Vengeance and redemption at the cross
Today is Palm Sunday, and usually that means that we think about the glorious entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. He walks in amidst crowds of people waving palm branches, singing “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It marks the first day of Holy Week, which leads up to the Friday crucifixion of Jesus. Rather than focusing on the joyful entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, I want to turn our attention this morning forward a few days. This Friday we’ll be having our Easter Cantata, which is titled “The Wonder of the Cross”, and my desire this morning is to give us a picture of the cross; to give us a picture of what Jesus was walking towards as he entered Jerusalem. And, if the Lord is gracious to open our eyes, we will be AMAZED at what happened on the cross, because we often do not focus on this particular aspect of what happened there.
The text I’ve chosen this morning is not one usually referenced when speaking about the crucifixion of Jesus, but it will help us in understanding what truly happened there.
God’s Day of Vengeance and Redemption
1Who is this coming from Edom,
from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?
Who is this, robed in splendor,
striding forward in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
mighty to save.”
2Why are your garments red,
like those of one treading the winepress?
3“I have trodden the winepress alone;
from the nations no one was with me.
I trampled them in my anger
and trod them down in my wrath;
their blood spattered my garments,
and I stained all my clothing.
4For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year of my redemption has come.
5I looked, but there was no one to help,
I was appalled that no one gave support;
so my own arm worked salvation for me,
and my own wrath sustained me.
6I trampled the nations in my anger;
in my wrath I made them drunk
and poured their blood on the ground.”
Praise and Prayer
7I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the LORD has done for us—
yes, the many good things he has done
for the house of Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
8He said, “Surely they are my people,
sons who will not be false to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
Now, the main purpose of reading this passage this morning is not to impress upon you a fear of judgment. Rather, I hope that as we think on this passage it will give us a deeper understanding of what actually happened on the cross as Jesus hung there. Namely, we will see the measure of God’s infinite, holy, perfect wrath that Christ endured for us.
Now, as soon as we begin speaking about the wrath of God, we get uneasy, because it is difficult for us to reconcile the fact that God can be wrathful and loving at the same time. However, we must allow God to define himself, rather than defining what is right for God based on our limited understanding. To that end, let’s look at the first several verses to see what they say about God.
- Verse 1 – splendor, greatness, strong, righteous, mighty, saves
- His immense goodness is evident! These are the things which dwell on our minds most often, and it is right that we should be awed into worship as we think about a mighty God who saves.
- Verse 3 – angry, wrathful, requires blood (Hebrews 9:22)
- Now, the Scripture JUST finished telling us about how God is a great, righteous God who saves by the splendor of His own might. How can this verse be just a few words away and now say that he is angry? That he requires blood?
- Verse 4 – vengeful, redeemer
- Now we’ve got two things coming together that we normally would consider putting together! God is vengeful? And yet he is the redeemer? How can this be?
- Verse 7 – kind, praiseworthy, good, compassionate
- If we are to believe the bible, we cannot pick and choose between these based on which one makes us feel nice. We must take God at his word.
Now, what we must understand is this: for God, these characteristics are not mutually exclusive; that is to say – it is not impossible for him to exhibit all of them at the same time. We find this difficult to reconcile because we often filter who God is through who we are. We say, “Compassionate and vengeful? That’s impossible for someone to be at the same time.” And we would be right in saying that! It IS impossible for SOMEONE to be all of these things – but God is not “someone”. God is the eternal Creator, and he exhibits these qualities in ways that we do not. As we think on this list of characteristics in God, we must realize that he exhibits the qualities in a way that shows how glorious he is; specifically, he is HOLY in all his attributes. We are NOT holy in all our attributes.
For example: when He displays wrath, it is holy wrath. When we display wrath, it is most often sinful wrath. When God displays anger and wrath, it is never out of sinful motives like ours often is. He is holy and pure in all his characteristics.
Before you raise an eyebrow on that, think on this: it applies to other attributes than wrath and anger as well. When God displays compassion and kindness, it is HOLY compassion and kindness. When we display compassion and kindness, sometimes we do so for selfish reasons; in order to get something in return, or in order to be thought of in a certain way rather than doing them out of LOVE.
You see my friends, God is infinitely above us in holiness, and so we must take him at his word when he says that he can be kind and angry; that he can be compassionate and vengeful; that he can be loving and wrathful. God is HOLY in all his ways.
Now, because God is infinitely HOLY in all His ways, he has an infinite aversion to all that which is UNholy. Yahweh God has an eternal, unbreakable, unyielding commitment to oppose, hate and destroy all that is unholy. For eternity past and unto the farthest reaches of the everlasting kingdom, God has hated sin and will hate sin. God is eternally committed to punishing what is unholy.
Now, that might sound scary for a moment, but here another one of those things that seems to be in contradiction for us: in addition to being committed to punishing sin, God is also eternally, unyieldingly committed to the salvation and eternal joy of His people.
-“For God so LOVED the world…”
-“You will be my people and I will be your God.”
-“You will give birth to a boy and name him Jesus, for he WILL save his people.”
God is absolutely committed to his people’s salvation.
BUT, here’s the thing: all of God’s people have sin. “All have sinned” Romans 3:23. So, if God is irreversibly committed to punishing and destroying sin, doesn’t that mean that he MUST eternally punish his people?
The answer is YES! He MUST! ….UNLESS someone else is punished in our place. God would utterly forfeit His holiness if he allowed sin to continue without punishment, because if he knows about sin and allows it to continue, then he becomes a willing party to sin. And if God participates in sin, then he becomes sinful. And if God became sinful, then he would not be God. So he MUST punish sin. He MUST pour out His wrath against sin. He MUST either punish us, or punish someone else in our place.
And THAT, my friends, is where Jesus comes into the picture. On the cross, Jesus put on the wretched, reeking garment of all the accumulated sins of God’s people, and he was CRUSHED under the full weight of God’s wrath for those sins which were not his.
Jesus Christ, the holy one, the God-man, the glorious revelation of God’s will, in all His infinite perfections, in all His divine goodness, in all His absolute and unfailing obedience…died on the cross…in OUR place.
The most sacrificing love, the boldest courage, the most tender compassion, the greatest strength, the deepest and most readily available forgiveness, and the most steadfast leadership ever know – all these and a thousand others met in the fullness of Jesus – a being so infinitely beyond us in His deity that we will NEVER fathom the depths of who He is; yet who was so human that He wept at the death of His friend; so human that he wept at the death of His friend. He was so human that he cried out in fear in the garden – “FATHER! If there is any other way, let this cup pass from me!”
You see, in that moment in the garden, when Jesus looked up from his prayers, he did not see the loving, tender face of a Father. He saw the furious wrath of God’s burning presence, as God held His judgment sword aloft, ready to bring it down on Jesus head with all the force of the power that created the universe. And Jesus was terrified.
And then the time came. In order to provide for the salvation of His people, God ordained that Jesus would be arrested, that he would be tried, and that he would be sentenced to the cross by the will of the mob. And with each impact of the soldiers fists, Jesus knew that God would soon be the one beating his brow. With each lash of the cat of nine tails, Jesus knew that God’s righteous judgment would fall heavily upon him soon. And as he walked up the hill, he vision was consumed with the picture of God, waiting, burning is his fiery anger, ready to unleash an eternity’s worth of fury upon him.
And then it began. With each soldier’s hammer strike to pierce the flesh of Jesus and secure him to the cross, Jesus cried out in agony, because God’s holy hammer of wrath was falling upon him. As the thorns ripped the flesh of His head, Jesus felt the fury of God ripping into his heart. As the thousands of open wounds on His back ground against the rough, splintered wood of the cross, Jesus felt the awful pain of God’s molten fury falling upon him like waves of a tsunami. And the full, eternal, unfathomable weight of God’s awful wrath crushed down upon him as he HUNG…from 2 nails and a spike in his feet.
As Jesus hung on the cross, enduring unimaginable physical pain, the wrath of God was still more awful. When Jesus cries out on the cross, does he mention his uncountable wounds? No! Jesus cries out and says, “Eloi, Eloi! Lamach sabachthani!?!” “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me!?”
Jesus endured more physical pain than any of us will ever know, but more than that, he was FORSAKEN by God. In that moment, God’s robes were spattered in the blood of Jesus, so that OUR blood would not have to be. Jesus was trodden down in the gruesome winepress of God’s awful fury so that WE would not have to be.
This perfect one, who never once failed to love, who never disobeyed, who was more compassionate and perfect than any other human being who has ever or will ever live – he felt the savage tide of the Father’s infinite wrath, which poured out from God like a glorious and terrible, golden black hurricane and fell fully and without mercy on the cross.
You see friends, God tread the winepress of His fury that day, and he held nothing back. All the reserves of God’s thunderous anger at sin were emptied and drained completely dry. ALL the punishment required of ALL of God’s people was trampled out of Jesus. The stored up wrath of God for every sin of all His people was fully spent on Jesus.
Oh friends, the cross was TERRIBLE! …and it was GLORIOUS!
There is no more punishment required! “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God!” The punishment, condemnation, wrath and blood that God required from YOU for YOUR sins was fully, completely, finally trodden out of Christ.
There is mercy for you at the cross, because there was no mercy for Jesus.
There is the promise, “I will never leave or forsake you.” because Jesus was forsaken at the cross.
There is an eternity of blessing waiting for you at the cross because there was an eternity of punishment for Jesus on the cross.
Will you neglect this great salvation? Oh, will you turn your back on a Savior who endured this for you?! The consequences of doing this are terrifying!
If we do not go to Jesus and receive the forgiveness of sins and commit our lives to him, we will still bear the guilt of our sin. And IF YOU BEAR THE GUILT OF OUR SIN…then the same wrath the fell on Jesus will fall on you. If you don’t ask Jesus to pay the price of your blood, YOU will have to pay it. If Jesus does not stand in the winepress of God’s wrath, YOU will stand there.
In fact, if you neglect Jesus as our substitute and Savior, then He himself will turn against you.
“Yet they rebelled and grieved His holy spirit. So he turned and became their enemy, and He Himself fought against them.” Isaiah 63:10
So what will it be this morning, dear friends? Will you cling to Jesus for the mercy of God? Will you accept God the Father’s love for you, by trusting in Jesus for your salvation? Will you accept what the Father has offered? He spoke to the Israelites long ago and said, “This day I set before you 2 choices: life and death, blessing and curses. Choose life!” Lay you sins on Jesus! Trust in the Father! Do not condemn yourself to experiencing the wrath of God, when Jesus has endured it already.