Sign Over Hell: Smile, God Loves You
November 5th, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
11-5-86 7:30 p.m.
On radio and on television, this is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message, one of the most unusual I have ever thought for in my life. It is entitled Sign over Hell: Smile, God Loves You. What a title! What a subject! But it is most pertinent, as you are going to see.
Let all of us turn to 2 Thessalonians. And we are going to read out loud together verses 7 through 10; 2 Thessalonians, about two-thirds of the way through your New Testament; 2 Thessalonians, the epistle of Paul to the church at Thessalonica, chapter 1, reading verses 7 through 10. Do we have it? Then let’s all read it out loud together; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. You want to stand up and read it? All right. All right. We will stand up in honor of God’s Word and read it out loud; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, together:
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power;
When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all of them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
[2 Thessalonians 1:7-10]
Thank you, and we may be seated. And to repeat the substance of the passage: "The Lord shall be revealed from heaven, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all of them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." This message arises out of a cartoon that I saw. In the picture, there is the thunder of a storm and the lightning flashes, falling from the heavens. The sky is lowering and the clouds are dark. The earth is covered with water. And on the bosom of the deep, there is floating the ark of Noah.
As you remember in the Bible, God shut the door. God placed those eight people who were saved, Noah and his wife, their three boys and their wives – when they were inside the ark, God shut the door [Genesis 7:13-16]. And when the waters fell out of the skies, and the fountains of the deep were broken up, the ark floated on the bosom of the waters [Genesis 7:18-19]. And in this cartoon, the people were raising their hands, reaching toward the ark in that awful day of damnation and destruction. And on either side of the door of the ark, there was a large medallion. And it read "Smile, God loves you." The incongruity of that scene: the judgment of God and the destruction of all living in the world, and the rains falling from heaven and the thunder and the lightning reverberating through the skies, and those medallions on either side: "Smile, God loves you." What’s wrong with that picture? There is something basically wrong with it. What is it? It is apparent. It is a denial of the judgment of Almighty God.
Now, that is the preaching of this modern world. You hear it from practically every television evangelist. You hear it on the radio constantly. And you read it in all modern Christian literature. The God of judgment, of retribution, of damnation is read out of the modern pulpit. And instead of the true revelation of the Lord that we find in the Bible, there is substituted a God who, then you arrogate to Him all of the things that belong to success, and strength and health, and riches, and fame, just a God of the present, of the moment, and He, one who is at your command, if you want to be rich; it’s the gospel heard everywhere.
The true God of the revelation, the true God of the Bible, and the true God that exists moves in another world. You wouldn’t recognize the true God of the Bible, of the revelation of the Holy Scriptures, if you listen to these men who speak constantly about how to be rich, how to be famous, how to have all of the wonderful worldly blessings of life. Just listen to them.
The true God of revelation moves in an altogether different world. Revelation, Psalms 7:11: ", God is angry with the wicked every day." The Gospel of Romans begins in Romans 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all. . . unrighteousness of men."
I’ll not take time to read the terror – literally, the terror of the opening of the sixth seal in the Book of the Revelation, chapter 6. The heavens are parted like a scroll; and every mountain and island is moved out of its place [Revelation 6:14]. And the great of the earth hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains. And they cry, saying to the mountains and the rocks: "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" [Revelation 6:15-17].
Isn’t that the most unusual collocation of images you ever could think for: "The wrath of the Lamb?" [Revelation 6:16]. Or, take again in the Revelation, chapter 20: the earth closes and the new heaven begins with this:
I saw a great white throne, and Him th
at sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. . .
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened,and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books. . .
The sea gave up the dead in them; death and hell delivered up the dead in them: they were judged everyone according to their works.
And Death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
That’s God! That’s the Book! That’s the Revelation of the great Lord Jehovah who presides over this earth. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a fearful revelation:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
But a fearful looking of judgment and fiery indignation, that shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised by Moses’ law was stoned without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought being guilty, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith He was sanctified an unholy thing, and done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
That is the revelation of the Holy Scriptures. God looks upon this world in His holiness, and He will not tolerate sin and rebellion. In Genesis 7:22, speaking of the Flood, I quote: "All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all who was in the dry land, died." The whole living world died in that judgment.
In 2 Peter 2:4: "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell" – the Greek word is tartaros – "and delivered them in the chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." On Passover night, God passed through the land of Egypt and slew every firstborn child of every family, from the ruling Pharaoh on the throne to the lowest servant, all who were not under the blood. Every firstborn died [Exodus 2:23, 29-30]. He trapped and drowned the whole army of Pharaoh in the middle of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:26-28].
To show His judgment upon homosexuality, sodomy, he destroyed two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, with fire and brimstone, burning alive every soul in them [Genesis 19:24-25]. In Acts 5:1-10, God showed his strong hatred for lying hypocrisy by striking dead a man and his wife, Ananias and Sapphira, in the middle of a church meeting. That’s God.
The revealed God of the Bible enters into every area of our lives in blessing or in judgment, one or the other – always one or the other. In 2 Samuel 16:1-13, Shimei, who belonged to the family of Saul – when Absalom rebelled and David was driven from the throne and from Jerusalem, as David left, Shimei followed by his side, cursing him. And the soldiers of David said: "Let us go and take off his head." And David replied: "So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, ‘Curse David’" [2 Samuel 16:9-10].
In Deuteronomy 27:6-26, and repeated in Joshua 8:30-35, there were two mountains in the center of Israel. One was Mount Gerizim and the other was Mount Ebal. Mount Gerizim was the mount of blessing. And Mount Ebal was the mount of cursing [Deuteronomy 27:12-13]. Remember, at the foot of Mount Ebal was the well of Jacob. You remember: right next to it was the city of Shechem. According to the law of God, on the day that they gathered in convocation before the Lord, on this mountain, Mount Gerizim, they spoke the blessings of God in obedience. And on this mountain, Mount Ebal, they spoke the curses of God upon disobedience.
And the cry of Moses in the fifth chapter in the Book of Deuteronomy – remember, that’s the book that contains the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. That’s the chapter – chapter 19 in Exodus, chapter 5 in Deuteronomy [Deuteronomy 5:7-21]; Deuteronomy 5:29 is the cry of Moses. Listen to it: "O that there was such – O that there could be such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" That is the revelation of the Lord God. He is for us in blessing when we obey Him [Deuteronomy 28:1-14]. The darkening judgment of terror rises against us when we disobey Him [Deuteronomy 28:15-68]. That is the God of the Bible.
Now, lest we think that is such an unusual portrayal of the character of God Almighty that there would be that side to the Lord that judges us, that damns us, that terrifies us, that calls us to accounting; the reflection of the Lord God in His character is seen in every facet of our life and our living. Now, I want you to look at it with your mind and your heart. There is another side of blessing and goodness. There is another side to it. And that side is always darkness and damnation. Wherever you’ll find one, you’ll also find the other.
We’ll start. When we think of the precious beauty of sexual intimacy, there is no experience in human life comparable to it. There is no ecstatic height of feeling that is possible to the human animal like the intimacy of sexual copulation; nothing. God did that. God made an Eve for Adam. God did that [Genesis 2:21-25]. And in the same breath that I name the beauty, the purity, the happiness, the ecstasy, the unspeakable joy of that sexual copulation, in the same breath, I name venereal disease, and gonorrhea, and syphilis, and AIDS. It is the other side of the beauty of a creation of God. And they’re both together.
Let’s take another. The strength of family life is one of the most marvelous gifts from God in heaven. A beautiful family: the man, his wife, and their children. It is glorious. But there is another side that is tragic beyond compare: the hurt of divorce, especially upon children. And I read an article today that the time is vast approaching when most of the children of America are going to be brought up in a single-parent home.
Let’s take again the great financial institutions of our country; our banks. In the same breath, there are penitentiaries, institutions for those who embezzle and are guilty of fraud and violence.
Take sports: nothing has captured the interest and excitement of our American people who watch television and go to these games like these physical contests, sports. In sports, you have difficulty. You have to watch them lest they sell out for money and throw the game or gamble on it or destroy themselves in some unthinkable bestial way.
Or take again, medicine. How wonderful medicine when you are sick – medicine. But what could be worse or darker or more damnable than drug abuse? The one medicine that is vital to all other medicines is alcohol. It is the medium, the solution, in which so many of the drugs are carried to us in our felicitous way; bodies. But alcohol – what a curse! What a damnation, the other side of it! Business; you have the Mafia.
Teaching children to be kind and gracious and friendly, but at the same time you have a dark damnable side of it. You must teach the child to avoid strangers with gifts of candy lest the child be allured into a tragic confrontation. I’m just illustrating, that’s all.
What you find in the character of God you find in every other relationship of life. God is holy and pure and good. God is also a God of judgment and of visitation and of damnation – both. And you find those two in every area and every facet of human life. What is good and precious and dear and coveted always has another side to it: darkness, terror, cursing, damnation.
Now, the gospel message of our Lord Jesus Christ. God in heaven looks down upon us in this world; children of death, for all sin and come short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23], awaiting a final assize and a final judgment. God looks down from heaven upon us. And He sees us, made of the dust of the ground, sinners now, fallen and awaiting the great day of the Lord. What kind of a God is He also? Here, in the gracious goodness and love of our blessed Father, He identifies Himself with us. He becomes one among us [John 1:14]. And all of the hurts and sorrows and fears and agony and suffering that we know in life, He also experienced [Hebrews 4:15], and finally, died [Matthew 27:50].
There is no one of us who ever cries and He did not cry. No one of us was ever tempted, and He was not tempted. No one of us ever suffered and He did not suffer. No one of us who ever agonized and He did not agonize. And no one of us ever dies that He did not die. That is the great Lord God of heaven, who looks down upon our lost condition and our dying frame and our ultimate judgment. And He came down and He named Himself after us and lived our lives and suffered our hurts. That’s the God of heaven. And that’s the Lord who bids us come to Him for strength and grace and salvation and friendship and help [Hebrews 4:16].
Now, may I show it, if I can? In the war over there in the Orient, there was a Christian American correspondent of an American newspaper who made the friendship of a Chinese correspondent in a newspaper published in China. And the two men – the American war correspondent and the Chinese war correspondent – they talked at great length about their religion.
The Chinese war correspondent was a devout Buddhist. And he would go to the Buddhist temple and he would bow down before Gautama, the Buddha, smiling, always smiling – fat, affluent, happy. And when the American war correspondent went to church, it was one that had a cross. And he bowed down before the Christ of the cross, suffering, dying.
And the Chinese war correspondent said to his American counterpart, "I like my religion so much better than yours. You see my god – how he smiles? And you see how he’s affluent? And you see how he’s happy? But your God, He is dying. He is suffering. And blood pours out of His hands and His feet and His side. I like my God so much better than yours." And the American war correspondent didn’t know how to answer. It was certainly true. You go to the Buddhist temple, and there the god is smiling and happy. You go to the Christian church, and there is Jesus the Christ, crucified on a cross. And he didn’t know how to answer.
Upon a day, the American war correspondent was being pulled through the streets of Shanghai by a coolie in a rickshaw. And just suddenly, the coolie who was pulling – who was pulling the rickshaw through the streets of the city with the war correspondent in the carriage – the coolie collapsed there in the street. And the American war correspondent got out of the rickshaw and went around and looked at him, prostrate there on the ground, on the street. Being much acquainted with suffering, and hurt, and war, he immediately saw what was the matter. The man was prostrate of starvation and exposure and was dying. When he looked at the man and saw what was the tragedy, he turned to find help, that the man might be taken to a hospital or some dispensary where he might be helped.
So he called for this Chinese who was passing by. And when the Chinese stopped to see what he wanted, he walked right by. He called for these here, called for those there. Nobody was interested. Why would you stop for a poor, suffering, dying Chinese coolie? Life is cheap in China. And the American war correspondent picked up that Chinese coolie in his arms and held him in his arms. And he had his answer.
You tell me, you say, you pronounce the judgment. Where would you have taken him? Before a little fat, rotund god with his hands folded over his protruding belly, smiling, smiling, smiling? Or, would you have taken him to the cross of Christ and laid him down at the feet of Jesus, who knows all about poverty, and suffering, and tears, and hurt, and death? God is a God of righteousness, and holiness, and everlasting life. But God also is one of us, who identifies Himself with us, who suffered and cried and died, just as we shall, and do, that we might find grace, and mercy, and help, and forgiveness in our day and time of grief [Hebrews 4:16]. Oh, what a wonderful gospel we have! And what a precious Redeemer we have! And what a wonderful friend and fellow pilgrim is our blessed Lord Jesus!
Brother Denny, we are going to sing us a song. And while we sing it, somebody you, give himself to the Lord Jesus; a family you, putting your life with us in this dear church; a couple you, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand." Make the decision now in your heart, and while we sing this invitation appeal, come. And a thousand times, welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
SIGN OVER HELL: SMILE, GOD LOVES YOU
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
A. Cartoon – Noah’s ark, people drowning, sign that says "Smileâ€¦"
B. Modern preaching leaves out judgment, hell
II. The true God of revelation
A. His anger, wrath(Psalm 7:11, Romans 1:18, Revelation 6:12-17, 20:11-15, Hebrews 10:26-31)
B. God is holy, and will not tolerate sin, rebellion(Genesis 7:22, 2 Peter 2:4)
1. Passover night He slew every firstborn not under the blood
2. He trapped and drowned the whole army of Pharaoh
3. Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah
4. For lying hypocrisy, struck dead a man and his wife(Acts 5:1-10)
C. The revealed God of the Bible enters into every area of our lives, in blessing or in judgment(2 Samuel 16:1-13, Deuteronomy 5:29, 27:6-26, Joshua 8:30-35)
III. Where you find blessing and goodness, you also find darkness and damnation
A. Beauty of sexual intimacy – venereal disease, AIDS
B. Family life – the hurt of divorce
C. Financial institutions – prisons for those guilty of fraud, embezzlement
D. Sports – gambling
E. Use of alcohol in medicine – alcoholism
F. Business – mafia
G. Teaching children to be gracious, friendly – avoid strangers with gifts
IV. The God who sympathizes, suffers, cares
A. In His gracious goodness and love, He identifies Himself with us
B. Christian American correspondent in China