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Seeing God’s Love in His Wrath

Last week we spent some time looking at the lavish generosity of God! 

We began by trying to understand our own jealous tendencies – that feeling that all of us seem to have where, no matter how good we have it, if someone else has it better, we feel envious of them and sometimes even resentful.

We saw this quite clearly in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner. You’ll remember in the parable, a vineyard owner hires a whole bunch of different guys throughout the day to work in his vineyard – some work 12 hours, some work 6 hours, some only work 1 hour because they were hired so late in the day. But at the end of the day, the vineyard owner pays them all a full days wage!

Of course, for those who only worked 1 hour, this is an amazing blessing! This is incredible generosity! But those who worked all day, they’re not quite as excited about it. They think it’s rather unfair that the guys who only worked for one hour should be paid the exact same amount as those who worked hard all day long.

And they were probably right. It may not have been fair – but the story wasn’t about fairness – it was about the generosity and kindness of the vineyard owner.

The point of the parable was to illustrate God’s goodness and kindness to us. It was a reminder to us that God isn’t stingy or reluctant to give to us – but rather he is lavishly generous – giving us more than what is needed or expected. 

We saw that theme repeated in the writings of Paul as Paul explained how God loved us and chose to adopt us into his family before time even began – and that doing that gave Him great pleasure! God loves to love us!

David had the very same understanding of God – as we saw in the Psalm 23. David talks about how God is our good shepherd and He takes awesome care of us – providing for our needs, protecting us from evil, even preparing a feast for us in the midst of our enemies.

And then we ended last week’s message by sharing communion together – and we remembered Jesus’ ultimate act of goodness and generosity – giving up his own life and dying on the cross so that we could live.

So I trust that last week was a strong reminder of the generosity of God.

But I want to be careful that I don’t present a lope-sided view of God. That is, I don’t want to emphasis one aspect of his character and leave out some others.

You see, if that’s all we knew about God, that He is good, generous, and loving, I think there would be some parts of the Bible that we would have a really hard time understanding. If all we knew was that God was lavishly generous, I think we’d walk away with a picture of God in our minds where God is a lot like Santa Claus or big teddy bear – all hugs and cuddles – sunshine and lollipops. But there are a lot of parts of the Bible where God does not come across as a cuddly teddy bear. 

Think back through the old testament – Remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Because of their sinfulness, God literally rained down fire and brimstone on those two cities – completely destroying them. That’s not very teddy bear like.

Or how about the times when God told Joshua or Saul or other kings to completely destroy certain people groups – not to leave a single person alive? That’s not very teddy bear like either!

And it’s not just an old testament image of God. Even in the New Testament – there are some very “un-teddybear like moments.” There was that time when Jesus made a whip and then use it to chase out the merchants from the temple – knocking over their tables and sending their money flying all over the floor!

When Jesus deals with the Pharisees, he was rarely soft-spoken and gentle. In Matthew 23 for example, pretty much the whole chapter is Jesus verbally blasting the Pharisees – calling them blind fools, hypocites! He says to them in verse 33 (And I quote):

 “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” 

Matthew 23:33

That’s some pretty strong language! And then, at the end of the New Testament we read verses like Revelation 20:15 that says…

“And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.” 

Revelations 20:15

I think it’s pretty clear that we best not paint God as being all sunshine and lollipops! There is another aspect to God that we need to understand. Paul points out for us in Romans 11:22:

“Notice how God is both kind and severe.”

Romans 11:22

And so that’s where I want to go this morning. How do we understand this God who is both kind and severe? If God is good, generous, and loving – where does all this other stuff come from?

Well, believe it or not, both sides come from the same place. In fact, God couldn’t truly be kind unless He was severe. His love and his wrath go hand-in-hand. I’ll show you what I mean.

Let’s start by looking at some definitions of both love and wrath. I think quite often when we hear the words ‘love’ and ‘wrath’, we think of them as emotions – that they are feelings that well up in us and express themselves in various ways.

It’s a tidal wave of emotion that comes over us whenever we’re around that special someone. Of course, the problem with emotions and feelings is that they come and go. One of the lines you sometimes hear from people when they get divorced is that that they’ve ‘fallen out of love’. The emotions are gone – and thus they figure, so is the love.

But God’s love is not like that. It’s not up one day and down another. It is consistent and continual. 

Chances are, you’re often heard me use the phrase “God loves you like crazy” (I use that phrase quite often!) but that’s not to say that God’s love is crazy because it’s like a wild tidal wave emotion like a teenager’s infatuation. Quite the opposite. It’s crazy because God’s love is a deep and consistent and unchanging – it’s unlike any other love we’ve ever known.

Lamentations 3:22 says…

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

    His mercies never cease.

23 Great is his faithfulness;

    his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Lamentations 3:22-23

God’s love is consistent and continual. And nothing we do can change that – which is awesome and amazing! When we blow it, He does’t love us any less – and when we do a great job, He doesn’t love us any more! His love for us is already maxed out! It really is a crazy love!

And it’s important that we understand God’s love, because understanding God’s love will help us understand God’s wrath. They are both actually very similar.

When we think of the word ‘wrath’, we usually think of an extreme negative emotion – kinda like Hobbes’ description of love, but on the other end of the spectrum. We envision someone who is just so angry that they explode in a fit of uncontrollable rage! That’s wrath! 

So when we think of God’s wrath, we imagine a God who is just so fed up with sinners that He kinda forgets about his loving kindness for a moment and He just unleashes fire and brimstone – and before you know it, Sodom and Gomorra are annihilated.

But I don’t think that’s really how it is. There’s a book I read some time ago called “The Good and Beautiful God”. The author, James Smith, writes this about God’s wrath:

“In the same way that God’s love is not a silly, sappy feeling, but rather a consistent desire for the good of his people, so also the wrath of God is not a crazed rage but rather a consistent opposition to sin and evil.”

And I think that’s an important point to understand – that God’s wrath is ”a consistent opposition to sin and evil.” And that actually ties right into God’s love. I think we would say that God’s wrath is actually part of God’s love.

You see, because God is love and He consistently and deeply desires good for His people, He must also therefore, consistently and deeply oppose sin – because sin is so utterly destructive to His people.

It would be really hard to understand how God could love us if He didn’t fiercely oppose that which causes us so much pain and harm!

The Bible frequently warns us of how destructive sin is. James, in talking about temptations says this in James 1:13…

“13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15

Sin is utterly and completely destructive to our lives. When it it allowed to grow – it gives birth to death. 

Even without the Scriptures to tell us that sin is destructive, I know all of us have experienced the pain and suffering that comes from sin – either as the result of our own sin or that of someone else’s.

You have your extreme examples like war or criminal activity – How many millions of people have had their lives totally shattered by destructiveness of war or by crimes of hate and murder? That stuff is in the headlines every day.

Of course, that’s the obvious stuff – but you also have all the every day stuff that might not be so obviously destructive, but destructive none the less…. Simple things like lies, gossip, slander selfishness, greed, jealousy ,…. I imagine we could make quite a list of all the ways sin has hurt you & I throughout our lives.

So when we understand just how destructive sin is to us, I’m glad our God isn’t a teddy bear God who winks his eye at evil. I’m thankful for God’s wrath – for his consistent opposition to sin and evil – because that’s really part of God’s love for me. 

For God just to turn a blind eye to our sin (no matter how small) would be like a doctor turning a blind eye to the cancer he discovers. What kind of a doctor would He be if he said, “Ah, that’s just little bit of cancer. That’s not going to hurt anybody.”

That’s ridiculous! If there is any trace of cancer, you want that taken care of because you know it will only grow and be destructive to you.

Sin is the same way. Any sin, no matter how small, leads to death. We saw that in James 1:15 earlier and Romans 6:23 confirms that for us.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

If God is love – that is, if God consistently desires for good for you and me – then that also means that God must oppose all sin – the big stuff and the small stuff. 

And as we look through the Bible, we see that that is true. God is consistently and deeply opposed to all sin. That’s part of what it means when we say that God is holy. There is no sin, no evil, no darkness in God. He is holy. Isaiah 6:3 reads:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Isaiah 6:3

Not only is God holy, but He also desires for us to be holy as well. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:15…

“But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

To go back to our earlier illustration of how sin is like cancer, we could understand this verse to say that God wants us to be cancer free just like he is cancer free!

God wants us to be holy because He wants us to be ‘whole’! He doesn’t want to see our lives destroyed by sin. He loves us too much just to let that happen!

That’s why He provided us with salvation! That’s why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be born as a man, and to live & die for us. Christ’s death on the cross provided us with a means of escape from the devastating consequences of our sin. But we need to accept that means of escape. We need to choose to repent of our sin and accept God’s gift of forgiveness.

You see, part of how God loves us, is that He has given us the ability to choose. He doesn’t force us to love Him back. He has certainly given us every opportunity and every reason to love Him – but He doesn’t force anything upon us. It’s our choice to make.

If we continue to reject God’s love – choosing to remain separated from Him because of our sin – God will not violate our choices. Although it saddens Him deeply, He will eventually give us what we ask for and we will be separated from Him forever. 

Sometimes people ask, how can a loving God send people to hell? The truth is, God has done everything He can short of dragging us into heaven, to prevent that from happening.

James Smith, the author of that book I quoted from earlier, writes “People may choose to bar God from their life – Thus the doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

I think there’s some truth to that – But that’s certainly not God’s desire. Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 

2 Peter 3:9

God desires good for everyone! He loves you like crazy – He loves you deeply and consistently! But you must understand that at the same time, God’s love and His holiness will not allow the cancer of sin to run rampant forever. He won’t allow it to continue destroying the lives of the people He loves. 

God is good and generous and loving and holy. His love and his wrath go hand-in-hand. 

The good news is that God has already poured out his wrath against sin on Jesus Christ. Christ has experienced that separation from God so that you don’t have to.

But the choice remains with you. You can choose to accept His love – His forgiveness – His gift of eternal life.

Or you can choose to keep God at a distance and lock the doors of hell from the inside. I know that sounds a little harsh – a little bit blunt – but it’s reality. And I tell you all this in hopes that every one of you will choose to accept God’s love.

If you’re not exactly sure how to do that, please come talk to me after the service – I would love nothing more than to help you do that today.

To close this morning, I want to read for you a few verses from Psalm 103. It really does summarize everything we’ve been talking about today – God’s goodness, his faithful love, his holiness, how he removes the disease of sin from our lives – how He is compassionate and merciful – How his love endures forever. 

It’s just a really great summary of everything we’ve talked about. So I’m just going to read it through – and I don’t plan to comment on any of it – I just want you to think about these verses as we close and then I’ll leave it to you to respond to God and to what He has said in His Word.

Psalm 103 starting at verse 1:

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;

    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.

2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;

    may I never forget the good things he does for me.

3 He forgives all my sins

    and heals all my diseases.

4 He redeems me from death

    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.

5 He fills my life with good things.

    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

6 The Lord gives righteousness

    and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

7 He revealed his character to Moses

    and his deeds to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,

    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.

9 He will not constantly accuse us,

    nor remain angry forever.

10 He does not punish us for all our sins;

    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.

11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him

    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

12 He has removed our sins as far from us

    as the east is from the west.

13 The Lord is like a father to his children,

    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

14 For he knows how weak we are;

    he remembers we are only dust.

15 Our days on earth are like grass;

    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

16 The wind blows, and we are gone—

    as though we had never been here.

17 But the love of the Lord remains forever

    with those who fear him.

His salvation extends to the children’s children

18  of those who are faithful to his covenant,

    of those who obey his commandments!

Psalm 103:1-18

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