Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Merry Christmas, God's wrath is coming

The Christmas season is one where we call for peace on earth and goodwill to men. It is the season of love and joy and harmony. We pray and hope that we display the best qualities of these things to one and all.

Do we realize just what a radical love Jesus has called us to?

We think of the sweet babe in swaddling clothes, the still night broken by heavenly glory lighting the fields, angel choruses, and the grace of God. And it is, but these thoughts and visions in our mind are or should be counterbalanced by the reason for them: His wrath.

The reason He sent Jesus is to rescue us...from His wrath.

I'd like to contrast Godly love with Godly wrath in the lives of two bible people: Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was taken as a captive away from his homeland as a youth or early teenager. He was trained and put to work in Nebuchadnezzar's court. He was threatened with death, his three closest friends were thrown into a fiery furnace, and he had to serve a pagan king with all its godless disgusting practices around him every minute. Yet, Daniel was compassionate and he loved Nebuchadnezzar as God would want us to love our enemies.

Nebuchadnezzar
When it came time for Daniel to reveal the interpretation of a particularly fearsome dream to the king, Daniel hesitated. Here is the scene:

"Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!" (Daniel 4:19).

Daniel knew that the dream meant God was going to cut Nebuchadnezzar down like a tree and make him go insane for seven years. The king was going to be crawling around on all fours eating grass like an animal. Daniel's level of compassion was such that not one ounce of chortling, glee, or gloating came over him. He was troubled, dismayed, and didn't even want to tell the king because he did not want the king to be troubled himself.

How many times do we get a bit of news where someone else was going to be cut down to size, and we cannot wait to share it? If it is an enemy all the better. Yet Daniel was compassionate toward the king, who was holding him captive and at any time could take his life for any reason or for no reason. THAT is Godly love.

Now the wrath. Why did God cut Nebuchadnezzar down and make him go insane for seven years? At the end of the interpretation, Daniel said to the king, "O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed,"

William Blake's Nebuchadnezzar, Wikipedia commons
God's wrath always comes because of unrepentant sin. Romans 1:18 says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."

When we enter the Christmas season, remember peace on earth but remember wrath, too. Too harsh, you say? No.

"This is how Paul begins the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness," as John MacArthur said. (source)


The good news begins with wrath. It ends with love.

MacArthur again, "Our Lord had more to say about judgment, more to say about destruction, more to say about damnation, and more to say about hell than anybody else recorded in Scripture. And if you think it unusual that this great epistle on the doctrine of salvation opens with this statement about judgment it's because you really haven't thought very long about how the whole New Testament opens."
source
Daniel's radical love of Nebuchadnezzar was Godly because God loves the sinner. His grace saves the repentant sinner and when we convert, we remember His love and the fact that there but for the grace of God go I. So Daniel loved even his enemy, and wanted the best for him. And what a glorious thing that was, because in each chapter Nebuchadnezzar the king gets closer to the dramatic moment when finally, finally, he converts.

Note that when Daniel shared the news about God Daniel did not say, "God loves you and has a great plan for your life." He urged the king to stop sinning. Eventually Nebuchadnezzar did:

"Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble." (Daniel 4:37).

And the second part of Daniel's message was the multiplying part- stop sinning and show mercy to those who are.

Wow. That is what Godly love does. It multiplies, and we continue in that love because we remember His wrath. We love because He first loved us, (1 John 4:19), but we remember that sin brings wrath. The whole story must include those two bookends- wrath and love.

"Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly." (Deuteronomy 32:35).

The Lord will punish the sins of His people in due time. His wrath will be unleashed but He sent Jesus as the love offering and rescue from that wrath. How can any part of the Good News omit that? Even at Christmastime? It cannot.

To sum up, I am not saying that for the Christmas season we go around saying, "Merry Christmas, God's wrath is coming!" LOL. But it is part of the story.

source
Instead, envision the scene in Luke 2:8-20 where the shepherds are guarding their flocks by night, and the angels appear with a message. Particularly envision verse 11, (For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord), and know that this is the moment of rescue from wrath. The word savior in Greek used here means--

"properly, the Savior, Jesus Christ who saves believers from their sins and delivers them into His safety." (Strong's 4990), Safety from what? Wrath. Delivers them from what? Wrath. The Christmas message is one of loving rescue from wrath, and no witnessing of the Good News nor proclamations about it are complete unless both sides of the story are told.

Here is one last anecdote from modern day culture about the love and wrath bookends. I watched a video of Phil Robertson of Duck Commander and Duck Dynasty television fame preach. In that segment Phil said that he was on the phone at Duck Commander headquarters taking an order for a duck call from a guy in Alabama. Phil said that the man was using God's name in vain, that every other word out of the guy's mouth was "G-d this and G-d that." Finally after about the fifth time, Phil couldn't take it any more and he asked the guy, "Why are you cursing the only One that can rescue you from death?"


To make a long story short, Phil invited the guy to his house, about a ten hour drive from where the guy was calling from, and praise the Lord, the guy showed up the next week. Phil preached sin, death, and wrath, and the guy and his buddy both cried like babies on his living room floor. Before sunup, they were baptized.

Phil said he never saw the guy again - until 17 years later, when Phil was preaching in Alabama. Phil was led to a room and the guy was there, he was now one of the leaders of the church. He went from unsaved, blaspheming godless man to a Godly leader shepherding others into Christ.

The effect of the entire Gospel story is one of multiplying miracles. Leave off the wrath and you only have a smarmy story of an invisible God who loves us for some reason. Don't leave off the reason.

Merry Christmas.

3 comments:

  1. Sometimes I hear/read comments from people asking "why would a loving God punish?

    the wages of sin is death (second death is punishment eternal)

    Obviously you don't have to be punished, Jesus died for us. And has taken the punishment himself, now He has given us faith and forgiveness, and repentance...that is love! =)

    Accept Him as Lord and Savior and you are saved! Let Him work righteousness in you, don't try to be righteous by human effort.

    Drew

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, Elizabeth that's some title lol

    Brittany

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    Replies
    1. LOL, Brittany. It's provocative on every level, isn't it? We can't be glad about the babe in the manger unless we remember that without the babe we are living a life of wrath and death. He was born to save us from it. That juxtaposition is just as as startling as the fact of Messiah's bursting in from glory to depravity on our behalf.

      In my mind, I think of these examples, He was born and laid in swaddling clothes amid the hay of the stable- evoking the hay that will be burned up on His day (1 Cor 3:12). He was laid in another man's barn, evoking the fact that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head (John 8:20) and was even buried in another man's tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). He was pure, but His life began amid the dung of the animals, just as Isaiah said our works are like filthy menstrual rags (Is 64:6) and our life apart from Christ is rubbish (garbage) (Phil 3:8). His perfect and glorious soul inside a baby's body was laid down amid all that, showing in clear and startling ways that He saves us from our own putrid sin. From the moment of His birth, the contrast between Himself and our death and destruction was made clear. He is so Great!

      Delete

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