Today on Summit Life with J.D.
Greer. There's some of you that are beginning to taste some of these painful consequences of sin and you're tempted to look at God and say, God, what's going on? Why are you judging me? And God's saying, I'm not judging you. This is mercy. Judging would be for me to back up and say as you wish and let you go to the full fruition and never wake up. I am allowing these things to come into your life just to say, do you really want this path? Welcome back to another week of solid biblical teaching here on Summit Life with Pastor J.D. Greer.
As always, I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch, and we're so glad that you're with us today. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson once famously took a razor blade to his Bible and cut out the parts he disliked? And while most of us haven't literally chopped up our Bibles in that way, we often cut out certain passages in our minds, skipping past the uncomfortable verses that talk about God's wrath and the punishment for sin. But today, Pastor J.D. explains that the wrath of God isn't a demeaning doctrine to be ignored.
It's a glorious reality. Let's join Pastor J.D. for a message he titled By No Means. One of the things that I've learned now after being a pastor now for a few years is that people expect me to talk like I have it all together. Many of you think that I open my eyes every morning and I say, oh, good morning, Lord. And then I roll over and I grab the harp that I keep beside my bed and I strum out a few love songs to Jesus. Then I go downstairs to a kitchen that smells like cinnamon. And all my kids are sitting around the table with their Bibles open saying, teach us, Daddy. I can assure you that that is not the usual way that I wake up in the morning.
In fact, by not usual, I mean not ever. I usually wake up to the sounds of someone yelling in my house. My first thought is not good morning, Lord. It's usually the good Lord is at already morning. When I go downstairs, my kid, one of my kids is strangling on the other one. And I'm like, hey, let's read the Bible together.
And they say, Daddy, how long we want to watch TV? So the things that you experience in your family are probably similar to what I experienced in mine. Tried to say that when I became a pastor, I didn't get any special card that exempted me from questions and doubts. And one of the things I've shared with you over the years is that throughout my life, I have gone through various seasons where I've really struggled to believe.
One of the worst of those was in college. And it was over the issue that we were going to dive into today. Probably the closest I ever came to actually losing my faith was in regards to this issue. The issue was the wrath of God. The whole system just didn't seem fair to me.
It didn't seem like the punishment fit the crime. It seemed like God was this vengeful deity who was just going to show up at somebody's bedside when they died and say, ah, you didn't believe in Jesus. And they were going to say, Jesus who? And he would say, well, it's too late now. And he'd cast their souls into hell. And as they went tumbling down into hell, they'd be like, Jesus who? I never heard of Jesus. And he would, you know, mutter tough cookies in Latin or something like that to them.
And it just didn't seem like it was fair. I know that I'm not alone in that struggle. I know that for a lot of people, this is the issue, the issue that creates the biggest obstacle to their faith. The famous skeptic Bertrand Russell in his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, said that the primary reason that he did not believe in Jesus was because Jesus so clearly believed in the wrath of God. You got to at least give it to him, by the way, that he's willing to recognize what a lot of Christians refuse to recognize. And that is that Jesus did believe and teach him the wrath of God. But Bertrand Russell called Christ's belief in the wrath of God the one profound defect in Christ's character.
No less than C.S. Lewis would say, there is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. I've often told you, maybe you've heard me say it, if you gave me a divine eraser and 10 minutes of impunity, I would take this out of the Bible altogether. But we cannot take this out of the Bible and really we shouldn't because while it is a difficult doctrine, it is a good doctrine and one that is absolutely essential to knowing, to loving and worshiping God.
A God without wrath would be a God without goodness. Let me show you Exodus 34, we're talking about the name of God, the unfolding of God, who he is in his name. The setup is this, God, Moses asked God, God, let me see your glory. And so God says, Exodus 33, 19, yes, Moses, I will make all my goodness, that's a key word, pass before you. And I will proclaim before you my name, the Lord.
He puts Moses in the cleft of the rock, covers him with his hand. And the Lord descended there in the cloud and he proclaimed the Lord, proper name of God, Yahweh, I am the Lord, a God that is merciful and gracious, a God who is slow to anger, a God abounding in steadfast love, steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children to the third and to the fourth generation. There are six things in those two verses that I want you to see that we can learn about the wrath of God. The first one is very simply that God's wrath exists.
It is crystal clear in that passage, I don't see how you could deny it, it exists. The Bible speaks of God's wrath more than 600 times. Psalm chapter 7 verse 11, King David says that God is angry with the wicked every single day.
And I know some of you hear that and you think, well, that's just an Old Testament thing. God gets a lot nicer in the New Testament. He's kind of cranky in the Old Testament, his junior high years. Then he has a change of heart. He comes back as God 2.0, Jesus meek and mild.
That's not true at all. I showed you last week that the love of God is a predominant theme in the Old Testament. And we're going to see this week that God's wrath is a repeated theme and Jesus is teaching in the new.
In fact, many commentators say one of his most frequent themes. Jesus would say it this way in John 3 36, whoever rejects the son will never see life because God's wrath abides, it remains on him. He's basically just quoting Psalm 7 11 and saying, God is angry with the wicked, those outside of Christ every single day.
Not only does Jesus talk about it, we see him demonstrate it toward the end of his life. Jesus goes into the temple and he chases out a bunch of temple workers with a, with a homemade whip. Now I grew up on flannel graph. Jesus, you know what I'm talking about? Vacation Bible school, flannel graph.
We never had a flannel graph image for this one. We had Jesus, you know, stroking the lambs and, you know, holding the kids and looking pensively up toward God. But we never had Jesus with a whip driving the people out of the temple. But Jesus's testimony to the wrath of God was central to his message and to his ministry. And for that matter, it was not effusive talk about God's love that got him killed.
And it was not about personal empowerment. It was his insistence on God's anger toward hypocrisy and injustice. So the first thing we see is very clearly God's wrath exists.
You can't deny that you'd have to deny your whole Bible. Number two, we see that God's wrath is an expression of his goodness in this passage. Notice that God did not say to Moses, Moses, okay, I want to make all my goodness pass before you, but there's a little bad mixed in there too. There's a little sweetness and a little poison. No, his wrath is part of his goodness.
It's all goodness. God's goodness would not be goodness without his wrath. His goodness would not be complete without his wrath because God's wrath and his anger grow out of his love, his love for goodness and purity and holiness and us.
As a dad, I love my children. And because of that, I get angry when I see things at work in them that harm them, whether that's dishonesty or cruelty or laziness. I get angry when I see those things, not in spite of the fact that I love them, but because I love them. God is angry at sin because he loves his creation and us and sin destroys his good creation. Probably one of the best depictions of the unfolding of the wrath of God takes place in the account in the book of Exodus of the plagues. The plagues were what God sent to Egypt to try to wake them up out of their rebellion against God.
You may not remember this. I preached on it a few years ago. And when I did that, I explained to you that the plagues were not just a random set of bad things, like practical jokes that God was playing on Egypt. What was happening was a very logical progression. The Nile water turns to blood, which destroys the ecosystem of the Nile, which drives the frogs out of it. So the frogs come, then they die, and that brings the gnats and the gnats bring disease. What you're seeing in the plagues is essentially creation unraveling. Had God's only point in the plagues been to show Pharaoh that he existed and that he was more powerful than Pharaoh, he could have done any number of things. He could have had Moses walk in the court and grab Pharaoh by the Darth Vader chokehold and just like that in Pharaoh. Or you could have turned a bunch of Pharaoh's soldiers really tiny and squashed a few of them and then like, you're next, Pharaoh. And Pharaoh would have gotten the point.
But his point was not just that he existed and that he was more powerful. The point was demonstrating what sin was doing to the human race and to the world. It was unraveling creation. In Genesis 1, we see God bringing order out of chaos. So in the plagues, you see order descending back into chaos because when we sin, that is exactly what's happening in our lives and in our community and in our world.
You're seeing your life descend back into the chaos of darkness. And because we have a God of love, he cannot just sit by and watch it happen. He desires to bring us to a world that is free of injustice and sin and exploitation and racism and greed and perversity. He wants to bring us to heaven. And heaven can only be heaven if there's no sin there. I mean, think about the ways that heaven is described. Things that we long for. It is a place where there is no pain or crying. Like, oh, I want to be there, right?
How many times has my sin caused somebody else pain or caused them to cry? There is a place where you don't have to lock the doors. Well, the only way you can not lock the doors is if nobody's ever tempted to steal. So when somebody says to me, well, why didn't God just destroy all, if there really was a God, he would destroy injustice. My question is always, what if he started with you? If God decides that he's going to get rid of all evil tonight at 12 o'clock, which of us is going to be here at 1201, right? God's holiness means his love means that he cannot tolerate sin because he loves us and it's love toward us gives rise to an anger towards sin. He loves his purity. He loves creation. One theologian said it this way. God's anger is his unrelenting, uncompromising and steadfast antagonism towards evil and injustice in all of its forms. You're listening to Summit Life with Pastor J.D.
Greer. We'll return to our teaching in just a moment, but I wanted to remind you about our brand new featured resource this month. Our prayer is for you to have a bigger view of God as a result of hearing the messages here on Summit Life and that in response, your prayer life, your communication with God will be transformed. So this month, we're offering a bundle of resources to help make praying regularly a little easier. It's a three book bundle with each book called Five Things to Pray. It includes praying for your community, praying for your parents and praying for your kids. It comes with your generous gift to the ministry right now.
So give us a call at 866-335-5220 or you can always participate at jdgreer.com. Now let's get back to our teaching for the day. Here's Pastor J.D. So we see that God's love grows out of His goodness. Third thing we see is that God's wrath often consists in letting us experience the consequences of the choices that we make. God's wrath consists of just often letting us experience the consequences of the choices we make. Theologians call that the, get this, passive wrath of God.
Passive means God just kind of sits back and says, okay, as you wish. You see that in this passage with this phrase here. God is the one, watch, visiting the iniquity of the fathers and the children, the children's children down to the third and the fourth generation. People read that verse and the first thing they think is, well that doesn't sound very fair. It's not like God is holding, you know, accountable the great grandchildren for the sins of the great grandparents. And that would be unfair and that's not what that verse means.
Here's how I know that. Moses expressly denies that in Deuteronomy 24. He says each person will be punished only for their own sin. Ezekiel would repeat that. Ezekiel 18 20. He would said the wickedness of the wicked will only be upon that person. The parents will not be punished for the sins of the children or vice versa. So you say, well, if it doesn't mean that, then what does it mean? Well, here's what it means.
It's actually very logical and kind of obvious. It means that parents sins always have consequences that affect their children, right? If I embezzled money from this church and I go to jail, are my kids going to suffer because of that? Of course they are. If you cheat on your wife and you leave her for somebody else, will your kids suffer because of your action?
Of course they will. God's judgment, you see, often consists of simply allowing us and those around us to experience the painful consequences of our choices. It is the passive wrath of God.
And when you do see the active wrath of God, the lightning bolt in scripture, it's always consistent with and an extension of the passive wrath. For example, Genesis 3, the first kind of punishment on sin. After Adam and Eve sin, God drives them out of his presence in the garden, okay? What had Adam and Eve done just right before that? They had hidden from God's presence. So God was just giving to them what they desired. They were hiding from God's presence. When Pharaoh is judged in the midst of the plagues in that story, it says that God judged him by hardening his heart.
But that was only after Pharaoh had hardened his own heart several times. In fact, the way that Jesus describes hell shows it to be the fruition of our sin, the full fruition of what we are looking for in our sin. We might miss that because Jesus uses a bunch of Jewish metaphors that might be unfamiliar to us, but he says things like hell is a place where the worm dieth not. And what that is an image of is an image of a conscience that is continually being eaten away by guilt and regret. He says it is a place of outer darkness, which represented in Jewish thought, the total absence of God and all of his goodness.
With God goes light and goodness and everything that we love on earth. It is a place of the gnashing of teeth, Jesus said, which is a Jewish image that meant self-condemnation and self-loathing. It is a place of fire, which is the agony of God's displeasure. Jesus is saying essentially hell is just the full fruition of you telling God to get out of your life. And God's saying, okay, probably nobody has helped me get my mind around hell, the idea of hell more than C.S.
Lewis. He says, you know, there's a lot of things in your life that you wouldn't really worry about if you were only going to live for 80 years. But the Bible teaches that every human being is eternal. And he said, there's some things that grow in you that if it only lasts for 80 years, probably wouldn't get that bad.
He says, sin is like, it's like cancer. It never stops growing. Or I've heard some scientists say that there are certain kinds of lizards that never stop growing. They will grow as long as they're alive.
And the only reason they don't get huge is because they have a short lifespan. What does it look like, C.S. Lewis says, for sin that never stops growing? What does it look like when it grows in you for eternity? He says in the space of 80 years, your pettiness, your jealousy, your foul moods, your tendency to abuse others, your selfishness, it doesn't even look that bad in 80 years. But when that has grown in you for a million years, he said the word you would use to describe that condition would be nothing less than hell itself. God's final statement of judgment in the book of Revelation is to the people he says, let him who was unjust be unjust still. In other words, that's the path that you choose as you wish. Hell is God giving you what you are asking for.
Here's how Lewis summarizes it. In the long run, the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question. What are you asking God to do? You asking God to wipe out our past sins and at all costs to give us a fresh start?
Smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? That's exactly what he's done at the cross. Are you asking him to forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is precisely what God does.
In the end, there are only two kinds of people. There are those who say to God, thy will be done, and there are those to whom God says thy will be done. Hell is you telling God, I don't want you in my life and God simply saying as you desire it. By the way, that means that God's mercy now for you is letting you taste some of the painful consequences of your sin in order to wake you up. We always think that when a husband or wife gets caught in the middle of an affair, that that's God's judgment. I would argue to you that's God's mercy. God's wrath is when he or she gets away with it. There is nothing that it represents the judgment of God more than him just backing up and saying, okay, have it your way. The absolute worst thing that God can do for you is to give you what you want when your heart's not right with him. I read this week an account written by a Christian leader who got caught in this Ashley Madison scandal.
Ashley Madison, the website where people had their email addresses to cheat on their spouse. And he said, I never acted on it. He said, but I did. I went on and I signed up and he says, I never even paid. I just started to, he says, I knew it was wrong and I knew I shouldn't do it. And so he said it was two years ago and I just, I walked away from it.
He said, now two years later, it comes out of my email address as one of those email addresses there. And I've stepped down from ministry for a good while. And he said, at first I thought it was God's judgment that I got caught, but God was paying me back. Cause I, you know, he says, but I've come to see it really is God's mercy toward me. He said, because there's a lot of sins in my life, including this one that I have just never really dealt with.
I've just managed to keep my nose clean enough that I stayed out of trouble. And I didn't really deal with the repentance that I had never really went that deep. He says, and it is God's mercy and allowing this to be exposed so that I would see the depth and the wickedness of sin so that I could finally repent of this thing in truth for the first time.
Here's my question. Where is God doing that with you? Because I would say that there's some of you that are beginning to taste some of these painful consequences of sin. And you're tempted to look at God and say, God, what's going on? Why are you judging me? And God said, I'm not judging you.
This is mercy. Judging would be for me to back up and say, as you wish and let you go to the full fruition and never wake up. I am allowing these things to come into your life just to say, do you really want this path? Number four, we see in this passage that God chose to let his love overcome his wrath. This passage shows us that God chose key word to let his love overcome his wrath. There's a contrast that is set up here in the presentation of God's name, keeping steadfast love for thousands, vision, iniquity, and sin, all the way down to the third and the fourth generation.
Those of you that brought your Hebrew Bible have already noticed that in Hebrew, there is no word generation because this is a poem and verse seven is a poem in Hebrew. And there's a parallel structure set up between the first phrase and the last phrase so that they're supposed to compare. So it just says a thousand and the third and fourth. Really, it should say keeping steadfast love for a thousand generations and then keeping the iniquity of the third and fourth. In other words, God's mercy is greater than his wrath by a factor of 250 times. Now here's the other phrase that says he is slow to anger.
Those of you who are extra credit and I have not only your Hebrew Bible, but also your Aramaic one, which is called the Targum, which would have been what Jesus would have memorized and quoted from. You'll notice that when the Targum translates slow to anger, it translate it this way, the one who makes anger distant and brings compassion near. Slow to anger means he made anger distant and he brought compassion near. God felt two rightful emotions when he saw us in our sin. The first rightful emotion was anger and the second rightful emotion was compassion. And sovereignly of his own free choice, he chose to bring one close and push another away.
He didn't have to do it that way. God was fully justified when he felt wrath for our sin. He would have been fully justified to push us away forever, but he chose to push away that wrath and he chose to bring compassion near.
It's one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. The apostle Paul and one of the most remarkable passages of scripture, maybe the most remarkable passage in the Bible. Paul says this, Romans 5, watch this. You see, when we were still powerless, it was then that Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though maybe for a good person, someone might possibly dare to die.
In other words, it's very rare that you see somebody actually die for somebody else. But we know of situations where somebody's died for their spouse or their kid or a good friend, but they're always somebody that they love and you think of as a good person, but God, but God demonstrated his love for us. And this, while we're still sinners, Christ died for us. You see, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son. I've used an analogy over the last several weeks about God's anger that breaks down. And I need to show you where it breaks down because until you understand where it breaks down, you'll never understand the depth of God's love for you. And so I'm going to critique myself, but all analogies break down. So I've compared God's anger toward our sin, like my anger toward my kid's sin when they lie. And I just, I love them, so I want them to be purified of their anger.
But here's where that analogy breaks down. Even when my kids sin, they're still my kids. This passage in Romans says that our sin and rebellion made us God's enemies, not like his enemies or his disobedient, confused, wayward children. It says our sin made us his enemies. So God choosing to push anger away and bring compassion near was not like me wanting to see one of my kids be free of dishonesty because I loved him. His choosing to push anger away and bring compassion near would actually be like me choosing to love and adopt into my family an ISIS member who beheaded my daughter.
You say, oh, I don't know, we're not that bad. What about all of our good works? You and I, we look at good works that we do and they are genuinely good, but our whole lives are spent in rebellion against God, living for our glory instead of his. Living with ourselves as our authority and rejecting his authority.
Our rebellion killed Jesus and that shrouds even our good deeds in a cloak of evil. So there is no greater wonder in the universe that the angels can comprehend and that the apostle Paul feels like he can't describe than the love of God for you and me. You're listening to Summit Life and a message titled By No Means from pastor, author, and theologian JD Greer.
If you joined us a little late today, you can hear this entire message again free of charge on our website, jdgreer.com. JD, I spend a lot of time praying for my kids, but often I find myself praying the same things over and over or not really knowing how to expand my vision of prayer for them. So how can the short book that we are offering, this five things to pray for your kids help me? Yeah, Molly, me and you both, as I've become a parent, to be honest with you, I've become less confident in some of my great theories on parenting. The one thing that I have grown in over the years is how to pray for them and knowing what scripture teaches me to pray for them. I can't tell you how comforting it is when you got teenagers or you got young kids like yours, Molly, toddlers, and sometimes you're like, I don't know what to do here. And then to be able to open up something that walks me through the instruction and the promises in scripture and say, pray this for your kid. So this is a way for you to pray God's words about your kids back to himself and to believe those promises of God. It's part of a three book bundle that we're giving away, how to pray for your kids, how to pray for your parents, and how to pray for your city. If you'll reach out to us, we'd love to get this to you. I think it will be a real blessing to you. Ask for your bundle when you donate to the ministry today.
The suggested amount is $35 or more. And every penny given helps us keep this gospel centered Bible teaching on the radio and web. Call 866-335-5220 or give and request the five things to pray bundle online at jdgrier.com. I'm Molly Vitovich. Thank you for joining us today. Tomorrow we'll continue this study of the wrath of God and the urgency of the gospel message. We'll see you Tuesday on Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
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