During the weeks leading up to Easter we have been thinking about some big words: justification, reconciliation and redemption. On Good Friday our word was propitiation.
We used the illustration of some ketchup (I know!). If someone squirts ketchup all over you knowing full well that you hate the stuff, then in order to deal with that situation, two things need to happen. Firstly the ketchup needs to be wiped up and gotten rid of. Secondly, the deliberate personal offence against you must be dealt with.
The illustration represents our sin. The actions, throughts, actions etc that we commit (i.e. sins); they are like the ketchup. They need to be taken away. This is called expiation. But our relationship with God is still broken – because we have deliberately and personally offended him. This is where propitiation is required. Expiation deals with removing our sin. Propitiation deals with turning God’s anger aside so that it is spend on Christ instead of us.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father– Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
Over at Ligonier Ministries, R C Sproul has written a useful article to help us grasp what propitiation and expiation mean and how they differ, but go hand-in-hard.