The Cross Is Not About Anger
Note: If you watched this video or listened to this message today and would like to know what you must do to be saved, there are no magic words you have to say or payments to make – quite simply all that is required is to repent and believe.
Believe that Jesus is the only name you can call on to be saved. No government, religion, or pious behavior would ever be good enough to rescue you from hell. But before Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sin, he lived the perfect life of obedience you couldn't live. Which means that when he died for all the things YOU had done, you now live because of all the things HE has done! Because of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, God views you the same way he views his own Son!
Once you believe that, your next move is to Repent by turning away from your sin. It can begin by grabbing a Bible and reading Psalm 51:1-17, or with a simple prayer in your own words that sounds something like this:
"Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love, and abundant compassion. Blot out my rebellion against you, wash away my guilt and cleanse me of my sin. Lord, it's against you that I've sinned. I haven't loved you with my whole heart, and I have earned nothing but shame and death. But I believe you paid for my shame and death through the sacrifice of your Son Jesus on the cross. Create a clean heart in me, God and make me a new person through your Spirit which is already at work in me. Thank you for having mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, give me a desire from this day forward to hate my sin and love you with my whole heart, for the glory of your name. Amen"
If that's the posture of your heart today, whether you prayed that prayer in those exact words or not, you are part of the family of God! According to Psalm 51:17, God will never turn away from someone with a broken and repentant heart. If this is all new to you, please use the contact form below the sermon notes and let us know about it! We'll send you some information about what steps are next, and do whatever we can to help you along in your new faith!
Grace and peace!
The Cross Is Not About Wrath1
I want to give you fair warning at the beginning of the message today – this is a heavy one. But I fully believe as your pastor that we do ourselves no favors whatsoever to only stay with the parts of our faith that are easy. So I’m going to pray that God will help me to teach and preach in a way that makes the gospel as clear and compelling as I can. In fact, I will likely read more of the sermon than I usually do just to make sure I don’t mess it up. And secondly, I’m going to pray that God will have his way.
I was a new dad in 2004. Jackson was born in April, and it was just a couple months later, when one evening, he was a little fussy, so I went to take care of him. And what happened over the next hour or so revealed something about me that I didn’t know existed before. I tried feeding him some food, and he would just whine and turn his face. Tried a bottle – the same result. Didn’t want anything to eat. You know you run the checklist – is he hungry? Thirsty? Diaper clean – yep that was fine. Changed it anyway just in case. Then I thought maybe he’s tired, so I tried laying him in the crib. He fought me and cried even louder. So, I tried holding him and walking around the house, then rocking him in a chair. And nothing worked.
And it was then that I felt this anger rising in me that I didn’t know I had. I was always a pretty even keeled kid. I only remember one other time when I really lost control in anger, and it was during a basketball game with my brothers. But here in our house, holding my couple month old son, I felt my anger in my bones. It scared me a little. Suddenly, there was very little love for my son, and it wasn’t even his fault. By God’s mercy he didn’t let me harm Jackson, and with his help we got things figured out.
Maybe you grew up in a household with an angry mom or dad. You learned over time how to walk on eggshells. You knew when you were okay to walk in the room and when you should just turn around and go somewhere else. Or maybe it wasn’t a parent. You might have grown up under an angry preacher, who would get red-faced talking about how the church should be but wasn’t, or an angry coach that you couldn’t do anything right for, or an angry boss who always yells at you.
IS GOD ANGRY?
We’ve all seen anger. But when you think of God, do you think of him as angry?
If you don’t, why not? Why is he not angry?
If you do, why? What makes him angry?
On July 8, 1741 (almost 280 years ago) in the middle of the First Great Awakening, a Puritan preacher named Jonathan Edwards stood up to the pulpit in Enfield, Connecticut and preached one of the most famous sermons in American history, and it was called “Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God.” Without raising his voice or shouting, Edwards preached very descriptively on the horrors of hell and eternal damnation, being interrupted throughout the sermon as people shouted at him, “What must I do to be saved?!”
His primary argument is that anyone who refuses Christ as the ultimate treasure in life, can and should be thrown into hell immediately and the only reason they haven’t been is simply because God has chosen not to. God has made no promises, Edwards writes, to keep any natural man, again, one who is bound by their sinful nature and refuses to repent of their sin, out of hell one moment. There are no promises of eternal life God that is obligated to keep for those who have no interest in Jesus Christ. They do not have the power or the goodness or the worth as a human being to keep God from sending us to hell immediately, and for their rebellion against God, they deserve to receive his wrath in full.
Here’s a quote from his sermon: “This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that is out of Christ.—That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.”
To help illustrate his point, I was skiing in the beautiful mountains of Vermont many years ago, and we came upon one of the more challenging hills I’d ever skied. It was quite steep and covered in bumps and trees, which normally was fine, but this hill was a sheet of ice. One of the guys in our group tried to cut across the hill, hit a bump and wiped out. When he wiped out, his head hit the ice, he went unconscious, and because the hill was so steep, he started rolling down the hill and there was nothing we could do about it. It wasn’t until he hit a tree that his body stopped. When we tried to get to him to see if he was okay, we just slid down the hill right past him. It was quite a scary moment.
In Deuteronomy 32:35, Edwards’ key text in that sermon, God says something similar about people who refuse to submit their lives to him, who are OUT of Christ: “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay. In time their foot will slip for their day of disaster is near”, and again in Psalm 73:18,19, speaking of the same people: “Surely you have set them in slippery places…”
Now, let me be clear: This is NOT true of those who are IN Christ. What Edwards is referring to is those OUT of Christ, and he says, quoting those two scriptures, if you presently are refusing to repent of your sin, refusing to submit your life to the Savior, you are standing on a steep hill that is a sheet of ice. The only reason you haven’t slid into the fires of hell yet is not because you are “mostly good” or that you “grew up Christian” or that you “didn’t throw your kid out the window when you wanted to.” It is only because God is holding you up until he decides to let go – which he will. You won’t need a push, it won’t be that you were doing okay and suddenly you messed up REAL bad – the weight of your own wickedness will carry you into eternal torment. There is no need or obligation for God to wait 10-20 years to see if you will end up to be a generally good person or not, and there is nothing you can do on your own – nothing you have done or will do, to give God a reason to spare you another second if you refuse to repent and be converted.
And the question I asked you today, is do you think of God as angry?
You listen to those highlights from Edwards’ sermon, and we can have one of these reactions:
- Edwards: You’re just another preacher telling people how miserable they are, and at the end of the day, you just make me feel worse about myself than I already do. Where is the encouragement? Where is the “hey, you’re not perfect, but you’re trying” bit? Why are you so eager to get people into hell?
- Edwards, my man. God is love, bro. You need to get out of the old Testament, and into the new. You need to read John 3:16 – for God so LOVED the world that he gave his only Son. 1 John 4:8, God is love! This angry God you’re talking about doesn’t exist. God throwing people into hell just for not believing the right thing? That just doesn’t sound like the God of grace!
In Exodus 34, after giving instructions to Moses about how God’s dwelling place on earth would look, and how the Israelites must worship him, God introduces himself to Moses in this way:
The Lord –– the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.
Now, let's be honest. We all prefer the first part of the introduction. Compassion. Grace. Love. Forgiving. Yes please, that’s the kind of God I’m interested in. One who is aware of my failures, but loves me anyway. One who knows I’m not perfect, but loves me as I am. That second part is a little heavy. He will not leave the guilty unpunished. And yet God himself introduces himself to Moses in both love and grace, and in judgment and wrath, and God does not see those as contradictory. It’s not one or the other.
And this whole discussion puts us right back in the garden of Eden, and that serpent slithers up to us and whispers in our ears: “That’s a contradiction, my friend. God can’t be loving and angry at the same time. He doesn’t hate your sin, he forgives it. A God who is loving would never send people to hell simply for not believing the right thing. The world is so negative already – Imagine the freedom and positivity you would have in your life if you got rid of all that anger/punishment/judgment stuff.”
And so enters the deception we’re talking about today: “The cross has nothing to do with anger.”
And this is one of those deceptions that we would never say in those words, but it’s one that we live every day, where we live as if our sins really don’t matter. We live as if we expect God to tolerate our sin, like we tolerate someone burping at the table. We’re not happy about it but whatever. We live as if God tolerates our bitterness at people who’ve wronged us, tolerates our lust for entertainment, our desire to be noticed and adored by others, our greed in always wanting more out of life or more out of God, we live as if God tolerates the way we snap at our spouses, the way we shoot our parents or our employers in the back with our words or our angry stares while murdering them in our hearts – we live as if God is okay with that because, well, he loves us.
And the goal of this deception is to belittle God’s holiness and soften the seriousness of our sin until we don’t see it as an offense against the almighty God of heaven anymore, but only as mistakes we’ve made that we’re not proud of. Scripture never talks about sin as a mistake. It talks about sin as a rebellion, making us enemies of God, separated from him with no hope. That’s what Edwards is going after in his message, is that unless you are united to Christ by faith, you are an enemy of God and of the cross, and the only reason you aren’t sitting in hell right now is because God has chosen to in this moment be merciful to you, and for no guarantee how long, has held open the door to salvation if you’ll receive it. But after you leave this room today, there is no guarantee that he will keep you for another opportunity.
One of the most rageful explosions of anger I ever witnessed was with an employer I was working for in construction. It was actually one of my first days on the job, so I had nothing to do with it, I was just part of the crew. But we were building multiple apartment buildings next to each other, and in the one, we put up some soffit inside the house, which would have gone around the heating and air conditioning. Apparently someone didn’t do a great job on one of the rooms, so our boss called the whole crew into that little room, and exploded in a rage of expletives and red-faced screaming. He reached up and pulled the whole thing down that we had just done, threw it on the ground and screamed to do it right! No one said a word, but that was the fastest some of the guys on the crew had ever moved to get another saw, new boards, and redo the work.
That kind of grown-up temper tantrum is but a candle compared to the sun of the white-hot fury of a holy God’s wrath poured out against sinners. Our anger is self-centered and childish, because 99.9% of the time, anger is the emotion we feel when we don’t get what we want. Something is inconvenient or frustrating and no one seems to care, so we explode in rage.
But God’s anger is perfectly righteous and perfectly holy. It is not stained by selfishness. It is not childish. It cannot be described as a Divine temper tantrum.
- Psalm 7:11 – God is a righteous judge and a God who shows his wrath every day.
- Romans 1:18 – God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
- God’s anger toward sinners isn’t over “mistakes.” It’s over knowing his creation knowing what is right and true and refusing it. It’s over refusing to acknowledge the glory and holiness and majesty of Almighty God, and worshiping something he created instead.
And while the enemy of your souls says, “oh, that doesn’t mean he’s angry, it means he would be angry if he didn’t love you so much,” God’s word goes a different direction:
- John 3:36 – The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.
- Romans 2:5 – Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement is revealed.
If you refuse to repent of your sin, and you reject Jesus as the Savior you needed, then by definition God’s wrath toward you as a rebel to his divinely perfect will was not and will not be absorbed on the cross for you – you will face it in full on your own the moment he lets you go down the slippery slope into hell which is already lunging at you like a hungry lion on a chain.
Hell is a biblical reality. We cannot talk about God as love or imagine him to be compassionate and gracious if he’s not also a righteous judge. I’ve performed four weddings now since becoming a pastor, and have had many discussions about what makes love love. And what it boils down to is that love is a choice, not a reaction. It’s a choice to cling to a person no matter what. No matter what flaws you see, no matter how imperfect, no matter how annoying certain habits can be – love is a choice to not simply tolerate them, but to give up your own life working toward their best interest. Anyone can love someone who is good-looking, sweet, funny, never annoying, and does whatever you ask. But you know true love when you see the awfulness of yourself, and still see that person sticking with you.
In the same way, to say God is love without talking about his wrath toward sinners is a cheapening of the holiness, righteousness and grace of God. It is to say, even though I’m not perfect, I’m so lovable you couldn’t help but die for me. It’s to say I know I’ve messed up, but God’s not that holy and my sin isn’t that bad.
But God’s introduction of himself to Moses shows he can be both loving and angry at the same time. And this is where the cross of Christ comes in.
Before we go any further, it is important to realize that it was not necessary for God to save any of us at all. God made the choice to save us , but he would have also been perfectly fair and just to leave us in our sins to face judgment, and chosen to save no one.3 He could have let us go on the slippery slope we stand on, and we’d be done. But God the Father and God the Son agreed on a plan before they created anything, and in that plan was the commitment to save some sinners. And once they in love decided to save some human beings, there was no other way for that to happen than through the death of his Son.4 How do we know that?
There are so many scriptures we could point to, but here are just a few.
- In Matthew 26:39, Jesus prays in the garden, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” As he prays that, what cup is he talking about? What is he drinking? Is someone slipping him something in a drink, and he’s saying God take this away? No, he’s referring to the suffering that is to come. And when God doesn’t take that cup away, what is the answer? It is NOT possible for this cup to pass from you. Jesus has to die.
- Romans 3:26, Paul writes that God presented Jesus “to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” In other words, because God had NOT punished sinners before Jesus, people could have assumed he isn’t righteous because he let sin slide. Sure there were sacrifices, but they only covered the sin. They didn’t take it away. So now, in order to show God is in fact righteous to allow us into his presence, Jesus had to die.
- Hebrews 9:26, But now [Jesus] has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself. Jesus’ death was the only way sin would be taken away.
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10 – [we] wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
What’s the point? So what? WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?
Satan wants you to believe that the cross is not about God’s wrath. He’d like you to believe that God is not as holy as he says he is, and you are not as sinful as the cross requires. This will ensure that you never repent and look to turn away from your sin. It keeps God small and your own efforts large.
But here’s the truth: At the cross, Jesus became the sin he hated. He took on himself the weight of everything he stood opposed to as the holy and righteous Son of God that he saw in ME. As the whips smashed into his back and tore the skin off of his arms, legs, stomach, and back, God the Father was unleashing his furious anger toward my sins of pride, lust, greed, jealousy onto his own Son who willingly stood in my place. As they shoved the crown of thorns on his head, every thorn prick was for my intentional decisions to listen to my own voice instead of God’s. As the nails went into Jesus' hands and feet, God was punishing Jesus for MY sin. Every hammer strike was mine. Every blackout shot of pain that Jesus felt was mine. Everything that happened to Jesus on the cross, I had coming to me.
That’s the wrath of God.
The love of God is that Jesus did it willingly. He said in John 10:18, “no one takes my life from me. I lay it down on my own.” Which means, at any point of those beatings, at any moment of the cross, Jesus could have just given up his spirit and died to relieve the pain. But he didn’t. A couple hours of agony go by, and He cries out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” But it wasn’t finished. And finally, after 6 hours of excruciating horror, He must have heard the whisper of his Father - NOW. And Jesus cried out with a loud voice “IT IS FINISHED!”
What is finished?
The wrath of God toward the sin of any who will call on his name to be saved.
1 John 4:10 – Love consists in this: - in other words, let's define our terms. John writes, here’s what I mean when I say love – Love consists in this: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins.
At the cross, God treated Jesus with what I deserved, and treated me with what Jesus deserved. The cross of Christ is ludicrous. It is horrible. There is no need to try to clean it up and make it something it isn’t. It is 100% unfair and unjust. It is 100% grace and 100% wrath. It is where the Judge pronounces Justice has been served, and where the Father opens his arms to his redeemed sons and daughters who have called out to him to be saved.
So in closing, there are two places we stand today:
- If you believe that the cross was for YOU, and that Jesus stood in your place to take the wrath of God for you, you are not on that slippery slope anymore, dangling over hell. You woke up today fully and completely saved from hell, and you have no need to fear it. What you deserved, Jesus took, and what Jesus deserved for his perfect life of obedience to the Father, you receive. When you say “God is love”, you know that means he has every reason to destroy you, but took your place instead. You are saved by grace through faith, and the proof of your salvation is the Holy Spirit in you, leading you to obedience and repentance and joy. Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is yours, and it’s only a matter of time until you are welcomed into that glorious eternity.
- The other place we can stand today is dangling over the fires of hell with no guarantee that you won’t be there tomorrow morning. It’s only a matter of time before God lets you go. But for the moment, the fact that you are here this morning or watching online, God mercifully is giving you another opportunity to hear the gospel and repent, and when you do, you are pulled out of the pit of hopelessness, put on the firm foundation of Christ and his righteousness, and will be sealed with the Holy Spirit.
- Sermon titles and topics taken from Jared C Wilson, The Gospel According To Satan (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2020)
- Edwards, Jonathan, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2 https://ref.ly/o/wrkjonedwrds2/210762?length=99
- Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Bible Doctrine https://ref.ly/o/grudemest/1991381?length=118
- Ibid, https://ref.ly/o/grudemest/1991939?length=186
- Edwards, Jonathan, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2 https://ref.ly/o/wrkjonedwrds2/223292?length=3