7:05 PM

Preaching on hell... Matt. 10:26-28

[26] "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. [27] What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. [28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Who is it that can destroy both soul and body in hell? This seems to be almost an aside within Matt. 10, yet I think it cannot be overlooked in a faithful preaching through this chapter. For that matter, neither should it be over-emphasized or distorted. This should never be turned into this: "Jesus says fear not of man, so go preach the Gospel at all costs or you will go to hell." Rather, I believe that these verses, and the reference to hell in particular, should turn the attention of the pastor and congregation to: 1. the reality of hell, 2. the nature of hell, and 3. the mission of the disciples.

Who is it that can destroy both body and soul in hell? The stock answer is Satan, however, this must be nuanced. At the end of 9 and beginning of 10 we see Jesus, and then the disciples, casting out spirits (presumably those of the house of Be-el'zebub, v. 25). The key defining attribute of these spirits is unclean (v. 10:1). The word used for hell is the burning trash heap outside the Jerusalem walls, a place of the ultimate uncleanliness. So, a major issue at hand is one of being clean or unclean. To be considered clean is to be able to be an acceptable participant in Israel. To be unclean was to be separated, isolated from the community (the household) until the ritual cleansing rites were undergone. Thus, to be destroyed, body and soul, would be to be rendered unclean and thus separated completely and irrevocably from Israel. Here Jesus is both mobilizing and reworking Israelite ideas of what it means to be clean or unclean, part of the community (in the house) or separated from it (lost).

For preaching purposes today, what would it mean for us to be "unclean"? Separated? I would venture to say that we ourselves can destroy both body and soul, and we do so by falling prey to our own egotism. The disciples are sent to reflect and model Christ, and they are sent to do so as loving servants of Israel, the world, and the Gospel. To turn away from love and service of others is always to turn in on ourselves. It is not the death that may come with the promised persecution that will beset those sent by Jesus which is to be feared. No, it is the more subtle, more nagging, more attractive voice, prompting that, when things turn to shit says: "This is too hard, too much, too uncomfortable. The odds are too long. Just turn back. It's easier. Safer. Fade out of this mess and go back to a happy home life lived in quiet and comfortable obscurity." Is this not the true and great and most dangerous prompting of Satan? To become a law unto ourselves. To care for our own needs first. To look out for ourselves, rather than the needs of the lost, which we ourselves were and are. To neglect the growing house of Israel, redeemed by the Suffering Servant.

- Eric Meckley

Comment (1)

I think it's better to read "the one who can destroy psuchen and soma in Gehenna" as God. Check the parallel in Lk. 12.

Also, remember that no amount of uncleanness could ever de-Israelize anyone in the OT (and this holds true in the NT). Instead it meant, as you say, separation or even death (including no descendants), and this is the separation and death that Jesus lived and died (and into which we are baptized).

I am intrigued by your mention of Gehenna. What does Gehenna have to do with "hell" as traditionally understood? How does God kill the psuche in Gehenna? What does it mean for someone's life to be thrown into the burning compost pile beneath Jerusalem?

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