Summary: How many times have you heard a sermon on the wrath of God? Not that many, I imagine. It was a great experience to both write and preach this sermon and to see the results.
FEELING THE WRATH
I want to read to you this morning from a sermon with some very vivid imagery. Imagine someone preaching this material to you and consider your response:
“Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock… There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you… Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”
Heavy stuff, isn’t it? This is a small portion of the message that Jonathan Edwards preached to his church in 1741. It is said that Edwards spoke in a monotone voice and when he looked up he stared at the back of the church. Yet the people were enraptured with his words and could almost feel the flames of hell licking at their feet beneath the floorboards. The result was a great revival in the New England area.
Since that time preachers have been very careful how they speak of the wrath of God. To some there is a danger that we are only scaring hell out of people and making frightful converts. To others, speaking of the wrath of God is inconsistent with their God who is loving and merciful. Wrath suggests a loss of self-control or an irrational outburst of anger that is quickly regretted. It may seem like wounded pride or the poor effects of a really bad temper. Surely, we say, it would be wrong to attribute this characteristic to God.
Wrath is defined as an Old English word meaning “deep, intense anger and indignation.” Anger is a strong displeasure due to injury or insult while indignation is a righteous anger aimed at injustice. This is wrath, and the Bible, contrary to how we may feel about it, tells us that God is a God of wrath as well as a God of mercy or love or grace.
If wrath is an attribute of God, why are we afraid to talk about it? If we want to know God we need to acknowledge this part of God’s character. So come, let us feel the wrath of our God…
1. God’s wrath is being revealed
What is at the heart of God’s wrath? How can our loving God also be an angry God? What is his wrath?
Paul wrote that, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom 1:18). Paul does not say that God’s wrath “has” been revealed, as if it was a past event, but speaks of it as an ongoing event.
Some who are overzealous in trying to identify God’s wrath in our present times would point to catastrophes such as the hurricane that hit New Orleans. That wicked city was laid low by winds and flooding; surely that was God’s wrath on an immoral place. When an earthquake strikes or a tsunami hits, many believers try to explain this as God’s punishment. Yet Las Vegas is still standing and Amsterdam’s famous red light district and practice of euthanasia has not drawn fire from heaven. So how is God’s wrath being revealed?
In the OT we witness God’s anger at a people’s sin. One of the most vivid descriptions of his anger is seen in Nahum 1:2-8 (read it). Here we read of mountains trembling and cities being flooded and all consuming fire. It is terrible to think of this happening. Did God actually do these things to Nineveh? There is no city known as Nineveh today. What we are really reading here is how God felt. Did God react and abuse his power in anger and wrath and simply lash out? No, God’s wrath in the Bible is never self-indulgent or irritable or set off like a short fuse. His wrath is a right and necessary reaction to moral evil. God is holy and cannot stand sin because he is holy. This is what he expresses through Nahum.