The Healthy Fear of a Sovereign God

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As a young boy much bigger for may age than average, there was little I was afraid of, at least from my peers. I got into very little trouble growing up. It might have been that I was in church so much there was little down time to get into any mischief. Or it may have been the one thing I did fear-those six words that evoked the fire of God whenever I heard them-“just wait until your dad gets home”. You see, at 6’8″ and 300 lbs my dad too was bigger than average! For greater impact I would hear my mom relaying the details of my latest waywardness to my dad when he called while on break, so I knew he would be planning my punishment for several hours before ha came home and played the role of disciplinarian. In every single case the wait was more dreaded and effective than the punishment.

As a believer I am grateful for a God who we can approach as Abba Father-one who is often described as loving, gracious, merciful kind, forgiving, patient-all attributes which are scriptural and true. We are told and can bet our life on the scriptures that tell us nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God.  But, I wonder if the church, both the institutional church and the body of believers that make up the church, have so embraced the message of grace that we have completely disregarded the unchallenged sovereignty of God. We don’t want to consider the Old Testament God of jealousy , vengeance and wrath because it doesn’t fit into our 2015 definition of a more tolerant, sociable, politically correct, changing with the times God that we have created to better fit our conscious-one that allows us to fit in and be more widely accepted and considered for office, for promotion and for more likes on our social media outlets.

It’s ironic that those who oppose or deny the concept of God are first to point out accurately that God killed people in the Old testament simply because they did not follow His commands. The Mega-churches have apparently lost that section of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe that those who are looking for the truth and for eternal hope should not be scared into salvation at the thought of an angry God just for eternal insurance purposes alone. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of hope, of reconciliation and restoration of a sinful people to a loving, caring God whose desire is that none should perish needlessly. But to properly appreciate the loving and merciful side of God one must balance it against the judging, jealous and total rule of the same God who created a race of people to worship Him and Him alone and to fear Him who has no equals.

The stories of God’s wrath against an unruly people are too numerous to list. There were complete cities destroyed for their shameless disobedience. The armies of Israel were often decimated when they turned their backs on God.  Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised land because of a procedural error.  God was and is a stern God who demands fear, allegiance and obedience-nothing has changed in His expectations.  The difference today is God’s gift of His Son who took our sin punishment on the cross and acts as our advocate by covering us who accept Him with His righteousness so that the wrath of God is thwarted before being administered.

We are living in a time of great arrogance and brazen boldness as a church in general and as a nation as it relates to the issues and spiritual challenges of the day.  In order to boost attendance and keep our nonprofit status we have put forth a God who more resembles a Disney character than a God who is described in Revelation having hair white as wool and eyes blazing like fire-with feet like burning bronze and a tongue like a double edged sword. When I was younger and in church I hated always hearing sermons about hell-about how you could leave the church building and be struck by a car and enter into eternity.  The message left me uncomfortable and uneasy about the true motive for following in the path of Christ.  But the message was and is that God can’t be ignored forever just because His ways and laws are inconvenient to us or socially irrelative to the current culture.

In Him there is a life of abundance. But outside of Him, there is danger-there is peril-there is judgment. Some might ask “why would God do that” or how does a loving God allow this or that”. And my answer would be simply, I don’t always know.  He is God, I’m not. He’s in charge-I’m under His loving rule. I don’t try to argue with God.  I have many questions, but who Am I to demand answers or justification from God. I accept my role and love the promise of what is waiting.  And yes, I fear God.  Not in a panic fear but in the realization that apart from Christ, I am worthy of no less than the punishment I read about in the Old Testament.

We are living in perilous times. The Word of God is being dissected and voided of all hateful appearing verbiage. The Government is trying to tell us how we can interpret and practice our faith in complete defiance of the first Amendment to practice without interference. The entertainment, educational and political systems are lining up against the church in what will eventually play itself out as a major war for the saints that may change the face of the church as we know it now.  It is time like never before to have or develop a healthy fear of God, His word, His commands and His judgment.  The popular t-shirt is so right on-“Only God Can Judge Me”. What a horrible notion for those living in opposition to His nature and His sovereignty.

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What Really Caused the Death of Jesus

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Each year at about this time we in the Christian faith pause to remember, to commemorate and to celebrate the horrific events surrounding the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the Roman cross of shame. It is a time for us to focus, in as much as our minds can comprehend, the level of love shown us by God the Father who gave up His son in order that we might be reconciled to Him through the once and forever sacrifice for our sin. It is the supreme love story that prose or song has yet to be able to fully capture, and that even Hollywood, with all its special effects can’t adequately portray. 

Throughout the years I have studied Roman punishment, specifically the scourging and the crucifixion. There is not enough keystrokes that can describe the horrors of what Jesus endured that day. The lashes He was given were enough to kill many men. The Romans had this down to a science knowing just when to stop to prevent death through blood loss and shock. Death on a cross was an extended torture in most cases lasted days, with the condemned person eventually yielding to death by asphyxiation. The breaking of the legs was to prevent the person from pushing themselves up to relieve the pressure on their lungs and diaphragm so they could breathe, thus causing them to suffocate. Yet Jesus died within hours, not days. Was Jesus just a weaker specimen of a man? Did he die from the physical pain alone from the torture He received before the cross? Did God just have mercy on Him and relieve His Son from suffering?  

We can only speculate, but this week in my studies I was led to something that I knew, but didn’t fully appreciate.  It’s no epiphany-it’s been there all the time-it just took fifty-two years for me to grasp it, and when I did, it was overwhelming!  I have read Isaiah 53 many times in my life, and most of you are familiar with some of the passages. But this week, as I read it for the 100th time or so, I read it differently. Let me attempt to explain. Verse 4 reads “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities..”  I had always interpreted this as a description of the physical beating at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Is that the fullness of this verse?  The New Living Translation of this says that He was wounded and crushed for our sins, again something we’ve heard all our lives, but have we indeed really heard? Verse 6 says that God, His Father, laid upon Jesus, His Son, the guilt, the shame and the punishment for the sins of all mankind! Wow-how was that possible?

I remember vividly growing up as a young boy the feeling I had knowing I was about to be punished, back in the day before it was considered a crime to whoop a child’s butt for disobedience. Those dreaded words, “just wait until your dad gets home”, hearing the phone conversation between your parents, counting down the hours in total fear of knowing that when your dad came through the door, you were going to receive upon your backside the punishment for your crime-the anticipation alone really was all the punishment necessary and was almost always more terrifying than the punishment itself. The hours in waiting seemed like days! Consider then the fact that Jesus, being man but with the full knowledge of God, must have felt the terror of the punishment He was going to eventually endure for years, not hours! I can’t fathom possessing the knowledge of the price that was to be required, and carrying it His entire adult life. That alone would kill a weaker man. 

But there’s more. Consider for a moment verses 8-10, again from the NLT: “But who among the people realized that He was dying for their sins-that He was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and He never deceived anyone. But He was buried like a criminal and put in a rich man’s grave. It was the Lord’s good plan to crush Him and fill Him with grief”. God the Father carried out the punishment and torture of His own Son for the Sins of the world!

The sins of the world-the magnitude of that statement can’t possibly be over exaggerated. Think for a minute about the most horrendous criminals or dictators to ever walk the earth through World History. How does one begin to categorize them?

Stalin is responsible for 27 million deaths. Mao Zedong as attributed with over 70 million! Kim Jong II killed 20 million. King Herod killed innocent children in hopes of killing Jesus. Then there is Adolf Hitler, who records show killed more than 6 million of God’s chosen people! God exacted punishment for these and other historic atrocities that day on the cross, and Jesus bore the guilt and shame for them, Hussein, Manson, Bin Laden, and the list goes on and on, and includes me. Jesus took the blame, the overwhelming “wait til your Father hears” guilt, the heaviness of shame and the ultimate punishment on His shoulders that day on the cross! My hands tremble and my words are few at the thought. Every murder, every theft, every rape, every lie, every convenient abortion, the martyrdom of every believer, including His Apostles, every hostile act of war between countries, every act of disobedience man ever perpetrated going back to the garden of Eden and Cain killing his brother Abel, and every sin that will ever be committed for time to come, including every individual denial of the deity of Jesus the Christ was placed upon Jesus the man as He hung on the cross. God so severely crushed His own Son that He couldn’t look upon His shame and would not even respond when Jesus cried out from the cross “why have you forsaken me?’. 

Why did Jesus only last a few ours on the cross? I would offer that the weight and guilt of the sins of all history broke His heart and His spirit. He paid a price that can’t be comprehended so that we might be called the Sons of God. This is one of those times when there are no words!  How do we receive such an awesome gift without the full realization of the priceless nature of the same?  

And yet the tragedy remains that many for which he was chastised will go to their deaths never receiving the grace, the mercy or forgiveness provided on that day we celebrate this week. Many will make their semi-annual pilgrimage to their local church to watch a play or hear some music about these blessed events and then return to their every day lives without ever being changed by the story. And sadly it’s true that many of us in the faith will go about the busyness of Easter without ever receiving the full revelation of Christ’s Passion in our lives. God, forgive us for not knowing-Jesus, forgive us our inability to fully comprehend! Grant us this Easter season a full revelation of the events we celebrate and may we carry in our hearts the magnitude of this offering all the year through.