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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God provides the offering which brings propitiation
Text:Genesis 8:20-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Forgiveness of Sins

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 98

Psalm 143:4,5,6 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 27:1,2,6

Hymn 80

Hymn 66

Scripture reading: Leviticus 1

Text: Genesis 8:20-22

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When people are drinking they let their guard down, they lose their inhibitions.  And when people are drunk, they’ll tell you things about themselves that they’d never tell you when they’re sober.  In Canada many years ago I met up with a parishioner who was about as drunk as anyone can get without passing out. He told me he was going to hell and he didn’t care anymore.  He said there was no way God could ever forgive him for everything he’d done – and he’d done some horrible things.  There was no way back.  He was beyond hope.  He was beyond atonement.

Really what he was saying is that he was beyond propitiation.  If you need reminding, propitiation is the turning away of God’s wrath and the return of his favour.  That drunk man thought there was no way he could have propitiation.  God’s wrath would remain on him and he was going to hell after he died and he said he’d just resigned himself to it.

Perhaps there’s someone here this morning thinking the same things, but never saying them.  We think, “There’s no hope for me.  I’m beyond help.  I’m beyond atonement or propitiation.”  But loved ones, God says you’re wrong.  In the gospel God offers atonement.  He holds out the possibility of propitiation – that you can be restored to fellowship and peace with God and the people around you.  You can have joy.

In our passage for this morning, we’re going to see how God opens the way to make this happen.  God is the one whose wrath needs to be turned away, but God is also the one who makes the way for his wrath to be turned away.  In this we see his lovingkindness to all of us.  So the message of the sermon this morning is:  God provides the offering which brings propitiation.  We’ll consider:

  1. The pleasing aroma to God
  2. The promise of God
  3. The providence of God

After he gets off the ark, the first thing Noah does is worship God.  He builds an altar, probably of stone.  An altar is a raised platform for making a sacrifice.  The sacrifice itself is what comes next.  You may remember how Noah took seven pairs of every clean animal and every clean bird with him on the ark.  These are animals and birds that God had said were suitable for sacrifices.  Noah was to take seven pairs because God intended that he would use some of them for a sacrifice.  So that’s what Noah did.  He killed the animals, he built a fire, perhaps with some of the wood from the ark, and he offered these animals as a burnt offering to God. 

Moses was the human author of the book of Genesis.  The Holy Spirit worked through Moses to bring us God’s Word and the history of what happened with Noah and the ark.  Moses was also the human author of what we read from Leviticus. 

In Leviticus 1, we find various laws about the burnt offering.  The specific ways of sacrificing the burnt offering are laid out, but God also tells us the purpose of the burnt offering.  It’s in verse 4.  The burnt offering was to make atonement for the one sacrificing.  Our English word ‘atonement’ speaks of what the offering does.  Literally, ‘atonement’ is derived from ‘at-one-ment.’  Atonement is bringing together two parties at odds with one another – reconciliation.  At-one-ment.  That happens with the burnt offering – there’s at-one-ment resulting from it.  How?  God’s wrath is turned away and his favour returned.  So atonement brings propitiation.  The burnt offering brings propitiation. 

Now I’m sure most of us realize that the events of Genesis 8 happened long before Leviticus 1 was written.  But that doesn’t mean someone like Noah was ignorant about burnt offerings or which animals were clean for burnt offerings.  We read several times in Genesis about God’s people making offerings.  Sacrifices were made long before Leviticus was written.  At some point God had revealed this system of sacrifices with burnt offerings and clean animals, even if we don’t know exactly when or how.  Later on, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Moses put it into writing in Leviticus.

From the beginning, God made a way for propitiation to happen.  In his love, he made a way for Noah too.  He did it with creating the animals and birds for the sacrifices.  He did it with creating the wood which could be burned on the altar.  But he also did it by commanding Noah to take seven pairs of all the clean animals and the clean birds.  God not only created these creatures for sacrifice, he also preserved them.  Noah knew that God’s command to take the seven pairs was a signal that he was to make burnt offerings once he got off the ark.

But also think about what Noah had just experienced.  He had seen God’s wrath poured out on the earth.  Noah had seen and heard people drowning, animals drowning, the violence of the water lashing the earth. 

In 1889, a dam burst in Pennsylvania and killed more than 2,000 people in the Johnstown area.  In his book on the Johnstown Flood, David McCullough relates what happened:

Huge trees were snapped off or uprooted one after another and went plunging into the torrent.  When the flood had passed and the hollow was still again, the hill opposite the dam had been scraped bare for fifty feet up.  Every bush, vine, every tree, every blade of grass, had been torn out.  All that remained was bare rock and mud.

That was just the start.  When the floodwaters hit the towns in its way, many people got caught up in the waters.  They could be heard screaming for their lives.  When I read that, I right away thought of Noah’s Flood and what he would have seen and heard.  It was far more violent than the Johnstown Flood.  He had seen and heard the wrath of God on human sin and what wrath it was!

Wouldn’t seeing hearing such wrath also get you thinking about your own sin?  Noah had plenty of time to reflect being on the ark for so long.  Being cooped up with your family for months on end, you can be sure sinful things were said and done.  These things were displeasing to God.  Just because you’re on the ark, it doesn’t mean you stop sinning.  It’s just like for us as Christians.  Just because we’re in Christ, doesn’t mean we stop sinning.  Even though we’re saved from our sins, we still go on sinning.  Noah was saved from the waters of judgment, but yet he still kept on sinning.  So Noah would have felt compelled to offer a sacrifice to obtain propitiation.  But there was no opportunity to make sacrifices for atonement while on the ark itself.  That had to wait until Noah got his feet on dry land again.  So, at his earliest opportunity, he builds an altar, he offers sacrifices for atonement, for propitiation for himself, his family, and for all creation.

These burnt offerings were accepted by God.  They were pleasing to him.  Verse 21 tells us that he smelled their pleasing aroma.  That doesn’t mean that God literally has a nose for smelling like we do.  It’s using human language to describe God’s response to Noah’s sacrifice.  It means it pleased him, it brought about his favour.  God was propitiated – his wrath turned away and his favour returned.  God was at peace with Noah and with his creation.  There was tranquillity in their relationship.

God accepted the burnt offerings of the Old Testament, but not because they had value in themselves.  Hebrews 10:4 says that “…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  That has always been true.  God accepted the burnt offerings of Noah and other Old Testament believers because they pointed ahead to Christ and his once for all sacrifice on the cross.  Those Old Testament believers had faith in God’s promises and that for them was the same thing as us believing in Christ.  You can think of it this way.  Before Christ came, the sins of believers were paid on credit.  It’s like they were put on a credit card and, when Jesus died on the cross, that debt was fully paid.  After Christ came, the sins of believers are paid on debit.  Because of what Christ has done, there’s a full account of his merits available to pay for all our sins.  When we trust in Christ, the full payment has been made.   

That means propitiation.  In Christ, God has provided the offering which brings us propitiation.  God provided the sacrifices for Noah’s propitiation and he’s also provided the once-for-all sacrifice for our propitiation.  Loved ones, if you look to Jesus and place all your trust in him, you can be sure that God’s wrath against sin has been turned away from you.  You can be sure that he is now favourably inclined towards you.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.  God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ are infinite.  As one of the Puritans once said, “There is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us.”  God is greater than us.  His grace in Christ is greater than our sin.  His propitiation is more powerful than our transgression.  God provides the offering to make it happen – he only calls us to accept it in faith.  You can have joy.  You can have peace.  It comes through accepting the offering God provides for your propitiation.

The proof of God’s propitiation is seen in God’s promise in verse 21.  God said to himself that he would never again curse the ground.  And he would never again strike down every living creature like he did with the Flood.  He would remain favourable to the planet and its animals. 

Now the reason for this promise is something we need to look at more closely.  Please look with me at verse 21.  Look at God’s words there:  “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  Our ESV Bible translation makes it sound as if God’s promise is because human beings are inclined to evil from birth.  The NIV translation here is better:  “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”  Do you see the difference?  The ESV has “for,” and the NIV has “even though.”  The Hebrew word can be translated either way, but here the NIV makes more sense.  God promises never to curse the ground despite the fact that human beings will continue to be sinful from childhood.  We are conceived and born in sin, all of us come into the world with sinful hearts in rebellion against God.  But God isn’t going to let that fact stand in the way of his promise.

So if human sinfulness isn’t the reason why God makes this promise, then what is?  It’s because of the offering which brings propitiation.  God promised to never again destroy the earth and its animals, because he is favourably inclined towards them again.  This is in anticipation of what Christ would do at the cross.  In Colossians 1:20 we read this surprising statement that with the blood of the cross shed by Jesus, God was reconciling to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.  All things.  That includes the earth and that includes the animals.  You see, Christ’s work of propitiation on the cross wasn’t just about human beings.  It had a cosmic significance, a universal importance.  And all that is anticipated already here in Genesis 8.  Because of what Christ would do, forecasted by Noah’s burnt offerings, God was favourable to his creation.  He was committed to the well-being of his creation.

That’s important for us in a couple of ways.  One way has to do with the fact that we live on this earth.  Because of God’s promise, we can be sure of security for our planet.  There’ll never be another global flood, there’ll never be another judgment like the Flood.  Yes, there will be a final judgment when Christ returns, but it’s not going to be like the Flood with its broad scope.  Its focus will instead be on the human beings who have rebelled against God.

The other way God’s promise is important here is that it shows his commitment to what he’s made.  And if he’s committed like that, that’s the model for us to follow.  If Christ shed his blood to reconcile all things on earth, if he showed that kind of commitment to creation, shouldn’t his disciples do likewise?  We should care about this world in which we live and the animals and birds that live in it.  We hear a lot about climate change and global warming.  Some scientists are saying that global warming is on track to be 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial averages by 2030.  Is that true?  I don’t know.  But it doesn’t matter.  Here’s a definite fact that I do know and you should know too:  God has entrusted this world to our care.  We’re to take care of it regardless of what scientists are saying.  Since God is committed to it, since Christ shed his blood for it, we’re to be good stewards of it, managing it carefully.

Despite all the prophecies of doom for the planet, God assures us that his providence will prevail.  We see that in verse 22 of our passage.  This is about God’s providence – the way he orders and rules the world.  The Bible teaches us that God is sovereign.  That means he’s always on the throne, he’s always in control.  When he made the world, he didn’t step back from it and just let it run on its own.  When he remade the world with the flood, again he didn’t step back from it and let it go its own way.  He is intimately involved with all the second-by-second happenings in what he created and re-created.

So the cycles of nature will never stop.  Verse 22 mentions seedtime and harvest.  Yes, there may be droughts in certain places, but there will never be a year when there’s no sowing and reaping on the earth.  There will never be a year without cold and heat, without the changing of the seasons.  The sun will always go up and the sun will always go down.  Because we can depend on God’s providence, we can depend on these cycles of nature. 

During the year of the Flood, God disrupted them.  Except for day and night, everything else was suspended.  During the year of the Flood, there was no seedtime and harvest, no cold and heat, no summer and winter.  The Flood changed everything.  But now God assures Noah and assures us that his providential rule over the cycles of nature will never again be interrupted.  As long as the earth remains, as long we’re on this side of the return of Christ, these patterns will never cease.

This too is because of the propitiation made with the offering God provided.  In his providence God is favourably inclined towards our planet.  Ultimately that’s because of what Christ did on the cross.  Because of Christ’s blood shed on the cross, there’s predictability in this world.  You can rely on the turning of the seasons and the turning from one day to the next.  God has it all in his hands and he assures us he’ll never let go. 

Now remember that human beings are the pinnacle of his creation.  We’re created in God’s image.  Just as human beings, we have more value to him than the planet and its animals.  And if you’re a redeemed human being, if you’ve been bought with the precious blood of Christ, you’re of more value than many sparrows.  You’re the apple of God’s eye, his beloved son or daughter.  Your name is inscribed on his palms.  If Christ’s work on the cross leads God to be favourably inclined in his providence to the planet and its animals, how much more wouldn’t he be favourably inclined to us?  Because of Christ, we are those who benefit from God’s providence.  He works all things together for our good.  God is managing the earth, but he’s also managing our lives.  Because we have received propitiation through the loving offering of his Son, God is always good and wise in a way that works in our favour.  Loved ones, if your trust is in Christ, you’re in good hands with your heavenly Father.

When you believe that propitiation has been made for you, there’s so much joy, peace, and comfort in that.  When you believe that Christ has turned away God’s wrath against your sin, you have the joy of knowing that all your sins have been forgiven.  Not just your past sins, but even your future ones.  All forgiven.  When you believe that Christ has turned away God’s wrath from you, you have the peace of a healthy relationship with God as your Father.  You have the peace of knowing that he loves you and that can never change.  When you believe that Christ is your propitiation, you have the comfort of knowing that the Almighty good and wise God is now using his power for your well-being.  Everything that’s happening is happening for a reason and that reason is a good one, even if you don’t know what it is. 

A couple of days later when my parishioner was sobered up, I met with him again and I told him exactly that.  Even though he didn’t remember our meeting on that night, I told him the gospel truth that no one is beyond atonement, no one is beyond propitiation.  God offers it as a free gift in Jesus Christ.  Take hold of that gift by faith and you’ll experience its blessings.  AMEN.


Loving and merciful God,

You created every animal and bird, including the ones Noah offered on the day he left the ark.  You created the wood with which Noah sacrificed his offerings.  We worship you for providing the offering which brings propitiation.  We worship you for Jesus, the one to whom these offerings pointed.  Thank you for providing him as the sacrifice in our place.  Thank you for creating the wood of the cross upon which he was crucified.  Thank you for the joy, the peace, and the comfort we get from the propitiation he made for us.  We praise you that we can know the joy of forgiveness, the forgiveness of all our sins, even the ones we haven’t yet committed.  We love you for the peace we have with you through the blood of the cross.  Thank you that you are our Father and we’re your dearly loved children.  Thank you for the comfort of your promises.  We’re grateful for the security of our earthly home and the providence by which you rule it.  We worship you O God that our lives are also in your providential care each and every day.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to place and continue placing all our hope and trust in Christ, the one through whom all these blessings and benefits come to us.                                                                              

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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