Several years ago, a friend of mine was reading the entire Bible for the first time. This woman was old enough to be my grandmother, and is one of the finest Christians I have ever known, but like so many of you, she had never ride the Bible from cover to cover. One day she asked me a very difficult question: Why is God in the Old Testament so mean? This woman had spent most of her life studying Jesus, which is a great thing to do, by the way. And of course, she knew lots of stories from the Old Testament, and the Ten Commandments, and Psalm 23, and other familiar passages. But now that she was reading the whole Bible, she saw some very disturbing things. She saw Nadab and Abihu, sons of the High Priest Aaron, go into the tabernacle to offer fire to the Lord, and because He didn’t like the way they did it, fire came out from God and burned them alive. She read about God raining fire and brimstone on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And most troubling of all, she read in Joshua about how the Lord commanded His people to go into the Promised Land and kill every single human being that lived there. She loved Jesus and felt like she knew Him well, but this God didn’t seem like Jesus. Have you ever felt that way? This is a complex theological issue, but let me just say four quick things about it.
First, let me just affirm that the God of the Old Testament is the same God who took on the form of a man named Jesus, died for our sins and rose again in the New.
Second, God’s wrath is a key part of His nature. It’s not popular to say this these days, but God hates sin, evil and injustice, and is constantly at war against those forces. Because we rarely hear about God’s righteousness, His holiness, and His wrath against sin in sermons and Bible studies, it shocks us when we read the Bible for ourselves and see so many examples of it. Believe me, you don’t want to live in a world overseen by a God who DOESN’T hate evil. It would be like living in a country that doesn’t enforce the law. Someone would murder your loved one, and the state would simply say, “That’s a shame, but there’s nothing we can do. Let’s hope he sees the error of his ways and changes someday.” God’s wrath means, among other things, that people who are oppressed will get justice someday. That’s why this squeamishness about God’s wrath only happens in prosperous societies like ours, among people who’ve never experienced oppression. I promise you that slaves in this country 150 years ago were glad that God was someday going to bring judgment on their slaveowners.
Third, we see wrath in Jesus. I know it’s popular to think of Jesus as being nothing but loving, kind and gentle. And He was indeed all of those things, but we tend to make Him into some sort of cross between a hippie and the lead singer of the Wiggles. Appealing, but soft, bland, and most of all, non-judgmental. But if you actually read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, He said a lot of things that made people angry (mostly religious people). After all, bland nice guys don’t end up nailed naked to crosses.
Fourth and finally, in the Old Testament, we see God's grace in abundance. This Sunday at Westbury Baptist, we'll see an example of this in a sermon from Leviticus 25 about the Year of Jubilee. If you can't make it Sunday, the message will be posted on our website in text, audio and video form. As always, I welcome your questions and comments.