by: Bruce Cook
Laura Lee and I had gone to the country or farm as we call it to spend a couple of days. When we came home our answering machine was beeping and Laura Lee went to check the messages. We have quite a number of relatives who are in bad health and we never know what the next call might bring, so she always listens to the messages as soon as we come home. We had finished bringing in our belongings and I was sitting at the kitchen table when Laura Lee came down and said the Lord just gave you your next article to write about. When I asked her what the title was, she said you’ll just have to listen to the answering machine. I asked her if God was talking or leaving me messages by phone now, sort of trying to joke a little bit about it. She said just go and listen to the message, and so I did. It was a lady who’s name I won’t reveal unless she would like for me to. She told me that she enjoyed my talk about forgiveness and ask if I had or would consider doing an article on the wrath of God? She said you know you could do several articles on this one subject. (I found out later how true that statement was. But I’m not sure that I want to do more than one at this point.) Later on when I saw her, she asked me if I got her message and I said yes and thanked her, but that I would like to pray about it because a while back I had done quite a lot of study and work when I did my article on Hell. But after much prayer and thought I decided to give it a try.
The wrath of God is truly a forgotten doctrine in many evangelical churches. Dr. Ronald W. Scates tells us that you have probably heard sermons more along the line of coddled Christians in the hands of a soothing “Celestial Therapist“. We don’t preach on the wrath of God anymore today. It is pretty much of an “out” kind of thing. Gone the way of high button shoes and pilgrim hats.
Rev. Dennis Marquardt says that the reality of hell is scoffed at today and many believers mock Christians for talking about God’s wrath and hell. We are accused of being negative and preying on fear in the hopes of making followers. However, Christians do believe the Scriptures about hell: Yet most of our preaching and teaching center not on the horribleness of Hell but on how to escape it. Therefore we are positive oriented. Gods wrath exists only on those who refuse the grace of God and ignore the generous way out that Jesus Christ made for us. It is not fear we appeal to but God’s love for us that is the appeal: Yet the world mocks the wrath of God, and God’s avenue of escape.
I dare say that many of you have never heard a sermon on God’s wrath, or the eternal reality of Hell. The reasons for this apparent neglect are not hard to find. I would rather write and talk about God’s grace, after all, to speak of the wrath of God makes us appear narrow minded, judgmental, and God help us fundamentalist. They want to hear sermons more along the line of coddled Christians in the hands of a soothing God. We don’t preach on the wrath of God anymore today because it’s pretty much a kind of out thing (old fashioned).
God’s wrath is difficult to comprehend and is a doctrine that can easily be overlooked. The thought that friends, family, relatives and nice people we know might someday go to eternal hell is overwhelming and disheartening, so we’d much rather not think of it at all. Some Christians feel that they have to apologize for this doctrine. Some think it a blemish on God’s character. While others think that God’s wrath is inconsistent with his love. But let me tell you there is no need to apologize for God’s word so long as it is fairly and graciously presented.
J. L. Packer says “The fact is, the subject of divine wrath has become taboo in modern society, and Christians by and large have accepted the taboo and conditioned themselves to never raise the matter.” True though these words may be, two facts stare us in the face. The bible says more about wrath than about love. And Jesus spoke more about hell than he did heaven. No amount of reasoning can change the truth. The bible is filled with warnings about God’s wrath and about eternal judgment. God has made no secret of his wrath, and neither should we.
So lets begin with a simple definition of wrath as one of God’s attributes. It’s important to get a proper definition because when we use or hear the word wrath we tend to think of uncontrolled anger. While that may be human wrath, it is far from the truth about God’s wrath. God’s wrath is settled toward sin in all its various manifestations. Settled hostility means that God’s holiness cannot, and will not coexist with sin in any form whatsoever. God’s wrath is his holy hatred of all that is unholy. It is his righteous indignation at everything that is unrighteous. God’s wrath is not uncontrollable rage, vindictive bitterness or God losing his temper.
The bible tells us in (Nehemiah 9:17, and Psalm 103:8) that God is slow to anger. God never losses his temper the way that we do. Wrath is Gods natural response to sin in the universe. He cannot overlook it, he cannot wink at it and he cannot pretend it is not there. Wrath is what happens when holiness meets sin. Wrath is what happens when righteousness meets unrighteousness and wrath is what happens when perfect good meets pure evil.
I would like for you to read the short Old Testament book of Nahum. It is an oracle (message, burden) concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite starts of by telling us in the first eight verses about the anger against Nineveh.
The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; The Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemy. The Lord is slow to anger, great in power, The Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up. He makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles in his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, the rocks are shattered before him. The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust him, but with an overwhelming flood, he will make an end of Nineveh. He will pursue his foes into darkness.
The word oracle in verse one literally means burden. Burdens are heavy. They are cumbersome and uncomfortable. We want to get rid of burdens. Atrocity, child sacrifice and blasphemy. These are the kinds of burdens that epitomized what the city of Nineveh was all about in the day of Nahum. Nineveh had become burdensome to God. He wants to get rid of all of it so he raises up a prophet, Nahum, to prophesy against Nineveh, and to lay on the table the wrath of God. This should remind us that God is not a God to be trifled with. That you cannot be presumptuous with, that you can act cocky around. In the words of that great theologian Jim Croce, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off of the Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess with----God.
If you want to do a study on the wrath of God, don’t do it in the Old Testament. Go to the New Testament. Go to Jesus, Jesus speaks more about the wrath of God, and does so in a more eternal way than the old testament ever does, and yet the whole idea of the wrath of God is summed up under his banner of love. His incredible love for us and even for his enemies. You see the wrath of God is really a comfort. Think about it, do you really want a God that has no wrath? The Holocaust. The unrepentant drunk driver that killed your son and got off scott free. And every other instance of atrocity, and injustice, and degraded, mean, and contemptible evil that has seemed to get off the hook, where there has not been any recourse in this world. It is actually a comfort to know that God promises that his judgment, his justice, will one day be completely acted out. No one gets off scott free.
The wrath of God means that sin, all evil, injustice, cruelty, all of these things will not be a part of eternity. They will be completely destroyed one day. If you have a God without wrath, you’ve got nothing but a big bag of sentimental emotion. Not the one true living God who loves you and me.
God has woven his justice into the very fabric of the universe. You and I can ignore it, we can slight it, we can break it, but the promise here is that when it happens you will not escape His justice. That will one day catch up to those who are guilty.
Let me remind you and myself of the greatest outpouring of the wrath of God that has ever been, and ever will be. A wrath that was out poured due to God’s incredible love for all of the Ninevehs of this world. For all of its enemies and folks, that includes you and me, who by our very sin, our rebellion against God, have made ourselves into his enemies. Rather than destroy us in his wrath, rather than destroy Nineveh, rather than destroy all of those who have rebelled against him, God pours out his wrath chiefly, supremely, surprisingly, gracefully, at the cross. Upon the person of his very own son Jesus. A wrath that rightfully should have been directed at you and me. You cannot separate God’s wrath from his grace, they are totally interlinked. And so Jesus is the recipient of the wrath of God in place of you and me.
When you and I understand the gospel, then the wrath of God is truly a comfort. A reminder that in eternity, there will be no sin, no injustice and no evil. All of that will be destroyed by God’s wrath.
As we look at the New Testament, Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their unrighteous way.” God pronounces judgment on the whole human race. And that comes in response to mans rejection. The truth is, we’ve got the problem – not God. First man rebels and then God responds with his wrath.
There is a simple progression here: Men by nature suppress the truth about God. That suppression leads to ungodliness. Ungodliness leads to wickedness. And that wickedness leads to every kind of evil and violence.
In Romans Paul is teaching that moral perversion comes from perversion in faith. What you believe is how you live. And once you turn your back on God, the end result is a river of wickedness flowing out of your life. Left to himself man always turns to wickedness. First man rejects the truth about God, then he turns away from God, then he turns to immorality. There are no exceptions. This is true in every generation and every culture. It ultimately includes every individual on earth. Each man, each woman, the educated and the illiterate alike all suppress the truth about God. Left to your own devices, you will always turn to wickedness. That’s how we can have mass murderers who used to attend Sunday school, and prostitutes who once sang in the church choir. It’s hard to accept, but it is what Paul is teaching.
Verse 21-23 traces the downward progression as men come under God’s wrath. Indifference ends in total moral corruption. In verse 21 there is an indifference to God. Paul clearly portrays the inevitable downward spiral into sin. First, people reject God, next they fall into sin – sexual sin, greed, hatred, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip and finally they grow to hate God and encourage others to do so. God does not cause this steady progression toward evil. Rather, when people reject him, he allows them to live as they choose. God gives them over or permits them to experience the natural consequences of their sin. Once caught in the downward spiral, no one can pull himself or herself out. Sinners must trust Christ alone to put them on the path of escape.
When Paul said that men exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of birds, animals and reptiles, he seems to deliberately state mans wickedness in the terms used in the Genesis narrative of Adams fall. (Genesis 1; 20 –26. When we worship the creatures instead of the creator, we lose sight of our own identity as those who are higher than the animals.- Made in the image of God.)
Today more than ever we need to be careful about the input we allow to form our beliefs. With television, music, movies, and the rest of the media often presenting sinful lifestyles and unwholesome values, we find ourselves constantly bombarded by attitudes and beliefs totally opposed to the bible. The bible is the only standard of truth.
They insisted on sexual immorality (Genisis 1; 24-25) therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. Therefore because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the dire penalty for their perversion.
This brings us to a final step of public praise for evildoers. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do this very thing but also approve of those who practice them. We have now reached the bottom, and it’s not a nice place to be. The bottom is where you are when evil becomes good and good becomes evil, and when wrongdoers are publicly praised, while defenders of morality are reviled. The bottom is where you are when truth is on the bottom step and wrong is on the throne. They were and we are fully aware of Gods death penalty for these crimes, yet they went right ahead and did them anyway. That my friends, is the bottom – when evil is celebrated publicly. At this point there is a total reversal of values in society. I do not think it unfair to say that we have essentially reached this point in America today. The values of society have been turned upside down. Wrong doers have nearly taken control of two key areas in society – education and the media and seek legal status for their iniquity. Major magazines and others argue that homosexuality is normal, and chastise a public figure for speaking out against it. Churches ordain homosexuals and those who object are mercilessly vilified. When Baptist ministers rally in support of a boxing champion convicted of rape. When no one knows the difference between right and wrong you have a final loss of public morality. Romans has come true before our very eyes.
The Holy wrath of God is a horrible destiny. So flee it with all of your might. Oh the horror of not repenting and holding fast to the testimony of Jesus. The description of the wrath of God by the apostle of love (John) is terrifying. Those who spurn God’s love will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of His anger. And they shall be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the Holy Angels and in the presence of the Lamb, and they have no rest, day or night. (Rev. 14 : 10-11). And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20: 15)Jesus will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the almighty (Rev. 19 : 15) and blood will flow from the wine press, as high as a horses bridle for two hundred miles. (Rev. 14 :20)
So far I have yet to give much in the word of hope. But I’m glad to tell you that there is hope. 1 John 2:2 says that He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the whole world. By offering of himself, Jesus turned away God’s wrath forever. Because Jesus Christ died, God’s justice has now been satisfied. The price for sin has been paid. Because Jesus Christ died, God’s mercy is now freely available to anyone who accepts it.
Justice satisfied – The price paid – mercy available. What an awesome thought. God’s wrath is real but so is his mercy. He satisfied his own wrath by offering his own son on the cross. Because Christ bore the full weight of God’s wrath, we now enjoy the full blessing of God’s mercy.
For those who reject Christ, there is nowhere else to turn. I simply mean the gift of Christ is so great, his sacrifice so magnificent, his death so awesome in its benefits, that if you decide to go someplace else, you will find that there is no place else to go. If you turn from the cross and go back into the world, or if you think you can do it on your own and save yourself, if you turn from Christ, you will discover there is no place else to go. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.
220 years ago there was a man in England by the name of William Cowper. A man of nervous disposition, he often struggled with sever depression. At one point in his life he became extremely depressed and fearful that he was under the wrath of God. He said, I flung myself into a chair by the window and there saw a bible on the table by the chair. I opened it up and my eyes fell on Romans 3:25 which says of Christ “Whom God has made a propitiation through faith in his blood.” These are his words; “Then and there, I realized what Christ’s blood had accomplished and I realized the effects of his atonement for me. I realized God was willing to justify me and then I trusted Jesus Christ and a great burden was lifted from my soul.”
Looking back on that day, William Cowper wrote a hymn that is still in some hymnbooks today.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuels veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilt and shame
A 2008 survey showed that only 59% of Americans believe (correctly) that there is a real hell, a real place of punishment. That means the 41% have embraced a tragic mistake of God’s wrath, this would mean that in todays society there would be over 160 million souls that will feel God’s wrath. And that’s assuming that all of the 59% make it to heaven. This is easily corrected by reading the bible and coming to the Lord in repentance.
Jesus Christ has turned away the wrath of God. He shed his blood and what was a place of judgment is now a mercy seat for people like you and me. Someday God’s fiery judgment of wrath is going to fall on those in their sins, but this horrible fire of wrath won’t touch those in Christ. What a joy is ours, we do not focus on God’s wrath for it will not be our experience, salvation will be our eternal state, so why miss out on the best offer on this side of eternity? Escape while you can. Come to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let me ask you, where will you spend eternity? To write this article I used many sources to obtain information. The following are three of those sources.
Dr Ray Pritchard. A Forgotten Doctrine, The Wrath of God.http:/wwwkeepbelieving.com/sermon.
Dr. Ronald Scates. Wrath of God. www.centralpc.org.
Rev. Dennis Marquardt. Escape From Gods Wrath.http://nnedaog.org/sermons/escape8.htm.
I highly recommend that you read these sermons.
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