When people talk about the attributes and character of God you are almost certain to hear about God’s Love, His mercy, His omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. I guess you could call these the “popular” attributes of God. There are also some that are not so popular. I would call them the forgotten attributes of God. These would include: God’s Holiness, His Sovereignty, His Immutability.
But there is at least one attribute that is just plain ignored . . . and that is the wrath of God. It is unpopular and many find the very thought of an angry God to be distasteful. The question is why? The late Dr. Boice had some interesting thoughts as to why God’s wrath is ignored,
In human affairs we rightly value justice and the “wrath” of the judicial system, for they protect us. If by chance we ourselves run afoul of the law, there is always the chance that we can cop a plea, escape on a technicality or plead guilty to some lesser offense and be excused for it. But we cannot do that with God. With him we deal not with the imperfections of human justice but with the perfections of divine justice. We deal with the one to whom not only actions but also thoughts and intentions are visible. Who can escape such justice? Who can stand before such an unwielding judge? No one. Sensing this truth we therefore resent God’s justice and deny its reality in every way we can. [Boice, FOUNDATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH p. 252]
In other words, we don’t like the idea of God’s wrath so we deny it. However, if you were to look at a Bible concordance you would see that there are more references to God’s anger, fury and wrath than there are to his love and tenderness. This morning I encourage you to open your heart to the truth, even if it is uncomfortable.
GOD’S WRATH IS ESSENTIAL TO GOD’S CHARACTER
Let’s begin by defining the term “wrath” as it refers to God. Most of us think about wrath as a state of being out of control. It is when a person loses their temper. They spew angry words and may even resort to violence. But, this is not the Biblical idea. The Greek word used most often for God’s wrath is not so much a sudden flaring up of passion which is soon over as it is a deep and settled opposition to all that is evil. God’s wrath is never impulsive, it is not due to a loss of control, and it is not out of proportion to a situation.
God’s Wrath is a natural counterpart to God’s Holiness. We can not call God pure and Holy and think that God does not hate sin. If God didn’t hate sin . . . He wouldn’t be holy. Arthur Pink wrote,
How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His “severity” toward it? How could He who delights only in that which is pure and lovely, not loathe and hate that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as Heaven is. [ATTRIBUTES OF GOD p. 81, 82]
Second, God’s wrath is essential for His justice. If God is going to act with justice, He must punish wickedness with the appropriate severity. If someone you love is brutally murdered and the murdered was given a fine (even a hefty one) you would not consider justice to have been served. God cannot be just and shrug at sin.
Third, God’s wrath is a frequent theme in the Bible. Some would contend that the God of wrath is the Old Testament God while the God of love is found in the New Testament. J.I. Packer wrote:
People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the Old Testament to the New, the theme of divine judgment fades into the background; but if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified. The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment, and by the problem that it raises: how may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time? [Packer, KNOWING GOD p. 137]
Dr. Boice has calculated that there are over 600 significant verses in the Bible that relate to God’s wrath. If we are Biblical Christians, we must affirm God’s wrath.
GOD’S WRATH IS DESERVED
In Nahum chapter 1 we read about God’s plan to pout out His wrath on Ninevah. Ninevah was a nation that made Adolf Hitler seem like a girl scout. They were brutal, barbaric butchers. And if you knew what Ninevah was like I suspect you would agree that Ninevah, deserved God’s judgment. In fact, we would all conclude that God could not possibly be good and allow people like this to escape punishment.
We could add to our list others that we are sure should be in Hell. Perhaps your list would include Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeni, Saddam Hussein, the kid who stole your lunch money, or the relative who abused you as a child. But Michael Horton writes,
Although most Americans believe in eternal judgment, few entertain the slightest fear that hell is their destination. Since 77 percent of American evangelicals believe that humans are by nature basically good, the problem is not with belief in hell, but with whether we think we deserve it. . . . Hell is not reserved for the eight or ten monsters of history, but is the place of judgment to which we could all justly be sentenced. [Michael Horton, I BELIEVE IN GOD p. 242]
This is Paul’s argument in the first three chapters of Romans. Paul systematically shows that the pagans, the good moral people, and the religious all are sinners who deserve God’s wrath. In Romans 1 Paul writes with the skill of a surgeon,
God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who push the truth away from themselves. For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people, or birds and animals and snakes.
So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen.
That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.
When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They are forever inventing new ways of sinning and are disobedient to their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, and are heartless and unforgiving. They are fully aware of God’s death penalty for those who do these things, yet they go right ahead and do them anyway. And, worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. [Romans 1:18-32 NLT]
Notice the progression of wickedness.:
- they ignore the clear truth that God has revealed and refuse to acknowledge Him
- they create false Gods and false religions
- their thinking becomes mixed up and they have trouble telling truth from error
- their hearts become calloused and they no longer feel the pangs of conscience
- God gives them over to what they want: sinful desires, shameful lusts and a depraved mind.
- They begin to promote wickedness as goodness.
If you didn’t know who Paul was talking about, you would think he was writing about today. But the problem is not just with our society . . . it is in every human heart! I dare you to take a night and really watch television or listen to some contemporary music. Watch or listen as if you were God’s eyes or ears. Measure what is done or said by God’s standard of right and wrong . . . and I contend that you will be surprised and saddened by what you see. Sin will be called virtue. Depravity will be presented without apology. And do you know what will be the most devastating part of this experiment? It will be how little of it we would have noticed if we hadn’t been looking for it because our own heart and conscience has been dulled also!
GOD’S WRATH IS DEVASTATING
In Luke 16 Jesus told a story. This story may be true and it may just be an illustration made up by Jesus. But since it is Jesus telling the story, and since Jesus knows the truth about the afterlife, and because Jesus does not lie . . . we can conclude that the details of the afterlife in the story are revealing.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ [Luke 16:19 -28]
We see several things here. First, God’s wrath may be delayed but it is certain. The rich man lived a life of ease . . . and Lazarus suffered in life . . .but wrath came later. Jonathan Edwards gave us this devastating picture,
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed yet; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that flood that is unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in
hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it. [Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God]
Second, God’s wrath leads to torment and agony. Those are the two words used of the rich man. It is not a pleasant thing to face God’s wrath. The Bible describes hell as a place of outer darkness, a lake of fire, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place of eternal separation from the blessings of God, a prison, a place of torment where the worm doesn’t turn or die.
These are certainly symbols. But the whole point of a symbol is to point to a higher or more intense state of actuality than the symbol itself can contain. In other words, Hell is worse that what these words convey. People would prefer a lake of fire to the reality of facing God’s wrath. In the book of Hebrews we read,
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?…It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [Hebrews 10:28-31]
Third, this state of God’s wrath is permanent. Abraham tells the rich man that “a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” Once this life is over, there are no other chances. Our eternal destiny is decided by our choices in this life.
GOD’S WRATH EXPLAINS THE CROSS
If we understand the wrath of God, we can better understand the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross became necessary because,
- God hates sin
- Man is saturated with sin
- God desired to reveal His love by extending grace and mercy
- God’s justice required a punishment for sin
- Jesus became our perfect substitute . . . the one who would take the punishment for sin.
- Christ is some horrible and mysterious way endured the wrath of God on our behalf. When he cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” He was enduring the horrible rush of God’s wrath that you and I deserved.
- The Bible tells us that whoever puts their trust in Jesus and what He did for us, will have two things happen: their sin will be credited to the account of Christ (He death will be for our sin). Second, His goodness will be placed in our account. God will view us as Holy.
There is no greater act of mercy, grace, and love than what God has done for us through Christ. The gift extended at the cross was staggering and undeserved. If we understand what we do deserve and compare it to what we have been given, we will spend the rest of our lives giving thanks.
I realize that this is a depressing topic. However, it is my hope that speaking the truth will get us to awaken to at least four important lessons we should learn.
1. This is a warning to those who think they can sin without consequence; those who think they can ignore God whenever they want to. They are desperately mistaken. The Lord takes sin seriously. We are foolish to conclude that because God’s wrath is not immediate . . . that it is not there. God is watching the decline of our society and the decline of our own lives. Believers who continue in sin will be disciplined, unbelievers will be sent to eternal damnation.
2. The most urgent need is to get right with God while there is still time. John the Baptist told people to “flee from the wrath to come.” There is no matter that is more urgent than getting right with God. And there are two reasons this is so. First, there is nothing that has greater consequence than our decision regarding Jesus Christ. Your financial decisions may affect your comfort level, but it does not affect your eternity. Your relationship struggles will affect your present happiness, but not your eternal destiny. Your job allows you to bring home a paycheck but it does not affect where you will spend eternity. Your decision regarding Jesus is the only thing that affects where you will spend eternity.
Secondly, this issue is most urgent because we do not know how much time we have. At any moment our life could end. A heart attack, a care accident, an aneurysm, a stroke. All God has to do is say the word and your life is over. It doesn’t matter how good you feel right now . . . you are living on borrowed time. Don’t put off turning to the Lord for forgiveness and new life. You can’t be sure you will have another chance.
So, drop everything. If you have not asked God for forgiveness and declared your faith in what Christ has done for you, do it now. With a sincere heart confess your need and receive His gift. Forget the rest of this sermon and put first things first.
3. Our most urgent work is to reach others. Paul said, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” (2 Cor 5:11). There is no greater motivation for telling others about Christ than to realize what is at stake. We don’t try to reach out to others so our church can get bigger. We aren’t on some ego trip. We’re not trying to get other people to agree with us, or be like us. We share the gospel with others because we are trying desperately to save people from the wrath of God!!!
- If you had it within your power and ability to save a drowning person but all those around you were telling you not to interfere in the lives of others . . . should you still try to save that person?
- If you were late for an appointment and you saw someone collapse on a sidewalk, should you still try to get them some help even if it meant missing your appointment?
- If you saw someone dipping a spoon into a box of poison sincerely believing that eating this poison would not hurt them, would you try to stop them from eating it?
- Then if you know that someone will face the wrath of God if they don’t repent of their sin and run to Christ for mercy, should you keep silent even though people say you are imposing your faith on them, or even if you have many important things to do, or even if other people are happy and sincere in their faith which you know is leading to destruction?
4. Though it may appear that evil is acceptable and triumphing we must not lose heart. A day of judgment and justice is around the corner. Though it may seem that God’s people are getting “edged out” God has not forgotten us. Men can redefine what moral behavior will be tolerated. Lawmakers can pass laws that seek to silence godliness. Courts can approve laws that make killing others legal. But God is unmoved. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. And God alone defines both. Neither is up for a vote. The Judge of all the earth will do what is right and just. This is a terrifying prospect for those who are ungodly. But it is a strong anchor in the fierce storms of life for the believer.