Two months ago, I was preaching a series on the gospel. In one sermon, I preached Romans 3:21-26 which includes this golden nugget referring to Jesus: "...whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:25). Recently, I preached 1 John 2:1-6 as part of our verse-by-verse study through the book of 1 John, which includes this jewel, also about Jesus: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
They were some of the most encouraging sermons I have preached for months, not only for me, but also for the church family as we rejoiced in the gospel together.
When we come across big, "technical" words in our preaching and Bible study, we should use, study, and explain those words, rather than skirting around them or simply glossing over them with an alternative phrase.
We Use "New To Us" Language All the Time
Shortly after moving from the West Coast to Vermont to pastor a church, my family and I drove around town to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. It was May, and we kept seeing signs that said "Tag Sale." They often looked like Yard Sale or Garage Sale signs. We followed a few of those signs and saw a Yard Sale happening, then we incorporated this new phrase into our thinking and speaking. Now we don't give it a second thought when saying, "We should clean out the garage and have a Tag Sale this summer." To function well in a new environment, you have to learn some of the new vocabulary that will help you to understand what you encounter.
When somebody becomes a Christian or begins to study the Bible on their own, they need to learn some of the new vocabulary they will come across in the Bible. Otherwise, they will always struggle with those passages. When we as pastors or Bible study leaders don't take the time to slow down and explain what difficult doctrinal words and concepts mean as we encounter them, we risk doing unintentional damage. We stunt the spiritual growth of those we minister to, because they will flounder when they run across these words in their own Bible study. We also unintentionally teach that the words God chose to put in the Bible are too hard for us to understand.
Why You Should Love the Word "Propitiation"
With less educational resources at their fingertips, the writers of both the Old and New Testament did not flinch to use technical words when they taught about God. Although the same could be said for biblical words dripping with meaning like "justification," "redemption,” and "regeneration," let me give you an example using the word that recently made me pause: propitiation.
As I studied to preach Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2, I was amazed to discover that the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) uses a form of the same word 6 times. It is often used to talk about the Day of Atonement, but one use made my jaw drop. In Psalm 130:4, the Psalmist rejoices: "But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared." Yes, it is forgiveness, but he didn't use the word for "forgiveness." He used the word for "propitiation." Those who sang Psalm 130 understood that, in order for forgiveness to happen, their sins needed to be paid for.
But we really begin to understand what Jesus did for us as our propitiation when we look at how a form of the word is used in Hebrews 9:5. There the writer of Hebrews uses a form of the word "propitiation" to describe the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant. This same form of the word is used 24 times in the Septuagint to refer to the mercy seat that was on top of the Ark of the Covenant.
The covering of the Ark of the Covenant was under the two golden cherubim and represented God's throne on earth. It was the place where God's Shekinah glory, his special presence on earth, resided. Only the High Priest could go into God's presence there, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. But when he went in there, he would sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice on the mercy seat; in other words, he sprinkled it on the "propitiation."
in addition to Aaron's budded staff and a pot of mannah, God's Law was also insinde the Ark of the Covenant. The blood of the sacrifice went between God's Law, which the people had broken, and God's presence, which the people could not stand in without a worthy sacrifice.
This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus is not only our High Priest, Jesus is our propitiation. Today. 1 John 2:1 explains that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. Present tense.
Have you broken God's Law recently? What about the 10 Commandments? Have you lied, coveted, or lusted (Jesus pointed out that adultery happens not just with our bodies but also in our hearts)? These are just a few of the commandments. Jesus is your propitiation! Jesus' blood stands between you, the Law-breaker, and the holy God. Now that silences the accuser!
Let the people God has entrusted to you in your congregation or Bible study glory in the gospel from the many different angles the Bible gives us by not running away from the difficult words in the Bible. Explain them when you use them, but study and clarify these technical and rich Bible words in such a way that your people will want to sing hallelujah when they encounter them.
We want them to run to propitiation, not away from it! When they run to propitiation, they are running to Jesus.