The Wordless Father

Personal Matters

A few weeks ago I was privileged, a word I do rarely use for Christian meetings, to attend a seminar in the city where Letitia Shelton spoke about the ministry of City Women in Toowoomba.

This is a diverse ministry that draws resources from the Body of Christ across that municipality reaching into high schools with the message of hope and dignity, and providing discipleship, mentoring, accommodation, pregnancy services, assisting women coming out of prostitution and multiple agencies of relationally based family support.

The fruit is mature and bears all the signs of Jesus’ love (John 15:16). I had heard Letitia previously and was already aware of the unusual quality of their ministry. Given this past familiarity, and my lack of optimism about the Church in Perth picking up the message,

I was initially hesitant about attending the gathering at all. Eventually succumbing to the graces of the Spirit I did come and sensed at the seminar something that inspired my prophetic imagination. It was the presence of a quality of heart that makes this sort of kingdom activity transferable (1 Cor 11:1). The day was facilitated by my friend Nick Scott and it was how he commenced the day that broke things open in the Spirit.

The Broken Father

Nick described how when he returned to Perth from first hearing Letitia speak and attempted to convey to his wife what he’d heard he kept breaking down in wordless tears. This happened repeatedly. Being overwhelmed with emotion at the care being shown to broken and abused women is not the normal response of an Australian male; “even” a pastor. Such brokenness is however a window into the heart of God the Father, a heart indwelt by Jesus. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18 NRSV).

When City Women is invited by school authorities to speak to their girls they are of course not allowed to preach about Jesus. But by love, care and compassion they show Jesus and in showing Jesus show the Father (John 14:9).

The interesting thing about this ministry is that it seems completely free of reproaching moralism towards those who don’t yet know the Father’s love.

Sexual promiscuity and like are simply to be expected from girls who don’t know about Christ; how else could it be?

The way Paul speaks to the pagans in Acts 17 is very different from how he speaks to the Church about secular culture in Romans 1 .

The former is a clear communication of the good news to the lost who Jesus came to save (Luke 19:10).

Legal repentance and Evangelical repentance.

There is a vast difference between legal repentance and evangelical repentance.

Legal repentance says: if you repent then God will be gracious to forgive you.

Evangelical/gospel repentance says: God has forgiven you in Christ, therefore turn back to him and accept his acceptance.

The legal lays the stress on what we do to connect with God, the latter on what God has accomplished for us in Christ.

Paul tried to get this through to some legalistic believers in his day;

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” . (NLT)

An old teacher of mine used to say that when people see Jesus all-forgiving love repentance is “evoked” i.e. drawn out of their hearts. If you think I am going soft in my old age there is a powerful witness to these truths in Jesus’ own teaching.

The Wordless Father

Here is a question I felt the Lord brought to my mind when I was in the City Women meeting; “What did the father of the rebellious prodigal son say to the boy when he returned home?

He said “Nothing.” He conveyed the contents of his heart by what he did; impelled by compassion he ran to his son, embraced him, placed on him a robe and ring and then spoke to the servants that they were to throw a party (Luke 15:20-24).

This son instantly knew that the self-condemnation of his miserable conscience; “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” was dissolved in the presence of the Father’s love (Luke 15:21).

The shameful scale of worthiness/unworthiness which holds all prodigals/rebels captive was utterly swept away never to return (John 8:34).

Wordless to his returning son the father however has things to say to the older brother who wants to rake up the record of his sibling’s sins (Luke 15:30).

This angry legalistic child actually rebukes his father and in so doing degrades his own status to that of a slave, “‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command,” (Luke 15:29).

The father’s reply is a gentle but deep correction to his oldest boy; “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”” (Luke 15:31-32).

This son was so consciousness of his own righteousness that he was totally ignorant of his father’s heart.

The story ends there, but if the history of Israelite religion is any guide the chances of the pharisaic in-house son taking the father’s love into his heart are very slim.

What is it that we, who are so often like the older brother, missing?

Raw

Letitia explained that the original impetus for City Women came from expletive laden “raw words” of a former non-Christian woman mayor of Toowoomba who challenged Christian women about taking care of those outside the Church.

The true rawness of human need should take our minds immediately to the cross.

In becoming human and dying for us Jesus fully embraced all the miseries of the rebellious in a “far country” away for the glory of his Father’s presence (Luke 15:13; Rom 8:3).

At the cross the rawness of human depravity and suffering was laid bare in the agonies of Christ.

A practical theology of the cross agrees with the sentiments of a saint much persecuted by the comfortable Established Church of his day, “Christ’s merits bought a blessing to the crosses of the sons of God….no man has a velvet cross” (John Flavel).1)John Flavel [c.1627–1691] was an English Presbyterian clergyman, puritan, and author.

Whilst the churches of today preach cushioned crosses ministries like City Women will remain rare amongst us. It is only as we suffer inconvenience and discomfort in identifying with lost children of God who have no idea what they are doing in their lives can we lead them through Jesus back to the Father (Luke 23:34).

Conclusion

Nick Scott’s tears, the overwhelming emotion of the father of the lost prodigal son and the compassionate ministry of City Women all image in action more than words that through Jesus the lost are already in the heart of the Father (cf. Eph 1:3-4).

In Christ the sin against heaven has been completely dealt with so that his Father is free from all driven legalistic negativity.

Our task is to so live like Jesus that the Spirit might restore to broken souls the memory of a Father who never rejects.

Repentance must come, but it is a repentance “evoked” by memory of the Father’s love in an unconditional embrace (Luke 15:20).

The parable of the rebellious prodigal son is a parable for our day, a day in which multitudes of lost people, old as well as young, need to discover the heart of God in actions beyond words.

Yet, how many in the church need to discover this for themselves?

References   [ + ]

1. John Flavel [c.1627–1691] was an English Presbyterian clergyman, puritan, and author.

Cry Mercy

Introduction

Whilst I am aware of various groups starting up to pray for revival in Australia, I see an essential ingredient missing in the prayer life of the Church; I am not hearing deep cries to God for mercy. This deep spiritual lack first came to my notice when I was working on the beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt 5:7).

I was forcefully struck by the fact that whenever needy people were around Jesus they freely cried to him for mercy, and were always delivered.

A pagan mother comes, “crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.””, Christ sets her daughter free (Matthew 15:22 ESV);

A distressed father appeals, ““Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water.”, the boy is delivered of the demonic presence (Matt 17:15);

A blind beggar cannot be restrained,   “he began to cry out and say,Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, Son of David, have mercy on me!””; straightaway Christ restores his sight (Mark 10:47-48).

It is easy to ask God for help, it is humbling to cry out for mercy. Of the various people I have discussed this with only two friends immediately replied that they had cried out to God for mercy. One when he was in danger of death through cancer and the other when she broke her neck and faced the prospect of paraplegia.

Faced with great misery a natural human response is to cry out to God for mercy. Our nation desperately needs cries to God for mercy.  At a drug seminar the other week the CEO of the Australian Crime Commission mentioned that 7% of Australian population over 14 have used amphetamines.

The “Ice” epidemic is impacting everywhere. I ran into a lawyer with front line services in the South West and they are seeing teenage boys who travel down there to take drugs and get so affected by crystal meth that they don’t even know where they are.

The newspaper yesterday cites a UWA revealing that half a million Australian children (10% of total age group) are suffering from mental health problems (Weekend Australian 8-9/8/15 p.12).

Despite our culture’s addiction to happiness, seeds of misery are deeply rooted in our mainstream way of life.

Then we have the crisis of sexual sin in the Church.

The front page of The West Australian for the 30th July had a huge heading EVIL 8, at the centre of the page was the photo of a discredited pastor, preacher and head of Prison Fellowship in W.A. exposed as a member of the paedophile ring.

With so much sin and need about us there must be some deep spiritual problem amongst God’s people holding them back from crying out for mercy. This sermon is an attempt to address this question and provoke cries for mercy across the Church.

A God of Mercy

Throughout the Bible God defines himself as merciful; This mercy is especially available to suffering sinners; “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions….The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…. as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us…. his mercy is over all that he has made” (Ps 51:1; 103:8, 12).

The prophet Micah testifies that God actually likes to show mercy; “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Mic 7:18 cf. Isa 30:18).

The Lord delights to show merciful because he is a true Father; speaking of restoration from Babylonian exile using language that connects mercy with his fatherhood; “With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back…for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” (Jer 31:9 ESV). The same message is equally pronounced in the New Testament.

Zechariah prophesies that the ministry of his son John the Baptist will be marked by a special sort of mercy; “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God,” (Luke 1:76-78).

Jesus directly defines his Father in terms of mercy; “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36 ESV).

These texts linking the mercy of God to his Fatherhood remind me of an incident in the life of Charles Spurgeon.

When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘Thou art my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father, art tender and full of mercy.

I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him.

Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father?

Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’ … so I pleaded, and I ventured to say, when I was quiet, and they came back who watched me: ‘I shall never have such pain again from this moment, for God has heard my prayer.’

I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.

Such is the mercy of our Father.

Looking for Mercy

The scriptures are punctuated with people looking to him for mercy; “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:2 ESV).

The distressed call out unhesitatingly, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled…. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; My eye wastes away with grief, Yes, my soul and my body!” (Pss 6:2; 31:9).

This stress on the reality of divine mercy is true in even the most unlikely of situations. In the midst of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians the writer of Lamentations pronounces; v.33The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; v.23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.(Lam 3:22-23).

Positive as they are, all these scriptural examples share a feature our “tall poppy cutting” (egalitarian) Australian culture detests.

To cry to God for mercy means accepting that we are in a radically unequal relationships and are wholly dependent on his power. Of our hatred of submission to a sovereign power only Jesus can deliver us. The deepest mystery of the mercy of God is found in Christ; not only does Jesus act and teaches about mercy in an embodied way, he will become the greatest receiver of the Father’s mercy

The Mercy of the Cross

In my introduction I gave multiple examples of how Jesus always responded positively to cries for mercy.

He also taught how crying for mercy opens the door to salvation. ““Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified before God, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 18:9-14).

To the arrogant religious authorities Christ spoke prophetic words; “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6; Matt 9:13; Mark 12:33), and to the self-righteous Pharisees; “you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matt 23:23). The self-sufficient shunned Jesus but the desperate flocked around him to receive divine mercy.

Even non-Christians can accept that Jesus was a great religious teacher and miracle worker who relieved human suffering. Something much deeper must be unlocked if we are to be overcome by the depths of the divine mercy.

The mystery of God’s mercy is only fully unveiled when we ask why was there no mercy for Jesus when he died so painfully on the cross? Where is the mercy of the Father when Christ cries out in utter misery, ““My God…why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34).

Martin Luther unforgettably said that on the cross “Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer, that ever was or could be in the world…. Christ was charged with the sins of all men”.

An ancient Christian theological tradition maintains that the root sin behind all other sins is pride; pride drives a sense of self-sufficiency which refuses to call out on God for mercy (1 Tim 3:6).

From the time of Adam and Eve suffering human beings have insanely refused to swallow their pride and plead with God for mercy. The proud cannot receive God’s mercy.

For us, Jesus must become like such a proud person (2 Cor 5:21). In his substitutionary sacrifice on the cross Jesus occupies the position of the most proud man, a person who cannot receive the mercy of the Lord. To be shut out from the totality God’s mercy is what it meant for Jesus to fully bear God’s wrath (Rom 3:25).

But Jesus did not remain in this alien situation of absolute misery completely contradictory to the true character of his all merciful Father. He was plunged into this merciless condition so that on our account he might receive the full riches of his Father’s mercy by resurrection from the dead (Eph 2:4-5; 1 Pet 1:3).

Come to Mercy

The apostles understand that in coming to Christ we come to unbounded mercy (Hos 1:6; 1 Pet 2:10).

Paul unapologetically extols the wealth of God’s mercy; “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins …following the prince of the power of the air… and were by nature children of wrath…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Eph 2:1-5).

God has “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Tit 3:5); “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Pet 1:3).

In describing deliverance from a crisis that he thought would kill him Paul uses the strongest language; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

The major motivating force of the Christian life is an experience of the mercy of God; “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom 12:1).

A great deception is holding back the Church of God in Australia from crying out for and receiving mercy; this deception has to do with shame.

Unashamed

I was speaking with someone recently who had just returned from caring for orphans in Cambodia, he was deeply struck by the little children’s prayers which were so “unashamed”.

Then a friend who has done a lot of diving down the South West described several situations where he saw people washed overboard having all their clothes stripped off by the waves, but as they cried out to be rescued from drowning they were totally unselfconscious of their nakedness.

It is this attitude of unselfconsciousness that Jesus applauds in his parable of the man who comes to a friend’s door at midnight seeking bread for a guest and is initially refused; “But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” (Luke 11:8).

When need conquers shame men and women openly cry to God for mercy. Our culture is spiritually suffocating under the fear of embarrassment; especially young people e.g. Facebook bullying/shaming. Christ has conquered this fear.

Hebrews tells us, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2).

In the ancient world crucifixion was no ordinary form of punishment, for the Romans it was reserved for the most wretched and miserable of criminals; the statesman Cicero says; “But the executioner, the veiling of heads, and the very word ‘cross,’ let them all be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens  but even from their thoughts,  their eyes, and their ears.”

For the Jew crucifixion meant to be cast out of the covenant community of Israel (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13).

Jesus however utterly despised the shame of public nakedness neediness wretchedness and rejection which crucifixion was designed to bring upon the crucified. He was not ashamed to cry out loudly to his Father for help and he received mercy in the time of his need by resurrection from the dead (Heb 5:7-8 cf. 4:16).

As I was praying this morning I sensed the Lord speaking to me about the dominant spirituality over the Australian Church. Without a doubt, our most numerically successful churches are “Happiness Churches”, churches whose ministries are very skilfully designed to get people happy and keep them happy. 

Such churches are not like Jesus who came down from heaven to live in the midst of human miseries and embraced all our miseries on the cross so that we might receive the mercy of his Father. Of course not all Australian churches are happiness churches, but nearly all suffer from an independent prideful streak that makes us too ashamed to cry out to God for mercy.

But such mercy is not for our personal consumption. As recipients of God’s mercy we are called to show others mercy.

Showing Mercy

The so-called “Mother Teresa of Cairo”, Mamma Maggie, was a wealthy university professor lecturing the elite in Egypt.

One day she visited “garbage city” outside Cairo; somewhere I have been there.

“Garbage city” is a place where thousands of Coptic Christians live marginalised existences recycling trash in an environment without clean water, schools, churches or healthcare and a very high infant mortality rate. 

She found the sights and smells there so overpowering that she spent three days nauseated in bed in a dark room asking God, how if he was a God of mercy and of love how could he let this happen.  

“I asked him: ‘How can you see a human being living in such conditions?’ Then later, when I was reading the Bible and waiting for God to talk to me, I felt that he was saying that it was my turn to do something about it.”

Since then she has started St Stephen’s School and charity with 90 centres in Egypt that have assisted tens of thousands of needy people.

This is a clear practical example about the outworking of divine mercy.

At a deeper spiritual level however we need to recognise that Mamma Maggie’s trauma at the miserable condition of the slum dwellers in “garbage city” was a share in the sufferings of the cross, and her actions of mercy to the suffering a manifestation of the power of the resurrection (cf. Phil 3:10).

Mercy towards those in physical need is fairly straightforward, but God calls to have an attitude of mercy towards the morally repellent.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 20-23).

Who are the polluted people in today’s Australia that might be candidates for such fearful mercy?

In a merciful Church we might expect to hear earnest prayers for gays, paedophiles, abortionists, unwashed drunken aboriginal people, drug addicts, refugees and ordinary idolatrous Australians. A Christ-like Church will in fact delight in showing mercy.

Revival will not come to this sort of Church; such a Church is already in revival.

Conclusion

Jesus promised; “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt 5:7).

God is faithful, but I am not seeing a tide of mercy flowing over our nation today. James seriously testifies, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” then thankfully he presses on, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13).

But the triumph of mercy over judgement only comes in the way of Jesus Christ.

There can be no great deliverance from the suffering of sin and wickedness in our nation until we identify with the One who identified with the miseries of humanity by becoming a human being and dying on the cross so that he might be raised from the dead to pour out the riches of the mercies of his Father.

We should be crying out that God will have mercy, first of all, on a Church that refuses to cry out to him for mercy.

I started with a reference to revival, so let me finish with a famous Old Testament text loved by revivalists; “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. ” (Hab 3:2).

Jesus Christ died for our miserable pride and has risen from the dead to make us unashamed in the face of God and of men.

Let us not hold back in crying out to God for mercy, first in the Church and in our homes, then in the parks, schools and streets of our nation.

Nothing less than this can save us from the tide evil swamping our land.

Mercy Triumphs over Anger

By Dr John Yates

Introduction

From Genesis 3:14 until Revelation 22:19, divine judgement is a topic that cannot be avoided in scripture, but characteristically is by the contemporary church.  God is speaking about this from a perspective that to us seems contradictory. The true nature of his wrath can only be known through a revelation of his Fatherly gentleness.  This topic is of supreme importance, for as this article will demonstrate, human anger is a stumbling block to God’s purposes of renewal.

Since we respond to anger with defensiveness, how we approach this theme is foundational.  We must start with human experience, recognising however that this will bring us to a radically different conclusion than if we commenced with the revelation of God in Jesus.

Humanity’s Experience of the Anger of God

It is human rather than divine anger that begins the cycle of separation between us and God.1)Wrath is not a part of God’s eternal nature.  God is love, righteous, wise, good etc., but he needs to become angry [Num 11:10; Judges 10:7; 1Ki 8:46; 1Ki 11:9 etc.] The Bible never says that “God is wrath” for there was never an eternal cause in the Godhead itself which would move God to become angry. The first explicit biblical mention of anger is found in Genesis 4:5, “but for Cain and his offering he (the LORD) had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.2)The text does not focus on the nature of Cain’s offering, but his; compare Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”.That God was not angry with Cain comes out in the caring fatherly warning, “v6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? v7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?3)Literally, “a lifting up”, i.e. of his face towards God. And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”” (Genesis 4:6- 7). Cain’s sin indeed spirals out of control so that through murder he “went away from the presence (literally:“face”) of the Lord” (Genesis 4:16)4)A reminiscence of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden [Gen 3:22-24] is unmistakable.

When God says, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isa 59:2), it means his presence cannot indwell our angry, self- righteous judgement.5)The wrath of God is not to be equated with any sort of emotional instability or irritability, these are always condemned in the Bible [Gen 47:7; Ps 37:8; Prov 30:33; Amos 1:11].  Wrath is not the opposite of love, indifference is, God’s wrath may be thought of in terms of injured love [Jer 13:12-14; Hos 5:12 ].  James says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” ( James 1:20) and “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.”(James 2:13). Both texts teach that human vehemence meets with divine disapproval.

Jesus confirms this, “For with the judgment6)The verb krino here bears the sense “to condemn”. you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:2).  His parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) expounds the difference between the anger of God and of man.7)The parable follows immediately after Jesus’ instruction how to deal with a “brother” who sins against us. A servant owes his master an impossible debt,8)10,000 talents is the equivalent to billions of dollars, showing that the master represents God. threatened with enslavement he pleads “‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’” (Matthew 18:26).  The word for “patience”, makrothymia, is literally to be “long – tempered”, or “to put anger far away”.  “Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The keywords are commonly used of God’s generous grace in forgiving sin,9)E.g. Matt 9:2; Luke 6:37; Rom 4:7; 1 John 1:9. and the one translated “pity” is that used for Jesus frequent “compassion”.10)Splanknidzomai Matt 9:36; Matt 14:14; Matt 15:32; Matt 20:34; Mark 1:41; Mark 6:34; Mark 8:2; Mark 9:22; Luke 7:13  It is God’s will that “mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13 ).

However, the story goes on to describe how the forgiven servant mercilessly refuses to release another servant from a minor debt.  Hearing of this “in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.11)Which is never, especially since his incalculable debt has been compounded by his merciless attitude.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35).  The unforgiving servant by hardening his heart against God’s mercy experienced the wrath of God as the mirror image of his own mercilessness.12)“if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” [Matt 6:14].  Compare Romans 9:22. In demanding “justice” without makrothymia we exclude “mercy”, so that the image of the Judge is our image and the content of the wrath of God becomes our own anger.13)This is Paul’s central point in Romans 1:18-32 God’s wrath consists in the judicial act of handing humans over to their own debased mind, “he gave then up”, [Romans 8:24,26,28]

This sets up a vicious inescapable cycle, man experiences God as unjustly angry with him and is angry with God and sins without godly fear.14)Gen 20:11; Ps 36:1; Rom 3:18 This humanly unholy rage is what God pours out in his judgement as he presents himself to humanity according to their likeness.  From human sacrifice in ancient Israel15)v24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. v25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, v26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord.” [Ezek 20:24-26] to the jihad terrorists of today, the wrath of God is visible in the rage of man.  This action never pleases God, he detests it;  “For God, his anger is pain.” (Heschel)16)God considers his work of judgement a “strange” or “alien” work [Isa 28:21]. While human beings feel self- justified in their anger, it is God’s forbearance and removal of judgement that justifies him.17)This is the purpose of “propitiation” [often translated “atoning sacrifice”].  God is pleased to provide a sacrifice [Jesus] that removes his wrath and reveals his justice. See especially Rom 3:21-26.  Nothing pleases him more than to show mercy, and to say, “I have no wrath.” (Isa 27:4).18)Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” [Isa 30:18].  See also Hosea 2:19.

Jesus’ Experience of the Anger of God

For sinful human beings the real issue with God’s anger is his power.  To an evil conscience an impotent deity, no matter how wrathful, is trivial.  Jesus shatters our perception19)The postmodern saying “Perception is reality” is now even echoed by the Australian cricket captain, . see  Link In terms of fallen humanity’s experience of God as willfully angry with them the saying it is true. of the divine anger by manifesting a new form of power.

v21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, v22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21-22).  This is Jesus’ first encounter with the immensity of the Father’s power.20)how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” [Acts 10:38].  The dove- image of the Spirit reveals that at the centre of God’s strength is gentleness (who ever heard of an angry dove!).  The dove, an image drawn from the Flood story,21)Genesis 8:8-12.  There are also other important connections to a new creation [Gen 1:2]. signifies grace beyond a coming flood of judgement.22)The “unquenchable fire” of Luke 3: 9, 17.   Through this anointing Jesus knows that inside the heart of the Father there is no anger,23)he does not from his heart afflict or grieve the children of men” [Lam 3:33]; this is a literal translation. his human spirit of gentleness is in perfect union with the gentle but forceful presence of the Holy Spirit.24)The fullness of this union reveals God to him as “Abba Father” [Mark 14:36] and enables the Spirit to fill him “without measure” [John 3:34].

Since in seeing Jesus we see the Father (John 14:9), the call ““Come to me…for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29), is a revelation of the gentle Father.25)More technically, this is because the perfect interpenetration of the three Persons of the trinity [perichoresis] means their attributes are undifferentiated.  This is firstly manifested in the ministry commission given to Jesus through God’s gift of the Spirit, ““v18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, v19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”” (Luke 4:18-19 ).26)Whilst this declaration is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus deliberately stops short of “and the day of vengeance of our God”.

It is the cross however that is the supreme demonstration of the truth of an infinite gentleness at the heart of God’s power, both in mercy and judgement.  I believe this for two reasons, the first as a personal revelation, the second, and more substantial, from scripture.

A New Image of Judgement

The personal revelation is a simple one.  While praying about this subject I saw the arms of the Father lifting Jesus up to the cross and with infinite gentleness placing upon him the sin of the world.27)Compare, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, Destroy.” [Deut 33:27]. In delivering Jesus up to our sin and condemnation God acted through his heart of mercy in the power of the Spirit.

It was because Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) that the Spirit descended upon him as a dove.  Even more forcefully, “Christ …through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,” (Heb 9:14 ).  In order that Jesus might save the world and not condemn it28)For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:17]. he must be full of the knowledge that at the centre of God’s anger is compassion. This is the revelation that his Father’s heart recoils at the need to judge.29)How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? …My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” [Hos 11:8].

To more fully grasp the power of the cross we must return to the concept makrothymia, “to put anger far away”.  When Jesus “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21) for us, he entered into the place of forsakenness,30)“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” [Mark 15:34]. the final repository of evil that it is as “far away” from God as possible, hell.  As the crucified identifier with our iniquity Jesus is handed over to a realm outside the mercy, gentleness and grace of God’s Spirit.

He experiences that transition from the realm of God’s presence to the solitary place of man separated from God.31)“the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” [2 Thess 1:9]. This is a transition for Christ so traumatic it must be described in terms utterly oppositional to the true nature of God’s dove – like holiness but true to the violence of humanity,32)the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” [Gen 6:9]. he experiences being “cast into the outer darkness33)Matt 8:12; Matt 22:13; Matt 25:30 and “thrown into the lake of fire.34)Rev 20:15

In this image of the crucified Christ is the image of the judge judged.  Firstly, the Lord takes his judgement into himself so that we see his pure heart of mercy and forgiveness.  Secondly, we see our judgements about God’s character exposed and judged.  He is neither hard nor cruel – no excuse remains for our hard heartedness towards his love.  We recoil lest we fall into the condition of the merciless.35)v3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? v4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? v5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” [Rom 2:3-5].

Beyond Christian Anger

Many of us have fallen into the sin of the Pharisee, self- righteous in our Christian values we neglect to show mercy towards the sexually promiscuous, abortionists, addicts, lazy, greedy – rich, homosexuals, indigenous people and so on.36)““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Matt 23:23 ]  Compare Micah 6:8.

Many Christian leaders (me too!) have failed to enter the promised land because like Moses in tiredness at the grumbling of the flock of God we have struck out in anger (Num 20:10-13).  We have failed to reveal the face of the Father and kept the church in the wilderness. Whilst the gifts and kindness of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29 ) (the water still flowed from the rock to the thirsty) our Holy Father could not take us further without repentance.37)The rock Moses struck is the site of Christ’s merciful revelation of God ,“all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” [1 Cor 10:4]. Like Moses and Aaron, who knew God’s pardoning first hand, we have not revealed the constant mercy and righteousness of God but the anger of man.

We need to ask Jesus to teach us that whilst his Spirit – moved human anger on earth was bearable (e.g. by the Temple dealers) his coming wrath is unbearable.38)v15 everyone…hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, v16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, v17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”” [Rev 6:15-17]. We need a direct impartation of godly fear from the Spirit, who was with Jesus in his anguish and passion,39)See especially Heb 5:7. “Never man feared death like this man.” [Luther] of judgement falling on the lost.

Conclusion

“O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Hab 3:2)

Revivals fail when the church depends on something, its gifts, leadership, numbers, methods, rather than the mercy of God in the cross.  The people of God themselves become the site of his judgement.  Before us are two ways,40)See Deut 30:15-20 and the early Christian writings Epistle of Barnabas 18:1- 21:9; Didache 1:1- 6:2.light or darkness, good or evil, and in this paper, the way of the serpent in the garden41)Who is always angry with God and his image e.g. Rev 12:12  or the dove upon Jesus.  Our fleshly anger, having no dove  – like qualities, is evil, to desire gentleness is to ask for the power of the Holy Spirit.

References   [ + ]

1. Wrath is not a part of God’s eternal nature.  God is love, righteous, wise, good etc., but he needs to become angry [Num 11:10; Judges 10:7; 1Ki 8:46; 1Ki 11:9 etc.] The Bible never says that “God is wrath” for there was never an eternal cause in the Godhead itself which would move God to become angry.
2. The text does not focus on the nature of Cain’s offering, but his; compare Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”.
3. Literally, “a lifting up”, i.e. of his face towards God.
4. A reminiscence of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden [Gen 3:22-24] is unmistakable.
5. The wrath of God is not to be equated with any sort of emotional instability or irritability, these are always condemned in the Bible [Gen 47:7; Ps 37:8; Prov 30:33; Amos 1:11].  Wrath is not the opposite of love, indifference is, God’s wrath may be thought of in terms of injured love [Jer 13:12-14; Hos 5:12 ].
6. The verb krino here bears the sense “to condemn”.
7. The parable follows immediately after Jesus’ instruction how to deal with a “brother” who sins against us.
8. 10,000 talents is the equivalent to billions of dollars, showing that the master represents God.
9. E.g. Matt 9:2; Luke 6:37; Rom 4:7; 1 John 1:9.
10. Splanknidzomai Matt 9:36; Matt 14:14; Matt 15:32; Matt 20:34; Mark 1:41; Mark 6:34; Mark 8:2; Mark 9:22; Luke 7:13
11. Which is never, especially since his incalculable debt has been compounded by his merciless attitude.
12. “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” [Matt 6:14].  Compare Romans 9:22.
13. This is Paul’s central point in Romans 1:18-32 God’s wrath consists in the judicial act of handing humans over to their own debased mind, “he gave then up”, [Romans 8:24,26,28]
14. Gen 20:11; Ps 36:1; Rom 3:18
15. v24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. v25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, v26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord.” [Ezek 20:24-26]
16. God considers his work of judgement a “strange” or “alien” work [Isa 28:21].
17. This is the purpose of “propitiation” [often translated “atoning sacrifice”].  God is pleased to provide a sacrifice [Jesus] that removes his wrath and reveals his justice. See especially Rom 3:21-26.
18. Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” [Isa 30:18].  See also Hosea 2:19.
19. The postmodern saying “Perception is reality” is now even echoed by the Australian cricket captain, . see  Link In terms of fallen humanity’s experience of God as willfully angry with them the saying it is true.
20. how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” [Acts 10:38].
21. Genesis 8:8-12.  There are also other important connections to a new creation [Gen 1:2].
22. The “unquenchable fire” of Luke 3: 9, 17.
23. he does not from his heart afflict or grieve the children of men” [Lam 3:33]; this is a literal translation.
24. The fullness of this union reveals God to him as “Abba Father” [Mark 14:36] and enables the Spirit to fill him “without measure” [John 3:34].
25. More technically, this is because the perfect interpenetration of the three Persons of the trinity [perichoresis] means their attributes are undifferentiated.
26. Whilst this declaration is a quote from Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus deliberately stops short of “and the day of vengeance of our God”.
27. Compare, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, Destroy.” [Deut 33:27].
28. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:17].
29. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? …My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” [Hos 11:8].
30. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” [Mark 15:34].
31. “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” [2 Thess 1:9].
32. the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” [Gen 6:9].
33. Matt 8:12; Matt 22:13; Matt 25:30
34. Rev 20:15
35. v3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? v4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? v5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” [Rom 2:3-5].
36. ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Matt 23:23 ]  Compare Micah 6:8.
37. The rock Moses struck is the site of Christ’s merciful revelation of God ,“all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” [1 Cor 10:4].
38. v15 everyone…hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, v16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, v17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”” [Rev 6:15-17].
39. See especially Heb 5:7. “Never man feared death like this man.” [Luther]
40. See Deut 30:15-20 and the early Christian writings Epistle of Barnabas 18:1- 21:9; Didache 1:1- 6:2.
41. Who is always angry with God and his image e.g. Rev 12:12