“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)
John also informs us of the capacity in which the Father sent the Son — ‘a propitiation for our sins’. It is this that crowns the manifestation. Amazement is the only proper reaction on our part to a mission of the only begotten into a world of sin, and misery, and death. What humiliation for the holy One to be subjected to conditions the opposite of both his character and glory. But to be sent as ‘a propitiation for our sins’ astounds amazement itself. What does propitiation mean?
It means only one thing; it is to make God propitious. And to make propitious is to turn away from us the fierceness of God’s wrath. It is the propitiation for our sins. The judgment of God rests upon sin, and every ingredient of his judgment upon sin proceeds from his wrath, his holy displeasure against sin. Propitiation is concerned with the removal of that wrath, the substitution of favour and good pleasure for wrath and indignation.
Propitiation is to make God propitious; it is not to make God loving. We were the objects of his love while we were still the children of wrath. God sent his Son in order that his wrath might be propitiated; the sending of the Son was the provision of his love in order that his love might realize its purpose.
We think of Gethsemane and the bloody sweat. We think of Calvary and its bitter cry. The Father sent his own Son for the agony of Gethsemane’s garden and for the abandonment of the accursed tree. He sent him for these incomparable ordeals precisely because it was in the capacity of propitiation that he sent him. And this is why the relentless stroke was executed upon the only begotten. ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief’ (Isa. 53:10). ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isa. 53:5).
This is love. Without any suspension of his identity as the only begotten of the Father, and without any retraction of the infinite love the Father bore to him, the Father sent the Son to bear the full toll of holy vengeance which was the necessary judgment of God upon our sins. What a mystery! It is the mystery of the Father’s love, a mystery to be apprehended and received, to be revelled in and adored, but one incomprehensible in its greatness.
John Murray, “God’s Love and Our Life” in Collected Writings of John Murray vol.3 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 270-271.