“Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.” Ezekiel 33:4
As I prepared this sermon, I couldn’t help but think of a few experiences in my own life when I neglected warning. I remembered when I was about twelve years old visiting relatives in Des Moines, Iowa. I’m a “city slicker” from Chicago, but I spent some summers going barefoot in Iowa. Afterwards, I would go back to the alleys of Chicago on the clinkers and ashes and rocks, and my friends would give me a quarter for running down the alley barefoot. Those city slickers didn’t think I could do it. My hair is short now, but it’s curly and back then it would get in knots. My mother would cut off my hair because I wouldn’t comb it for the whole summer!
In Iowa, my best friend was Reggie. I wanted Reggie to come on a picnic with us, but my parents said it was really a family get-together. I argued, “Oh, come on, none of those kids are my age. Can’t Reggie come?” So they agreed. I can remember going to his house and saying, “Can Reggie come to the picnic with us?” His mother said she would rather not have him go, but I begged and pleaded until finally she said he could.
We got in the car and away we went. We had a good time, and then we ate. You know how adults are—the kids play after eating while the old folks sit around and talk. So while all the adults sat down under the trees and talked, we boys got ambitious and went over to the creek. We had coffee cans and started catching minnows. We knew that the creek ran down to the Des Moines River, so we yelled over to our parents that we were going farther down the creek. My father wasn’t right there at the time, but the last thing my mother said was, “Okay, but stay away from the river.”
We went down the creek and pretty soon we looked up, and there was a raging river. It was in the flood stage, muddy and mucky. It was churning and there were pieces of boards floating downstream. I thought, “No wonder Mom said to stay away from the river.” But you know how curious kids are. We looked and looked at that river. Mom surely didn’t want us to swim in that river, but she wouldn’t mind if we waded! So we rolled up our pant legs and waded in. We wanted to feel that river charging by. Right where the stream went into the river, it made kind of a whirlpool. I don’t know exactly how we got into it, but one way was by disobeying Mother. We went into that hole. We didn’t have any sense. I was twelve and Reggie was fourteen.
Suddenly we realized we were in trouble and tried to swim back. We weren’t bad swimmers, but we weren’t especially good ones either. We were fighting the current, and I started taking in some water and screaming for help. Reggie was trying to get on my shoulders and yelling for help. We were scared! I kept screaming and trying to get back. I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew I was in trouble. I went down one time. I came back up again, and I went down the second time. I came back up again, and I thought, “Boy, I’ve had it.” It was a sobering experience, but I knew I was saved. I thought, “I’ve had it. I’m going to heaven.”
You hear about things flashing before your eyes at times like that. Every bad thing I ever did flashed by in about two seconds. I prayed, “Lord, forgive me, I’ve been a rotten guy,” and then I just let go. I can remember the feeling of just floating back into the cold water. I figured that was it. I didn’t know what was happening, but a college student had come around the corner just then and saw my head go under water. He dove in—and again it was only God—and grabbed hold of my head.
I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up I was lying on my back on a big rock. I could hear the water sloshing around in my lungs. I realized I was alive; and I was praying, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!” I must have been out for quite awhile; and as I looked over the river, I saw boats going back and forth. When I asked for Reggie, they told me he never came out. As the boats went back and forth with big hooks, I remember praying, “Lord, Lord, please let Reggie be alive.”
About an hour went by when I heard someone shout, “I’ve got him!” They had hooked him and pulled him up right near me where I could see him. He was so blue that he was almost black, and swollen. I started crying. My best friend Reggie was dead for one reason. When we were warned, we neglected the warning.
I was one of those kids who was always in church and always said the right thing—but I was a brat. I remember about four years after this incident I was in Sunday school sitting in our teenage class, and a new boy, Tom, was there. We had been working hard to get Tom to Sunday school and see him saved, and finally Tom came.
Another boy, Henry, had a hot rod car. I have to laugh at people today. Some of them have their Mavericks with stripes down the side and the words “Hot Rod” written on them. Listen, when I was a kid you didn’t have to write “hot rod” on them—they were hot rods. Back around ’57 they really moved.
Henry asked Tom if he wanted to see just how fast his car could go. Tom didn’t really want to go; but he said if I went, he would go. Henry told us we could go out between Sunday school and church. I knew if my parents found out, I would really catch it. But the devil said, “Roger, what kind of Christian are you? Here’s this guy you have been trying to get to come to church for such a long time, and now you are being unfriendly. The guy wants to go out in the car, and you won’t go with him.”
Kids, you never do wrong to get a chance to do right—never. The devil will try to get you to do that all the time. I sat there knowing my parents wouldn’t want me to go, but I tried to convince myself the Lord wanted me to. You don’t go against the Bible and against what’s right, and say, “The Lord told me to do it.” The devil said, “You be a friend. He’ll never get saved if you’re not friendly.”
So we got in Henry’s car. I can remember we went down a one-way street and turned the corner. It was raining—a light, misty rain. He popped the clutch and slammed down the accelerator, and that car fish-tailed all the way down one block. I knew we had had it. He didn’t slow down at the first intersection but just kept on a-roaring down the street. I knew we were going over 100 miles an hour. That would have been slow for that car in a quarter of a mile. He didn’t let up on it at all.
I can remember a flash of a yellow car coming, and it was all over. I flew out the window and bounced down the concrete road. I woke up with blood running out of my ear and wondering what had happened. I looked up and saw Tom. He had been in front, and I had been in the back seat. His legs were still in the car; but he was hanging out, head down, and every bone in his face had been broken. An ambulance took us to the hospital. I looked at Tom’s face and over and over again I thought, “Why did I do wrong? Why didn’t I heed the warning?”
Some of you can probably remember stories just like these. At Reggie’s funeral I sat and thought, “Why didn’t I heed the warning? If I had listened to my parents, Reggie would be alive today.” Had I heeded that warning, Tom wouldn’t have had his face all broken up. To my knowledge, Tom has never been inside a church since that day.
Neglected warnings usually end up in tragedies, friend. Most people heed warnings. Most aren’t as dumb as I was as a kid. When they see a red flashing light and a train coming down the track, most people are smart enough not to race the train and zoom across. On a winter day when they see a lake and it has a hole in it with a sign sticking up that says “thin ice,” most people won’t walk out there. Most people, if they are driving a ten-ton truck and come to a bridge with a one-ton limit, won’t drive across. If they see a warning, most people will heed the warning.
People are interested in their own well being. When a farmer picks up a newspaper, he doesn’t look to see how the U.S. Steel stock is doing; he looks at how soybeans are doing. A stockholder looks at how his own stock is doing. How many people came in this morning saying, “Boy, the Chicago Bears have to win now! The Washington Redskins won yesterday, and the Minnesota Vikings won yesterday. Now the Bears have got to win.” Whether it be sports or the stock market or politics or whatever, people are interested in what affects them.
I have a question. If you think I was foolish neglecting my parents’ advice (and I was), if you can’t believe that I would do the things that I did, and if you can’t believe that a person might be driving a car and see a train coming and try to beat it across and get killed, I have something I would like to bring up with you. If you think it is so important when it comes to your well being, what about your soul?
Since I have been a preacher, I can’t believe some of the things I see. People will buy stock because they worry about their future. They worry about their kids going to college. They buy cemetery lots and take out insurance to pay for their casket. They worry and worry and plan and try to make things right for themselves here on earth. But when it comes to their souls, they shove it aside and say, “I’m not going to worry about that until later.” Later comes and they are dead, and the devil has them by the nose and they spend eternity in hell.
If you are interested in taking care of your own security, your job, your health, if you have insurance to take care of all of these things and worry about your life here, how much more important it is to prepare for your eternity! You are going to spend an average of threescore and ten years here on this earth, but you are going to spend an eternity in heaven or hell! What about your soul?
Look at verse four again. “Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.” The Vietnam war is still vivid in the minds of many people. Let’s say a soldier was in Vietnam and fighting in the war. The men are in their sleeping bags with the enemy nearby, and the guards yell, “The enemy is coming! The enemy is approaching! Everybody get up. The enemy is coming!”
That soldier says, “I’ve only had six hours sleep and I need two more.” He pulls the sleeping bag up over his head and thinks he can just stay there and the enemy won’t even know he’s there. But the enemy comes, sees his sleeping bag, and fills it with holes. The Bible says that not only is he dead, but it’s his own fault.
What am I getting at? It’s bad enough if you are not warned and die, but it’s so much worse if you are warned and don’t heed the warning. Take the people over in Africa and in other areas where they may have never heard the Gospel. The Bible says that if they don’t hear it, they are going to die in their iniquities; but their blood is going to be on the Christians’ hands.
Take somebody raised in England, that once great Christian nation, but now only two percent of her people go into the doors of any church. Let’s say you were raised in a liberal church in England and were brainwashed the wrong way. It would be bad enough for you to die and go to hell. The Bible says it will be more tolerable for the unenlightened Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon in the judgment days than for the Jewish cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida that were scenes of Christ’s miracles and teachings. You don’t have to know your Bible well to understand what this is teaching. It is going to be much rougher for those people who lived in Nazareth and in the towns and areas where Jesus preached and performed His miracles than for those who didn’t have the opportunity to see Jesus and hear Him preach the Gospel.
I believe it is going to be much harder for someone who has heard the Gospel, like you who are sitting in this room, than for some heathen who has never heard the Gospel. You say, “I’ve never heard the Gospel.” Well, my friend, you are hearing it this morning. You say, “I don’t know anything about it.” I don’t believe you. In this day and age, I know of no group of people who are going to be held more accountable for their soul’s salvation than Americans.
You can hardly turn on the radio without hearing someone preaching the Gospel. Turn on the television and there it is. But what do you do? You turn it off. You don’t want to hear it. But you are going to be held accountable, my friend, for every time you turned on a gospel preacher and turned him off. You are going to be held accountable for every gospel tract you crumpled up and threw in the garbage. You are going to be held responsible for every sermon you ever heard that even touched on the Gospel.
You say you don’t know the Gospel? Then you are lying to yourself. There are people in this room whose saved mothers tried to teach them the right way, but they have gone the opposite way. There are men here today who have had what we call a “foxhole experience.” Things got tough and rough, and when you didn’t think you would survive, you cried out to God, “If You will help me in this, I will do anything You want me to do.” But you don’t lie to God and get by, my friend.
I would just about guarantee you that every unsaved person here has a conscience that has been touched by more things than I have talked about. Right now your conscience is getting to you, but you are trying to talk your way out of it. When you walk by a casket and look down at the face of a friend or relative, your conscience says that some day you, too, are going to be in that position. It tells you that some day you are going to die, and you had better prepare for it now. But you shove your conscience aside with, “I don’t want to think about that. I’ve got things to do.” You put it aside. You are like that soldier in Vietnam who thought he could cover his head with his sleeping bag and be okay. But you will not be okay. Your blood is upon your own head. All your excuses are worthless.
Sometimes I cry and sometimes I laugh at people and their excuses. They will say to me, “I don’t like that way of salvation.” You give them the plan of salvation—that they are sinners and deserve hell, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for their sins, and all they have to do is accept Christ as their Savior and they will go to heaven—but they don’t like it. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God…” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
It’s Bible, but you don’t like that. You say, “The way I was raised, I was supposed to take communion.” “The way I was raised, I was supposed to do penance.” “The way I was raised, a person was saved by being baptized.” It doesn’t matter the way you were raised. When you go to heaven, it won’t matter whether you were raised a Baptist or a Catholic or a Hindu; it will only matter what the Bible said. People say, “I don’t believe in this way. I think it ought to be that way.”
Just suppose you were one of the Israelites when the trumpet blew and the enemy was coming. Suppose you said, “I don’t like that trumpet. That’s a bronze trumpet and I like silver trumpets.” Now wouldn’t you be an idiot! You had better heed the warning. Suppose you are drowning in a lake, going down for the third time, and somebody throws you a life preserver. You study it and say, “This isn’t U.S. Coast Guard approved.” What’s wrong with you? You think that is foolish? It is ten thousand times more foolish to say, “I don’t believe in God’s way.”
My friend, God’s way is the only way. He is the one Who created this world. He is the one Who created this universe. He is the one Who created you. He is the one Who gave you His plan of salvation. And by no other way will you or anyone else ever get to heaven. The day you show me from the Bible that communion is the way of salvation, or that baptism or doing good or any other thing can get you to heaven, that is the day I will start preaching it. But you will never hear me preach that because it is not in the Bible.
Other people say they are too busy now; they will take care of it later. I can see you sitting in your house, with fire crackling all around you, and saying, “I wish I had time to get out of here. I wish I weren’t so busy with my work and making all this money. I do wish I could get out of here.” So you sit and burn up. Again I say, it is ten thousand times more important for you to get out of the fires of hell than out of the fire of any building.
All of your excuses are foolish. The Bible says, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” You can’t answer that, can you? A famous preacher asked that of everybody he could find, but nobody could answer. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
It’s foolish, it’s crazy to neglect so great a salvation. And you also have to remember Who it is you are turning down. In some ways, this is the most important question. Whom are you turning down? This preacher? Some king or potentate? The President of the United States? The richest man on earth? No, you are turning down Almighty God. You are turning down Jesus Christ Who came and died on the cross for you. You are turning down Almighty God Who began this world and then came to this world and died for you.
I mentioned that He created you. If you know your Bible, then answer this, “Why did He create you?” Why did He create man? For fellowship. Almighty God created the world and everything in it, then He died on the cross just so that He might fellowship with you. He loves you and He wants to fellowship with you. Whom are you turning down? God Almighty.
And for what are you turning Him down? You are turning down Almighty God. You are turning down heaven. You are turning down being with Jesus forever in heaven where arthritis pain and toothaches, headaches, aging, and even overweight will be gone and everything will be perfect. You are turning down the streets of gold. You are turning down God. Then I have to ask myself, “For what are you turning down heaven?” It must be something fantastic.
Nothing is equal to heaven and Jesus, but sometimes people will make a mistake. In other words, they will trade a $100 item for $90. They will make a mistake. It must be something great to turn down Almighty God and Jesus and heaven. It must be something great you are getting in exchange. What are you gaining by turning down heaven? HELL!
You are turning down our lovely Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as He holds out His nail-pierced hands. You are turning down walking through the pearly gates and down the streets of gold. You are turning down a perfect existence for torment in hell. The Bible says, “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
I know we have so-called “preachers” who get in the pulpit and say there is no hell, or that hell just burns you up, or you just go into the grave. What a lie! The Bible says seven times as much about hell as about heaven. Why? Because God knows human nature. I believe the fear of hell will get a lot more people into heaven than the loveliness of heaven. God knows human nature and the Bible says that if cutting your hand off would get you to heaven (and the Bible does not say that it will), it would be better to cut that hand off and go through life maimed. The Bible goes on to say that it would be better to pluck your eyeball out.
You say you can’t understand how you could have fire and darkness. God created it all, so He can have it the way He wants it, my friend. The stench of your flesh will burn in your nostrils forever, yet you will not be consumed.
One of the worst parts about it is that you will know you have put yourself there. It would be bad enough if you didn’t know anything about it and all of a sudden you were there. But there is going to be something racking your brain over and over: “Why didn’t I heed God’s salvation? Why did I neglect it? Why, when the preacher was preaching, didn’t I accept it? Why didn’t I?”
As I sat at Reggie’s funeral, I racked my brain and wept and wondered, “Why, why, why, why?” As I looked at that boy, Tom, with the broken face, I asked myself, “Why, why, why, why?” Much more, you are going to burn in hell and ask yourself, “Why did I neglect, why did I neglect, why did I neglect, why?”
There will be only one thing worse and that is, you will know you will never get out. If you are like me, you can take most anything if you know it is going to quit. You can take anything if you can see that soon down the road it is going to stop. Don’t get me wrong. I believe I could take hell for a week if I thought it was going to end in a week, or for a year if I knew it was going to end in a year. But you will go through all that torment and know that it will never, never, never end.
You have heard the trumpet, my friend. Do I preach like I hate you? No. I preach like I love you. You say, “Those hateful fundamentalists preach on hell.” That’s a foolish statement. That’s like saying, “Those hateful doctors preach on cancer.” I’ve got the cure. I’ve got the answer. I’m trying to convince you to turn from your sinful ways to Jesus Christ. Heed the warning. Don’t neglect it. Don’t put it off any longer.
I heard a story many years ago about a missionary to China during the great famine. He had quite a great congregation there. Food and supplies were gone. Day after day went by, week after week, and they were down to rationing about a tablespoon of food a day. Then it got down to where nobody got any food at all.
The missionary was praying and calling for help. One day a big ship from America anchored out in the harbor. When rice was brought ashore, the missionary thought that the people would be so happy. He stirred up a great pot of rice and set it in front of the congregation. So excited was he that he could hardly wait to see them gobble it up. When he set the food in front of the people, they said, “Thank you, sir.” But some of them didn’t eat, and some just played with the food. Why? It was too late. They were so far gone, they couldn’t even eat!
Let me say something to you, unsaved friend. This also can happen to you. The Bible says you can hear the Gospel and turn it off just so many times. You can throw away just so many gospel tracts. You can laugh at just so many Christians. The Bible says your heart will become seared. Just as steel hardens, just so your heart will become hardened.
The Bible says that the sword (the Gospel) cannot pierce your heart without changing it. It will either soften and you will say, “yes,” to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, or you will say, “no,” and harden it. The Bible says that you don’t get by with it.
God says, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at naught all my counsel and would none of my reproof….” Listen to what God says then: “…I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” That is God speaking.
You say, “I thought He was a loving God.” He is God, and you don’t play with God. He is a loving God, and He gave His only begotten Son to die for your sins. But you don’t play with His salvation. You don’t mock His salvation. You don’t neglect His salvation and get by with it. “…I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord…” (Proverbs 1:25-29)
God says the simple will go their own way, and the so-called “wise” will be filled with their own devices; but God will laugh at them. “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh…” Don’t neglect God’s warning.