Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Wrath of a Loving God Revelation 16:1-21

Revelation 16:1-17

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth."

The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.

The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.

The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.

Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve."

And I heard the altar respond: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments."

The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East.

Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.

"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed."

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!"

Somewhere here in town, I’m not sure where, there is a billboard proclaiming, “God is not angry.”

I understand what they are getting at here, but that sign bothers me because I am not sure that the sign is true.

To put on a billboard and say, “God is not angry,” is to declare that God is a loving God.  That God is patient.  That God is compassionate.

But to say that God is NOT angry seems presumptuous to me.

Because I do not think for a minute that our loving God is not angry.

On January 18, 2015, Brook Turner, a student athlete at Stanford, sexually assaulted an unconscious 22-year-old woman. According to police, prosecutors, and a jury, she lacked the capacity to give legal consent. He was found by two passersby who testified that they intervened because the woman appeared to be unconscious. They restrained him until police arrived and subsequently arrested Turner on charges of rape.  Now, over a year later, the trial is over and Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault.  The charges made him eligible for 14 years in prison.  Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to six months of jail and three years of probation. People all over the world are angry, so much so that you can barely turn on the television or social media without hearing someone giving an angry response to this light sentence. People are so angry that there is a campaign for the recall or resignation of Judge Persky.

People are so angry – do you think that God is not angry?  I’m not suggesting that God does not have love for Brook Turner, or that God does not feel compassion for both the victim and the criminal.  But do you really think God is not angry?

My wife and I went to a concert last night.  Meanwhile, at another venue, right up the road on Bumby, there was another concert.  That other concert ended with a tragedy with the 22 year old artist being shot and killed by someone who then took his own life.  I don’t know all the details.  I don’t know very much at all, in fact, but I know this.  I believe God is angry when things like that happens.

This past week two men went into a place in Israel.  Videos show every one having a good time.  It seemed very relaxed.  Until guns were drawn and innocent people were being shot and killed. 

Is God not angry?

We don’t want to think about God being angry, or to use an old fashioned term – the wrath of God.

Wrath of God? How backward. How yesterday. How embarrassing.

We would much rather think about the more enduring themes of the Christian faith: a God who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love; a Christ in whom all the promises of God’s love are fulfilled, and a Holy Spirit who is the true Comforter of humanity.

There may have been times in the past when people, fearful and guilt-ridden, felt that they had to join the Church of God’s Wrath, but fortunately our understanding of God’s grace has grown and matured, and we spend our Sundays in happy thoughts.

The Wrath of God? We find it out of style and embarrassing.

But then we turn to the news reports online or on television – and we look at Revelation, chapter 16.

What are we to make of this “wrath of God” business.

My old preaching professor, Tom Long, said this about these chapters of Revelation, “It is an account of the wrath of God in all of its sea-boiling, thunder-rolling, earthquake-rattling fury. Here we see the very kitchens of heaven serving up brimming bowlfuls of God’s wrath to be poured by angels upon the face of the earth. And what we read is not just a description of the wrath of God; it is a hand-clapping, hallelujah-shouting celebration of its coming.”

So what do we make of this business of the wrath of God?

What we make of it is that the God of Love we worship, is capable of great wrath and anger.

We’re not talking about a little anger – Revelation speaks of 7 bowls of symbolic wrath.  Seven is the full and complete and perfect number in the Bible.  And the bowls are full, running over.  And so is God’s wrath. 

This is not the mild anger of a parent who is trying to discipline a child for breaking curfew by 5 minutes – this is full and complete wrath.

            The first bowl causes harmful and painful sores upon the people.

            The second bowl kills everything in the seas.

            Another bowl scorches people with fire.
Shall I go on?  No – this is gruesome stuff.

Now to fully appreciate what this text from Revelation is all about, you have to consider the original readers of Revelation.

We don’t know a lot about the first people to read Revelation, but we do know a few things for certain.

They were Christian. 

They were undergoing terrible distress, which was probably in the form of a persecution by civil government.

They were believers in the God and accepted His Son as Lord and Savior – and they were paying a heavy price. 

They were a people without power.  They had no resources.  They had no First Amendment rights.  No friends in Congress, city hall or the American Civil Liberties Union. 

They had no friends at all.

They had nothing at all to sustain them.

Except for one thing.

The promise of God.

And so they repeated over and over the promises:  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  (Rev 21:6-7)

They sang their hymns over and over:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.” (Rev. 4:8)

They pray the prayer that one hears in the last verses of Revelation – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)

Come to think of it – that has been our prayer.

Every time terrorists strike, we look to God and pray for the wrath of God to fall upon the terrorists – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

When we read in the newspaper about a man who takes 2 guns and a hunting knife into a small Orlando venue and kills a 22 year old singer, we pray for the wrath of God to run over and extinguish the life of the drunk driver – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

When we read about sexual predators exploiting an unconscious woman, or children taking guns to school and killing classmates, or suicide bombers killing innocent people, or … the list goes on, and on and on – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

 “Where is God?”

“Why doesn’t God do something?”

“Why did God allow this?”

It is in response to these cries that Revelation speaks a word of hope.  It is a promise to the victims. 

The problem with our understanding of the wrath of God is not that we have made too much of it, but that we have made too little of it.

Or, to be more exact, we have conceived of God’s wrath in ways that are too small, too insignificant, and too ineffective.

We always picture God with the flawed impression of understanding God as a flawed human.  In this case, we understand the wrath of God in terms of the wrath of a typical person.

For a typical person, our wrath comes when we are the least loving, and we assume the same is true of God.  Human wrath is destructive and angry and bitter.

But that is not true with the wrath of God.  It does not come when He is least loving, nor is it destructive and angry and bitter.

God’s wrath is that of a loving Father who speaks up for the victims and says “enough.”

There is a limit of the suffering God will allow. 

The forces on our world that make for poverty, crime, rape, abuse, sexual predators, wars, dictatorships, terrorists – these will not be allowed to continue forever.

God’s wrath will be poured out – seven complete bowls of it, filled to the brim and running over – all about to be poured out so that the wrath flows upon humanity.

Not like human wrath that seeks bitter destruction, but rather divine wrath, that seeks loving restoration of a broken relationship.

In the brief New Testament book of Jude, we read, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way.”  (Jude 1:14-15)

The purpose of convicting is not to punish, but to convince and restore.

The writer of Psalm 30 said it eloquently: 

“Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”[1]

The wrath of God is meant to bring people back to God – but not everyone will be brought back.  Not everyone will be convicted or convinced to return to God. 

And those who continue to reject God, to reject his ways, to reject his love, to reject his mercy, to reject his presence, will eventually get exactly what they desire.

They will have a total absence of God’s presence, mercy and love.

Revelation can be a depressing book.

And the wrath of God is itself a depressing thought.

But the writer of Revelation does not mean for this to be depressing.  John means for it to be a message of hope that will go to the victims of the world who have seen injustice and misery and pain.  These are the people who long for evil to end, who want desperately for crime and violence and wars and cruelty to come to forever cease.  Who pray over and over and over, “Come quickly Lord Jesus…”

[1] Psalm 30:4-5

Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.