This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). When is the last time you have sat with this verse of Holy Scripture and let its truth wash over you? Notice that this use of the term propitiation (atoning sacrifice), which means to satisfy God’s wrath, comes in the middle of a discussion of God’s love. In other words, sin arouses the wrath of God because God is love (by the way, Scripture says clearly that God is love, and never says that God is wrath). God stands against everything that damages and destroys and hurts others. God is just, and seeks to overthrow injustice. His great love is why his anger is kindled – he has no toleration for things that separate him from people, and which separates people from each other.
The wrath of God does not mean that God ‘flies off the handle.’ What it does mean is that God is steady, unrelenting, and uncompromising in his antagonism toward evil in all its forms and manifestations. I am often asked the question, “where is God?” when a tragedy or calamity occurs. But God is not found in the calamity; He is found in the remedy. He is found in the thousands of people who risk their lives to rescue others in the rubble of an earthquake or in a blazing inferno; God is in the giving of supplies and money to tornado victims; God is always in the solution to the tragedy. But we often look for God in the wrong place. God provided the ultimate remedy in sending Jesus Christ as a propitiation, an atoning sacrifice, for our sin.
What is amazing about sacrifice is that God himself makes the propitiation – the satisfaction for appeasing God’s wrath does not come from us. God is offended by sin, and nothing we can do can overcome the offense simply because our sin is so evil and heinous. We cannot talk our way, or work our way, out of trouble. God himself presented Jesus as the solution to the sin problem once for all. Because of God’s love, Jesus came to die for us; he took our place on the cross.
People are alienated from God by sin and God is alienated from people by wrath. It is in the substitutionary death of Christ that sin is overcome and wrath averted, so that God can look on people without displeasure and people can look on God without fear. Sin is done away with, and God is satisfied.
It is this love of God which is the basis for our own love toward others, and the solution to the dark places of our own hearts. Because I am able to love at all tells me that there is a God who lives in me. As we live and minister and love, it is necessary to never lose sight of why we do what we do as pastors, church leaders, and committed laypersons. It is all about the person and work of Jesus – and at the center of it all is the cross, the atoning cleansing blood-soaked cross. Here is the life that is truly life.