“Our Furious, Tender God” (Isaiah 66:10-16)

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 4, 2010

Rev. Tom Egger, guest preacher

“Our Furious, Tender God” (Isaiah 66:10-16)

This passage is about God. It is about our God and the kind of God He is, and what we as His people can expect from Him. It contains some harsh and violent words–words of anger and bloodshed. Yet this passage is also one of the most soothing and tender portraits of God in all of Holy Scripture.

God is coming in flames of fire–yet He extends peace like a river. He is furious–yet motherly. He comes with chariots and with the sword–yet He takes His people up in the comforting embrace of a mother. Many will be those slain by the Lord–yet your heart will rejoice, you will be as safe, as shielded, as a nursing infant, carried on the arm and bounced on the knee.

What a strange joining of characteristics it might seem: Flaming, violent fury on the one hand. And happy, comforting tenderness on the other. Both characteristics found in the one true God.

One of my favorite movies is a long movie about the Civil War, titled “Gods and Generals.” That movie focuses particularly on General Thomas Jackson, better known as “Stonewall” Jackson. Jackson was a general in the Confederate Army of the South, and, I might add, a devout Christian. In the defense of his homeland against the invading armies from the North, Jackson was a ferocious warrior. As bullets and cannonballs flew all around him, he would sit unafraid, undismayed, intent on the utter defeat of his enemies–intent on the preservation and safety of his land and his people.

Burning in Jackson’s heart was a deep anger–a fury–toward those who threatened his homeland and provoked the South to war. In his mind, there was but one way to end this terrible, bloody conflict. In one scene, Jackson emerges from a hospital tent, where dozens of his soldiers are lying in agony. He walks beside his friend, a surgeon. And they are both shaken up. They comment together on what a hellish, terrible thing war is. The surgeon, shaking his head, says, “But General Jackson, they’ve invaded our land. What are we to do?” And Stonewall Jackson looks intently into the surgeon’s eyes, and into the eyes of the other men standing alongside, he raises his voice, and he says, “Kill them, gentlemen! We are to kill them, every last one!”

Yet in other scenes, Stonewall Jackson is a different man. With his dear wife, whom he calls his “Esposita,” he is the most respectful, kind, and tender man you can imagine. During one of the lulls in the war, Jackson meets a little girl while camping near a southern plantation. She’s probably six or seven years old, and he and the little girl strike up a friendship. Over the few weeks of his stay there, Jackson comes to love this little girl like his own daughter. With her, his business is not killing and maiming, but smiles and happiness and laughter. One day, when Jackson learns that his young friend is sick in bed with a fever, he arranges for his personal physician to look after her. And then comes one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the film, in which the physician grimly approaches Jackson and with a quavering voice informs him that the little girl did not survive the fever, that she is dead. In a daze, the general steps away, off by himself. And Stonewall Jackson, this unmovable, rock-solid man of war, is reduced to anguished sobbing, his tender heart broken.

To a much greater extent, the God of the Scriptures is full of fury and violence, yet He is also tenderhearted and compassionate.

As we consider this passage from Isaiah 66 this morning, let us ask four questions: What does God’s fury look like? To whom does God show His fury? What does God’s tender love look like? To whom does God show His tender love?

(1) What does God’s fury look like? Now if you ask the world today this question, the answer you’ll get will be something like this: God’s fury? God’s fury?? That notion died out in the Middle Ages! God isn’t an angry God. My God is a loving God. He never harms, He only blesses and helps. He is kind and soft and gentle. And so the picture of God in our day is that of an aging grandfather, or maybe just an aging stranger. Benign. Harmless. Easily brushed aside and safely ignored.

That is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a “jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.” He is the God who banishes sinners from the Garden of Eden, who curses the ground with thorn and thistle–and humanity with pain and death–because of sin. He is the God who destroys nearly all living creatures with a raging flood, who wipes out Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone. He brings plagues upon the land of Egypt, striking down every firstborn in the land, when they refuse to listen to His Word. He brings sword and chariot against His chosen people Israel when they worship false gods. He brings enemies against them–the Philistines, the Amorites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans. Infants are dashed against stones. He brings famine, disease, exile, and imprisonment.

And all of this is just a warning–to get His people’s attention, to teach them of a yet greater judgment to come. All of this is to alert them that His final crushing hammer-blow will soon fall once and for all–the universe will be folded up like a garment, the elements disappear with a roar and be consumed in fire. All the dead will be raised and every man, woman, and child who has ever lived will be gathered before Him, and He will sit in judgment. He will mete out terrible punishment upon every selfish act, every hurtful word, every dark thought, every false intention, every misplaced priority. And every person who has not been perfect in His sight will be consumed.

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” He says in the Book of Hebrews, and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. And our Lord Jesus Himself says, “Do not fear those who can kill the body. But I will tell you whom you should fear. Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” In the end, that is what the fury of God looks like.

(2) To whom does God show His fury? The wrath and fury of God are aroused by SIN. By your sin and mine. And God’s fury will fall upon all sinners. God’s burning anger is not reserved only for murderers or child abusers or for perverts. God’s anger burns against every selfish thought, every hurtful act. And there is not a person in the world today whose heart is not tainted with sin and who deserves to escape the furious punishment of God. You do not deserve to escape Him. And on your own, you cannot, and you will not. In our text, Isaiah writes, “(The Lord’s) fury will be shown to His foes. . . . For with fire and with His sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord.” This would certainly be our fate, and we would be lost forever, condemned to hell and eternal torment . . . if burning anger were the only thing the Scriptures tell us about our God. But Isaiah, in this passage, and the Bible in many, many other passages, describe for us a radically different aspect of our God: His tender love.

(3) What does God’s tender love look like? According to our text here in Isaiah 66, God’s tender love looks very much like a mother’s love for her child. How many times have you seen a small child, an infant child, red-faced and wailing, and its mother comes to that child, picks it up in her arms, holds it to her breast, rocks that child or plays with that child on her knee. And there is comfort there . . . peace . . . joy and delight. Perhaps some of you have memories of being a small child held in your parent’s arms. To a child, there is no safer place on the earth. The storm cellar is not safer. Fort Knox is not safer. The hospital is not safer. Your own home, with all the doors locked and bolted, is not safer. No place in the world is safer, more secure, more comforting, more delightful, than to be held in the arms of a loving mother or father.

That is what the tender love of God looks like, according to our text from Isaiah. In a mother’s arms, sins and wrongs, they are forgiven . . . they are forgotten . . . cast aside by love. The fear of punishment dissolves. All uncertainty and dread of the future dissolves. All grief, all tension, all bitterness and resentment, all of it begins to fall away. And this is what the Lord says: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted. . . . When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish.”

(4) So to whom does God show His tender love? Earlier we said that God’s fury is directed to sinners. To whom, then, does God direct His tenderness and love? If God’s is truly angry, angry with a burning anger, because of sin, you might think His love would be toward those who don’t sin . . . toward the good, the righteous, and the perfect. You might think that. Many people do. But in the Bible, God reveals something far more profound and wonderful. God shows His tender love . . . also to sinners. Romans 5: “God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And, indeed, Jesus came calling sinners, sinners like you and me. Prostitutes, tax collectors, outlaws and outcasts, the demon-possessed, foreigners, divorced women, Roman soldiers–all of us. Jesus came out of love for all of us. And to all who trust in Him, to all who cling to Him and who rejoice in His salvation, to those who love Jesus because He has so loved us–to all these, God will show His tender love forever. He will hold you in His arms forever . . . and nothing, nothing will separate you from His love or snatch you from His hands.

Dear friends, let us take to heart the Scriptures’ warnings about the furious wrath of God upon our sin. Let us take it to heart so that we might fly to our Savior Jesus Christ, so that in true faith we might cling to Him and find in Him the strongest love in the world: The strong, tender love of God. May His tender hand and His loving arms hold and shield you forever.

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Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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