The entire Christian world has taught that God will put up with sinners only so long, and then His patience runs out, He gets mad and angry with them and then lets 'em have it. What a pity. The truth is that God never loves the sinner less. Never.
We do not understand the judgments of the Lord. "How unsearchable are His judgments; how unfathonable His ways!" Paul concluded.1 "Can we by searching find out God?" Job asked.2 God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways out ways, observed Isaiah.3
Story Time: King David
When David's most bitter enemy would like to punch him in the face, bloody his nose, rip out his beard, spit on him, beat him up...his Atonement, his Mercy Seat, would stand in the way to be his propitiation and take the beating full force Himself. Jesus at last did take the blows. And there on the cross He has taken the ones aimed at us as well.
Every punishment that has ever been suffered has been first suffered by Christ; just as every good act that anyone has ever performed first comes from Him. And the judgment of God is in taking the punishment for us, becoming a curse for us, condemned for us, murdered in our place, to defend us, to protect us from being hurt. "He has made him to be sin for us" 2Cor 5:21. "He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows... wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities" Isa 53:4,5. But if we refuse to let Him take it, He reluctantly steps aside and lets us take it ourselves.
No better description of God's Loving Wrath is given than the commentary on two of David's sons. Amnon had raped his sister and Absolom retaliated by killing him.
C.S. Lewis has said that at the end of this world there will be but two groups of people: Those who say 'Thy will be done,' And those to whom God will say, 'Thy will be done.' This is the Loving Wrath of God--letting the sinner have his own way.
Story Time: The Prodigal Father
But fun loving Junior couldn't wait. And so one day, in so many words, he told his father he wished he were dead. "Give me my share of the estate now so I can hit the road and have my fling in life." Dad was terribly hurt. But he loved his son, foolish though he was, and after all the goodbyes were said, sadly watched him leave.
The boy went to the big city, bought a lot of good times, fair-weather friends and lived it up until the money ran out. Bad times came, he couldn't find work and finally, while scrounging around for garbage pail scraps, he determined to head back home. He'd work as a hired hand and maybe, just maybe, someday he'd be able to save up enough to pay his father back.
As he neared home he realized that his father had liquidated half of the family assets because of him. The tight budget would have required Dad to leave retirement and help his older brother run the farm. The staggering guilt that all this had happened because of his own selfishness nearly stopped him from going on.
Junior can't believe his ears. Father quickly sneaks him in a side door so no one can see him in shame. He gets out his best suit. "No boy of mine is going to be embarassed by coming home looking like a tramp." All the time father is telling him about all the letters he had written, pleading for him to return. And Home-again-Joe never does get a chance to make his offer to become a hired hand because now father is on the phone calling all the relatives and neighbors and inviting them to a big reunion celebration for his son! What a story. The Prodigal Father--reckless with his love and forgiveness.
Now why didn't Jesus just finish His story with the happy reunion of a lost son come home? Why did He have to bring the older brother into it at all? Because He wanted to make some very important points:
One son anticipated a cold reception and was surprised with a warm celebration; the other son expected paternal vengence and was disappointed to see fatherly forgiveness.
For example, Jesus plead with the older brothers of the Jewish nation to let Him gather them under His wings like a mother hen gathers her little chicks, 'but they would not.' "What was it that destroyed the Jews? It was the goodness of God despised, the righteousness spurned, the mercy slighted."8
God never rejected the Jewish nation, they rejected Him. Paul said that they put the word of God from them, and judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life, therefore he turned to the gentiles.9 But will God ever come to the place where He finally rejects anyone? No. When we speak about the close of probation, we are talking about a decision that we make, not one that God makes.
Where did they get their view? "Satan, the author of sin and all of its results, had lead men to look upon disease and death as proceeding from God as punishment arbitrarilly afflicted on account for sin...Thus the way was prepared for the Jews to reject Jesus."11 Why? Because when Jesus hung on the cross, why, there you had it: undisputed evidence that He was a great sinner. You don't suffer like that unless you've been very bad! Him? The Son of God? Impossible.
Story Time: Judas
But Judas didn't understand the mind of Jesus. And when Jesus showed Himself of no reputation but took upon Him the form of a servant,12 even Lucifer was taken by surprise. Neither of them had ever anticipated such a move on the part of God. Satan had never thought like that; it was foreign and repulsive to him. He couldn't imagine that God would humiliate Himself. It had never entered his selfish brain that God could be victorious in defeat; that He could bring life to billions through death to Himself. To Lucifer this was not only stupid, it was insane. He had imagined in his mind that God was out to get him just as he was out to get God. But he was wrong.
But God's ways are not like ours (Isa 55:8); He doesn't think the way we do.
So, too, God treats all, the redeemed and the lost, exactly the same.
The God of Protection
Vengeance "is not an act of arbitrary
power on the part of God.
Since God protects us from the Destroyer if we allow Him, He also honors our choice to not accept that protection when we demand release from it by withdrawing His hand. Then, as Paul says, "He give us up to our own sinful hearts."20
Story Time: Miriam's Leprosy
And at the cross God personally showed how He will ultimately deal with sin. For the cross "explains all other mysteries."
A Different Kind of Death
Sadly God leaves, and as He does, His sustaining, life-giving, protective power is withdrawn. Now nothing can save from the awful power of sin as it crushes the life forces into extinction.
No wonder Jesus cried out, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?'29 Why have you given me up? Why have you let me go?
But it wasn't at the hand of an offended God that Christ died. The Father didn't slay His Son. Jesus did not say, 'My God, why are you executing me?' We may have gotten that impression. After all, the Bible does say "it pleased the Lord to bruise Him."30
But the Bible often speaks of God as doing that which He permits.31 Because God is sovereign over the events of the entire universe, He also assumes full responsibility for what takes place within it. "We esteemed Him smitten, stricken of God and afflicted." We thought that God was smiting Him. But, in fact, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities."
You can also read in 1 Chronicles 10 that King Saul "died for his transgression against the Lord...therefore He slew him." But we are also told in detail the real story of his own self-inflicted suicide in 1 Samuel 31:4.
Another example is found in 2 Samuel 24 where we are told that "the anger of the Lord was kindled against them to say, 'Go number Israel.'" But 1 Chronicles 21 tells it like it is: "Then Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel."
"Satan had accused Jacob before the angels of God, claiming the right to destroy him because of his sin."33 But Jesus only touched his hip. Satan accused Job before the sons of God and demanded skin for skin; he claimed the right to keep Moses in the grave; he accused Joshua the High Priest standing before the altar.
Satan wanted to destroy Nineveh. But God sent a preacher to warn them. Satan tried to destroy Jonah by sinking his ship. But God prepared a great fish to save his life. And after all that Jonah still didn't understand the character of God.
Wrong Spirit, Boys
The disciples' concept of God was one who would use destructive fire for retribution and revenge. To them, God wasn't one to keep a grudge--He got even! But Jesus said that wasn't His style at all.
Then who sent the fire 'out of heaven' in Job's day that 'burned up the sheep, and the servants and consumed them?'35 Or the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha? Or the fire that cremated all the soldiers who came to arrest Elijah?36
When Elijah had fled to Mt. Horeb, he witnessed destructive wind, devestating earthquake, and consuming fire. "But the Lord was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire."37
Who is it?
The people of planet earth will be in a panic to do whatever is necessary to appease what they see is the wrath of God. Enforce global religious conformity? Why not. Vote for the Pope? You bet. Anything! Just make God happy.
We may be accused of being legalists now, but when the plagues begin to fall, watch who become the real legalists.
Story Time: Ahab and Jezebel
But God didn't kill Ahab or Jezebel. He didn't have to. They were both destroyed at the hand of their enemies when the protecting hand of God's mercy and been driven away. God never loves the sinner less. But in the face of stubborn rejection He reluctantly turns away and leaves the rejectors to their own natural consequences.
God says, "I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms... The horses and their riders shall come down" How? "Every one by the sword of his brother."41
Remember when the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites ganged up on Judah? King Jehoshaphat was told "You will not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord... for the children of Amoon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of them, every one helped to destroy another... and none escaped."42
"The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. The Lord is known by the judgment which He executes: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hand."43
Story Time: Hanging Hamaan
Well, through the providence of God, Esther won the Miss Persia Beauty Pagent and became Queen of the land. Meanwhile, Mordecai saved the king from a political coup and was recognized by his majesty Ahazeurerus with full royal honors and tickertape parade.
This made Hamaan very, very jealous, resentful, pouty and down-right angry. He finally got so mad, he rigged up a clever scheme to get the King to sign a law that would guarantee the extermination of every Jew in the kingdom. The bill was of course worded in such a way that it appeared to be a matter of national security, but down there in the small print was Hamaan's true intentions. Now it looked like his master plan was almost ready for final execution!
He went home to Mrs. Hamaan, jumping up and down with excitement. 'And I know just what I'll do with Mordecai! I'm going to make a gallows 90 feet high just for him, so everyone can see him singing way up there by his neck!"
Well, Hamaan wa a real dummy when he did that. Because the whole plan backfired when Mordecai heard about it, leaked the news to Esther, who told the King, who was so infuriated that he had Hamaan hung on the very gallows he had custom built for Mordecai.
Story Time: A Den for Daniel
First, they tried to dig up every scrap of dirt and any shred of irregularity in the life of Daniel in order to ruin his reputation and discredit him before the King. But they couldn't find a thing. Nothing out of order. No cover-ups. No hanky-panky. Nothing.
So they decided that the only way they were going to be able to nail this guy was to frame him. They finagled the King into passing a neat little law that would in effect make him 'God of the Month.' "Just think, your Highness, every man, woman and child will be praising and worshipping you every day for a whole month! And, uh, well, of course, if anyone should even dare to insult your Greatness by not recognizing you as their god, why then, they would be deserving of the sternest consequences--yes, they would be thronw to the lions!"
Well, Darius, flattered by the thought of all that attention, signs the Law of the Medes and Persians "which cannot be changed."
Meanwhile, Daniel continues to follow his lifelong custom of morning devotions and prayer to Jehovah. His enemies, spying on him, quickly report this flagrant criminal act to the King, reminding him that this subversive conduct is a treasonous violation of his law, the one that he signed, and that now Daniel must be thrown to the lions!
Poor Darius couldn't sleep that night. He had been cruely tricked into betraying his trusted friend Daniel into the hand of fate. But no, Daniel is in the hand of God! And very early the next morning when the King calls out to him from the mouth of the den, Daniel answers. "The God whom I love and trust has protected me, O King."
Then it was the other guys' turn to face the felines. And the Bible tells us that every bone was broken before they even hit the ground.
The Final Showdown:
Mischief Makers Make Their Move
Even though their eternal decision has long been sealed, God makes one last demonstration of His heart of love--a love that "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."47
Jesus now pleads with all the older brothers as He holds out His hands pierced for them: "Return to me... for I will abundantly pardon.48 My hand is not shortened that it cannot save.49 For I am able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Me.50 I am merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth.51 I am not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.52 As I live... I have no pleasure in your death, but that you turn from your way and live. So, please, turn back from your ways; for why will ye die?"53
But again His love is spurned. They remain outside just like the people in Noah's day who refused to go into the ark; just like the older brother, they will not go in even though the Father comes out and entreats them. "Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies: Thy right hand [that nail-scarred hand] shall find out those that hate thee. Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven... and the fire shall devour them... for they intended evil against thee. They imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform."54
Fire for Judas
But Judas refused. It was his own choice to burn inside with intense guilt, grief and self-hatred until he couldn't stand it any longer and he hanged himself. Judas exchanged the fire of Christ's soul-cleansing love for the fire of guilt and eternal remorse.
This is the anger of the Lord which He kindles--the fire of love that never dies. Jesus said, "I am come to send fire on the earth and what will I, if it be already kindled?"57 Isn't that what Cleopus said? 'Our hearts burned within us as we walked on the way.'58 They were being exposed to the burning love of Jesus. God's love is a consuming fire.
Jeremiah said it this way: "His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones."59 But the fire of Jesus' love works in two different ways. It will either melt your heart or bake it hard; it will either burn in your heart to give you life, or it will burn in your life to bring you death. Jesus said, "Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."60
It is God's intent that we will be melted by His love; it is not His desire that we destroy ourselves as we try to run from it. But because men will reject His burning love for them, they will reap their own burning hate. The 'sweet savor of Christ' will be to those who are saved 'a savor of life unto life.' But the same love will be to 'them that perish... the savor of death unto death.'61
And when people burn with hatred and anger as they did when they rushed upon Stephen to stone him, they "gnash their teeth."63 There will also be gnashing of teeth when they turn on each other with burning hatred and anger upon those who deceived them. "The horn of the Lord [His trophy of saints] shall be exalted with honor; the wicked shall see it and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away."64
"For they have made ready their heart like an oven."65 "Wickedness burneth as the fire... no man shall spare his brother."66 "Every man's sword shall be against his brother."67 "A great disturbance from the Lord shall be among them and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor."68
Who dwells with
In Revelation we see fire coming down from God out of heaven and devouring the wicked.69 We are told by our friends that eternal fire is to be the reward of the wicked. But in Isaiah the question is asked, "Who shall dwell with the devouring fire...with everlasting burnings?"70 The answer is given: "He that walks righteously, and is upright..." It is the saints who are going to dwell with everlasting burnings, within the eternal fire of God's love. And where is that? In the presence of God Himself.
Our God is a consuming fire--comsuming to sin,71 but to those who receive His Spirit into their own lives, who become just like Him--it is the fire of love that gives them life. Daniel's three friends were thrown into the fire and it didn't hurt them. Why? Because Jesus, the real Fire, was there with them, and they couldn't be hurt. They had become like the Fire, just like the angels, for "He calls His ministers a flame of fire."72 And "we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" 1John 3:2.
While the redeemed stand upon the Sea of Glass "mingled with fire," the lost of all ages will be immersed in a lake of the same fire until consumed.
Sin is a
Digging His Own Grave
At last the universe will know for certain that sin is a deadly poison. It kills without exception. And there is not one thing Jesus or His Father can do for anyone who will choose the fatal separation that sin causes.
The Wages of Sin
A Last Desparate Message
"The devil would have us misunderstand this message as the words of an angry god. But they are the heart-breaking words of a maligned benevolant Creator who is being rejected."74
The Cry of God
"There are explanations of the death of Christ and of His intercession in our behalf that put God [the Father] in a most unfavorable light" that depict Him of being much "less gracious and understanding than His Son. Such subjects as sin, the law, and the destruction of the wicked... are sometimes presented in such a way as to leave the people with precisely the picture of God that Satan has been purpetrating."74
I want our own church to be known, more than anything else, for its effective witness to the Good News about God. We desire to be counted among God's loyal people, but if in our eagerness to obey we leave the impression that we worship a legalistic god, then we have not witnessed well to the Good News.
No greater privilege and honor can come to us than to be entrusted with the Good News that God never loves the sinner less. Surely the time has come that God's friends everywhere who share a jealous regard for God's reputation should speak up with pride and conviction as to what we believe is really the Loving Wrath of God.