You Are Not Appointed for Wrath

A Word from God for the Shaken Soul

Jubilee Community Church | Minneapolis, Minnesota


Your lead pastor and I consulted about this message, and one of the things he said was that the stunning death of 22-year-old Alex Steddom six weeks ago in Northern Ireland was felt by your church, as well as ours, with a huge sorrow. He knew that I was with Chuck, Alex’s father, on a fishing trip in the Boundary Waters when he found out his son had died. John wondered out loud if there might not be a comforting or strengthening word growing out of that for you.

So, as I have prayed about that, it seemed good that I, should take one of the texts that I shared with Chuck and make it the text of this sermon. Nothing can take the place of the word of God in a time of like-shaking loss. Other things are crucial — tears are crucial — real tears, real heart-felt, gut-wrenching empathy are crucial, touch and hugging are crucial, prayer is crucial, silence is crucial. But nothing can replace the word of God. When all around our soul gives way, God speaks, and his word is the only unshakeable Rock to keep us from drowning in a sea of sorrow.

Do you have a few, precious, deep, memorized, go-to words of God — verses from the Bible — that will always be there for you when that dreaded phone call comes? Or when the doctor says, “I think we better do a biopsy.” All Scripture is profitable in its place and time. But some Scriptures are supremely suited for times when death strikes — or threatens to strike.

Every church, even a five-year-old church with many young people (people like Alex), needs a few precious, solid go-to words from God, memorized, and always ready to do their rescuing, stabilizing, hope-giving work.

I invite you to turn in your Bibles to one of those texts: 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10 — at least one that for me, since 2005 has been one of my go-to texts. And which was one that I gave to Chuck sitting in the back seat of the truck on the way home. December 21, 2005, the doctor said to me, after a routine exam, “I think we should do a biopsy on your prostate. It feels a bit unusual.” “Really, when?” “Now,” he said, and told me to put on that gown over there while he goes to get the machine. I had about ten minutes before he returned. Alone with God. And with the word of God.

This was the word God gave me. And it came the force of his own personal presence. It was remarkable. I pray that you could hear it that way now. Or that it would be there when you are ready to hear it that way. 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10:

God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

Or, as it came to me, with precious personal power: “John Piper, you are mine, and I, your Father, have not destined you for wrath. That is not what you are facing. This biopsy, (and the cancer that will be found) is not wrath. Nor will you ever come into wrath. There is not wrath for you. But you are appointed, by my sovereign decree, for salvation. And this is sure and solid and unshakeable through your Lord, Jesus Christ. Because he died for you. He died for you! So that whether you wake or sleep — that is, whether you live or die — you will live with him.” Forever. Relax. I've got everything under control.

And verse 11 is simply God’s way of saying: And this precious, powerful, solid, unshakeable word of hope is not just for you. Memorize it because you will someday encourage and build up others with it. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

In other words, 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10 are designed by God for his people so that you will have them ready as a go-to word for others when the phone call comes and you are there. Are you ready? Are you ready to do verse 11? Notice, he is not talking about preaching to a crowd. See the words “Encourage one another and build one another up. The Greek is crystal clear: eis ton hena, “one the one.” These precious verses are for each of you to speak to each of you. You will know when they are needed.

So let’s walk through this text together. Let’s go slow and savor it as we go. All of this so you feel the wonder of it now, and then will be motivated to memorize it this afternoon, and have it in your heart and ready when the call comes.

Verse 9: “God has not destined us for wrath.” Is that because there is no wrath coming on the world and so you don’t need to worry about it. No one is destined for wrath, because God is not that kind of God. There is no wrath?

Chuck told me some years ago that he had gone to a worship leaders conference where they would not sing the Sovereign Grace song, “Jesus, Thank You,” or the Townend and Getty song, “In Christ Alone,” because they mentioned this truth of the wrath of God.

     Your blood has washed away my sin
          Jesus, thank You
     The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
          Jesus, thank You
     Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
          Jesus, thank You

     In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
     Fullness of God in helpless babe!
     This gift of love and righteousness,
     Scorned by the ones He came to save.
     Till on that cross as Jesus died,
     The wrath of God was satisfied;
     For ev'ry sin on Him was laid —
     Here in the death of Christ I live.

Are they right — these leaders who think that talking and singing about the wrath of God is misleading? Is that not the way God is? Is that why Paul means when he says, “You are not destined for wrath.” There is no wrath coming? God is not that kind of God?

Or is it because there is indeed wrath coming, but this is not your destiny? You will escape. You will be spared. Look at 1:9–10 (start at the middle of verse 9). He says of these very people, “ . . . you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The answer is clear: Wrath is coming. God’s wrath — God’s anger — is coming.

  • Jesus said in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

  • Paul wrote in Romans 2:5, “Because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

  • And then again in Romans 5:9, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

So the word of God is utterly honest and realistic about the future of the world. God’s wrath is coming. Most of the people in your neighborhood and workplace — perhaps some of you — give this little thought. You may think, this is so utterly outside their view of the world that they could never believe it.

Do you know what the Bible says? They already know it before you tell them. Paul says in Romans 1 that everyone you know, and everyone you meet, knows God at some deep level (Romans 1:21), but they have suppressed that knowledge (Romans 1:18). They even know — deep down at some suppressed level — that they break God’s law, and they are guilty, and wrath is coming. Romans 1:32, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

You may think that believing in the coming judgment and wrath of God is unintelligible to your modern friends. But think again. In fact, it is written on their hearts by God himself. They know. And they need to hear — even if they don’t admit it at first — there is a way of escape. Which Paul gets to in just a moment.

Back to verse 9: “God has not destined us for wrath.” What then? “But to obtain salvation.” Not destined for wrath, but destined for salvation. What makes this word so encouraging in the moment of crisis is the absolute certainty with which it speaks. Not: you might reach salvation. Not: You might escape wrath. Not: Maybe you are destined for that happy future. But: You are destined — you are appointed — for salvation. This decision in heaven has been made. The appointment has been set. It is firm. And it is unchangeable.

How do we know these words carry that much freight — that much certainty? Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5. “We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” You will not face wrath. You will obtain salvation, because God chose you for his own. This destiny, this appointment for salvation did not happen because of this conversion. Their conversion happened because of this appointment. How did Paul know that? Verse 5: “. . . because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” They bore the marks of God’s election. God had chosen them. Paul could see it.

Paul knew that faith — real, authentic, ready-to-rejoice-in-suffering kind of faith, the kind he saw in the Thessalonians (1:6) — was the result and the evidence of God’s election, his appointing them to salvation and eternal life. Luke says in Acts 13:48, “The Gentiles began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

That is what Paul knew about these Thessalonian believers, and so he spoke it to them with great force and great confidence in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “God has appointed you for salvation.” It is done. It is sure. No wrath. Only salvation. This decree cannot be undone. “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). Their final glorification is as good as done.

How can this be? I, John Piper, sitting there alone in my white, open-down-the-back robe waiting for the biopsy machine to be wheeled in — I am a sinner. God is holy. I have broken his law. I deserve wrath. Not just for sins in the distant past, but for yesterday’s sins. This morning’s sins. Alex Steddom was a sinner. Nobody knows that better than mom and dad. Alex deserved wrath.

So when Chuck said to me in the truck on the way home, “Do you have any more texts for me?” he was not asking for sentimental, superficial, feel-good, Greeting-Card condolences about how nice his son was. He was asking for a Rock with a cleft in it where a sinful, yet believing, son could be safe. John tell me that truth.

How can this Holy God, we worship together with trembling and awe, simply say with such firm, unqualified, unshakeable certainty to Alex and his parents, “You are not destined for wrath. You are destined for salvation”?

And the answer comes for me in the doctor’s office, and for Chuck in the truck, and for you right now in a small phrase. Small like an atom bomb is small. Or better: small like a parachute pack is small. At the end of verse 9: “. . . through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You will not see wrath, but you will obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And what does that mean? How — through our Lord Jesus Christ? Verse 10: “. . . who died for us.” Here is the Rock. And the cleft in the Rock where Alex was hidden when he died — is hidden now. Where I am hidden. Where everyone who believes is hidden. Are you hidden there?

Christ died for us. In what way? In this way (verse 10b): “. . . so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” He died for us “ . . . so that whether we live (like I do, for now) or die (like Alex did — and we all will) we might live with him. Christ died for us means: “he bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24), so that I might bear his divine and perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Died for me means, died in place of me. Punished instead of me. Bearing wrath — God’s wrath — so that I would not.

And not only will I not bear wrath, I will be granted to live with Jesus as the friend and brother and admirer of the incarnate creator of the universe forever. This is what the word “salvation” means — ultimately — in verse 9. Destined for salvation means, destined to live forever with Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us. No wrath, only Jesus. Because of Jesus.

Now you have a simple, precious, solid, unshakeable go-to word from God for when the crisis comes. Unfathomable,

God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

So, this afternoon, memorize it. Then use it like verse 11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” And be ready, in season and out of season, to speak this truth to yourself (when the doctor is out of the room), and to the dying or the grieving after the dreaded call.

But don’t wait for the crisis. People around you need this word long before the crisis comes — and so do you. So, husbands and wives, surprise each other from time to time. Come home and say, “I have some amazing news.” “Really? What happened? What is it?” “You are not destined for wrath, but to obtain salvation through the Lord Jesus. He died for you so that whether you live or die, you will live with him! Isn’t that wonderful?”

Say to your roommates. Say to your friends. And say it to yourself. This belongs to everyone who believes. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Speak to every believer. And offer it to every unbeliever.

I close by speaking it on God’s behalf to you. To the church, as you enter the next season of your life together.

Jubilee, you are not appointed for wrath.

You are appointed for salvation.

Be encouraged. Be built up into an unshakeable church.

Because Christ died for you, so that whether you live for whether you die, you will live with him — forever.