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Romans 1:18-25; 3:9-25a
I am holding in my hand (dad’s wooden paddle) the instrument of my father’s wrath! It is as you can see his fraternity pledge paddle.
During that process, he was probably hit with it more than I ever was (ha!) In fact, my father only took his wrath on me with this paddle two times. On one of those occasions, I don’t recall what I did to deserve it. But the other one is very clear in my mind.
Last Sunday, I mentioned that my two brothers and I were known in our neighborhood as the Katzenjammer Kids; the kids that were always at heart of the trouble. One day, my cousin Mark, Tom and I were in the weed field behind my uncle’s house, which was right across Herbert Street from our house. Tom took out a box of matches and said, “Look what I have.”
I said, “I dare you to light the weeds on fire.”
Tom lit a match, dropped it on the ground and some of the dry weeds immediately caught fire, but Tom quickly stomped the little fire out.
“I bet you can’t do that again,” I said, as I winked at my cousin Mark.
Tom lit a second match, dropped the match into the weeds, the weeds caught fire, but just when my brother raised his foot to stomp out the fire, Mark and I grabbed him and held him back. The fire quickly spread.
After Mogadore’s finest finished extinguishing the fire, my father took Tom and I home to face his fury. Both of us tried to escape punishment by blaming the other; me, rightly so, claiming I didn’t light the fire in the first place, Tom did; Tom claiming, and rightfully so, that I prevented him from putting out the fire.
Guess what? We both experienced our father’s wrath!
Speaking of a father’s wrath
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18).
To be sure, some translations, like the NLT, in an attempt to tone Paul down a bit substitute the word ‘anger’ which is somewhat less volatile than ‘wrath.’ But either way, Paul is expressing the fact that God is irate and has a right to be!
But wait a doggone minute preacher, doesn’t I John 4:8 claim that “God is love”? Yes, and some of us want to believe that God loves us so much there’s no way He could ever be angry at us; even with our sin. But we fail to understand that love is always angry at evil.
Charles Cranfield, Emeritus Professor of Theology at the University of Durham in England, in the most respected commentary on Romans writes:
God would not be the truly loving God He is if He did not (italics mine) react to our evil with wrath. His wrath is not something which is inconsistent with His love: on the contrary, it is an expression of His love. It is precisely that He loves us truly and seriously and faithfully that He is wroth with us in our sinfulness. 1
That last line tells what God is angry about? God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against what “all the godlessness and wickedness of people” (1:18) God is angry about SIN and EVIL because sin and evil always, always, always bring ruination to those whom God loves.
Max Lucado writes:
God doesn’t get angry because He doesn’t get His way. He gets angry because disobedience always results in self-destruction. What kind of father sits by and watches his child hurt himself? What kind of God would do the same? Do we think he giggles at adultery or snickers at murder? Does He shake His head and say, ‘Humans will be humans?’ I don’t think so. Mark it down and underline it in red. God is rightfully angry. God is a holy God. Our sins are an affront to His holiness. . . . God is angry at the evil that ruins His children. As long as God is God, He cannot behold with indifference that His creation is destroyed and His holy will trodden underfoot. 2
So; God’s wrath is an expression of His love for His children whose sin always gets them in trouble and causes them pain of one kind or another.
Furthermore; God is justified in His anger toward human sinfulness for human beings are without excuse when it comes to acknowledging God exists, that He created us and that He wants the very best for us!
Paul continues: “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19-20)
The human race is without excuse says, Paul, because God has revealed Himself to us in His creation.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. (Psalm 19:1-4).
“The universe declares Your majesty, You are holy, holy. Lord of heaven and earth.”
“You are God and we praise you and we praise you.
You are God we acclaim You we acclaim you.
You are eternal Father, all Creation worships you, all creation worships You, Amen.”
But what Paul is expressing in Romans 1 is that not all of His creation worships Him. Ironically those He created as the crown of His creation, those He created ‘in His own image’ (Genesis 1:27) with a mind that can think have thought it through and decided I don’t need God, I don’t need God in my life, I don’t need God to forgive my sins, I don’t need God advising me on how to live my life, I’ll live my life as I damn well please and to hell with the consequences; in fact I don’t even believe there is a god.
Is it any wonder that Paul declares that God is angry?
Now to be sure, many of us have a difficult time understanding that God could be angry because we equate it with the only anger we know . . . the anger of human beings.
But God’s anger does not resemble human anger or wrath which is most often associated with negative human emotions that leads to lack of self-control and losing one’s temper.
How does God express His wrath? Paul tells us exactly how God is revealing His wrath.
It is stated three times here in this passage in Romans 1:
verse 24: “So God abandoned them do whatever shameful things their hearts
verse 26: “God abandoned them to their shameful desires.”
verse 28 “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.”
In other words, God wrath has resulted in Him letting us have our way. And many say, ‘Well that’s not so bad, that’s exactly what I want.’ You think? Think again.
God’s wrath is revealed as the destructive results of human sinfulness. Every time you or I make a boneheaded decision that leads to negative consequences in our lives or in someone else’s lives, God’s wrath is being revealed. God’s wrath was revealed last Wednesday morning when a young man calmly walked into a high school in Florida and shot and killed 17 people.
Now please note that being ‘abandoned’ is infinitely better for the human race than the alternative; which is ‘annihilation.’ Indeed, Genesis 6 informs us that there was a time when God chose annihilation:
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and He saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. (Genesis 6:5-7).
And He did just that; sweeping the human race from the face of the earth in a flood.
All except Noah and his family. Aren’t you glad for verse 8? “But Noah found favor with the Lord.” That little word ‘favor’ is the Hebrew word for grace. And it points to Romans 3, where is unfolding his theology of sin and grace.
And where Paul knows we cannot really appreciate the grace of God without first coming to grips with His wrath.
When he gets to chapter 3, he states unequivocally that all of us are in trouble that all human beings stand under the wrath of God.
We are all guilty as he makes abundantly clear in 3:10-18, stringing together seven quotes from the Old Testament.
Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.”
“Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace.”
“They have no fear of God at all.”
We all sin and we all know it deep down in our hearts. Those who acknowledge it and regret it and feel the need to do something about it often fall into the trap of thinking that their good deeds will outweigh their bad. But Paul makes it clear that no one is going to escape God’s wrath by any kind of paltry attempt to come into compliance with God’s moral law.
And just when we realize the hopelessness of our situation, and are shaking in our boots waiting for God to put the hammer of His wrath down, Paul pulls us out of the pit of despair he’s been writing about for 61 verses when he jubilantly writes Romans 3:21-26a:
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses[i] and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.
In these verses, Paul is giving you and I the antidote to wrath. He’s providing us a get out of jail free card! It’s called Grace!
“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (Ro. 3:25).
GRACE . . . GOD’S RICHES AT CHRIST’S EXPENSE!
As Jesus hung on the cross, He was absorbing God’s punishment for our sin.
It would have been like my father saying to Tom and I, ‘You boys started that fire . . . you have no one to blame but yourselves, the damage has been done . . . therefore you deserve to be punished. But I love you so much I am going to take the punishment in your place so here you take this paddle and I’ll bend over and you strike me.’
GRACE IS EVERYTHING FOR NOTHING TO THOSE WHO DON’T DESERVE ANYTHING!
What is our response to this kind of love and grace?
First and most obvious accept it! For there is no middle ground . . . there is no other option. The Bible is clear: for each one of us, it’s either wrath or grace! What I mean to say is, if we persist in wanting to live apart from God, He will let us have our way . . . FOREVER! The choice is yours. “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:22).
Secondly, after we accept it, we should avoid trampling all over it with a ‘Well if God accepts me as I am, why not eat, drink and be merry?’ Kind of attitude. If my father had taken the punishment for Tom and I isn’t it clear that it would have been abhorrent for Tom and me then to not care how much trouble we got into because after all, Dad’s going to pay the price for us. To act on that kind of an attitude is to spit in the face of Christ as He hangs on the cross.
Thirdly, we should do our best to live out God’s grace. That is the subject that we will turn to in the next few weeks.
Until then I will leave you with this preview of things to come. Augustine, the great preacher of grace during the fourth and fifth centuries, said that the doctrine of God’s grace should lead to the maxim, “Love God and do as you please.” 3 At first glance, it looks like a license to indulge one’s sinful nature. But in reality, it touches upon the real motivation the Christian should have for living in Christ.
Love God and you will do as He pleases.
1 Cranfield, C. E. B. Romans: a Shorter Commentary. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, © 1985]. Page 29
2 Lucado, Max. In the Grip of Grace. [Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, © 1996].