All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. – Daniel 9:11-12 ESV
You don’t want to make God mad. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But there is a growing sentiment among Christians today that believes God is incapable of wrath. It’s the “God is love” movement, and while it is not new, it is gaining influence like never before. There are countless spokespersons for this popular perspective on God who are writing books, giving talks, filling sanctuaries and persuading others that their view of God is not only the right one, it should be the only one. They reject the notion that God could ever be angry, because God is love. They downplay the notion of judgment because God loves everyone, including sinners. They take a tolerant view of sin, downplaying its significance and, in some cases, denying its existence. In essence, they have taken the biblically accurate statement, “God is love” and turned it around to say, ”Love is God.” They end up worshiping the attribute of love more than they do the One whose very nature defines what love really is.
Daniel would not have been a fan of this camp. He knew first-hand what the wrath of God looked like. He had experienced it. As a young man, he had watched as King Nebuchadnezzar and his troops had besieged Jerusalem, eventually breaking down its wall and destroying the great temple of Solomon. He had been one of thousands taken captive and transported to the nation of Babylon. He had heard the warnings of God spoken by the prophets of God. He and all the other Israelites had known full well what God had said would happen if they did not repent and return to Him. “For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands” (Jeremiah 1:15-16 ESV). God was angry. But His was a righteous anger. He was justly upset with the people of Israel because of all that He had done for them and how they had ended up treating Him – over and over again. This was not the first time they had rejected Him and proved unfaithful to Him. They had a track record of infidelity and unfaithfulness. And because God is holy and righteous, He cannot overlook sin. He has to deal with it justly. He cannot turn a blind eye and simply love like it never happened. He is obligated by His very nature as a just God to punish sin.
That is the very nature of the gospel. Paul understood the love of God well. Listen to how he defined it. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8 ESV). Don’t miss his point. God showed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. He took out His wrath on His own Son. He had to punish sin. He had to deal justly with injustice and God’s solution was to send His Son as the substitute or stand-in for us. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Isaiah was predicting the substitutionary death of Jesus when he wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). Jesus took on the sins of all mankind and bore the full force of God’s righteous wrath in order to pay the penalty required. And that was a display of God’s love.
God loved Israel. But He could not and would not tolerate their sin. And contrary to popular opinion, it is IMPOSSIBLE to separate the sin from the sinner. God’s wrath against sin inevitably falls on the one who has committed the sin. We like to say, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” But that is not accurate. It is unbiblical. Paul would remind us, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). God’s wrath is poured out on people, not impersonal acts of sin. But God does love sinners, just not in the way we sometimes think. His love took the form of a personal sacrifice. He sent His son to die for them so that they would not have to suffer His righteous wrath. God’s love was made available to them through His Son’s death. All they have to do is turn from their sin and accept the gift of His love made possible through Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is against ALL sinners. The love of God is available to ALL sinners. Daniel knew both of these truths well. He understood that all He had to do was confess, repent and turn to God. “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God’” (Jeremiah 3:12-13 ESV).