Archives for April 2012

My Favorite Word in the Bible

The Bible is packed full of words that thrill my heart, delight my soul, lift my spirit, and somehow manage to make my instinctively shy and reserved self raise both arms high in the air and shout “Praise You Lord!” at the top of my lungs (with complete and total disregard for whoever might be watching). I am forever wondering what really goes through the minds of those who end up next to me a traffic lights.

I’m talking about words like grace, salvation, redemption, justification, mercy, atonement, reconciliation, forgiveness, and so many more.

These words in and of themselves don’t necessarily mean a whole lot and certainly are not inherently life changing. But in the context of God and His amazing works, they can mark you forever, change the way you see your world, and radically transform the way you see yourself. Most importantly, they shape your view of Jesus. And nothing in this life matters more than how you see Jesus.

As a long-time student of the Bible, I’ve done my fair share of word studies. But there is one word study I will never forget. One that I just can’t shake from my thoughts, especially this time of year. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that the word is so uncommon. But mostly, it’s because I was and still am uncommonly “wowed” by its meaning.

The word is propitiation. [prō-ˌpi-shē-ˈā-shen]

crucifixion

Strange, I know. You won’t even find it in most modern translations (it has commonly been replaced by the words “atoning sacrifice”), and I understand why. It’s a dusty old word that most people can’t even pronounce, much less define. But oh how precious it can be for those who try! So here’s my best attempt at a “brief” explanation. My heartfelt prayer is that the truths to follow will refresh and thrill your heart as much as they do mine!

A good place to start is in Matthew  26:39 where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before His arrest and crucifixion. He tells His disciples that His soul is “deeply grieved, to the point of death.” Then, He goes off to pray and this is His cry:

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Just moments later, at His arrest, He turns to Peter and says, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me” (John 18:11)?

Though there is no way we can really enter into or fully understand Jesus’ experience that night, we can know one thing for sure – “the cup” was weighing heavy on His heart and mind.

So, what is “the cup?” Most people associate it entirely with the cross and conclude that Jesus was desperate to be spared from such brutal and bloody torture. Though I’m sure that in His humanity Jesus was profoundly burdened by the intense and agonizing physical pain that lied ahead, “the cup” He was given to drink was actually worse than the unimaginable brutality of the cross.

A lot worse.

Throughout Scripture, “the cup” is a metaphor for God’s wrath. It’s His holy hatred of sin and uncompromising determination to punish it. It’s the full weight of His judgment on sinful nations and people. It’s His undiluted furry against anything that falls short of His holiness. It’s His righteous indignation against all who suppress His truth. (See Ps. 75:8; Is. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15; Hab. 2:16; Rev. 14:9-10.)

Regardless of how much or little we acknowledge God’s wrath, it’s a biblical reality. Not just for the murderers and rapists out there, but for everyone who falls short of His perfect standard. And that’s everyone, period (Romans 3:23). You deserve to drink “the cup.” So do I.

But we don’t have to. Jesus drank it for us. Every last drop of it. That’s propitiation, and that’s the heart and soul of the gospel.

If we want to really see the beauty of the cross, we have to understand that Jesus wasn’t just mocked, beaten to a bloody pulp, nailed to a cross-beam, and slowly suffocated by the weight of His own body. That was all a big part of His atoning work, but the physical torture was nothing compared to the spiritual torture.  In His death, He experienced complete separation from the Father and bore the excruciating penalty of the world’s sin (including yours and mine). He didn’t just deflect God’s wrath away from us, He absorbed it on our behalf. The sinless Son of God “became sin” so that we could become the “righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

For those who call on the name of Jesus, the cup of God’s wrath is empty because Jesus drank it all. All of God’s demands are satisfied and we get to spend our days claiming verses like Romans 8:1 where it says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or Colossians 2:14 where it says that all our sin debt has been “nailed to the cross” and done away with forever.

That’s basically what propitiation is all about. And guess what motivated God to provide it? Pure, undiminished, unconditional, extravagant, gracious LOVE.

First John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Other verses with the word “propitiation” are Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; and 1 Jn. 2:2)

Here’s the most precious part about the definition of propitiation – the part that just about brings me to tears every time I think about it: Because God is satisfied with Jesus, He is satisfied with me. The real me. The “me” that I know for a fact has never and will never come even close to measuring up to His perfect standard on my own. The “me” that yelled at her kid and chose sleep over time with Jesus this morning. The “me” that fails in so many other ways on a daily basis. That “me” satisfies a holy, righteous God. A-MA-ZING!

I want you to know that all of this is much more than a basic theology lesson to me. It’s my lifeline. It’s my confidence. It’s my refuge and the solid rock on which my eternal hope is secured. It’s the fountainhead of my worth and significance in a world that, frankly, makes me feel like junk sometimes.  It’s what keeps me from despairing when I fail and protects me from pride when I succeed. It’s what awakens my heart to praise even when it’s been broken into a hundred pieces. It’s a wellspring of joy when the journey gets bone-dry and all I want to do is curl up in my bed, cry, and ponder the daunting question, “What’s wrong with me?”  It’s what energizes me to get up early and stay up late studying the Scriptures so that I can stand and teach them in a way that honors my Savior and reflects the beauty and necessity of His sacrifice. For me, this is real truth for real life!

Because God is satisfied with Jesus, if you have placed your faith in Jesus, He is satisfied with you. Or, as Spurgeon puts it in today’s Morning and Evening, “Your acceptance is not in yourself, but in your Lord; you are just as accepted by God today, with all your sinfulness, as you will be when you stand before His throne, free from all corruption” (April 4). Don’t forget that, sweet sister. This Easter, marvel at the grace, the love, the mercy, the redemption, the life, and the forgiveness that was secured at the cross. But don’t forget to marvel at the wrath that was propitiated, absorbed, exhausted, and fully satisfied by Jesus . . . for you . . . all because of love.

And yes, my arm is raised and I’m about to shout, “Praise You Lord!” at the top of my lungs. Fortunately for the general public, I’m at home. 🙂

By the way, what’s your favorite word in the Bible? I’d love to know!

Book Club: Twelve Extraordinary Women, Video 8 (Anna)

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