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Chapter 12Chapter 4 began with a brief statement of the case of Adolf Eichmann. He was executed by hanging on June 1, 1962 for the murder of millions of Jews more than twenty years prior. Eichmann was Hilter’s lieutenant and recognized architect of “The Final Solution,” which was a plan to rid Europe of all Jews. In chapter 4 we were primarily concerned with the consequences of sin and how a day of reckoning is coming for us, just as it did for Eichmann, and will come in the future before God in final judgment. Let’s think about Eichmann’s case from a different perspective for a few moments.
Eichmann’s life was taken by the state of Israel for crimes perpetrated against Jewish people. He was responsible for the torture and death of millions of Jews and so his life was forfeit. Few would argue that his death was unjust. He deserved death for what he had done, but was his death equitable? He was responsible in the deaths of millions and he could only die once. Of course, capital punishment is the strongest sentence a human court can give, so there was nothing more that could be done to him. However, did his death really pay the debt he amassed in Jewish blood? Though perhaps there was satisfaction that justice had been done, were the surviving families in any way repaid or restored what they had suffered and lost? Did Eichmann’s death replace the life of even one Jew? No, it did not.
God’s law teaches that righteousness requires payments and restitution of damages that are equitable. These payments represent a sort of exchange designed to set things to rights once again. If one man stole from another, he had to replace what he stole, or pay the fair value of it in money, plus extra. Of course, with God’s law, capital punishment was the highest punishment that could be given. Life for life and blood for blood. All human laws should be just in this way in order to be just at all. But, human laws are limited and all such repayments and restitutions are limited.
Let’s illustrate the limitations. Say you have a car and sell it to someone else. This is an exchange and it can be equitable. You sell the car and the buyer purchases the car by giving you a fair market value for the car in cash. An exchange has taken place that was just and equitable, and everyone is satisfied. Let’s now suppose a different exchange. Say you are driving on the road and an oncoming car is driven by a drunk driver who runs into you. Your car is totaled and you are injured, becoming a quadriplegic and spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Charges are filed against the drunk driver. He loses his license and goes to jail. You are awarded damages, receiving millions of dollars. An exchange has taken place to the fullest extent of the law, yet even if your award was billions of dollars and his penalty execution, are you really restored? Has he made a payment that truly satisfies the damage that was done? No he hasn’t and he cannot. A debt has incurred that cannot be repaid with any amount of money or blood.
When we sin, we incur debt against God. God’s wrath is holy and righteous, and is revealed against all sin. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Paul proceeds in the next couple of chapters in Romans to show that all men are sinners and all men are under the just wrath of God. This is the same whether they are Jews trying to keep God’s law or Gentiles living without God’s law (Romans 2:1-3:20). Sin brings the wrath of God that culminates in eternal damnation (Romans 6:23; John 3:36). Our offense against God is so great that nothing short of the full measure of his wrath can satisfy it.
Paul has explained this in the first three chapters of Romans and also explained that keeping the Old Testament law, even if that were possible, is not sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath. How can God’s wrath be satisfied? There is only one answer to that question. Near the end of chapter 3, Paul explains how God’s wrath is satisfied.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 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; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
– Romans 3:24-26
Notice the word propitiation. The word is not commonly used today. It comes from a Latin word meaning “made favorable.” The word coveys the idea of appeasing wrath and restoring favor. Let’s follow Paul’s argument. Justified means to be declared righteous, or declared not guilty. Paul writes a man is “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28), and justification is “freely by his [God’s] grace” (Romans 3:24, clarification added). Paul means that a man cannot earn justification. He has earned the wrath of God, but he has no means to satisfy that wrath and be reconciled to God’s favor.
Paul further explains that justification is “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). The word for redemption means a ransom payment. One illustration of this word would be the paying of the ransom to free a slave. If a man was enslaved without any means of obtaining freedom and another would come along and pay for his freedom, that price paid was the ransom price, or the redemption. Paul specifies the ransom price paid for justification is “his blood” (Romans 3:25), meaning the blood shed by Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for sins. His blood is sufficient to purchase the “remission of sins” (Romans 3:25). In legal terms, remission means the cancelling of a debt or charge against someone. The blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to pay our sin debt in full, and therefore appease the wrath of God against us and reconcile us to God’s favor. In other words, his death is a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2).
I have used some examples of sinners, such as Adolf Eichmann and Osama Bin Laden, because their crimes are on such a large scale it’s easy for us to think of them as guilty and deserving punishment. Even if you’re convinced they deserved to pay for their crimes, do you think their deaths were a sufficient payment? We are limited. After we have executed a high criminal, there’s nothing else we can do. One man’s life hardly seems an adequate payment for the deaths of thousands and even millions. Yet, the Bible teaches we are no less guilty than Eichmann and our blood is no more sufficient than his to pay for our sins against God. This is why we need an atonement that propitiates God’s wrath against us. Eichmann’s death is not the end. He will face God in judgment one day and will pay the price for his sin for all eternity along with everyone whose sins are not covered by Jesus’ blood (Revelation 20:11-15).
This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.
If you wish to read all the chapters in order you may do so here.