Bad News Reveals Just How Good the "Good News" Is!
The evangel, the gospel, is good news. It is the news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save us sinners and restore our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
But how do we know if the good news is "good"? We live in a world where relativism, "the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute", reigns.
As Paul continues his letter to the Romans, he is about to launch into a description of evil that reads like it could apply to the world we live it today. In fact, it does. History does repeat itself. But before Paul gets to the unpleasant details of what evil looks like he makes this statement:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth in their wickedness". (1:18)
To know what is so good about the Gospel, we need to compare it to its opposite—the bad news. In this verse we get our first clue as to what that looks like. Paul refers to it as the "wrath of God".
If I were a betting person I'd bet that you haven't heard a message on the wrath of God, or on Hell, in the last year, or two, or five. We prefer to focus on the love of God. And there is nothing wrong with that.
We prefer to hear from our doctor that there are no cancer cells working their way through our bodies, no clogged arteries waiting to plug up and stop our hearts or damage our brains. That's good news. We take all the necessary steps to ensure that the doctor can give us that good news because we want to avoid the bad news that there really are cancer cells poisoning us and clogged arteries about to kill us. But taking those necessary steps to avoid the bad news demands that we are aware of the possibility that bad news is possible—otherwise we wouldn't take those steps. My human nature being what it is, I prefer French Fries to a naked baked potato and a doughnut to a piece of fruit!
Good news requires us to aware of the bad news that is possible if we don't take the appropriate action. The Gospel, to be true to itself, must include a look at what happens to those who ignore it.
That would be the "wrath of God" to which Paul refers and as is described in Isaiah 13:9. It is bad news for the unrepentant: "See, the day of the LORD is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it".
The wrath of God is a huge subject but let's just take a brief look at it from Jesus' perspective.
Just before He was arrested Jesus and His disciples went to Gethsemane. Here, Jesus separates Himself from His followers and goes off to a secluded spot to pray. Luke the physician writes: "He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground". (22:41-44)
The "cup" that Jesus mentions here is referred to in many places in both the Old and New Testaments. I'll give some examples:
Isaiah 51:17—"Awake, awake! Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes people stagger."
Though the "cup" is not always mentioned, there are many references to God's wrath being "poured" as though from a cup. Jesus warned the people of His day about this bad news: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them". (John 3:36)
Revelation tells us: "…they, too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb…The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath…Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, 'Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth". (14:10, 19; 16:1)
This is what Jesus came to save us from. This is the bad news that gives us every reason to embrace the good news. As Jesus agonized in Gethsemane He knew that He would have to take the full measure of God's anger against sin upon Himself in order to offer us a way to avoid having to suffer that anger. God would pour out the judgment we deserved on His Son, the only One who didn't deserve it. And the knowledge of what that wrath would be like almost overwhelmed Him as He prayed in Gethsemane.
To put it in a context with which we are familiar let's go back to our doctor. We've ignored the symptoms but finally must go to see him. After the tests are done, he comes into the examination room and says, "You have Stage 4 cancer throughout your body and only six months to live". That's the bad news and you are staggered. Then the doctor says: "But here is the good news. There is someone in the waiting room who is able to take that cancer away from you, take it into his own body, along with its consequences, and free you completely of it. Are you willing?"
Only a fool would say no to that.
Understanding the bad news reveals just how "good" the good news really is. One would be a fool to reject it.