whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. — Romans 3:25 (ESV)
Continuing from our post yesterday, we are looking further at the death of Jesus and why it matters so much to us today. There are two sides to the death of Jesus, namely: It is a just act and it is a loving act.
The reason it is a just act is because God is just and the punishment for sin demands a price. After all, in Deuteronomy 6:5 it says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That is a high standard that no one has achieved. It’s not that we don’t try to achieve that, it’s that we can’t fully. Sin itself is preferring something else to God, and we do it all the time in the choices we make. We show our love is greater for other things rather than for God. That is why the Bible also says in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
So what is that price? The price is death and punishment. In Fifty Reasons Why Christ Suffered and Died, John Piper says “[S]in is not small, because it is not against a small Sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The Creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore, failure to love him is not trivial—it is treason. It defames God and destroys human happiness.”
If God were to brush sin aside or put it under the rug, it would make Him smaller and make him less worthy of worship. But God is at war with sin and has made clear through the Bible what that means. “For the wages of sin is death” it says in Romans 3:23 and “The soul that sins shall die” it says in Ezekiel 18:4. Clearly there is a consequence to sin, and justice is demanded from a holy God.
The demands of the law are such that any rule-keeping or moral living on our part would fall woefully short. This isn’t about a focus on discipline or selflessness. The infinite offense of our sin — choosing something else over an infinitely perfect God — is such that an infinite punishment is fair. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way;” it says in Isaiah 53:6.
If that were the end of it all it would be a gloomy picture. But God doesn’t just stop with being perfectly just. He is also loving beyond bounds. The second half of Isaiah 53:6 tells the story: “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Who is that? It is Jesus. The point is is that the wrath of God does not go away. Our sin is still there and justice needs to be filled. Rather, it is Jesus who becomes the substitute for us to absorb that wrath of God. Again, from Piper in Fifty Reasons:
This is the meaning of the word “propitiation” in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself. God’s wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn.
Let us not trifle with God or trivialize his love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of his wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).