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Propitiation

In the Gospel reading for Trinity 11, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus presents a contrast between a typical Pharisee and a tax collector. The former prays in a style that emphasizes how he does more than the Law requires, since neither regular fasting nor giving tithes on things which have been purchased are commanded (tithes are given on things produced, something which the seller would have already paid, so the Pharisee is essentially claiming to pay twice). The tax collector, however, prays a simple prayer with a simple petition: God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

The verb translated as “have mercy” can also be rendered as “be propitious.” Propitiation is an old word borrowed from Latin. In its most basic sense, it means changing divine attitudes about the one making the petition. Pagans naturally understood this as man’s work. A right sacrifice, a fulfilled vow, and the god would no longer be angry, propitiation having been made. But this is not an acceptable understanding of Biblical propitiation, as we see here in Luke 18.

The clue to understanding it comes from the word itself. It is closely related to the Greek word used to describe the mercy seat of the Ark in Exodus 25. This golden lid, flanked by cherubim and sitting atop the ark which held the testimonies of God’s acts like the tablets of the Law, is God’s seat. Exodus 25:22 says that God will meet Israel from above that seat and speak. This is the point of encounter with God.

Leviticus 16 describes the day of Atonement, and one of the specific acts of that day included sprinkling blood over the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:15). Since God had promised to be there, especially on that day, blood covers over the sin of Israel and restores them back into God’s holy presence. This, then, is Biblical propitiation, not pagan works, but redemption through blood.

As Hebrews 10:4 also makes clear, animal blood is not sufficient to bring about a true propitiation of God. It is Christ, bearing His own blood into the heavenly places, that brings about the true propitiation of God toward men. Man could not do it, since he was unfit to be in God’s presence. The sinless Son as both priest and sacrifice brought about this true change in God’s attitude, so that salvation comes from God and God alone.

Thus, the prayer of the tax collector for mercy is appropriate. God, be propitious to me, not by my own works, but by Your own! Amen.

The Storm Breaks: The Breakup of the Synodical Conference

The Synodical Conference not only broke over issues of fellowship, but also over a different understanding of the Word, which would lead to further problems in the Missouri Synod leading up to the walkout in 1974.  Dr. Braun joins us to talk about issues of Scripture, the breakup itself, and where the Wisconsin Synod has gone since the 1960s.

Dr. Braun’s book, A Tale of Two Synods, may be purchased here.

Host: Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz

Guest: Rev. Dr. Mark Braun, Professor of Theology, Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI

Episode: 55

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The Gathering Storm: The Breakup of the Synodical Conference

When it began in 1872, C.F.W. Walther dreamed that the Synodical Conference might lead to organic unity among confessional Lutherans. When it ended in 1967, its demise drove a wedge between confessional Lutherans that persists to this day.  The Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod were formerly in full fellowship with one another, but no longer.  Rev. Dr. Mark Braun joins us to discuss the tensions between the two synods which led to the final break.

Dr. Braun’s book, A Tale of Two Synods, may be purchased here.

Host: Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Guest: Rev. Dr. Mark Braun, Professor of Theology, Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, WI
Episode: 55

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Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
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All Talk…


What we say and what we do go together in the Bible. But what happens when we become so focused on what we say that we forget that the Kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power? Maybe we end up explaining the Bible away. Join us as we discuss the dangers of slogans and the promise of letting the Bible speak for itself.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 28

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
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