This week I’m preparing for a sermon that looks at Jesus as our propitiation. The very thought of the curse motif of the atonement gets some people angry. That seems to be true in both classical liberal protestant circles, as well as, with some in the emergent church camp.
In the 1930s Yale Professor H. Richard Niebuhr offered a poignant description of liberal Protestantism’s message then, and I think the emergent church’s message now in his book, The Kingdom of God in America:
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a world without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.
God not only is a God of love, but He is also is a God of wrath. He is a God of justice, and He is a God who is true to His word. Fortunately for us Jesus took God’s wrath and satisfied it so that we don’t have to face it.
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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments, (1 John 2:1-3, ESV).
We also learn this is how God manifested His love for us.
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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, (1 John 4:9-11, ESV).
The message that Niebuhr describes is a false one. It will only provide false comfort and lead people away from the truth. The only remedy is that God has His wrath satisfied in the death of Jesus.
And that is very good news.
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