God’s Amazing Propitiation

God’s Amazing Propitiation

September 13th, 1992 @ 8:15 AM

Romans 3:25

Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Romans 3:25

9-13-92    8:15 a.m.


This is the senior pastor, W. A. Criswell, bringing the message entitled God’s Amazing Propitiation.  In our preaching through the Book of Romans, we are in chapter 3, and the beginning text is in verse 23 and following:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

But we, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith….

[Romans 3:23-25]

And there is a word there that we need to study: “propitiation—whom God set forth as a propitiation” [Romans 3:25].  So we’ll take time for a moment and have a lesson in Greek and a lesson in English.  Hilaskomai, the verb form hilaskomai, “to be propitious to.”  In Luke 18:13: “God, be merciful to me a sinner”!  Hilaskomai, “God, be propitious to me a sinner; favorable to me a sinner”!  In Hebrews 2:17: “To make propitiation,” hilaskomai, “for the sins of the people.”  To make reconciliation: that God be favorable to us who are sinners.

The noun form, hilasmos, “a propitiation, an atoning sacrifice.”  In 1 John 2:2, Jesus is the hilasmos, the propitiation for our sins.  In 4:10, God sent His Son to be the hilasmos, the propitiation for our sins [1 John 4:10].  The noun form, hilastērion, in the text; that refers to the mercy seat, the cover of the ark of the covenant.  Hebrews 9:5: “The ark of the covenant overlaid with gold. . .  and over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the hilastērion, the mercy seat, the propitiation” [Hebrews 9:4-5].

The verb form “propitiate” means to cause to become favorable, to win or regain the good will, to appease to reconciliation.  And the adjectival form, “propitious,” means to be favorable.  A propitious moment would be a favorable moment for a contract.  It’s to be gracious and acceptable.

Now our English lesson: propitiation is the appeasement or averting of God’s wrath and judgment.  It is related to reconciliation: to make us a friend instead of an enemy.  It makes possible the forgiveness of the sinner who is free now to enter into the holy presence of God.  It provides a covering for our human sin.

The background of the Old Testament sacrificial system was this: it culminated in the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  And in Yom Kippur, in the Day of Atonement, there was an animal that was sacrificed for sins [Leviticus 16:2-19].  Then there was an animal that was driven, again, a scapegoat, out into the wilderness [Leviticus 16:20-28].

In the sacrifice, God has forgiven our sins.  So in the New Testament, Jesus fulfilled all the adumbrations of the meaning of the Old Testament sacrifice.  And those sacrifices were replaced by the once for all death of our Lord [Hebrews 9:11-12].  Jesus restored the broken fellowship between God and man, and that reconciliation is called propitiation, hilastērion [1 John 4:10].  Now that is our lesson in Greek.  You all are so smart.  Bless you.

A few weeks ago, I was in Ocala, Florida, the guest of Dr. Michael Carmichael, the son-in-law of our Dr. Sibley.  He’s one of the famous heart surgeons of America, even though he’s very young.  They’re building a hospital for him there.  He invited me to stand and to watch him perform a surgical feat: bypass surgery.  So I stood there in that operating room for two and half hours at the head of the operating table, watching him open a thoracic cavity of a middle-aged woman and there exposing her heart and her lungs and her arteries.

Before I could enter, I had to change my garments and put on the gowns, white, of a surgeon.  I had to wash carefully, and my head and my feet and my hands were covered.  And it was an amazing thing to me, an overwhelming thing to me, to see that surgeon recreate the heart system of that woman.  They took her blood and it flowed outside her body while he worked on that central system of life itself.

And thus it is I approach the great room of God’s healing for humanity.  I don’t come into His presence with my street clothes, tattered and dirty, with self-esteem and self-righteousness.  But I cover myself with the clean, white, pure garments of righteousness from God, humility and sacrifice and confession and forgiveness [Revelation 7:14].  And thus I approach that great moment when God is performing the miracle that saves us from the wrath and judgment of sin.  And that room is called Calvary [Luke 23:33].  And as I approach it, I do so in the garments of linen, clean and white, of God’s wisdom and God’s righteousness and God’s forgiveness [1 Corinthians 1:30].  And thus I am able enter into the deep mysteries of the sacrifice of Christ for our sins; the propitiation, the hilastērion [1 John 2:2].

Our Lord was just one out of many multitudes who were crucified by the Roman army and the Roman people.  But there was a difference; an unbelievable and indescribable mysterious difference in the crucifixion and death of our Lord.  He died bearing all of the sins of all humanity of all the world [1 John 2:2].  And as I approach and stand and look, the very sun refuses to shine [Matthew 27:45].  There’s a darkness over the face of the earth.

Well might the sun in darkness hide

and shut his glories in,

When Christ, the mighty Maker died,

for man the creatures’ sin.

[from “Alas! And Did My savior Bleed?”, Isaac Watts, 1707]

The sun itself refused to look upon it [Matthew 27:45].  And our Lord God Father in heaven turned His face away [Matthew 27:46].  “Thou art of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity” [Habakkuk 1:13], and Jesus became sin for us [1 John 2:2].

All of the transgressions and wrongs of humanity were heaped upon Him [1 John 2:2] and the judgment and wrath of God fell upon Him.  He cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”, “Why, O God, do You turn Your face away from Me”? [Matthew 27:46]  And the very earth convulsed.  It shook with a great earthquake [Matthew 27:51], and the reverberation of that mighty shaking was felt in heaven, as the angels and the saints looked down upon that sacrifice of our Lord for sins.  And all hell itself was shaken and the very graves were opened and these that slept in the dust of the ground came forth [Matthew 27:52-53].  This was the hilastērion.  This was the atonement [1 John 2:2].  This was the covering for our sins.  This was the penalty paid by our Lord Jesus Christ, that we might be reconciled to God [Romans 5:10].

And do you notice how our apostle phrases it?  “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God proetheto[Romans 3:24-25].  That’s the aorist form of protithemi, whom God set forth publicly, openly for the whole world to see.  It was God’s purpose that this sacrifice of Christ, this hilastērion, be exhibited before the eyes of the whole world and the whole creation.

Do you remember when Paul preached before Herod Agrippa?  He said: “O king, I know these things are known to thee.  For this was not done in a corner” [Acts 26:26].  It was God’s purpose that the sacrifice of Christ for our sins be a public display, for the eyes of the whole world to look upon it.  That’s an amazing thing.  It was the Lord Himself who purposed this public display of the sacrifice of Jesus.  It was God Himself who bound that sacrifice to the altar.  It was God Himself who purposed and chose that that sacrifice be placed before the eyes of the whole world.  It was the hilastērion, the propitiation of the Lord God for our sins [1John 2:2].

In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, quoting the fortieth Psalm [Psalm 40:6-8], the author writes, “A body You have prepared for Me [Hebrews 10:5].  Then said I, Behold, I come.  In the volume of the book it is written of Me, to do Your will, O God” [Hebrews 10:7].  This thing that happened on Calvary, the Lord purposed it to be publicly displayed before the eyes of the whole world and it was written thus in the scroll of the book of the Lord God.  “In the scroll of the book it is written of Me.”  What happened on Calvary, God had purposed from before the creation of this universe [Revelation 13:8].

And when the story of humanity begins, that’s the way it begins.  When our first parents fell [Genesis 3:1-6], God said to Satan, “You are cursed” [Genesis 3:14], and he became a serpent.  And God promised deliverance: “The coming One will bruise your head as you bruise His heel” [Genesis 3:15]; the whole scroll of the Book looking forward to the hilastērion, the propitiation of Christ [Hebrews 10:5-14].

And as we turn through the scroll of the Book, the sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah [Genesis 22:1-14], an adumbration of the atoning, the hilastērion, death of our Lord on that very mount [Matthew 27:32-50].  And, all through the Prophets, God shall look upon His Son and shall be assuaged: “The Lord shall see His travail, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:11].  “In the scroll of the book it is written of Me” [Hebrews 10:7], and, when we come to the actual appearance of that promised Savior in the world, behold, everything about Him and every part of His ministry is publicly displayed.  It begins in the scroll of the Book.  It begins with His birth [Matthew 1:20-25].

Dear me, all of the attendant publicity of the birth of our Lord: the angels singing and heaven opening and the shepherds describing what they had seen and heard [Luke 2:7-16], and the wise men coming from afar [Matthew 2:1-2], and the stars in the heavens leading the way [Matthew 2:9-11]Protithemi, God publicizing the hilastērion, the propitiation, of our Lord in His birth [Matthew 1:21-25] and the public attendant of the ministry of our Savior.

All Israel was shaken up with the marvelous preaching of John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-12].  And John the Baptist lifted up his voice and said, “Look, behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” [John 1:29].  And, in His ministry, it was indescribably public: The throngs, the throngs, the multitudes that surrounded our Lord in all that He did.  So much so, that He had to get in a boat and speak to those thousands and thousands on the shore [Matthew 13:2].

One of the most amazing things to me is when He went across the Sea of Galilee into the desert of Gadara.  There were five thousand men there who were following Him, and He fed the five thousand.  That means, I would say, at least ten to fifteen thousand men, women, and children were there, the vast multitudes that followed the ministry of our Lord [Matthew 14:15-21].  That’s the purpose of God: protithemi, publicly set forth.

And then in His crucifixion; He was crucified in the most public place known to the kingdom of Israel: on the high road to Damascus, just beyond the gate [John 19:20, Hebrews 13:12].  There He was lifted up.  And it happened during the Passover season, when there were hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who were there, looking upon the Son of God.  And dear me, the attendant signs of that hilastērion, O God!  As He lay, as He was crucified and dying, the Roman soldiers were filled with fear [Matthew 27:54], and the throngs that were there beat their breasts and returned [Luke 23:48].  And God took the veil in the temple and tore it from top to bottom, not from bottom to top, as men would tear, but from top to bottom as God tore it [Matthew 27:51].  The hilastērion was open to view, the mercy seat beyond that veil [Exodus 25:17-22]; the purpose of God, that the whole world should know and be present at the death of our Lord [1 John 5:19-20].

Then when He was raised, it was accompanied by attendant signs.  Oh, how in the roll of the Book, “In the scroll of the book it is written of Me” [Hebrews 10:7], the attendant signs when He was raised from the dead.  At Pentecost, there was a rushing mighty wind, and there were lambent parting flames of fire, and there were languages spoken, so the whole world could hear what had happened [Acts 2:1-4].  And in the scroll of the Book I hold in my hand, there is recorded the marvelous preaching of the gospel: the saving of the multitudes, the turning of the whole empire into the Christian faith.

And to this day, in this scroll of the Book there are all of the attendant blessings that enrich our lives this present moment.  He is the manna from heaven [John 6:50-51].  He is the rod of Aaron that blossomed and that bloomed and that bore fruit [Numbers 17:6-8].  And He is the one that brings joy unspeakable and indescribable to our souls, our hearts, our homes, our lives [John 10:10].  And He is our promise in the world that is yet to come [John 11:25].

Somebody said to me a day ago, “I heard that you one time said that you would be an English professor, if you were not a pastor.”

I said, “That is true.”   If I were not a pastor, I would have been an English professor.  I majored in English.  I love English.  And out of English literature, I have chosen an incident, a page that illustrates what that hilastērion, what that sacrifice of Jesus means to us.

It concerns William Cowper, C-O-W-P-E-R, Cow-per, you would pronounce it.  William Cowper—that’s the way he and his family pronounced it.  He was one of the greatest poets in English literature.  As a little boy, as a little boy, he was very sensitive and sickly.  And his mother, beautiful and precious, cared for the little fellow.  And his mother died when he was six years old.  His father didn’t want him and hastened him off, brushed him off, to a boarding house far away.  One little thing in his life in later years, someone sent him a picture of his sainted mother, and do you remember what he wrote?

Oh that those lips had language!  Life has passed

With me but roughly since I heard thee last.

Those lips are thine—thy own sweet smile I see

The same that often childhood solaced me;

.  . .

My mother! when I learned that thou was dead,

Say, was thou conscious of the tears I shed?

Perhaps thou gavest me, though unfelt, a kiss:

Perhaps a tear, if souls can weep in bliss—

. . .

I heard the bell toll on thy burial day,

I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,

. . .

Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern,

Oft gave me promise of thy final return.

. . .

Thus, many a sad to-morrow came and went,

Till, all my stock of childish sorrow was spent.

[from, “On the Receipt of My Mother’s Picture out of Norfolk,” William Cowper, 1789]

That’s his mother.  A little sick, sensitive boy, left without her when he was six years old.  In the desperation of his afterlife, he sought to commit suicide again and again.  He cried, “My sin, my sin!”  He cried, “Oh, for some fountain open for sin and uncleanness!”  And thus he sought relief in suicide, in taking his own life.  And finally, he was committed to the insane asylum.  He is a patient in Dr. Nathaniel Cotton’s private lunatic asylum.  And while he is there in the insane asylum, Dr. Cotton, a devout man of God, gives him a Bible.  And this inmate—this insane inmate, William Cowper, sits down by a window and he reads my text.

He reads:

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

But we are justified by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation—a hilastērion—for our sins.

[Romans 3:23-25]

He reads that text, and thus he writes,

Immediately, I received strength to believe and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me.  I saw the sufficiency of the hilastērion, the atonement He had made, my pardon in His blood, and the fullness and completeness of His justification.  In a moment, I believed and received the gospel.

And thereupon, he wrote a poem.  Saved now, gloriously regenerated and lifted up, and filled with the presence of God, and he wrote a poem:

There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins

And sinners plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day,

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

E’er since by faith, I saw the stream

Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love has been my theme

And shall be till I die.

[“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” William Cowper]

And he left the lunatic asylum, the insane asylum, healed and cured and well, and saved, and gave his whole after-life to the praise and glory of the Lord Jesus.  Somebody took that poem that he wrote upon the occasion of his salvation, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” somebody took that poem and gave it an old English melody.  And they were singing it—they were singing it when I was saved.  When I was converted, they were singing that song by William Cowper.  Isn’t that remarkable?  Two hundred years after he had been healed, I found the Lord.

And, as many of you, I went to see the burial place of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in South London on the other side of the Thames River.  He is buried in a stone sarcophagus, and his body inside that stone sepulcher.  And, when I stood there and looked at it, there inscribed on the side of that stone sarcophagus:

E’er since by faith I saw the stream,

Thy flowing wounds supplied,

Redeeming love has been my theme

And shall be till I die.

O sweet people, there is no preciousness in human imagination or in literature or in human experience like that of finding in Jesus the hilastērion, the covering for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3].  That’s why we can rejoice every day and be strengthened and blessed in our pilgrimage from this world to the world that is to come.

Now we are going to stand and sing us a song.  And while we sing it, to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], to come into the fellowship of our dear church, to answer the call of the Spirit in your heart; make that decision now.  And in this moment, from the balcony down a stairway, on the throngs of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I stand.”  Welcome, while we sing our invitation hymn.