“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
The gods of antiquity had little feeling for mankind. They were considered powerful, and possibly helpful — but getting their aid was another story (more dependent on buying it, or cajoling them into helping, than on their natural compassion and feeling for humankind). If the gods were angry with you, you needed a way to soothe their temper.
You could try to court their favor with a sacrifice. It might work.
But Christianity turned all that around.
In the first place, the God of scripture always felt the same toward mankind. He never changed. He always loved humanity. Though sin made God angry, and might distance humans from the Lord, it did not separate them from His love. It only affected the way he acted toward them.
Ancient people would have searched for an appropriate sacrifice to somehow calm God’s wrath. But there was no sacrifice that would work – and that brings us to the second difference between Christianity and the religions of the ancient world: our Lord solved the problem Himself. John Stott once put it like this: “God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it Himself in His own son when he took our place and died for us.”
In his book, Search for Salvation David Wells puts it this way: “Man is alienated from God by sin and God is alienated from man by wrath. It is in the substitutionary death of Christ that sin is overcome and wrath averted so that God can look on man without displeasure and man can look on God without fear.”