The theology of the church is filled with big words (justification, sanctification, predestination, and more). These big words carry with them big meanings. These big meanings reveal to us the bigness of our God and the greatness of our salvation. One such word is propitiation. Propitiation is not a word that easily flows from our lips. You probably are not likely to find it the topic of conversation at your next church social. It likely will not cut into the conversation at the barber shop or beauty parlor. Unfortunately, it probably is not the subject of too many Sunday school classes either. Yet, while it is not a popular topic of conversation, its importance to the Christian faith cannot be overstated. J.I. Packer, in his classic Knowing God, asks the question: “Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity?” It does, whether we know it or not. At the heart of the work of Christ is the sacrifice in His blood, which the Bible states that God put forth as a propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:25).
This weekend, we will focus on how the blood of Christ is our propitiation. What is propitiation? Simon Kistemaker defines it as a “wrathremoving sacrifice.” When Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins, He also satisfied the righteous wrath of God against our sin, thus providing for us reconciliation and peace with God. To understand the importance of the propitiating work of Christ on our behalf, we must understand the place and purpose of God’s wrath against sin.
God’s wrath and righteous anger is against sin, and rightly so. We naturally expect people to be angry and wrong. Former President George W. Bush was not as popular when he left office as he was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When he showed his displeasure and vowed to bring the wrath of America down upon the offending terrorists, his popularity went through the roof. Mr. Bush was angry at the terrorism of Al Qaeda — and America applauded. Even more so, God’s righteous anger and indignation is against the terrorism of humanity toward His righteousness and holiness. Yet there’s no applause.
The Bible says that God’s wrath is against ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). God’s wrath is against those who make excuse for or dismiss their sins and the sins of others (v. 32). God’s wrath is against the unrepentant, those who would thumb their nose at God and remain unrepentant for doing so (2:5). God’s wrath is rightly against all manner of sin (Col. 3:6). Consequently, God’s wrath is against all humanity because all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Thus, God’s anger is justified.
“Why are you so angry?” This is the question I asked the young ma n a s we counseled concerning the bitter division between him and his wife and children. “I don’t know,” was his reply. The more we talked, the more we discovered that his anger had no biblical justification. We sinful human beings get angry and rarely have good reason for it. In fact, the Bible reminds us that the wrath and anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Thus, we are told to put it away (Col. 3:8). Yet while our anger does not produce the righteousness of God, the Bible does say that the wrath of God brings forth the righteousness that God requires (Rom. 3:25). Clearly, the purpose of God’s wrath is to demonstrate the awfulness of sin and thus to all the more magnify the glory of His grace that is ours by faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s wrath is propitiated by Christ. Christ by His blood — His life and death — has taken God’s wrath and punishment for us. When Christ was on the cross, He not only took the punishment due for our sin, He took the wrath of God, the righteous indignation, associated with the punishment. Since there is no more sin, there is no more wrath. If you are a Christian, the blood of Christ is your propitiation. God is not angry with you, nor will He be again. This is the amazing propitiating power of the blood of Christ.
If you are a Christian, your mother or father may get angry with you, but not God. Your wife or husband may get angry with you, but not God. You may even get angry with yourself, or worse yet, find yourself in the senseless position of being angry with God. Yet this does not, and will not, move God to be angry with you. This is why we can come to God without fear of condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Speaking of the sufficient propitiatory and atoning work of Christ, Augustus Toplady wrote in his hymn, “How, then, can wrath on me take place, / If sheltered in Thy righteousness / And sprinkled with Thy blood?”