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TEXT: Galatians 3:13
SUBJECT: The Passion #2: Absorb the Wrath of God
Last week we began to study The Passion of Jesus Christ, a short book by Dr. John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Unlike the Mel Gibson movie, it does not focus on what the Lord suffered on the cross, but why He suffered on the cross. Why did the Son of God die the shameful death He did? Human reasons can be found in the Bible: the Rulers of Israel were envious, Pontius Pilate was cowardly and Judas loved money. This is a true answer, but it is not a complete answer.
The book barely touches on the human reasons for the cross. It's all about God's reason. It answers the question, Why did God send His Son to the cross? The word, 'send' was chosen carefully. God did not 'permit' His Son to die on the cross, He sent Him to the cross! From eternity, He decreed His death-and not just a death, but this death. When the time came for Christ to die, His Father did nothing to stop the villains from doing it, and more than that, He Himself added to His Son's pain.
The words may be disturbing, but they're also true. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. He has put Him to open shame.
Why did the Lord do this to His Son? The Jews of the First Century had an answer: because He deserved it-He is stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. C.S. Lewis had his answer: God couldn't stop the crucifixion while at the same time giving men their free will. But John Piper knows better. This is what his book is about. The subtitle is Fifty Reasons Why Christ Suffered and Died.
Last time we surveyed the introduction, now we get into the reasons. Why did God hang His Son on the cross? The first reason, Piper says, is
Christ suffered and died.to absorb the wrath of God.
John has chosen his word carefully. Our Lord absorbed the wrath of God. To absorb is to soak up something. You spill a glass of water on the dinner table, and what do you do? You reach the paper towels and wipe up the mess. What happens to the water? It goes off the table and into the paper towel. The towel has dried the table by taking the water into itself.
This is what our Lord did for sinners. The wrath of God was on us, but Jesus Christ took it off of us by soaking it up into himself.
THE WRATH OF GOD
The picture is not a pretty one, but pretty or not, it's true. Not everyone accepts it, of course, and some believers are nervous about it. Because it assumes the wrath of God. On the cross, our Lord did not absorb the love of God or His wisdom, patience or mercy; it was God's wrath He soaked up.
What is this wrath? I've heard it described as something like blind rage, but it isn't that at all. God does not lose His temper or lash out at us. Wrath is the exercise of His justice. The reason He punishes sinners is because we deserve it.
This doesn't apply to notorious sinners only-child molesters, serial killers, brutal dictators, preachers who cheat little old ladies in the name of God. They may be worse than other sinners, but everyone is a sinner. Piper explains why,
God's law demanded, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is-dishonoring God by preferring other things over Him and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn't God.
Sin is loving anything more than God. Loving your wife more than God; loving your children more than God; loving your country more than God; loving work or beauty or doctrine or the church or the ministry more than God. All of these things are hideous sins because every one of them robs God of what you owe Him. By nature, everyone is a thief and an idolater. When he says he isn't, he's also a liar!
This sounds fanatical to many people. Religion has its place, but let's not get carried away! Of course we should respect God, but love Him more than everything else in the world put together? That's not reasonable. If He demands that-they object-He's not reasonable.
But let's think about it for a moment. What if I said I respect my wife and my marriage is very important to me. But what if I also said, I love another woman more than my wife. Do you think my wife would be satisfied with that? Do you think she ought to be? And if she were satisfied with it, what would that say about her?
A wife insisting that her husband love her more than his secretary is not fanatical. If she didn't care whom he loved more, you'd wonder if she loved him (or had somebody on the side too). But God's claim on us and love for us are very great, and this means He wants us to love Him over all other things.
And when we don't, we are subject to His wrath.
The wrath of God is spoken of all over the Bible and often with great detail. Isaiah 13:9 is a fearful example,
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, both with wrath and fierce anger. He shall make the land desolate; He shall destroy the sinners out of it.
When we come to the New Testament, we find the very same thing. And the One who brings it up most often (by far) is our Lord Jesus Christ. James and John were sons of thunder-men with short fuses and explosive rage. But it wasn't they who warned of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire. It was the Lord.
The wrath of God is a real thing-a real, present thing. He has not outgrown it and it is not a leftover from a barbarous past. Thinking about it can become morbid-I know that-but it should be thought about. Why? Not because believers are going to hell, but because we're not! Piper says,
We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of His wrath against us.
No doctrine is trumpeted more today than the love of God. But the trumpet blast, though loud, is off-key. Because the love of God only breaks your heart when you remember what it saves you from-the just and infinite wrath of God.
THE JUSTICE OF GOD
This brings up a tricky question. Maybe you've thought about it yourself, and if you've witnessed much, I know unbelievers have brought it up.
Why does God pour out His wrath? He tells us not to, and we've all known people who have forgiven great sins without so much as an apology. Why does God demand more than we do? If I say, Somebody's gonna pay for this! you say I'm malicious. But when God says it, you say He's holy. Why?
It's all a matter of fitness. You and I are not fit to judge others. Our judgments are often ill-timed and based on ignorance. Sometimes they're affected by our moods and prejudices, not to mention what we want others to think of us. When men are nominated for the Supreme Court, senators look into their qualifications. If a man is stupid or inexperienced or prejudiced or short-tempered, he won't be confirmed. (That's how it works in theory, at least).
The Lord is qualified to pass judgment. This means when He pours out His wrath, He is not being spiteful or hasty or extreme. His wrath is just. His punishment fits the crime.
What if God did not punish the wicked? What if He announced a blanket amnesty-Everyone is saved! With or without repentance; with or without faith; with or without the death of Christ.
You might secretly wish for this, but your wish would be foolish. Piper explains why:
Not to punish sin would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be endorsed. A lie would remain at the core of reality.
If God were not just, He could not be trusted. This means we could not have any assurance at all. Believe me, I know Christians struggle with assurance, but the struggle is always with themselves: Do I believe? Have I repented? Am I walking in the Spirit? And so on. But what if you added this one? Can God be trusted? If He's not just, He cannot be. We may cross our fingers and hope He does what He says, but we could never be sure.
Not even in heaven!
If God were not just, everyone would sin far worse than they do. Unbelievers are somewhat restrained by the fear of God. Even an atheist has a conscience and worries about the Day of Judgment. If God were not just, sinners would break all boundaries. Think of the things that even wicked men shy away from: incest, for example. Take away God's justice and anything goes.
To a lesser degree, this is true of Christians. The fear of God is not the only thing that bridles our sin, but it's one of the things. What if God came down to you and said, You can do anything you want, with no consequences in this life or the next. It's flattering to think we'd be so grateful that we'd live even better. But would we? H.G. Wells wrote a book called, The Invisible Man. It was about a scientist who devised a formula for making himself invisible. He was a decent man, on the whole, but when no one could see him-and he couldn't be caught-he was a different man altogether. I fear we would be too. But the justice of God keeps us from running amok.
If God were not just, we would have no idea of how bad sin is. Unless it's something atrocious, we're not offended much by sin; it doesn't seem all that bad. But look at the awful judgments in the Bible and you get the feeling for how bad sin really is. Most of all, look at the cross, and you know what God makes of sin.
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great;
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
If God were not just, nobody would be just. For the little justice we have is a result of His justice. What if nobody kept his word? What if no contract were enforceable? What if no oath was taken seriously? What if wedding vows were just words? The world would become unlivable.
Instead of muttering about God's meanness, we ought to be praising Him for His justice.
THE LOVE OF GOD
God is perfectly just, but not only just. Piper says,
The love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath-no matter how holy it is. Therefore, God sends His own Son to absorb His wrath and bear the curse for all who trust Him. 'In this is love-not that we loved Him-but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins' (I John 4:10).
Two words are very dear to me: rest and content. God does not rest with our damnation; He's not content sending us to hell! The God of justice is also the God of love. And His love does not cancel His justice but finds a way to be both just and the justifier. The way is the cross.
No wonder Paul gloried in it! And so should we. For on the cross,
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
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