Episode 1. The Grapes of Wrath
Listen to the radio broadcast
Download audio file
God is an amazing God. A loving God. But there’s a side to Him that we don’t like to think too much about. It’s the angry God. The God of judgement and wrath. But if we don’t get our mind …
God is an amazing God. A loving God. But there’s a side to Him that we don’t like to think too much about. It’s the angry God. The God of judgement and wrath. But if we don’t get our mind around that side of Him, then the good news of Jesus – well there’s nothing good about the news.
Why Sin is a Four Letter Word
Now, something that strikes me as I look around the world in which we live, is that we live in a world where just about anything goes. Even in my short life time – just on half a century, which, in the overall scheme of history, is like a drop in the ocean – things have changed radically. Let me give you just one example.
When I was a young man, a woman falling pregnant outside marriage was a great matter of shame. Today it’s a life style choice that many women make. Many, many couples choose to live together without making the commitment of marriage.
And just in case you think I am plucking that out of the air, the statistics tells us that, in Australia at least, co-habitation before marriage has increased – wait for this – from eighteen percent of couples in 1975 to almost sixty percent today. It’s gone from being the exception, to being more the norm. Just the way things are these days.
You know, sometimes you hear people thumping the table, telling us how bad things are these days, “Now like the good old days when I was young.” The implication is that this younger generation is, well, you know, they have no discipline or standards and if only things were like they were back in the “good old days”.
The problem is, the “good old days” weren’t really that good. Husbands still beat their wives back in the “good old days”. Children were still abused back in the “good old days”. Bad things still happened back in the “good old days” too – let’s be honest.
So the last thing under the sun that I want to be doing is suggesting that we somehow turn the clock back, so that things will be fine again – just like they were in the “good old days” – because we can’t turn the clock back and even if we could, things weren’t necessarily so grand back in the “good old days”. And there is a reason for that because from the moment that Adam and Eve took their first bite of that “apple” from that one tree … the “one” tree in that beautiful, abundant, peaceful garden, of which God said, “Don’t eat the fruit of that tree,” from that moment there has been this thing in the world called “sin”.
Let’s go to the story – Genesis chapter 3, beginning at verse 1 – if you have a Bible:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
Now, you see things have changed in this world. We live in a world where anything goes, right? Well, just about anything! Many a moral standard of yesteryear seems old fashioned and irrelevant and, to many, downright offensive. We are a whole bunch more relaxed about things these days, compared with the rigid old rules of the past century. So this notion of sin; this rebelling against God; this Adam and Eve thing, well, it seems like an outdated throwback from the 1950s. It feels, well, completely irrelevant in the enlightened age in which we live, doesn’t it?
And there are some things from the past, the way women were treated like chattels almost, for instance, that were terrible. Still happens in places around the world today. Or treating people differently because of their skin colour or their nationality. So many flaws and faults in these rigid rules from the past, to be sure and that … that’s why the short, three letter word, “sin” is something of a four letter word these days – a dirty word, a nasty word, a word that implies moral judgement against the standards of the rigid and flawed rules of our childhood.
But I’m not so much talking about that; about man-made rules. The thing … the thing that ushered pain and suffering into this world was our rebellion against God, starting with Adam and Eve in the garden. Read on to chapter 3 of that Book of Genesis and we find that there were some serious consequences to their actions, beyond what we just read. So whilst “sin” is a word that seems to carry, well, a lot of baggage around with it, it speaks of our rebellion against God and that word ‘sin’ as it’s used in the Bible, means literally “to miss the mark; to miss the whole point; to miss out on your share”.
And that’s the consequence of our rebellion against God. It’s not this thing that there are a whole bunch of rigid religious rules that you and I have to follow in order to make it into heaven. That’s not it at all. The point is that God is a God who loves us. He loves you, He loves me beyond anything we can imagine love to be. Writes the Apostle Paul to his friends, in Ephesians chapter 3, beginning at verse 18:
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
He loves you so much, more than words can ever say – beyond understanding – and when we turn our backs on Him; when you and I decide to live our lives our way; when we adopt this “anything goes” attitude; when we decide we can eat the fruit off any tree, there are consequences. I mean these: eat too much of the wrong thing and it will ruin your health; work too hard for too long, without rest and it will ruin your life; play too hard; drink too hard, it will ruin your health and your relationships. Cause and effect! Come on! It’s not rocket science – it’s as plain as the nose on your face and mine. And with Adam and Eve, there was cause and effect – there are consequences.
As much as we try and kid ourselves; as much as we try to tell ourselves that we can have anything and be anything and do anything – “It’ll be okay” – we know it’s a lie and we know there are always consequences. You and I, we’ve been duped into thinking that “sin” is some old fashioned, irrelevant, religious word from the past, when all along it’s the greatest malady of our lives. When all along that rebellion is robbing us of the fruit of a good and healthy relationship with God; a God who loves us so much that He sent us His only Son that whoever believes in Him wouldn’t perish but instead, would have eternal life.
Sowing and Reaping
Now, this word “righteousness”, well, it’s not a word that we use so much these days, in common, day to day language. Self-righteousness maybe, is the only time that we really hear the word. So what is it, why does it matter and why does it produce a harvest? Well, it turns out that this whole “righteousness” thing is a matter of cause and effect. I guess we pretty much understand the word “right”, telling right from wrong. At least, we think we do. If it’s right, it’s right; if it’s wrong, it’s wrong.
Not so much black and white these days; lots of shades of grey there between what people consider to be right and wrong, particularly the wealthier nations and their peoples become, the more focused we become on ourselves rather than on other people around us, that line between right and wrong, well, it’s a bit like the shifting sands. Nevertheless, I guess we all have a sense of right and wrong.
But the word “righteousness” is something of a legal term – it has to do with the law and in the sense of God’s righteousness, it has to do with God’s law, which we find in the Old Testament. Best way I have found to understand it is in terms of our law today.
Let’s say someone does something wrong, whether it’s a minor traffic infringement or a murder. Once we have done that and it’s proven, we stand condemned by the law. By and large, so long as justice is done, we don’t have a problem with that – we understand that we have to stop people from speeding their cars, right through to murdering other people. So, we do something wrong and as the saying goes, we find ourselves on “the wrong side of the law”.
And then there is a debt to be paid – whether it’s a hundred dollar speeding fine or twenty five years in prison for murdering. The law demands justice. That justice acts both as a penalty and, hopefully, as a deterrent but it also gives society justice.
If a loved one of ours is killed by a drunk driver, let’s say, and that drunk driver is tried and convicted and given a fifty dollar fine, then we don’t experience a sense of justice. On the other hand, if that drunk driver is locked up for some number of years – whilst that doesn’t bring our loved one back – our sense of justice is satisfied. But here’s the thing: once the penalty or the debt has been paid by the transgressor, whatever you and I may think of them, they are free because they now have a right standing according to the law.
A murderer, after serving that term in prison, walks out of that gate a free man or a free woman with precisely the same standing according to the law that you and I have. They have served their time; they have paid their debt to society and they are now back on the right side of the law. In a legal sense, they stand justified and here it is; here’s the word “righteousness” – they are back in a right standing with the law that makes them “righteousness”. That’s what righteousness means – to be in the right standing with the law.
So, if we do something wrong, it causes us pain, let alone the pain it causes other people because we find ourselves on the wrong side of the law. Once we take our punishment and serve our dues, we are then righteous again in the eyes of the law. Cause and effect.
And it’s like that with our relationship with God and in life generally. And it’s something that the Apostle Paul talks about with his friends at the church in Galatia, back in the First Century AD. Have a look with me at Galatians chapter 6, beginning at verse 7. He says this:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you will reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
In other words, stop kidding yourself; stop trying to get around God. Whatever you sow, you are going to reap. Cause and effect! Sow rubbish, you will reap rubbish; sow goodness, you will reap goodness. So even though things can be tough; even though sometimes if feels as though the world is against us; even though it feels sometimes that nothing … absolutely nothing is going our way – sow goodness; don’t grow tired in doing that – sow goodness. Sow in God’s direction; sow in God’s way and just at the right time, you will reap a harvest; the harvest of righteousness. Sowing and reaping.
Now there is more to this whole “righteousness” thing than what we do. There is some bad news about righteousness and some good news; great news; fantastic news and we are going to be checking those out next week on the programme. But right now I guess, in a world where the maxim of our day is that pretty much anything goes, I just felt today that we need to debunk that lie; it’s a patent lie.
“Do what feels good! Anything goes, it’ll be fine!” No it won’t, because there’s cause and effect. Get drunk, hop in your car, knock over a pedestrian – there are consequences – cause and effect. “And as you sow, so shall you reap”. Sow goodness and will reap the harvest; the abundant blessing of righteousness; the right standing with God – a God who loves us beyond anything that we can say in words – a God who wants to bless our socks off.
The thing that I want to encourage you with today is this: that doing “good” doesn’t always feel good. Let me say that again, it’s important: doing “good” doesn’t always feel good; loving the unlovable, turning the other cheek, putting others before ourselves. In fact, often it’s tough and it hurts and we want to give up – it’s all too hard. But we reap what we sow: that the universal, godly principle.
As you sow, so shall you reap. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right for we will reap at harvest-time if we do not give up.
And that harvest is the abundant harvest of righteousness – a blessing from God that is absolutely, beyond anything we can imagine right now.
The Wrath of God
Now, in the coming weeks we are going to be talking quite a bit about the harvest that Paul is talking about and we have been talking about today – the harvest of righteousness. But today there is something else that we need to chat about first: it’s the alternative to this wonderful harvest of righteousness. It’s one hell of a subject, but if I didn’t talk about it, then I wouldn’t be doing my job.
The word “wrath” appears through the Bible some 266 times and most of the times it is used, it’s talking about the wrath of God. Now, I know that pretty much, we don’t want to hear about God’s anger and God’s wrath towards those who have rebelled against Him. I know that and I know that first instincts are to reach for the dial and turn this guy off or change stations – I know that too. But I want to encourage you not to do that because this short bit about the wrath of God may be the most important thing that you will ever, ever hear. So stick with me, even though it feels a little bit uncomfortable right now.
God is really, really clear about His impending wrath and that word “wrath” means this: anger which will manifest itself in the form of punishment. And He is also really clear about what things kindle His wrath. Come with me to Colossians chapter 3, beginning a verse 5:
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, vengeance, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Here’s the amazing thing: I used to think that God was just one big long list of religious rules – do this, don’t do that. And to be sure, I grew up in a religious tradition that was very much rule based. But the more I read of what God has to say in His Word; the more I go to the source and find exactly what He has to say, the thing I discover is that there are actually very, very few things that God says to us, “Don’t do.” Very few! Look at the list that Paul gives us here:
You must get rid of such things – anger, vengeance, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another …
There are a few others too but actually not many and they are all things that are blatantly wrong. And they are all things that obviously have painful consequences in our lives – right? Why is it we kid ourselves and say, “Well, you know, being a Christian is hard – all these things I’m not allowed to do and I’m not allowed to have any fun?” That’s not what it says! The only things about which God says, “Don’t do them”, are the ones that are going to hurt us and hurt others. And – listen to this – if you and I persist in doing them, then eventually – even though God is slow to anger; even though He is merciful; even though He is a God of grace – eventually His wrath is going to fall on us. It’s a simple message and it’s a message I feel God wants us to hear today.
Galatians chapter 5, beginning at verse 19:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
These are blindingly, glimpsingly obvious! Hello!! Do you get it? Keep doing these things in stiff necked opposition to what I am telling you and you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It’s that simple! And this alternative to the harvest of righteousness; this not inheriting the Kingdom of God is a frightening prospect because the alternative is living the rest of eternity in the wrath of God – God’s anger and God’s punishment.
Listen to the contrast … the sharp, stark contrast between the eternities reserved for those who worship – in effect – the devil, or the beast, as he is called in this passage I am about to read to you, through their rebellion against God, verses those who worship God, through His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s written in kind of picture language, so let God’s Word paint for you the picture. Revelation chapter 14, verses 9 to 13:
Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labours, for their deeds will follow them.”
John Lennon in his famous song “Imagine” sang these words:
Imagine there’s no Heaven, It’s easy if you try,
No hell below us, above us only sky,
Imagine all the people, living for today …
Well, there are many people imagining that. There are many people living just for today. But one day … one day they will be greatly disappointed – Jesus made that abundantly clear: Matthew chapter 10, verse 28:
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Friend, God is a wonderful God, He has a fantastic plan for your life. It’s a plan for us to live in His blessing from this point on and for all eternity. That’s why He sent Jesus, His Son, to pay for our sin so that when we put our trust in Him, we can be forgiven and have this new life; this eternal life.
But listen to me; please listen carefully: if we reject Jesus; if we reject God; if we reject the One whom He sent to suffer for you and me, that our sin would be paid for in full – if we reject Him, there is an alternative. That alternative is an eternal separation from God; it is an eternal torment. It goes on for ever and ever.
I can’t state it anymore plainly than that. I implore you, don’t reject Jesus. God sent Him in His great love to save you and to save me.