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Christ Our Propitiation

Pastor Dennis Smith

Read 1 John 4:9–10.

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

It is good to occasionally pause to think about what Christ has done for us. An important verse in this regard is 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

In context, John is using this verse as part of his exhortation to his readers to love one another. That is clear enough, but what does John mean by the word “propitiation”? What does it mean that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent by God to be the propitiation for our sins?

The word propitiation occurs in our English Bible three times (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10). The dictionary yields this definition for the verb form of the word, propitiate: “to gain or regain the goodwill or favor of.” Simply put, Jesus is the one who has gained God’s goodwill toward us. He did this by offering himself as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sins.

Let’s take a moment to think about the notion of a blood sacrifice for sins. We first hear of it explicitly in Leviticus, as part of the law God gave Israel through Moses. (Although we read of Abel’s offerings from his flock way back in Genesis 4, it is not entirely clear that they were a sacrifice for sin, because two different words are used.) So why would God, in the law given through Moses, require animals to be sacrificed to provide an atonement or covering for sins? I think perhaps it is to impress upon man the awfulness of sin against a holy God. The act of slaughtering innocent animals for their blood probably seems like an extreme act to most.

And when we think of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross — his offering of himself and his own blood for the sins of men — it should strike us as absolutely horrifying. Just how awful must my sin be in God’s sight?

If gaining God’s favor for us is the positive way of looking at propitiation, another view would be that Jesus, by his work on the cross, turned aside God’s wrath from us. We can think of the word “satisfaction” when we read that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins: God is satisfied with what Jesus accomplished on the cross for us when it comes to making reconciliation.

Thank God for the great salvation that we have in Christ! We now enjoy God’s favor instead of dreading his wrath, all because God is satisfied with what his Son did on the cross of Calvary on our behalf.

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