"Jesus died for our sins." On the face of it, it makes no sense, in fact it appears to provide a great cop-out for chronic sinners! And yet St. John, evidently the most spiritual disciple, declares: "He[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
In the Old Testament, it was the thing to do to sacrifice animals, preferably your most precious animals, to express love and gratitude to God, and to atone for wrong-doings. It was a way of putting your money where you mouth was, not just professing it, but sacrificing tangible assets to show your sincerity. The more material thought, more in line with pagan traditions, was to sacrifice in order to appease an angry God - not very enlightened!
But these inspired words in the Book of Micah put all this sacrificing of animals to rest: “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
So why, after all this, would Jesus be offered up as sacrifice for the sins of men? "Whosoever believeth that wrath is righteous or that divinity is appeased by human suffering, does not understand God." (S&H) So what then?
First it is essential to recognize Jesus saw himself, not as a personality that people should worship, but as Christ, the operation of God's laws, the manifestation of His will. When he proclaimed, "He that keepeth my commandments shall never see death," he was speaking about Christ, not a human personality - and Christ does not require profession, but obedience, obedience to the laws of the God, divine Love.
Second, when Jesus submitted to the crucifixion, he was conforming to the divine will to demonstrate complete dominion over the flesh, over death and hatred from ecclesiasticism in the name of God, the most vicious form of hatred. The resurrection ensued, and finally the ascension. This was no sacrifice. It was a total victory!
"Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated man's oneness with the Father, and for this we owe him endless homage. His mission was both individual and collective. He did life's work aright not only in justice to himself, but in mercy to mortals,— to show them how to do theirs, but not to do it for them nor to relieve them of a single responsibility." (S&H)
So instead of thinking propitiation for our sins is referring to appeasing the Big-man-in-the-sky, we think of appeasing as submitting to the law of God, similar to the mathematician submitting to the principles of mathematics. Jesus showed all sinners, all those walking in the flesh, the Way, providing hope where before there was condemnation. "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John)