Posts Tagged ‘wrath’

Devotional Podcast #22: “God’s Wrath and the Gospel”

March 16, 2018

This is Part 2 of my reflection on the Bible’s most popular verse, John 3:16. Today I tackle an unpopular subject: God’s wrath. Why does a God of perfect love have wrath? I hope my words help make sense of it. Scripture is Numbers 21:4-9.

Devotional Text: Numbers 21:4-9

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Hi, This is Brent White! It’s Thursday, March 15, and this is devotional podcast number 22.

And it is a jungle out there—at least if this 1974 hit song, written by Ian Anderson and performed by the band Jethro Tull, is true. I recorded this from their album WarChild. “He who made kittens,” Anderson tells us, referring to God, “put snakes in the grass.” And that’s literally true when it comes to today’s scripture in Numbers 21:4-9.

Remember, this is the second podcast related to John 3:16. To hear the first in the series, go back and listen to devotional podcast number 21.

As I said last time, to understand the Bible’s most famous verse, we have to look at this short passage from Numbers 21—because Jesus refers to it in John 3:14-15 when he says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

In Numbers 21, the Israelites are nearing the Promised Land after almost 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. And now, a new generation of Israelites is complaining to Moses about his leadership and God’s providential care. Verse 5: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” And what does God do in response to their ingratitude, their blasphemy, and their lack of faith? He sends poisonous snakes in their midst… to kill them.

Why? Because, as uncomfortable as it makes modern people feel, God has wrath toward sin. God is giving us a small picture of his wrath in Numbers 21. Wrath is God’s justifiable anger toward sin and evil. When we think of the word “wrath,” we probably think of losing one’s temper and being out of control with anger—flying off the handle. Needless to say, I hope, God does not lose his temper, nor is he out of control or flying off the handle. In fact, God’s wrath is a consequence of his love: Because God loves this world, and especially his image-bearing creatures within it, he is angry at all the sin and evil that harm it. I hope that makes sense. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 10-15-17: “Christ Alone, Part 1”

October 17, 2017

This sermon, the first of two on today’s scripture, is about an unpopular subject: the wrath of God. As I explain in this sermon, if God truly loves us, then that means that he will also have wrath toward sin. At the same time, God made a gracious provision to save us from his wrath. Every sin will be punished, scripture tells us, either through Christ on the cross or through us in hell for eternity. The choice is ours.

Sermon Text: Hebrews 2:5-18

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We don’t know who the author of Hebrews is. He’s anonymous. But we know why he’s writing this letter. He tells us at the beginning of chapter 2: He’s concerned that these Christians, who have undergone great persecution and suffering for their faith, are in danger of “drifting away from it.” Later, in chapter 6, verses 4 through 6, he issues the following warning:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

These people don’t sound so different from us: like us, they had “once been enlightened”; like us, they had “tasted the heavenly gift” of salvation; like us, they had “shared in the Holy Spirit.” Like most of us, they were genuine Christian believers. But they drifted away—they fell away—from the faith. And now they’re lost; it sounds like they’ve passed a point of no return and are beyond hope.

Could this happen to us… If we drift away?
Read the rest of this entry »

Wrath is God’s “absolute enmity against all wrong”

July 2, 2016

rutledgeIn Fleming Rutledge’s new book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, she acknowledges the difficulty that modern people have with the concept of God’s wrath. Nevertheless, she writes, “there can be no turning away from this prominent biblical theme.”

But forget the Bible for a moment: don’t we have wrath, too? Don’t we think our own wrath is justified at least sometimes?

A slogan of our times is “Where’s the outrage?” It has been applied to everything from Big Pharma’s market manipulation to CEOs’ astronomical wealth to police officers’ stonewalling. “Where the outrage?” inquire many commentators, wondering why congressmen, officials, and ordinary voters seem so indifferent. Why has the gap between rich and poor become so huge? Why are so many mentally ill people slipping through the cracks? Why does gun violence continue to be a hall mark of American culture? Why Why are there so many innocent people on death row? Wy are our prisons filled with such a preponderance of black and Hispanic men? Where’s the outrage? The public is outraged all over cyberspace about all kinds of things that annoy us personally—the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome—but outrages in the heart of God go unnoticed and unaddressed.

The biblical message is that the outrage is first of all in the heart of God. If we are resistant to the idea of the wrath of God, we might pause to reflect the next time we are outraged about something—about our property values being threatened, or our children’s educational opportunities being limited, or our tax breaks being eliminated. All of us are capable of anger about something. God’s anger, however, is pure. It does not have the maintenance of privilege as its object, but goes out on behalf of those who have no privileges. The wrath of God is not an emotion that flares up from time to time, as though God had temper tantrums; it is a way of describing his absolute enmity against all wrong and his coming to set matters right.[1]

1. Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 129-30.

“Mine to avenge”

March 20, 2012

This hasn’t been a good week for my favorite contemporary radio show, This American Life. On Sunday, they ran an episode-length retraction of a recent story about Foxconn, Apple Computer’s Chinese manufacturing partner.

Good for them, I say, and no hard feelings here: Ira Glass and Co. still rule the airwaves when it comes to exploiting radio’s unique strengths to tell a good story. One story from last week’s episode, “Slow to React,” (re-broadcast from 2011) was one of the best I’ve heard in a long time.

The story, “When I Grow Up,” is a journalist’s unflinching, first-person account of a murder he planned to commit. The journalist, David Holthouse, begins: “This time last year I was plotting to kill a man. This time last year I had a gun and a silencer and a plan.” The prospective murder victim, it turns out, raped Holthouse 25 years earlier, when Holthouse was seven and the rapist was 15. (“Molester,” Holthouse believes, is too gentle a term for what this person did.) His parents were good friends and neighbors of the teenager’s parents.

Holthouse never told anyone about the rape—naturally, the rapist threatened to kill him if he did. So he grew up feeling both ashamed and guilty. Did his silence enable his rapist to claim more victims? Holthouse knew the research: he likely wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot. Meanwhile, the man, Holthouse learned, was never arrested for other crimes. He was now a husband with children and stepchildren of his own.

Holthouse wanted to do something to right the wrong, but not at the expense of having other people find out what happened to him. He didn’t want to be perceived as “damaged goods”—someone who couldn’t be trusted around kids. (He had made a blood oath with himself, he said, to commit suicide if he ever felt the impulse to molest children.) And he didn’t want his parents to blame themselves.

For whatever reason, he decided that murder was his best option. He formulated a plan, and he believed he would get away with it. He was only saved from carrying it out when his mother found his childhood diary. She read an entry, a few years after the fact, in which he described the incident. Now the news was out. After being confronted by Holthouse’s parents, the man confessed that he had done what Holthouse described in his diary. Obviously, the statute of limitations had run out a long time ago.

Eventually, Holthouse arranged a meeting, in public, with the man, who begged forgiveness. He told him he had wanted to apologize for years; that the incident had weighed on his conscience; and that he hoped—best case—that Holthouse had somehow forgotten about it. He assured Holthouse, repeatedly, that he was the only victim.

Holthouse said, “All the experts say he was almost certainly lying. But then, all the experts also say that it was extremely unusual for him to admit his crime to me, let alone his wife and parents. And he did at least make an admission to his parents. I checked.” Listen to the story and decide for yourself—or, like me, remain undecided.

Regardless, the story bears witness to the power of forgiveness—or as close to forgiveness as someone in Holthouse’s position should be expected to come. What’s clear is that this meeting between abuser and victim enabled the victim to let go of the hatred that had enslaved him for 25 years.

Holthouse explains that while he didn’t grow up in a religious home (is he religious now?), he thought of Paul’s words from Romans 12:19 (which Holthouse quotes from the NIV): “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.'”

I can’t think of a more appropriate scripture. Can you?

I’ve talked a lot recently on this blog and in sermons about God’s wrath, as well as our modern squeamishness toward the concept. But isn’t it clear in this case that God’s wrath is a good thing? That the kind of forgiveness that someone like Holthouse can extend to his rapist is underwritten by God’s wrath? That only God can ensure that justice is fully and finally done?

I don’t want this kind of sin to go unpunished. Do you? And, of course, I’m well aware that I have my own sins to worry about. All I can say is, “Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving me.” But the forgiveness that comes through the cross isn’t a matter of getting off scot-free. All of us, even those of us who are Christians, will will one day own up to each and every sin. This is the meaning of Final Judgment. Even though it won’t mean hell, I can’t imagine that it won’t be painful.

What do you think?

Sermon for 06-12-11: “Roman Road, Part 1: I Am Not Ashamed”

June 16, 2011

Our new summer sermon series in Vinebranch got off to a strong start, I think. Pay no attention to the title on the screen behind me: It’s “Roman Road,” not “Romans Road.” 

Sermon Text: Romans 1:16-17

The following is my original manuscript.

When I was in college the first time around, I had a history professor who was the son of Methodist missionary parents in China. As a result, he was born in China and spent much of his childhood there—before Mao’s revolution. Like a good preacher, he often drew upon this personal experience to illustrate points he wanted to make in his lecture. But here’s the rub: during each of the five or six times he mentioned growing up in China to missionary parents, he qualified it by saying: “My parents were medical missionaries; they weren’t there to convert people.” All of his students in the class understood what he meant: His parents’ life work was all about doing something useful—you know, offering modern Western medicine to an impoverished people. They weren’t there to convert anyone. After all, what good is that? How would that be useful?

By contrast, Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”— like there’s something shameful about going to China simply to try to persuade people to believe in Jesus and find salvation from God—so we need to offer something, you know, more practical, more useful, than simply the gospel. Back in the 1960s, a Catholic missionary, Father Vincent Donovan, described being a part of a mission to East Africa, where a nomadic tribe known as the Masai lived. For over a hundred years, the Catholic church had operated a mission in East Africa, in an effort to convert the Masai people to Christianity. They offered western medicine and education and agricultural assistance to the Masai, but for a hundred years they had almost no converts to show for it.

Donovan got an idea: What if I simply went to the people directly, and asked to share the gospel message—you know, with words—instead of dressing it up with all this extra stuff, which the church was using almost like a bribe? He resolved to do just that, but he wrote in his memoir that there was a problem: he was so unaccustomed to actually putting the gospel into words, that he had to re-learn what exactly it was and why it mattered. And when he told the tribal elders that the reason the church was there in the first place was to share this gospel message, they said, “If that’s what you wanted to do, why didn’t you just say so?”

I am not ashamed of the gospel. Read the rest of this entry »