If God is a warrior, what is the Gospel?
It is Sunday again, and time to remind ourselves what we have in common, who we are, and why we do what we do. I am preaching again today, this time at Brookwood Presbyterian Church near Snellville, Georgia. I’ll be preaching one of my favorite sermons on one of my favorite texts: Romans 3:21-26.
In the first three chapters of Romans the Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to show why all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the wrath of God. Sometimes we like to skip this material, figuring that as Christians we know that we are sinners, and what we need to hear is the Gospel. But one of the reasons people get the Gospel wrong is that they get the human problem wrong. After all, why do we need good news in the first place?
The problem, as Paul outlines it in Romans 1-3, is not that we need to “get good” by the time we meet God, nor is it that we have a “bad attitude” towards God. If it were one of these, then the Gospel would simply be about making us gradually righteous, or about changing our attitude. But Paul makes it clear that the problem is not ultimately about us. The problem is that as a just judge, God must intervene in a world of injustice. He cannot simply let human beings hate and oppress one another at will, nor can he preserve his own kingship by allowing his glory to go undefended. So when God looks down and sees human injustice, as Isaiah 59 says, he gets angry.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. (Isaiah 59:15b-18)
That is our problem. Reflect on the Isaiah’s image. We have already acted unjustly, in so many ways, individually and as communities, and God is arming to judge our deeds. It’s not enough to become righteous in the future; what about the past? It’s not enough to change your attitude. God cares about what you do and have done. Somehow you have to appease God’s wrath.
Thank God that the Gospel is that Jesus did just this, and he did it because in his essence God is love. Jesus faced Isaiah’s terrifying, angry warrior, and he was destroyed by him. Yet in his judgment, God brought salvation as well. Because of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, which we can receive by faith, God’s wrath is satisfied. He can declare us just, even though we are not. Praise God.