“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.” – I John 4:10
Over the last weeks, we’ve looked at a number of the accomplishments of Christ on the cross, but today we arrive at the crown jewel. Jesus is our propitiation or wrath-removing sacrifice.
Sin is not just a mistake or an unfortunate miscalculation. Sin is an offense against God and the way God intended the world to be (shalom). We’re often tempted to minimize sin as simply an inadequacy instead of an infraction, but sin is a crime against God and humanity. Cornelius Plantinga described sin as “the vandalism of shalom.” Sin is not a mistake, it’s evil.
In response to this evil, God rightly feels anger towards us as evildoers. It’s true that God is love, but that’s not all that God is. God is also holy, just and righteous. If God wasn’t angry with sin and seeking justice, he would cease to be holy and would in fact be immoral. Imagine if God didn’t care about the evil that fills our world. What could we say of God if he shrugged his shoulders at rape, divorce, drug addiction, exploitation and abuse? We rightly get angry at these evils. How much more so the God who is himself righteous and created every human in his image?
So, how does God reconcile his righteous anger at our sin and his great love and mercy? How can God be perfect justice and mercy? The answer is found at the cross of Christ. At the cross, God the Father punished God the Son for crimes he did not commit and evils he had not done. God poured out his righteous wrath on Jesus in our place. Though Jesus had done no wrong, he suffered hell on the cross, experiencing isolation from the Father, abandonment, and the wrath of God for our sins.
This was the most critical and painful part of Jesus being on the cross. Lots of people died on roman crosses. It was a common torture and execution instrument, although so humiliating and painful it was only reserved for traitors and the worst criminals. But what was unique about Jesus’ death on the cross was that while dying he suffered the wrath of God for the sins of the world.
In pouring out his wrath and punishment on Jesus, God is able to exercise his perfect justice in punishing all sin perfectly and fairly. No one can object and say that justice wasn’t served. The penalty was paid. But since God paid the penalty himself through Christ, God is able to exercise his abundant mercy and forgiveness towards sinners.
On the cross Jesus suffered the hell we deserve for our crimes so that we can experience the grace and mercy of God that Jesus deserved. The cross beautifully displays that God is both justice and mercy.