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The Heart of the Gospel (Chapter 18, part 1)

Knowing God by J. I. Packer  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:33
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The Heart of the Gospel Chapter 18 from Knowing God by J. I. Packer

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Knowing God

“If God Be for Us...” (Part 3)

“The Heart of the Gospel” (Chapter 18)

Pagan Propitiation

Many gods, none with absolute dominion
Believed to have power over various realms and could make life difficult
Uncertain, capricious, and easily offended
Gods manipulating circumstances to work against you
Mollified or appeased by means of gifts or sacrifice
The bigger the sacrifice the better, including human sacrifice
“Thus pagan religion appears as a callous commercialism, a matter of managing and manipulating your gods by cunning bribery. And within paganism propitiation, the appeasing of celestial bad tempers, takes its place as a regular part of life, one of the many irksome necessities that one cannot get on without.” - J. I. Packer
Biblical Theism
Not many gods, but one Creator God with all dominion
The source of all goodness and truth, detesting evil
No bad temper, no capriciousness, no vanity, not easily provoked
Propitiation?

Propitiation in the Bible

Propitiation in the OT:
Underlies the rituals of sin offering, guilt offering, and the Day of Atonement
God’s anger threatening to destroy the people for their rebellion assuaged by sacrifice
Numbers 16:46–48 NIV
46 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started.” 47 So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. 48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped.
Propitiation in the NT:
The rationale of God’s justification of sinners
Romans 3:21–26 ESV
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The rationale of Incarnation of God the Son
Hebrews 2:17 ESV
17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
The heavenly intercessory ministry of our Lord
1 John 2:1–2 ESV
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
The definition and expression of the love of God
1 John 4:8–10 ESV
8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
“Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God, the taking of human form by the Son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation—all are to be explained in terms of it...” - J. I. Packer
“And a gospel without propitiation at its heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached. The implications of this must not be evaded.” - J. I. Packer

Not Merely Expiation

Several modern Bible versions do not use the word “propitiation.”
“expiation” (RSV, NAB)
“remedy for defilement” (NEB)
“atoning sacrifice” (NIV, CSB, NET, NRSV)
“sacrifice that atones” (NLT)
“God’s way of dealing with” (CEB)
“What is the difference? The difference is that expiation means only half of what propitiation means.
Expiation is an action that has sin as its object; it denotes the covering, putting away or rubbing out of sin so that it no longer constitutes a barrier to friendly fellowship between man and God.
Propitiation, however, in the Bible, denotes all that expiation means, and the pacifying of the wrath of God thereby.” - J. I. Packer
“As our mediator he has obtained the full benefits of our whole salvation, beginning with an objective atonement for our sin. Refusals to acknowledge propitiation as the heart of his death and resurrection result from a misunderstanding of God’s love. It is God’s love that is the basis for his providing Christ as the means of propitiation. By Christ’s sacrifice a new relation of reconciliation and peace has been accomplished between God and humanity.” - Herman Bavinck (RD 3:419).
I. Howard Marshall on “Propitiation”: But what precisely is the ground on which the Advocate rests his case? John goes on to elucidate the thought by describing Jesus as “the atoning sacrifice” (hilasmos) for our sins. This word, which is found elsewhere in the New Testament only in 4:10, has aroused considerable debate, not to say controversy. When the word appears outside the Bible, it conveys the thought of an offering made by a man in order to placate the wrath of a god whom he has offended. It was a means of turning the god from wrath to a favorable attitude, and it operated by giving the god something that made up for the offense that he had suffered. In the Greek version of the Old Testament, however, the meaning is debated. Westcott and Dodd both argued that, while in secular Greek the corresponding verb takes as its object the god who has been offended, in the Old Testament the object is the offense itself, and from this they concluded that “the scriptural conception … is not that of appeasing one who is angry, with a personal feeling, against the offender; but of altering the character of that which from without occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship.”26 This view was strengthened by noting that God himself may be the provider of the sacrifice. The conclusion was that in secular sources the word means “propitiation,” i.e. a means of placating an offended person, but in the Bible it means “expiation,” i.e. a means of neutralizing and cancelling sin. Since neither of these words is in common usage today, most modern translations offer a paraphrase. The NIV, with its rendering “atoning sacrifice,” combines the two ideas, since “atonement” is something made for sin, and “sacrifice” is an offering to God. The TEV rendering, “the means by which our sins are forgiven,” is neutral, while the NEB has “the remedy for the defilement of our sins,” which stands closer to “expiation.”
Westcott and Dodd’s interpretation of the evidence has been strongly challenged by L. Morris and D. Hill. These two scholars have shown that in the Old Testament the idea of placating the wrath of God or some other injured party is often present when the word-group in question is used. They conclude that the same is true in the New Testament. The meaning of the present passage would then be that Jesus propitiates God with respect to our sins.28 There can be no real doubt that this is the meaning. In the previous verse the thought was of Jesus acting as our advocate before God; the picture which continues into this verse is of Jesus pleading the cause of guilty sinners before a judge who is being petitioned to pardon their acknowledged guilt. He is not being asked to declare them innocent, i.e. to say that there is no evidence that they have sinned, but rather to grant them pardon for their acknowledged sins. In order that forgiveness may be granted, there is an action in respect of the sins which has the effect of rendering God favorable to the sinner. We may, if we wish, say that the sins are cancelled out by the action in question. This means that the one action has the double effect of expiating the sin and thereby propitiating God. These two aspects of the action belong together, and a good translation will attempt to convey them both. [I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 117–118.]
Robert Yarbrough: While Jesus’s death certainly has the effect of expiating sin (wiping away its penalty), it is difficult to avoid the impression that it also propitiates (turns away the wrath of) God’s promised punishment of sin and sinners whose transgressions are not atoned for on the last day—a day of condemnation spoken of by Jesus in John 12:48. [Robert W. Yarbrough, 1–3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 78.]
“The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched. How was this effected? Through the death of Christ. “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (5:10). The “blood”—that is, the sacrificial death—of Jesus Christ abolished God’s anger against us and ensured that his treatment of us forever after would be propitious and favorable… by his sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God.” - J. I. Packer

God’s Anger

Not capricious, arbitrary, bad-tempered, and conceited anger as in the pagan gods.
Not sinful, resentful, malicious, infantile anger we find in humans.
God’s anger is a function of his holiness and righteousness.
God’s wrath is “the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness”; it issues in “a positive outgoing of the divine displeasure.” - John Murray
“God is not just—that is, he does not act in the way that is right, he does not do what is proper to a judge—unless he inflicts upon all sin and wrongdoing the penalty it deserves.” - J. I. Packer

Propitiation Described

1. Propitiation is the work of God himself.
Paganism - man propitiates his gods; it becomes a form of commercialism and bribery.
Christianity - God propitiates his wrath by his own action.
“The doctrine of the propitiation is precisely this: that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath.” - J. I. Packer
2. Propitiation was made by the death of Jesus Christ.
“When Paul tells us that God set forth Jesus to be a propitiation “by his blood,” his point is that what quenched God’s wrath and so redeemed us from death was not Jesus’ life or teaching, not his moral perfection nor his fidelity to the Father, as such, but the shedding of his blood in death.” - J. I. Packer
“Paul always points to the death of Jesus as the atoning event and explains the atonement in terms of representative substitution—the innocent taking the place of the guilty, in the name and for the sake of the guilty, under the axe of God’s judicial retribution.” - J. I. Packer
Galatians 3:13 ESV
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
“Representative substitution, as the way and means of atonement, was taught in typical form by the God-given Old Testament sacrificial system. There, the perfect animal that was to be offered for sin was first symbolically constituted a representative by the sinner’s laying his hand on its head and so identifying it with him and him with it (Lev 4:4, 24, 29, 33), and then it was killed as a substitute for the offerer, the blood being sprinkled “before the Lord” and applied to one or both of the altars in the sanctuary (Lev 4:6-7, 17-18, 25, 30) as a sign that expiation had been made, averting wrath and restoring fellowship.” - J. I. Packer
3. Propitiation manifests God’s righteousness.
The truth of propitiation does not call into question the morality of God’s dealing with sin; it establishes it.
“to declare his righteousness” - “Paul’s point is that the public spectacle of propitiation, at the cross, was a public manifestation, not merely of justifying mercy on God’s part, but of righteousness and justice as the basis of justifying mercy.” - J. I. Packer
“...far from being unconcerned about moral issues and the just requirement of retribution for wrongdoing, is so concerned about these things that he does not—indeed, Paul would, we think, boldly say, cannot—pardon sinners, and justify the ungodly, except on the basis of justice shown forth in retribution.” - J. I. Packer
“Our sins have been punished; the wheel of retribution has turned; judgment has been inflicted for our ungodliness—but on Jesus, the lamb of God, standing in our place. In this way God is just—and the justifier of those who put faith in Jesus...” - J. I. Packer

The Death of Christ

“The basic description of the saving death of Christ in the Bible is as a propitiation, that is, as that which quenched God’s wrath against us by obliterating our sins from his sight.” - J. I. Packer
“...the sins of all that will ever be pardoned were judged and punished in the person of God the Son, and it is on this basis that pardon is now offered to us offenders. Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed himself to be ‘just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.’” - J. I. Packer
The Gospel is not fundamentally about a solution to our human problems.
The Gospel is fundamentally about a reconciliation of sinners to their Creator.
Other human problems only have a true remedy through this reconciliation with God in Christ.
Descriptions of the Death of Christ in the Bible:
Reconciliation
Redemption
Sacrifice
Self-giving
Sin-bearing
Blood-shedding
All connected with the idea of propitiation
“All these thoughts have to do with the putting away of sin and the restoring of unclouded fellowship between man and God, as a glance at the texts mentioned will show; and all of them have as their background the threat of divine judgment which Jesus’ death averted.” - J. I. Packer
Propitiation - the heart of the Gospel and the vantage point from which to see the heart of many other biblical teachings as well.

The Driving Force in Jesus’ Life

Four Impressions of the Life of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel:
A man of action
A man who knew himself to be a divine person (Son of God) fulfilling a messianic role (Son of Man)
A man whose messianic mission centered on his being put to death
A man for whom this experience of death was the most fearful ordeal
How can we account for Jesus’ belief in the necessity of his death and also his dread of it?
Only the biblical doctrine of propitiation through atonement can make sense of these.
“The driving force in Jesus’ life was his resolve to be “obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), and the unique dreadfulness of his death lies in the fact that he tasted on Calvary the wrath of God which was our due, so making propitiation for our sins.” - J. I. Packer
Isaiah 53:4–5 NIV
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 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.

What of Those Who Reject God?

The Scriptures do not teach universalism - that all will eventually be saved.
Those who in this life reject God will forever be rejected by God.
To think of what the lost bring on themselves through their rejection, consider the cross.
Bearing the retributive justice of God
Withdrawal and deprivation of all good
Loneliness, pain, and a horror of great spiritual darkness
“Calvary shows that under the final judgment of God nothing that one has valued, or could value, nothing that one can call good, remains to one. It is a terrible thought, but the reality, we may be sure, is more terrible yet. ‘It would be better for him if he had not been born.’” - J. I. Packer

What Is Peace?

Not fundamentally a feeling of inner tranquility
The basic ingredient of God’s peace is pardon and acceptance into covenant—adoption into God’s family.
“The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us.” - J. I. Packer
“The peace of God, then, primarily and fundamentally, is a new relationship of forgiveness and acceptance—and the source from which it flows is propitiation.” - J. I. Packer
Colossians 1:20 NIV
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

The Dimensions of God’s Love

Ephesians 3:18–19 NIV
18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
How can we know an unknowable love?
Some comprehension of it may be gained by considering God’s plan of grace
The atoning sacrifice of Christ which propitiates the wrath of God and reconciles us to him is the centerpiece of this plan.
Christ’s Love:
Free - not elicited by any good in us
Eternal - those given to him from before the creation of the world
Unreserved - gave himself to the depths of humiliation and the wrath of God on Calvary
Sovereign - it achieved its object—the final glory of the redeemed
“Dwell on these things, Paul urges, if you would catch a sight, however dim, of the greatness and the glory of divine love.” - J. I. Packer

The Glory of God

John 13:31 NIV
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.
The glory of God in his wisdom, power, righteousness, truth, and love was supremely disclosed at Calvary, in the making of propitiation for our sins.
It is Christ’s redemption, his shedding of blood, for our salvation that makes him worthy of all glory and honor.
Revelation 5:9–10 NIV
9 And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5:12 NIV
12 In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
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