Jesus Saves Us From the Coming Storm

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

I was with a few good friends at an early morning meeting. One of them said, “We don’t seem to hear much in preaching these days about the wrath of God.” That struck home to me, especially because I was already beginning to prepare this message: “Jesus Saves Us From the Coming Storm.” The conversation made me think afresh about God’s wrath and why so little seems to be said about it in our time.

Obviously it’s not a pleasant subject, this impending storm of God’s judgment. If we’re looking for pleasant, reassuring themes for our message, that wouldn’t seem to be one of them, would it? And I suppose that some who preach scarcely give a thought to the wrath of God. They’re not convinced that such a thing even exists. They may look upon it as the relic of a long-outmoded, somewhat barbaric approach to religion. I don’t suppose that any of us enjoys preaching about the wrath of God, especially if we believe that it’s real. It’s a heavy subject, to say the least. We’re supposed to be preachers of good news, we say. Who wants to be seen as a prophet of gloom and doom?

It’s striking, though, that the writers of the New Testament don’t see the wrath of God as something alien to their gospel message. In fact, with them it’s the somber background against which the evangel shines so brilliantly. Listen to these words of the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, chapter 1, verses 9 and 10.

For they themselves [that is, your fellow Christians] report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Notice how three things are said here about Jesus. One is in the past: God raised Him from the dead. Another is in the future: He’s coming again from heaven. The third describes what He’s doing for us right now: He delivers us from the wrath to come. Isn’t it striking how the apostle describes the heart of what Jesus does for people in this stunning phrase. He delivers us. He rescues us. He saves us from the wrath to come.

THE BUILDUP

The wrath to come. That sounds like something hanging over us, doesn’t it, building up somewhere and certain to arrive? I was reading recently about a region called the “Scablands.” That’s the intriguing name given to a large area of southern Washington in our Pacific Northwest. The Scablands present one of the most impressive rock formations on earth. They tell the story of ancient catastrophe. Geologists say that some 13,000 years ago, during the last of the ice ages in North America, a huge lake backed up behind glaciers in the mountains which now border Idaho and Montana. The lake may have been over 2,000 feet deep, stretching over thousands of square miles. As the ice began to melt and the dam it had formed finally gave way, we’re told that a wall of water 30 stories high roared down all the way to the Pacific. The volume of that stupendous flow was probably ten times greater than that of all the world’s present rivers combined!

Wherever this torrent went, it tore away a layer of soil and rock 150 feet deep, ripping up and whirling away boulders the size of apartment buildings. Canyons that would ordinarily take millions of years to form were slashed out in a matter of hours. The terrain in three of our present United States still bears the scarring of this awesome flood. One of the biggest channels it dug was what we call the Grand Coolee where the Columbia River now flows and where modern engineers have built a huge dam.

I try to envision that ancient scene, the pent-up mass of water suddenly released and raging its way to the sea. Were there warning signs, do you suppose? Ominous cracks in the glacial dam, an escaping trickle here and there, perhaps the deep rumble of ice beginning to slide? Could any creatures in the path of it have anticipated what was coming or did everything simply give way in an instant, in one colossal breakthrough?

The Bible tells us of a “buildup” far more fearful than even the waters of a mountain sea. It’s the accumulating weight of the wrath of God. The apostle Paul warns impenitent people, hard-hearted ones, about that. Listen: “Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” There it is: the wrath of God, the judgment of God, is being stored up, held in reserve against evil. In the passage we looked at a moment ago, Paul speaks of this looming judgment simply as the wrath of God. The holy wrath of God, held in, as it were, by His marvelous patience and long-suffering, will one day break in judgment over a sinful world.

WHAT WRATH IS

What is this thing we call God’s wrath? Let’s walk around the outskirts of it. God’s wrath is His holy reaction against everything evil. It’s His intense aversion to sin. Part of our difficulty with the idea lies in the associations we give to it. The wrath with which we are familiar is always compromised by the presence of sin. Even the highest and purest of our anger is a somewhat distorted reflection of His. Surely the wrath of the holy One cannot be, as ours too often is, something spiteful, irrational, or irresponsible.

In the revelation given us in the Bible, God’s wrath is never set in opposition to His love. Rather, it’s the background against which the wonder of God’s grace becomes fully apparent. And I ask myself as I reflect on that: Could God be a good and gracious God if He did not react to evil with wrath, displeasure, opposition? Ponder that. Isn’t indignation against wickedness a vital element in any human goodness we know? Can a person who confronts injustice, oppression and cruelty without anger be a thoroughly good man or woman? The failure to be wrathful in such circumstances seems a failure to care for other people, yes, a failure to love.

It’s hard for me to understand why people have such difficulty believing that there’s such a thing as God’s wrath. I see countless indications of it all around us. The apostle Paul says, for example, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” A revelation comes to us from heaven, says Paul, of the wrath of God. How is that disclosure made? As you read on in Paul’s letter to the Romans, you see. When people don’t respond to God’s truth, don’t honor the light they have by worshiping God and giving thanks to Him, they become vain in their thinking and their minds are darkened. That is the wrath of God. That’s the evidence of it. Claiming to be wise, they become fools. That’s the wrath of God. “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their heart to impurity.” That is the wrath of God. His judgment against sin in human history is the increase of it. When people choose to go away from God, He gives them their wish. They want evil, they choose evil; He gives them more of the same. When they don’t want to worship the true God, He gives them over to the worship of idols. When they don’t want to honor His plan for sexuality, He gives them over to ways that are dishonorable and destructive. When they spurn the truth, He gives them up to believe lies. The wrath of God in that form is operating in history all the time, as a preview of what’s ahead.

OUR SALVATION

Perhaps you wonder how the same God can be both wrathful and loving, a compassionate Father and yet a consuming fire. Yet so He is revealed to us. The Old Testament witnesses again and again to God’s steady anger against every form of sin, but it testifies also to His great forbearance in giving vent to that wrath. Though His people again and again forfeit all claim to His favor, He doesn’t blot them out. The supreme example of both His wrath and His restraint comes in that Exodus account of the golden calf. God’s anger waxed hot, we read, against the people because of their apostasy, but at the pleading of His servant Moses, He changed His mind concerning the evil He had said He would do to them. In wrath, He remembered mercy.

The New Testament reveals the same two-fold attitude on God’s part: intense wrath against sin and amazing forbearance toward sinners. Though He is unrelenting in His judgment against evil, it is not His will that any should perish, that any should feel the full weight of His wrath.

Light dawns over this mystery in the advent of Jesus. He is the Son of the Father, the everlasting Word made flesh. The light of the knowledge of God’s glory shines in His face. He can say to those around Him, “He that has seen me has seen the Father . . . I and my Father are one.”

As we might expect, His indignation blazes out against injustice. Heartlessness and cruelty He cannot abide. Jesus thunders the most terrible woes against hard-hearted people, the judgmental, the self-righteous.

At the same time, His overflowing kindness toward the needy and the fallen is the most notable feature of His ministry. He loves. He forgives. He stoops to serve and to save. He welcomes with an evident joyfulness the most wretched and unworthy. Terrible in wrath, He is even mightier in mercy.

Jesus’ mission culminates in rejection, agony and death. As He hangs between heaven and earth on a cross of torment, He cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But then with His dying breath, it’s “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” What can all this mean? Why is He, Jesus, the blameless One, dying this accursed death? Why does He, with whom the Father was always well pleased, perish under the stroke of divine judgment? Because, dear friends, He bears it all, He takes it all upon Himself for us, for you, for me.

Can you imagine the great Judge of all the earth passing sentence upon a guilty race, and then stepping down from His throne to bear the condemnation in their place? That’s what God did in the crucifixion of His Son. He took our curse upon Himself and bore it away. He let His wrath go forth against our sins and then stepped squarely in the path of it Himself. That’s why the apostle can exult in Jesus as the One who has delivered us from the wrath to come. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. Since God has condemned sin in the flesh of His own well-beloved for us, the judgment has passed. The storm is over. There’s nothing left in God’s heart toward His people but pardoning, welcoming, celebrating love.

What’s the message then for you and for me? Simply this: turn to the Savior. Acknowledge your sin and rebellion and turn from it all to the Lord, trusting in Him who died for you and rose again. In Jesus Christ, God is a shelter, a haven, a place of safety for you.

The wrath of God is still a dreadful reality. Massing beyond the hills is the weight of His judgment. One day it will break forth suddenly upon all who will not repent, who refuse to believe, all who scorn the unspeakable gift of forgiveness and grace in Christ. There is – oh, I hope you will believe it, friends – a coming wrath. But take heart. That need hold no terrors for you. There’s also a coming Savior, who shelters all who trust in Him. He is our peace. He is our hope. The Scripture says, “Blessed are all those who take refuge in Him.”