Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 14: Compassion & Wrath
March 21, 2010
Objectives of sermon:
· That we embrace God’s wrath as a core component of his goodness.
· Sermons/mem cov. on serving,
· Passage and exegesis
· Handwritten notes, NAC description
Scripture reading: Genea (Exodus 33:18-20, 34:5-8)
Opening: Commend Deacons/Call to Serve
We chose leaders, not folks to do everything. The leadership is called by God to equip you.
· You need to serve and pour out or else become stagnant.
As we wade into some difficult territory, I pray that you help us see you as the first thing, not ourselves. This is not about making you fit into our ideals, but you shaping us to yours.
Loving God’s Wrath
Last week’s challenge was to fall in love with God’s law. This week it’s even more daunting: Fall in love with God’s wrath.
Q God is a God of wrath: How do you emotionally react to that?
· Do you think of an abusive, unloving father and become afraid?
· Does it embarrass you, an antiquated idea of God?
· Or do you find comfort in that idea?
We have our work cut out for us! Let’s start by looking at an example of God’s wrath, in the “Golden Calf incident”:
NIV Exodus 32:1 ¶ When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." 2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."
Admittedly, this is a pretty big screw up. Think back on the analogy of covenant as marriage: The Golden Calf incident is the equivalent of hiring a prostitute on your honeymoon.
Your bride goes shopping and comes back to find you otherwise occupied. You defend yourself, “You were gone for a long time and for all I knew, you were dead, so I wasn’t really cheating.”
· God is really mad, I get that, but I have a hard time with what comes next:
NIV Exodus 32:25 ¶ Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him. 27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'" 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, "You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day."
This sounds more like joining the mafia than the ministry! People would take church discipline more seriously if elders had to take out a few wayward church members before being installed!
Q How do we reconcile this to the picture of a loving God?
· Try explaining this to a bunch 2nd and 3rd graders.
A modern problem of biblical proportions
Interestingly, this is a modern problem. Previous generations overemphasized God wrath, at the expense of God’s love.
Q We joke about fire and brimstone sermons, but how many have you really heard?
If you remember the story of Jonah, the part of the story of Jonah that bothers us is the thought that God would wipe out an entire city of 600,000, men, women, and children. But Jonah and his readers were bothered by the fact that he didn’t.
· BTW: The parts of the Bible that embarrass or trouble you say more about you than about the Bible.
Q Back to the question: We are going to read a lot more passages like this, so how do we get around God’s wrath?
We don’t. God is a God of wrath, justice, and righteousness – deal with it. The problem is ours, not his. We have a low view of God that reflects our culture more than the Bible.
· Looking at my sermons, they’re weak on God’s wrath, because I don’t like it, but I am tired of apologizing for God.
I want to stop making excuse and dive into all of who God is, convinced that I will ultimately be happiest in who he really is because he is good.
Back when I answered those kids’ question, I said something about sin hurting us, and God stopping sin. This is very true, but it falls short in that it focus on us, not God.
I wish I would’ve said “God is very, very good, and we are very, very bad, even at our best, and God hates sin because it destroys goodness. We all deserve what happened to them, but God saves us because of his love and mercy, if we repent.”
· That may not make for a great bedtime story, but it prepares them to understand and receive the grace of God.
Through this sermon, I want us (esp. myself) to stop trying to work around God’s wrath, but instead have the Spirit work in me to understand that his wrath is a good thing, and become grateful for it.
· We shouldn’t try to excuse God’s wrath, rather recalibrate ourselves to see God’s wrath as part of his goodness.
Q Do I have your attention?
Q Are you wishing you hadn’t brought a visitor?
Don’t worry, we will see how God’s wrath is part of his goodness – God doesn’t have a split personality. In fact the key point:
· God’s wrath is a core component of his goodness.
He most certainly is love. Today’s overemphasis on God’s love (at the expense of his wrath and judgment) is partially a reaction to a pervious era’s overemphasis on his wrath (we suck at balance). Keep these truths in the front of your mind:
Psalm 145:8-9, 17 8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
Does this passage sound familiar? It quotes from God’s self-revelation which was read this morning, and there we find our answers, because it shows a complete, cohesive picture of God.
God describes himself
This passage is the clearest and most complete revelation of God in the OT. In fact, it’s is alluded to many times throughout the Bible. Not until Jesus do we have a clearer picture of God.
The context is that Moses asks God to show his glory. In other words, Moses ask God to describe himself:
Exodus 34:6-7 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
He genuinely cares for all he has made and is filled with concern and mercy. We get a sense of the “tone” of the word when we realize its root came from the word for womb.
The fact that they are having this conversation (after the Golden Calf) shows he is a merciful God! Gracious means that he is kind to us beyond anything we deserve.
3. Slow to Anger
Think how you respond to injury or insult, especially if it’s a family member! We are quick to anger – we are already at a full boil before they finish what they were saying.
But God is slow to anger, patient, not flying off the handle. It’s a good thing, too. If God’s anger had a hair trigger, we’d be incinerated before we reached high school.
4. Abounding in Love
This is the first one to get a superlative. He isn’t just loving, he is abounding in love.
The word here (hesed) means a long-term, covenantal love, demonstrated by committed. This differs from regular word for love as engagement love differs from 50th anniversary love.
The this word is usually translated “truth” and has the root means of stability – God will be true to that which he has committed. He is trustworthy and faithful.
6. Maintaining Love
This implies “to thousands of generations.” At 40 years a generation, that is a minimum of 80,000 years. As long as we stay in, God will not let go.
God doesn’t begrudgingly forgive sin, in is in his very nature to do so, it is what he longs to do.
And not just some sins, God uses all three Hebrew words for sins to make it clear that he forgives everything, there are no unforgivable sins, only unrepented sins.
· If you think God can’t forgive you, he begs to differ.
8. 3rd and 4th Generation
There can be confusion about statement, as if God punishes innocent decedents. But he’s clear – he punished the guilty. The point is that if you follow in your family’s sin, you cannot pin the blame on them – you bear the guilt for your sin.
· 3rd and 4th generation refers to the reach of any one person.
It is in this last one that we come to God’s wrath. God’s punishment of sin is not just remedial work to teach the wrong doer, it is also his fury against evil.
· Grudem: “Wrath is God’s intense hatred of sin.”
Even a cursory reading of the Bible makes it clear that God hates sin, he loathes it to the very core of his being, which is why this makes it in his self-description: Wrath is part of the glory of God.
· And we should be glad that he does – not just glad, ecstatic, it should make us fall in love with him more.
Sin is destructive – it takes everything good and corrupts it. It’s been destroying your every relationship and made you miserable every day. The fact that God hates it more than you, and is committed to wiping it out, should thrill you.
· God’s wrath is the full force of his goodness directed against evil.
That is why God’s wrath is a core component of his goodness. It should comfort us that God against what is against me.
Making the Connection – Righteous Wrath
When it comes to embracing God’s wrath, the problem is that we look at our wrath, and how foolish and selfish it is and project it on God. Rarely does our anger and righteousness combined together for a godly purpose.
When we try to understand God’s wrath and explain it to non-Christians (because that is a major challenge), we shouldn’t try to justify is, but rather try to find points of contact in our culture of righteous wrath.
We love action flicks, we love seeing the bad guys get it, because we know that is right.
· In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I mention “Boondock Saints” (my attempt to be not nerdy).
But I have to be nerdy – Gandalf or Dumbledore are even better examples. The books do such a good job of describing “the full force of their goodness against evil.”
· I love these descriptions of righteous rage; it’s the picture I want to hold as I think of God’s wrath direct against evil.
The problem is that the evil is in me, not just around me. God’s wrath is directed to the sin in me and the ones I love.
The dividing line: Repentance
Looking back on God’s self-revelation, notice that he describes himself as both gracious and forgiving, and punishing. How do these work together?
Q What do wrath (deserved) and mercy (undeserved) have in common?
Q They’re more alike than you think, can you see the similarity?
They are both responses to evil. One forgives and the other punishes. So how do you choose which one you get? Because I want the mercy, not the punishment. Is God random? Is it based on what you were predestined for?
Q Why did the Ninevite receive mercy and not wrath?
Repentance. Scripture makes it clear that whether or not we repent will determine if we feel God’s wrath against our sin, or against us, because we will not let go of our sin.
· What ultimately makes the difference is the “Thy will or my will” question.
If we will not submit to God’s will, we become objects of his wrath – not because he is threatened by any dissidents, but because he is the source of all that is good and light, and to be separate from him is to be infected by darkness and evil.
· The more infected we are by sin, the less ourselves we become.
Kindness to Wrath Ratio
One final note about this passage: In describing his character, seven of the eight descriptions highlight his kindness. We see a similar “kindness to wrath ratio” in Isaiah when he speaks of a day of vengeance and a year of favor (61:2).
· God’s wrath is a small component of his goodness, yet it is a vital component.
Iron is a very small part of our diet, about 1/50,000, yet it is vital. What happens if we don’t get enough iron? We become anemic: sluggish, fatigued, lacking strength.
· Failure to understand and embrace God’s wrath, leads to an anemic faith, weak, thin, lacking vitality.
The reason for this sermon is so that we won’t have a weak, man-centered faith, but a strong, vibrant, God-centered faith.
This sermon is more about how you think and believe, but how you think determines what you do. Our beliefs drive our actions.
As I close this message, I realize I am speaking to two groups:
1. Those who with an unhealthy fear of God. They get God’s wrath, but struggle to see how it is good.
Mediated on this passage, and see how God’s wrath is in concert with the rest of his character, that he loves you and is devoted to you.
2. Those who don’t have a healthy fear of God. They get his love, but struggle to see God’s wrath as a part of him.
All I want you to do is change how you read the Bible – don’t try to work around God’s wrath, but see it as part of his goodness.