Palm Sunday - "What the Hell?"

April 2, 2023
Palm Sunday -

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 27: 45, 46

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). - Psalm 22: 1


Message: “What the Hell?!”

Exclamation - What the hell?!

As an exclamation or an expression of surprise, we would often say:  “What the…?”

Now there is some variations on this… you’ll get the text-style WTF (when expressed fully the one where people say sorry to the minister for swearing)

Then you get “What the hell?!” - which is considered harsh language… not really a swearword, but a bit hard on the ear (it was whispered in my ear that it is perhaps a bit harsh to use in sermon)

Hence the softer version - “What the heck?!” - I’ve some comedians playing around with this softer version of “heck” - all sorts of jokes

There’s the old classic:  “What’s heck?  It’s where you go when you don’t believe in gosh…”

Today, we want to call it like it is - “hell”


Irony and Misunderstanding - Jesus was on his way to hell

With Jesus coming into Jerusalem there were a lot of questions going around - what’s going on?  Who is this guy?  What’s all the fuss about?…. perhaps different versions of “what the hell?!”

Here was the city of Jerusalem under siege by the Romans - oppressing and intimidating in everything they do, crushing any opposition

And here comes a Jewish Rabbi with a crowd around him, honouring him as a king?

Just understand that it was a real “What the?!” Moment

But it was filled with more misunderstanding that they could ever imagined 

Jesus cried when he entered the city, because he knew how this city would be crushed years later, but that wasn’t it… the misunderstanding was greater than than

Jesus was not on his way to be crowned as a king, he was on his way to hell… literally - he was on his way to hell


Hell in the Bible

Let’s just stop for a moment to consider the references in the Bible of hell

You would be amazed at how few references there actually are, and the references you find is very much open to interpretation

In the Old Testament, the word “Sheol” is used to describe hell - it is a very dark and mysterious word - in Psalm 18 you’ll find it used in this way:  “The cords of Sheol entangled me”

It is also mentioned in Pslam 30 “Lord, you lifted me from the depths”

And in Psalm 103 “The Lord who redeems you from the pit”

Psalm 6 “Who praises you from the grave?”

In the book of Jona - sheol in used in chapter 2 as the belly of the fish

Psalm 16 “realm of the dead”

In the New Testament we find the word hell used about 12 times

The word is “Gehenna”

New Testament scholars would say that this refer to the “valley of Hinnom” - which was the valley just outside of Jerusalem

It was the city dump where they burned all the garbage - a bad place, where there were always a smouldering fire that was never put out, where people sat crying of hunger and where you heard the crunching of teeth as people and scavenging animals bit through bones

A bad place where no-one wanted to end up - a place of sorrow

Another word for hell in the New Testament is “Hades” - the Greek version of “Sheol”

In the story of Lazarus and rich man in Luke 16 we find the concept of the “gates of Hades”

Again there are New Testament scholars that would suggest that his refers to the gates of the fence around the dump outside the city…

Definitely concepts of what hell is that is far removed from our concept of hell


Hell as the handle of morality for religion

So, how do you imagine hell?  A place of fire, pain and torment?  A place of sorrow, crying and the crunching of teeth?

Unfortunately hell was used as a handle on morality for religion

Hell is painted as such a horrible place to act as a deterrent from bad behaviour

I’ve a man telling me that his for hell prevented him from committing suicide 

I have childhood memories of a grandmother threatening me with hell if I don’t behave

I have read mission statements of missionary organizations that spell out how they are on a mission to save people from the torments of hell


What Hell really is

So, what is hell really about?  

I believe hell is a place where God is not

Dear we say - a place where God is absent?

Sheol, Hades, Gehenna - places that is deprived of the life-giving presence of God?


Jesus went to hell in our place

This brings us to the outcry of Jesus on the cross:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

In the Apostle’s Creed we say the words - “He defended into hell”

That is what Jesus did for us - He went to hell for us!

He went to the god-forsaken-place we call hell, so that we don’t have to go there


We will not be able to handle life without God

I don’t think we are able to comprehend what life would be without God’s presence

Even though so many people today intentionally turn away from God, it doesn’t mean that He’s not there

We need God more than we realize - we crave God’s presence desperately 

The big void in life is the yearning for God - we just don’t seem to realize it


Hell-bent - following our own minds away from God

Instead we follow our own minds - filled with selfish desires away from God

Isn’t that exactly what the expression hell-bent means?

Stubborn, following your own mind, not wanting to be told otherwise?


Faith brings me closer to God (and further away from hell)

So this is Palm Sunday - what the hell?

Jesus on his way to hell - Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?

God forsaken in my place, because I will never be able to handle being forsaken by God!

Why don’t you just turn from you hell-bent ways?

We all feel the void - the yearning for God

Let us turn to God this Easter, because in God’s presence we can’t be further away from hell.


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