by Lauren Dyck
Good Friday, a day when Christians all over the world remember the crucifixion of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This selfless act of our Lord is the climax of our faith, without the cross, there is no Christianity. Paul tells the church in Corinth that though the “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [he preaches] Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
R. C. Sproul, in his book The Truth of the Cross, writes:
“…one of the most important subdivisions of theology is Christology, which is the study of the person and work of Christ. Within that field of study, when we want to get at the aspect that we may call the ‘crux’ of the matter of Jesus’ person and work, we go immediately to the cross. The words crucial and crux both have their root in the Latin word for ‘cross,’ and they have come into the English language with their current meanings because the concept of the cross is at the very center and core of biblical Christianity. In a very real sense, the cross crystallizes the essence of the ministry of Jesus.”
As such, the wooden cross has become a well-recognized symbol for the Christian faith; we see it on pulpits, as part of church logos, on Bible covers, and we see it everywhere as it relates to the Christian church. But, like many popular symbols, the cross has become such a common theme that it may often be easy for us as Christians to overlook the significance of what it represents. We get a vivid picture of the cross and how Jesus—beaten, bleeding, and bruised—would have been tied to this heavy wooden beam and been forced to march through the town in humiliation before being lifted onto the post to which He was brutally nailed, and hung there in agony until He, God the Son, died.
Why such a brutal, violent death? Let’s consider the wrath of God and the implications of the cross.
Through the cross, God’s wrath is satisfied
Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
God’s wrath is a subject too often ignored or rejected by many professing Christians. It’s a lot harder to consider God’s wrath than, say, His love. We may even consider these two to be opposed to each other, but any true consideration of God’s attributes helps us to see that all His attributes—His love, His wrath, justice, holiness, etc.—all exist together and are at all times, equally active for God is immutable, He does not change.
J. I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, defines wrath as “deep, intense anger and indignation. Anger is defined as stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult; indignation as righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness.” One of my Greek lexicons speaks of the wrath of God as “that reaction of his divine nature against sin which in anthropomorphic language is called anger.”
The Scriptures make the point that just as God is good to those who trust Him, His wrath is on those who do not. Nahum 1:2-8 reads, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.”
The apostle Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 are sufficient to show that Nahum’s emphasis on God’s wrath is not distinct to the Old Testament Scriptures alone, “since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
Clearly, the subject of God’s divine wrath is one that the biblical writers, inspired by the Spirit of God, did not avoid, and try to diminish, so, likewise, neither should we. In fact, if God did not react adversely to evil in this world, He would not be morally perfect. But it is due to His moral perfection that He reveals His divine wrath against all that oppose His perfect law.
Now, if God’s wrath, His anger, and indignation, are revealed against those who oppose His law—or as we read earlier in Romans 1:18, “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness”—then who does this speak of, for Paul also states in Romans 3:10 “None is righteous, no, not one.”
You see, God is our righteous judge who judges all people according to His holy standard (Psalm 7:8-9).
We are all accountable to God as our judge, each person will one day stand before our creator God in judgment, and He will be just. He must use right judgment, or He would not be righteous, and, according to Romans 2:6, He will “render to each one, according to their works.” Why? The previous verse in Romans 2:5 tells us, “But because of 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.” And as already seen in v. 6, “He will render to each one according to his works.”
We will be judged by our works, and we are slaves to sin. We are not free to live as we please, but desire to gratify the lusts of our flesh. Jesus, Himself tells us in the gospel of John 8:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:26 that we are in the “snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” In fact, John tells us not only do we do the will of the devil, but, in our unregenerate state, this too is our will. Jesus’ own words in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desire.”
We are in a hopeless state; the very inclination of our human nature is evil; we cannot please God. Romans 8:8 states this very clearly when Paul writes, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
A slave cannot set himself free, a blind person cannot regain his own sight, and the deaf cannot restore their own hearing.
Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
We are dead in our trespasses and sins…can we bring ourselves to life?
We are children of wrath…can we appease that wrath?
All of these questions are rhetorical and can be answered with a resounding “NO!” This paints a bleak portrait and doesn’t do much for our self-esteem. In fact, it should have the opposite effect on our personal disposition than what is so prominently promoted in our culture, and sadly, often in our churches as well, where many are told to “just be yourself,” “just feel better about yourself,” or “just follow your heart.”
You see, the point is, we are sinners and we have offended a perfectly righteous God with our sin, and, once again, Romans 1:18 tells us that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”
Now, how does that truth make us feel? We can do nothing apart from divine intervention, apart from the work of the Spirit of God; we are helpless and hopeless to do anything about our spiritual condition in and of ourselves, and, in this state, the full wrath of God will be poured out on all who do not trust Him alone for their salvation.
But that’s the beauty of the gospel, the good news: it doesn’t end there. We have a perfect savior who made a way for us to be reconciled to God.
Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
The righteous shall live by faith and the wrath of God will be revealed on the unrighteous. So how do we partake in God’s righteousness so that we won’t fall under the wrath of God?
1 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
When we trust in Christ alone, our sin is transferred onto Him and while He was on the cross, the wrath of God was poured out onto His only son, Jesus Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is transferred to us. We see this again in Romans 3:23-26, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Jesus Christ, God the Son, became a willing and sufficient sacrifice for all who believe. He turned aside the wrath of God; this is what the word “propitiation” speaks of, that He [Jesus] turned aside the holy and just wrath of God that was meant to destroy our sin, He turned it aside by taking our sins upon Himself on the cross, then the wrath of God was poured out on Him, and in this single act, in the death of Jesus Christ, the wrath of God was satisfied, and for us who trust in this work of Christ, “Since…we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).