You Are Not Appointed for Wrath

A Word from God for the Shaken Soul

Jubilee Community Church | Minneapolis, Minnesota

To be a part of your fifth anniversary now is an honor to me and a pleasure. One of the reasons is that I am a friend of John Erickson, your lead pastor. I was digging back, John, in the journal that I have kept over the years and stumbled upon, for example, 17 years ago (1998) when John came to me and he had a word of counsel about one of my sons and the relationship that he was in at the time. It was sober, cautionary counsel, and it proved to be very wise.

Our lives have been woven together at some pretty heartfelt levels. Here was another one. In the year 2000, we were away at one of those retreats you referred to, and I was in one of my pastoral funks, feeling discouraged and not knowing how to manage growth. I think there were about 1,700 folks coming to Bethlehem at the time, and I didn’t have a big plan and didn’t know what to do. I thought, “Should we build, multiply campuses, plant churches? What am I going to do? I don’t have a clear word from God.”

And John, in his usual way, said, “Well I just think we should plan for 4,000 people in five years.” Just like that. He was the high school guy. And I’ve loved that visionary, positive, encouraging side of him. I loved the vision of All Nations Christian Fellowship when they went out from Bethlehem, that John led, and I loved when Jubilee came into being. I loved that. So to be a part of your life and your family — and therefore this — has been a great privilege.

In the Context of Sorrow

John and I talked about what I should talk about here, and among the two or three things he mentioned was the fact that this church felt the pain and the sorrow of the loss of Alex Steddom six weeks ago. He was the 22-year-old son of Chuck Steddom, my 20-year associate in worship, and was in Northern Ireland on a mission trip when he dropped dead. Chuck was not home to be with his wife when that horrible phone call came. Alex’s sister was with him in Northern Ireland, and Chuck was fishing with me in the boundary waters when his son died.

We got back to the parking lot on our way home and the canoes were all put away, and there was a note that said, “Call home.” John thought that perhaps, growing out of that loss and that experience, there might be a word for you. That’s what I prayed about most and that’s what I’m going to focus on.

It seemed good to me that I should take perhaps one of the texts that I shared with Chuck. After the 30 minutes of weeping, hugging, and unbelief in the parking lot, we decided, “Okay, I’ll sit in the back of Chuck’s truck with him, my son Barnabas will drive, Marshall will ride shotgun, and we’ll just skip lunch and blaze to Minneapolis from about six hours away.” So I had six hours with Chuck in his back seat, who had just lost his son and spent 10 minutes on the phone with his wife.

Comfort from the Word of God

I’m going to take one of those texts. Nothing can replace the word of God in those moments of life-shaking loss. Other things are crucial; tears are crucial, heartfelt, authentic empathy is crucial, touch and hugging are crucial, prayer is crucial, and silence is crucial, but nothing can replace the word of God. When all around our soul gives way, God speaks; he has something to say, and we need it more than we need anything else. As good as those things are, as necessary as those things are, we need God through his word because we need an unshakeable rock. I’m not unshakeable, saying nice things about Chuck’s son is not unshakeable, and trucks and fishing and wives and family are not unshakeable; one thing is unshakeable: God and his word.

So I want to ask you, do you have a few precious, unshakeable, deep, go-to texts, words from Almighty God, ready to serve you when the phone call comes, either to you or to somebody love that you’re standing right beside? Do you have one or two or three of those ready, go-to, mighty, unshakeable words of God? I want to give you one and spend our time on it, and I encourage you to go home and memorize it this afternoon. It’s not long. Then you can be ready for when the doctor says, “I think we better do a biopsy,” or when the phone call comes.

Jubilee is a five-year-old church — a baby church. Jubilee is a glorious, strong, blessed, impactful, committed, truthful baby church, and I’m looking out here with a good many people about Alex’s age, which means it’s not necessarily granted that there is a future for you tomorrow, because nobody knows to this moment why he died. That is so frustrating for parents. So I want you to be ready. I want to help you get ready, and I invite you to open your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10. We’re going to do three verses; two of them are the go-to texts, and the other one is a verse that says, “Use the go-to text.” That’s the way Paul set it up.

Preaching to Ourselves

I’ll tell you why I’m going here. This is a text I gave Chuck in the back seat of the truck on the way home, among many others, but that’s not the main reason why I’m preaching on it. The main reason is that it became one of my go-to texts in 2005. On December 21, 2005, I was sitting in Dr. Heller’s office over at Abbott Hospital, and after a routine exam, he looked at me and said, “I think we’d better do a biopsy on your prostate.” I said, “Oh, really? Why?” and he said, “Well, there’s just a little irregularity.” I said, “When?” and he said “Now. You got time?” I told him, “Whatever you say; you’re the doctor.” He said, “Okay. Put that gown on and I’ll be back in about 10 minutes.” I had 10 minutes alone with God. Do you have a word ready for a time like that? Can you preach to yourself for 10 minutes about what that situation might mean? It was cancer.

This text is the one God gave me in that 10 minutes, and it was powerful. Those were a sweet and wonderful in 10 minutes. It’s First Thessalonians 5:9–10:

For 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.

To paraphrase it as it came to me, John Piper, putting on that embarrassing white robe with a slit down the back. It was God saying to me, “John Piper, you are mine and I am your Father, and I have not destined you for wrath. What you are now facing is not wrath. Do you get that John?” And I could say, “I get that.” It was God saying, “There will be no wrath for you. Instead, you are appointed, by my sovereign decree, for salvation, and this is sure and solid and unshakeable through your Lord Jesus Christ. He died for you, John, so that whether you wake or die of cancer, you will live with him. Do you get that? It’s okay. I’ve got everything under control here.” And I could say, “Yes, yes you do.”

Can you preach that text to yourself? I want you to be able to when you go to bed tonight; that’s my goal. I want you to hear this message on this text, take about five minutes to memorize it, and repeat it every day for about a week or two. Have it, nail it, and say it once a week after that, and then you’ll be ready. It would be good to have more than one, but one is enough. One is enough.

One on One Encouragement

First Thessalonians 5:11 is simply God’s way of saying, “This precious, powerful, solid, unshakeable truth in 1 Thessaloians 5:9–10 is not just for you, it’s for others. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up just as you are doing.” In other words, verses 9 and 10, and other things in this letter, are designed by God for you as a go-to word, first to preach to yourself in the crisis, and then to deliver to others. And notice, there’s nothing about preaching in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. What I’m doing now from verse 11 is not because verse 11 told me to do this, because verse 11 says “one to one.” I mean, you don’t have to know Greek to see this, but if you could read the Greek you’d really see it. You can see it as it is. It says, “one another,” and in the Greek, it’s heis ton hena, which literally means “one the one.”

There’s you and there’s me and there’s this verse between us right now. I’m going and you’re hearing, and then you rise up, get encouraged, get strong, and get built up because one on one I have spoken to you the word of God. That’s what you’re supposed to be for each other, so 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells you to go home today and memorize it, because even though you all have these Bibles in your pocket, the power factor is 10 times greater when you don’t have to reach for it in the crisis and you just go right to the eyes. Yes it is.

That’s not a big assignment for this afternoon; it’s a small one and you can do it between the football plays or whatever. Let’s walk through the text very slowly. Let’s savor it as we go so that you can just, I hope, by God’s Spirit, feel right now the wonder of what this text is for you and what it will be in the moment when the phone call comes, or the biopsy is announced, and then the call comes the next day, saying, “Why don’t you and your wife come in here and talk to me, because you have cancer.”

The Reality of the Wrath of God

Go back to 1 Thessalonians 5:9. It says:

God has not destined us for wrath …

Now, why not? What did that mean? Does that mean he’s not the kind of God that gets mad like that, that he’s not the kind of God that has wrath? That would be saying you don’t have to worry about being destined for wrath because God is not a God of wrath, so relax. That’s totally the way millions of Christians think.

Chuck, Alex’s dad, told me a few years ago that he went to a worship leader conference where they said explicitly, “We will not sing the Sovereign Grace song that says, ‘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.’” They were saying, “We don’t believe in that wrath stuff. We hate wrath songs.” That’s what they said at the worship conference. And they would not sing In Christ Alone. Chuck told me this when he got home. They boycotted these songs, because In Christ Alone says:

In Christ alone who took on flesh
     Fulness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love, this righteousness
     Scorned by the ones he came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
     The wrath of God was satisfied

They were saying, “We’re not singing that!” So my question is, “Is that why 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says what it says?” Does it say, “You’re not destined for wrath,” because there ain’t any wrath? Is it because he’s just not that kind of God? We don’t have a God who gets angry? Or, is the meaning of verse 9, “Yes, God gets angry and yes God is angry at sin and sinners, and you, Alex Steddom, will not experience it. That’s not your destiny”? What’s the answer?

Delivered from the Wrath to Come

Turn to 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 for the answer. Is it, “There ain’t no God of wrath,” or is it, “Yes there is, but you’re not going to experience it”? The passage says:

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.

That’s why 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says what it says. It is saying, “There is wrath coming and you’ll be delivered, Alex, John Piper, and everyone of you who is safe in Christ by faith of our Lord.” Christ is my refuge, my rock. I’m safe when the horrible wrath breaks over the world, I will be safe. I’m not destined for wrath, nor does anything negative that happens to me in this world come from wrath. He’s my Father. He’s reconciled, and it’s fatherly discipline, whatever form it takes, but it is not wrath. Just to confirm this more widely in Scripture, consider John 3:36, which says:

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.

Or Romans 2:5, which says:

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.

Or Romans 5:9, which says:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

The Bible is so amazingly honest and realistic about God. There’s wrath coming upon this world, and you do not have to experience it.

Supressing the Truth

You might say that it would be a reasonable response to say, “All this talk is just church talk, but out there in the world, up and down these streets, and with people on TV like Taylor Swift, they don’t think much about this. And if you try to say it to them, ‘There’s a rescue from wrath,’ they will just look at you like you come from another planet.’” They would think, “I’m not worried about wrath. I don’t even think there is such a thing, and therefore it doesn’t fit in my worldview at all.”

If you ask, “What’s the point of even talking about this in the modern world, because the modern world cannot connect with this? They don’t even have this problem, so how can the gospel be good news to deliver them from something they don’t even think exists?” Do you know what the Bible says to that objection? The Bible says, “Oh, they know it exists. They know. And you need to tell them how to escape from it.”

I’ll show you where it says that, it’s in Romans 1. Do you remember where it says that everybody knows God, but they have suppressed the knowledge of God? It says:

Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images … (Romanss 1:21–22).

So everybody you meet on every street in Minneapolis knows God. Deep down under their suppressing arguments, their suppressing addictions, their suppressing behaviors, and their suppressing preferences, they know God. So the Bible says, “Operate on that assumption — they know God.” They also know something else, according to Romans 1:32. Listen to this, talking about mankind in general:

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.

Every single human being you meet knows they deserve wrath. They know it. Every now and then it breaks up through their consciences in the middle of the night with some guilty feeling, or some pang of conscience, or some terror, or something, and they don’t know quite what it is. They think, “Where’s this terror coming from?”

Terror Beyond the Grave

There was a book written some years ago called The Denial of Death, and it was a book about how westerners especially are totally devoted to denying death. We will do anything not to confront our own dying, and that is a symptom of the other denial that beyond death is something fearful for those who do not know God. So don’t buy this talk. Of course we live in a modern world, and of course the modern world lip service doesn’t pay any attention to what Christians say. If you go and watch all the TV shows and all the movies, we don’t even exist, and if we do exist then we’re knuckleheads, and therefore the whole worldview of the Christians is laughed off.

Don’t let Satan deceive you. They know. Our job is not to try to figure out some silly, hokey, superficial way we can connect with unbelievers that has nothing to do with the gospel, but to tell them flat out, “There is an escape for you. Yes there is.” And then later, maybe five years later, they remember that conversation when the Holy Spirit opens their heart to the terror beyond the grave. They’ve just gotten the word about the biopsy, they’ve just gotten the call, and they’re just groping, “Where is there any rock? Oh yes, I remember.”

Evidence of Election

Going back to 1 Thessalonians 5:9, it says:

God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation …

He has not destined us for wrath, but salvation. What made that word so powerful for me with my white gown on with a slit down the back, was that it is delivered in this verse with such absolute certainty. It doesn’t say “You might reach salvation,” or, “You might escape wrath,” or, “Maybe you’re not destined for wrath and maybe you’re destined to be happy with God forever,” but rather it says, “You are destined. You are appointed for salvation. That decision has been made in heaven. It’s over. It’s fixed. You are safe. It’s destined and it’s appointed. I haven’t set you for anything else than glory and salvation.”

How do we know the verse carries that much weight? How do we know it’s certain because God decreed it? Let’s go back to chapter one again. Chapter one is the great preparation for chapter five. This time let’s look at 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5. To these people, whom Paul just said, “You are not destined for wrath. You are appointed and destined for salvation,” he now says:

We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you …

He knows that. Isn’t that amazing? He looks at these people and says, “I know you are elect. God has chosen you. You’re his. You’re not appointed, therefore, for wrath. You’re appointed for salvation. God chose you.”

How does he know that? First Thessalonians 1:5 says:

Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

He saw in them responses to the gospel message. I mean, you think America is pagan? Thessalonica was pagan. We’re just shot through with religious influences. But Thessalonica? They had zero Christian influence — none. It was thoroughly sensual and thoroughly pagan, and these people, on hearing the gospel, were turned upside down. Paul saw it, and he knew that faith — authentic, genuine, ready-to-suffer-with-joy kind of faith — is the mark of election. That’s what he saw.

God Appoints, We Believe

Acts 13:48 puts it like this. This is Luke commenting on Paul’s experience in preaching. He says:

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

If you are a Thessalonian pagan, you have zero Christian influence and you love sleeping around, going to the temples, and having a religion that gives vent to your groin, and then you believe in a messiah who calls you to come and die and deny yourself in order that you might escape the wrath to come, and if you start suffering with joy because you know him, you’re elect. That’s what Paul concluded. He said, “You’re elect, and therefore I speak to you with authority. You are not destined for wrath. You are destined for salvation.”

So there I was, John Piper, sitting alone with my white robe on, and God delivered that word. And then the question arose, “How can that be?” Because sitting there, I know John Piper is a sinner. I deserve wrath, and not just for the sins that I committed a long time ago; I deserve wrath because of the sins from yesterday, and I deserve wrath because of the sins of this morning. So how can God just say, “No wrath for you, sinner”? How can he do that?

When Chuck said to me in the truck after I had given him two or three passages and prayed, and we were just sitting in silence for a long time, he looked at me and said, “Got any more texts for me?” he was not asking for sentimental, superficial, feel-good, greeting card condolences that say nice things about Alex Steddom. The thought was, “Don’t tell me my son was nice. That is no help to me whatsoever. I raised him, and he’s a sinner. Parents know better. John, I need a rock. I need a rock for a sinner’s son. I need a rock with a cleft in it. I need a rock with some place where he can hide right now — right now, one day into eternity. Do you have anything like that?”

Oh, we do. We’re the only people who do. I mean, other religions can do loads of good things in the world, they can. They just can’t do this, which is the only thing that matters in the end. Chuch was looking at me like, “Do you have a safe place for Alex, John? Can you give me a word, a solid word, not that says nice things about my son, not a nice eulogy at the funeral? He’s a sinner and he’s facing a holy God, is there any hope for my son?”

Hallelujah for the Cross

Yes, I do have a word, because the text continues in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 and says, “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I could say, “You are not appointed for wrath. You are appointed for salvation, Alex, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? There is no wrath through Jesus, and there is salvation through Jesus. It is through Jesus, but what does that mean? Just keep reading 1 Thessalonians 5:9–10. It says:

But to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us …

That’s how. God is a God of wrath to be sure, but oh so much bigger, so much more fundamental, so much at the core he is a God who contrives to rescue sinners from his wrath, and does it by sending Christ to die for us. It says, “Christ died for us.” This is the rock. This is the rock with a cleft in it where Alex is at this moment, as I speak, hiding, and as God walks around the rock, he smiles, and there is no wrath for Alex in eternity, there is no wrath for me in eternity, and there is no wrath for you, if you’re in the cleft of the rock. No asbestos or fire can harm you. It is just is like a laser show of glory as you watch it.

The Power of the Cross

In what sense did he die for us? Let’s keep reading. It says:

So that whether we are awake (like me ten years after cancer) or asleep (like Alex who died six weeks ago, and all of us will) we might live with him.

Live or die, you live with him. So what does it mean that he died for us? He died for us so that in him, we will be with him forever. There is no wrath, only salvation. The meaning of salvation in this verse is that we are with Jesus forever.

I mean, there are other good things about salvation, like that fact that we won’t get sick anymore, we won’t die anymore, all tears will be wiped away, and we will be with one another forever. These are all glories, but the best thing about salvation is what 1 Thessalonians 5:10 says, namely, “We will be with him forever.” He died in our place, took our punishment, and absorbed the wrath of God so that we might have his righteousness and be in the cleft of the rock forever. There is no wrath, but only Jesus forever because of Jesus.

Now, because of the last 30 minutes or so, you have in your mind a simple, unfathomable, precious, solid, unshakeable, go-to word from God for your biopsy announcement, or for when you’re standing beside a precious friend who gets a dreaded phone call. You have one. God has not appointed you for wrath, but for salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you, so that whether you live or die, wake or sleep, you will live with him. Can you memorize that this afternoon, and preach it to yourself over and over again?

Encourage One Another

First Thessalonians 5:11 continues:

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

In other words, be ready, in season and out of season to speak that truth, and do it first to yourself. Do you get up feeling gung-ho for Jesus in the morning? Probably not. I don’t. I have to preach to myself. I go to the Bible, or go to some memorized go-to portions, and preach them to myself. Do that for yourself, do it for the dying, and do it for the grieving too, but don’t wait for the crisis. People in this church right now need you to say this to them, or the people that didn’t make it today for some reason, they need you to go to them and say, “We heard some amazing news on Sunday.” Eyeball them, right into their heart, and say it.

Husbands and wives, part of what you ought to do for each other is preach the truth to each other. Maybe you’ve heard somebody say, “Preach the gospel to each other,” and you say, “That’s weird. I’m not a preacher. That’s what John’s doing now from the pulpit.” No, no, what that means is that you come home one day, either one of you, husband or wife, and you say, “I heard some amazing news today at work.” And they say, “Really? What is it?” And you say, “You, Noël, are not appointed for wrath. You’re appointed for salvation through Jesus Christ who died for you, so that whether you’re awake or asleep you’ll live with him. Isn’t that good news?” Every wife needs to hear that from her husband, and husbands need to hear it when they’re in a funk.

Do you know the story about Martin Luther? When he was so discouraged his wife was ticked off at him for being discouraged all the time she came down one day dressed in a funeral garb, all black, and he said to her, “Who died?” and she said, “God did.” He replied, “God cannot die,” and she said, “Well then, would you quit acting like he did?” That’s good preaching. Every husband — I’m speaking out of experience — needs his wife to preach the gospel to him. So don’t wait for the crisis, do it for one another.

A Rock to Stand On

One more thing before I look at you and just give you this promise for Jubilee’s next five years. Don’t only say those verses to believers, but offer them to unbelievers as well. There’s a difference. If I look at you and say, “You are not destined for wrath,” I can’t do that to an unbeliever. I can’t say that because he’s not believing yet. I don’t know if he’s in Christ and I don’t know if he will be in Christ. I can’t say that, but I can offer it to him. I can say, “Would you like to hear these words spoken to you by Almighty God? I can say it on his behalf. Just believe. Believe. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes, so this is free.”

This is what we have most importantly. Christianity is good for nations, it’s good for neighborhoods, and it’s good for families in a thousand ways. It is, but this is the main way it’s good. If it’s not good this way, everything else is a hoax. So we offer to people, “There’s a deliverance. There’s a way to have an eternity with the maker of the universe, Jesus Christ. May I offer this to you?” That’s what we do for unbelievers.

But here I’m assuming I’m speaking mainly to believers, and you’re just finishing five years of faithfulness, and this is the rock on which you need to stand in the good times and especially the bad times. So Jubilee, you have not been appointed for wrath. I mean, if this building blew up this afternoon, if somebody just hated what’s going on here, put a bomb in the basement, and blew it to smithereens, that would not be wrath for you. It would not be wrath. Almighty God would take that, and with this people who are the church, make something glorious. He would. May it not happen, but I’m just saying you have not been appointed for wrath; you have been appointed for salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you, so that whether you wake, or like Alex, sleep, you will live with him.