Over the last three weeks we have seen how Christ’s death involved physical pain, the pain of guilt and the pain of abandonment. Today I want to look at how Jesus’ death took on the intense wrath of God.
Many have objected to the doctrine that God is wrathful, particularly that it was poured out upon Jesus at the cross. Their assumption is that a God of love could not be a wrathful God. But the Bible is clear that God is a God of wrath: ‘…never forget how you provoked the LORD your God to anger in the desert…At Horeb you aroused the LORD’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you’ (Deuteronomy 9:7-8). Moreover if God was not a God of wrath against sin, it means he would not be a God who hates sin. Now that is a God who would not be worthy of our love, as sin is something that we recognise isn’t good and should not be allowed to continue.
Yet not only does the Bible teach that God is wrathful, it also teaches that while on the cross Jesus received the wrath of God for the sins of all those who believe in him. The Bible does this by using a word that is translated as ‘propitiation’ in some English translations and as ‘atoning sacrifice’ in the NIV translation. The word ‘propitiation’ means a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favour. Jesus’ work is described as a propitiation in 1 John 4:10: ‘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’ (ESV). This passage tells us that God’s love is best expressed in the fact that he sent his Son to be a sacrifice that took away wrath so that forgiveness could come to those who put their faith in him. Romans 3:25 even tells us that Jesus absorbed the wrath for all previous sins that God had declared forgiven: ‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (propitiation), through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.’
Think of that. All the punishment for every sin of those who believe was poured out upon Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross. What love! Never think that your Jesus didn’t love you. He was the one who experienced the wrath of God for each of your sins: past, present and future. Rejoice in the word ‘propitiation’ because if you believe in him it means you will not have to face the wrath of God for eternity in hell, but will be with him for an eternity in heaven.