Thursday, 9 May 2013

Words that end in SHUN

Colin Buchanon is no ordinary song-writer.  He is a Christian song writer for kids, and he not afraid to hit them with the truth of the gospel.  On an album entitled 'Super-Saviour' he writes a song called, 'Big Bible words that end in SHUN'.  It opens,
Big words that end in SHUN
Show what The Lord had DONE
Through Jesus, his own SON
... Big words that end in SHUN.
Then he sings about revela-SHUN, substitu-SHUN, salva-SHUN, justifica-SHUN, imputa-SHUN, redemp-SHUN, adop-SHUN, and propitiat-SHUN.  There are a lot of big Bible words ending in SHUN (tion)!  The word that we are looking at this morning is 'propitiation'.  Colin explains that this means that 'God's anger is turned away.'
The word 'propitiation' was more familiar to English speakers of previous generations.  For example, in the King James Version we read, '... Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood' (Romans 3:24-25), and, 'herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins' (1 John 4:10).  In our NIVs the Greek word is translated 'sacrifice of atonement' or 'atoning sacrifice.'  But is propitiation what happens as a result of this atoning sacrifice and is propitiation a truth worth celebrating?

'God's anger is turned away.'  For the first two and half chapters of Romans the apostle Paul outlines that all of humankind is guilty of sin.  'All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.'  God's anger at human sin is clearly spelt out.  Then we read, 'God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement ...' (Romans 3:25).  We are called to respond to this sacrifice with faith and the result is peace with God.  We no longer need fear being condemned and we are accepted as dearly loved children.  Because of the death of God the Son, God can look at us without displeasure and we can look at him without fear.  God's anger has been turned away.

This all raises three questions.
1.  Can God be both good and angry?
To 'propitiate' someone means to appease or pacify their anger.  This assumes that God is angry.  Indeed, God's anger is portrayed in the Bible as being a personal thing.  Without Christ people are the subjects of his holy anger. We were by nature deserving of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  It is obvious why many people don't like this teaching.  In the lovely hymn, 'In Christ Alone', there is a line with states that at the cross 'the wrath of God was satisfied', and some people have changed this to read 'the love of God was magnified.'
The love of God and the anger of God are not opposites.  For God to be good and angry does not mean that he cannot not be good and loving.  If God was not angered at human sin then he would not be good, he would not be holy.  The opposite of a loving God is not an angry God but an indifferent god, a god who simply does not care about the evil that is done in the world.
We have already seen that God's anger is very different from our anger.  God is slow to anger and abounding in love.  His anger is not irrational or the result of a lack of patience.  It is not stirred up by injured vanity.  God's anger is his settled response to evil.  Were there no evil, then he would not be angry.  In holy love he makes peace with objects of his anger.
2.  Does our God act like a petty pagan deity?
Some people claim that the idea of God being angry, and then being appeased by a sacrifice, makes him look like a petty pagan deity.  However, the gods of the pagans were easily angered and could fly off the handle, whereas our God is slow to anger and abounding in love.  Also, in pagan religions, it was humans who had to take the initiative to divert the divine wrath, whereas the initiative in Christianity lies with our God.
In the Old Testament the picture is of a gracious God who provides the sacrifices in order that he might act graciously towards sinful people.  God takes the initiative.  God reveals the way.  Similarly, in the New Testament it is God who takes the initiative; God is motivated out of sheer love and grace to send his Son to die as a propitiation for us. 'God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loves us' (Stott).

The Old Testament sacrificial system looked ahead to the sacrifice of God's own Son.  Note that this sacrifice comes at such a great cost to God.  This is more than an animal or vegetable.  This is not even a third party.  Cruel religions would burn their children on an alter.  But on the cross God himself, in the person of God the Son, willingly dies for others. 
It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating, and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins.  thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.
3.  WHJD?
You might be familiar with the question 'what would Jesus do?' (WWJD?).  That is a good thing to ask in every situation we face.  But there is a more important question we need to be clear about: what has Jesus done? (WHJD?)  If we are not clear about what Jesus has done then we won't get Christianity.  If we don't understand what Jesus has done we will never be inspired to change.  If we are not sure what Jesus has done then we will have a false-religion of humanity working its way towards God rather than God coming to our rescue.  This is why doctrine matters.  This is why we are spending so much time thinking about what Jesus has done on the cross.

WWJD, on its own, can't save you.  Even as we try to imitate Jesus our actions fall so short of his perfection.  The Bible teaches us that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.  So self-righteousness is a road to hell.  Without grasping WHJD we will end up living lives marked by humiliating defeat in the face of certain temptations and, in other areas of our lives, superficial change that is marred by ego and pride.

WHJD?  'Moved by the perfection of his holy love, God in Christ substituted himself for us sinners' (Stott).  God's anger is turned away.  Because of the death of God the Son, God can look at us without displeasure and we can look at him without fear.  This is life-changing truth.  This is truth that we must remind ourselves every day.  In Christian teaching we never go beyond the message of the cross; instead we grow deeper in our grasp of it.    

The author Michael Horton noticed that sermons that simply focus on the things that we ought to do for God don't actually change people, what we need to be told is what God has done for us. 
'... bring me into the chamber of a holy God, where I am completely undone, and tell me about what God has done in Christ to save me; tell me about the marvellous indicatives of the gospel - God's surprising interventions of salvation on the stage of history despite human rebellion - and the flickering candle of faith is inflamed, giving light to others ... On its own, more advice (law, commands, exhortations) will only lead to either self-righteousness or despair.  Yet the more Christ is held up before us as sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the more we begin to die to ourselves and live to God' (Christless Christianity).

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