From Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, Nancy Guthrie, Ed. Excerpted from “The Most Important Word in the Universe,” sermon by Raymond C. Ortland Jr.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith….” Romans 3:23-25

The word “propitiation” comes from the Latin propitio, meaning “to render favorable, to appease, to conciliate.” To propitiate God means to appease his anger. Propitiation is all about God’s wrath.

God’s wrath? Wait a minute. Is God a fuming, frustrated person? Does he have a temper? Is he subject to mood swings? Is biblical propitiation like the pagan concept of throwing a virgin into the volcano to placate the pineapple god? and what if God changes back to anger? After all, we keep sinning-in the same old ways, too.

The first thing to say is that the wrath of God is a part of the gospel. It’s the part we tend to ignore. Yet we don’t mind our own anger. There is a lot of anger in us, a lot of righteous indignation. Listen to talk radio. In our culture it’s acceptable to vent our moral fervor at one another…. But the thought of God being angry-well, who does he think he is?

Great question. Who is God? He’s the most balanced personality imaginable. He is normal. His wrath is not an irrational outburst. God’s wrath is worthy of God. It is his morally appropriate, carefully considered, justly intense reaction to our evil demeaning his worth and destroying our own capacity to enjoy him. God cares about that. He is not a passive observer. He’s involved emotionally.

The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It never says, “God is anger.” But it couldn’t say that God is love without his anger, because God’s anger shows how serious his love is.

What we must understand is that God’s wrath is perfect, no less perfect than “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience” (Romans 2:4). His wrath is the solemn determination of a doctor cutting away the cancer that’s killing his patient. And this Doctor hates the cancer. He will rid his universe of it all. He has scheduled a “day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5).

God presented Christ Jesus as a propitiation by his blood (see Rom. 3:24-35). Do you see the beauty in that? In human religions, it’s the worshiper who placates the offended deity with rituals and sacrifices and bribes. But in the gospel, it’s God himself who provides the offering. At the cross of Christ, God put something forward. He declared something to the whole world. He presented, he displayed, the clearest statement about himself he has ever made. What was he saying? Two things.

One, he detests our evil with all the intensity of the divine personality. If you want to know what your sin deserves from God, don’t look within yourself, don’t look at your own emotions. Look at that man on the cross-tormented, gasping,  bleeding. Take a long, thoughtful look. God was presenting something to you there. God was saying something about his perfect emotions toward your sin. He was displaying his wrath.

Two-here is the other thing God was presenting at the cross-the God you have offended doesn’t demand your blood; he gives his own in Christ Jesus. He knows what you deserve, but he wants to give you what you don’t deserve. He himself has opened the way. He took the initiative. How could it be otherwise? We can’t avert the wrath of God. We’re the problem, not the answer. We’re helpless before God. But “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). At the cross, his love satisfied his own wrath….


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