Like many people, I am a prodigal son. Jesus even told a parable about me (and millions of others) in Luke 15:11-31. You probably know the story (and now me) quite well.
Do you ever wonder how long it took the prodigal son to finally come to his senses (Luke 15:17)? We are not told the exact length of time, but there are two verses in this passage that indicate it probably took several years.
First, note that the Bible says that this young man “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). Back in those days, it probably took a considerable amount of time, perhaps several weeks or even months, to reach “a distant country.” And he was there long enough to spend his entire inheritance.
Second, when the prodigal son returns, his older brother is quite jealous of the attention given to his brother, and so complains to the father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed you” (Luke 15:28). So it appears that the prodigal was gone for quite some time.
Yes, sometimes it takes a long time for us prodigals to come to our senses. For me, it took over 20 years. I heard the gospel as a teenager, make a profession of faith in high school and tried to live the Christian life for about 10 years. Then I decided that Christianity wasn’t for me and “set off for a distant country”, which for me was a spiritual no-man’s land, a place where I completely ignored God for the next two decades.
But God is faithful and oh so patient. After 20 years of godless living, I was irresistibly drawn back to Jesus. And for that I am eternally grateful.
When I returned to Christ, I was quite surprised at what had happened to the evangelical church. In 20 years, much change had occurred. And so I’ve spent the past 10 years trying to understand those changes, and I find myself asking these two questions:
What happened to the music? What happened to hell?
Yes, the music in the evangelical church has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, hasn’t it? And it has not been without controversy. Perhaps your local church has been through a “music war”.
But I’m not really that concerned about the way the music has changed. I’m much more concerned about the disappearance of God’s wrath from the teaching and preaching ministry of 21st century evangelicalism.
And so I’m asking you today, “Whatever happened to hell?”
Does your church still believe in it? If your church holds to the inspiration, infallibility and authority of Scripture, it is true that a reference to the wrath of God is still to be found in your church’s doctrinal statement?
Why, then, do we talk so little about hell these days? It seems to me that we have quietly and subtly removed any reference to Judgment Day from our gospel presentation. The end result is a truncated and incomplete gospel that presents an imbalanced picture of the character and glory of King Jesus. Like the psalmist, are we not responsible for telling people that “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs” (Psalm 75:7-8).
So I challenge you to listen carefully to the way the gospel is preached among evangelicals today. Compare today’s gospel to the gospel as it was preached by Jesus and the apostles, and see for yourself whether there is any truth to this observation.