Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Wrath of God (1)

If we arrived home late one night and saw our neighbours house on fire and no sign of them outside. We wouldn't worry and shouting and yelling and embarrassing ourselves. We would do all we could to alert them to the danger.

But when it comes to the gospel, we don't. And perhaps part of the reason that we don't is that we aren't sufficiently convinced of the danger people are in.

Some people think it is wrong to speak about Hell and God's wrath, because we are scaring people into Heaven. They think that we should speak only of the love of God, and the wonder of being loved. What nonsense! When someone's house is on fire you don't stand outside telling them that really the grass is a wonderful place to stand, and that the view is better outside, and that the people are much nicer here. You tell them to get out because their house is on fire. And they thank you for it.

So it is with the gospel. Some people think that you shouldn't talk about sin, and Hell, and God's anger. But rather that you should talk only about his love and mercy and acceptance.

And then we are surprised when no-one is remotely interested.

The wrath of God is often played down by Christians today. It is a topic you will seldom hear preached on in churches. Yet the Bible speaks constantly of wrath. It labours the point that God is good to those who trust him, but terrible to those who do not.

But why do we need to think about it? Can we not just move on to nicer pastures? No, it is essential that we pause here and look at this aspect of God too.

We need to think about it for three reasons:

Because it is real
Because it applies to every human being
Because it is terrible

Our text is: Rev 14:9-11

"If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

God's wrath is real
It shouldn't take much to convince us that God's wrath is real. Although many people have tried to ignore this, or hide from it, or pretend it isn't there, it is present the length and breadth of scripture.

Nahum 1:2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies… 5 The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. 6 Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.

Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Ephesians 2:3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

Revelation 6:16 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!

God's wrath is as real as the passages that speak of his love and mercy.

We see glimpses of God's wrath throughout scripture - the curse for one sin of Adam and Eve. The flood. Sodom & Gomorrah. Egypt, the plagues, and the destruction of Pharaoh's army. The fall of Jerusalem in 587BC, the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. God's wrath is real and severe.

God's wrath is real. But it is more terrible than we imagine. What we have seen up to now has been greatly diluted. But in Rev 14v10 we are told that in Hell God's wrath will be poured out "full strength".

We need to think about it because the Bible speaks so much about it. And if the Bible speaks so much about it, then I cannot be silent. It would be nothing short of deceitful and sinful to preach about the character of God and not mention his wrath. And churches or ministers that fail to teach this doctrine, or who are embarrassed by it, or who see it as a blemish on the character of God have created for themselves an idol, a false god.

God's wrath falls on everyone who fails to follow Jesus
Who is it that God's wrath falls on? This chapter talks about two groups of people.

V1-5 tell us about a group of 144,000 people - that number is a symbolic number in the book of revelation, it refers to all the people of God in the Old Testament (12 tribes) and the people of God in New Testament times (under the 12 apostles) times 1000(a number depicting vastness) - in other words the fullness of all the people of God in all times. These 144,000, not a literal number, have been redeemed (v3), and they have the fathers name on their foreheads. This name on their foreheads in imagery taken from Ezekiel where God is about to judge the city of Jerusalem, and Ezekiel sees in a vision a scribe sent out to put a mark on the foreheads of the true followers of God to identify them as God's people.

V6ff describes a second group - this group are also identified by a mark on their head or on their hand. It is the mark of the beast, the anti-God figure in the book of Revelation. Again it is not a literal mark, and we see its roots in the previous chapter. The beast mimics God's judgment in Ezekiel. He is about to pour out his anger on the followers of Jesus, and before he does he puts a mark on all who have refused to follow Jesus. They will be exempt from the anger of the beast.

But ch14 shows that although God people have to face anger and hardship in this life, they are exempt from it in Heaven. And it shows that those who fail to follow God in this life, who are not redeemed by Jesus are exempt fromt he wrath of the beast in this life, but they suffer the wrath of God in the next.

There is wrath to be faced by every human being, the question is "Whose wrath will it be?" - Will it be Satan's wrath because you follow God, or will it be God's wrath because you have ignored him and gone your own way?

You see everyone is marked out in some way. There are only two types of people in the world. Those who follow Jesus and have been redeemed by Jesus, and those who don't. Those who don't are automatically marked down as being against God. And they will face his wrath.

There is no third category of nice decent people, who although they didn't follow Jesus, were particularly bad. Ch 13:16 tells us that everyone was forced to receive the mark of the beast, except those who had refused to worship him - ie those who worshipped Jesus instead.

Who does God's wrath fall on - yes the extremely wicked, but it also falls on your nice next door neighbour who doesn't follow Jesus. It falls on the man behind the counter in the shop. It falls on the person sitting next to you in church it they have not subjected themselves to the authority of King Jesus. It falls on the person across the breakfast table from you.

There is a false notion that goes around that God hates sin and loves the sinner. It is only a half truth. Because while God loves the sinner enough to provide a means of salvation, he also hates him because of his sin. We cannot detach sin and the sinner. They cannot be detached. If only they could then Christ would not have had to go to the cross, but God's wrath is on the sinner. Scripture reminds over and over again, God abhors the liar, God hates the sinner. God's anger in on the wicked. The Psalms repeatedly make this point:

Psalm 5:5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. 6 You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

Psalm 11:5 The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.

Friends how we need to keep it before us. We can't hide behind half truths. We need to remember that God's wrath is on the wicked for their sins. They committed them. They will be punished. It is real people with real names and real faces.

The wrath of God falls on anyone, and everyone who has not been redeemed - bought by Jesus. Rescued by Jesus. Jesus came to save people from the wrath they deserved. He himself took that wrath for those who would ask him to stand in their place. That wrath was poured out in all its fullness. But there yet remains the wrath due for the sins of all the other people. Their rebellion has not been paid for.

How this should affect our hearts! When we look at people we should see the word 'wrath' written across their foreheads.

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