A young English woman is gunned down in Afghanistan by two young thugs on a motorcycle armed with an AK47. She has been 'spreading Christianity' by helping handicapped children.
Does that make you angry?
A 25-year old man killed his 16-month-old daughter by snapping her spine in a "chilling and brutal attack" following months of abuse.
Are you angry at that?
In Orissa, India, a nun was attacked and gang-raped by 40 men during anti-Christian attacks. Police are believed to be shielding her attackers.
How about that? Has that made your blood boil?
In Worcester, England, a gay Member of Parliament was attacked by a gang of youths as he delivered balloons to his parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. He was a bit battered and bruised with facial injuries and a black eye, but no broken bones.
How do you feel about that? Do you feel more sympathetic towards the attackers? They just roughed him up a bit. No real harm done. What do you expect, some middle aged gay guy camping it up with balloons? Don't you think he was asking for it? Sure, they went a bit far, but boys will be boys.
I have taken these examples from the newspapers over the past week to illustrate a couple of points. First, it is right to get angry about wickedness. We are not meant to pass by on the other side.
Isaiah Chapter 12 is a song that celebrates and summarizes the first section of the prophesy. Harking back to chapter 6 and Isaiah's appreciation of the holiness of God, we see that God is righteously angry with the wickedness of sin. We can sympathize with that - especially in the first three examples that I gave - but perhaps when it comes to gay-bashing some of us will tend to make allowances for the perpetrators. If not for them then certainly for others: perhaps members of a political party that we support who have been a little free with public money or been a bit underhand in how they have raised their funds; perhaps supporters of our favorite football club who have committed minor acts of vandalism; perhaps members of our armed services who under extreme provocation have caused what is euphemistically called 'collateral damage'.
This is my second point. God is angry with all sin. Because he is a merciful God we tend to think that He winks at some sin; that all sin does not really offend Him. Just as we might look for extenuating circumstances to forgive an offense, especially one committed by a person we like, so we imagine a God who is soft and easy on sin.
This is a very great mistake and it traduces the character of God. The Bible tells us that 'all have sinned'. There is no such thing as a big sin and a little sin. Sin is a technical term from archery - it means that your arrow falls short of the target. It doesn't matter how far short it falls - a miss is as good as a mile. Remember the movie "The Dam Busters"? Some bombers failed to release their bombs, some fell short, some overshot. It was only the bomb that hit the target in precisely the right place that destroyed the dam. For all that some of the bombers got mighty close, had not the one bomb hit exactly right, the other planes need not have bothered flying over Germany at all.
We don't get marks from God for a 'good try' at keeping his Laws. Attila the Hun and Mother Teresa are in the same basket - human beings who fell short of God's standards. Don't misunderstand me. I am sure that Mother Teresa was a much nicer person to know than Atilla. In general terms she left the world in a much better state than he did. But in this way only, in terms of who has satisfied God's standards, they both stand in the group labelled 'failed' along with Peter, Paul, John and all the Apostles, Moses, David, Abraham and Noah.
It is not until we see ourselves in that light that we have any use for a Savior at all.
In verse 1 of the song we have: In that day you will say: "I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me."
What day is that? It refers back to verse 10 in the previous chapter: In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. Who or what is the root of Jesse?
In verse 1 we have: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." This is the Messiah, the Christ. So, in the day of the Christ God's anger is turned away and He comforts us. How does the Christ turn away God's anger? By taking it upon himself.
God's anger is very real. Justly so. Those who sin deserve the strongest punishment. The book I am reading at the moment describes the court of Henry VIII. When a plot is discovered the conspirators are questioned. It is taken as a matter of fact that they will be tortured. The torturers are good at their jobs. Indeed they enjoy their work. They positively drool at the prospect of the rack. One character contemplates the prospect of boiling alive a cook who is suspected of poisoning his master. You can feel how he enjoys the prospect.
Richard Dawkins pictures the Christian god as a sadistic tyrant who tortures his own son. To think like that betrays a woeful ignorance of the nature of the Trinity. Punishment is just. There is but one God. Our recipe of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the best we can do to represent the three persons of the Trinity. Whole volumes have been written on how there is only one God yet three persons and I could not begin to explain the Trinity to you. The Athenasian creed was formulated to guard us against the error of thinking that there are three gods while safeguarding the divinity of Christ. Let me just say that whenever we see God in human form - Jesus Christ or the theophanies of the Old Testament, that is the second person of the Trinity.
Thus when God the just must punish human sin, God the son receives the punishment in human form. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked; there is no sadism here. Nor does the Son hurry to the cross with relish as some sort of weird and perverse masochistic treat. "If it be thy will let this cup pass from me." said Jesus.
Picture it like this: a house in on fire. The flames have taken hold. The heat is tremendous. The neighbors hold back even though they know that trapped within the house is a small child. She might still be alive, for within the house is an airtight room and if the door has not yet burnt down she could yet have survived. Several have attempted to save her, but the intense heat has driven them back. One had even wrapped himself in soaking wet towels, but as he ventured inside the water in the towels had turned to steam and he had to wrench then from his face to save himself from scalding. Then comes the fireman. He really doesn't want to go inside the building. He knows that if he does there is little chance that he will come out alive. Yet there is a just a chance he can save the child. He walks into the house. The heat is unbearable. The plastic on his uniform is melting. His face is hurting. He can hardly breathe. His eyebrows singe. His hair catches fire, yet he reaches the sealed room. He opens the door and sees the little girl cowering there. She is crying and she's terrified. Without pausing he snatches her up and wraps her in his uniform coat, shielding her from the flames. He runs for the exit. The flames seem even hotter. The skin has burnt from his face now, exposing his bare skull. His vision has gone. He runs towards where he hears the crowd shouting and as he stumbles over the threshold, spilling the girl safe into the hands of her parents, he slumps to the ground, spent and dying.
Now imagine that within that sealed room was not an innocent child but the most black-hearted villain imaginable. Imagine it was a predatory paedophile; a wife-beating rapist; a recruiter of suicide bombers; an evil-hearted arms dealer. Jesus ventured all, even for them.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Do you agree? When you are going through it, when everything seems against you, when your health is failing, your investments are sinking, your friends are all sickening and dying; when your marriage has hit the rocks, your house is being repossessed, your job has been downsized, you can't pay your debts; when the doctor tells you you have cancer; when your children reject you; when all men speak ill of you; where can you turn? Who can you trust?
Come and trust me - I will sort out your finances; I will heal your marriage; I will cut out your cancer; I will build you a house; I will rewire it; I will repair your car; trust me.
You'd be a fool if you did. If you want advice on CLL, perhaps, but I have no track record in marriage guidance or financial advice or housebuilding. Although I have a paper qualification in surgery, the only operation I completed by myself had the patient punching me on the nose when he recovered.
Who can you trust in times of distress? Trust someone with a proven track record. Who made you? Who knows every atom of your body? Who rescued Israel from the Egyptians? Who parted the Red Sea? Who brought water from a rock in a dry and parched land? Who fed 5000 with a few loaves and fishes? Who turned water into wine? Who made cripples walk, the blind to see, the dead to live? Who so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life? Who is the way, the truth and the life?
He will not only save you, he will strengthen you. This Trinity business is very confusing. God in His person of creator, first cause, initiator and general bloke in charge of the Universe we can just about understand. God the Son - divinity in human form who suffered for our sins and rose from the dead - at least we have some vision of. What about the third part of the Trinity. Unless I return to the Father I cannot send the comforter, said Jesus. 'Comfort' has lost its strength since the seventeenth century. We think of someone patting us on the back and saying, "There, there." You know what a fort is. A stronghold, safe against the enemy. 'Con' just means 'with'. The comforter is the strengthener. The Holy Spirit is called the 'paraclete', a Greek word that means 'the one who stands alongside'. Like in the cop shows where the attorney stands alongside the accused and says, "My clients declines to answer that question." Only this advocate presents and impassioned plea for the defence that convinces the jury, and Perry Mason-like exposes the real criminal. Wouldn't you like Perry Mason on your side? The Holy Spirit is better than that.
Now that's something to sing about.