For the next 60 seconds, you are a drivers’ education teacher. You love driving and you want to instill in new drivers how exhilarating it is to drive a car. You see in the teaching manual that you are to inform the students about safe driving and about the penalties for breaking the law. But who wants to hear about that? Driving should be fun! So, you skip it. Criminal, right? You would find yourself the loser in countless lawsuits—and rightly so.
This is precisely what the Lord said to the prophets in Ezekiel 33:1–11. The Lord makes it abundantly clear that the prophet who abdicated his role to deliver God’s warnings to the people would himself be guilty by his neglect. Similarly, the preacher occupying the sacred desk today must faithfully bear the same heavy responsibility.
Why must we herald the wrath of God? There are numerous reasons, but here are a few.
We must speak clearly and often of His wrath because the Scripture does. This would be enough to settle the case. If we are expositors of His Word with the purpose of “declaring the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), then we have no choice but to declare the wrath of God. One of the many benefits of preaching through books of the Bible is that a decision regarding subject matter is unnecessary.
We must proclaim His wrath for His glory. There at least two ways God’s wrath brings Him glory. In Revelation 11:15ff, praises rise to God’s Name because of the rightness of His wrath. God’s wrath is necessary for God to be holy and just. Without wrath, creation would be without order and meaning.
Lest we begin to see God as a merciless tyrant, a beautiful truth waits in Ezekiel 33:11: “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” Yes! This is one of the reasons it is critical that we trumpet the wrath of God! Comprehension of His wrath demands we turn from our own ways and embrace His. It is in that moment that He is able to lavish His grace upon us! It is not His desire that we perish in our sin. The Scriptures, especially the books of the prophets, are redundant with the pattern of God declaring His rightful and coming wrath, followed by His people repenting and choosing to glorify God by choosing obedience.
Preaching the wrath of God also highlights His mercy. No driver with a heavy foot would appreciate a verbal warning were he not cognizant of his rightful penalty and no sinner would weep at Jesus’ feet like Mary were we not to realize that we deserve God’s wrath. With Habakkuk, we cry, “In wrath, remember mercy” (Hab 3:2).
Highlighting the wrath of God showcases with brilliant color the need for salvation. Galatians 3:22 states: “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” The Law, which promises the wrath of God if not fulfilled, causes the listener to surrender any notion of being able to achieve the righteousness necessary to be right with God. With nowhere else to turn, we see clearly our only hope, Jesus.
All the above being true, how is one to preach the wrath of God? First, with the utmost humility. Just as the midwife who was herself delivered as a baby years ago now delivers babies, the pastor who is a forgiven sinner stands to declare the need to cling to Jesus in order to avoid the wrath of God. The preacher must propound boldly the wrath of God while remembering that he, too, is deserving of the full force of God’s wrath were it not for the Cross of Christ.
The preacher must express the wrath of God with love. There is that pulpiteer who declares God’s wrath as if he is giddy that God will indeed condemn sinners to hell. The faithful proclaimer warns of the coming wrath of God with pain in his heart as he begs his hearers to embrace the love of God that sent Jesus to the Cross. When one mounts the sacred desk excited to herald God’s wrath against others is not in the position to do so.
We ought to preach the word of God with boldness and certainty. This age of ears longing to be tickled screams out insisting that the old message of God’s wrath is no longer “en vogue.” However, God’s commission has not changed. Standing on the authority of God’s Word, the pulpit must never cease lovingly pleading that the listener flee the wrath to come by taking refuge in the Cross of Christ.
Finally, of necessity we must preach the wrath of God prayerfully. As with any sermon, our goal is not to deliver a nice talk, but that the Holy Spirit of God would use the Word of God to capture the hearts of the people of God. And so, we pray that God will impress upon the people the reality of His wrath so that they will cast themselves upon His mercy.
For His glory, according to His Word, with love and humility, prayerfully preach the wrath of God!
Ronny Cooksey is the Senior Pastor of Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.