Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Cup of Wrath: Part 3 of 3

wrath

We all get angry, some more than others.  Think about the last time you got really, really angry, the kind of angry that makes your whole body shake as you clench your teeth.  Chances are the person who made you so angry is someone related to you or someone you otherwise know quite well.  Why is that the case?  Perhaps because we feel safe to be angry at that person.  They can’t make themselves unrelated to us, can they?  Perhaps it is because we share a past that is so similar that we do not understand how the person who made us angry could have made decisions so different from what we might have done.

But none of these examples of anger are comparable to the wrath of God.  He who made all things is the only One who has the right and full knowledge to be angry.  Pride, jealousy, hatred–the human emotions connected to anger have nothing to do with the wrath of God.  His wrath is reserved for those who refuse to follow His edicts, no matter how patient He is in explaining them to us.  The great essayist Annie Dillard explains it this way:

A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens.

Who can believe it?

The greatest wonder of all is that the same God whose wrath can and has wiped out the entire human race (don’t forget Noah), is tempered by an even greater love.  Because of God’s love for us, He sent His one and only Son, who took on the wrath of God unto Himself, the wrath that you and I deserve, so that we would be saved from it.

In his series on the book of Revelations, preacher Rick Atchley spends some time discussing the cup of wrath that is mentioned throughout the book.  Rick makes a clear connection between the full, judgmental wrath of God that will be poured out on all who do not repent at the end of times with the cup that Jesus prays to God about in the garden of Gethsemane before He was sacrificed on the cross:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42

In dying on the cross for my sin, Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath for me.  None of us is perfect.  None of us can say we are without blame, without reason for God to be angry or disappointed with us.  But because Christ drank from the cup of wrath, we are free to face God and feel the full force of His love for us. 

As you take your next Lord’s Supper, think about the cup you drink not only as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, but also as a symbol of the wrath of God you so deserve but from which you have been so lovingly spared.  You may, as I, find it hard to actually swallow.

There is no greater knowledge than this: that God’s love for us is such that He gives us what we need and not what we deserve. The cup of wrath is real, but not a thing to fear for those who believe in Christ.  Instead, we Christians should use the cup of wrath as a reminder to be more patient, more loving with others, just as Christ is patient and loving with us.  We have been saved from God’s wrath.  Shouldn’t we long to help Him in His quest to see that all are saved?

Because of Christ, God’s wrath is like words scrawled on the sandy shore, where the waves can wash them out to sea over and over again, holding nothing against us.

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Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Cup of Wrath, Part 2 of 3

large stone jars

I have to write some hard things.  I have to ask some questions that have no clear-cut answers.  I have to begin with the assurance that despite what I have to write today, the end of any thoughts on the cup of wrath is the promise of the mercy of God that gave us Christ to save us.

Before the New Testament, people who sinned had to “get right” with God through the offering of different sacrifices.  The Book of Leviticus spells out what sins call for different animal or grain offerings and just how those offerings were to be carried out.  Then, Leviticus starts to spell out what makes a person unclean.  Touching dead animals, being a woman in her cycle, even having a boil can make a person unclean, requiring yet another set of procedures–different procedures for each different circumstance.  In one instance, the poor, afflicted person had to go around with a shaved head outside of the camp for a week or more, covering his/her mouth and saying out loud, over and over, “unclean, unclean.” 

Maybe 4000 years ago, people didn’t get acne like we do today.  Maybe words didn’t carry the same power so that a person having to call out their uncleanness all the time would really believe their own cleanness when the priest finally declared it.  These are questions God knows the answers to, and my faith has to leave at that.

But, what I realized as I read through Leviticus this morning was that once the book covers the sin offerings, it very clearly delineates that the cleanliness procedures have to do with ceremonial cleanness.  When God saved the Jews from Egypt, He was beginning to establish the practice of worshipping one God, HIM.

Part of establishing monotheism among a people who had always believed in Him but also still worshipped other gods was making those people understand just how perfect, pure, powerful and different the God of the Jews really was.  Remember how there were several of the plagues in Egypt that even the Egyptian magicians could imitate?  As slaves, the Jews had been surrounded for more than 400 years with masters who worshipped a pantheon of gods.

To set Himself apart, God rightfully wanted His people to understand the Holiness of His temple.  Only Moses spoke with Him directly, and afterward Moses’ face glowed so that he had to cover it because the glow scared the Jews.  To enter even the outer sections of the temple that was dedicated to the one and only LORD, therefore, God needed to make very clear-cut delineations between what was clean and unclean.  Those who did not take God’s commands seriously, literally died.

Fast-forward to a New Testament world, and I come to the tough questions.  These are the kind of questions that can keep Christians apart, even though they really shouldn’t be “deal breakers.”  I only ask them because they came to me as I contemplated the importance placed on ceremonial cleanliness in Leviticus.

First, the only reason we have the right to enter the Holy of Holies is through the sacrifice that Christ made for us.  With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes from our acceptance of Christ as our Savior, we have full access to the one and only God.  But, in a modern world where we have tried so hard to make our churches “welcoming,” have we gone too far away from the symbolic importance of the Holiness of the worship sanctuary?

In the church I attend, some people wear jeans, others wear dresses and suits.  The church has a coffee bar in the Atrium, and people bring their coffee into the worship service.  It is a friendly, comfortable environment, but is it Holy?  In other words, I’d like to think that we humans have advanced in the last 4000 years, but I also know that in the 2000 years since Christ declared His kingdom, we haven’t put forth the greatest track record.  We are all stubborn and stiff-necked people.

Would wearing our best (or the equivalent of the Sunday best that the least affluent member of the church is able to wear so that church doesn’t become a glamour contest) and entering the sanctuary with only our Bibles in our hands make us more cognizant of the honor we have in being able to worship God in this way?  Have we lost a bit in translation by making our worship centers more comfortable than sanctified?

I’m not making any judgments or trying to start any arguments here.  I think this is a practice each person can decide for him/herself.  I, for one, am going to stop the habit I had begun of taking a drink into the sanctuary just because others were also doing it.  I didn’t feel right about it for myself from the get-go.  After being reminded about the importance of ceremonial cleanliness to God in the time of the Old Testament, I feel that I need to uphold the sanctity of the sanctuary  in this way even though I am already sanctified by Christ.

As I heard a preacher once remark, if God wanted this much from us before He sacrificed His one and only Son, what makes us think He would want less of us now that that sacrifice has been made?

It seems like foregoing a beverage and dressing with care before entering the sanctuary on Sunday are some simple steps I can take to remind myself of the holiness of the worship in which I am about to partake.  Leviticus serves as an awesome reminder of the depth of God’s love for His people and the extent of His wrath when His very, very long patience finally wears out.

Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Cup of Wrath, Part 1

Photofunia cups

My Bible reading in the last week has brought me back through the Exodus and into Leviticus.  These books are filled with the story of an omnipotent God establishing His singular status among a people He had claimed as His own generations before, but who were stubbornly clinging to the idols of this world.

Even after He parted the Red Sea for them and then closed it over their enemies, the Egyptians, even after He led them through the desert, feeding them and giving them water when they cried out for it, the Jews continued to mess up.  While Moses stayed 40 days on the mountain speaking with the one and only God, his compatriots created a golden calf to worship!

We humans are a stupid lot, unworthy of the grace and patience and mercy that God continues to show us.  But, unless you have brazenly broken a commandment of late, when was the last time you really took a long moment to feel the depth, and height, and breadth of your need for God’s forgiveness?

Reading the graphic descriptions instructing the Jews on how to perform their sacrifices that Exodus portrays, I realized a benefit to reading the Old Testament that I had not exactly thought about before.  If you put yourself in the shoes of a “pre-Christ” Jew, you begin to understand with even further depth just what His sacrifice on the Cross signified.

I’m a city girl, despite the very country roots of my ancestry.  Truth be told, if I had to kill my own meat, I would be a vegetarian (which makes me a hopeless hypocrite, but that is beside the point).  The Jews were nomads who relied on their ability to farm and herd to survive.  Slaughtering an animal was a regular thing.

But, how regular would it be to take the very best of your flock, carefully kill it, dismember it, and watch it burn, realizing that you had just watched a month’s worth of eating rise in smoke rings to the sky because of your own sin?  Here was a real choice between the Spirit and the flesh.  The only way to right the individual’s relationship with God was to follow His instructions for sacrifice, to watch the very bread from your table, and the very best bread at that, go behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies, where only a select few could ever go.  Then, and only then, would you be right with God again–until the next time you sinned.

Believing in your need to sacrifice was believing in your own failings, and that meant, in part, knowing the awesome wrath of the God who made you.  Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God remember and forget, in a sort of bell curve of cycles that truly depicts the stubborn and stupid nature of the human race. At one point, they even lose the Word of God altogether, gathering to have it read to them in rejoicing wonder when it is discovered again.

It is easy to look back and criticize.  How can you be so stupid, you rail at the Jews as they wander in the desert for 40 years, victims of their own folly.  Did you not see God in the fire and the cloud?  Did you not experience the plagues that rescued you from Egypt?  Do you not remember Sodom and Gomorrah?

The answer is, of course, that we are all of us stupid on a regular basis.  And with Christ’s message of love, it is easy to put aside the potential of God’s wrath.

But, God’s wrath does play a very important role in our relationship with Him.  How Christ took that cup of wrath upon Himself for us is a thought for another day.  Though, have no doubt, His taking on of that cup of wrath is the most important thing of all.