The Cross of Christ Declares that God Believes in Propitiation

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:45 (NIV)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 10:11 (NIV)

24 … being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
Romans 3:24-25 (NASB)

18 … knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18-19 (NASB)

… if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:7 (NASB)

There are so many movies which have a savior figure who dies for the benefit of others! In many of them the savior hero later resurrects from the dead. A short list off the top of my head might include:

Movie Christ Figure
The Matrix Neo is overtaken and shot by the agents, but Trinity’s kiss revives him and he becomes invincible
Iron Giant The Iron Giant blasts off to collide with the nuclear missile aimed at the town, but at the end of his pieces seem to be reassembling themselves
Armageddon (they’re not all good movies!) Bruce Willis’ character stays behind on the asteroid to ensure the survival of earth
Enchanted Giselle eats the poison apple and dies, finally wakened by Robert’s kiss. This reveals he has true love for her, and he is basically saved from a boring loveless life through her death
300 300 badass warriors die defending Western Civilization against hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the east
E.T. ET dies to save Elliott then resurrects to ascend to his home world.
Saving Private Ryan John Miller and his team die in the process of finding and saving Private Ryan

I think that every action hero story ever dreamt up is a picture or shadow of the saving death (and often the resurrection) of Jesus. To make it story-worthy, it can’t be just any run-of-the-mill death; it makes it a compelling story because a protagonist that you’ve been set up to love dies in order to effect some sort of salvation. We might be tempted to think that the idea of propitiation is an obscure theological concept, but it is culturally a very central human idea. If it was so difficult and theological why would it be such a frequent Hollywood theme?

Jesus takes this a step further. He teaches us that the process of planting and harvesting mimics death and resurrection for the purpose of bearing much fruit (John 12:24). In fact every time we eat anything besides milk and honey, something has died for our welfare. Jesus Himself welcomes this picture of Himself as spiritual food:

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
John 6:53-56 (NASB)

The Power of Propitiation

“Propitiation” is a big theological word that we are going to spend a bit of time unpacking. Charles Ryrie defines it pretty well:

“Propitiation means the turning away of wrath by an offering. In relation to soteriology, propitiation means placating or satisfying the wrath of God by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.”
Charles C. Ryrie (1999-01-11). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Kindle Locations 5503-5504). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Propitiation, the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, is the central and primary doctrine of Christianity. The cross of Christ is meaningful and powerful because the propitiation is true. Our relationship to Christ’s propitiation on the cross is going to drive our walk and our teaching and our evangelism and our assurance and our relationships and everything else about us. There is nothing more important to get straight in your mind than Christ’s propitiatory death on the cross.

Why is this? It is because you either believe that you bear the weight of responsibility to justify yourself, or you believe in the propitiation. There is no other way. The propitiation says that Another can justify you. You feel in your conscience the weight of your guilt, how you have not just transgressed the law, but you have indeed fallen short of glory (Romans 3:23). You may think that by promising to reform, you will gain God’s good favor. This idea is similar to a murderer promising to never murder again, and thinking that they will thereby be pardoned.

If you give lip service to the propitiation as a necessary doctrine, but not a real cessation of justifying responsibility, you will suffer from a constant nagging doubt as to whether you ever measure up. That nagging doubt is true. You do not measure up; others who judge you probably don’t know half the story. In addition, if you give lip service to the idea that Jesus died for the sins of those around you, but in the end you want them to behave and suffer the consequences of their actions (perhaps to teach them a lesson), then you live in a world of judgment and condemnation and unforgiveness. Either the propitiation is true and is sufficient, or it is not. Either Christ died for our sins and justice is satisfied, or else we are still under the condemnation of justice.

You may think that you are able to forgive others, but without the propitiation your forgiveness is only a word or a thought or a feeling. Unless justice is satisfied there will be no release for your conscience to let go and stand securely in your acceptance of others. Every relationship you have is with a sinning fool, so if you don’t have a means to forgive that your conscience is satisfied with, you are doomed to judgment and isolation. This judgment and isolation is what we are specifically saved from in Christ. Without propitiation, you are doomed to an isolated hell of self-judgment and judgment of others. Satan of course even judges God. (The cross says that we would judge God too, to the point of murdering Him.) If you do not believe that it is really possible that Christ suffered and died in your place, and that He is the One who has satisfied justice, then you think the burden of satisfying justice is on your own head.

Only a perfect offering could achieve propitiation. If a man was sentenced to life in prison, and another prisoner offered to serve his time, it would have to be rejected. We would have to say, “You’re already in prison, you idiot! You can’t serve someone else’s time!” There is only One who is worthy to stand in our place and receive the ultimate dictates of justice on our behalf: Jesus. Everyone else is already sentenced.

The cross of Christ declares that God believes in the power of Christ’s propitiation. It says that when Christ died, He died for our worst problem: our guilt. The cross of Christ reveals that God doesn’t just ask that we believe in the reality of the propitiation; it reveals that He believes in the reality of the propitiation Himself. This was His plan from the beginning of time, and everything He set up from creation itself to the sacrificial laws of the Jews to modern-day action hero movies tell us that others die for our benefit, and that propitiation is the most central and powerful idea given to humanity. Because Christ’s suffering and death on the cross is deemed sufficient justice by the Father, we can be assured that our faith is true. If the blood of Jesus, Messiah and Son of God, has been shed for us, and if the Father countenances this on our behalf, then we are indeed saved to the end.

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:34-36 (NASB)

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