“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romas 5:9
Wrath. That’s not a word we think about too often in our day to day lives. Even at Easter, it may not be a word we give much consideration. After all, Easter is about the glorious resurrection of our living Savior…and that’s a far more pleasant thing to think about than wrath. But for a moment, I’d like to reflect on the holy wrath of God. For in order to truly understand God’s wrath, we must first understand the seriousness of our sin and the justice that flows from His holiness.
First, the seriousness of sin. As stated by R.C. Sproul in The Holiness of God (one of the most theologically influential books I have ever read), “Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign…the slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority. It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act were we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything,” (pp.151-152). As R.C. often stated, “We forget who we are and who God is.” And who God is is supremely perfect, righteous, and holy.
While we’re quick to acknowledge we’re imperfect we’re also quick to think we’re not “that bad.” And when using worldly standards of comparison we may be right. We may in fact not be “that bad.” But compared to the brilliant holiness of God we have not one iota of righteousness within us. We must then face the reality that God’s holiness- not man’s- is the standard by which we will be judged. It is a standard by which we all fall short, and the standard by which we deserve God’s wrath (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23).
The truth of the matter is it is because of His holiness that He must be just. And His justice necessarily includes the punishment of sin. As stated by ligonier.org, “For God to maintain His justice, He must punish sin. To forgive at the expense of His just wrath would be inconsistent with His character; according to His holiness, those who have sinned must die.”
And we indeed are sinners.
In the Old Testament God displayed His grace to the Israelites by giving them a system of sacrifice to atone for their sins. This system included sacrificing an animal from a herd or flock to symbolically represent the individual. Before offering the sacrifice, the individual would place his hands on the animal’s head as a way to demonstrate his identification with the animal. This gave full acknowledgment that the animal represented himself, and that he, the worshiper, was deserving of death. The animal then became the propitiation for sin, the substitutionary means by which God’s wrath was satisfied.
By the sheer mercy and grace of God we no longer have to make these sacrificial offerings. How can this be? Surely on account of our sin we are deserving of God’s wrath! The beautifully horrific truth is that God’s wrath was poured out on His Son as he hung on the cross on our behalf. Through this sacrifice God fully displayed His divine justice; for sin was punished through the sacrifice of His perfect Son.
As Jesus bore our sins in his body on that tree, God’s wrath was poured upon him. I can’t pretend to understand the anguish and pure agony our Lord experienced as He was forsaken by his Father. But of one thing I am certain- the wrath he bore on our behalf was total and satisfactory. And because of this perfect sacrifice, we are recipients of a better propitiation; for we are not saved merely by the blood of an animal, but by the blood of Christ (Romans 3:24-25, Hebrews 2:17; 9:13-14).
Think of it: the wrath you and I are completely deserving of was fully satisfied on the cross. Because of Jesus we are saved from the wrath of God! Amazingly, He has rescued us from Himself by simultaneously demonstrating His grace, mercy, and justice. As stated again from the aforementioned book, “The cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath. It was the most just and gracious act in history,” (p.158).
Oh, how we can rejoice! For those who are in Christ there is no condemnation and no wrath to receive. As we contemplate this truth, may our hearts be drawn to utter praise and thanksgiving as we consider the wonder of the cross knowing that God’s wrath has been satisfied.