Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Winepress of God's Wrath

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.(Leviticus 17:11)

"So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God." (Revelation 14:19)

            In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells a parable about how the kingdom of heaven is like a field of grain. When an enemy comes and plants weeds amongst the good seeds, the owner does not allow his servants to pull the weeds out just yet, or they might “uproot the wheat with them.” Instead, he instructs his servants to let the weeds and grain grow together “until the harvest,” at which point the weeds will be burned, and the wheat will be gathered in. In John 4:31-38, Jesus, again, talks about a harvest, where “the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together.” And in both Matthew 9:35-38 and Luke 10:2, Jesus tells his disciples that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”        

            We often refer to this last verse when we talk about evangelism, the sharing of the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. There are so many people out there that are willing and ready to hear more about God’s truth and God’s love, and have no one to tell them about it. But in this day and age, we often prefer NOT to think about the final harvest, the time of Jesus’ return when, as Revelation 14:19 tells us, the harvest of the grapes of the earth will be thrown into the great winepress of God’s wrath. There is something in this modern day and age that tells us that the God of love and mercy, the Jesus who forgives and heals the sinful and broken, can’t be a God of wrath- it just doesn’t compute for us. 

            This wasn’t always the case. Just take the Battle Hymn of the Republic, written at the beginning of the American Civil War, which in one verse talks of Christ dying to make men holy (grace and mercy) while in another it speaks of the “grapes of wrath” and the “fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.” And God says of Himself that He is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by NO MEANS clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

            David spoke about this question at length in his message on Sunday: “Is that kind of a God bipolar in some way?” I think that, in this generation, we have lost a lot of understanding of God’s character as a true and just God, and so, yes, we struggle to explain to others the seemingly bipolar nature of God. How is the law of the Old Testament compatible with the grace of the New Testament? How is the Jesus of the Gospels compatible with the Jesus who is going to release plagues and destruction at His second coming? And, more importantly, as David asked us: “Is this the kind of God you would want to worship and serve?” 

            Revelation is often, as David told us, seen as a book of doom and destruction. In this series, however, we have looked at it as a revelation of Jesus, of who God is. Revelation 15:3-4 declares that God’s ways are “just and true,” that He alone is holy, and that His acts are righteous. So if someone asks us, “Is the God you’re serving just and good in destroying the life of the wicked or the sinner?”, then our answer, according to Revelation, is yes. 

But it is a yes with the understanding that God’s wrath has already been poured out once before- onto His own son. Onto Jesus. His blood ran like wine, his body was broken like bread, and for what reason? That God’s wrath would be taken on His own shoulders, that the judgment of death for our evil deeds would be borne by Him, and not by us. 

This is the truth, then, that we so desperately need to understand: there is no mercy without wrath. There is no grace without judgment. There is no Jesus, the savior, without Jesus, the judge.

Because if we were not guilty, why would we need mercy?

Because if we were not condemned, why would we need a savior?

Because if we were not drowning and lost in darkness, if we were not weighted down with the lies and thefts and hateful things we have done to ourselves and one another, then why would we need a God of love and mercy in the first place?

“Is this the kind of God you would want to worship and serve?”

A God who sees my worst thoughts, my worst deeds, my anger and rage, my bitterness, my ugliness, knowing what I deserve for the hateful and spiteful ways I have acted towards others, and yet chooses to take that punishment for me, chooses to show me mercy when I have been merciless, chooses to show me kindness when I have been ruthless, chooses to be broken that I would be made whole- is that the kind of God I would want to worship and serve?


That is the kind of God I would want everyone to worship and serve. And one day, every knee will bow to Him.

At the beginning, I mentioned a parable Jesus told of weeds and wheat growing together until the harvest. This speaks to the other hard part of believing that God is just and true. If He is just and true, then why doesn’t He just come now? Why does He continue to allow sin and sadness, disease and destruction? Jesus Himself tells us why: Because the harvest isn’t ready yet. Because there are still hearts that He is planting seeds of faith in. Because He is slow to anger, and a merciful and forgiving God.
He is the just and true God who saw our sin, knew that it deserved death, and yet, in His love, took that death upon Himself. May we have the strength to understand how wide and high and deep is the grace and love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19).

 ---Reflection Points---
  1. In Revelation 15:2-4, John sees a vision of singers with harps next to the sea of glass (probably where we get our images of harp-playing angels in heaven), singing “the song of Moses.” Take a couple of hours to either read the story of Moses, as told via the Book of Exodus or to watch the film “The Prince of Egypt” (on or Amazon instant video), and reflect on how the story of Moses and Israel reveals both the justice and mercy of God. 
  2. David, towards the conclusion of his message, stated this: “I personally have come to the resolution that there is too much joy, too much love, too much work, and too much glory in partnering with Jesus to heal and redeem this world…to stop ministering over the partial answer we are given about the justice and trueness of God’s character.” Pray about where in the harvest YOU are needed to bring love and joy, and about whom God wants you to be ministering to.
  3. Beth Moore, in the introduction to her book Praying God’s Word, says this: “I’ve come to believe that God generally prioritizes one of two objectives: showing us His supremacy or teaching us His sufficiency.” I believe that this can be related to Revelation, in this way- until the day when God reigns in supremacy, we must live in the sufficiency of His grace. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 and consider the ways that God has shown His sufficiency in your life, and the ways that He has shown His supremacy.

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