daily biblical sermons


GOD SENT HIS SON TO US AS OUR PROPITIATORY SACRIFICE TO RECONCILE US WITH HIMSELF
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, First Week of the Year, January 19, 2019
Hebrews 4:12-16, Psalm 18, Mark 2:13-17


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession ... Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:14, 16).


The letter to the Hebrews is about Jesus Christ as our great high priest who is now in heaven offering the blood of the sacrifice of himself to his Father on our behalf in order to propitiate God for the sake of our sins so that he might be favorable or propitious towards us who put our faith in Christ.


Hebrews introduces this concept of propitiation (rendering God favorable towards us) in Hebrews 2:17:


"Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17 NKJV).


The proper object of the verb "propitiate" (hilaskesthai) is God. God is the one who is propitiated or rendered propitious or favorable to us by Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross. So a correct translation of Hebrews 2:17b would be:


Christ came "to propitiate [God] concerning the sins of the people" (my translation).


We can immediately see by this verse how different Christ's propitiation is from ancient pagan sacrifices of propitiation in which a sinner offered a gift (a sacrifice) to God to make up for his sins so that God would again be favorable or propitious towards him.


The Christian notion of propitiation on the other hand is that God himself, out of his great love for us sinners, became a man and made reparation to his own perfect justice for us by suffering our punishment for our sins for us on the cross so that he could justly be merciful to us, forgive our sins, and restore our relationship with him that was broken by our sins.


According to biblical revelation (Romans 1:18; 5:9), God is both a wrathful and a merciful God. He is wrathful about our sins which offend to his perfect justice. But in his perfect mercy he became a man to suffer our just punishment on the cross for our sins for us so that he could mercifully forgive and justify us without violating his own perfect justice or his nature as a perfectly just God.


Christ's death on the cross enables God to mercifully forgive our sins in a just way that is appropriate to him as an all-just God, for the penalty for our sins was justly suffered for us by his Son on the cross. Our sins were justly punished in the flesh of God's own Son on the cross. Since our sins were fully and justly punished in Christ's flesh on the cross - and so full justice was done - God could therefore in all justice mercifully forgive and justify us.


So instead of us human beings trying to propitiate God with our gifts, as the ancient pagans contemporary with the New Testament did, God himself propitiates his own perfect justice by becoming a man and dying on the cross in just punishment for our sins. Jesus Christ was God the Son equal in divinity with the Father and one being with him, sent into the world by a loving Father to save us from our sins and to reconcile the Father to us and us to the Father by the sacrifice of himself on the cross.


Jesus is therefore a priest who offers sacrifice. He is our great high priest, and the victim that he offers to the Father is himself. His altar of sacrifice is the cross.


So in Christ's propitiation, God himself takes the initiative by giving us the victim and the sacrifice that propitiates his own wrath against us for our sins. It is not we human beings that take the initiative to turn an angry God into a loving God, as was the case in the ancient pagan sacrifices. Rather God himself loves us, even in our sins; but his perfect justice blocks us from receiving his love and peace due to our sins that offend him. We are therefore alienated from God, because of our sins, and God is alienated from us because as perfectly just, he is offended by our sins.


How is this mutual alienation going to be overcome so that we can be mutually reconciled with God and God with us and experience his love and peace in our hearts and his help in our every need? Who is going to take the initiative to propitiate God and his righteous wrath (Romans 1:18; 5:9) against us sinners?


In ancient pagan religions contemporary with the New Testament, human beings took the initiative by offering sacrifices of propitiation and appeasement to God. But in Christianity, God himself takes the initiative by sending his Son to propitiate his own righteous wrath against us as a perfectly just God.


Christ's sacrifice affects us when we put our faith in him and genuinely repent of and abandon our serious sins. When we do this, the Father justifies us, that is, he declares us ungodly and alienated sinners to be righteous, because of Christ's propitiatory sacrifice on the cross, whereby he made perfect reparation for our sins by suffering their just penalty for us.


The end result is that we are made righteous in God's sight and become "new men," a new creation in Christ.


Some have wrongly denied God's biblical revelation (Romans 1:18; 5:9) that the perfectly just God is wrathful against us for our sins, and they have falsely taught that God is only loving and merciful and never wrathful towards us for our sins and never punishes us for our sins. Therefore they falsely claim that there is no need for propitiation. If God is not wrathful, he doesn't need to be propitiated. They therefore deny that Christ's death on the cross is a propitiatory sacrifice to reconcile us with God.


But such a view is a denial of Christ's saving, redeeming, propitiatory work on the cross. According to this false view, Christ is no longer our Redeemer and Savior, but only an inspiring example of selfless dedication that we should all imitate.


Christ certainly is an inspiring example of selfless dedication that we should all imitate, but he is far more than only that. He is our great high priest, given to us by God to reconcile us with him by propitiating God's justice and righteous wrath against us for our sins.


"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession" (Hebrews 4:14).


Let us unite ourselves by faith to Christ and thereby


"With confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16), for Christ came


"To make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17b NKJV).

 

 

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