Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 3, 2017
Today marks a Sunday in a new month, therefore a new congregational memory verse. However, before we recite it, let us recite the previous verses so as to refresh our memory. Let us being with Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Now let us recite November’s, Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Now let us recite December’s memory verse, Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Today, we are going to continue our study of the greatest paragraph in the Bible, Romans 3:21-26. As Charles Spurgeon said, “"Atonement by the blood of Jesus is not an arm of Christian truth; it is the heart of it." And today we continue to study the heart of Christianity. If you will, please turn in your Bible’s Romans 3:21-26, and let us now stand for the reading of God’s Word.
There is problem in many churches and with many Christians to dumb down Biblical doctrine. People purchase watered down translations such as the Message. They avoid certain books of the Bible such as Leviticus, Isaiah, Revelations, or even Romans. Some people avoid the Bible all together because they claim it is too hard and instead read worldly garbage from the religion/self-help section of Barnes and Nobles. Sermons from the pulpit are topical and focus on relevant topics such as marriage, raising children, how to manage your money, etc, and big words and deep doctrine are thrown in the trash for the sake of intellectual easy street.
But was that God’s intent? Was it God’s intent to provide us with 66 Books of the Bible so that we could skip the ones we don’t like? Was it God’s intent to inspire every Word so that his children could paraphrase it? Was it God's intent for his shepherds to feed God’s flock Scriptural candy instead of the meat and potatoes of His truth? Absolutely not. As Jesus says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”
So the word that we are going to live on today is the word “propitiation.” We find this word in verse 25, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The word propitiation is not a common word that we use in our everyday vocabulary, but as you will hopefully see, it is a fundamental word in the Christian life.
In fact, everyone at Cornerstone, kids included, should be able to articulate the doctrine behind
the word propitiation at the drop of a hat, especially after today’s sermon. This is what the famous theologian JI Packer says about propitiation in his book “Knowing God”:
"Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God, the taking of human form by the son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation-all are to be explained in terms of it”
So what does propitiation mean? The Greek word is hilastérion (hil-as-tay'-ree-on). Which means a sin offering, or a covering. So let us insert both of those definitions into verse 24, and 25 “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a [sin offering] by his blood, to be received by faith.” Now the other definition, “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a [covering] by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Now let us explore a little more, these two definitions of propitiation. First let us start with the definition of a sin offering. The only other time that the Greek word “hilastérion” is used in the New Testament is Hebrews 9:5. If you will, please turn with me to Hebrews 9 and let us read verses 1-12.
As I said, the word “hilastérion” is used in Hebrews 9:5. Do you see it? “Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” In this text the word “hilastérion” is rightly translated to the phrase “mercy seat” due to the context. This is the same word as in Romans 3:25. So what is the mercy seat?
Hebrews 9 is actually a very good description of the mercy seat and the environment around it. This seat was located inside the tabernacle, and later inside the temple. It was in the room that was named the Most Holy Place, which was on the other side of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The mercy seat was located on top of the Ark of the Covenant, which is basically this large box covered in gold that contained the tablets that had on them the ten commandments, the rod of Aaron that had budded and a jar of manna. The mercy seat, which is just this plate on top of a box, is flanked by two cherubim facing each other, which are these heavenly angelic creatures, and their wings stretch over the mercy seat, overshadowing it.
Where does all of this detail and design come from? It comes from God and it is found in Exodus 25. And In Exodus 25:21 God says, “And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”
So we have the law in the ark covenant, and upon ark is the mercy seat, and the mercy seat is the meeting place with God. For the Israel of the Old Testament, this meeting with God would only take place one time a year, and that was the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. This was the holiest of days for Israel, for it was when the High Priest would cleanse himself, sacrifice a bull for himself, and then take two goats and sacrifice one. He would then enter into the Most Holy Place and take the blood of the bull and the goat and sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat seven times. And God says in Leviticus 16:16, “Thus he shall tmake atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins.” Therefore to enter into the presence of God and meet with him, there had to be a blood sacrifice to atone for the sins of God’s people. This was the purpose of the mercy seat. And this is the word used in Romans 3:25 for propitiation.
So back to Romans 3:24 and 25. Who is being put forward as a propitiation, as a mercy seat, as a sacrifice, as the meeting place with God? Paul tells us that it is Christ Jesus.
And this is where I think it gets really cool, John 20:12, after the death and burial of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdelene goes to the tomb, can’t find Jesus, steps into the tomb and what does she see? John 20:12, “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” Does that remind you of anything? Two cherubim flanking the mercy seat.
Jesus Christ is the blood sacrifice for man to take away our uncleanness, our sin. It is the one and only way to get right with a Holy God. And as we read in Hebrews 9:12, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Security!
The second word that we used to define propitiation is “a covering”. In understanding this definition, I would like to take you to Noah's Ark in Genesis 6. Please turn with me there. The setting is set by verse 5 which says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
All mankind. Only. Evil. Continually. Sound familiar? This sounds very similar to what we have been studying in Romans that there is no one righteous, no not one. That all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Not a lot have changed has it? Human nature is human nature. There is nothing new under the sun.
So what is God's response to this world wide sin? Verse 13, “And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” The response of God for the sin of man is destruction. Once again, does this sound familiar? Yes, it sounds a lot like what we have been studying in Romans, the wrath of God revealed against all godliness.
But is that all God provides, His wrath? Is God only an angry God. No, he also provides a way of salvation. Look at what God tells Noah in verse 14, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.” God provides a way to be saved from the wrath of God and it is by the means of having faith and getting inside of this boat. The boat is Noah and his families salvation from God's wrath, that is if they trust it and go inside.
Peter speaks of this event in 1 Peter 3:20 when he writes, “they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” They had to take refuge in the ark.
Now, what kept this boat from sinking? Pitch. For those who don't know, pitch is this tar like substance that waterproofs the boat from sinking. Pitch today is made from coal or oil, however, it can also be made from tree resin, and most likely this is what Noah would have used to make the boat waterproof. So what were they to do with this pitch? It says that they were to cover the boat with it, both inside and out. To cover a boat means to completely spread it over every square inch. Not one part of the boat, inside or out could be exposed. Total canvassing. For if the boat was not covered that would sink and be destroyed by God's wrath just like the rest of mankind.
And the Hebrew word for “cover it” is kaphar. This is also the Hebrew word for propitiation. Many times when it is used in the Old Testament is is translated to atonement. So when God tells Noah to cover the ark, he is also saying, propitiate it with pitch, so that they are safe and my wrath does not touch them at all.
Hopefully, by this time, you can connect the Gospel dotes. This is obviously a picture of the kaphar of the blood of Christ, the covering of the blood of Christ, the propitiation of the blood of Christ.
God looks down upon all mankind and sees only, evil, continually and has decreed that he will judge mankind for all their sins. However, God puts forward a way to be brought safely through his wrath. Christ is our Ark and his blood is our pitch. The blood of Christ is what covers all of our sin and keeps us safe from the righteous anger of God. However, that only is true if you have faith. If you will leave the world behind and trust the ark that is Jesus Christ.
So hopefully you can see the centrality of the doctrine of propitiation. It runs from the beginning to the end of God's Word. And the mercy seat upon the ark of the covenant and the pitch upon Noah's Ark are merely shadows of the true and final propitiation that comes through the blood of Jesus. Without faith in the blood of Jesus, there is only one outcome, the wrath of God.
A payment for our sins must be made, God has made this abundantly clear. But God who is rich in mercy has put forth his only Son to be a propitiation for us. A substitutionary sacrifice that stands in our place and pays the penalty that we deserve so that we can being forgiven and enter into God's presence with Thanksgiving. Praise be to God. Let us pray.
Today is communion Sunday. Today is when we remember what Christ has done for us.
In Matthew 26:26 it says, “26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of thec covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
It is the blood that saves us, but it is also the blood that unifies us. The sacrifice of Christ is our common ground. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
As Cornerstone church pursues unity with the body, we must remember that it begins at the cross. The gospel is what keeps churches together. When we lose sight of that, we lose hold of everything.