If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. 1 St. John 2.1
If you do something wrong - and you know it - your instinct is to try and put it right, to make amends in some way. Perhaps it’s a bunch of flowers, or a promise to clear up the mess. Maybe a guarantee never to do that thing again. Whatever it is, there is a desire to sort it out.
You can see this impulse at work in many approaches to Christianity too. We know that we fall short of what God desires of us, that we sin. We are aware of the need for forgiveness from the God who will judge us, and so there can be a temptation to try and put it right. To attempt to pile up the good deeds, which will outweigh the sins. To make amends by sheer determination.
This verse - the last of the four “comfortable words” in the Prayer Book Communion Service - points to a great truth: we are simply not in the position to make amends with God. What could we offer him? Rather, it is God himself who provides the means by which we can deal with sin. If we sin, the Apostle John tell us, then “we have an advocate with the Father”, someone who can speak for us in the heavenly courts. What is more, this advocate is “Jesus Christ the righteous who is the propitiation for our sins”.
Which, of course, begs the question: what is a propitiation?
The word comes from the world of the temple, and refers to a sacrifice which deals with sin. In Hebrews we read: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22), and it is the shedding of Christ’s own blood at the crucifixion which deals with our sin. We cannot make amends, but Jesus can. We cannot earn God’s forgiveness, but Christ has.
The great act of faith which lies at the beginning of each Christian life to throw yourself upon Christ, and allow him to deal with your sin. To think that you can do it yourself, is simply a great act of folly.