Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Wrath, Ever

Journalist and art historian Lewis Hind once wrote of a personal epiphany about his father. Mr. Hind was a stern parent who administered discipline with an iron hand. Lewis respected his father, but even more, he feared him. One Sunday morning that all changed. He was sitting in a church pew next to his father when the urge to sleep overtook him. Try as he might, young Lewis could not keep his eyes open. As he began to nod off, movement next to him startled him awake. His father raised him arm. Lewis flinched, sure his father meant to shake or strike him. Instead, Mr. Hind stretched his arm over the back of the pew and drew his young son close to his side, encouraging him to snuggle up and relax. For the first time Lewis understood that his father loved him.

Sometimes what we think we know as truth turns out to be dead wrong.

From early on, Jewish theology carried the idea that sickness was always a result of sin. Many centuries ago, a friend of Job demonstrated this with these words: "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger, they come to an end."

In Jesus' day, that idea persisted. Religious leaders questioned Jesus about one man's the state of blindness in John 9. "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Obviously, if you were blind, you were experiencing the wrath of God for some grievous sin. Or so they thought.

Jesus knew otherwise. He corrected their false belief by telling them it was neither. "It was so the works of God might be displayed in him," he said.

Mark tells the story in his gospel of a paralytic whose friends lowered him through a hole in the roof to see Jesus. Their faith in his ability to heal, as evidenced by their determined initiative, pleased Jesus. But when he addressed the paralyzed man, his first words are puzzling. He didn't say, as we think he might, "I will heal you." He said, "Your sins are forgiven."

Why did he say that? Certainly claiming authority to forgive sins was a statement to the religious leaders present in that house. Only God could forgive sins. With his proclamation, Jesus was claiming to be God. But what would "your sins are forgiven" have meant to Jesus' primary recipient, the paralytic?

For however long the man had been paralyzed, he had lived with the stares of others, silently accusing him of committing some terrible sin, evidenced by his physical condition. Worse, he knew the rejection and wrath of God himself. Or so he thought.

Jesus told him otherwise. He cleared away the man's guilt with one statement. Your sins are forgiven. God is not angry with you. He wants a relationship with you. Upon hearing those words and their implication, the burden of despair fell off the man's shoulders. He was spiritually healed.

Then, for good measure, Jesus did what no other could do. He commanded the paralytic to walk. And so he did. He picked up the mat on which he had so recently been carried and carried it home. With that physical healing, Jesus made his point. He was the Son of God. He had the authority to forgive sin. And he had just proved it.

Have you ever wondered if your difficult circumstances are God's punishment for your sin? That if you could be a better person, God wouldn't be angry with you? Don't buy into the lie. It's bad theology.

Jesus bore the wrath of God for our sin on the cross. He endured God's rejection, anger, and sin's consequences. If we believe in Christ, trusting him for our salvation, we will never be condemned for a single sin.

Jesus already paid the debt. God is not angry with you. True, sin makes him angry. But he placed his wrath for our sin on Jesus. As believers, we will never experience the wrath of God.

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:9

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