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The Fourfold Message of the Cross
The Message of Sacrifice
1 John 2:1-2
Every year around Easter time, our attention is always directed toward the crucifixion of Jesus.  Now that's not too surprising for us because we talk about the cross a lot.  After all, at the heart of Christianity stands the cross.  It is the definitive and distinctive symbol of our faith. 
Therefore, it's not uncommon for us to sing songs and read Bible verses and hear sermons about the cross, the crucifixion, the resurrection and all that is acquainted with the Easter story.
But sometimes, in our familiarity, I'm concerned we may miss the message.  We know the story and the details.  We can recite the narrative, but what do they combine to say to humanity? 
Maybe you've never considered what a broad subject that is.  What is the message of the cross?  What is it's central theme or focus?  Well, I don't know about you, but for me, that's hard to identify, not because I don't know about the details, but because there is so much to consider. 
So what I want us to do, is take some time between now and Easter and think about some of the different messages the cross speaks to us.  There are four primary messages spoken through the cross, and every one of them is vital, not only so that we can be saved, but that we can live as God designed.
Today I want us to begin with the message of sacrifice.   One of the essential message from the cross is that we approach God through the sacrifice of Jesus and that sacrifice is identified as a propitiation.  One usage of the word is found in
1 John 2:2
Now to understand this verse, let's begin with the basics.  The Bible very clearly teaches that God is holy and mankind is not. Now that is simple enough that anyone can understand it.  Not only do we understand it mentally, we understand it experientially, especially the part about man not being holy.  Right?
In fact, the Bible explicitly teaches that every person who has ever lived has broken God's holy Law, has rebelled against God, deserves the full extent of His wrath against sin, and is already sentenced to eternal punishment in hell. That is the universal bad news.
But on the other hand, there is good news and that is the gospel which teaches us that God, while being just and holy, is also gracious and merciful. And driven by His love for lost mankind, He offers complete forgiveness for all violations of His Law.  In fact, He offers a way to escape all punishment for sin.   And that way of escape is found in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. 
So for anybody who believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, who repents for sin and embraces Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness all sin and deliverance from the penalty of sin.
And instead of being punished, there is the promise of eternal blessing and holy perfection. That is the gospel. That is the good news that follows the bad news.
So this is the very core of the Christian faith.  God is holy and just.  but He is also gracious and merciful.   Because He is holy and just, He demands punishment for sin and every sin must be and will be punished. 
But on the other hand, God is also gracious and merciful and eager to forgive sin. And how God manages to satisfy His justice and still allow His grace to operate is the great scheme of redemption.
Now to understand what we read in 1 John 2:2, we really need to back up a little and see what leads to this statement.  For instance, in 1 John 1:7 we read that it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin.
Then verse 9 tells us that God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So twice, in verse 7 and again in verse 9, we are told that there is the possibility of cleansing and forgiveness and escape from the punishment that we deserve.
And then, in verse 1 of chapter 2 we are told that if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  In other words, you can be forgiven and then because you are forgiven, because you belong to God's family, because you have been delivered from eternal punishment, you have a divine defense attorney who takes up your case before God.
That means we have none other than Jesus Christ representing us before the Judge of Eternity when the accuser comes into the courtroom of God and accuses us of sin.  Christ steps in to remind the court that we could never be held guilty because we have already been forgiven.
And His advocacy is totally effective because it is based on what he did while he was on earth-his atoning sacrifice in our behalf on the cross of Calvary and not what you do or don't do. 
In fact, verse 2.  "It is because He Himself is the propitiation for our sins." He could never be our Defender if He weren't our Propitiator. So here we are given the reason that our guilt has been removed. Here we are given the reason why Jesus can make a case for us, even though we are sinners.
Here we are given the reason why we are not under condemnation, why we will never be punished. It is because He Himself, that is Jesus Christ the righteous One, is the propitiation for our sins.
Now, if something as important as our standing before God is based on His propitiation, it would serve us well to understand what that means. 
Now obviously, that is not a word we use too often, and most of us are not very well acquainted with it.  But it is an important Bible word and it really deserves to be studied and understood.  In fact, it is one of the great doctrines of Christianity, and if we will ever pursue a life of holiness, it is vital to our understanding. 
So today, I want to share with you a message from the cross that is all about the sacrifice of Christ and it all revolves around this concept propitiation.  First, let's think about  
1.  The Nature of Propitiation
And for that, we look at the word. It says in verse 2 that He Himself is "the propitiation".  Now that is a long theological word, with which most of us are unfamiliar,  In fact, I would guess the majority of us have lived our entire life and never had a conversation with anybody in the secular world in which anybody used the word propitiation.
In fact, it is a word that is isolated to the Bible. Nobody ever uses it. It doesn't belong in our culture. However, it did belong in ancient cultures. In fact, it belonged in cultures in both the Old and New Testament times.
The idea of propitiation comes from the sacrificial system found in the ancient religious world.  To propitiate basically means to appease, or turn away the wrath of an offended person by means of a sacrifice.
And propitiation really boils down to four fundamental components.  Somebody is offended, somebody does the offending, the offense itself and the sacrifice which the offender offers to the offended so the offense can be satisfied.
So drop that generalization into salvation terms and it means that God is the somebody Who is offended, you and I are the ones who have offended Him by our sin, and Jesus is the sacrifice that satisfies God and allows the relationship to be restored. Jesus is our propitiation. 
Now we are immediately confronted with some challenges when it comes to explaining this concept in our culture.  First, it requires an acknowledgement of sin and nobody wants to admit they are a sinner.
The message is also challenged by the notion that God is angry about sin.  But the Bible assures us that sin is transgression of God’s law, therefore it dishonors and offends God and God's reaction to sin is severe.  From an Old Testament perspective, Ezekiel tells us that “The soul who sins will die."  ANd God didn't change His mind when He wrote the New Testament because it reminds us also that. “the wages of sin is death.”
So as sinners, we have a big problem on our hands in that we have offended a holy God and He means business when it comes to dealing with sin. 
Therefore, if we have any hope of being saved from God's wrath, we need somebody to get in between us and God and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  We need somebody or something to satisfy His anger. 
And that's the purpose of a propitiation.  Propitiation means a sacrifice is offered to God to turn his wrath away from a sinner to a substitute so that instead of being punished, we experience God's grace, forgiveness and fellowship.
One of the best Old Testament illustrations of propitiation is found in the Jewish Temple at the Mercy Seat. 
When God gave instructions for the building of the tabernacle and later for the temple, inside the large courtyard of the temple there was a holy place and inside the holy place was a Holy of Holies which was the place where God met with His people. 
It was a place where no one could go but a high priest and he could only go once a year on the Day of Atonement.  Now what that meant was the dwelling place of God was not available or open or accessible to any sinful human being. The high priest could only go once a year to placate God, to satisfy God, to appease God's wrath by the sprinkling of the blood of a dead animal, a sacrifice on the Mercy Seat.
Inside the Holy of Holies was a box, the box was called the Ark of the Covenant. An ark was simply a container.  And inside was the Law of Moses,  the Covenant of Moses.  That container was made of gold and you can read all about it in the 25th chapter of Exodus.
Now that container had a lid on and it was made of gold also.  It was identified as the Mercy Seat.  That is the literal place where appeasement took place on behalf of the nation of Israel.  On each end of the little box there was a cherub made out of one piece of solid gold with its wings going across the lid.   They were symbols of the holiness of God.
Above the Ark was the Shekinah glory of God. Inside the Ark was the Law. And on the lid on the Day of Atonement was where blood from a sacrifice was sprinkled.
Now watch what happened:  The Ark contains the Law. By the way, every day, that law was broken by every human being in the nation.  The Covenant that was housed in that box was regularly and consistently violated.  So inside the box is the broken Law of God.
Above the box is the Shekinah glory of God in all His majesty and holiness, accented and enhanced by the presence of the Cherubim who are the guardians of that holiness.  So how can holy God be reconciled with violators of His Law? How can holy God be appeased for the violation of His Law?
Well, God determined that there would be a place where appeasement could be made between the broken Law and holy God.
So every year, an atonement was made. God required the high priest on that day to enter the Holy of Holies and splatter the blood of a sacrificed animal all over the lid between the broken Law and the Shekinah glory of His presence, to make atonement for the sins of Israel.
Now, when that gold lid was covered over with the blood of a sacrifices it became a place of mercy.  That's why it was called the Mercy Seat.  It was the place where God was appeased.  In fact, on eof the sweetest things those Old Testament Jews could ever hear was recorded in Exodus 25:22 when God said, "There I will meet with you, from above the Mercy Seat, from between the two cherubim on the Ark of the testimony."
Did you catch it?  God said, "I'll meet you through the blood.  
See what's happening?  Sacrificial blood changed the Ark of God's broken Law which could rightfully be seen as an Ark of Judgment into a Mercy Seat.
Now listen carefully. The animal blood did not actually propitiate God. There was not final and total appeasement in the blood of animals.  That's why the process had to be repeated every year. 
But it did buy some time.  It pushed punishment ahead for a year.   And it served as a symbol and reminder of a sacrifice that would be made one day that would satisfy and appease God for all eternity.  
That is the nature of propitiation.  It is a sacrifice that satisfies God.
Let's talk secondly about
2. The Necessity for Propitiation
Look again at
verse 2
Why is a propitiation necessary?  It is because of sins. God, the offended holy Creator, whose Law was broken and is continually broken by sinners, must react justly in holy anger and judgment to sin. 
Now keep in mind, God's justice requires that every sin that was ever committed by every person who has ever lived must be and will punished. They will all be punished. The question is how. If the sinner is to escape the punishment, if the sinner is to be delivered from the condemnation for his sin, then God has to be satisfied some other way.
But one way or the other, God's wrath will be satisfied. For some, that means they will spend eternity in hell paying a just penalty for their sins.
But in the case of others, His wrath over sin will be satisfied by a special sacrifice that was pictured in this Old Testament sacrificial system that we've described.
Now I realize it is not popular in our progressive, forward-thinking society to talk about something as graphic and ugly as a God Who punishes sin.  It's not even popular to talk about it in most churches. 
After all, nobody wants to think of God as a God of wrath or punishment.  He's a God of love and kindness.  But both are true of our God.  He is a God of love and mercy, but He is also a God of wrath and punishment.
In fact, the punishment He brings by way of His wrath and justice are nothing other than reactions against the rejection of His love and mercy. If God wasn't angry about sin, He wouldn't be perfectly holy.
So the punishment of sin which is the just penalty for violating God's holy Law and the pardon for sin which is the gracious forgiveness of God's grace have to come together. Punishment and pardon have to come together. Justice and grace have to come together. Guilt and forgiveness have to come together.
And they come together in the sacrifice that propitiates God, that satisfies God.
The same holy justice of God that is glorified in the eternal punishment of the sinner is also glorified in the eternal pardon of the sinner when God is satisfied by a just payment.
And as I said, there are a lot of folks who draw back from any notion that God is a God of wrath. They just want God to be love and that's all. And they're offended that we would consider God to be a God of anger who must be appeased through a sacrifice. 
But that's exactly what the word propitiation means.  In fact, the same words that are translated from Hebrew into English as "mercy seat" also translate into Greek as "propitiation". 
It's all talking about the same thing. Jesus is the propitiation, the fulfillment of what happened at the Mercy Seat because that is precisely what God requires for the satisfaction and appeasement of His wrath against sin.
Scripture makes it clear. He is holy. He is wrathful. He is vengeful. He is condemning. And He must be propitiated, He must be appeased and He must be satisfied.
And it's all because of sin.  Sin is what made the propitiation necessary, and God will only be satisfied when all sins have been paid for and the wages of sin is death.
What do we read in John 3:36?  "He who believes in the Son has eternal life, he who doesn't obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides on him."
It couldn't be more clear.  Either Christ will propitiate God on your behalf, or you will answer for you will take your own punishment.  If you reject Christ, then the only way that God can be propitiated for your sin is to punish you eternally.
Your sins will be paid for, either by you or by someone else with a sacrifice that satisfied God.  And without propitiation, justice demands the sinner's everlasting punishment. With propitiation, mercy demands the sinner's everlasting blessing.
Let's look at the third thing this verse tells us and that is  
3. The Agent of Propitiation
verse 2
Notice the words, "He Himself is the propitiation." He Himself goes back to the end of verse 1 where it references "Jesus Christ the righteous One".
The only way Jesus could qualify as our propitiation is by being righteous. He had to be sinless or He would not have been able to make an offering for someone else. He would have had to receive the judgment of God for His own sins.  He is Jesus Christ the righteous, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.
He is the righteous one, having no sin of His own, not having to pay for any sins of His own. He is the perfect Lamb without blemish and without spot. He is the perfect sacrifice. He is, according to 1 Thessalonians 1:10, the "Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." He is Himself the propitiation.
I love that. He doesn't make propitiation, He IS the propitiation. He couldn't be our Advocate if He wasn't our propitiation. He alone made the sacrifice that satisfied God.
As I said earlier, all of the blood sacrifices of the whole Old Testament system never satisfied God at all. They only looked forward to the one sacrifice that would.
Turn to Hebrews chapter 7, and notice
Hebrews 7:26
Is that not a great statement?  You know, Old Testament priests were basically butchers. They were up to their ears in blood. They spent all their time covered in blood.  It was a never-ending process.  They spent all their time bloodied by animal sacrifices. It was relentless, week after week after week, year after year after year after year.
In contrast, Jesus was bloodied only once. He did once for all offer up Himself and that was the sacrifice that satisfied God.
Move over a couple of chapters to
Hebrews 9:1-7
Get the picture?  Every year, year after year, the priest goes in and repeats the process of the sacrifice.  He does it and does it and does it over and over again.
But what do we read in
verse 9a?
It was all symbolic.  It couldn't do what needed to be done. But then,
verses 11-12
In other words, He did what all of those sacrifices never did. He satisfied God.
verses 13-15
What an amazing statement!  That means that even the people who lived under the first covenant weren't saved by the blood sacrifices. Those who were genuine believers, those who repented and believed were saved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which was pictured in those blood sacrifices. It is the glorious sacrifice of Christ that alone satisfies God.
While we are int he neighborhood, move on to
Hebrews 10:4
It wasn't just difficult, it was impossible for those sacrifices to take away sin. 
Did you catch that?  There isn't any sin, not one sin that was ever taken away by an animal sacrifice.  Why not?  Because God is never propitiated by an animal sacrifice.
So what is God going to do? Keep reading!
verse 5a, 6
God was not satisfied with burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. For there to be satisfaction, God had to put Jesus in a body. 
Why did He come?
verse 7
So Jesus came in a body to do His Father's will.  What did that accomplish?
verses 10-12, 14
I would say that means God is satisfied!  In fact, He is so satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ that verse 17 says,
verses 17-18
No other offering is needed!  Nothing else is required!  God is perfectly and forever satisfied!
After Jesus Christ that was it, doesn't need to be, can't be any other offering.
And that's exactly what John meant in 1 John 1:7 when he said, "The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin, cleanses us from all  unrighteousness." He is the agent of propitiation. He is the Propitiator.
Now before I leave this point, I want you to see something in Romans 3.  We are all familiar with Romans 3:23 which reminds us that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
By the way, that's a universal fact. All human beings have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And because of that, we are under the just and righteous condemnation of God.  It doesn't matter how religious we are or how many sacrifices we may offer, we cannot offer a sacrifice that pleases God. We cannot propitiate  or appease God.
However, even though all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, notice the next verse.
verse 24
Isn't that wonderful? Salvation is a gift of God's grace that comes through the redemption made possible by His grace. 
So how can sinners be justified? It has to be a gift given to us and it must be the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.  Then notice
verses 25-26
And here is where we find the message from the cross.  The crucifixion of Jesus was a message from God that sin cannot be ignored.  God couldn't just pretend it didn't happen or ignore it.  There had to be a sacrifice. 
Ever since creation God had been forgiving sins and  passing over sins of those who confessed and those who repented. After all, He is a gracious God.  But He is also just. 
And at the cross, it all came to a head.  Lest we believe from all those centuries of pushing forgiveness forward and God being gracious that He wasn't just and that God ignores sin, there had to come a time where that justice and righteousness of God acted. 
And act it did when all the wrath and punishment of God against sin was poured out on Jesus. That's what verse 26 is all about.  
But at the same time the justice of God was taking action, the grace of God was being poured out.  That's what that phrase at the end of verse 26 means.  God demonstrated His justice so that He can be the just, that is His wrath coming down on Jesus, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."  That's you and me. 
All you have to do is put your faith in Jesus Christ and God accepts His sacrifice for your sin. It is a gift by His grace through the price paid by Jesus as a propitiation.  He is the agent. 
So why would God do that for us?  Why would a righteous, holy God who is just in nature choose to make a way for rebellious sinners to be forgiven?
4. The Motive for Propitiation
Some people's idea about God is that He is hard, angry and can hardly wait to judge sinful people. If that's true, then why did He send Jesus to die in our place?  Why did He, at the price of the life of His only begotten Son, provide this propitiation?
I'll tell you why:  He loves us.  Listen to what we read in
1 John 4:10
It was the love of God that sent Christ to be the propitiation. Yes, God is just. Yes, God is holy but He is also loving. And out of that loves flows His grace and mercy and forgiveness.
His motive was love.  One last thing I want you to see regarding propitiation.  We've seen the nature of propitiation as a satisfaction to God. We've seen the necessity of propitiation, our sins. We've seen the agent of propitiation, He Himself, Jesus Christ the righteous. We've seen the motive for propitiation, the love of God. Now I want to mention
5. The Extent of Propitiation
"He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for those of the whole world."
Now understand, this is not teaching a universal salvation ad that everyone who was ever born will be in heaven.  If so, then why did Jesus say so much about hell and condemnation and being separated from God for eternity? 
So if it's not universalism, then what does it mean that Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world?
Think about it this way:  John was a Jew who primarily wrote to a Jewish audience.  And one of the great fallacies of Judaism was their belief that salvation was just for them. 
And now, here is John, a Jew, talking about a primarily Jewish practice of offering a sacrifice to a Jewish audience who completely understand propitiation and what it meant.
In fact, chances are good that when John talked about Jesus being a propitiation, for some of them, Leviticus 16:17 came to mind, which said,
"When the high priest goes in to make atonement, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out that he may make atonement for himself, for his household and for all the assembly of Israel."
The Day of Atonement had limitations in that it applied only to Israel, only to the people of Israel. It was a sacrifice for Israel. It went on for centuries as their unique Day of Atonement.
But John says here, "Jesus Himself is the propitiation, Jesus Himself is the sacrifice, Jesus Himself is the bloody offering upon the Mercy Seat of God and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world."
In other words, what we've always practiced as Jews has come to an end.  The exclusive Day of Atonement for Israel is no more. 
Instead, John is telling them that the sacrifice that Jesus offered is not just for the nation Israel, it's now for the world because the Lord is calling out a people for His name from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
And that's exactly what happened.  Jesus on the cross offered an atonement for those in Israel who would repent and believe and for those throughout the world who would repent and believe. It is not a universal appeasement of God. It is for all those who will be saved through His death on the cross.
That means it's for you.  When I was a kid, my dad decided to add some registered Santa Gertrudis cattle to our herd.  We primarily had Herefords and he decided to mix things up a little bit, hoping to add some heartiness and size.  So he bought five young heifers that had been bred. 
A couple of things stick out in my mind about those cows.  I remember when the first one dropped her calf, just like I had always done with those old red-white faced calves, I went out to welcome it to the world.  Hereford cows don't mind you messing with their calves, but I discovered very quickly that Santa Gertrudis do!  I came to that realization as I was making my way into the bed of the pickup to get away.
The other thing I remember was one of those new-born calves being killed by a coyote. When we found the momma,, there was nothing left of that calf but the hide and a few bones.  Dad sent my brother and me to the sale in Ardmore to buy a baby calf to put on that cow. 
The only calf that came through the sale ring that day was a little blue roan calf, maybe with some Holstein or Jersey mixed in, not exactly your're first choice for beef cattle production.  But we paid $40 for the calf and took it home. 
When we put it with the cow, the calf was more than willing to nurse, but the mother wouldn't allow it.  She would kick him off, knowing this was not her calf.  But then dad had an idea.  We retrieved the hide from her calf and tied it on the back of the new calf, and low and behold, she took a sniff, and before long, that calf was "her" calf.  
Why did she accept him?  Because of propitiation. That is the message of the cross.  A death has occurred.  A sacrifice has been made on your behalf.  Jesus Christ the Righteous has Himself made propitiation for your sins, you have been covered by the blood of the Lamb, and God finds you acceptable because of Him. 
Is this not amazing?  Aren't you thankful you have a way to get to God?  He's ready to welcome you in.  Come today by way of the cross all the way into His presence.
Let's pray.
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