Years after becoming a Christian, C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled, "Surprised by Joy." If someone traveling through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta this past Sunday wrote a book about their experience, it could be called, "Surprised by Darkness."
No one that day expected to be sitting in a dark airport for 11 hours due to a power outage. One traveler lamented, "Inside the terminal there were thousands of people, and children crying. The air conditioning wasn't working and it was very hot inside."
Now imagine going back in time to this past Sunday and selecting between two options. You could either sit in the dark Atlanta airport, or instead, attend the Jingle Rock Run in Honolulu, Hawaii, while spending the rest of the day at the beach. The decision would be a no-brainer, right? After all, it was a beautiful day for the 4th Annual Jingle Rock Run, with all proceeds benefiting Make-a-Wish Hawaii.
But now fast forward to the end of your life, and imagine choosing between landing in heaven, or landing in hell? A pretty easy decision, right? I wonder then why so many people pay such little attention to what Jesus said about the only two eternal destinations available to man.
Jesus told the parable of the wedding banquet in which a king said to his servants, "Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find." (Matthew 22:9) The parable ends with a man who attempted to attend the banquet without "wedding clothes," and "the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 22:13)
What a horrible surprise for everyone who is thrown into the darkness! And what a stark contrast between enjoying the wedding banquet, as compared to suffering eternal agony.
There certainly is no weeping or pain in heaven, but one must be clothed in Christ in order to attend the eternal party God is throwing in paradise. The "wedding clothes" point to a robe of righteousness that gets placed on every believer. (Romans 3:22) You are covered in God's grace and forgiveness the moment you repent of your sin and believe in Jesus as your Savior. Without these "wedding clothes," a person cannot get into heaven.
The events from this past Sunday are now behind us. Meanwhile, people in heaven and hell are still in those places. In fact, they will never leave. But everyone who is alive today still has the opportunity to put on the appropriate "wedding clothes" in order to get into heaven when they die rather than being sent to hell.
I am guessing you might say, "But very few people actually go to hell." While that sentiment is typical of how we all tend to perceive eternity, it actually contradicts the words of Christ.
Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13,14)
In other words, when it comes to eternity, it sure sounds like the number of people landing at "Hartsfield" will be greater than the number of those arriving in "Honolulu." And while that outcome certainly goes against our natural assumptions, it lines up perfectly with what the Lord said about these two extreme destinations.
By the way, this would be a perfect time for you to spend a few minutes contemplating the literal words of Christ regarding the wide road and the narrow road.
Those who found themselves at Hartsfield on Sunday were stuck there for a relatively short period of time. Meanwhile, those who go to hell are stuck there forever. The lights never come back on and the pain never ends. And lost souls are locked away in a prison that is far worse than we can even imagine.
This is why the message of the cross is so critical for everyone today. You see, it's what we do with Jesus while we are here on earth that determines where we will spend eternity. "How do you know this is true?" you may ask. I know it is true because Jesus said so, and He always tells the truth, even when it goes against man's natural way of looking at things.
Jesus tell us the way things are, rather than the way we might hope they would be. In addition to being a realist, Christ is also the Creator of the world. "By Him all things were created." (Colossians 1:16) And that means the Lord created not only heaven and earth, but also hell.
Jesus revealed the original purpose for hell when He said, "Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. 25:41)
In other words, God created hell for the devil and his demons. The only reason man goes there is because he has followed in the rebellious footsteps of the devil by his sin and by rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ in his life. Sin lands people in hell, whereas the blood of Jesus cleanses the soul and covers people for heaven as they trust the Savior to wash away their sins.
Thankfully, "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) And yet, there is something God desires even more than having everyone go to heaven. He wants people to take Him at His Word. And if you refuse to take God at His Word and refuse to "repent and believe the good news," (Mark 1:15) the end result of rejecting Christ is that the Lord will reject you and send you away from His presence forever.
No wonder Scripture declares: "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:6) And if you think about it, why would God want anyone in heaven who is unwilling to please Him?
When describing heaven in the book of Revelation, John wrote, "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp." (Rev. 21:23) Meanwhile, demons and unbelievers will be in a very dark place. Jude wrote, "And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home - these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day." (Jude 6) What a surprise it must have been for those fallen angels when they were cast into utter darkness!
Light or darkness; eternal ecstasy or eternal agony; belief or unbelief; heaven or hell; the Lord or the devil; truth or falsehood. There is still time for you to get right with God if you have not yet bowed your knee to Jesus Christ and received Him as your Lord and Savior. (John 1:12)
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is just as real as Honolulu, Hawaii, and people are in both of those locations right now. Likewise, heaven and hell are real places, and millions of people are in both of those places at this very moment as well. Do you ever stop to think about what they must be experiencing? You would be wise to consider it regularly.
You can choose today whether or not you are going to rely upon the cross of Christ and the blood of Jesus to wash away your sins. It is the only way your soul can be "clothed with Christ" in preparation for entering heaven the moment your body dies.
Make-a-Wish Hawaii is a great name with an even better cause. This foundation grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. But when it comes to heaven, no one can wish their way into paradise. You can only believe your way into Christ's kingdom as you take Jesus at His Word and accept Christ as your Savior. (John 3:16)
Do you realize why the Messiah was born in Bethlehem; suffered and died on the cross; and rose from the dead on the third day? The Lord willingly accepted this path of excruciating pain and suffering because God wanted to spare you and I from suffering the punishment we deserve to pay in hell.
God's eternal punishment for unbelievers is far greater than you and I would hand out, just as God's eternal salvation for believers is far greater than you and I would give to those who don't deserve it. Let's face it: God is far greater than us, and so why shouldn't His punishment for sin and His grace for His children seem extreme to us?
With that being said, what will you do with Christ? And what will you do with the cross where Jesus suffered and died for your sins? You can either humble yourself before the Lord and receive the free gift of eternal life in heaven, or you can dig in your heels and tell yourself that you of all people could never end up in hell. After all, you're not "bad enough" to go there, right?
The truth is that you and I have no clue about eternity apart from what God has revealed in Scripture. It's way above our head, and it runs contrary to what we naturally assume about destinations as extreme as heaven and hell.
There were plenty of folks in Atlanta who never imagined that their travel day last weekend would instantly be plunged into darkness. Fortunately for them, the power outage was repaired by midnight. I assure you that everyone in hell right now would be thrilled to hear that they get to leave that place in a matter of hours. But that's not how it works. And no one knows more about these eternal realities than the Lord who created heaven, earth, and even hell itself.
It's your call, and so choose wisely. Everything hinges on how you respond to God's gracious offer of everlasting life in heaven.
If you would like to receive God's free gift of salvation and the guarantee of spending eternity with the Lord in paradise, then I invite you to pray this prayer from your heart:
Lord Jesus, I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. But I believe that you left heaven and came to earth to suffer and die for my sins. Come into my life and my heart today. Wash away my sins with your blood. I now trust you to be my Savior, and I want to follow you as the Lord of my life. Fill me with the Holy Spirit, and help me become connected to a Christ-centered church with Christians who encourage one another in their faith and life. I need you Lord, and I am thrilled to accept you today as my Lord and Savior. I believe your promise that I am forgiven of my sins and that I have been given the free gift of eternal life in heaven. Amen.