THE LOVE & WRATH OF GOD
Helen Keller was an American author, political activist, and advocate for those with disabilities. Incredibly accomplished, she wrote essays, graduated college, and traveled to more than 30 countries as a lecturer. What is most amazing is that she was both blind and deaf.
Born in Alabama in the late 1800’s, she lost both her eyesight and hearing as the result of a sickness when she was just 19 months old. Stubborn, strong-willed, volatile and violent, she lived a life of isolation, completely in the dark–literally and figuratively. Powerless to be understood or connect with others, she lashed out in continual tantrums. When she was 7, in a desperate effort to find help, her parents took her to Alexander Graham Bell who, notorious for inventing the telephone, was also a friend to the deaf. He introduced Helen to her first teacher and lifelong friend, 20-year-old Anne Sullivan.
Sullivan returned to Alabama with the family and attempted to teach Helen language by spelling words of familiar objects into her hand. Initially, this finger spelling meant nothing to Keller who became even more agitated by Sullivan’s efforts. But then a breakthrough occurred when Sullivan held one of Keller’s hands under water from a pump. In Helen’s own words, “As the cool stream gushed over one hand, Anne spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”
Before the end of the day, she had learned 30 words. Her desire was insatiable and her thirst for knowledge only intensified as language became a part of her life. “Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am,” Keller wrote. “I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness. I did not know that I knew nothing, or that I lived or acted or desired.”
She grew close to her teacher and the two became inseparable, lifelong friends until Sullivan’s death some 50 years later. With Bell, her benefactor, and Sullivan, her faithful teacher, she learned not only to read and write, but also to speak. Her life is an amazing story of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Later in life, she was asked whether she had an understanding of God before she had the gift of language? She said she had always had an awareness of God, even before she had any way of communicating with the outside world. When God was explained to Helen, she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s His name! I didn’t know He had a name.” In her lonely life of separation and isolation, having never been taught of God, how could she have known that God exists? Because the knowledge of God is one of the most innate parts of a person’s being, placed there by God Himself.
Romans 1:19 says, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” This same understanding has been in the heart of every man and every woman throughout the ages. Revealed through creation itself, the eternal power and divine nature of God are seen through what He has made. All we have to do is to sit on the seashore as the sun disappears beyond the horizon to recognize that we are just a small cog in the wheels of this universe. We know there is something or someone greater than us.
Since the beginning, man has sought to know this God often searching in the darkness to do so. Cain offered sacrifices of his harvest, Aaron made a golden calf, Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire, the prophets of Baal cut themselves, and the people of Athens even made an altar to an unknown god. Throughout every age and in every culture, man has made his best attempt to know God. And this only confirms what is in the very heart of man. AW Tozer wisely said, “Man was made to worship God.”
But if we are to know God, then we must go to where He has revealed Himself, which is His Word. It is only through the pages of Scripture that we see God as more than an impersonal force, as He has disclosed Himself as a personal God with moral excellence, perfect in holiness, and abounding in love.
As a church, we are in the middle of a series on the end times, and it has been so helpful, hasn’t it? Challenging, enlightening, encouraging, and even frightening to see the events that are to come at the end of days. This morning, we are taking a break from that study, to examine the nature of God Himself. We will be looking at two attributes of God that are directly related to the judgments that are coming in the end times. It is a fitting interlude before we come back next week to look at the return of the King in Revelation 19.
Today we will look at both the love and wrath of God–two attributes that at first glance seem to be odds with each other, even a paradox. And yet Scripture teaches both without apology. How can God be both loving and filled with wrath? The popular evangelistic tract says God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, while at the same time He banishes His enemies to destruction.
How is it that John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world,” while Psalm 5:5 says, “You hate all who do iniquity”? On one hand, He is the Savior of the world, motivated by love for His people. And on the other hand, He is the righteous judge of the universe who will leave no sin unpunished. Our world widely accepts love as its chief virtue. The overarching message of our culture is that love will triumph.
It is the theme of movies, books, and certainly is at the heart of the family. I am thinking about the Avengers movie, Endgame. What is the most quoted lines in the movie? “I love you 3000.” Carrie Underwood wrote a song, “Love Wins”, and the chorus goes,
“I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers
And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other
And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand
Put a world that seems broken together again
Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins”
There it is–it is the theme, love will overcome. And many believe and hold to this ethereal version of the love of God. He is a creator who takes care of His creation, a Father who loves His children, and in the end how could He be filled with wrath? How could this same effusively loving God also be a God of anger and judgment? Maybe you have heard this statement, “Well, the God I believe in would never…fill in the blank–be angry, send someone to Hell, judge someone. It’s not fair, it’s not right. It is not what a loving God would do.”
In his best-selling book, Love Wins, Rob Bell writes, “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…this is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”
But we do not get to define who God is. We cannot look to our experience or our feelings or our view on the world to define God. That is a god of our own design, made in our image. And God, the true God, is not beholden to us. He revealed Himself in the burning bush as the great I Am, the self-existent God. We don’t invent God or project our insecurities or lack of understanding onto His character. Instead, we let the Scripture define who God is–and that is the plan this morning. My goal today is to deepen our understanding of God, so that we can know Him more intimately, and love Him more fully.
We will look at each of these attributes in turn, then we will see their greatest demonstration, and we will close by looking at three ways we are to respond. We are gonna swim in the deep end of the pool this morning and we have a lot of work to do. So let’s dive in.
1. The Love of God
Let me begin with a quote that you may recognize, if you were part of our community group study this semester, as we walked through the book, Knowing God. JI Packer says, “When we look at God’s wisdom, we see something of his mind; when we think of his power, we see something of his hand and his arm; when we consider his word, we learn about his mouth; but now, contemplating his love, we look into his very heart.” I have split this into five headings. This is by no way exhaustive, but rather just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
God’s Nature is Love
In 1 John 4:8, the apostle John tells us, God is love. In commenting on this verse, AW Pink says, “It is not just that God loves, but that He is love itself. Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.” We cannot say that love is God, for love does not define God–but God defines love. It is a part of His very nature. It is who He is.
Tom Brady is a quarterback. In an effort to help illustrate this, think of Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is 43 years old, has led his teams to six Super Bowl wins, been awarded four MVP awards, and played in 14 Pro Bowls. He is the G.O.A.T. And when you think of Tom Brady, you think of a quarterback. In an unrelated story, Francisco Martinez has a Patriot’s jersey that he is selling. We don’t care to see Tom Brady doing needlepoint, or cooking, or swinging a hammer–we want to see him throwing a football. Tom Brady is a quarterback. It is what defines him. It is who he is.
Please forgive the rudimentary nature of the illustration, as it falls short. But in a similar way, when we think of God, we understand that love flows from Him because it is who He is. Now in the Greek, there are a handful of words for love. Eros is a type of romantic or love of physical attraction. Storge is a familial love. Phileo is a brotherly, friendship type of love. But the word most often used to describe the love of God is the familiar word agape. This highest form of love is an unconditional, self-giving, self-sacrificial love. Let’s see how this love is described.
God’s Love is Eternal
As God has no beginning, neither did His love. Which is why in Jeremiah 31:3 He said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” And it was before creation, before time even began, that God set His heart, and therefore His love, on those whom He would redeem. In Ephesians 1:4 Paul says, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
Before this world was made, or time began, or you were born, God’s love was set on you. We could infer from this that, because God loved you from eternity past, He is going to love you for eternity future.
God’s Love is Sovereign
He loves according to His own choice and for His own divine pleasure. The love of God is spontaneous, unevoked, and uncaused. Said a different way, God is uninfluenced. He is free, unhindered, and He loves whom He desires. “Because God is God, He does as He pleases; because God is love, He loves as He pleases.” AW Tozer
Think of Romans 9, where it says in verse 13, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated.” Wow. God’s sovereign choice. He is free to lavish His love on those whom He chooses. Speaking of Israel, Deuteronomy 7:7 and 8 say, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but because the Lord loved you.” There is nothing in us that attracts Him to us–nothing of note that brings His attention or catches His eye. He doesn’t love us because of what we have done.
There is a misnomer in today’s evangelical world that we are special–that we have great worth, or else God would not have loved us. But this is backward. Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t love us because of our worth. We are of worth because God loves us.” And that love comes by His own sovereign choice.
God’s Love is Infinite
This is true of all parts of the nature of God. He is omnipresent, that is He is everywhere—He fills all space. He is omniscient, that is He knows everything—He has all knowledge. He is omnipotent, that is He has all power–He is unencumbered by anything. Since God is without limits, so too is His love. The Old Testament speaks of Hesed–His unfailing, steadfast love that is effusively shown to His people. It has a height which no one can climb. It has a depth which no one can plumb. It is from east to west and is unmeasurable.
One year for Halloween, Tracy and I, in preparation for the onslaught of trick or treaters, went to the store and filled a large pillowcase size bag with delicious name brand candy–no Mars bars, no Tootsie Rolls, no Good & Plenty or Raisinettes, and certainly no black licorice. We had the good stuff, and plenty of it, or so we thought. For the first couple of hours, we lavished our neighbors with all sorts of delectable treats. And then it happened. I reached into the bag, and it was empty. There was nothing left.
But the kids kept coming–they needed candy. And so in a panic, I ran into the house looking for whatever I could find to give them–some substitute. I resorted to packets of seasoning from the spice cabinet, and vegetables from the refrigerator, and magazines from our living room, and head shots of myself from my senior year in high school. Okay, that last one was pretty much genius.
This is how our love is, isn’t it? We give it to those around us in measured doses. But our supply is limited. And when we run out of love, with less than perfect motives, we replace it with less than adequate substitutes. But this never happens with God. His store of love is infinite. He never reaches into the bag and comes up empty. He is not trying to wring out one more drop of love to make sure everyone gets a little. His love is effusive, it is without bounds, and it comes from a limitless supply.
This is why in His prayer in Ephesians 3:18 and 19, the apostle Paul prays that, “You may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
This is a good prayer. Can I encourage you to add it to your prayer list this week? A prayer for your small group, a prayer for your CG, a prayer for your high school student or for your junior higher, a prayer for your spouse–that they would comprehend, or literally take hold of the love of God. And secondly, that they would know and experience this infinite love of God in an intimate and personal way.
God’s Love is Unchanging
Are you thankful that God does not love you today and then change His mind tomorrow? He is not fickle or capricious. His love does not vacillate and is not erratic. No, that’s how we love, with our affections coming and going. I love this new phone. I love this new dress. I love this girl–only to quickly find that our affections and loves change. Our love is impacted by circumstances, energy levels, hormones, and a host of other ever-changing parts of our life. We are up today and down tomorrow.
But this is not true of God. Finish this verse from Hebrews 13:8 with me. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.” Our God does not change with the times or the seasons, but remains constant. James 1:17 says, “with Him there is no variation or shifting shadow.” And so our God who has set His love on us will never leave us or forsake us. He will never abandon His own. There is nothing in this universe that can break the chains of God’s love for us. Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The love of God has been lavished upon you. But we forget. Or worse, we get into the midst of a trial and we are tempted to doubt His love. We may even question Him saying, “If He loved me, then why would He allow this to happen? It hurts. I am in pain. The sorrow is too great. Does He really love me?”
My friend, your eyes are on yourself. Come out from the shadows and see the love of God. In your unsure future, in your physical ailment, in your spiritual depression, in your lonely grief, in your financial ruin–learn to trust the God who loves you with a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love. The love of God is limitless, it is eternal, it is sovereign and it never changes. And Christian, that is good news. Let’s move on to our second point . . .
2. The Wrath of God
There is no other attribute of God that is as misunderstood, confused, and even scorned, as the wrath of God. Many Christians feel the need to make apology for this seeming blight on the character of God. You see, “the God of the Old Testament was a God of wrath and judgment, but the God of the New Testament is the God of love and mercy.” Statements like this show that we really don’t fully understand the nature of God. And instead of seeking to gain deeper insight, we ignore it and focus on the happier aspects of God’s character.
And yet one writer said, “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.” And to say it very succinctly, you cannot rightly understand the love of God until you understand His wrath.”
Let’s take a few minutes and see what the Bible teaches about God’s wrath. First, let’s define it. I Like John Piper’s definition–I think I gave it to you in your notes. It is “God’s settled anger toward sin expressed in the repayment of suitable vengeance on the guilty sinner.” Let’s look first at . . .
The Inception of Wrath
A question for you–has God always been loving, yes or no? After all we just looked at, I hope you say yes. Here is a tougher one. Has God always been wrathful? If you answered yes–who was God angry at before creation, when it was just the trinity? Interesting. When did God’s wrath first appear? After sin entered His universe. Let’s use the definition given by AW Pink—”God’s wrath is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin.” Now at the same time, we could say the wrath of God is God’s eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is His displeasure toward evil.
So let me go back to my question–is the wrath of God eternal? Yes, in that He is holy and detests any and all sin. This is part of His nature. DA Carson says, “Where there is no sin, there is no wrath.” He goes on to say, “Where God in his holiness confronts his image-bearers in their rebellion, there must be wrath, or God is not the jealous God He claims to be.” The expression of His wrath then, came as a result of sin. Any violations of His sovereignty, affronts to his moral perfection, or insurrections against His rule are sin.
And so the wrath of God is a vindication of His own holiness to any who have challenged His dominion over His universe. “God’s wrath is not an aberration, not some kind of deviation from who He is–it is an expression of his holiness, and that holiness is what God has been like from all eternity.” –David Wells
God’s Wrath is Terrible
His anger kindled against sin and poured out on the sinner is a frightening thing. In Isaiah 13:4 and 6 to 9 it says, “The Lord of hosts is mustering the army for battle… 6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 7Therefore all hands will fall limp, and every man’s heart will melt. 8They will be terrified, pains and anguish will take hold of them; they will writhe like a woman in labor, they will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame. 9Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it.”
Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Again, some will say this is the Old Testament God–wrath, fire, brimstone, judgment across the Old Testament. But in the coming of Christ, we see a different God, a changed God, a God of love. This is not true. God is unchanging in love and He is unchanging in His hatred of sin.
Just one passage to help with this. Turn to Revelation 6:14 to 17, “The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” His wrath will be dreadful, it will be fierce, and it will be terrible. And even harder to accept . . .
God’s Wrath is Final
We have seen this demonstrated throughout history. When the devil and his angels sinned, God threw them from Heaven and created a lake of fire to be their eternal home. When Adam and Eve sinned, He cursed the earth and banished them from His presence. When the earth was full of sin and the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually, God sent a flood of water to cover the earth, sparing only eight souls. Because their sin was exceedingly grave, fire fell from Heaven to consume Sodom and Gomorrah. And because they lied to the Holy Spirit, Ananias and Sapphira fell dead, to the fear of all who witnessed.
God’s wrath poured out on sin is definitive. It is conclusive, but the final wrath of God is yet in the future. Revelation 20 describes the scene on that day. Judgment day, the day that is fixed on the divine calendar, that day in which each man and each woman will enter the divine courtroom to be tried for their crimes against God. Look at verses 11, 12, 15, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. . . . 15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Once the gavel falls and the sentence has been declared, the judgment of God is absolute and fully binding on the sinner. There are no last-minute appeals or reprieves, for there is no higher court to which an appeal can be made. This is not some form of purgatory that lasts for a time. There is not a punishment that will end in some form of soul sleep or the annihilation of the sinner. God’s judgment is decisive and it is irreversible. And the sinner will experience the wrath of God in Hell forever. It is final. Let’s look at one more . . .
God’s Wrath is Justified
No one will face the wrath of God who doesn’t deserve it. To some this may seem a bit extreme. Does my sin against God really deserve Hell? How can it be that an outburst of anger, or a lustful thought, or a thoughtless word lead to eternal damnation? We might be tempted to think God is overreacting, or maybe He isn’t acting fairly. But this is far from the case.
Let me illustrate–if I sin against one of my children by lying to them, there is little consequence to me. If I lie to my wife, the consequence is greater. If I lie to my boss, I may lose my job. If I lie to a policeman, he may arrest me. And if I lie to a judge, I am guilty of perjury and could go to jail.
With each of these situations, the higher the level of authority, the greater the consequence for a violation. Now If I sin against God, the ultimate and sovereign Judge of all, who is holy and infinite in nature, then the offense against Him is infinite, and so the punishment is also infinite. And what is sin? Every thought, word, and deed that has fallen short of His perfect standard–every attack on His sovereignty, every infraction against His holiness, every question of His goodness, every doubt of His love, every worship of another god. The big sins, the little sins, the public sins, the private ones, the deliberate sins, the sins of omission, the sins of commission, the one-time offenses, the repeat offenders, your favorite sin, your most shameful sin–every sin has been catalogued and will bear witness against you on that day.
The natural response in our hearts is to try to fix our problem with God–to try to earn favor with Him. Certainly, I can appease God by my good deeds, through kindness and compassion and care for others. Certainly, my good will outweigh my bad and He will accept me based on my achievements. But this is far from true.
Isaiah tells us that even our very best efforts are like filthy rags in the presence of holiness. We can never earn favor with a holy God–not in our lifetime, and not in a thousand lifetimes. At best, the sinner is amassing more and more wrath. Romans 2:5 says that it is being stored up for the day of judgment.
Second Thessalonians 1:7 to 9, “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” His hatred for sin is complete, total, and unwavering. God’s wrath is justified–in fact, it is His justice in action, awarding the sinner what they deserve.
My family has vacationed a few times in Zion National Park in Utah. There is a little town called Springdale that borders the park, and if you are ever there with Steve West, he may buy you the town specialty, Bumbleberry pie. The park itself is a slot canyon, carved by a river with thousand-foot mountains on both sides.
When you enter the park, you hop on a tram that follows the river up the canyon. The guide is speaking over loud speakers telling you about Angel’s Landing, a massive outcropping of rock, and the weeping rock where water seeps out from rock that is overhead, lowering the temperature 20 degrees. The canyon becomes tighter and tighter, until the road ends and the guide says, “You are welcome to continue up the canyon on a walking path.”
That too soon ends, and before long you find yourself in the river itself. This hike, called The Narrows, has no path. You walk up the river, with sheer sandstone walls jutting up on both sides, not much more than 20 to 30 feet across. In some places, the water is just ankle deep, and in others it is waist deep as you hike up the river.
When we first did it as a family, Zoe was 3 or 4 and I carried Haley in a backpack. It was a beautiful summer day, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We were having a great time, and were about 30 minutes up this winding canyon when a peal of thunder came thundering down the canyon walls, stopping us dead in our tracks. It sounded like a piece of wood was splintering as it echoed down the river.
As soon as it was quiet, Tracy said, “That’s it. We are going back.” Wisely, she did not want to be in that canyon if there was a flash flood. My response, “Seriously? We just got here. It was just one thunderhead. No big deal. Let’s enjoy the hike.” The sun was still shining and there were no clouds in the sky.
Soon after, the thunder clapped again with even more intensity, and Tracy again pushed me to head back. This time I listened, and we turned around and exited the river. But there were people all around us who ignored the God-given warning and continued up river.
This is a good picture of the impending wrath of God and our response to it. Today, right now, life is pretty good. The sun is shining and there seems to be no need for concern. But a pandemic strikes, or a loved one passes away, or you hear a message like this–and like a thundercloud echoing through a slot canyon, God has your full attention. Some, very quickly, run from the wrath of God to safety. Others say, “Seriously? It’s just one thunderhead. No big deal. Let’s enjoy the hike.”
Friend, God is speaking to you. He is graciously warning you. It may be sunny today, but a storm is brewing. It is coming, and if you are caught in its way, there will be no escape. The wrath of God is terrible, it is final, and you are without excuse. Don’t ignore that still, small voice in your head that is telling you to make your soul ready to meet God. One day, it will be too late.
“Nobody stands under the wrath of God except those who have chosen to do so.” –Packer
3. Love & Wrath on Display
The ultimate demonstration of both the love and wrath of God is at the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross, like no other event in history, shows off both the love and the wrath of God. Let me take you to Calvary to show this to you. Christ is being led to the cross, He has been punched in the face, has had a crown of thorns pounded into His head, has had His back ripped open by a whip all the while they are mocking Him. In silence, He turned the other cheek.
He is brought outside the city walls to the place of execution, and I can picture the scene in Heaven. The angels, standing with their toes hanging off the edge of Heaven, are looking down as the Son of God is being laid on the cross. They are watching God die. In bewilderment, they see as a soldier takes up a large nail and positions it on Jesus’ wrist and then raises a hammer, preparing to pound the nail through his flesh.
They are waiting for the word, waiting for the Father to dispatch them to go and rescue the Son. The night before in the garden, Jesus said if He wanted, He could call legions of angels–tens of thousands to come to His rescue. And so they stand there, armed to the teeth, waiting, looking to the Father, then looking down to Christ. But no command is issued. The Father is silent.
A nail is pounded through Jesus’ hand, then the other one, then his feet. Finally, the cross is hoisted up. There He hangs, suspended between Earth and Heaven, dying–God was dying. The giver of life, the maker of the heavens and the earth, the one who made the very tree that He was hanging on, was dying. And all along, the Father is silent. He doesn’t go to the rescue of His Son, but instead He turns His back on His Son.
All of Heaven now witnesses something profound. The Father pours out His furious, unbending, unwavering, infinite wrath upon His Son. The universe goes dark, the earth shakes, rocks split in half as creation itself begins to come undone. Jesus screams the cry of the damned, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as He bears the weight of the sins of the world. Your sin and my sin has been placed upon Christ, as He pays the penalty that you deserve. And so Jesus died. God died.
You understand what was happening on that cross, don’t you? It wasn’t just the worst form of torture and execution ever invented by man, although that is part of it. What happened on the cross is that Jesus Christ took in His own body all of your sin. It was as if He had lived your life full of sin. As if He had hated, lusted, stolen, lied, cheated and every other sin. And while He was hanging on that cross, God, infinitely holy God, the one who cannot look at sin, treated Jesus as if He had lived your sin-filled life. He poured out His wrath on His Son. Jesus experienced Hell on that cross. The payment for sin, eternal death in Hell, is what Jesus bore while He hung there.
No wonder the Father turned away. No wonder the sky went dark and the earth shook. He drank every last drop of the wrath of God on your behalf. Charles Spurgeon said, “It seemed as if hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and, in one tremendous labor of love, He drank damnation dry.”
Why would Jesus do this? What is the motivation? Romans 5:8 says it best. “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. And you cannot fully understand the love of God until you have looked into the cup of wrath that you deserve.
In his critically acclaimed book, Doctrine 101, author Bill O’Brallahan compares the wrath of God to a jeweler who is showing a diamond to a buyer. “The diamond sparkles and shimmers on its own. But when the jeweler places it against a black, velvet cloth, it shines forth even brighter. Set against such a stark backdrop, it seems as if the diamond comes alive, dancing in the light, shing forth with intense brilliance.”
Against the backdrop of God’s wrath, the beauty of His love is magnified, shining forth all the brighter. The cross of Jesus Christ is the greatest display of the love and wrath of God. And so we must respond. As we move to the close, let’s answer three questions.
1. Will you escape the wrath to come?
I speak now directly to those who are not yet Christians. JI Packer said, “All that stands between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath is the cross of the Lord Jesus.” And so like John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7, I beg you to “flee from the wrath to come.” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:11, “Therefore, knowing the fear [or terror] of the Lord, we persuade men.”
And so, with all my might I persuade you, I beg you, I implore you to confess your sin, bend the knee, and give your allegiance to the Son. Embrace the love of Christ before it is too late. Come to Him as Savior today, or face Him tomorrow as your Judge. Oh may God grant you freedom from sin and release you from the wrath of God.
2. Will you hate sin like God does?
Let me address Christians. Are you dabbling in sin, trifling with it, being entertained by it? The sin that God hates–that for which Christ died. The sin that He bore for you. God is so serious about sin, that He crushed His own Son on the cross as payment. And so, pornography has to be put away. The impure relationship must be severed, the flirting at work, the cheating at school, the outbursts of anger, the foul tongue must be put to death.
Romans 13:12 to 14, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Leave it behind and love the Lord Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength the way that He loves you.
3. Will you worship this God?
Look at that final verse in your outline. Watch as these two attributes are mingled together and see the response of Moses. Exodus 34:6 to 8, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’ Having seen with His own eyes the God who not only loves but who also exercises wrath, 8Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.”
He worshipped–this is the right response. We have seen our God in new and beautiful ways this morning. The diamond shines even brighter, does it not?
Father–we bow low to the ground and we worship you. You are our only defense against the wrath to come and so we cling to You and we say thank you. For those who are still lost in their sin and under the weight of Your wrath, please draw them to Yourself and show them mercy. Lord, as we sing now, would You hear our hearts as we proclaim that Jesus is the one who paid our debt and rescued us from the wrath to come. It is to you that we lift our voices now. Amen.