God's Wrath is Real
Jeremiah 19:1-15 reminds us that God's wrath is just, glorious, fearsome, and real.
In 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” You’ve no doubt heard of it because God used it, and other sermons like it, to bring a Great Awakening to the United States. The main point of the sermon was to persuade listeners to repent of their sins and find salvation in Christ, and thousands of listeners did.
In a similar way, Jeremiah 19 also persuades us to avoid God’s wrath by repenting of our sins. God’s wrath is real and if you’re an unrepentant sinner, you don’t want to be in His angry hands. In chapter 19 verse 1…
This is what the Lord says: “Go, buy a potter’s clay jar. Take some of the elders of the people and some of the leading priests and go out to Ben Hinnom Valley near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate.
The Potsherd Gate was where they disposed of the broken pottery. God told Jeremiah to go buy a clay jar and take some of the elders out to where they burned the trash. In verse 3 Jeremiah is told to proclaim these words:
Say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, kings of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such a disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder.
They shudder because of God’s wrath. They know what’s about to happen—Jeremiah is about to smash the jar into oblivion. Verse 10 says “shatter the jar in the presence of the people going with you” and that’s exactly what Jeremiah does.
Clay, while it is wet, is still mold-able but once it’s dried there’s not much you can do to fix it. They didn’t have super glue back then. Once a pot was broken, it stayed broken, and it was only fit for the trash. This picture of God’s wrath should make all of us shudder.
This past week I spent some time cleaning out our garage. We had an old box spring that was just sitting there without a top mattress. It was just the box spring which no one wanted. I couldn’t sell it or even give it away so I ripped off the cover, cut it up with Sawzall, and put it in the trash. It was only fit for the dump.
The point: this is how God viewed his people—as only fit for the dump because of their extreme wickedness. And He had made up his mind to do some awful things to them. Like what?
Jeremiah 19:7–9 says,
I will spoil the plans of Judah and Jerusalem in this place. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, by the hand of those who intend to take their life. I will provide their corpses as food for the birds of the sky and for the wild animals of the land. I will make this city desolate, an object of scorn. Everyone who passes by it will be appalled and scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and they will eat each other’s flesh in the distressing siege inflicted on them by their enemies who intend to take their life.’
God’s wrath is just but it is also gruesome. In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah goes on to describe God’s wrath as so horrible that mothers were placed in the awful situation of cooking their own dead children to survive. It’s frightening to think that this kind of judgment is what lies ahead for everyone who opposes God and refuses to repent and trust in Christ, but this is the reality.
The place where this judgment occurs is called The Valley of Ben Hinnom or Topheth and generally refers to what the Bible calls Gehenna in the New Testament, usually translated as “hell.” So the shattered pot in the garbage dump is a symbol of God’s wrath towards those he casts into hell. These people are truly sinners in the hands of an angry God.
Now, from this section, we learn four things. God’s wrath is just, glorious, fearful, and real.
1. God’s Wrath is Just
Why is God’s wrath just? Jeremiah 19:4 says it’s…
because they have abandoned me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods that they, their ancestors, and the kings of Judah have never known. They have filled this place with the blood of the innocent.
God’s wrath is just because they discarded him. They abandoned him and worshiped false gods instead. And they murdered their own innocent children in worship to false gods.
From the early chapters of Jeremiah, we also know that Israel was treating the disadvantaged unjustly, they slandered their neighbors and blamed past generations for their problems instead of accepting responsibility.
But worst of all they murdered their own children...
Jeremiah 19:5 says,
They have built high places to Baal on which to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, something I have never commanded or mentioned; I never entertained the thought.
What about our nation? As a nation, we also literally kill hundreds of thousands of babies each year through abortion. So we are also guilty.
What about us personally? Some of us have had abortions, but all of us have our idols. We too have abandoned God and traded him in for the gods of entertainment, of money, power, safety, and beauty.
So, God’s wrath is just for everyone who sins. It’s inevitable as it says in Jeremiah 19:6…
Therefore, look, the days are coming—this is the Lord’s declaration—when this place will no longer be called Topheth and Ben Hinnom Valley, but Slaughter Valley.
If God eternally punished every sinner at this very moment, he would be completely justified in doing so. So repent and turn to Christ.
2. God’s Wrath is Glorious
It’s easier to accept that God’s mercy is glorious than it is to accept that God’s wrath is glorious. But we come to church each week to glorify God not just for his grace but also for his righteous wrath.
By “glorious” I mean that it brings glory to God, it magnifies his greatness. How so? In order to see that the Bible says God’s wrath is glorious we need to turn to Romans 9. Let’s start in verse 13 and work our way to verse 23. Here Paul says,
As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.
The point here is that God is sovereign in whom he chooses to save. This is a difficult truth for us to accept and even people in Paul’s day seemed to wrestle with the idea so in verse 16 Paul tries to preemptively cut off our objections...
So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy…he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
Again, Paul’s point is that God is sovereign in salvation from beginning to end. Salvation doesn’t depend on us and our choice, it depends upon his choice.
But since we are humans who like to be in control, it’s natural for us to react with “This is unfair! How can it be fair for God to choose some and not others? If God determines not to give someone the ability to repent, then how can that person be held responsible for their sin?”
These are natural reactions, but Paul anticipates them in verse 19...
You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does he still find fault? For who resists his will?”
The answer to this rhetorical question is that “no one does.” Paul’s answer in verse 20 is perfect because rather than trying to make up an answer, he turns to scripture, and specifically to the words of God in Isaiah and Jeremiah.
In verse 20 Paul quotes from Isaiah 45:9 and Isaiah 29:16, saying…
On the contrary, who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”
Paul says the clay doesn’t get to question the potter’s motives for making the clay the way he chooses. God does things the way he wants to do them and we have no right to question. That’s what God says, so our job is to trust him even if our natural instincts are to question.
Quoting from Jeremiah Paul continues in Romans 9:21...
Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? And what if God, wanting to display his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath prepared for destruction? And what if he did this to make known the riches of his glory on objects of mercy that he prepared beforehand for glory—
Now, these aren’t just hypothetical questions because God, in fact, does make the riches of his glory known through objects prepared for destruction.
See, the point is that God is glorified when he takes a lump of clay and makes it into something beautiful. That’s relatively easy for us to understand. But he is also glorified when he takes a pot and justly, righteously, smashes it to the ground because it’s what it deserves. So God is glorified when he displays his mercy and his just wrath.
3. God’s Wrath is Fearsome
Proverbs 9:10 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And while we often say the fear of the Lord doesn’t involve being terrified, but rather “awe and respect,” there is a sense in which we should all be terribly afraid of God’s wrath.
In Romans 9:1-3, Paul was more than just a little afraid for his friends who didn’t know the Lord. He says,
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience testifies to me through the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the benefit of my brothers and sisters, my own flesh and blood.
Paul is afraid of what will happen to those who are cut off from Christ. And, Jeremiah, even though at times it seemed like he wanted the worst for his enemies, at other times it’s obvious he feared for what was coming which is why in Jeremiah 17:16 he says,
But I have not run away from being your shepherd, and I have not longed for the fatal day. You know my words were spoken in your presence.
Even though Jeremiah was told not to pray for the Israelites, that didn’t keep him from trying to help his fellow countrymen. He begged them. He pleaded with them to repent because the fatal day was coming when it would be too late. We could say he was afraid for their lives.
But in the end, the people didn’t listen to Jeremiah, and God’s wrath was unleashed...
Jeremiah 19:14–15 says,
Jeremiah returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, stood in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple, and proclaimed to all the people, “This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to bring on this city—and on all its cities—every disaster that I spoke against it, for they have become obstinate, not obeying my words.’ ”
Topheth is a word that means “fire pit” or “fireplace.” The wicked king Manasseh designated Topheth as a place to sacrifice their children to Molech and it’s where later generations dumped their garbage. In the New Testament Topheth is called “Gehenna” and translated “hellfire” in Matthew 5:22.
In Matthew 5:22 Jesus says,
But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.
Hellfire—that’s Topheth or Gehenna. It’s an awful place, but what’s especially frightening is that Jesus is saying God’s wrath will come upon not just those who commit the murder of children, but upon everyone who has a murderous heart towards his fellow man.
That should wake us up because…
4. God’s Wrath is Real
Is there really a place of eternal punishment for the wicked? Well, if Jesus spoke of hell more than any other person and thought it was real and something to be avoided, then we should too. But how do we avoid it?
Matthew 25 tells us how. Here Jesus was talking about the parable of the sheep and the goats. He said the faithful sheep, those that served Christ by serving their fellow man, will be led into “the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world.” But the unfaithful goats, those that did not serve others sacrificially the way Christ served people, will be led away into eternal punishment and the righteous into eternal life.
Now, if you want to escape eternal punishment and enter into eternal life pay close attention to what comes next in Matthew 26:1–2…
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he told his disciples, “You know that the Passover takes place after two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
See, immediately after talking about hell, Jesus talks about his crucifixion on the cross. That’s because on the cross Jesus suffered the Hell that we deserve. And on the cross, he became that clay pot and endured God’s wrath, the wrath we deserve.
So are we starting to understand why believing in the reality of God’s wrath is so important? It’s so important because only in knowing the terrible awfulness of the wrath of God can we fully appreciate the love and undeserved of Christ. When we start to get the connection then we can join in with Paul who says in Ephesians 2:3–5…
We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
We are an evangelistic church that doesn’t evangelize very much. We believe in grace, but very few of us take the time to tell others about our love for Christ. Perhaps what’s wrong with us is that we don’t fully understand the depth of God’s justice and the terror of God’s wrath. Perhaps if we did, we would be more eager to share God’s love with others.
So the point of teaching about the eternal judgment of God isn’t so people will go to hell, but so they will trust in Christ and be saved.
When the singer Billy Joel said he’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints he had no idea what he was talking about, because he had no idea how awful the reality of hell is.
So, if we’re frightened by the wrath of God, then good. We should be, because if we aren’t terrified of it then we don’t really understand it. But instead of constantly being afraid, let’s let our understanding drive us deeper into the loving arms of Christ where his perfect love casts out all fear.