Atlantic.

In essence, they become citizens of the new "kingdom."

Do you remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man?

Listen to what Jesus tells us happened after they died (Luke 16:22-26):

22. "Now it came about that [Lazarus] the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abrahamís bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.

23. "And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24. "And he cried out and said, ĎFather Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.í

25. "But Abraham said, ĎChild, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.

26. ĎAnd besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.í

During their physical lifetime, the rich man and Lazarus saw each other often, perhaps even every day, and yet the chasm was already there to separate them.

Lazarus believed in God; and in death, he was carried into the presence of other believers.

The rich man most likely knew much about God.

He even may have gone regularly to the Temple or to a synagogue, as was the Jewish custom; but he never came to truly believe.

His heart was still hard.

He had little or no sense of love and compassion; thus, he ended up in hell.

And God has fixed this chasm in such a way, that after death, no one can cross it.

God knows that those in heaven would be filled with compassion and would want to help those in hell, and in the process bring sin into heaven.

Likewise, He knows that those in hell want to escape their punishment; and that out of compassion the believers might let them into heaven, thus contaminating it, just as the earth is contaminated now.

The nation of Israel was to be set aside as an earthly example of heavenly existence, that the other peoples of the earth might come to believe in the Lord and serve Him.

But Israel contaminated herself with the ways of the world.

Listen to what Isaiah the prophet says about what she had done to herself, beginning at Isaiah 1:21:

21.  How the faithful city has become a harlot,

She who was full of justice!

Righteousness once lodged in her,

But now murderers.

In other words, Jerusalem sold herself for what the world had to offer.

She so much wanted what the world had to offer, that she became like the world; and no one could tell the difference between the Jews and the Gentiles.

And because they killed many animals for sacrifices without any sense of true repentance, the Lord refers to them as murderers.

22.  Your silver has become dross,

Your drink diluted with water.

23.  Your rulers are rebels,

And companions of thieves;

Everyone loves a bribe,

And chases after rewards.

They do not defend the orphan,

Nor does the widowís plea come before them.

It sounds like Isaiah looked 2,700 years into the future, and spoke about our society today, as well as the one of his own time.

24.  Therefore the Lord God of hosts,

The Mighty One of Israel declares,

"Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries,

And avenge Myself on My foes.

25.  "I will also turn My hand against you,

And will smelt away your dross as with lye,

And will remove all your alloy.

God will severely judge those who know the truth and deliberately turn away from it.

God will judge those who knowingly contaminate His holy city and His sanctuary with the ways and things of the world.

God will judge them severely, that the true believers might be justified for holding firm.

26.  "Then I will restore your judges as at the first,

And your counselors as at the beginning;

After that you will be called the city of righteousness,

A faithful city."

This is after the evil people are removed.

And just to remind us of what the real difference is between the true believers and those who simply claim to believe, Isaiah tells us:

27.  Zion will be redeemed with justice,

And her repentant ones with righteousness.

Itís not that there are people who donít sin, for we all sin; itís that those who are truly sorry for their sins, and seek the Lordís forgiveness and the strength to not sin again, are the only ones who truly believe, for they act out their belief.

Remember that Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, called the people murderers for killing innocent animals, because they were unrepentant.

Here He is saying that the repentant ones will be filled with righteousness.

Since a righteousness person has no need to sacrifice, there would be no need kill an innocent animal.

In Romans 6:23, we are told that "the wages of sin is death,..."  This is true not only for the person, but also for the innocent animals they kill.

The desire to kill any living being should no longer be present in a truly righteous person.

Isaiah continues:

28.  But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together,

And those who forsake the Lord shall come to an end.

29.  Surely, you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired,

And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen.

30.  For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away,

Or as a garden that has no water.

31.  And the strong man will become tinder,

His work also a spark.

Thus they shall both burn together,

And there will be none to quench them.

This is what the rich man experienced, not because he was rich, but because he was unrepentant.

Listen to how Paul explains this to the Thessalonians, in his second epistle, beginning at 1:6:

6. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,

7. and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,

8. dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

9. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

10. when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed--for our testimony to you was believed.

Thus God separates the believers from those who donít really believe.

And remember, we arenít talking about peoples and nations who donít believe or even claim to believe; we are talking about those of the believing communities: the Israelite and the Christian communities.

We are talking about those who know the truth but refuse to accept it.

We are talking about those who refuse to cross the chasm to the heavenly kingdom in this lifetime, because they donít want to give up what they have here.

We are talking about people just like those in our own communities, the vast majority of whom are going to hell.

I donít want this to happen, but I seem powerless to stop it.

I do my best to speak the truth, but few really listen.

And do you want to know something?

I believe that Isaiah and Paul, and even Jesus, felt this same frustration.

Why do people wait until itís too late?

All I can say is, donít you be one of them, for you wonít like what is on the wrong side of the chasm.

The world has nothing to offer us that isn't better in the heavenly realm; thus, we should always seek that which is greater and more loving and compassionate.

We should always seek to be the peacemaking children of God that He desires us to be (Matthew 5:9).

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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