Today I have the privilege of preaching, and preaching to many who do not yet know God. These words from Philip Ryken (drawn from his excellent commentary on Luke) have added urgency and motivation. Here he explains Luke 13:22-30, where Jesus explains that many will seek to enter and will not be able.
What terrible suffering there will be for everyone who gets shut out from God’s kingdom. To make sure we know what is at stake, Jesus speaks with perfect clarity: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourself cast out” (Luke 13:28). Jesus was speaking plainly about the pains of hell.
Hell will be a place of anguish and affliction. It will be a place of remorse, as people cry bitter tears of grief for all that they have lost. It will be a place of rage, as they gnash their teeth in angry defiance of God. It will be a place of regret, as people mourn the folly of their unbelief. Apparently they will have some awareness of what they are missing. Jesus describes them standing outside his kingdom and looking in to see the prophets and patriarchs. They watch the guests arrive to feast in the house of God.
How galling it will be for them to know that they themselves were once on the guest list, but that they declined the free invitation of Jesus Christ. They had once been close to eternal life, yet now they will end up so far away from God! “To have been so near to Christ on earth,” writes David Gooding, “without receiving him and without coming to know him personally, and therefore to be shut out for ever from the glorious company of the saints, while others from distant times and cultures have found the way in—who shall measure the disappointment and frustration of it?”
As much as anything else, hell will be a place of lost opportunity. This conversation started with a question about how many people would be saved. Rather than talking about numbers, Jesus confronted the crowd with their own need to find the one narrow door to salvation. What he especially emphasized was the need to find that door before it is too late. People wanted to know how many (how many people would get in), but Jesus wanted them to think about how soon (how soon the door would close for all eternity).
Time is running out. There is a time limit on the free offer of salvation.