The Qualifications of a Saviour #3 - Divine
Nahum 1, John 3:16, Isaiah 53

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 5
Q & A 12 - 15
Q. According to God's righteous judgment we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after: how then can we escape this punishment and return to God's favour?

A. God requires that his justice be satisfied.
Therefore the claims of his justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or another.

Q. Can we pay this debt ourselves?

A. Certainly not. Actually, we increase our guilt every day.

Q. Can another creature—any at all—pay this debt for us?

A. No.  To begin with, God will not punish another creature for what a human is guilty of.
Besides, no mere creature can bear the weight of God's eternal anger against sin
and release others from it.

Q. What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?

A. One who is truly human and truly righteous, yet more powerful than all creatures,
that is, one who is also true God.

Most of us remember the story of Jonah, God’s reluctant prophet who had no interest in telling the people of Nineveh that their doom was coming unless they repented. The part of the story that we remember the best is that of the fish who swallowed Jonah, so that against his will, he would get the job done. Nineveh, hearing the news of God’s anger against their city, repented, from the king down to the slaves and children, and the destruction that Jonah promised was averted.

The prophet Nahum lived about a hundred years later. Nineveh once again had a change of heart. They returned to their wicked ways. This time their wickedness was expressed through Sennacherib king of Assyria, the capital of which was Nineveh. Sennacherib attacked Judah and Jerusalem. It was in the middle of the mayhem of this siege and attack that the prophet Nahum began to prophecy, and his prophecies were all about God, and God’s anger, especially God’s anger at Nineveh. In the middle of all their trouble, Nahum meant to comfort the people of Judah by reminded them that God would not let the actions of Sennacherib go unnoticed.

Nahum 1
An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The LORD takes vengeance on his foes
and maintains his wrath against his enemies.
3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.
7 The LORD is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into darkness.

What a description of God. Frankly, today, that description would be profoundly unpopular. We like to think of God as loving and forgiving and not angry. We like to think of God as gracious and compassionate, letting the little things slide, overlooking our sin, and so Christ only needed to die for the big things. But the scriptures make very clear that sin, wether small or big, sin as an orientation, sin by omission of commission, all of them bring the same response from God - judgement and anger. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. And the prophet Nahum confronts us with the question:

Who can endure his fierce anger?

How fierce is this anger?

Some might remind us of the verse from Exodus 34:6- “ “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” This verse is alluded to in Nahum 1:3 where even Nahum says that the Lord is slow to anger. But Nahum’s point is, its not the ones who are quick to blow their top that you have to worry about. It’s the ones who let their anger build, year after year, decade after decade while they are patient with you that you have to worry about, because their anger is really justified.

But isn’t God’s first characteristic that he is a loving God?

Yes, and his anger is driven by his love. You cannot understand God’s anger if you do not understand his love. Let me give you an illustration.

As I watch TV and see the many things go on in this world, I hear about soldiers and innocent civilians murdered, I hear about robberies and drunk drivers, as I hear them, I feel sad, I might pray, but I do not feel angry. But this past Friday, I was researching this sermon at my home office, and as I was working, a young teenager ran up onto my deck and took some of my patio furniture, threw it over the edge and of course, when it hit the ground, it broke. I chased to the door, but of course, I couldn’t catch him. I noticed though, that I was a little angry. It’s not that the furniture was valuable, or that I particularly love my furniture, the issue was, its mine! My heart rate went from 70 to 95. There was a little adrenaline in my veins. This event was not even worthy of the news, and yet it got me going. The difference was - it was mine. Now just imagine my anger if that was something I loved. Or if evil was done to someone I love deeply? My anger would be boiling.

Because God loves his creation, because God loves his people, because God hates it when his creation or his children are victimized, when the beautiful things he created and that he loves get destroyed, or wounded, or marred. That is why he gets angry! That is why the very first word that Nahum uses to describe God’s anger is jealous - this is the anger of a jealous God, a God who loves and driven by his love, this is a passionate anger that comes right from the core of God’s loving character passionately interested in the well being of those that belong to him.

And then Nahum uses a whole bunch of descriptions of God’s anger. He is an avenging God. The sense of the word vengeance is not just that things will be equal, the sense is that because of his anger, things will be worse than equal.  God’s wrath is understood as hostility, having God as your enemy is not a good thing. And so through Nahum, God says repeatedly to Nineveh, “I am against you!”

In verse 3, the word anger  literally is related to the Hebrew word for nose and it means heavy or hot breathing. God gets snorting angry slowly, but he does get that angry when people do not repent. In Verse 6 uses the word “indignation” and it pictures a rage that  literally means “foaming at the mouth.”  The word fierce is used to describe God’s anger and it literally means heat or hot anger. The picture that we get from Nahum is that God’s anger is the kind of hot blistering anger that we would never want to face. And so the question that Nahum asks, and we have to ask:

Who can endure his fierce anger?

The powerful city of Nineveh could not. Their walls were destroyed by a swollen river letting their enemies in and Sennacherib was murdered by his own two sons. A powerful city could not endure God’s anger. Then...

Who can endure his fierce anger?

The scriptures are clear that there is only one person qualified to deal with God’s anger - and that is God himself.

Again, let me use a simple human illustration. Anger is an emotion that is a consequence of our values, our choices. We are the only ones in control of our anger. Others cannot resolve it for us. And so those who take anger management courses have to learn that it is not others who are responsible for managing our anger. We are the ones who are responsible for our own anger. So it is in the end, God, and only God himself who can deal with his anger. And the witness of scripture is that that is exactly what God did. That’s where the doctrine of atonement comes in, especially when it comes to the theme of propitiation. Propitiation is a big word and it basically means that “wrath is turned away,” vented in another direction, not at us. We do not turn away God’s wrath. When it comes to God’s white hot anger, we are powerless. Turning away his anger is clearly something God does - God is the one who deals with his anger. Let me very quickly give you 5 verses that talk about God turning away his anger. Everyone of them points to Jesus.

Romans 3:25 God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement (literally in the original language - a propitiation, something that turned away God’s wrath), through faith in his blood.

1 John 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice (the propitiation which turned away God’s wrath) for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:4 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice (a propitiation which turns away God’s wrath) for our sins.

You might remember the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee who went into the temple to pray. The Pharisee lifted up his eyes to heaven and said “thank you that I am not like these scum.” The tax collector hardly dared go into the temple, in to the presence of God. Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven (because he was afraid of God’s angry glare), but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on (turn away your wrath from) me, a sinner.’

Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement (turn away God’s wrath) for the sins of the people.

Only Christ could turn away God’s anger because only Christ was divine, and in the end, God was the only one who could deal with his own anger. Only Christ could absorb that anger, he was the only one who could bear it, because as a divine Savior, he was the only one with the qualifications. And so scripture’s witness again and again is that it was Christ and Christ alone that bore the wrath of God for our sins.

Listen to Isaiah 53 4
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, f that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. We often picture this verse as simply a verse about the love of God, but it is equally as much about God dealing with his anger. Verse 36 of the same chapter concludes what John is saying to us...

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

Today we have heard the clear message that in Christ, we have moved from hostility with God to his incredible welcome. There is one Savior, one person in all of history qualified to be make atonement for our sins, turn away God’s wrath, propitiate God’s anger for us - that is God himself, Jesus

And so in conclusion, this evening, we look at the qualifications Christ has to be our Savior based on the Heidelberg Catechism and the scriptures.

First of all Jesus was perfectly righteous so that in dying for us, he could die for our sins and not his. We discovered the doctrine of imputation - he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. Our sin was imputed (put upon) Christ so that his righteousness could be imputed (placed on) us.

Second, to be our Savior, he had to be human so that he could completely identify with us, after all, if a human sins, the only way to pay for human sin is to have a human pay for it. We found from Ezekiel 18 that the soul that sins shall die. And we discovered in Paul’s theology that when, by faith we are grafted into Christ, we are in Christ so that when he died, we died to our sins to.

And finally we discovered that the qualifications to be our Savior, he had to be divine - for only God himself could propitiate or turn away his own wrath, and only God in Jesus could withstand the pain of doing so.

As we have found in the past, its not what you know that gets you the job, its who you are and who you know. Jesus got the job of Savior because of who he was - perfectly righteous, and who he knew - he knew what it means to be completely human and he knew what it means to be completely divine.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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