How Is It Just For Jesus To Die For Sins?
This was a question we were asked at our Lunch & Learn on Sacrifice and it’s a very good question. There are a few things to consider in answering this question: 1) God, in his justice, allows for a propitiation; 2) God sent prophets to tell us that Jesus was going to do this; and 3) Jesus willingly died for our sins. Let’s look deeper into these important points as we attempt to understand the justice of God in the salvation he gives.
That’s a word we don’t use every day, but it’s an important word from the Bible. Propitiation is defined as a means of forgiveness, or atonement. It has to do with sin and how God forgives it. Here’s one place where we see it used in the Bible:
“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22-26).”
So, propitiation is a means of forgiveness. In this text from the book of Romans, the means of forgiveness is the blood of Jesus – meaning the death that Jesus died. As God said to Moses, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (Leviticus 17:11).” See, it isn’t so much that Jesus shed blood, but that Jesus died. It was the blood of Jesus that made atonement by the giving of his life.
To take this a little further the word that Paul used here that we translate as propitiation is the same word that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) used as the lid, or mercy seat, of the ark of the covenant (see Exodus 25:17-22). This mercy seat is the place where the priest would take the blood of the sin offering for God’s people and sprinkle it for atonement for sins (see Leviticus 16:15-16). Remember, the punishment for sin is death, as it always has been (see Genesis 2:16-17), but God in his mercy and love for us has allowed for a propitiation – something to take our place and satisfy his justice – in order that we do not have to suffer the just penalty for our sins.
And what was the purpose of God putting forth the life of Jesus as a propitiation? It was to show his own righteousness so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Recall from the post on sacrifice that the foundation of God’s throne and the way of the Lord is righteousness and justice. God’s salvation will be consistent with all of his attributes. There is no attribute of God that is greater than another as it is impossible for God to be “less” in any way. If, in fact, God is the greatest, then his characteristics will be equal in greatness. Thusly, his salvation is 100% in keeping with both his righteousness and his justice.
It is useful at this point to broaden the question from “Was it just for Jesus to die for us” to “Was it just for an innocent animal to die for sins.” The purpose of broadening our scope here is to show that the question actually distracts from the heart issue actually at play. The heart issue here is a problem with God’s justice. It does not matter whether we are discussing Jesus’ death, animal’s death, or any other living creature’s death. Seeing as how God is the one who defines all things and is, in himself, truth, he has revealed the truth that a propitiation is acceptable in his justice. This is why it is said that God is both “just and the justifier” – meaning that God keeps his justice but also justifies (makes righteous) as well. As men and women created by God, we do not get to question morality that God has put in place. To ask the question of whether it was just for Jesus to die for us is to place our own sense of morality and justice over and above God’s. This speaks more toward our rebellion from God rather than the morality or immorality of God’s justice. At first glance, it sounds like a good question. The truth is, though, that asking the question actually reveals a sinful heart in need of forgiveness.
In our next post we’ll address the prophecies concerning Jesus’s death. Please leave us a comment or question! We’d love to continue this conversation.