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Propitiation (2)

Martin Hayward, Faversham, England

How Was Propitiation Achieved? (continued)

The offering was slain and its blood shed

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev 17.11). Such are the words of God to His people, teaching us that the shedding of blood is vitally important, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb 9.22). Accordingly, that sins might be dealt with, Christ “poured out his soul unto death” (Isa 53.12).

The carcase was burnt

Having been presented to God as a living animal at the altar, and having been slain and its blood retained, the animal’s carcase must be taken to the outside place, that it might be subjected to the fires of divine holiness until nothing was left. How significant the contrast with Christ, for He was subjected to the divine fires whilst still alive, on the cross. How He must have suffered! Can we begin to take it in? Will not all eternity be needed to set forth what He was prepared to endure in love for our souls? But endure He did, and exhausted the fire of God’s wrath against sins.

We must be careful to distinguish between punishment for sins and penalty for sins. Strictly speaking, no one can bear the punishment for the sins of another, for personal culpability is implied in the word ‘punishment’. A person can bear the penalty for the sins of another, however, and this is what Christ has done. God can still justly punish sinners in the Lake of Fire, since they refused to believe in the One who bore the penalty, and thereby excluded themselves from the benefits He procured. While it is true that propitiation is not made by the faith of a person, but by the blood of Christ, it is, nevertheless, made good to the person (and only to the person) who believes, as Romans 3.25 indicates.

The blood was sprinkled

We come now to the central action on the Day of Atonement: the sprinkling of the blood both of the bullock for Aaron and his house, and the goat for the nation of Israel, on the mercy seat, or ‘the place for the covering of sin’. Before God could forgive the sins of His people and see them borne by the scapegoat, symbolically, into “a land not inhabited” (Lev 16.22), it was essential that the demands of divine justice be fully met by a fitting sacrifice. Remembering that the two goats constitute one sin offering, we see in the death of the first goat that aspect of the death of Christ which enables God, in righteousness, to move in mercy toward an entire world of lost sinners. There was no confession of sins associated with the first goat, and no removal of sins either. The ground was being laid for a righteous God to show saving grace to repentant sinners. The blood on the mercy seat was the evidence that God had accepted the sacrifice made at the brazen altar, and a foundation had been laid upon which God, at no expense to His righteousness, could now move in mercy toward His people. When the writer to the Hebrews referred to this Old Testament mercy seat, he used the Greek word which means ‘propitiatory’: the place where divine justice was satisfied with regard to sin.

Christ has fully met every demand that God could make about sins. As one of the Persons of the Godhead He has perfect knowledge of divine requirements, and He has fully met them. We are assured of this, because He has set Himself down with confidence at “the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb 1.3). He purged sins in harmony with the majesty of God. But He has also established a sure place in the presence of God for those who believe, so that the apostle Paul could speak of the “grace wherein we stand” (Rom 5.2). So dominant is the idea of grace with regard to that position that the apostle uses the word to describe the fulness of our salvation. Only those who have “received the atonement” (Rom 5.11) are in that secure place before God.

The sins were confessed and carried away

The sin offering for the people consisted of two goats; one for the Lord’s interests, and one for theirs. One, as we have seen, was slain so that blood could be sprinkled on the mercy seat. The other was called the scapegoat, or the goat that was dismissed and went away. There was no double sin offering for Aaron and his house, for he had seen the blood on the mercy seat and, since he had not died, he knew it had been accepted, and his sins were gone. The rest of Israel did not have that experience, however, and so, to reassure them, they were able to see Aaron lay his hands on their goat, confess over it their sins, and then watch the goat, which carried its dreadful load of their sins, disappear into the wilderness, guided by a man whose fitness lay in his ability to take the animal to a place from which it could not return.

There are various figures of speech used in the Old Testament to describe how God would deal with Israel’s sins, consequent upon their repentance. He casts them behind His back (Isa 38.17); casts them in the depths of the sea (Mic 7.19); blots them out as if by a thick cloud (Isa 44.22); and removes them as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103.12). These are all metaphors, for sins are not material objects, but the point is being made that, when God does these things, the matter is thoroughly dealt with.

The writer to the Hebrews takes up this truth in Hebrews 9.25-28, where he speaks of Christ appearing to “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”. This is the counterpart to the blood of the first goat that was slain so that its blood could be sprinkled on the mercy seat. Then he speaks of Christ “bear[ing] the sins of many”, and there he is thinking of the scapegoat. When the Lord Jesus was forsaken by God upon the cross, He was in a judicial position equal to that of the scapegoat, which was accepted as an offering, but rejected because of the load it bore.

What Are The Results Of Propitiation?

The demands of God have been fully met

To satisfy God as the Moral Governor of the universe, an adequate and final answer must be found to the question of sin. The demands of God’s holiness and righteousness are such that every sin must be responded to. Only Christ is adequate for this situation. He it is who has “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9.26). To “put away” in that verse means to ‘abolish’. As far as God is concerned, sin is totally removed. No charge can henceforth be made against God that He has ignored the presence of sin. On the contrary, He has taken account of each and every sin through His Son’s work at Calvary. John wrote that “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2.2). Of course, “the sins of” is in italics in that verse, being physically absent from the Greek text. But the words are implied in the “ours” of the previous statement.

If John had written “not for us only”, then the translation could have continued “but also for the whole world”. Since, however, he uses the possessive pronoun “ours”, which shows he is writing about the sins people possess, then “the sins of” must be inserted. The apostle will write later that “we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 Jn 5.19). He sees mankind divided into two clearly defined sections, namely, those who are “of God”, that is, believers, and “the whole world”. John not only clearly distinguishes between believers and the world, but just as clearly states that Christ is the propitiatory offering for both classes. That Christ became the propitiation for the whole world does not mean that the whole world will be saved, since propitiation is only made good to a person when he believes. It does mean, however, that no charge may be levelled against God for not making provision for all men. Gospel blessing may be genuinely offered to all, since there is abundant provision for all.

(To be continued …)

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