Throughout the Old Testament we get clouded pictures of the character of God. Hebrews tells us that God gave our forefathers many glimpses of the truth. But through Jesus Christ, God gives us the full revelation of the truth. So what are we to do with the pictures that suggest God is an angry, wrathful, violent God? In this sermon, Greg points out various Old Testament stories that are glimpses of the truth of God’s character. With a careful reading that goes beyond the surface picture of the story we see that the greater revelation of the truth that God is a God who is rich in mercy, slow to anger, gracious and compassionate, that God is love.
What is your image of God? Do you see God as the self-sacrifical lover that is revealed on the cross? Or is your image one that is like an angry, violent, warring God? In this sermon Greg emphasizes the importance of reading Old Testament clouded pictures of God through the lens of Calvary. Our tendency is to see God as a God with many characters. We say, for example, “Sure, God is love. BUT God is ALSO just.” Or, “God is Love. BUT God is also wrathful.” The truth of the matter is, that God IS love. God’s very essence is love. Therefore even when God is angry, or when God expresses God’s judgment or wrath, God is expressing LOVE, because God IS love.
So often we project our own ideas of authority and wrath upon God. Instead of allowing ourselves to be made in the image of God, we make God in our image. And since God will not coerce a human to the truth, God then embraces people as they are, including our projected images of God! With this in mind, we can then draw greater revelation of the portraits of God as displayed in the Old Testament. For many of these stories are more of our own projections of God than the truth of God’s character. So deep is God’s love for us that God takes on our ugliness and sin, God even embraces our projected images. And so, because God works through progressive revelation, when we come to ugly pictures of God we must, by faith, look through that picture to see the true and beautiful picture of God as revealed by Jesus Christ on the cross. We must let God reveal to us what is true rather than assume we know.
The fullest revelation of God is on the cross, therefore the cross is a revelation of how God judges in love. Love and judgment are not two different things. On the cross Jesus is bearing the judgment of God. And nowhere is there any indication that the father was angry with Jesus. The judgment on the cross is LOVE – God is full of love for Jesus on the cross. God is love and is expressed by God’s judgment on sin. Notice that God never lifts a finger of anger toward Jesus. Instead God allows humans to express wrath, sin, and violence on Jesus. Before the foundations of the world, the father, son and spirit agreed upon this plan of ‘forsakenness’. This plan expresses love! And this love expresses the Trinity; a love that cannot be broken.
God’s judgment, then, is not God getting angry or violent. Instead, it only involves God turning away. God delivered Jesus over with a grieving heart and with a redemptive motive! With the resurrection, then, show’s God’s love has defeated all sin, evil, legalism, bondage, etc. God reconciled all things to Godself! The cross liberated us and creation from the consequences of our sin. When God judges, God does it out of love with a redemptive intent. When we read ugly pictures of God in the Old Testament must be read through a lens of faith, through the lens of Christ crucified. God is willing to stoop to the lowest of the lows in order to bring God’s people into greater and truer covenant relationship.
Greg provides for us a few illustrations of clouded portraits of God that suggest God as a God of wrath, judgment, violence and anger. The surface of the clouded pictures do not reveal the true character of God. We must learn to look through the ugly pictures with a lens of Christ Crucified. Isaiah 19 is one Old Testament illustration that gives us a glimpse of truth. This passage announces in a very ominous way the terrible judgment of God. On the surface, God seems to be a God who causes people to fight against one another, “neighbor against neighbor, city against city.” However, when read carefully, we see that God never lifts a finger of violence! It was humans that carried out the violence. And then, in verse 19, we see greater truth within this clouded picture of God’s character. The judgment was for the sake of revealing their need for a savior! The purpose of the judgment was for redemption. God allows for the judgment in order to bring healing to God’s people.
Another example still is found in Jeremiah 48. Here we read of a judgment against Moab. In Jeremiah’s mind, God is angry and violent against the people of Moab. But then we see the Lord saying, “I will howl for Moab. My heart shall mourn… I will weep for you.” Here the Spirit breaks through to reveal the true heart of God, a heart that breaks for the people. On the surface, the picture looks like an angry, wrathful God. But with a deeper reading, the Spirit reveals the true character of God – the God with a longing heart for the redemption of God’s people. When God brings a judgment on people, God is the one who suffers the most. When we go through suffering, God suffers far more. This is just another way in which our clouded pictures of God bear witness to Christ on the cross, where God suffers the pain of the world.
The question, then, is what is our mental picture of God? Who do we trust? Do we trust our own pictures of God? Or will we trust the picture of God as revealed through Jesus Christ? Will we lock in the truth that God looks as beautiful as revealed on the cross? If so, then we must bring every thought into captivity before God.
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