Yom Shishi, 27 Tammuz 5777 — יוֹם שִׁשִּׁי כז תַּמּוּז ה' תשעז Friday, 21 July 2017
God's Righteous Anger

Shalom! When I was a fairly new believer, I enjoyed reading the Epistles again and again because it is so practical in teaching how to live a Christian life. I hardly read the Hebrew Scriptures because I couldn't relate to the Israelites. I, at times arrogantly thought, 'Look at what those people did! Whining for cucumbers when the Lord gave them manna from Heaven.' Do you know that when my husband Oded took me to Israel, we ate cucumber salad every night for 9 weeks? So you won't hear me whining for cucumbers.

But now that I have come to love and appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures, I've come to understand something. That I'm just like these Israelites! But instead of crying for cucumbers, Oded hears me bemoaning the Chinese food around here. I know you probably like the Chinese food in Boston, but believe me, there is some room for improvement.

In those earlier days, I also did not read the Hebrew Scriptures much because it seemed to portray an angry and wrathful God. When I mentioned this to my friend Marilyn, she told me I had it all wrong-that the Hebrew Scriptures are all about God's mercy and love. So now I've come to understand that the whole of Scriptures from beginning to end reveal God's mercy and love. So this morning I'd like to speak about the righteous anger of our loving God.

For how can we fully appreciate God's mercy unless we also understand His anger and what it is that He has spared us from? It is cheery and pleasant to focus on God's love and grace, but did this grace come so easily?

So let's begin by taking a look at a passage from the New Testament that speaks about God's righteous anger. Please turn with me in your Bibles to John 2:13-22 when Jesus got angry and cleared the Temple.

There are three points that I would like to elaborate upon from this passage. First of all, Was God angry then? Secondly, is God angry now? And thirdly, how should we respond to His anger?

Read John 2:13-22 (NIV):

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

This scene occurred just before the Passover....which was the time for the children of Israel to cleanse their homes of all leaven in obedience to the Law (Ex. 12:15, 19) 'Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses...' Since leaven in the Bible is almost always a symbol of sin, it makes sense that Jesus would choose this time to cleanse His own Father's House of the leaven of corruption and greed.

Why was Jesus so obviously angered?

Jesus was angry because the sacred Temple had become desecrated. Rather than being a place for reverent worship, it was treated with contempt and disrespect. According to Josephus, this most likely occurred in the Court of the Gentiles (Ant. XV. 410-416) which was the only area of the Temple where gentiles could come worship the God of Israel. God's House was to be a House of Prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:7). Try to imagine our worship service here being interrupted by the noise of bargaining disputes, the bleating of animals, and the smell of manure.

Jesus was angry because of the greed in the priesthood. When people came to worship at the Temple, they would offer a sacrifice. God had originally instructed the pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem to bring of their own livestock to be sacrificed. However, during the office of the High Priest Annas, great profits were made from selling sacrificial animals who were already certified as being perfect by a Levitical examiner. People were forced to pay outrageous sums for these animals. A pair of doves might cost almost 20 times more inside the Temple than outside the Temple. And if the people brought their own animals, they would most likely not be approved for certification.

A certain rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel, was remembered with gratitude because 'he had caused doves to be sold for silver coins instead of gold.'

Jesus was also angry because of the corruption among the moneychangers who converted the money brought into Jerusalem from many different faraway places and exchanged it for temple coins, at great profit for themselves. They were exploiting their fellow men in the name of religion. Jeremiah said that men made the Temple a den of thieves (Jer 7:11). Jesus could not bear to see simple people exploited for profit.

So, yes, it is clear that God was angry then. And what is God's anger like? Understanding God's anger can give us a healthy and reverent fear of God and an exalted respect for His character; it can increase our motivation for holiness and obedience; and it can help us to understand more clearly not only the intensity of His love, but also the depth of His pain when we sin against Him.

God's anger has purpose. It stems from a pure and loving heart that will not and indeed cannot harbor an evil motive. In this passage, Jesus took swift and zealous action to clear the Temple courts of corruption. His purpose was to defend the holiness of God.

God's anger is always justified. When God is angry, we are without excuse. God's anger is His response to the injury, insult, injustice, and wickedness of mankind. J. I. Packer in his well known book Knowing God calls it "a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil." Allow me to repeat this: "God's anger is a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil."

God's anger is always initiated by disobedience. It is the natural reaction of a righteous God against a sinful people and evil in all forms. The Temple had become a place of commerce. This is why Jesus told the religious rulers of the day, 'You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you (Is 29:13): This people honor me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.' (Matt 15:8)

In closing my first point, it is very clear that God was angry then. But now we need to ask ourselves, 'Is God angry with us today?' which is my second point.

Was it just 'those people back then' who angered God or do we continue to anger God today? The truth is, not a single human being (except Jesus) is able to keep God's holy standard. So how does the worldwide church of Messiah measure up to God's holy standard today?

Well, here are some facts to consider:

• If you were to visit Jerusalem today, in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you would see vendors selling gilded crucifixes, painted beads, and bottles of Jordan water. There would likely be Christians haggling for a better price. (Though you won't find me haggling over prices...Oded says I gladly pay full price.) If Jesus were to return today, would He overthrow the tables and wares of these vendors?

• Would Jesus reprimand the pastors who have visited a pornographic website? According to a Christianity Today Leadership Survey, four out of ten pastors online have done so.

• What would Jesus say about the multitude of broken marriages? Current statistics show that 1 out of 4 marriages will end in divorce. And we have yet to understand why the divorce rate among Christians who claim to be born- again or fundamental is higher than among non-Christians.

• Would Jesus respond in silent tears and mourning over the next area I'm about to discuss which is the matter of abortion. Please know that this is a burden of my heart so even though it is a difficult topic, I am going to dwell on this one a bit. And this is in no way a condemnation of anyone. The Lord is the healer and restorer of our souls and He offers total forgiveness to all who seek Him.

• But in seeking to know God's heart, we must ask ourselves how deeply is the Lord grieving and weeping over the 3500 abortions done in America each day — large numbers escape us easily, so let me break it down: For every 24 seconds that passes by, a baby's life is violently ended in America alone. The church is not exempt from this tragedy: In a 1996 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, one out of five women who had an abortion considered themselves to be an evangelical Christian.

So do you think God is angry with us today? How can He not be! People frequently say, 'How can God allow all this evil to exist?' There is a little alarm within each of us that knows God is right in judging evil. This is the so-called age of tolerance...but does any of us really want God to tolerate sin? Are not our sins piled up as high as heaven? (Rev 18:5) 'But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.' (2 Peter 3:8-9)

God longs and yearns for us to acknowledge our sin and come to repentance. And what exactly is repentance? May I give you an example of someone whose repentance is obvious to the entire world. His name is Dr. Bernard Nathanson and he is an ardent opposer of abortion. He is likely the abortion industry's worst enemy because of his films depicting a live abortion, books and speaking tours. And surprisingly, Dr. Nathanson could also be called 'the man who started it all' in the legalization of abortion. In the late 60's, he founded a group that changed America's thinking on abortion and coined the phrase 'freedom of choice'. They fabricated the results of fictional polls and greatly exaggerated the numbers of illegal abortions done in America. And if that weren't enough, he was also the director of one of the largest abortion clinics in America.

What would cause one of the principal architects and strategists of the abortion movement to become staunchly committed to the cause of ending legalized abortion in America?

What caused this complete turnaround in Dr. Nathanson is that he took a good hard look at what he was actually doing. He came face to face with God's anger. Because of technology such as real-time ultrasound, he looked at a baby in the womb, seeing it urinate, swallow, move and sleep, dream...and he one day realized this baby was a person. And as a physician, he had pledged to save patients' lives, not to destroy them.

If you were to look at Dr. Nathanson's photo, you would see eyes of remorse. Did this remorse cause Dr. Nathanson to seek the forgiveness that is found only in Jesus? Dr. Nathanson, who is Jewish, has now become a Catholic. I pray that he knows the fullness of God's forgiveness through our Messiah Y'shua who is willing and ready to bear all our burdens.

And this brings me to my third and final point: how should you and I respond to God's righteous anger? Just as Dr. Nathanson took a good look at what he was doing, we need to carefully examine ourselves and see how our words and thoughts and attitudes and actions impact others and how we disappoint and grieve the heart of God. Lamentations 3:39-40 says

Why should we complain

When punished for our sins?

Let us search out and examine our ways.

And let us return to you, O Lord.

Although none of us has to live with the magnitude of weight and horrific memories of what Dr. Nathanson has done, his turnaround dramatically exemplifies the changed life that should accompany repentance. Matthew 3:8 exhorts us to [bear fruit in keeping with repentance]: "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

The word Tshuva in Hebrew means repentance or turning back. It is as if you are walking in one direction and you do a 180 degree turn and walk in the other direction.

In the New Testament, the Greek word Metanoia means an afterthought, change of mind, repentance, and more specifically repentance from sin, which involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God.

How should you and I respond to God's righteous anger? Allow me to present two types of people and we will see how they responded.

Beginning with the religious leaders in Y'shua's days, did they seem to repent and change their ways when they were confronted with the wrongness of their actions? Perhaps some of them did, but we also know that most of them did not.

When Jesus corrected them, note that they did not question the legitimacy of His actions. They never said, 'You have no right to do this, get out of here.' Nor did they reprove Him or have Him arrested. They knew what they were doing was wrong in the eyes of God.

Why did they ask Jesus for a sign of His authority to do such a thing? You see they understood that when Jesus called the Temple 'my Father's House', He was claiming to be the Messiah. To call God 'my Father' in those days would have been too personal....a right reserved only for the Son of God, the Messiah to say. People back then called the Temple the House of God or the House of the Lord. Might these religious leaders also have known the prophecy in Malachi which predicted that One would come suddently to the Temple to purify the religion of the nation? (Mal 3:1-3)

So the religious authority asked for a sign to show or prove He was the Messiah. When Y'shua told them that His death and resurrection would be a sign, they later used these very same words to accuse Him of wanting to destroy the Temple. (Mark 14:58, Matt 26:61)

So, sadly, instead of humbly admitting their wrong and repenting of their sin, they continued to defile the Temple. We know this because there was a second cleansing of the Temple by Jesus described in Matthew 21:12. Not only did they not change their ways...it was after this second cleansing that the leading men among the people were set on destroying Jesus.

To see a second and very different type of response to God's anger, remember when Nathan was sent to King David to confront the powerful king about his sins of adultery and murder? King David's instant response was noteworthy: "I have sinned against the LORD" (2 Sam 12:13). All sins that we commit are against God. David admitted his wrong. He did not blame others. He recognized his sin and cast himself on God's mercy. And Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die." (v. 13). There would be painful consequences for David to bear, but he would be forgiven.

To conclude, what can we learn from these examples and their different responses to God's righteous anger? We want to remember to contrast ourselves against God's holy standard and not just follow what others are doing; to receive correction with humility; to admit when we are wrong; and we want to not only repent, but be willing to change and be more like our Messiah.

How can we truly repent in the way King David repented? Repentance is not just saying we are sorry. It is not just feeling guilty. And most of all, it is not taking our sin lightly. It is an action-oriented commitment and change of direction that involves our heart, mind, and spirit. We should feel sorrow and remorse for our actions. And rather than rationalize or blame, we need to take responsibility for our wrongs. Then we set our minds in motion to stop whatever we're doing and change our ways. And we can only do that with God's help.

Ginger is someone who cried out for God's help. She is a Jewish woman who came to believe in Jesus 15 years ago. One day, desperate to stop smoking the 4 packs of cigarettes a day that caused her to have emphysema, she simply prayed, 'Hi Jesus, I know you're busy, but I know I can't do this by myself and I need help. My mother told me that Jewish people can't believe in Jesus, but if you help me with this I'll believe in you the rest of my life.'

The next morning, all her desire for cigarettes miraculously disappeared and she has not even longed for a cigarette since. Last week she wept as she told me how she came to know Jesus. Tears of gratitude welled up in her eyes.

Smoking cigarettes is not something I have ever struggled with, and perhaps none of us struggle with troubled marriages or pornography or the abortion that is plaguing today's church. But the point is, we all have weaknesses that only God can help us with. My prayer is that no matter where we struggle, that we will not take God's grace for granted. We will remember how costly our sins are and not take them lightly. And rather than waiting for God to be angry with us before we change, may we be like King David -- a people after God's own heart. For to love God is to obey Him. I know I need to ask myself regularly: Do I love the Lord more than I did that first day when I gave my heart to Him? In those days I would lie on my bed reading my Bible for 3 hours. I wanted to know everything about Him. I wanted to live to please Him. But lately I have been neglecting Him. I give Him my leftovers, and He deserves so much more. What concerns me most are those times that lapse by when I don't even miss Him.

I encourage you to spend some time this weekend asking the Lord if there is anything in your life that is not pleasing to Him. A pastor suggested trying to change even one bad habit per year. And he said if you can't think of a bad habit that you have, just ask your wife. She'll tell you. (or you can ask your husband or parent or a friend) Let's ask God's help to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. God is faithful in all His ways.