Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WHAT WE SEE HAPPENING ALL AROUND US IS GOD’S WRATH”

Romans 1.18

 

Have you heard the story of Rip Van Winkle? Written by Washington Irving and published in 1819, “Rip Van Winkle” is a short story about a ne’er do well who shirks hard work, is married to a nagging wife, and wanders up the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a fall day with his dog, Wolf. As he is walking he comes across some people, drinks some of their moonshine, and soon falls asleep. When he wakes up, he discovers shocking changes. His musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. Van Winkle returns to his village where he recognizes no one. To his delight, he discovers that his wife has died, but is saddened that his close friends have fallen in the Revolutionary War, which he slept through. He learns that he slept for at least twenty years. However, an old resident of the community recognizes him and his grown daughter takes him in, after that he resumes his characteristic idleness. Everything is different; his village, his country, and his family, while he remains the same. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Rip Van Winkle. And there are some parallels that can be drawn between Rip Van Winkle’s missing twenty years in which everything around him has changed and our recent American experiences.

A few days ago my only living auntie sent me an e-mail. I guess you could fill in the subject line with the words “All of a sudden . . . seven short years have passed!” Let me read what my aunt sent me:

 

Before Obama, there was virtually no outlandish presence of Islam in America.

 

So ends the e-mail my auntie sent me.

Imagine what it must be like to be an American missionary in a foreign country who comes back to the United States and finds the nation you grew up in, the nation you left to go and serve God in a third world country, the nation that was once the world’s only superpower, is no longer taken seriously anywhere in the world. We are a laughingstock. The missionary’s experience is so much like Rip Van Winkle’s, and he might very well entertain the same “all of a sudden” thoughts my aged aunt sent to me. What my auntie did not write about, but might very well have included among her other observations, is the utter collapse of American moral values with the legalization of same-sex marriage, out of wedlock pregnancies, rampant divorce rates, ongoing abortion on demand (especially among ethnic minorities), gender fluidity and the president and corporate CEO’s wanting men to use women’s bathrooms, the effort to blame gun violence on legal gun owners guilty of no crimes, the mounting effort to restrict the gun ownership rights of law-abiding citizens while completely ignoring the bloodshed that takes place on a daily basis in such cities as Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, which have the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, and the nonstop portrayal of husbands and fathers on television and in commercials as irresponsible buffoons.

We can see what is happening in the rest of the world. But what has always happened in the rest of the world is starting to occur here, in the United States of America. Since I have been your pastor I have been physically assaulted five times here in Monrovia; once while standing in front of my home by two young men, twice while walking on Colorado Boulevard between my house and the high school I was assaulted by a woman I had never seen before who approached me and struck me (two different times by two different women), and two times by young men while my wife and I were walking on Myrtle Avenue on Friday nights during the street fair. You may be among those old enough to wonder what is going on, but most of you are simply too young to notice the drastic changes that have taken place in the United States over the last few years. We are becoming as lawless as every other country. We are becoming as corrupt as every other country. Our legislators pass laws they know are unconstitutional, knowing that it will take ten years for an unconstitutional law they passed to be overruled by the California Supreme Court. So, what do they do when their cherished illegal law is overturned? They pass an almost identical law that will be in place for another ten years, thereby completely thwarting the notion of the rule of law. Year after year they are re-elected to their offices, and they continue to do what they do.

Would you like to know what is going on? I will show you in God’s Word what is going on. It is what has been going on for a long, long time in other places, with our nation’s usually blessed experiences for more than two centuries now coming to an end as we become more and more like every other country in the world; secular, atheistic, wicked, and without concern for God. There is nothing new under the sun. What is has been and will be until the Lord Jesus Christ puts a stop to the nonsense. But until then Romans 1.18 is the Biblical summation of the state of the way things are. Please turn to that verse in your Bible, and when you arrive there I invite you to stand with me for the reading of God’s Word:

 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

 

The Apostle Paul wrote those words to the Christians in Rome to explain to them what was wrong with the world and why each and every human being has profound spiritual needs that yearn for remedy. The problem, of course, is that people become so used to misery and tragedy that they wrongly conclude that such is normal, routine, and acceptable. What seems normal and routine to you who are young is not normal or routine to an American of my age, not in the United States of America! And it most certainly is not acceptable.

What is routine in the Middle East, what is routine in Asia, what is routine in Europe, what is routine in Latin America, and what is sadly becoming routine in the United States and Canada as our culture slides into greater and greater spiritual darkness is explained by the Apostle Paul as nothing less than the judgment of God.

Three considerations related to God’s revelation to mankind are provided in our text:

 

First, CONSIDER THE ORIGIN

 

When you speak of origins, you are obligated to provide the context in which your comments about origins take place. Paul is not here referring to the origin of the universe because the Roman believers were already quite well versed in the Biblical account of creation. He is not referring to the origin of mankind, to Adam and Eve’s creation. Neither is he referring to the origin of sin in the human realm since they were well acquainted with the Biblical account of Adam’s great Fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. In this verse, the Apostle Paul is addressing the origin of something that is very typically lost on most people, including many good and godly Christians. It is lost on people because it is so usual, so typical, so commonly seen and experienced that people take it for granted as natural and normal. However, it is neither natural or normal.

What is it? To what does the Apostle Paul refer when he writes to the Christians in Rome about its origin? The wrath. The wrath? That’s right. The wrath. What about the wrath? It is revealed. Look back to Romans 1.17, where the apostle writes,

 

“the righteousness of God revealed.”

 

Interesting, is it not? In verse 17 we are told of the revealing of the righteousness of God. And in the very next verse, we are told of the revealing of the wrath of God. Righteousness is revealed verse 17. Wrath is revealed verse 18. Do you think they are connected? Well, maybe not connected. There is a correlation even if the two are not connected. After all, one has to do with faith, faith in Christ, and the other does not. However, the same Greek word is used, the word that gives us apocalypse. The real question to address at this point is what is this thing called wrath that is revealed? Wrath is very clearly in the New Testament God’s indignation expressed against sin.[1] “When it is realised, as everywhere in the NT, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hb. 10:31), that He has power to save and to destroy (Jm. 4:12), and when He is feared because, beyond the death of the body, He has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell (Lk. 12:5; Mt. 10:28), awareness of God’s wrath is at the root.”[2] “As in the OT, so in the NT wrath is both God’s displeasure at evil, His passionate resistance to every will which is set against Him, and also His judicial attack thereon.”[3] Important for us to observe before moving on to other things, this verb is a present tense verb that shows this revealing of God’s wrath is presently taking place. This is happening now. Which surprises many people, who typically think of God’s wrath only being poured out in the future in fulfillment of prophecy. But Paul tells the Roman Christians in no uncertain terms that God is presently revealing His wrath.

Next, the wrath that is described is “the wrath of God.” It is crucial that we take note that this wrath Paul speaks of is the wrath of God and not the wrath of man. This is important because James 1.20 is explicit:

 

“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

 

As well, it is important that we make a distinction between wrath and anger since it is possible for you or me to be angry without committing sin. In Ephesians 4.26 the Apostle Paul is very clear about this:

 

“Be ye angry, and sin not.”

 

Whatever wrath is, it is not a characteristic that any human being can exhibit without doing wrong. Neither is wrath the same as anger, anger being an emotion that human beings can both feel and express without committing a sin. How, then, are we to understand the wrath of God? The wrath of God can be understood as the free, subjective and holy response of God to sin and the evil and wickedness exhibited by creatures in opposition to God.[4] As antiseptic and clinical as that may sound, don’t think of God’s wrath as anything resembling a pink tea party. Found in 194 verses in the Bible, when God’s wrath is referred to it has to do with God’s fierceness, God’s anger, God’s indignation, with burning like fire, with destruction, and with trouble for the objects of His wrath. Thankfully, God’s wrath is not reserved for His children, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 5.6 and Colossians 3.6:

 

“Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.”

 

“For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.”

 

This thing identified as wrath, that turns out to be God’s wrath, comes from where? The region of its origin is heaven. The person of its origin is God. It is God’s wrath. The object of God’s wrath, because wrath is always directed at an object (it is not simply emotion like anger, after all) is described by Paul as

 

“from heaven against . . . men.”

 

It is possible to be angry without being angry at anyone. That makes “Be ye angry, and sin not” possible. Not so with wrath, which is why wrath for you and me is always and in every case sinful, because

 

“the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

 

Since wrath is always an expression, and in God’s case a righteous expression, it is always expressed toward someone. As well, it is described as being poured out on the objects of God’s wrath.[5] Thus, God always has a target in mind. Who is a target of God’s wrath? In our text, Paul writes,

 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all . . . men.”

 

Thus, what is taking place is an act of divine judgment that originates in heaven, coming to men from the righteous God while He sits upon His throne.

 

Next, CONSIDER THE OBJECTIVE

 

When we look around and ask ourselves “What’s going on?” the first portion of the answer Paul provides for us is that wrath is what’s going on, God’s wrath is what’s going on, and it’s coming from heaven. Beyond that, we rationally and reasonably inquire about the objective of God’s wrath. What’s the point of it? Before proceeding, allow me to distinguish in your mind the difference between punishment and chastisement. Punishment is what is done to an offender while chastisement is what is done on behalf of a child. Punishment is punitive in nature, in that it is the just and righteous response of God to wrongdoing. Chastisement, on the other hand, is corrective and is applied to alter His child’s future behavior. Thus, a father or mother does not punish a disobedient child. Rather, you chastise your disobedient child to produce improved conduct in the future. Punishment, on the other hand, is giving an offender the appropriate punishment that is called for with no view of that person’s future conduct. Punishment, then, looks to the offender’s past while chastisement is applied to affect your child’s future. As well, punishment and chastisement are not applied to the same person. You chastise your child, but you punish a thief caught stealing. Wrath, God’s wrath, the wrath that is poured out from heaven, is not chastisement. It is not directed toward God’s children. It is punishment for wrongdoing against the unsaved.

First, consider the scope of God’s wrath.

 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all . . . men.”

 

That word all shows us that the scope of God’s wrath is universal. It is poured out on all mankind, at least all unsaved mankind. This does not mean that God’s wrath is necessarily distributed evenly and without regard for the actual behavior of those who are being punished, just that God’s wrath is poured out on everyone who is not a believer in Jesus Christ. This needs to be pointed out because Paul will later write (in Romans 5.9) that those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are delivered from God’s wrath:

 

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”

 

Thus, if you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, there was a time in your life when you experienced the wrath of God from heaven because God’s wrath from heaven is poured out on all men. You may not have been aware that God was pouring out His wrath on you because what is happening to everyone seems normal and natural and as it should be. It is typically unrecognized for what it is. Then God’s wrath ended for you when you became God’s child by means of the new birth.

While God’s wrath is universal in its scope, it is not indiscriminate. There is are reasons for God’s wrath. Notice the sins that God punishes by visiting His wrath upon sinners. Paul labels those reasons as “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” What are these sins? They are sins that are particularly committed by Gentiles, in that the ungodliness Paul refers to has to do with a complete disregard for the things of God and having no reverence for God, while unrighteousness of men has to do with the type of conduct that flows from such an irreverent attitude. If you consider the Ten Commandments, how the first four commands relate to a Jewish person’s relationship with God, and the final six commands relate to a Jewish person’s relationship with other Jewish people, these two types of sins seem to be a parallel. Ungodliness has to do with disrespecting and having no reverence for God and the things of God. Unrighteousness of men describes the general conduct of people toward other people who have no respect or reverence for God. Therefore, because the sinner has no regard or reverence for God, and because his lack of regard and reverence for God produces corresponding misconduct toward others, God’s wrath is poured forth and has been poured forth on mankind since Adam’s fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. If you do not recognize God’s wrath, it is because His wrath from heaven is so common an experience among the unsaved, and has been so common an experience for so long time, that it is considered a normal and routine part of life. It is not a normal and routine part of life. God is not happy, and He is showing His displeasure by means of His wrath.

 

Finally, CONSIDER THE OBITUARY

 

I use the word obituary because an obituary is an account or notice of someone’s death.[6] In a sense that’s what we find here at the end of Romans 1.18:

 

“who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

 

This is Paul’s more specific account of the actions of those unsaved Gentiles upon whom the wrath of God from heaven is poured as it relates to the truth. This is what you do with the truth that brings God’s wrath down on your head, whether you consciously realize it or not. May I divide your actions with the truth into two parts so we can analyze it more thoroughly:

The first portion of this final phrase reveals your opportunity with the truth. Paul observes (actually accuses) unsaved people of actively handling the truth you are exposed to and know to be true. Thus, we do not see here that the vast numbers of unsaved people in the world are the victims of wickedness and poverty, who should therefore not be held responsible for their actions with respect to the truth. Not at all. What happens if you are not a Christian, what you do and what your children do with the truth, is described by the phrase “who hold the truth.” But what is it to hold the truth? The Greek word translated here is an active verb, meaning it is something every unsaved person does and continues to do with the truth. It means to hold down, to suppress, to hold fast or firmly.[7] Thus, while your spiritual blindness fails to comprehend that the wrath of God is being poured out on you, punishing you for your lack of reverence for God and your disregard for God, as well as the conduct that flows from such attitudes, you also deceive yourself into thinking you are a passive player in all this and not in any way responsible for the way you handle the truth you are exposed to. Not so, according to God’s Word. Not so.

Paul’s explanation not only reveals your opportunity with respect to your handling of the truth (or should I refer to it as a mishandling of the truth) but also your obstinacy.

 

“Who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”

 

It is one thing to take hold of the truth and handle it a certain way, holding it firmly and grasping it. However, to make sure there is no misunderstanding of the intent for so firmly grabbing hold of the truth, Paul points out the motive for so doing. The truth is held in unrighteousness. In other words, each and every unsaved person who has ever lived (referring to Gentiles, now) cannot plead ignorance to the truth, cannot plead misunderstanding, and cannot plead he is a victim. Oh, no. Whenever a morsel of truth was apprehended by you, my unsaved friend, you got a firm grip on it so you could stifle its impact, so you impair its effect, and you were motivated by unrighteousness.

 

Therefore, as you look around and wonder “What’s going on here?” understand that what is going on is God’s wrath. He is not pleased. He is not happy. Unsaved people, certainly you if you are lost, have no reverence toward Him and consequently sin against other people with impunity. And what you do with the truth you are exposed to you do intentionally. You get a good grip on it and then you stifle it, bury it, push it out of the way, or mischaracterize it so you can justify paying no attention to it. And that is why God is doing what He is doing.

Used to be that though God’s wrath was poured out on all lost mankind those who lived in regions where God was honored, and the Gospel was freely preached and embraced were less onerously punished than in other places, as God blessed His children. But that is no longer the case in our country, is it? And so, some clarity comes to Rip Van Winkle as he looks around and sees the world somewhat differently than he used to see it because our country has become more like the rest of the world than used to be the case.

The issue now is how a modern day Rip Van Winkle will respond to the truth about God’s wrath. Will you behave like the Rip Van Winkle in Washington Irving’s short story and continue to be the idle and inattentive fellow you were before you slept through the Revolutionary War? Or will you fully wake up and take notice of not only God’s wrath but your own sins, and consider the claims of Christ in the Gospel? Will you handle the truth to the saving of your soul, or will you suppress the truth to your own damnation like most people do, “who hold the truth in unrighteousness”?

Remember that God does not wait until any person dies to begin judging him for his sins, but has already begun to visit the unsaved with His wrath.

__________

[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 720-721.

[2] Gerhard Kittel, Editor, Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Vol V, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), page 423.

[3] Ibid., page 425.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 122.

[5] Psalm 79.6; Ezekiel 21.31; Hosea 5.10; Revelation 16.1

[6] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1232.

[7] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 349.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org