by Robert Beames
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
I hate cats. Over the last few years I lost track of the amount of times my daughter asked me for one. I can say with all accuracy that the number of times she asked was one less than the number of times she was told, “Absolutely not!” I never did give in, but the day came when my daughter cradled a certain ball of furry cuteness in her arms and all the possible consequences for going against my wishes paled in comparison. Needless to say, we now have a cat, in fact, we have had two cats.
Nothing disgusts me more than a cat trying to get my food. The first cat was easily trained to stay away from our food with a rubber band gun. After a few snaps on the behind when caught breaking my rules, he would flee at the mere click of the unloaded gun. After a while the gun wasn’t even needed. The uninvited guest staying with us now is not so teachable.The cat illegally dwelling in our household now is more stubborn than her predecessor. When she sees people-food within her radar, she pounces. Nothing deters her.
One night I caught the thing in the act of going for our supper leftovers. I grabbed the Nerf dart gun I bought my son for Christmas and set out to teach her a lesson. She was finally going to feel the full force of my wrath—I had all 12 barrels loaded with the soft-tipped projectiles and I was prepared to reload, if necessary.
After a couple hits the chase was on. A bed proved to be a temporary shelter for the clawed creature, but I was determined to make her pay. My son flushed her out like a faithful bloodhound. I followed at full speed preparing for the kill shot which would finally put the feline menace in her place.
I had a clear shot as I turned into our hallway, but before I could take it, I found myself on the floor grasping what was later confirmed as a broken toe. Along with my toe, my pride was also broken—not to mention my sense of administering justice. The cat was the only thing left unbroken as she stared down the barrel of the gun daring me to fire. In my pain it didn’t seem important anymore.
Perhaps someday I’ll accept the cat because I love my daughter, but for now, my wrath remains upon that vile creature as I limp around on my broken digit. I will not forgive. Why should I? The cat is stubborn and guilty. If the filthy animal is going to live in my house, she will obey my rules. It’s my right!
Somewhere in the process of caring for my self-inflicted injury, I was reminded me of the way God deferred His righteous anger toward me to Jesus. As John says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,” (John 4:10). Propitiation is one of the most beautiful words in our language. You might not find it in the Bible, but it is there between the lines. It is the satisfaction of the wrath of an innocent person who has been wronged. The deserved punishment is not waived, but it is redirected and satisfied by another. In the above verse, “sacrifice”carries the same concept of propitiation and indicates an entirely innocent person being inflicted with the punishment meant for one who is truly guilty.
Propitiation is a pleasant melody to those convicted of crimes against God. It gives life to dead bones crushed under the weight of their sin. Dead corpses have their sentence removed —not just suspended—and dance in the streets with joy.
Is this fair? Think of the most infamous malcontent imaginable, like a serial killer. Now imagine he is given a full pardon, because in his place is sentenced your mother, father, sister, brother, or dearest friend. That would be insane—not fair! God’s grace extended to us is not fair. The only innocent man ever born took the punishment we deserved. It was hardly fair, but it was the only way.
Jesus certainly knew what He was doing. He mentioned several times that it had to happen just the way it did. He clearly communicated that He willingly laid down His life for us. He was the only one who could take the penalty for us. It had to be an innocent person to take the punishment of the guilty.
Can you imagine this happening in our legal system? Let’s say a friend and I each decide to murder someone. When convicted, no court would allow me to pay the penalty for my friend. We would both have to pay because we are both guilty. How less likely then would it be for a court to allow me to do the time for my murderous friend if I were innocent? That would be unfair. And so, it is in theological terms. For us, it’s unfair—like winning the lottery and never having to worry about money again. Who ever gives the money back?
I really don’t hate cats. I don’t even hate the one which happens to be living in my house…for now. She’s still guilty and I don’t have to forgive her, but maybe I’ll reconsider when my toe heals.
That’s another aspect of propitiation, too. We are stubborn and guilty, so God is just with His judgment on us. The big difference is that Jesus interceded for us. My cat isn’t so fortunate. The only thing which saved her from feeling the sting of a fully loaded gun was my stupidity and weakness. That’s not what saved us.
Perhaps weakness did save us in a way; Jesus made Himself weak to suffer the cross, but stupidity has nothing to do with our salvation. God’s wisdom punished the only blameless one with the stinging darts of death because it was the only way. For a time, God’s wrath rested on Jesus. Now, it simply rests, for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.
Propitiation is one reason we just celebrated Easter! His death allows us to rejoice and to enjoy Him now without guilt. We do not have to punish ourselves anymore. We are free to forgive ourselves, as well as others. We have permission not to punish anyone. In fact, for us to punish in light of His atoning sacrifice invalidates the cross.
Still punish yourself with guilt every Easter because your sin put Him on the cross? Stop it! The blood of Jesus covers that guilt, too. (I believe He wanted me to remind you of this.)