He Deserved None of It…

As we explore “The Heart of the Gospel,”* Packer writes about the driving force in Jesus’ life.  To understand the key motivators for Jesus, he urges us to read the Gospel of Mark.  If we do this, he feels we will get four “impressions.”

First, Jesus was a “man of action.”  In His ministry, He never really had a true home base, He was always changing things around Him and precipitating activities around Him: “working miracles; calling and training disciples; upsetting error that passed for truth and irreligion that passed as godliness” [Packer, 191].

Secondly, Jesus was a person who knew He was divine.  In the Gospel of Mark, the more Jesus tipped off His disciples that He was God, the more they were confused.  The closer they got to Him, they understood Him less.  It is very clear that Jesus is divine when you consider that God spoke at His baptism and then again at the transfiguration.  Jesus stated His absolute authority in everything He said and did, culminating in the ultimate condemning statement He made to the high priest: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?” to which Jesus replied “I am.”

Thirdly, Jesus had a messianic mission that was going to lead Him to death and He knew it.  Jesus predicted four times that He was going to die and that He would rise.  Other times He predicted that He would give His life for many and pour out His blood for many.

The last impression is the shocker and it is the hardest to understand.  Jesus knew He was going to die and He was scared.  In Gethsemane, “horror and dismay came over Him, and He said… ‘My heart is ready to break with grief’”.  It is reported that Jesus threw Himself on the ground.  Then the famous scripture “take this cup from Me.”  Toward the end of His life He uttered “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken Me”.

Packer describes this whole situation as a “frightful ordeal.”  “Jesus, the perfect Servant of God, who had never before showed the least fear of man or pain or loss, manifested in Gethsemane what looked like blue funk, and on the cross declared Himself God-forsaken?”  Quoting Martin Luther, Packer writes “Never man feared death like this man.”

Scared…

My Savior?

Some who do not understand His sacrifice might say things like His death was a tragic accident.   That would elicit fear if one is shocked but Jesus knows what is going to happen.  Others think that Jesus had a morbid streak which caused Him to focus too much on His death.  As the time of His death approached, He merely had a panic attack.  That makes little sense, due to the fact that Jesus knew He would rise again.  Death was not an end; rather it was a beginning…. Why panic?

My concern is much different.  My Savior is scared…

How could He be afraid?

Let me interject a personal story here, a story of injustice.  As a young kid, I suffered a broken shoulder in a playground accident.  To heal this shoulder, I had a special cast that went from my right wrist up to the bicep and to make it even harder to adapt to, the cast had a weight added to the plaster at the elbow.  I had to wear this for an extended period of time to pull the shoulder down and then it would heal properly as it went into the shoulder socket. 

I had a brother and like all boys, we did not see eye-to-eye in all matters and one day we got into a heated argument.  Despite the fact that I had a long cast on my arm, my brother decided to take a plastic baseball bat and hit me on the head.  He did that about seven or eight times.  I don’t know how I did it, but finally I got the bat out of his hand and bopped him on the head one time, about the time my dad entered the room.  He howled.  Dad was indignant.  I was abusing my little brother!  Despite my protestations, I was on the receiving end of a paddling and my brother got off “Scott-free.”

My little example of injustice pales in comparison with the injustice inflicted on Jesus Christ.  Jesus took on the sins of man and He did not deserve to be punished.  He was a perfect man.

Let’s go further in our statement.  Packer relates that Jesus took upon Himself the burden of the world’s sin.  “Jesus was to be made sin, and bear God’s judgement on sin, that He trembled in the garden, and because He was actually bearing that judgement that He declared himself forsaken of God on the cross” [Packer, 193].

Think about it.  He bore the brunt of our sin and in the process He experienced the wrath of God…

For us…

Centuries before, in Isaiah we read these words:  “We considered Him stricken by God…. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him….The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all….For the transgression of my people He was stricken….It was the Lord’s will to crush Him…the Lord made His life a guilt offering” [53:4-10].

Would you fear God’s wrath?  This is the God who opened up the earth and swallowed the families of Moses’ detractors (Korah, Dathan and Abiram).  This is the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.  This is the God of the flood.    Packer has already discussed the wrath of God in one of the hardest chapters I have had to comment on (entitled “The Wrath of God”).

I would fear God’s wrath and so should you.

Jesus knew of His wrath but that does not mean that He did not dread it.  In Phillipians 2:8 it says “He was obedient to death—even death on the cross.” To make matters worse ,to use my little example of injustice, he suffered and suffered and when He had a chance to strike back at His enemies, what did He say?   “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” [Matthew 5: 38-40].

Should we blame Him for acting fearful in the garden?  Should we blame Him for dreading what was to come?  Should we wonder why He cried out  “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

I don’t think so. 

“He was tasting on Calvary the wrath of God that was our due” [Packer].  He lived a life without sin and it is no wonder that He trembled.

He knew what was coming and He deserved none of it…

*Chapter 18 in J.I.Packer’s Knowing God

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No Easy Task

“The Significance of the Second Goat”, “Why John 3:16 is So Important”, The Heart of the Gospel: We Need them All” “Two Very Important Words”                           

The four previous posts have all been about propitiation. 

Why?

“Do you understand this [propitiation]?  If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian Gospel.  No version of this message goes deeper than that which declares man’s root problem before God to be his sin, which evokes wrath, and God’s basic provision for man to be propitiation, which out of wrath brings peace” [J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 189].

Many gospel studies do not get to the point where there is an explanation of the idea that God saves man through allowing Himself to be Killed. 

But that is what happened, in the very heart of the Christian Gospel

Do we dwell enough on the meaning of Paul’s explanation of this in Romans 3:25-26?  “God presented Him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood.  He did this to demonstrate justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.  He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

If we did dwell on Romans 3, we might focus on a key word in this scripture: justice.  Ordinary human conceptions of justice mean a world where everything works out right for those who deserve it.  For those who don’t deserve it [people who do wrong] there are problems; serious punishments.  In Psalm 82:3 it says “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”  In Isaiah 1:17 the prophet says “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.”  There is some sense of justice in the Old Testament.

Certainly in Genesis, God was so upset about man’s behavior that he flooded the earth, destroying sinful man.  This was a public way of showing that God will not allow man’s lawlessness to continue unabated.  But what about since the flood?  Did that episode change man or has man continued in his sinful ways?

You know the answer to that question. 

Man has continued his sinful ways.

Where is the justice?  Are we getting what we deserve?  Packer writes “God had not reacted to their [man’s] impenitence and irreligion and lawlessness by public acts of adverse providence” [Packer, 188].  Instead He has shown “kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” [Acts, 14: 17].  We have continued on in our disregard for God’s commandments, Packer saying “People since the flood have been no better than their forebears were before the flood.”

Where is eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, that supposed “golden rule” of justice?  In Exodus we find “If men who are fighting strike a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, but there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband demands and as the court allows.  But if a serious injury results, then you must require a life for a life—eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, and stripe for stripe.”  In this specific circumstance the “golden rule” occurs but does it expand to all mankind, in all cases of injustice or does it apply to men injuring a pregnant woman in a fight.  In Matthew 5:38-42 in the New Testament, Jesus repudiates the notion of eye for an eye justice. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I tell you, do not resist an evil person: if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  There is no “eye for an eye” strictly regarding retribution and/or justice.  That concept came from Hammurabi’s Code [from the Mesopotamian Empire]. 

Nevertheless, N.T. Wright writes about Christianity and justice.  He feels that it is an innate need in the Christian to “put the world to rights.”  “The Christian faith endorses the passion for justice which every human being knows, the longing to see things put to rights” [Wright, 12, Simply Christian]. 

What if God had that attitude toward us, He wants to put us “to rights”?

We would be in trouble again [another flood?].

So what is God up to?  Is he rewarding us sinners for the bad that we do?  Packer thinks the “passing over” of sins [ref. “forbearance” in Romans 3: 25-26] is not really forgiveness, it is a postponement of judgement.  “If …humans do evil and the Judge of all the earth continues to do them good, can He be as concerned about morality and godliness, the distinction between right and wrong in the lives of His creatures, as He formerly appeared to be, and as perfect justice would seem to require?  Indeed, if He allows sinners to continue unpunished, does He not Himself come short of perfection in His office as judge of the world?” [188].

Here is the heart of the Gospel…

Our sins have been punished.  Justice has been meted out.  Retribution has happened.  It has happened to Jesus, standing in our place.  The gospel says that our Creator has become our redeemer, a much different approach than the flood.  Jesus has shielded us from God’s retribution by becoming our substitute.  He took the stripes that we deserved on His own back.  He died the death that we deserve.

The question is still there…why did He do this?

The answer may be found in man’s desire for a relationship with God and God’s desire for a relationship with man.  If God wants to have a relationship with man and He found a way to have that through His son’s propitiation.  Most of what is wrong in the world today is man sinning against other men.  Most of what is wrong today in man’s relation with God is man sinning against God.  N.T. Wright comments that “relationship” is part of the way we were meant to be fully human.  We need to have a relationship with God.  “We do indeed know that we are made for relationships and that we find relationships difficult….One of the central themes of the Christian story is the claim that the paradox of laughter and tears, woven as it is deep in the heart of the human experience, is woven also deep into the heart of God” [Wright, 38].

When a believer understands propitiation, he or she can put the whole Bible in perspective. Packer compares the believer’s grasp of propitiation as “standing on the top of Mount Snowdon in Wales, you can see the whole of Snowdonia spread out around you, and you have a wider view than you can get from any other point in the area” [191].  With knowledge of propitiation, you can see the Bible from a position “to take the measure of vital matters which cannot be properly grasped in any other terms.”

My fifth post on propitiation…

Why?

We are trying to wrap our minds around the very heart of the Christian gospel, trying to take the measure of vital matters which cannot be grasped in any other terms.

No easy task…

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The Significance of the Second Goat

When a reader encounters the Bible, it is imposing at best.  It is long.  It was written in a culture that is not our own and it often uses language that can be difficult to understand.  Language is the medium of communication, whether spoken or written.  We have to have it for thoughts to be transmitted from one person to another.  But what if the language that is used is language from God, special language written over a period of 1,500 years, through the pens of almost 40 human writers?

One Divine Author….

I have read the Bible on a purely emotional level, trying to piece together the information, sometimes the stories, imagining characters and what they are doing.  I have seldom read the Bible on a deeper level, looking for symbols and patterns.

J.I. Packer says the Bible can be read in a deeper more meaningful way.  When a reader can step back from The Bible and see symbols and patterns, God begins to emerge in The Word. 

This post will focus on one very symbolic word that is a key to understanding God’s intentions.  That word is blood.  Even outside of a Biblical context, blood is rife with meaning.  Blood is a body fluid that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen.  It literally is life giving.  Blood has a bright red color and it is easily seen on most surfaces.  When we see it coming from our body or someone else’s, many people are prone to faint or react with alarm.

I am reading Leviticus right now and I am struck by the focus on blood; for the Israelites, it is a special life-force element.  Blood must be shed by sacrificial animals to atone for man’s sins.  It says in Leviticus 17: 11 “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes that atonement.”  God is deadly serious about animals shedding their sacrificial blood on the altar but God is also deadly serious about the Jewish people not taking animals’ blood in their bodies.  “If any Israelite or any foreigner living in the community eats meat with blood still in it, the Lord will turn against him and no longer consider him one of His people….Blood which is life, takes away sins.  That is why the Lord has told the people of Israel that neither they nor any foreigner living among them shall eat any meat with blood still in it [Leviticus 17: 10 and 12].

So in the Old Testament context, blood is a word associated with a violent death of a sacrificial animal.  Packer explains in his book Knowing God the idea of representative substitution.  My wife has a huge heart for animals [like many in our western world].  She has always had a problem with an innocent animal taking the place of a guilty human but that was what God demanded of man.  The animal was often not only innocent but as perfect as it could be.  The sinner would lay hands on the animal’s head and “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” [Packer, 187].  See Leviticus 4:4, 24, 29, 33 and Leviticus 4: 6-7, 17-18, 25, 30 for specifics.  This was God’s way of restoring fellowship with man and man’s way of atoning for sin.  The animal was man’s expiation.

As I read Leviticus the other day, Aaron finished his ritual to purify the Holy Place and put both hands on the head of a perfect goat.  He confessed over that goat all the evils, sins and rebellions of the people of Israel.  The translation* I am reading says those evils, sins and rebellions “transfer…to the goat’s head.  Then the goat is to be driven off into the desert by a man appointed to do it.  The goat will carry all their sins away with him into some uninhabited land” [Leviticus 16: 20-22].  Another perfect goat was killed in the ordinary way, at the entrance of the Tent, with blood thrown against the sides of the altar.  After reading of ordinary procedures, this extraordinary instance of the “scapegoat” seemed important, symbolic if you will.  The goat sent away was sacrificed by losing its life due to unseen harm, Packer refers to this as expiation for “sins borne away out of sight, never to trouble our relationship with God again.”

I see this event in Leviticus as a transition to the most significant act of sacrifice in the New Testament, the death of Jesus Christ for mans’ sins.  Jesus was the representative substitution for man in the New Testament, the scapegoat if you will.  Packer cites the Apostle Paul who tells us that Jesus’s blood is what quenched the wrath of God toward man.  “What redeemed us from death was not Jesus’ life or teaching, not His moral perfection nor His fidelity to the Father, but the shedding of His blood….the innocent taking the place of the guilty, in the name and for the sake of the guilty, under the axe of God’s retribution.”    In Galatians, it says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…by becoming a curse for us.”  Second Corinthians says “God made Him who had no sin to be the sin for us.”  As I have been reading Leviticus, I have also been reading Mark where Jesus said the symbolic words “He took the cup and gave thanks to God and handed it to them; and they all drank from it.  Jesus said ‘this is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant” [Mark 14: 22-24].

Often, Bible readers succumb to the temptation to give up on reading God’s word.  This Book is too long and I can’t finish it quickly and it just demands too much of my attention.  Why are these ancient people doing what they are doing?  These rituals and this lifestyle are so foreign to me.  The language can be tough; words which we don’t use anymore are used and that can be confusing.  I would comment that these are all valid excuses to stop reading the Bible, but there are very good reasons to stick with it.   Evangelist and publisher D. L. Moody says the “Scriptures were not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.”  Pastor Skip Heitzig writes “God has taken our frailties into consideration and has given us His Word in such a way that our minds can understand its truths and our souls can be nourished by it.  God wants us to read the Bible….It is a means of getting to know Him.”**

He loves us.  He wants us to know Him. He wants to know us so badly that He sent His son to be sacrificed for our sins.  Yes, Jesus’ blood was shed for us, the first goat and the second: the first blood was obvious but the second goat’s blood was not, but as it suffered out of sight, those sins were taken away never to trouble our relationship with God again.

*The Good News Bible 

**How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It

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Why John 3:16 is so Important….

“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.   For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.   He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.   And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” [John 3: 13-19].

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” [John 3: 16].  We see someone hold up John 3:16 at a sporting event, we hear this verse quoted in conversation and we hear it read from the pulpit.  Recently, I looked at banners at the front of my church and sure enough, both banners have John 3: 16 on them.

But what does this oft-quoted Scripture really mean?  Do we just rattle it off, not really appreciating the meaning?

In the opening paragraph, I quoted from John 3: 13 to John 3: 19 to provide some context for this famous verse, hoping to glean some additional interpretation by examining surrounding words.  The key to understanding John 3:16 comes from comprehending its context.

John 3 begins with Jesus discussing being born again with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Ruling Council.  Jesus has confused him by telling him that to enter the Kingdom of God, one has to be born again.  Nicodemus replied “How can this be?…How can a man be born when he is old?  Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus chastised Nicodemus “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things…still you people do not accept our testimony.”

Then Jesus hit Nicodemus with the verse “No one has ever gone into heaven except the One who came from Heaven.”  How will Nicodemus believe heavenly things; Jesus “has spoken to him about earthly things and he did not believe.”  How will we believe of heavenly things?  Jesus doubted that he would believe.

Then the Scripture  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”  Is Jesus comparing Himself to the serpent?  One would think not, but maybe He is.  The serpent deserves to be condemned; for he has bitten man with a deadly poison called sin; in fact, that poison is flowing in man’s veins.  Jesus does not deserve to be condemned but He will be lifted up as a substitute for the sins of man “that whoever believes in Him [Jesus/ God] may have eternal life.”

Then the famous John 3:16, which now clearly establishes that God sent His own Son into the world to save it; in fact, belief in [Jesus/ God] will insure that the believer will not perish but have eternal life. 

Again in John 3:17, Jesus restates His mission on this earth: not to condemn the world but to save it.  All one has to do is accept Jesus/ God and they won’t be condemned.  However, Jesus knows it is often not that simple.  The poison of sin is too strong man; prefers darkness instead of the light.  Love for sin causes man to reject the light of Jesus Christ.  That choice of darkness over light condemns man.  The choice of light shows great faith and great faith will be rewarded with everlasting life.

What is John 3: 16 really saying?

Many feel this single verse underpins the entirety of the biblical narrative.  Why is John 3: 16 quoted so much?  No other verse in the Bible summarizes God’s relationship with man the way this verse does.  Some consider John 3:16 the “theme verse” for the whole Bible.  This one verse explains that Jesus came to take our place on the cross to satisfy God’s demands for sinless man.  Matthew Henry* states that “giving His Son for this world is God’s way of negotiating a peace between heaven and earth.”

The irony of all this is that God has given His only Son to save man from His wrath over the sinfulness of man’s behavior [John Stott’s comment “God gave Himself to save us from Himself”].

Let’s be honest, what god would do this?  Only our God.  Instead of experiencing the wrath of God [which we so richly deserve] Jesus turned God’s wrath into love.  Since this was God appeasing Himself, that makes it even more difficult to understand.  Man gets off “scott-free”.  We all sin, yet we are made right with God [justified]. 

This introduces an idea that so many people struggle to accept, the doctrine of grace.  Grace is the opposite of the popular word “karma” which means getting what you deserve.  Grace means getting what you don’t deserve.  We don’t deserve salvation; we don’t deserve eternal life.  It is a core concept in the Bible.  It is God’s undeserved love for you and for me.

This past Sunday my church was graced with a first time visitor who stood during prayer time and gave his testimony.  He revealed that he had a battle with alcohol; in fact, he said that three or four times in the few moments he was speaking.  He began crying and saying that he was sorry.  Later in the service, it was my honor to serve this same man communion and I just said to him simply “bless you brother.”  He began crying and saying, “I am sorry; I am sorry; I am sorry.”

We should all be sorry for how we conduct ourselves.  I hope this man does not assume that my church has pews filled with saints.  My church [like all churches] is full of people who should be saying to God, “I am sorry; I am sorry; I am sorry.”  We are saved, but only by God’s unmerited grace.  We are saved by the redeeming sacrifice of His own Son Jesus Christ.  We are saved by our belief in our loving Father.  We are saved by our belief in our loving Father.

Is there anything, anything that we can do to begin to be more deserving of God’s love?  In the Book of John Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  This is a bit vague but one must realize that Jesus’ life was inspirational.  Of course we cannot achieve a love like that of our God, our Father who gave His only Son, but we must make an effort to imitate Jesus, to grab that “bar” of love which God and Jesus set so high.

We have been trying to understand the word propitiation as what man must do to appease gods.  It is a common idea in pagan worship.  In Christianity, Christ is used to appease God and God initiates propitiation.

God is angry at man and He appeases Himself by His own action.

What greater love is this?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

*From Matthew Henry’s Commentary on “Biblegateway.com.”

Based on ideas expressed in J.I. Packer’s Knowing God

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The Heart of the Gospel: We Need Them All…

J.I. Packer entitles Chapter 18 “The Heart of the Gospel.”  Then he spends many pages on two terms that we don’t use very often, propitiation and expiation.  We don’t use those words as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so most of us aren’t really sure what they mean in Scripture.  As I indicated in the previous post, I found the word propitiation used three times in the Bible.  I had to use a concordance to confirm the word’s use.

Not being a theologian, I had no idea that there is ongoing debate about the ideas of propitiation and expiation, some theologians arguing that there is no need for propitiation, that expiation is good enough. 

But we are discussing J.I. Packer’s book and for him, man needs both propitiation and expiation.

You see, he is writing about “The Heart of the Gospel.”

By way of review, expiation is the blotting out or removal of sin.  After expiation, communion with God can occur.  Packer elaborates: “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” [182].  Note that the quote from Packer says “only half of what propitiation means.” 

To represent the point of view of expiation alone, Packer chooses theologian C.H. Dodd who believed “there is no such thing as anger” in God due to man’s penchant for sinning, so there is no real need for propitiation.

Remember that propitiation is the need to offer a sacrifice that turns aside the wrath of God.  Anyone who believes in a god knows there is a terrific need to stay on the friendly side of that god.   It is a universal belief across many religions in order to appease the “gods” sacrifices should be made, alms should be offered up, or some price must be exacted.  Dodd and others cannot accept this idea [especially in the New Testament context] that God’s wrath must be appeased with a sacrifice.

But again, Packer is discussing what he calls “The Heart of the Gospel.”

I stand with Packer.  As Christians, we need both propitiation and expiation.

God’s wrath is real and it certainly can be felt as man sins.  Packer points to Romans 1: 18 where the Apostle Paul says “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of man.”  Many New Testament readers think that type of Godly wrath is no longer relevant; this is an Old Testament thing.  The New Testament is all about grace and mercy, God’s forgiveness of our sins. Not so fast.  Here Paul is revealing that man can turn away from God so much that God can give up on man.  In fact, Packer cites three verses from the King James Version [verses 24, 26 and 28] where it says “God gave them [man] up.” 

In short, God’s wrath is real today.

In Romans 2: 1-16, Paul discusses the idea that it is certain man will experience a day of God’s wrath.  That day will be at every man’s judgement when God will look at man’s earthly works.  Let’s dig into parts of this Scripture that make the case.  “The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God; who will render to every man according to his works:…unto them that …obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation…in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my Gospel, by Jesus Christ.” 

Sounds like sinning will incur the wrath of God.  God’s wrath is real today.

Packer continues with Romans 3 with Paul’s argument that every person, Jew and Gentile are “under sin” [verse 9].  We are under sin in the present and we will be under sin in the future.  Paul writes that the natural state of man is sin and without the Gospel, we are subject to God’s anger.   This Gospel exposure is the saving grace we all depend on.  It is the Gospel [Packer writes] that is the controlling reality of our lives.  Without God’s word, we are in danger of experiencing the active anger of God.

Yes, God’s wrath is real today.

Instead of denying the need for propitiation, I stand with Packer.  We do need it and it is a good thing we have it.  Again, it is hard to understand that we have to have a sacrifice to save us but we do. That sacrifice is Jesus Christ.  Without it, we can be considered God’s enemies.  With it, we can be justified in the sight of God.

If God’s wrath is real today, by the sacrificial death of God’s only Son, we have a way for God’s wrath to be pacified.

Unlike other gods who may be seen as moody, grumpy or capricious, our God requires propitiation because He is holy and just.  God has told man repeatedly that sin is not appropriate behavior.  He is consistent in both the Old Testament and the New.  Yes it really says in Romans 1: 18 “[My] wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”

God declares what sacrifice He needed and then He provided it.  He is not asking for man to be hung on the cross.  He insists that His only son be put to death up there.  He takes credit for providing Old Testament sacrificial blood [see Leviticus 17:11] and He takes credit for providing our New Testament sacrifice. 

God gives His only Son to die for us.  This is not just a bribe to appease some pagan God, some animal, some alms, some first fruit.  This is God’s only Son.  Theologian John Stott writes “God gave Himself to save us from Himself.”

We have a contemporary expression that fits in well right here.  When a person today  struggles to understand they might say “I am having a hard time wrapping my head around that idea.”  That is very true about God’s need for propitiation.

Let’s go further with two more words that are less obscure than propitiation and expiation.  In fact, they are thrown around so much that maybe we don’t appreciate them. 

One is atonement.  Atonement means the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus as our “Atoner”, we would be lost.  He took our place up on that cross.  God tried over and over to communicate to man what He needed for us to measure up and He finally did that with the earthly life of His Son.  Jesus experienced a lot of wrath from this world, wrath He did not deserve, for He had lived a sinless life.  The sacrificial death of Jesus appeased God, Packer writing that His act “abolished God’s anger against us and ensured that His treatment of us forever would be propitious and favorable.” 

Yes, instead of showing Himself to be against us. God shows us that He is for us.

The last word is salvation.  The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is God’s way of saving mankind.  Just the other night I heard a pastor give an alter call.  He used that old familiar question, “Are you saved?”  R.C. Sproul [another noted theologian] says “trying to explain salvation can give you a headache, because the word salvation is used about seventy different ways in the Bible.”  But salvation is what we get by the propitiation, the expiation and atonement of Jesus Christ.  We are a people covered by the atonement. We are all sinners and we need to be redeemed from the clear and present danger of our sinning.  We have a God who has every right to be angry about our poor behavior.  We all deserve God’s wrath.  Sproul writes “There is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid.  That is what salvation is all about.”

God’s sacrifice of his Son for us is an act of love for mankind that is so unbelievable most of us cannot comprehend it.  Packer writes “the wrath of God is as personal, and as potent, as His love; and just as the blood shedding of the Lord Jesus was the direct manifesting of His Father’s love toward us, so it is the direct averting of His Fathers’ wrath against us.”

I know it is hard to understand propitiation, expiation, atonement and salvation but I stand with Packer.  As Christians we need both propitiation and expiation [atonement and salvation].

This is the heart of the gospel.

We need them all…

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Two Very Important Words…

It has been a challenge; one that I am glad I accepted, commenting on J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.  I make no claim to being a theologian but I do have a hunger to learn more about God, from a layman’s perspective.  I began writing on Knowing God on April 22, 2019.  Here it is February 17, 2020 and I am beginning part three of the book, entitled “If God Be For Us,” the last section of the book.

The rest of the phrase of “If God be for us” is “then who can be against us.”  It is based on Romans 8: 31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

After a section of the book entitled “Know The Lord” and another entitled “Behold Your God” we are in “If God Be For Us” and we are face to face with the word propitiation.

That’s a word that is not used in everyday parlance.

What does it mean?

Why would Packer start the last section of his book bringing up the word propitiation?

We can look the word up in a concordance, see it used in Romans 3: 25, and First John 4: 10 but Packer refers to First John 2:2 [King James Version] “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  He of course, refers to Jesus Christ.

Propitiation means the act of appeasing  a deity, thus incurring divine favor or avoiding divine retribution.

That’s not a new idea.  Many religions have this concept as a foundational idea.  It seems that humans have always tried to appease the gods by offering various gifts or sacrifices.  Packer begins chapter 18 with the tale of Agamemnon, the Greek general who slaughtered his own daughter to appease his gods.  His army was on ships trying to reach a destination and the winds were blowing against the ships, keeping them from moving.  Agamemnon gave orders for his own daughter to be sacrificed to change the winds.  It worked.  The gods were appeased, and the fleet reached Troy, the intended destination. 

How does this relate to us knowing God?

Of course the Bible is full of human beings sacrificing to God.  The Israelites used many sacrifices to the Lord.  Burnt offerings were made of bullocks, rams, goats, doves and pigeons.  Meal offerings were made of grain, flour, and cakes without leaven.  Peace offerings were made of cattle, sheep or goats [unlike burnt offerings, peace offerings were partially eaten].  Sin offerings and trespass offerings were made according to the sins that were committed. 

We all know of the meticulous rules for the Jewish priesthood, the system of laws administered by the Levites, the tribe of the Israelites that were in charge of the Tabernacle and all associated activities [read the Book of Leviticus].

 But there was no human sacrifice [Abraham got very close with Isaac]. *

Until Jesus Christ.

Then we have the ultimate propitiation.

Modern Christians have argued that, whatever the Old Testament may have been about, the New Testament can’t possibly have anything to do with propitiation.  The fact of the matter is that the concept of God’s wrath needing to be appeased by a sacrifice is very much a New Testament idea.  Is this the same model as the Greek model of Agamemnon?  Does this follow the pagan model of sacrifice that was common in Jesus’ day?  Theologian John Stott has argued that “The Christian doctrine of propitiation is totally different from pagan or animistic superstitions.”

What makes it different?

First of all pagan gods were “grumpy and capricious.”  They did not care much about humans and did not even attend  them until they were  angered.  Then the angry pagan god “smote” humans and to avoid additional wrath the god must be placated with a sacrifice.

Our God is not moody and easily provoked.  He is holy and just and His behavior is consistent.  Man never sees God’s wrath unless he commits some ungodly or unrighteous act.   

In addition, God carried out  propitiation, because He declared what He wanted and then provided it.  God fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy by giving His own Son to die for our sins.  Stott says “God gave Himself to save us from Himself.”  We must read Romans 3: 24-25 “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God has put forward as propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God and we cannot understand the Bible or any teaching about Christianity apart from this.  We deserve harsh punishment, because we sin every day we are alive.  Jesus’ supreme sacrifice on the cross placated God because God’s wrath would cause us to be eternally condemned if not for His Son.

Jesus saved us from God’s wrath which we deserve.

He saved us from the danger brought about by our own sins.  He atoned for our sins. 

We can understand propitiation now, the sacrifice of another for our benefit.  There is no offering that man can give to God that would make us acceptable in His eyes.  We are incapable of satisfying God’s justice, appeasing His holy wrath, and living up to the standard of His perfect nature.  For this reason, the perfect sacrifice for our sin is His own Son, who came into this world in human flesh, to experience what it is like to be a human, to inspire us to live a righteous life through His perfection and to take “that cup” which in a moment of weakness He wanted God to take away from Him.  Quickly He knew that was not to be, as He said “Yet not as I will, but as you will” to His Father right after asking for this favor.

All this benefits us, as Jesus is our substitute.  He gave His all for us.

Let me throw another word at you related to this act or sacrifice.

Expiation…

Because of Jesus’ propitiation, we experience expiation.  Expiation means the blotting out or the removal of sin.  When we have expiation, we renew our communion with God because sin is no longer in the way.

Jesus saved us and if we can profess our faith in God, we can experience the salvation that God offers. 

Two words we don’t use much, but two words every Christian should know…

Propitiation and expiation.

Truly, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

*The Hebrews (and especially the authors of Scripture) were aghast at the practice of human sacrifice in the cultures around them…even though some of their own rulers were sometimes guilty of it. King Ahaz did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, and he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, not God. Also Jephthah, one of the judges of Israel, offered up human sacrifice (his own daughter!) to the God of Israel.  These examples were abominable practices of nations that had too much influence on Israel.  Scripture is quite clear—from the “sacrifice of Isaac” onwards—that God isn’t asking his people to engage in human sacrifice.

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“Lukewarm Christianity”

Several times in his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer has a special section called “The Christian Response.” 

Usually this section comes after he has explained some controversial idea that some Christians may object to.  In the case of Chapter 17, he has just explained that we have a God who is jealous.  In my previous post, I paraphrased his position by stating that God assumes that man understands the covenant relationship that is in place between God and man.  God expects unqualified love and loyalty from his people and nothing less.  That sounds very strident but God has His reasons: He wants us to understand His sovereignty in judgment upon sin, He wants us to understand that we are His chosen people, and He wants the love and praise that He truly deserves.

He is jealous for a reason…

But He is still jealous…and maybe that is a bit controversial.

What do you make of that?  How do you respond to that?

You are probably not going to respond as Packer recommends.

Packer says we should be zealous for God. 

Hmmm.  A jealous God should make us zealous Christians.

Zealous is not a word I use very much so I did a bit of study about “zealousy”.  In the First Century there was a political movement among Judean Jews who wanted to overthrow Roman rule.  They were called Zealots.  Some describe these people as “terrorists” because they used forceful tactics to accomplish their objectives.  When Rome introduced what they called “cult worship,” the Zealots revolted, they overtook Jerusalem and they were eventually  defeated.  This led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Also, Jesus picked Simon the Zealot to be one of his twelve disciples.    

In contemporary language, a zealot is a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals.  This next statement is hard to make, but a Christian zealot today could have the derisive label “nutty” applied to them.  They exhibit behavior so extreme that it is not socially acceptable.

But should they have that label?

Jesus spoke so much about lukewarm faith.  If a Christian has that kind of faith, they are limited in their value to Christ.  In Revelation Chapter 13 , the church at Laodicea is described as lukewarm, like water that is too warm to be a refreshing drink but not warm enough for an invigorating bath.  That is water with little value.  The members of this church saw themselves as rich and self-sufficient, but Jesus described them as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  They sickened Him, and He said “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

What about our deeds?  Are our deeds a clue to the state of our faith?  Jesus equates our deeds as a sign of our true spiritual welfare.  Often He compares followers to trees: By your fruit you will recognize them and every good tree bears good fruit.  The deeds of a true believer will be “hot” or “cold.”  If they are, they will benefit the world in some way [reference the waters of Laodicea].  Lukewarm followers do harm to a watching world.  When one claims to know God but then they act like He doesn’t exist, it sends out a very confusing message.  God is sickened by this hypocrisy and unbelievers who observe these Christians are uninspired.

Let’s describe the Christian who has zeal [according to Packer].  This person has a true cause for life, a true passion and they are devoted to their God.  Packer quotes Bishop J.C. Ryle at length: “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way…the Spirit puts in the heart of the believer…an earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent [attitude].  He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing, and that one thing is to please God.”

A zealous Christian is like a candle. He burns for God and if he is consumed in the process of serving his Lord, that’s ok.  “Whether he lives or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness, whether he is rich, or whether he is poor—whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence—whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish—whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise—whether he gets honor, or whether he gets shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all” [Ryle, Practical Religion, 130].

What are we to make of this?

Packer says “zeal is commanded and commended in the Scriptures.”  Paul was a zealous man.  He faced prison and persecution for his beliefs.  Facing prison, Paul says in Acts 20:24 “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”  Need we say it, but Jesus was a zealous man, a supreme example of zeal.

This leaves us as Christians to ask ourselves about our own zeal.  Do we burn to do the Lord’s bidding or are we more concerned with materialism, a quest for fame and a desire for power?  What consumes us?  Are we like the candle?

How many of our churches are lukewarm today?  They may be sound and respectable but they are not that interested in doing the Lord’s work.  Maybe many churches today are interested in providing fellowship for Christians.  Maybe they exist to give people a good feeling about themselves: “I have done my duty for the week; I have gone to church.” 

I recall an excellent book I read years ago by Pastor Skip Heitzig entitled How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It.  Early in this book (devoted to getting Christians to open God’s Word) he recalls an instance in his life when he took his Bible to church.  He visited the church where he was raised after dedicating his life to the Lord at another church: “I went back to the church in which I’d been raised.  Although it was considered a Christian denomination, Bible reading was never emphasized.  As I entered the front door, Bible in hand, and made my way through the foyer, people looked at me as if I were some extraterrestrial being.  ‘Why are you bringing in one of those things?’ someone asked.  I thought, ‘What am I supposed to carry?  A coloring book?’  It dawned on me that of all the places that should welcome and foster the study of the Bible, it would be a church” [3].

Maybe Heitzig felt like people were labelling him “nutty” but should they?  One can only make so much out of this one instance, but what if God judges us on how zealous we are?  What if God judged our churches on how zealous they are?  Would He be pleased that we are doing all that we can do to advance His kingdom here on earth, that we have a burning love for Him?  Would He classify our churches with that lukewarm Laodicean congregation, a church of little faith, hypocritical faith, full of unconverted “pretend” Christians.

It would be best for us to remember Revelation verse 16 regarding our zealous behavior or lack thereof. 

I would be best for us to remember Revelation verse 16 regarding our churches.

The prophetic words of Revelation says it best.  The Lord says “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

That’s how disgusted He is…

With lukewarm Christians.

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