PREACHER – ANTONIO COPPOLA
18 March 2012
Reading– Romans 3: 21-26
Wrath – anger, rage, fury… Emotions that I think many of us have experienced. Life can be cruel and many of us have had some tough blows that have stirred us to deep anger.
Bullying at high school – resented guys so much I would fantasise about murdering them – deep seated anger.
Abuse – when I was 15 – more anger and hatred stirred up in me – hated the person who did it to me, seething anger, wanted justice to be done, him to be punished – which never happened, only deepened my frustration and anger.
If any of you have experienced similar things, you will know what I’m talking about. If we’ve experienced somebody do something horrific to us, or we’ve been hard done by in any way, there is this natural reaction of anger in us. We have been violated. We have been hurt. Something has been stolen from us. Anger boils in us. There is this deep longing for justice to be served. They must pay for the wrong that they have done!
There is a reason why we have these feelings. Something of the natural order has been violated. An injustice has been committed. Evil has triumphed. The innocent has been robbed. Justice needs to be served.
Why is there this instinct for justice in most of us? Why do we get angry when evil prevails and why are we glad when the good guy wins? I think it’s because we have something of God’s heart in us. God hates evil. God loves goodness. God is a just God.
Psalm 5: 4-5
“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.”
Psalm 33: 5
“[God] loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”
It’s clear that for God, there is a definite right and wrong – truth and falsehood. He has defined what’s good and what’s bad in the Bible. Even if we don’t necessarily take the Bible seriously, deep down we know that some things are right and some things are wrong. I don’t think anyone would ever call rape good, or being generous evil.
Therefore God is not indifferent to things that happen to us. Like us, he hates evil and loves good. Basically, God gets angry. And that’s a good thing! If God didn’t get angry at evil, then he’d be evil himself. You’re a sicko if you think that rape and abuse is okay. Likewise, for God to be loving and good, he hates evil and gets very angry when it happens.
This is why God takes sin very seriously. It angers him, it flares up his wrath and fury. When a child is abused, God is angered. When I was abused, God was angered. When you endured something horrific and evil, God was angered. God hates injustice. Yes, when we were the victim. But we must realise that we too have been the perpetrator at one stage or another. We too have sinned. We too have sparked God’s anger and wrath.
The other week when we looked at sin, we saw that God’s hatred of sin led to him handing down the death penalty to all sinners. Rom 6: 23– “the wages of sin is death.” God has written this into the fibre of the universe – blood has to be shed as a penalty for sin. Blood has to be shed in order to make peace with God.
This truth is evident in native civilisations and cultures all over the world – pagan cultures Africa, N & S America,India,Asia… animals were killed and sacrificed to ancestors, to gods, in order to appease them. Deep down everyone knows that we need to get right with the higher power somehow.
In the Old Covenant, God dealt with sins through the sacrificial system. Instead of humans being put to death for their own sin, every year a goat was slaughtered by the high priest. All the sins of the people were transferred onto the goat, and then the goat faced the justice and wrath of God by being killed on behalf of the people. Blood was shed from the animal, and God’s wrath was appeased.
This was just a temporary thing – had to be repeated year after year. The blood of animals couldn’t effectively deal with sin. Hebrews 10: 4 says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” What was needed was something greater, something that only God himself could accomplish.
Romans 3: 22b-25a
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
God instead gave his own Son as a once off sacrifice. So instead of continually killing animals on our behalf, God gave up Jesus as an offering. Because Jesus was God himself, and human – perfect and sinless – his death would once and for all sort out the problem.
Here in Romans 3, it says that God put forward Jesus as a propitiation (slide). This is from the English Standard Version (strongly recommend). KJV same. The NIV and most other versions have ‘atoning sacrifice’, which doesn’t really capture the full meaning of the original Greek word. This word propitiation is a more accurate translation and it is crucial for us to understand. The very heart of the Gospel is tied to this word.
Basically – twofold meaning – 1st meaning, know well – Jesus died in our place as a substitute for our sins. He was sinless, took on our sins himself, we gain his righteousness
2nd meaning – I want to focus on – Jesus’ death on the cross appeased God’s wrath and anger at humanity. God poured out his wrath on his own Son on the cross. As a result, instead of us facing the wrath of God, we enjoy his favour and blessing.
Easy just to say this – need to grasp what it actually meant for Jesus. Jesus had always enjoyed continual, deep intimacy with the Father. They had been together in the Trinity before the universe was created. They experienced perfect love in their relationship as Father and Son. Jesus was always in the presence and glory of God, never ever separated from him. Jesus knew no other form of existence, other than being united with his Father.
When he went to the cross, he effectively lost all of the above. His own Father turned away from him, as at that point he took on our sin. The wrath and anger that God had for the sin and injustices of the whole world was unleashed on Jesus. Yes – he experienced excruciating physical agony, pain, beating, torturous and barbaric and bloody death on the cross, asphyxiated by his own weight, totally humiliated and de-humanised in front of his own family and people.
But what happened to Jesus on the cross was more than just the physical pain (horrific enough). For Jesus, while dying on the cross, it was the first time in eternity that he was separated from the Father. That’s why he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27: 46). Facing God’s wrath for Jesus meant utter loneliness, hopelessness, darkness, confusion, rejection and despair as he was no longer with his Father, something he had always known. He had always known the Father as loving, now he was being the object of his own Father’s wrath – horrific.
Imperfect comparison – someone we have known and loved deeply most of our lives – die, or move away – feel that void and emptiness, never goes away – magnify that 1000X and we may possibly be able to grasp a fraction of what Jesus went through emotionally, mentally and spiritually on the cross.
Does this mean that God is cruel and sadistic for subjecting his own Son to the horror and shame of the Cross? Some people and some respected theologians today think that this is the case. However, I think that this shows something completely opposite about the heart of God. For me, what God did by sending Jesus to face his own wrath on the cross actually reveals the incredible, deep and passionate love that he has for us.
1 John 4: 9-10
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
God loved us so much, that he was willing to give up the one thing that was most precious and valuable to him, the one thing that he shared perfect union and love with – his own Son. If that’s what it would cost to restore us to him, to resolve his own wrath against us, then he was prepared to give up Jesus for us, and that’s exactly what he did. By doing this, it shows his heart of incredible love to us, but also that he is more interested in mercy, forgiveness, restoration and healing than desiring to exercise his wrath. Mercy triumphs over judgement (Jas2: 13).
At the same time, on Judgement Day, God will have to pour out his wrath on the unrepentant and those who refuse to recognise the work of the cross. That’s why the heart of God is that everyone comes into a saving relationship with him before that Day.
The power of the cross is good news because the wrath from God that was meant for the rebellion and sin of mankind, has been taken on by Jesus. There is no more wrath and anger from God for those who are in Christ, as Jesus has delivered us from it (1 Thess1: 10).
Instead of living in unhealthy fear and insecurity about if God is pleased or angry with us, in Christ, we know that we are loved by the Father as we are. We are his sons with whom he is well pleased. We can live, knowing this comforting truth that God is for us, his favour and blessing are over us – and it’s got nothing to do with our own efforts – it’s our position as his adopted sons, as a new creation in Christ.
God’s wrath toward us is resolved through the cross – but also our own wrath towards others is resolved. Because we are no longer under wrath, and have been forgiven by God, that means that our anger towards people who have hurt us, abused us / me / you, violated us, as justified as it may have been at the time, must now be laid down at the cross. Jesus has taken it on himself.
Forgiveness, love, healing and mercy flows from the cross. This is not some abstract, philosophical thing. I have experienced myself this healing by laying down my anger, bitterness and pain from my abuse at the foot of the cross, and allowed Jesus to pick me up and restore me. Because he faced the wrath, we can walk in freedom, healing and forgiveness today.