The Heart of the Gospel - 2 of 3

by Ed Vasicek

Because it is unpopular to believe in an angry God, more and more theologians are shying away from the clear teaching of Scripture that Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin. The idea that God is holy and requires a penalty to be paid for sin does not sit well with the "God-is-only-love" crowd.

To get a little context in Romans, Paul has painted a picture of an angry God full of wrath. This wrath is revealed from God's abode, heaven (1:18). God handed corrupt mankind over to horribly sinful lifestyles as an act of judgment (1:24). No unsaved person will escape God's judgment (3:3). Later, in Romans 5:9, Paul tells the believer that it is God's wrath from which he is delivered (saved). Our problem is not only that we are sinners (as bad as that is), but also that God is angry at us. Though God loves us, in another sense He hates us: "you hate all who do wrong" (Ps. 5:5b).

The idea of propitiation (Greek, hilasterion) is satisfaction of God's wrath through the payment of an appropriate penalty. The NIV translates this term "sacrifice of atonement."

Christ took our sins upon Himself (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Cor. 15:1-3; 1 Pet. 2:24). He offered Himself as a sacrifice (a sin offering) directed to the Father. Note this imagery from Hebrews 9:11-12, 14: "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"

Like a high priest on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Jesus entered as our high priest. But, unlike the Aaronic priest who sprinkled the blood of a goat upon the mercy seat, Christ presented His own blood. He is both the priest and the sacrifice.

This satisfaction of God's wrath does not mean that Christ's death put God in a "good mood." John Stott comments: "In the pagan perspective, human beings try to placate their bad-tempered deities with their own paltry offerings. According to Christian revelation, God's own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of His own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin, and died our death. Thus God himself gave Himself to save us from Himself."

Isaiah 53 explains the nature of Christ's sacrificial death like no other passage.

But why was Christ's death necessary? God's wrath is turned away from us because of the death of Jesus Christ

Why Jesus had to be more than man-the God-man: "No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him-the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough" (Ps. 49:7-8).

Yet the Jews thought otherwise. I am quoting David Flusser's book, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (p. 59). Flusser, who is not an evangelical believer, writes: "Since the age of the Hasmoneans, Jews had believed that the saints who died to sanctify the name of God atoned for the sins of Israel. The story of the mother and her seven sons in the Second Book of Maccabees acquires a greater significance in the Fourth Book of Maccabees, where their death is seen as an atoning sacrifice. In another Jewish source, Midrash Sifre, the idea is expressed that the killing of the Children of Israel by the Gentiles atones for the former's sins.

"It is reasonable to assume that during the Roman period this idea was applied not only to Jesus, but also to all those who were executed by the authorities. Even Jews who did not accept Christianity evidently believed that Jesus, like the other martyrs of the Roman authorities, had atoned for the sins of Israel."

Of course the views held by first century Jews contradicted Psalm 49:7-8-verses we just read-except in the case of Jesus, who was MORE than a man

Next month, in Part 3, Brother Vasicek will show scripturally why propitiation for our sins is essential.

Ed Vasicek is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. He has served
the Highland Park Church in Kokomo, IN, for 22 years.

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