That the God of all creation is wrathful doesn’t make it on to many bumper stickers, coffee mugs, or inspirational social media posts. You don’t find Romans 12:19, John 3:36, or Nahum 1:2 on decorative signs in boutique stores or hanging on a Christian family’s kitchen wall.
Some Christians are offended by the idea of the wrath of God. Back in 2013, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal committee wanted to change the lyrics to the song “In Christ Alone.” The line they wanted to change? “On that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” Their proposed change? “On that cross, as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” When song writers Stuart Townend and Keith Getty objected, the committee dropped the song instead of singing the original version.
But as Christians around the world observe Good Friday today, the wrath of God actually takes center stage. Yes, you read that right. Instead of being offended by the wrath of God, we need to understand how the wrath of God actually magnifies the love of God toward sinners.
We worship God on Good Friday for pouring out his wrath on Christ at the cross. We acknowledge that he did so because of our sin, meaning we’re really the ones who deserve his wrath. Yet, God in his love for us took his own wrath upon himself through Christ.
Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
Propitiation is the idea of regaining the favor or goodwill of someone who’s been wronged. In Christianity, propitiation is the satisfaction of God’s righteous demand for justice exacted through the death of Jesus on the cross.
We recognize on Good Friday that God doesn’t just simply ignore sin. Doing so would contradict his holiness. Instead, out of his love for us, God justly and righteously deals with our sins by pouring out his wrath on Christ in our place. Christ therefore takes the punishment for our sins. This allows our favor before God to be restored and God’s holiness to be retained.
So in order to both satisfy his wrath and justice and display his love and mercy, God put himself forward in Christ as the perfect sacrifice to deal with our sin. Because the Father’s wrath is poured out on the Son, our sin is justly punished, our redemption is purchased, and God’s love is remarkably displayed.