The Wrath of God

First in a YAFI (You Asked For It) Series,
Delivered June 6, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Nahum 1:1-8
1 An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the
Elkoshite.
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.
3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave
the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and
clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
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.
7 The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who
trust in him,
8 but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of [Nineveh]; he will
pursue his foes into darkness.

You asked for it! Yeah, you really did, so over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at some of those sermon topics that you have suggested. This morning we kick the whole thing off with a pretty heavy topic: The Wrath of God. Some of you are thinking, “Well, it’s about time.” Some of you are thinking, “What kind of spiritually masochistic place have I walked into this morning?” Others of you are just kind of thinking, “Huh…?”

We hear horror stories about people who have been beaten by fire and brimstone sermons about a God who is out there to clobber you if you get out of line…. but wait minute. Let’s get real. How many of you here this morning have ever actually, I mean really heard a sermon like that? In high school you may have read Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. But as far as sermons that you have heard, you have probably heard sermons more along that line of, ‘Coddled Christians in the Hands of a Soothing Celestial Therapist.’ We don’t preach on the wrath of God any more today. It is pretty much of an “out” kind of thing, gone the way of high button shoes and Pilgrim hats … at least until today.

When I worked on a dairy farm outside of San Antonio, we used to de-horn calves. That is so they would be less dangerous to us, and to themselves. If you have a cat, you can take him to be de-clawed. They can de-fang snakes. I have even heard that skunks make excellent pets, once you get them de-scented. There has been a kind of a movement in American theology along those same lines to “bell the cat”, if you will; to de-fang, to de-claw God, and replace the Almighty One True Living God of the Bible with a hybrid of Barney, Big Bird, Santa Claus, and everybody’s grandfather. The only problem with that God is that he is not a God at all. He is an idol, a human construction. The question facing you and me this very morning as we are about to read this prophecy from the book of Nahum, is: Is what we are going to read here merely the rants of a seventh century B.C. fire and brimstone lunatic, or is it God actually revealing himself through the prophecy of Nahum? I believe it is the latter.

The Word of God, the inspired Word of God, always saves you and me from idolatry when we allow Scripture to shape our picture of God rather than what is most convenient or comfortable. I would invite you to open your Bibles and turn with me — and keep them open during the sermon – to the book of Nahum, as this morning we wrestle with verses 1-8 of chapter one. This is the word of God.

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

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 enemy. The Lord is slow to anger, great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry.Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles in his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood, he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness.

Join me as we pray: And now Father as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

That word oracle in verse one of our text literally means “burden”. Burdens are heavy. They are cumbersome. They are uncomfortable. We want to get rid of burdens. Atrocity. Child sacrifice. Blasphemy. These kind of things are burdensome; and yet they epitomize what the city of Nineveh was all about in the day of Nahum. The city of Nineveh had become burdensome to God. He wants to get rid of it. And so he raises up the prophet Nahum to prophesy against Nineveh, and to lay on the table the wrath of God.

This little-known prophet Nahum — who we know nothing about except that he was an Elkoshite. Nahum puts the burden of the wrath of God on the table. You and I this morning need to bear up under it and wrestle with it if we are serious about worshiping and following the one true living God and not some convenient comfortable idol that we have constructed. And if nothing else, this text before us this morning reminds us that God is not a God who is to be trifled with. That you cannot be presumptuous with, that you can act cocky around (especially if you are from Cockeysville). In those words of that great theologian Jim Croce, ‘You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask of the ol’ Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess with……….God.’

Nineveh for years had shaken its fist in the face of God and seemingly got away with it. Nineveh is the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians had carted off the northern kingdom of Israel into exile, and they had gotten away with it. They ruled Palestine with an iron hand, and they had seemingly gotten away with it. They mocked the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and so far there had not been one lightning bolt. Ah, but the prophet Nahum says that divine trouble is brewing. It is only a matter of time. In verse two of our text, we get great insight into the character of God where Nahum says, ‘God is jealous. He is an avenging God. His wrath will break forth against his foes.’ Now right away you and I have a problem with that. Any time we hear the word “jealousy” or “anger” or “wrath” used in conjunction with God, that grates against us. Because when I get jealous, when Jerry gets angry, when you all display your wrath for one reason or another, it is always tainted by sin. There is always mixed motives, good and bad tied up in it. We tend to extrapolate our human definitions of those words onto those words when they are used in reference to God, which is completely wrong. Remember, God is totally pure. He is completely holy, righteous, and just. He is incapable of co-existing with sin. His wrath, his anger is never arbitrary. It is never out of control. It is never tainted in the least by sin. His wrath is a part of his holiness and his purity.

In verse 3-7, we are told that God can actually use nature to be a vehicle of his wrath against his foes. Storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, volcanos. All of these things Nahum says can be used by God as instruments of his wrath against his enemies. Does that mean that El Nino was a visitation God’s wrath upon the world? I don’t know. I have no idea.The insurance companies are far more certain about this than I am. They call all of this stuff ‘Acts of God’. The one thing that we can take away from Scripture is that God can use these things. He can use history, he can use politics, he can use nature and a lot of other things to be instruments of his wrath, should he so choose to do. What about those tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma City a few weeks ago. Was that God inflicting his wrath on the people in Oklahoma City? I don’t know. The one thing I do know is that God can use tornados if he so chooses.

“Oh come on Ron. All of this wrath of God business. Isn’t that really an Old Testament thing?” In the Old Testament we have the God of wrath. In the New Testament we have the God of grace, right? NO. Same God in both testaments. In fact, right here in this text before us, grace abounds. Grace abounds!

Look at verses 3 and 7 of your text. In verse 3 in the midst of all of what Nahum is saying about the severity of God’s wrath, he says, “The Lord God is slow to anger.” Slow to anger. That means that he has a long, long, long, long fuse. It means that it takes a lot to rile him up. It takes a lot to push him “over the edge” to where he acts out his wrath. But the text also says that he is great and powerful. He has ability to carry out the sentence should he choose to act. And in verse 7, “the Lord is good. A refuge in times of trouble.” God’s wrath is not opposed to his grace — in fact, they are both a part of his incredible love for you and me. And even for his enemies.

If you want to do a study on the wrath of God, don’t do it in the Old Testament. Go to the New Testament. Go the Jesus. Jesus speaks more about the wrath of God, and does so in a more eternal way than the Old Testament ever does. And yet the whole idea of the wrath of God is subsumed under his banner of love. His incredible love for us and even for his enemies. Think about it, do you really want a God that has no wrath? The Holocaust. The drunk driver that killed your son and who got off scott free. And every instance of atrocity, and injustice, and abject evil that has seemed to get off the hook; where there has not been any recourse in this world. It is actually a comfort to know that God promises that his judgement, his justice, will one day be completely acted out. No one gets off scott free.

The wrath of God is really a comfort. Do you really want a God who has no wrath? So that all of these things like the Holocaust, kind of slide by and are off the hook? The wrath of God means that sin, abject evil, injustice, cruelty, all of these things will not be a part of eternity. They will be completely destroyed one day. If you have a God without wrath, you know what you have really got? A big sack of sentimentality. Not the one true living God who really loves you and me.

Right into the very fabric of the universe God has woven in his justice. You and I can ignore it. We can slight it. We can break it. But the promise here is that when it happens, you won’t get off scott free. His justice will one day catch up to the perpetrator.

But let me finish up this morning by reminding you and myself of the instance of the greatest outpouring of the wrath of God that has ever been, and ever will be. A wrath that was outpoured due to God’s incredible love for all of the Ninevehs of this world. For all of its foes, for all of its enemies; and guess what folks, that includes you and me. Who by our very sin, our volitional rebellion against God, have made ourselves into his enemies. But rather than destroy us in his wrath, rather than destroy Nineveh. (Remember Jonah?) Rather than destroy all of those who have rebelled against him, God pours out his wrath chiefly, supremely, surprisingly, gracefully, at the cross. Upon the person of his own very son, Jesus.

A wrath that rightfully should have been directed at you and me. Look at verse 3 of your text. The guilty will not go unpunished. Yet Jesus, the totally not guilty, steps forward and takes God’s wrath for the guilty, for you and me. You cannot separate God’s wrath from his grace, they are totally interlinked. And so Jesus is the recipient of the wrath of God in place of you and me.

Unbelievable. Incredible, and yet that is the only reason that we are here this morning. That is the only reason that you and I are alive. That is the only reason that you and I have any hope for eternal life. The guilty will not go unpunished. But in Jesus Christ, God has declared you and me not guilty. The Lord is good. He is a refuge in times of trouble. “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger?” says verse 6. The rhetorical answer is, “Nobody.”, you and me included, unless we be in Christ Jesus. It is those that have a relationship with Christ that find refuge in the graceful wrath of God. There are the foot of the cross.

So my friends, we come to this table this morning. A table really of paradox. A table of the gracious wrath of God and the wrathful grace of God. You see, you cannot separate them. A table where God invites you and me, out of his love. That banner of love that overarches his wrath. Invites you and me as Ninevites. Look at your spiritual passport. You and I are Ninevites. Rather than destroy us, God provides Jesus Christ. His way of destroying sin while at the same time embracing the sinner. Here at this table we meet Jesus Christ: the chief recipient of the wrath of God. God’s consuming fire does not destroy us; but in Christ, actually burns the path ahead into eternal life.

Nahum, his very name literally means “comfort”. When you and I understand the gospel, then the wrath of God is a comfort. A reminder that in eternity, there will be no sin, no injustice, no evil. All of that will be destroyed by God’s wrath. And even more comfort to know that in Jesus Christ we are spared. And so come this morning to this table and give great thanks. Great thanks to God because he has taken his own medicine. That he has swallowed his own anger and given you and me instead the medicine of grace. Nothing less than the very person of Jesus Christ, whose real presence we have the privilege this morning of, through common elements of bread and wine, holding in our hands.The Lord Jesus, who has borne the supreme burden of God’s wrath. For you and for me.

Join me as we pray:
Lord God, we thank you that you are a God of wrath, that you will not tolerate or let off the hook any injustice or evil, that will not be a part of eternity. That we have your promise that you will destroy that. And yet Lord, we would have no hope as citizens of Nineveh unless Jesus Christ stepped forward and deflected that wrath from us and took it upon himself. You have done that Lord. This table is a reminder of that. And so Lord, we come and humbly receive your graciousness that you pour out upon us. Open our heart to see you anew this morning as we receive you body and blood. And may we leave here today because of your wrath, more convinced of your love. And we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.