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1-18 The Wrath of God Revealed

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MBC - 7/4/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“The Wrath of God Revealed”

Romans 1:18

Ø      ROM 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Ø      ROM 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Ø      ROM 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Ø      ROM 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

Ø      ROM 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

Ø      ROM 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Paul has just introduced the gospel in vv.16,17, and then he launches into the wrath of God. Why?

Let me read you an account of the conversion of David Marks, an early American evangelist: He was born to godly Connecticut parents in 1805, and his awareness of God began early in life. The incident that started him thinking about the Savior was a day when he was watching some flax burn. He had heard of the fires of hell, and as he watched the flames, he thought how exceedingly dreadful even one moment in hell would be.

“What would I do if the wrath of God fell on the earth?” he asked himself. After serious thought, he decided that should the Day of Judgment come, he would descend into the well and hide there. Running to his mother, he shared his plan; but she replied, “Ah, my son, the water will boil and the earth will burn.”

He then told her that he would run to a spot he knew in the rocks where he could hide. She said, “But the rocks will melt.” He was so overwhelmed with dread that he told her he would just die and escape the wrath of God in the grave. But she replied, “My child, your hope is in vain; for the dead will awake and come out of their graves.”

Young David went outside and walked through the fields, pondering at length the reality of that coming day and his being unprepared for it. Putting his hand over his heart, he looked toward heaven and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”[1]

I. The reason for beginning with wrath.

V. 18 begins with “for,”--meaning that there is a connection with what came before:

Ø      ROM 1:16 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.

Ø      ROM 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."

Ø      ROM 1:18 For [or because] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven . . .

Why do we desperately need the revelation of God’s righteousness in the gospel? Because, God’s wrath is also continually being revealed from heaven.

Ø      We need righteousness. We don’t have it. We need truth, but what we possess, we suppress. God’s wrath is the result. Is there any hope? Yes, the gospel is the power of God to save because it reveals God’s own righteousness to anyone who will trust in Christ.

This passage, beginning in v.18, is not the gospel, it’s the preparation for the gospel. We have to acknowledge the disease before we will seek the cure. A person has no reason to seek salvation from sin if he doesn’t understand that he is condemned by that sin. Sometimes we talk to people about being born again before they understand that they are dead. And we tend to talk about God’s love before we mention His wrath--

“. . . now wait a minute, are you saying that we should tell people about the wrath of God before we tell them about the love of God?”

Well, that’s what Paul does here in Romans. Paul seems to think that fear of eternal damnation is a perfectly reasonable motivation for coming to Christ. He does the same thing in Ephesians. Before he explains God’s love and grace in chapter 2, he begins:

Ø      EPH 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins. . . by nature a child of wrath. . .

When John the Baptist preached, what was his message? “Repent! Flee from the wrath to come!” and Mk.1:14,15 says this--

Ø      MAR 1:14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,

Ø      MAR 1:15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

The truth is, in the Bible, there are more reference to God’s anger, fury, and wrath, than there are to His love and compassion. In the OT, there are more than 20 Hebrew words used to describe God’s wrath. Why?

Ø      --Because the good news can only be understood against the backdrop of the bad news. So Paul spends the first 2 ½ chapters of Romans explaining that all of mankind, outside of the gospel is drowning in their sins, deserving God’s wrath, they have no desire to seek God, and they can’t climb out of this black hole by keeping the Law. This is why we need God to give us His own righteousness and we need it to come by His grace through faith, because we can’t climb the hill of personal holiness to get it.

And if you think that this sounds negative or depressing, I guarantee you that when we finally hit 3:21, the Hallelujah Chorus will come through the speakers! And you will love and cherish the gospel as never before because you will understand the enormity of your need, and the magnitude of God’s grace in the gospel.

Ø      Some of you have seen the video “EE-taow,” about the New Tribes missionaries in Papua New Guinea. They began teaching this primitive tribe called the Mouk, the Bible, beginning with Genesis 1:1. They didn’t begin with the gospel, they just laid the foundation, going through the entire OT story of God’s people failing and stumbling, and waiting on a Savior. Then finally they came to the NT and told the story of Jesus--but when they heard about how He was rejected, and hated, and betrayed and crucified, this entire tribe was crushed. They were sad, they felt guilty, they were depressed. And the missionaries told them to go back to their huts for 3 days and just think about all that they had heard.

Ø      Then after 3 days, they called the tribe together, and they read the account of the resurrection of Jesus, and explained what it meant. And right in the middle of this, one of the older men shouted out “EE-taow! EE-taow!”--I believe, or it is true!” And then the whole tribe just erupted: “EE-taow! EE-taow!,” and they were jumping up and down, and celebrating, and it went on for hours! Over 80% of the tribe came to Christ in that one day.

II. The revelation of God’s wrath.

Ø      “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven. . . “

What is the wrath of God, and how is it revealed?

First, it’s the wrath of God--not man. It is divine wrath, and it is consistent with the rest of His character. We make a big mistake when try to think of God’s attributes as just magnified or blown-up human attributes. When we do that, we create Him in our image.

But God isn’t like us. And His wrath is not like ours. You and I get angry and we lose control, get red in the face, and generally lose our sanctification. But God’s wrath is always perfectly righteous and controlled. It is never irrational or arbitrary. It is His holy anger against all that is contrary to His own holiness. Paul says that it is revealed against “all” ungodliness and unrighteousness--it is absolutely consistent, impartial, and dependable: God hates all sin, all the time, and all sin will be the target of His wrath:

Ø      NAH 1:2 A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; The Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

Ø      NAH 1:3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, And the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

Ø      NAH 1:4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; He dries up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; The blossoms of Lebanon wither.

Ø      NAH 1:5 Mountains quake because of Him And the hills dissolve; Indeed the earth is upheaved by His presence, The world and all the inhabitants in it.

Ø      NAH 1:6 Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the burning of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire And the rocks are broken up by Him.

Ø      NAH 1:7 The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Ø      NAH 1:8 But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, And will pursue His enemies into darkness.

Ø      Ex.34:7 says, “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.”

In both Ephesians and Colossians, Paul lists some pretty run-of-the-mill sins like immorality, greed, filthy language, but then he says:

Ø      EPH 5:5,6 For this you know with certainty . . . Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

A few years ago a theologian named C.H. Dodd convinced a lot of Christians that God’s wrath is not personal, it’s more like a law of nature. He called it “the inevitable process of cause-and-effect in a moral universe.” He said that the idea that God is personally angry over sin and personally punishes sin is archaic and undignified.

But God is a person, and His wrath is just as personal as His love is:

Ø      EZE 7:8 'Now I will shortly pour out My wrath on you and spend My anger against you; judge you according to your ways and bring on you all your abominations.

Ø      EZE 7:9 'My eye will show no pity nor will I spare. I will repay you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst; then you will know that I, the Lord, do the smiting.

You say, “This sounds terrible!” It is! That is why Paul labors--for 2 ½ chapters to convince his readers that they need to be rescued from this wrath, because God’s wrath is a present reality under which all who are outside Christ stand--

Ø      JOH 3:36  "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him."

If a person never comes to know Christ, God’s wrath is on him or her. It sticks. It doesn’t fade with the passage of time. That person’s memory of his sins might fade, but God’s doesn’t. He doesn’t forget even one. That person is called a “child of wrath” in Eph.2:3, and look at Rom.9:22--

Ø      ROM 9:22 . . . vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.

Being under the wrath of God is like living under a death sentence on death row--it’s a living death. Jesus said in Jn.5:24, that when a person believes in Him that person passes “out of death into life.” But until that happens, you are a “dead man walking.”

But God’s wrath in Scripture also refers to a day of wrath, when God finally carries out the sentence--

Ø      ROM 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, [It’s like God’s wrath is rising like water behind a dam, increasing the pressure on the dam until it finally breaks.]

Ø      ROM 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. [The only escape from God’s wrath is God’s own righteousness through faith in Christ! And notice that the day of wrath is in the future, but the justification is a present possession.]

Ø      1TH 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.

Don‘t you breathe a sigh of relief when you hear those words? But for those who reject Christ in this life, on that day, He will be their worst enemy--

Ø      REV 6:16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb;

Ø      REV 6:17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"

But I want you to notice that in v.18, the wrath of God is being revealed--it is present tense, ongoing action--in the here and now. Look again at vv17,18: It is exactly the same word that he uses of righteousness of God being revealed through the gospel: i.e.,  just as the light of the Gospel is continually breaking forth on men and women and bringing them to faith in Christ, so also, God’s wrath is continually being revealed from heaven every day, all over the world.

How? How do we see God’s wrath continually revealed, right before our eyes?

1. Death reveals the wrath of God.

Physical death is a revelation of God’s wrath. Look with me at--

Ø      ROM 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

Adam sinned, and we all died spiritually, and we all will die physically. But it says “because all sinned”--past tense, completed action--it doesn’t say “because all will eventually sin.” When did the entire human race sin? When Adam sinned. The old MeGuffy reader said, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” Paul is saying that because Adam was our original ancestor, and he was appointed by God to be our representative or “federal head,” when he sinned, we sinned. This is the doctrine of “original sin.” He goes on--

Ø      ROM 5:13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. [Even before God gave the law to Moses, people were guilty of sin,but it couldn’t be said that they broke specific law #345.]

Ø      ROM 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

So even though people didn’t sin like Adam, they still died because they sinned in Adam, and the same is true today, and will be true until Jesus returns! Little newborn babies who have committed no sins, still die because they sinned in Adam. We were all born in Adam, we all sinned in Adam, we all die like Adam. Physical death is a revelation of God’s wrath on the ungodliness and unrighteousness of the human race rooted in Adam.

I want you to let this sink in: How much did God hate one man’s one sin--how devastating was his wrath on one man’s one sin? The answer is in the cemetery.

“What about Christians?” We are not under the wrath of God, we have been delivered—but we still die. Yes, but death is graduation for us! In Christ, death has no victory, no sting! A memorial service for a Christian is a flat-out celebration.

2. Futility and misery reveal the wrath of God.

Ø      ROM 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Ø      ROM 8:19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

Ø      ROM 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility [emptiness, vanity], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope

Ø      ROM 8:21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Ø      ROM 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

What is this talking about? It’s talking about how God’s wrath was revealed after Adam sinned. Not only do we experience physical death, but the whole creation was cursed, and that curse involves suffering and futility. Remember how God told Adam that he would work his tail off--sorry, that’s what the evolutionists say--but the creation wouldn’t cooperate. There would be thorns and thistles, and drought, and floods, and earthquakes, and tornadoes. Life would be futile instead of fulfilling.

Ø      It means that some farmer works all spring and summer in his crops, and then just as the grain is ready to be harvested, a flood comes and washes it all away.

Ø      It means that you work with your own hands to build a home for your family, and right before you are ready to move in, a fire burns it to the ground.

Ø      Janice’s folks had a neighbor who worked for years on a boat in his backyard. When he retired, he and his wife were going to take this boat out on the ocean and have the adventure of a lifetime. He finally retired, they took the boat out for the very first time, he fell overboard and drowned.

Jesus said that in this life, in this world, moth and rust destroy, thieves break in and steal. Your investments lose their value. You lose your job, you lose your health, and on and on. Isn’t this true?

Ø      And it’s no accident, it is the revelation of the wrath of God against sin! It is a constant reminder that sin has consequences: with every mosquito bite, and outbreak of poison oak, we are reminded that God hates sin.

But notice what it says here: it was subjected because of sin, by God--“in hope.” Futility won’t be the last word! One day, the curse will be removed, and God will restore the years that the locusts have eaten, but until then, the misery and futility of the world we live in is a testimony to God’s wrath against sin.

And what about Christians? Don’t we experience futility and suffering? Yes, just like unbelievers, except that we have this massive promise that for us, God is causing all of these things to work together for our eternal good! Our trials are turned into gold!

3. The downward spiral of sin reveals the wrath of God.

How does God punish sin in this life? With more sin. He let’s people have what they want--less of Him, more of their sin. And if people continue in their rejection of God, He continues to remove the restraints--He just takes away His hands and let’s the weight of their own sins pull them deeper into the muck and slime that they have chosen instead of God--

Ø      ROM 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.

Ø      ROM 1:26  For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

Ø      ROM 1:27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts [look at this] and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. [Lit., the reward for their sin—in their own bodies. God gives them what they deserve. This verse is describing AIDS.]

Ø      ROM 1:28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,

“Gave them over”--it’s the same Gk. word all 3X, it’s the same word used of being handed over for imprisonment or death. It’s the same word used in 1 Cor.5:5 of delivering an unrepentant church member over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh.

It’s a horrible, cold word! It describes God gradually removing His presence and protection from a person’s life--because that’s what they wanted. They didn’t want God looking over their shoulder, being the wet blanket on their fun.

They recited the words of Ps.2:3 "Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!" I.e., “We don’t want God’s rules and restraints!” And God says, “Are you sure? Alright, I’ll hand you over to what you have chosen.” And when this life is over, they will get what they wanted in this life, no God, forever:

Ø      2TH 1:9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.

That’s hell.

You see, the wrath that God is continually revealing in this life through death, futility, and the downward spiral of sin is just a miniscule foretaste of what is to come.

III. The reason for the revelation.

But what is the reason for God’s wrath? Paul says that they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” They resist it, they try to get rid of it, they desperately try to ignore it. They can argue that they are atheists, or agnostics, but God says--“They know!” They suppress what they possess!

Ø      V. 19. says that which is known about God is evident within them--God made it evident to them. V.20: His invisible attributes have been clearly seen in the creation--they are without excuse--lit. without an apologetic. V.21: says that they knew God. Ch. 2 goes on to say that they knew right from wrong—if not from Scripture, from their God-given conscience.

Mankind is not innocent or ignorant! This is the reason for God’s wrath. It’s because they exchanged what was true for what was false. He says it three times:

Ø      In vv.21-24: People exchange the truth about God for idols, and God hands them over.

Ø      In vv.25,26: People exchange the truth of God for a lie, and God hands them over.

Ø      In vv.26-31: People exchange what is natural sexually for what is perverted and unnatural, and God hands them over.

They made the exchange—and God gave them what they wanted! Jesus said it before Paul did--

Ø      JOH 3:19 "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

III. Rescue from the wrath.

I want you to leave here this morning seeing God’s mercy in His wrath. What am I saying? I’m saying that God’s wrath is mingled with mercy. Every funeral, every earthquake or hurricane, every cold and every case of AIDS--is another merciful alert from God telling us, “These are just a foretaste of the wrath to come. There is still time to repent! Do it now--you can be rescued from the wrath to come!”  

Don’t you see God’s mercy in this? God doesn’t owe us any warnings. He has every right to pour out His wrath on unbelievers right now, but He doesn’t. He waits: “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” And while He is waiting, He warns by revealing His wrath. Can you even imagine how hard-hearted people would be toward the gospel if there were no consequences to sin? But there are--and that is the mercy of God: I believe that every STD including AIDS is a revelation of the wrath of God against sexual sin, but it is also a revelation of His mercy, because these are warning shots! This is the age of hope, there is still time to repent and trust in Christ.

If you are a Christian this morning, you need to thank God that you will be saved from His wrath! And as you have to endure the pain of sickness, and the death of loved ones, and the futility and suffering that are part of this life--thank God that these are warnings of a great day of wrath that you will never experience! And God is using all of these for your good: death is your gateway into paradise, futility and suffering are pathways to holiness, and that downward spiral of sin has been replaced in your life with the power of the HS to pursue holiness!

If you are not a Christian this morning--or if you are not sure--you need to make sure! And I say to you: Don’t neglect the warning signs of God’s wrath that see all around you. They are meant to lead you to repent of your sins and turn to Christ. And if you think life is pretty good right now--don’t misinterpret that to mean that everything is OK between you and God. There is only one way to avoid God’s terrible judgment on that day, and that is to trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation in this life. Let me close with what Paul says in ch.2:

Ø      ROM 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Ø      ROM 2:5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.


[1]Morgan, R. J. 2000. Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) . Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville

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