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John the Baptist said: ‘The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.’
John the Baptist said: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.
In 2001 the hymn writers Stuart Townend and Keith Getty released a new worship song: In Christ alone my hope is found. Since 2001 that song has been at the centre of much controversy because of some words that were included in verse two: Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. It is very unlikely that Townend and Getty had foreseen the uproar that those words would engender. Despite the ensuing arguments about the nature of the wrath of God and whether Christ’s crucifixion was focused upon satisfying that wrath, the writers have steadfastly refused to alter their words, even though several modern hymn books have refused to include what some might call a modern classic in the religious repertoire. Then comes today’s reading, which speaks of God’s wrath!
Surely we all feel challenged by the words of John the Baptist, but upon what do we base that sense of challenge?
John calls us to believe in the Son who has eternal life, that is, Jesus Christ. He also says that to disobey, that is to actively reject Jesus is to invite God’s wrath. To obey Jesus is to love God above everything else, to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, and as Jesus loved us, and to proclaim the Good News of the gospel message to all as we shine, Christ-like in this world. However, to disobey Jesus is to place ourselves in a very dark place, the place where we will have chosen to reject all that Jesus stands for, the place where we will be aligning ourselves with the goats, the religious and political leaders, and everyone who puts self before God.
I struggle with the notion of God’s wrath being satisfied in the crucifixion of Jesus because, in some way, it feels as though it separates us from our responsibility to live as faithful disciples and apostles in this challenging world. It also feels as though it undermines the teachings of scripture … that there will be a day of judgement on which we will be called to give account for our words and actions in this world.
Let us pray that every moment of every day might find us focused on honouring our faith in Jesus Christ. Let us pray that by obeying the Son we might be able to remain focused on the life we have been given to use to the honour and praise of God. Let us pray that when the moment of final judgement comes our lives of faith might be rewarded with the promised eternity in God’s nearer presence.