In a sermon titled “Justification“, Colin S. Smith shared the following helpful illustration on the meaning of propitiation from Romans 3:25.
A propitiation is a gift or payment offered to placate the anger of an offended person. The best way to explain is through an illustration, so let me introduce you to two characters, Neil and Sally.
Neil was in his early twenties when he began dating Sally, a girl he met at the office. He had a reputation for being “a bit on the wild side,” and there were times when Sally was uncomfortable with him.
One night, Neil took Sally to a party where things got a little out of hand. Neil began drinking, and by the time they drove home in the early hours of the morning, he was scarcely able to control the car.
Then the unthinkable happened. The car hit a bank, careered out of control, and rolled over several times. When the vehicle came to rest, both Neil and Sally were unconscious.
Several hours later, Neil came around in the hospital. His head was thumping, and his body ached as he tried to remember what happened.
“How is Sally?” he asked.
“It’s bad news,” said the doctor. “She’s paralyzed. She won’t ever walk again.”
“Can I see her?”
“No, she won’t talk to you.”
Sometime later, Neil receives a letter from Sally’s lawyer. In the light of her permanent disability, Sally is bringing legal action.
Neil wonders how he could have been such a fool. It was just one night, but it changed everything. Neil doesn’t know how to live with himself, and he has no idea what to do about Sally.
There are three factors in this situation:
First, there is an offense. Neil acted recklessly and irresponsibly when he decided to drive home after drinking.
Second, there is an offended person. Sally is angry, and rightly so.
Third, there is an offender. Neil knows he is to blame. He is deeply sorry for what he has done, but that won’t change the fact that Sally is paralyzed and that her lawyers are preparing a legal action against him.
So, what happens? Neil hires a lawyer and his lawyer talks to Sally’s lawyer about what it would take to settle the case. Their discussion centers on one issue: What will it take to satisfy Sally? What Neil thinks really doesn’t matter. It’s all about Sally, because she is the offended party.
Suppose that the lawyers identify a sum of money that would be acceptable to Sally. The payment of that money would be a “propitiation.” A propitiation is a payment offered to placate the anger of an offended person, to satisfy the need for justice and settle the case.
Since our sin is an offense against God, it follows that God is the one who determines what the propitiation should be. The question is, “What will satisfy God?” We may have our ideas as to what should resolve the case, but none of that is relevant. God is the offended party. So, we must answer, “What will satisfy God?”
And the Bible gives us the answer: “Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation” (Rom 3:24-25). God presented his Son, Jesus, as the propitiation.
Watch the sermon in its entirety below.