A.W. Tozer says “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. And the history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”
It seems today that the only part of God that we want to embrace and delight in is His love. (I wont address Rob Bell's book until it comes out and I buy it used on amazon.) There is a ton of teachings on this and it seems everyone clings to this attribute of God if they were asked by God “why should I let you into heaven.” But what about when God tells us Himself through His word that He is also full of wrath? That He is an avenging God. That He is Holy. That He is Just. This makes us feel uncomfortable and it doesn’t seem to fit into our worldview, so we throw it out, or people like Rob Bell try to explain it away (even though, no one seems to know what Rob is is ever talking about… I’m not sure he even knows.)
But why is it important to see God as the Avenger? The Wrathful One? Because without a clear picture of God’s wrath, the cross of Christ can not be fully valued and delighted in. We end up worshipping a God created in our own minds, committing idolatry.
Often people claim that in the Old Testament God was holy and showed His wrath but He is different and not like that in the New Testament. Well, lets see…
Romans 1:18 “God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all the sin and evil of the people whose evil ways prevent the truth from being known”
Romans 2:5 “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed”
Colossians 3:5-6 “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”
Revelation 6:16-17 “They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
Revelation 16:3-6 “The second angel poured his bowl over the sea. The sea turned into blood like the blood of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. 4 The third angel poured his bowl over the rivers and the springs. They turned into blood. 5 Then I heard the angel of the water say, "You are fair. You are the one who is and the one who was, the holy one, because you have judged these things. You have given them blood to drink because they have poured out the blood of God's people and prophets. This is what they deserve."
Revelation 19:15 “And out of his mouth comes a sharp sword, with which he overcomes the nations: and he has rule over them with a rod of iron: and he is crushing with his feet the grapes of the strong wrath of God the Ruler of all.”
Read Joshua 8:1-29
I can’t imagine anyone reading this from the Ai resident point of view and not having your heart at least somewhat moved to sadness. Chapter 7 tells us that Ai is a small town who defeated the 3,000 men that Joshua sent to attack the city. Imagine the jubilation of the Ai people. Imagine the feeling of beating the great army of Joshua not only once but actually sent them running twice! And this happened right after the walls of the huge city of Jericho came tumbling down. Surely the little town of Ai was scared spitless of Joshua’s great army until they defeated it two times. If I were an Ai resident I would feel pretty confident. All the men of the small town were most likely enthusiastically chasing out Joshua’s army sensing victory was theirs. And then the scene changes. The other part of Joshua’s army that was waiting in ambush sets the city on fire. The men of Ai look back and see the fire destroying their city. Oh, imagine the confusion and the worry about their families. And then the army they were chasing starts pursuing them and the ambushers of the city starts coming after them until they are surrounded. Other than the King of Ai, not one person is left living.
If you are anything like me, this is likely very hard for you to read and not feel angry and sad about these seemingly innocent people dying. But what this attitude shows is that I, and perhaps you, don’t really have a grip on or deep understanding of God’s Holiness. If we were like Isaiah, who got a glimpse of God’s Holiness, rather than having an “I deserve or they don’t deserve” attitude, we would join him in falling to the ground saying, “I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” And I think we would have a very different perspective and response to what happened in Ai.
When we see perfection, we are faced with the reality of how imperfect we really are. God is completely perfect and completely just, so He gives people what they deserve. Habakkuk 1:13 says “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong.” God’s holiness demands that there be consequences for sin. Because He is a perfect and just judge, He can not excuse or ignore sin”. Imagine if someone did something very terrible to you (get something in your mind), and they stood before the court and the judge decides to let what they did slide. Imagine if the judge said, “Well, that is ok, I will let it go today; just be nicer next time.” That would be a bad judge since his job is to uphold justice. Since God is perfect, He will never fail at being a perfect judge. And the consequence of sin is wrath.
It seems that when God’s wrath is directed at the sin of our offenders it is a wonderful thing that we are grateful for. But when that same wrath is pointed at us it is so easy to throw up our defenses and plea innocent thinking we don’t deserve it.
We were created for God’s glory. (Isa. 43:7) This means that we were created to display God’s heart, His character, His greatness in the way we act and live.
But the reality is:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
We screwed up in doing and being what we were created to do and be. We fell short of displaying who God was and therefore we are under His judgment. It is kind of like being hired for a job. When you are hired to accomplish a certain thing and you don’t accomplish that for which you were hired. You fail and in all reality should be fired. Why pay someone for what they were supposed to, but didn’t do? This is sin. Not being perfect in reflecting who God is. Not fulfilling that to which we were made.
Sinning and falling short of His glory can seem a bit abstract and unclear. But God in His grace didn’t leave this open for uncertainty. He provided the Ten Commandments to help us recognize that we truly have fallen short. Any of us can look at that list and say, Yup, I don’t measure up.
There is no one righteous, not even one. Romans 3:10-11
This means that throughout the span of time, not one person could stand before God being totally blameless. Not one person could stand before Him and say they lived completely perfectly in reflecting who God is to those around them. Therefore, we deserve judgment. The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) Our wage or payment is death. We earned it. Our rightful consequence is separation from God and His goodness, here on earth and for all eternity.
We rightfully deserve His wrath. We absolutely deserve what the small town of Ai received. Not one person living in that town was innocent before God. And since each and every one of them was guilty, they deserved to be punished under the wrath of God. Let’s take it to a personal level. You and I and even the nicest person you know all deserve the same exact judgment that those people received. Ouch! We are all guilty and deserve God’s wrath. Just like every person in Japan is also desering of God’s wrath.
The only way to not be under God’s wrath, the only way to be swept out from underneath, to be rescued is by hoping in Jesus because God’s wrath has already been poured out on Him. The Father’s wrath, full, complete, unleashed wrath poured out on His perfect Son. The consequence for our failure has been taken, but only for those who receive it. Only for those who put their hope of rescue in Jesus, not in their own striving to do good enough to try to make up for their failure.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
Romans 5:9 “The blood of Christ has made us right with God. So we are even more sure that Jesus will save us from God's wrath.”