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The Power of the Cross: Jesus Purifies me
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The Power of the Cross: Jesus Purifies me

Adrian Holloway on January 25, 2009 with 0 Comments

Romans 3: 21-26 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service


We’re going to finish our series on the cross by investigating something called “propitiation.” If you can’t quite remember what propitiation is, here’s an illustration from NASA that may help.

SLIDE 2: Space Shuttle pic

This is the space shuttle, and on the nose cone, there is, what’s called, the propitiation shield. Why is a propitiation shield necessary? Because when the Shuttle re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, it hits a temperature of 3000 degrees F. (Just to put that in perspective, the highest temperature ever recorded in Britain is 101 degrees F.)

How can the human beings inside the Shuttle survive a temperature of 3000 degrees F? Answer: propitiation. The shield is so effective that it absorbs everything that’s harmful, so as to make the temperature propitious, or favourable to the astronauts. The propitiation shield deflects the blast so that the astronauts are saved from certain death.

Today we’re going to see that Jesus became your propitiation shield on the cross. Jesus, on the cross, was like the nose cone of the shuttle as he encountered the anger of God at sin. Jesus’ body was exposed to the full force of God’s wrath. Jesus was burned up in order to save everyone who puts their trust in him.

SLIDE 3: Title: The power of the cross: Jesus purifies me

Sub-title: The cross is a propitiation of wrath (Rom 3:25)

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, c through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he 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.


25c Or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin

(Romans 3:21-26 New International Version)

Today I am going to be speaking about what’s been called, the most important word, in the most important sentence in the most important paragraph ever written.

The word is “hilasterion” in Greek, best translated as “propitiation” in English, and it appears in Romans chapter 3, verse 25.

Leon Morris in his commentary on Romans said: “These verses constitute possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”

Martin Luther called this “the very central place of the whole Bible.”

Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones called it: “The Acropolis of the Bible.”

Someone else called it “The Mount Everest of the Bible.”

So let’s read it, and remember our word “hilasterion” is in verse 25.

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, c through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he 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.


25c Or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin

(Romans 3:21-26 New International Version)

Now that footnote is propitiation. The NIV translators take the view that people today don’t use the English word “propitiation”, so they translate it there as “the one who would turn aside wrath.” The one, of course, being Jesus, and the wrath, in this case being the wrath or anger of God at sin. So that’s propitiation, but propitiation also includes the idea of expiation, and that’s been added on. Can you see it there, where it says “taking away sin”? Cleansing from sin, that is expiation. Expiation, therefore, is an aspect of propitiation.

Now you would think that every Christian church would be shouting the good news of Christ’s propitiatory work on the cross for us from the rooftops.

But there are churches, even a few which would call themselves evangelical, or bible believing churches, who are rejecting propitiation. Why? Because they object to the idea of God being angry at sin. And they object to the idea of Jesus as a human sacrifice appeasing God’s wrath. Propitiation has been rejected as nothing more than: “cosmic child abuse.” In their view, the cosmic child abuser is God, and the child abused is his son Jesus.

There are theologians and writers who, if we gave them this platform, would urge you to reject propitiation as something heathen and superstitious and altogether unworthy of Christian people and of the living God revealed in Christ. And they would ask you to replace the notion of propitiating God, and just concentrate on the wonderful secondary meaning of expiating sin.

How would they do that? Well, they’d begin by rightly pointing out that in the ancient world propitiation had connotations of pagan worship.

But the heathen notion of propitiation and the Christian notion of propitiation are totally different from one another in at least these respects:


Christian Propitiation vs Heathen Propitiation:

a) The wrath is different

b) The initiative is different

c) The sacrifice is different

“God sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)

a) The wrath is different. Heathen deities are capricious, spiteful, vindictive and bad-tempered. But God’s wrath is entirely free of caprice, spite, vindictiveness and temper. The wrath of God is his perfect, holy displeasure at evil. So the wrath is different.

b) The initiative is different. In heathendom, it is the people themselves who bring their offerings. They bring their sweets and their spices their birds and their beasts in order to placate their bad-tempered deities. But in the gospel of Christ, we have nothing to offer, and so God took the initiative. And, as John says in his first letter, ‘God sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ And as Paul writes here, ‘God put forward his son to be a propitiation by his blood.’ The initiative is not ours it is God’s.

c) The sacrifice is different. Heathen bring gifts, sweets, spices and the like, as we’ve seen. But God gave himself, in the person of his only begotten son.

So you see the difference between the heathen notion of propitiation and the Christian notion of propitiation. On the one hand you have human beings bringing their own gifts in order to placate a bad tempered deity and on the other you have God offering himself in order to placate himself.

This is exactly how John Stott puts it. He says that in the Christian good news of propitiation, there is “God’s grace propitiating God’s wrath, through God’s son.”

Now here’s the most comprehensive statement I’ve found on propitiation. It’s from Charles Cranfield in his recent commentary on Romans. I’m going to read this slowly, so that we all get it.


“God purposed Christ as a propitiatory victim. That is, God, because in his mercy he willed to forgive them righteously, being truly merciful, God purposed to direct against his own very self in the person of his son, the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.” (Charles E B Cranfield, Commentary on Romans)

Now you might be thinking, ‘grief alive, this all sounds very technical – Adrian, how is a study of propitiation and expiation going to help me living in London in 2009?’

1)   Well firstly, it’s going to help all of us here, who sometimes doubt whether we really are saved. If I asked you to stand up, and identify yourselves, which I won’t, I think we all know that loads of people would stand up. You have dark thoughts. Doubts. You fear that somehow you won’t make it. And that this whole Christian life is actually in vain. That somehow there’ll no heaven at the end of it. If that’s you, then if you come to really understand and embrace propitiation, this afternoon, that will do more than anything else to convince you that Jesus absorbed or propitiated all of God’s wrath that was heading towards you, and therefore none of that wrath will ever fall upon you. Because of Christ’s propitiatory work on the cross, you are as safe as safe can be.

Another group of people who’ll benefit today from this study. . .

2)   Are those of you who, even though you believe you’ve been forgiven your sin, you still feel dirty. Your sin, in your thinking, is somehow still there. The real problem is you don’t really feel cleansed. ‘Am I really pure? As pure as a clear mountain stream? I don’t feel pure.’ Friend, if you come to understand expiation, today, then this sermon could change your life. You can leave this place finally and entirely convinced that you were totally cleansed by Jesus death on the cross.

OK, I’m going to present you now with a scandalous fact. This is not an opinion, this is a fact. There is a judge, a very important, powerful judge, who, is letting guilty people in London go free from his courtroom.

We’d expect a judge to let innocent people go free. But this is a judge who regularly, daily, lets guilty people go free.

What’s worse is that these are guilty people who the judge knows are guilty. They’ve been tried and convicted, but this judge doesn’t send them to prison. He lets them go free. What would you think if I told you that I personally know a judge in London, who is deliberately setting murderers free?

You’d think: “That’s outrageous! If a murderer is proven to be guilty, if he’s actually convicted, he should be punished.” You wouldn’t believe me, that in Britain in the 21st century, there really is a judge, who is letting murderers go without any punishment whatsoever.

What if that judge was God?

“Never,” you’d say, “that is blasphemy Adrian. How dare you suggest that God is turning a blind eye to sin? How dare you suggest that God is just letting murderers get away with it?

But that’s exactly what’s happening in Romans 3. In fact Saul of Tarsus, a murderer, is writing Romans 3.

That’s the crisis – murderers are getting away with it. Sinners are being let off by God scot free, and therefore God’s position as the moral authority in the universe is in jeopardy!

God seems to be turning a blind eye to sin, like a corrupt judge slipping down at night to the cells to take bribes from the prisoners. It looks like God is unjust.

This is the crisis that Saul, or Paul as he now calls himself, is addressing in our passage.

Paul has spent the previous 3 chapters of Romans establishing that everyone’s guilty.

And if God’s letting sinners go free, then verse 26 says that God would not be just. The problem isn’t simply that God wouldn’t appear to be just. No verse 26 says God would not BE just.

An unjust God running and ruling over the universe!

So let’s us clarify . . .


What has brought the righteousness of God into jeopardy?

The answer is given in 2 ways:

1. It’s “because in his forbearance, he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom 3:25)

2. It’s because he justifies people who simply “believe” (vs 26)

Which is outrageous. These are the same people who he calls “the wicked” in chapter 4:5.

Let’s look at No 1.

Has God suffered a moral lapse? We all have those, don’t we? Maybe God’s had a bad week. Maybe it’s only since last Monday that God has been leaving sins unpunished. No verse 25 says he’s been doing it for thousands of years.

Here’s what King David wrote 1,000 years beforehand:


“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”  A quotation from King David – Psalm 103:10

We look at that, and we think, what is the problem with that text? Seems OK to me! What’s the problem with this text? Answer:

Answer: Ask Uriah! Better still, ask Bathsheba!

Let’s just take David as an example of the problem. King David happens to be walking around his roof when he should have been out at war. He sees a naked, beautiful woman bathing. He wants her and he gets her because he’s king. And he gets her pregnant.

“Oh no! She’s pregnant! I wasn’t expecting that” David thinks. “Now I’m in trouble, her husband’s away at war, so I can’t pass the baby off as his. Don’t Panic! . . . I know, I’ll get Uriah back from the frontline. I’ll get him to sleep with his wife. And then when everyone hears that Bathsheba’s pregnant, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, Uriah did come back from the war for that one night.” David is so chuffed with his plan. He thinks: “No-one will ever know it’s actually my baby. And no-one will ever know about my sin.”

So David, gets Uriah back – gets Uriah drunk. “Go on have another one, on me! The Lord’s my shepherd I’ll not want. What’s that you don’t want another drink Uriah. You wouldn’t refuse a drink from me, your King. Would you. I’m the king of Israel. I love God with all my heart. I wrote the Psalms you know. Go on Uriah. In pastures green, he leadeth me.”

David sends Uriah back home across the street to sleep with Bathsheba. But Uriah won’t do it. He won’t go in. He says: “I’m going to sleep outside.”

Uriah says: “How can I sleep with my wife, while all the lads are on the battlefield. How can I lie with my wife, while all the boys are slumming it in the trenches.”

David says: “Come on Uriah. Look you are married to each other. It is legal.”

So David, our holy, Psalm writing king, thinks, “Right, that’s it. If the blasted man, won’t sleep with his wife to cover up my sin, I’ll get him killed. Here’s how I’ll get him killed. I’ll send Uriah back to the front line, put him where the fighting is most fierce, and then get all our chaps to withdraw from him.”

So that’s what David does, he orders that Uriah be put in the thick of the battle, then the Israelite troops are told to withdraw, leaving Uriah surrounded by the enemy. Uriah gets slaughtered. David says, “Thank goodness for that. That was a close one! Uriah’s dead. Job done. That’s all done and dusted then.” He marries Bathsheba, she gives birth to a son.

A year later, God sends Nathan in 2 Samuel 12, who confronts David. “You’re an adulterer, and a murderer and a liar.” Nathan says: “Why have you despised the word of the Lord.”

David says: “You’re so right. I have sinned against the Lord.”


Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied: “The Lord has taken away your sin, you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:12-13)

Just like that.

Don’t you think David gets off rather lightly!

I mean, just imagine that you are Uriah’s mum. You find out that the king’s has got you darling son Uriah killed. And you find out that the King’s been sleeping with your son’s wife, Bathsheba. And this great God of heaven says: “We’ll let that go.”

No thank you.

And this is exactly how John Piper argues. He says: This is a crisis. A crisis in heaven. The judge of the universe is in peril in Romans 3:26. The justice of God is at stake at this moment.

Can you imagine a judge today, dealing with Uriah’s murder saying. “We’ll let that go. You can still be king.”

Nathan said to David: “Why have you despised God?’

I can imagine David saying: “I didn’t despise God. I was hot for this woman. I was scared to death. God wasn’t even on the scene”

David what are you saying? Are you saying that God, The one who designed marriage, the one who said “you shalt not commit adultery” wasn’t even on the scene

What do we learn from this? That you don’t have to be on a trip of hatred toward God to despise him, all you have to do is neglect him.

We’ve all done that. We knew he was God, Romans 1:20 says we worked that out from observing the world around us. But we ignored him. God creates a universe to display his glory for the everlasting enjoyment of his creatures, but chapter 3 and verse 23, all of us have sinned and fallen short of that glory. We don’t love the glory of God anything like it is worth being loved, and so we trample the glory of God under our feet every day. We despise it.

So when God passes over our sin, a crisis is created in the universe, because it looks like God is joining the opinion of sinners regarding his glory.

It looks like God is despising his glory. And that is evil. It’s un-righteous. And that’s the crisis Paul is dealing with in Romans 3.

But there is a way that God could vindicate his glory. He could send us all to hell where we would suffer and be tormented forever and ever because of the way we’ve belittled his honour and despised his glory. He could send every one of us to hell. And the effect of that would be a restoration of the glory of God to what it really is.

He could do that. That’s a way that God could “be just.”

But that’s not what God does.

He doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked. John 3:17 says: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

So, here’s the problem. As John Piper says, everyone is a glory despiser. Everyone has exchanged the glory of God for images, for idols.

And God, in order to be righteous, must show that his glory is infinitely more valuable than that, and therefore he must punish and pour out his wrath on that kind of belittling of his glory if he’s going to be God and also be righteous.

But, and this is a massive But, a life changing, world changing But. But, what if, there is a way out of this? Maybe, in eternity, God could design a way, whereby the wrath that is righteously appointed for sins could somehow be averted, be propitiated?

So what could he do, so that everybody isn’t simply sent to hell to vindicate the glory of God?

God says: “The answer is that there is one person, who loves my glory with an infinite intensity, and a perfection that if he were willing to suffer my wrath for the sake of my glory, my glory would be seen in the universe to be what it really is! That way, his death could cover the sins of all who trust in him, and I could still be just.”

And the son and the father negotiated that transaction in a covenant of redemption before the world ever was (2 Timothy 1:9)

Jesus was that one person. So he was sent to earth to absorb God’s wrath. Jesus knew he was going to have to drink the cup of God’s wrath one day, but understandably as the horror of it got closer, we find him starting to wrestle with it.


“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?” (John 12:27)

Oh, he’s wobbling. Jesus is wobbling. Will Jesus go through with the plan? Remember you and I are heading for hell at this point unless Jesus can pull this off. It’s all down to him. Jesus is weighing it up. Is she worth it? Is he worth it? Is it worth exposing myself to the 3000 degree F heat of the wrath of God just to get Emma, Alex, John, Simon and the rest?

In the Garden of Gethsemane, you can see the dynamic. It’s as if the wrath of God is in a cup. A cup that God the father is asking Jesus to drink. And Jesus wants to see if there’s any other way you can be saved, so he doesn’t have to drink the cup.


“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

“It was for this very reason, I came to this hour. Father glorify your name.” (John 12:27-28)

A voice came out of heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

As if God is saying from heaven: “You Jesus, will show that my glory is not be-littled when I justify the ungodly. By you and you alone becoming a propitiation, you will show the whole universe how God can be both just and him that justifies.”

This is the best news ever. Because if Jesus took the wrath of God that was falling upon you for your sins, then you go free. Therefore all you have to do is accept the free gift of forgiveness, and you’re free. You go to heaven, and your sin is not only propitiated, but as we’re about to see, it’s also expiated. You can be cleansed. And if you’ve yet to receive this free gift of forgiveness and cleansing. You can today. In a few minutes, I’ll give you a chance to respond at the very end of this message.

So this is our safety. This is our security. This is our acquittal. This is our peace.

Perhaps, you’re here today and you already believe everything I’ve said so far, but you don’t feel clean. You don’t feel cleansed. Ephesians 5 talks about being washed in the word, and I just want to let some scriptures wash over you, so that you can experience, you can feel expiation.

Hebrews 9 says:


14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

And as I read these verses, I want you to imagine something with me. Imagine your sin as a stain on your clothes. Maybe it was something you said, or something to do with a broken relationship or something sexual. Maybe you didn’t sin at all. It was sin done to you, and you were totally innocent, but you feel stained by it. Whatever it is. You feel defiled. It’s like you feel you’re mostly OK, but there’s still a stain there, there’s still a part of you that’s been defiled, or abused. It’s there on your clothes, the stain’s there.

Now let’s see how Christ’s expiating work on the cross cleanses you totally from that. Can you imagine Jesus on the cross, and as his blood drips down from his wounds, you are at the foot of the cross and as his blood drips onto you, it falls directly onto the stain, and that stain is completely removed. The stain literally disappears.

And so here, the blood of Christ, Hebrews 9:14, shed on the cross, cleanses our consciences. Your conscience can be totally cleansed.

Better still 1 John 1 says you can be purified:


7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7-9)

And here’s what’s happening right now. There are people here who are already convinced verse 9 that they are forgiven, but you don’t yet feel purified from all unrighteousness.

But the same Jesus who on the cross provided forgiveness, (that’s the bit you’ve already accepted) also provided through his blood (verse 7) purification.

I don’t know what happened to you. Let’s imagine the worst kind of situation. Someone in authority, acted unfairly towards you. They showed you no respect. They grabbed hold of your body. They held you down. They defiled, or violated, or wounded you. The whole thing was totally unfair. And you were totally innocent.

The reason why the expiating death of Jesus on a cross works today, is because God in his love sees your pain, sees the injustice, sees the violence, and rather than standing impassively watching, as we humans suffer, thinking: “Gosh, it really is a terrible world down there,” the unique thing in Christianity is that God, rather than standing impassively by, observing suffering from a distance, God dives into our world of suffering and suffers with us.

A suffering God. A crucified God.

Were you betrayed by a friend? Jesus was betrayed by a friend. Did someone in authority abuse their authority and hurt you? The Jews and the Romans abused their authority to hurt Jesus. Did someone grab hold of your body? The soldiers grabbed hold of Jesus body. Did someone hold you down? The soldiers held Jesus down. They defiled, violated, and wounded Jesus. The whole thing was totally unfair. And Jesus was totally innocent. Maybe you did nothing wrong, but you still feel a sense of shame. On the cross, the book of Hebrews says Jesus took your shame. He triumphed over it.

When we think of the worst moments of our lives, Jesus has been there. Are you broken? He was broken on the cross. Are you rejected by your friends? He was rejected. Are you hated for no good reason? He was hated for no good reason. When we cry out and complain that we can’t take it anymore, we can think of Jesus being killed on the cross, crying out ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’”

Even in the place of your greatest pain, the place of your greatest defilement, the place of the worst abuse, Jesus has been there, for you. Jesus was defiled so you can be cleansed. Jesus was stained, so you can be purified. Jesus was abused, so you can be healed. Jesus was stripped naked, so you can be clothed with robes of righteousness.

There was a Christian woman who for years had been hiding her secret shame from her Christian husband. Things came to a head, and one day she made a confession to her husband. She said: “I’ve never told you this before, but when I was a child, I was molested. Then as a teenager I was raped. I then became sexually promiscuous for many years. In fact even when we were engaged, I was unfaithful to you. And I never told you any of this, before you proposed, because I thought if I told you about my past, you’d never want to marry me. I thought you’d reject me as damaged goods. And then after we got married, I thought that if I told you that I’ve been unfaithful while we were engaged, you’d just walk out of our marital home and that I’d never see you again.”

At that her Christian husband stood up, said nothing, he walked straight past her. Picked up his car keys. Got in his car and drove off.

Her world collapsed. It was exactly the reaction she’d feared.

But 20 minutes later, as she was sobbing on the floor. She heard a car pull up in the drive, the door opened, and her husband was standing there in the doorway holding a huge box. He opened the box, and pulled out a pure white dress.

He said: “I totally forgive you, because at the cross, you were not only forgiven, you were made pure. And every time you put on this dress, I want you to remember that I see you not by what you’ve done in the past, or by the defilement that’s been done to you.” He said: “I see you solely by what Jesus has done for you on the cross when he cleansed you totally and purified you totally.”

And that’s exactly right because, in Revelation 19, when we all as the bride of Christ walk into the marriage supper of the lamb. The bible says that fine, bright, clean, white linen will be given us to wear. Hey you might not be wearing white now, but you will be then. But we’re not any more forgiven at the marriage supper of the lamb when we’re literally wearing those white robes than we are now.

Hey for all I know, this could be my last Sunday ever in church. I might not make it through to next week. This might be the last time any of you ever see me in this life. If I died tomorrow, would I be more righteous at the marriage supper of the lamb than I am now? No.

Would I be more purified in heaven than I am now? No. When God looks at me NOW, when God looks at you NOW, because of the expiating work of Jesus on the cross, God sees you as pure.

And that is expiation.

I wonder if the band could come up and join me?

One final word on propitiation as I close . . . There’s a story that is told of a wagon train of early settlers, who were faced by a distant but fast-approaching prairie fire  . . . the leaders of the train immediately made a new fire down-wind, but as soon as the ground was cool enough, drove all the wagons with their people onto the charred ground. It’s said that as the original wall of fire approached, hungrily eating up the vegetation and moving forward with a roar, one child looked up to ask “Daddy, are you sure, we won’t be burned up?” “My child,” replied the father, “the flames can never reach us here. We are standing where the fire has already been.” Now that is propitiation.

Now I want you to think of the cross of Christ, on a hill called Calvary, as charred ground. Think of it as a place where the fire has already been. Is that where you are standing? Are you sure? Because if there’s any chance the fire is going to get you, if you’re standing anywhere else, you need to move to the place where the fire of God’s judgement has already fallen, has already been.

Tell me, as I come to the end of my sermon, can I ask you . . .

Have you been to that charred ground? Are you living there in safety? Have you taken shelter from the approaching fire of God’s judgement in the very place where that fire has already fallen? Have you believed in Jesus Christ crucified for you? Or is the wrath of God still set to fall on you?

The great news of this text is that there is a righteousness that is available and can be ours. But this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

Well, have you come? And if not, will you come now, while there is time? While he calls you, while he can save you.

Let’s sing, and then I’m going to ask you just to raise your hand if you need to respond . . .


Funnel – all the wrath goes into it, and onto Jesus head

Or to change the imagery . . .

Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath down to its very dregs. Every last bit. So you don’t have to drink any.

Pray for those who respond and for those who are experiencing expiation now.