The cup

Sermon delivered on Sunday 28 March, 2010 at Roslyn Baptist Church


Before reading the text for this sermon, there are a few things I want to point out and ask you to take note of: Notice the repetition; the same anguish again and again, the disciples sleeping again and again, Jesus goes away to pray again and again. There is also the repetition of the story itself in each of the three synoptic gospels, and when we consider that such repetition in the Bible indicates superlative importance, then we do well to examine this event.

The garden

Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.” And going a little further he fell on his face and prayed, saying “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch and pray with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This rather strange scene occurred after the last supper and the long discourse and prayer of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of John, chapters 13 through to 17. The garden of Gethsemane is a place that Jesus often met with his disciples, so Judas knew exactly where he would be (John 18:1–2).

When Jesus arrived at the garden on the Mount of Olives, he left eight of the disciples together and took Peter, James and John with him. Then he told the three to watch and pray (that they would enter into temptation, Luke 22:40), before withdrawing from about a stone’s throw from them (Luke 22:41). At this distance the three disciples would not be able to hear what he was saying if spoken at normal conversational volume, though this could be the situation that the writer of Hebrews refers to, saying:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.

Hebrews 5:7

So, given that most of the content of his prayers were probably not heard by James, John and Peter and that they were asleep most of the time anyway, the gospel accounts must be informed by Jesus himself. No doubt in the forty days after his resurrection he told them much of his sufferings, presumably the details of what occurred in this garden were important enough for him also to tell.

The anguish

According to Luke, Jesus kneels down and prays, asking God to remove ‘this cup’. We could deceive ourselves into thinking that this is an ordinary prayer from a man who does not want to die.

Yet about a week prior to this Jesus stated clearly that his purpose in going to Jerusalem was to die (Mark 10:32–34). There has to be more to it than human fear of death, especially when you consider the descriptions from Mark and Matthew of Jesus being greatly distressed and troubled and that he said to the disciples that he was sorrowful even to death (Mark 14:33–34). Jesus is described as falling to the ground — this looks like terror, not simple fear.

Luke tells us that an angel came to strengthen Jesus, this is no ordinary fear. The other time an angel (or angels) came to strengthen Jesus was in the encounter with Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11). Consider the extreme torment he had been under on that occasion — forty days fasting in the wilderness with Satan tempting him! That is not normal human experience, it was a unique encounter between the incarnate Son of God and Satan. A cosmic spiritual battle of wills. In Gethsemane too we see Jesus’ will to obey his Father tested to the utmost.

Luke’s description of Jesus sweating blood (Luke 22:44, this does actually occur on rare occasions — it is called hematidrosis) confirms the agony and torment of soul that Jesus is enduring.

The prayers

The content of Jesus’ prayers tell us why he is in such extreme anguish. His first prayer asks God to remove ‘this cup’ from him (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knows that all things are possible for the Father, but submits himself to his Father’s will (Mark 14:36). In this we see total submission in the face of agonizing terror — Jesus knows the Father could take the cup away if he wanted to, yet submits to his Father’s will.

Matthew gives detail of the next prayer:

“Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Matthew 26:42

This is essentially still a prayer asking for the cup to pass and submitting to the Father’s will, but the emphasis shown to us by Matthew is that Jesus is willing to drink the cup. If this is to be fulfilled then Jesus is asking his Father to ensure he has strength enough for the ordeal.

Jesus then prays a third time. We know the outcome of the three prayers because in John 18:11 when Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword, he also says:

“shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Which is a statement rather than a question, indicating that Jesus has resolved to drink the cup.

The cup

All of which bring us to the question: What is in the cup?

The answer to this question explains the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, it also explains how God can forgive me yet remain holy and just, causing me to weep, tremble and rejoice simultaneously.

What do we already know about the cup?

  • It is assigned to Jesus by the Father (John 18:11).
  • Jesus asked for it to be removed from him (Mark 14:36).
  • Jesus must drink what is in the cup before it will pass (Matthew 26:42).
  • It was in accordance with the prophets that Jesus must drink the cup (Matthew 26:54).

So what did the prophets have to say about the cup?

Psalm 22:2

O my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22 is a messianic psalm and Jesus has poured himself out in prayer asking for the cup to pass but his Father is silent — the cup will not be removed.

Isaiah 53:4

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God and afflicted.

In Gethsemane we see clearly that Jesus is stricken and afflicted. His bearing our griefs and sorrows will become clear as we look at part of Isaiah’s prophecy that I think is crucial to understanding Gethsemane:

Isaiah 53:10-11

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring;
he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one,
my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

We have seen that it was the will of the Father for Jesus to drink the cup, and by Jesus drinking the cup the will of the LORD prospers in the hands of his servant (Jesus). There is also hope, out of the anguish of his soul he (Jesus) shall see and be satisfied. The offspring are God’s adopted children who are accounted righteous because he bore our iniquities (see also 1 Corinthians 15:3).

Thus we see that the cup is the furious wrath of God against sin, and in Gethsemane Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and accepted this cup to drink it to its dregs. We cannot fully comprehend what was in that cup, but scripture does give us some descriptions as we will see.

The wrath

The wrath of God against sin is without pity:

Ezekiel 8:18

Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears in a loud voice, I will not hear them.

God poured out His wrath upon Jesus without pity. He did not spare His Son. He did not listen to his cry.

To get a taste of a people under the wrath of God, read the book of Lamentations.

However, it is easy to read accounts of suffering in the Bible in an unconsciously detached manner so I want to present a passage from a modern writer which vividly describes the terror of being on an inescapable path towards a hellish end. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus chose such a path.

Extract from Night by Elie Wiesel, pp32–34:

“Poor devils, you are heading for the crematorium.”

He seemed to be telling the truth. Not far from us, flames, huge flames, were rising from a ditch. Something was being burned there. A truck drew close and unloaded its hold: small children. Babies! Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes… children thrown into the flames. (Is it any wonder that ever since then, sleep tends to elude me?)

So, that was where we were going. A little further on, there was another, larger pit for adults.

I pinched myself: Was I still alive? Was I awake? How was it possible that men, women, and children were being burned and that the world kept silent? No. All this could not be real. A nightmare perhaps… Soon I would wake up with a start, my heart pounding, and find that I was back in the room of my childhood, with my books…

My father’s voice tore me from my daydreams:

“What a shame, a shame that you did not go with your mother… I saw many children your age go with their mothers…”

His voice was terribly sad. I understood that he did not wish to see what they would do to me. He did not want to see his only son go up in flames.

My forehead was covered with cold sweat. Still, I told him that I could not believe that human beings were being burned in our times; the world would never tolerate such crimes…

“The world? The world is not interested in us. Today, everything is possible, even the crematoria…” His voice broke.

“Father.” I said. “If that is true, then I don’t want to wait. I’ll run into the electrified barbed wire. That would be easier than a slow death in the flames.”

He didn’t answer. He was weeping. His body was shaking. Everybody around us was weeping. Someone began to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. I don’t know whether, during the history of the Jewish people, men have ever before recited Kaddish for themselves.

Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba… May His name be celebrated and sanctified…” whispered my father.

For the first time, I felt anger rising within me. Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for?

We continued our march. We were coming closer and closer to the pit, from which an infernal heat was rising. Twenty more steps. If I was going to kill myself, this was the time. Our column had only some fifteen steps to go. I bit my lips so that my father would not hear my teeth chattering. Ten more steps. Eight. Seven. We were walking slowly, as one follows a hearse, our own funeral procession. Only four more steps. Three. There it was now, very close to us, the pit and its flames. I gathered all that remained of my strength in order to break rank and throw myself onto the barbed wire. Deep down, I was saying good-bye to my father, to the whole universe, and, against my will, I found myself whispering the words: “Yisgadal, veyiskadash, shmey raba… May His name be celebrated and sanctified…” My heart was about to burst. There. I was face-to-face with the Angel of Death…

No. Two steps from the pit, we were ordered to turn left and herded into barracks.

I squeezed my father’s hand. He said:

“Do you remember Mrs Schachter, in the train?”

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Never.

This is a harrowing description of the hellish suffering endured by one soul. It is a glimpse of what the wrath of God might look like against one sinner. In Gethsemane, Jesus stared straight into the full fury of God’s wrath against all sin, of all people who are ransomed from hell. At such a sight his soul was filled with terror, he was about to become sin — he, the Holy One, would take upon himself the sin of the world (1 John 2:2) and then bear in his body the furious wrath of God against that sin.

The cup of God’s wrath did not pass until Jesus drank all of it — he had to endure God’s wrath to its fullness, and he did:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:30

The suffering of Jesus was complete:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,

1 Peter 3:18

Our response

The only appropriate response to the unfathomable riches of the mercy and grace and love of God in Jesus Christ is to worship Him, saying “Worthy is the Lamb” (Revelation 5:9-10).

Credit:

The thinking behind this sermon was largely prompted by a sermon on the topic of Gethsemane delivered by C.J. Mahaney at Covenant Life Church.

Look! Superman! (Yeah right.)

Now that the year is well underway; school, uni, work are all in full swing, home and family responsibilities are being completed with ease, community involvement is ticking along nicely and perhaps you are wondering what additional services you can take on for the good of humanity? (And all pigs are fed and ready to fly!)

Or, more realistically, are you struggling to keep up with the avalanche of stuff to get done, things to think about, stresses to endure and anxieties about tomorrow? This is the more likely situation for those of us who don’t wear bright red underpants and blue lycra body suits. So what to do about that rising sense of panic?

The pat answer is generally to make time for yourself, secure a quiet time each day to get alone with God, exercise and look after your own health so that you can better cope with the pressures of life. My response to such advice is simply, “How?” If I am stressed out and anxious with too much to do, too little time and not enough sleep, there are no spare moments in the day to have a quiet time, there is no energy left to exercise. It is not practical to suddenly not do any of the things I am responsible for.

Some might point out that nothing is as important as our eternal destiny and so remaining in Christ is worth laying aside everything else to gain. I am not arguing with that, but Paul addressed this issue in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 regarding those who placed too much emphasis on ‘resting in the Lord’ and not enough on doing the work God has given them. There is a place for shedding unnecessary burdens in our daily lives (Hebrews 12:1), but we are also called to fulfill our responsibilities (Luke 17:10).

In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul virtually rejoices in the knowledge that he worked harder than anyone else in the task God had given him. He likewise encourages the Colossian Christians to work hard, as for Christ, and to look for a reward from God (Colossians 3:23-24). I think this is very important in the thick of the daily grind because if we look to get a reward for all our hard work in this world we will be disappointed, especially as believers (1 Corinthians 15:19).

However, we also know that it is God’s will for us to grow in knowledge of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18) and in this we struggle to lift our thoughts beyond surviving today. But Jesus did not necessarily expect us to, he tells us to leave tomorrow’s anxieties until tomorrow (Matthew 6:34) and to ask our Father for what is needed to get through today (Matthew 6:11). He delights to show forth His strength in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9), so in the very middle of weakness, anxiety and stress, cry out to Him.

I’m no expert on how to get from stressed to spiritual, all I know is that it is only possible to take very small steps. You have to repeat those small steps as often as you can. It is very good to assess what you would most like to drop from your workload if you could — then your brain may surprise you with cunning ways to offload at least some of that work.

I am convinced that the person in whom Christ delights is not always the one spending long hours in prayer and Bible reading, but the person who rejoices in Him. To have my heart responding with joy / reverence / astonishment / humility / praise / obedience / worship / sorrow / exaltation… when I consider Jesus, that is my aim.

Here are a few other ideas that might be useful:

  • Find ways to make distracting technology turn your heart to God, even if only transiently.
  • Get a cheap paperback Bible and hunt for all the verses on a theme that is close to your heart.
  • subscribe to a daily inspirational quote such as Of First Importance (click on the Email link) to be reminded of Christ as you check email.

The point of these suggestions is to plant things into your day, your life, that will nudge your attention and heart Godward in the midst of normal busy life. The real strength and endurance comes from God, not the means we might use to draw near to Him.

Diamonds in my pockets

My computer stopped working last week. It is now going again but for a time it joined the bulk of my possessions in the category of ‘broken’ (which pile seems to also include my body!). The fact that much of what I own is old and broken reflects the modest income our family has, the computer breaking drove this home to me because we simply cannot afford to spend money on repairs, let alone a new one. The thought of no computer made me feel like an inferior citizen in a society that assumes ‘everyone’ has a computer and internet access (which in fact is just not true in New Zealand).

So I plunged into feeling despondent that I’m poor, considered selling my soul to get a higher paying job, then because it was a fine day began painting the wall that I had been procrastinating on. As I slopped paint onto roughcast and listened to music loudly (by Third Day, on my iPod – are you getting the irony of this sob-story!), God gave me a resounding kick up the rear-end.

Allowing my thoughts to wander and hearing song lyrics reminding me of the free gift Jesus has given me, I realized that the difficulties (even if relatively minor) of life are not something to avoid. It is when I feel like I cannot cope, am unable to fulfill my responsibilities, feeling left out of the good things in life – this is when it is the Spirit of God who keeps me plodding on, when my own abilities ran out long ago.

It is impossible to experience the strength of God when I feel strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). I only experience the consolation of Christ when I am not coping. The riches of knowing Jesus come as I am cast out from the fellowship of the successful in this world. In those times I am the beggar dressed in rags… with pockets full of diamonds! You cannot eat a diamond, they don’t keep you warm, but if you have pockets full of them you are unbelievably rich even while going hungry, cold and rejected.

So what are those diamonds? I will list a few, if you think of others please add a comment.

  • The hope of heaven — having the best possible life on earth is not important when I know it is for a limited time and heaven is forever (Revelation 21:2-4).
  • The King of Kings has prepared a place for me in His kingdom! (John 14:2-3).
  • I cannot be snatched out of the hand of my Lord and Saviour (John 10:27-30).
  • All my shame will be taken away (Isaiah 54:4, Romans 10:11).

If a man were to offer money for any of these he would be laughed and scorned off the face of the earth (see Acts 8:20) because the cost to buy a single one is billions of dollars more than anyone could ever pay (i.e., they are beyond price). Yet I have all of this in my possession, right now!

We are NOT the hollow men

I took a different route home on Thursday evening to pick up our car from the mechanic. Because it was not my usual routine I noticed things differently, like the people I passed looking wearied and beaten down as if they had barely survived the day’s work. The sky was gray and people seemed gray as well. Most appeared to be barely dragging themselves along, though the few customers in the Apple shop were slightly dreamy while drooling over shiny new gadgets. The most animated were those leaving shops clasping newly purchased joys and the men excitedly embracing mid-life crises in the motorbike shop.

All this got me thinking of how we give the best hours of our lives to work and the resultant weary selves that we bring home to our families and to God (see Ecclesiastes 2:22-23). I know that my family get the remaining energy leftover from my days at work, then God gets the scraps after that.

Jesus calls us who are burdened to come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30), when He saw people looking harassed and helpless He had compassion upon them (Matthew 9:36). The compassion of Jesus is not a useless ‘feeling sorry’ for people, in the gospels He is described as teaching, healing, feeding and even raising the dead out of compassion (Mark 6:34, Matthew 14:14, Mark 8:2, Luke 7:12-15).

I can state with confidence that Jesus has compassion for you (1 Timothy 2:3-5, Matthew 12:20) and just as He did very real things for those upon whom He had compassion during His incarnation, He will also out of compassion do what you need of Him. What you need of Jesus is unlikely to be more stuff or a better job, it is more likely to be the transformed heart and mind wrought by the Holy Spirit, grace in weakness, contentment in adversity, and fellowship with Him.

Perhaps you are like me and think, “chocolate and more money would make me feel better though.” Certainly they do, while the supply lasts and effects of overindulgence haven’t kicked in. God gives us Himself and the promise to always be with us (Matthew 28:20), on the surface this doesn’t seem to help my weariness after a hard day or the sense of drudgery and pointlessness that can engulf me at times. However, when I find the headspace to ponder the meaning that Jesus gives my life, that drudgery and pointlessness melt away.


Image of Apple logo: iStock
Image of Harley Davidson: iStock
Image of chocolate: 123rf

Fathers missing in action

My 4-year-old daughter helped me carry and stack firewood on Saturday. She saved me several trips back and forth by making numerous trips carrying a single piece of wood each time. Then she saved me from fumbling with fat, gloved fingers on the remote by locking the car for me. It was her pleasure to help me, useful to me, and a chance for her to learn simply by joining with me as I worked.

I know that the skills I’ve mastered best are those learned working alongside someone who had already mastered them and to whom the work seemed to come naturally. My favourite learning style is probably that of an apprentice. I find myself wishing more of this happened in the church.

I don’t really have a spiritual father so have used a lot of trial and error in following Christ. We need spiritual ‘fathers’ to teach young Christians how to live out their faith (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). Unfortunately it is rare to find such people in the churches of New Zealand, many who should be mature are still captivated by the world and its ambitions, others have been beaten down by life and feel like they are barely holding on to faith themselves (Hebrews 5:12).

What is a father in Christ like? The apostle John expresses it this way: I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning (1 John 2:13). The disciple Jesus loved calls those who know Jesus intimately, ‘fathers’. No matter how old a person may be, Jesus is from the beginning and has yet more of himself to be known.

If you know someone who has walked long with Jesus and is ever growing in their depth of knowledge of Him, offer that person the respect due a father or mother. Walk with them and allow them to pass on the riches of their intimacy with Christ. This sort of learning from elders takes time and occurs at walking pace. Don’t disdain such a path in this age that demands instant solutions for everything.


Image of firewood: me

Toss your cloak, or go away disheartened

Bartimaeus was a blind beggar sitting in the dirt by the roadside. Maybe his only significant possession was a cloak which he discarded in his rush to come to Jesus (Mark 10:46-52).

Jesus healed him, saying, “Go your way”. But upon recovering his sight Bartimaeus did not go his way, he joined Jesus in His way (Mark 10:52). Which was in fact the way to Jerusalem to die on a cross.

It does seem that those who know themselves to be the most miserable without Jesus become passionate followers of Him more readily. Compare the responses of Bartimaeus and the rich young man (Mark 10:17-25) who was disheartened and went away sorrowful because of what he would lose by following Jesus.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and God. When Jesus calls you to leave all and follow Him, which part of Mark chapter 10 best describes your response?

(And if you are like me and find yourself feeling disheartened at the idea of leaving the life you currently have, thinking of all the reasons why just walking out and following Jesus would not be practical, pray desperately for a heart so in love with Jesus that He has to command you to stay because you would so joyfully go anywhere for Him.)

O how selfish you are!

A pastor and friend told me about ten years ago that getting married would teach me how selfish I am, and that having children would really teach me how selfish I am.

Now, after almost nine years of marriage and with three children, I can confidently affirm that he was right! On multiple occasions every day my selfishness is exposed by the normal demands of my responsibilities as father and husband. This is a good thing, I need to be aware of my sins.

Each time I’m confronted with my selfishness I have an opportunity to be obedient to Christ. At that moment, as selfishness rises in my heart, I have an opportunity to deny myself (Matthew 16:24) and consider others more than myself (Philippians 2:3).

Obedience to Jesus, or specifically my lack of it, is a cause of great disillusionment to me. Realism assures me that even a day is too long for me to be consistently obedient to Christ in all I do, let alone all I think. How can I possibly live in a fallen world and obey Jesus? Yet that is what He demands (John 15:14). It is not good enough to claim to know Jesus, I must obey Him (1 John 2:4-6).

So when selfishness rises within me I can choose in that moment to consider the love of Christ toward me and lay aside my own desires to do the one, usually quite small, thing that is being required of me right now when I do have the ability to obey. The battle with sin can be won, in my mind, in milliseconds, by acting in love rather than selfishness.

Thank you Lance.

Pray for Christians in Morocco

A family of New Zealand Christians who were working at an orphanage in Morocco have suddenly been evicted (TVNZ news report). They have concerns for the children who they are caring for because there are no clear plans for ongoing care for the 33 children.

There have also been other deportations and arrests of Christians at Bible study groups. Compass Direct News reports that the crackdown on evangelical Christians may be an attempt by the Moroccan government to balance recent actions taken against Shiite Islamic missionary activity in the country.

There is a fragile religious tension in Morocco and we should pray that Christians are not further restricted and that the gospel is able to spread in this country.

We are lepers compelled to share

Romans 1:28-32

Have you ever gossiped, boasted, coveted or been disobedient to your parents? Are you aware that you deserve to die for doing that?

Is Paul perhaps overstating his case here a bit? What is the point he is trying to make?

Is Paul overstating his case?

Our culture would very much like to think so, as Romans 1:32 indicates — they not only do these things but approve the practice of such behaviours.

However, despite our innate desire to have others agree that our dubious behaviour is really OK, Paul has already asserted that we actually know better. God has revealed His divine nature and eternal power to everyone so that we are without excuse — we know there at least could be a God and that if there was, He certainly would not approve of this sort of behaviour. This has been established in Romans 1:18-21.

So what is the point that Paul is trying to make in Romans 1:28-32?

To understand this we need an overview of what Paul’s purpose was in writing to the Roman Christians. Fortunately he tells us fairly plainly in Romans 15:20-24. Basically, Paul wants their support for his plans to spread the gospel to Spain.

Paul is compelled to spread the gospel into regions where Christ is not yet known and this letter to the Christians in Rome is showing why he feels so compelled. He has already stated in Romans 1:14 that he is under obligation to all people to preach the gospel to them.

Then he shows that all people have suppressed the truth about God which is revealed throughout creation. Their thinking has become darkened, they have turned away from acknowledging God to worshiping created things and the creations of their own hands. Therefore God has given people over to debased relationships, from the most intimate through to the superficial. The dysfunction of their relationships and interactions with others is the judgement of God already at work in them.

The unfolding of the beginning of this letter is like the unfolding of the book of Genesis. God creates and His glory is manifest, man reaches out in an attempt to be like God, judgement is pronounced upon man and he is cast from God’s presences yet continues attempting to make himself great with the tower of Babel. The wickedness of man is great and the thoughts of his heart are evil continually (Genesis 6:5). In Romans 1:29-31 Paul lists a sample of the ways in which the thoughts of the hearts of people are evil.

When you read this list of sins do you not resonate with the thought that at least some of these deserve strong punishment? And that all of them are undesirable, that if nobody was foolish, faithless, heartless or ruthless we would all be better off?

Excellent! Paul is wanting you to recognize that there is wrong in the world. Once you acknowledge this he drops the bomb of Romans 2:1.

Paul wants us to come to a judgement on evil and sin, and shows that in judging we also condemn ourselves. He has destroyed the validity of universalism — the notion that everyone will get to heaven, either because they are really not that bad, or because God is not so nasty as to judge and condemn anyone. Chapter 1 of Romans shows plainly that we all not only deserve judgement and wrath, but that we have already been judged and are currently under wrath, having been handed over to debased minds, dishonourable passions and the lusts of our hearts.

THIS is why Paul is compelled to preach the gospel, because it is universally needed! Nobody will get into heaven because they are naturally good or as a result of obeying some hazy understanding they have of God that they comprehend through nature — the general revelation leads to condemnation, not salvation. We suppress the truth, we don’t honour it!

Romans 1:16 clearly states that the gospel is the power of salvation, and Romans 2:8 states that those who do not obey the truth are destined for wrath and fury. Without the gospel, everyone is going to hell.

In case this seems too drastic — nasty, mean old Paul, not that gentle Jesus meek and mild also speaks much about judgement and hell. For example: In the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man is in torment in hell; Jesus tells us to fear God who can destroy body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28); and he warns that it is better to chop off anything that leads to sin rather than to end up in hell (Mark 9:43-48).

We cannot escape the horrifying truth that all those people who do not respond to the gospel by putting their faith in Jesus Christ will end up in eternal torment in hell. This is an awful thing to consider — it is supposed to be, you should shudder in horror at the thought. Paul was desperate to ensure everyone had access to the truth that can save them from hell.

Paul said, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish“. If we think nobody ‘deserves’ to go to hell then we are the bearers of the only way to stop them ending up there. Whether those people are like us or foreign to us, whether they are atheist academics or drunken louts on the streets, the message is as simple as Romans 10:9.

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

God has given us the book of Romans so we can be completely clear that everyone needs to be saved from the wrath and fury of God, and how to be saved, and the effects our salvation will have upon our hearts. Like Paul we will realize that we are obligated to all people to tell the truth of how to be saved. This sense of obligation is like that of the lepers who found the loot in the Syrian camp after the army had fled (see 2 Kings 7:3-9).

Paul has shown us that every soul who is alive today is under condemnation and destined for horror much worse than that awful siege and famine. Jesus has given us freely a salvation infinitely better than the feast these lepers enjoyed. If we keep this salvation to ourselves, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait till morning light (to tell the good news), punishment will overtake us.