************ Sermon on Romans 3:25 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 10, 2002
"Propitiation: God's Wrath Appeased"
Topic: Cross of ChristThough the idea came from an artist's imagination, it is accurate. From Jesus' youth, the cross cast its shadow over Him. His death was central to His mission. This morning we recognize this and celebrate this in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Artist William Holman Hunt spent 1870-73 in the Holy Land, where he painted Shadow of Death. The work depicts a carpenter's shop in Nazareth. Jesus stands by a wooden trestle on which He has put His saw. Lifting His eyes toward heaven, Jesus stretches and raises both arms above His head. The evening sunlight streaming through the open door casts a dark shadow in the form of a cross on the wall behind Him, making His tool rack appear as a horizontal bar on which His hands have been fastened. The tools themselves look like the fateful hammer and nails.
In the left foreground a woman kneels among the wood chips, her hands resting on the chest in which the rich gifts of the wisemen are kept. She looks startled at her son's cross-like shadow on the wall.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we all realize that Christ's sacrifice upon the cross accomplished salvation. We say and use this word often enough, we sing that "Jesus saves," but what exactly is salvation? In our Scripture readings the Apostle Paul presents four different images of salvation: propitiation (Rom 3:25), redemption (Rom 3:24), justification (Rom 3:26), and reconciliation (Rom 5:10). Today I want to look at the first image, that of propitiation.
I Propitiation: to Appease God's Anger
A In our text Paul says God presented Jesus "as a sacrifice of atonement." A footnote at the bottom offers an alternative translation of Jesus "as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin." At heart, that is what propitiation is. To propitiate is to turn aside or to appease or to pacify someone's wrath.
Now, propitiation involves or requires sacrifice. For instance, every time a disaster struck, the pagans believed the gods, spirits, or ancestors were angry with them. So, they considered it essential to appease the wrath of their gods, spirits, or ancestors. Only a bloody sacrifice, they believed, could remove the anger and restore good fortune and blessing again.
In speaking of propitiation this morning, I need to remind you that ours is an angry God. But we have to understand this rightly because the anger or wrath of God is often misunderstood. Many think of God as some sort of peeved deity; a kind of cosmic, terrible-tempered being who indulges in violent, uncontrolled displays of temper when human beings do not do what they ought to do. But God does not fly off the handle at the most trivial aggravation; still less does He lose His temper for no apparent reason at all. God is never malicious, spiteful, or vindictive. His anger is never mysterious nor irrational. It is never unpredictable, but always predictable. The fact is, it is sin and evil that arouses the wrath of God. God is angry with sin and evil in all its forms and manifestations.
After examining ourselves this past week we all realize what Paul says in our Scripture reading: "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23); this "all" is inclusive – except for Jesus Himself it includes you and me and every person who ever lived and will ever live. We all realize that because of the sin we commit as well as the sin we are born with, God is angry with us (Rom 5:9). We all realize that because of the sin we commit as well as the sin we are born with we are regarded as enemies of God (Rom 5:10). We all realize that we deserve God's wrath and the punishment of eternal hell fire.
The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards uses the picture of a spider hanging by one of its silver threads. Underneath it is a fire. At any moment a spark or the heat could sever the thread and the spider could end up falling into the flames. You and I, dear people, are hanging by a thread. We are dangling above the flames of hell. And, at any moment the thread could break and we could end up falling into hell's eternal flames.
Salvation from an angry God comes only by means of propitiation. To be saved, God's anger against sin and the sinner needs to be appeased or pacified.
B Some consider the image of propitiation to be more pagan than Christian. They don't want to believe in an angry God. So they deny God's character – His holiness and justice. Or, they deny man's sin – it isn't that bad and certainly doesn't deserve God's anger and wrath. And, even if they could believe in an angry God, they can't conceive of bloody offerings, sacrifices, or rituals easing His anger. That sounds too gruesome to the modern man and woman.
However, in the Bible there are numerous instances in which the anger of God is propitiated or turned away. Think of the time Israel made and worshiped the golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai.
(Ex 32:9-10) "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. (10) Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."That time it was Moses who appeased God's anger by pleading and arguing with God.
Think of the time when the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. Suddenly the glory of the LORD appeared:
(Num 16:44-45) and the LORD said to Moses, (45) "Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once."A plague started among the people and 14,700 people died because of the plague. That time it was Aaron who appeased God's anger by offering a sacrifice of atonement.
Think of the time the men of Israel were seduced by the women of Moab and even joined them in the worship of Baal. "The LORD's anger burned against them" (Num 25:3b).
(Num 25:4) And the LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel."Just then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel. That time it was Phinehas who appeased God's anger. He took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into his tent. He drove the spear through both of them. By this action Phinehas turned God's anger away from the Israelites (Num 25:11).
II Jesus is the Propitiation
A How can we propitiate God's anger today? We can't. Nothing that we do, nothing that we say, nothing that we give can compensate for our sins or turn away God's anger. There is no possibility of persuading, sweet-talking, or bribing God to forgive us, for we deserve nothing but judgment from His hands.
So, then, how is God's anger appeased? God's anger is appeased by grace. Using the image of Jonathan Edwards, it is only the thread of God's grace which keeps us from falling into hell's eternal flames. Propitiation as salvation for sinners is an act of grace, of incredible grace. Says Paul:
(Rom 3:25) God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement ...You see, it is God Himself Who takes the initiative to remove His anger against us by sending His one and only Son.
(Rom 5:8) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
B Our Scripture reading also tells us of the sacrifice that does the propitiating. Paul says "God presented him (i.e. Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement" (Rom 3:25). And, he says we are "saved from God's wrath through him" (Rom 5:9) – that is, through Christ. It is the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross that appeases God's wrath and turns away His anger.
Topic: ChristThe anger of God pursues us like those baying dogs. But a stream flows red with the blood of God's own Son. This stream breaks the trail of God's anger.
Subtopic: Blood of
In the 14th century, Robert Bruce, next in line to the Scottish crown, led the fight to gain independence from England. At one point in the conflict, the English were about to capture him. He escaped into the forest, so they put bloodhounds on his trail.
When Bruce heard the dogs baying loudly as they closed in on him, he headed for a stream that flowed through the forest, plunged in, and waded upstream a distance. Coming out on the other bank, he was now in the depths of the forest.
Within minutes, the hounds, tracing Bruce's steps, came to the bank, but they went no farther. The English soldiers urged them on, but the trail was broken. The stream had carried the scent away. A short time later, the crown of Scotland rested on the head of Robert Bruce.
III God's Justice
I want you to notice what propitiation tells us about God. According to Paul, propitiation demonstrates God's justice:
(Rom 3:25) God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice ...
Because God is just, He cannot overlook human sin. Being holy and just, God must declare and punish guilt.
The Bible tells us that God never clears the guilty (Ex 34:7). He never pronounces guilty people to be innocent.
God also declares that sin must be paid for. Sin must be punished.
The Gospel tells us that either the sinner pays for his sin or Christ pays for his sin. Either I pay for my sin by spending eternity in hell or Christ has paid for my sin by going the way of the cross and the grave.
Of course, I can never pay off my debt and my guilt. I actually increase my debt and guilt everyday. So even though I spend eternity in hell, I still have not been there long enough to appease God's wrath against my sin.
Christ is able to do what I cannot. His sacrifice, offered upon the cross, does pay the debt and guilt of sin. His sacrifice, offered upon the cross, does appease God's wrath. This doesn't mean I suddenly am innocent and pure and righteous. This doesn't mean I am cleared of my sin. It does mean that because of Christ God treats me as if I am innocent and pure and righteous.
God, we see, is both just and the Justifier. Sin is punished and God's wrath is propitiated.
In our text Paul says, "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin, through faith in his blood." Did you catch that last phrase: "through faith in his blood"?
This morning we have the privilege of eating and drinking at the Lord's Table. As we eat and drink I need to ask you if you are coming with "faith in his blood"? Do you believe that our God is a just God Who hates and punishes sin – your sin? Do you believe that God's anger against your sin needs to be appeased? Do you believe that, in Christ, God appeased His wrath against your sin? Do you believe you are saved from God's wrath only because of Christ's blood? Are you coming with "faith in his blood"?
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