The Loving Wrath of God

sermon given in late 2003

1 John 4:16 says that "God is love". Some would take this to mean that God loves everyone and therefore wouldn’t send anyone to hell. After all , v. 18 says "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not perfected in love". These verses show that God, then, is a kindly grandfather who might spank us when we misbehave, but not too hard. This is such a bright sunny heart-warming picture! But, wait….is that a cloud on the horizon?

How then do we take verses such as Eccl 12:13 which says "Fear God and keep His commandments", and Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 1:7 which both say "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge"? Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:28 "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". What’s with all this fear stuff? Perhaps the answer is that God could do that, but wouldn’t, because after all, doesn’t perfect love cast out fear and isn’t God love?

How then do we take Zephaniah 1:14-18?

Zephaniah 1:14-18 Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. (15) A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness, (16) A day of trumpet and battle cry Against the fortified cities And the high corner towers. (17) I will bring distress on men So that they will walk like the blind, Because they have sinned against the LORD; And their blood will be poured out like dust And their flesh like dung. (18) Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the LORD'S wrath; And all the earth will be devoured In the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth.  (NASB)

How do we take Exodus 12 when God "stretched out his hand" and killed the firstborn of everyone who did not follow His instructions regarding the Passover? God says in Exodus 22:14 "And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.". After the Israelites have made a golden calf and worshipped it, God tells Moses in Exodus 32:10 "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them". When the Israelites complained about eating manna only, God sent them quail and then in Numbers 11:33 And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague. The book of Revelation is filled with descriptions of God’s wrath being poured out in vials upon the earth. John says in Revelation 6:17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

God’s wrath is real and it is to be feared for He can and will pour it out. Worse, the Bible says that we deserve this wrath against which no one can stand.

Romans 2:1-13 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (2) And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (3) But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (4) Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (5) But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. (9) There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, (10) but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (11) For there is no partiality with God. (12) For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; (13) for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

Ephesians 2:3 says that we "were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

How then can God be love and still deliver His wrath upon His creation? First, God is Holy. "Holy" means "spiritually perfect or pure; without sin; perfect in a moral sense". We know that God is Holy because in Isaiah 6:3 the seraphim fly about Him crying "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts". Second, we know that from Genesis to Revelation that God is the Judge of all. Since God is Holy and God is the Judge, it follows that God is a Holy Judge and that His judgments are perfect. We also know from 1 Chronicles 29:11, Nehemiah 9:5, and at least 4 Psalms that God is praised above all. He is the ultimate, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. There is nothing beyond God. Psalm 147:5 tells us that "his understanding is infinite" and Deuteronomy 33:27 calls Him "the eternal God". God is therefore not only a Holy Judge, but is eternal and infinite as well.

We have a picture of the Judge, let us look now at the crime. Punishment for disobedience must given. To ignore disobedience is to violate the role of the Holy Judge. "Okay, okay", you might say, "I’ve done something bad, but God is the big grandfather in the sky. He’ll slap my wrists and be done with it". Well, no. The punishment must fit the crime. Even as sinful creatures, we know this. Breaking the speed limit does not deserve hanging, nor more than murder deserves a $25 fine. Jonathan Edwards made this point clear in his sermon "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners". We agree that the punishment must fit the crime and we have already established that God is above all, and indeed, is infinite. Sin is a crime against God. It is a disobedience of God’s Law. Paul says so in Romans 2:23. A crime against an infinite being must logically result in an infinite punishment. That is, our rebellion against the name that is above all must result in an equal punishment. Were it not so, God would not be a Holy Judge and we’ve already established that fact. Thus, James can say in 2:10 that the person who stumbles in one point of the Law is guilty in all. The slightest transgression against an infinite being results in infinite punishment, no matter if there are 1 or 10,000 transgressions.

Romans 3:23 tells us that "all have sinned", therefore all of us are doomed to eternal punishment. All of us are deserving of God’s wrath. God loves us and He loves us so much that we’re all going to Hell. This is our predicament. Who then can be saved? And how are they saved?

If you recall, 1 John 4:18 said "There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear." And yet, we’re told to fear God, which I hope by now, you most certainly do. But wait….Psalm 111 and Proverb 1 both told us that "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom". Once we see that God is not only capable of totally and utterly destroying both our souls and bodies, but actually bound to do so by his Holiness, and once we have the fear of God in us, then and only then can we begin looking for a way out. It seems evident that we need the "perfect love" described in 1 John. Where is it?

Jesus, in the gospel of John 15:13 says this "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.". Taken literally "no greater love" means just that. There is no greater love. The ultimate love from the ultimate God. And Jesus’ definition is that one "lay down his life for his friends".

Romans 5:6-11: 6For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. 11And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

And verse 1: 1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

Jesus Christ has provided the means for peace with God, and an escape from His righteous wrath. Thus, God Himself has given us the escape we seek, thru His son the Christ, Jesus, who died for us, His friends, not when we were seeking righteousness, not when we were preparing ourselves to meet Him, not even when we knew we needed such a thing as a Savior. No, He died for us while we were sinners, enemies to Himself and God. This is perfect love and it saves us from the wrath of God that we deserve. God is love.