Sermon: Sunday, 6th December, 2020 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
We all know that we live in a world full of broken relationships. Family members fall out, sometimes not speaking for years. There’s a good friendship, but then something happens which breaks it. Sometimes there are faults on both sides, and at other times one person has caused the division. This separation brings pain and hurt. We know deep down it’s not meant to be like this.
But sometimes something beautiful happens: differences can be resolved, forgiveness can take place, and the broken relationship can be restored. We call this reconciliation. Reconciliation is when divided parties come together again. It’s when friendship is restored.
The worst kind of broken relationship isn’t that of an estranged husband and wife, or between family members, or friends, or even countries, serious and painful as these broken relationships are. But it is between human beings and God. Our broken relationship with other people can cause lasting damage, but if our relationship with our Creator is broken, this will have everlasting consequences.
Whether we realise it or not, the biggest need human beings have is to be reconciled with God. That leads us to the obvious question, what is it that has come between human beings and God?
The short answer is – our sin. It’s a short answer, but a huge problem. All human beings have been designed not to live for themselves, as if the world centres around us, but to live our lives to please God, loving him, and loving others around us as well.
But the fact is that we don’t want God to be in charge of us. We want to be in charge and, in that sense, we behave as if we were God. ‘But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.’ (Isaiah 59:2) See also Romans 8:7 and Romans 3:24.
The truth is, even though this is God’s world and all the good we have comes from him, we do not thank him for it. And instead of living our lives to glorify God, we end up making gods of other things, and live for ourselves, or for money or pleasure or even for other people. God is pushed aside. This is the most serious of all of our broken relationships, and it is very one-sided: we are to blame.
If we are to reconcile with God, the issue coming between us – our sin – must be dealt with. And because God is a holy and just and fair God, he simply cannot ignore our sin. It must be paid for.
‘Men are opposed to God in their sin, and God is opposed to men in his holiness.’ J I Packer
Until we become born-again Christians, we are God’s enemies, estranged from him. What, then, is the greatest need of human beings? It’s not a vaccine for covid 19 (as welcome as that is). But it’s a way to be reconciled to God. A way to establish peace with God. The amazing message of Christianity is that God has provided one way heal our relationship with him. One way is all we need.
‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
1. Jesus had no sin
We can’t even go one single day without doing and saying wrong things. But not so with Jesus. He is the only perfect human being who has ever lived. He was never jealous or rude. He never lost his self-control. He always loved God fully, and loved those around him fully too. The Bible speaks with one voice about this.
This is the testimony of God the Father (Mark 2:11), of Jesus himself (John 8:46: ‘Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?’), and even of Judas (Matthew 27:4) and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:41)!
Why is Jesus the exception to the rule that all human beings sin? Yes, he is a true human being, born from the womb of Mary, but he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in the ordinary way. He is sinless because he is the God-man.
Why is Jesus’ sinlessness so important for us? Because it is this wonderful combination of being a sinless human being and being the Son of God which uniquely qualifies him to die in our place. Jesus is the sinless substitute.
‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’ (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Is anyone else qualified to die in our place? Is anyone else sinless? No! But the good news we celebrate today is that our Saviour is the spotless lamb of God.
2. Jesus was made sin
This is a shocking statement. We must not get used to it, and let it wash over us. What does this even mean? It doesn’t mean that Jesus committed a sin, but it means that he took responsibility for sin, was charged with the sins of his people and paid for them. Isaiah prophecies about this; ‘and was numbered with the transgressors…’ (Isaiah 53:12) Paul’s statement is even stronger than that of Isaiah’s. Paul says he ‘became sin’.
John Stott: ‘Having been made flesh in the womb of Mary, he was made sin on the cross of Calvary.’ In other words, as Jesus hangs from the cross, he is before the bar of God’s justice and is regarded as a sinner. The debt of sin found in the accounts of all of God’s people is transferred into Jesus’ account.
At that moment, Jesus the sinless one is viewed as sin, and experiences the punishment sin deserves.
‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross’, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘By his wounds you have been healed.’ (1 Peter 2:24) He bears our selfishness, our rebellion, our disobedience, our pride, our godlessness, and our hatred.
In one sense, this seems to be the greatest miscarriage of justice ever to have taken place: the most innocent man who ever lived, treated as the worst man who ever lived. The one who had perfectly loved God and others, and yet he is forsaken by God.
And let us be clear: it is God himself who is treating his Son in this way.
‘…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53 v 6:)
‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…’ 2 Cor 5 v 21:
‘All this is from God…’ (2 Corinthians 5:18) How can all of this make sense?
Doesn’t Abraham say of God: ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’
3. Jesus was made sin for us
‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them…’ (2 Corinthians 5:19)
This is the very statement which makes sense of the cross. And the only reason God was able not to count the sins of his people against them, was because these sins had been transferred onto the shoulders of Jesus. Jesus willingly lays down his life, so that the sins of those who trust in him are not counted against them.
‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:6)
So, when Jesus died on the cross, he is paying for the actual wrongdoings of people like us. He’s paying the debt of all of his people. My anger, and my lack of compassion and my thoughtlessness, and my mistreatment of God. And the amazing fact of the cross is this: that because Jesus was made sin for us, our sins have been dealt with once and for all. The very thing which separated us from a holy God has been removed.
‘You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.’ (Micah 7:19)
‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ (Psalm 103:12 )
What are the implications of this? What does this mean for us? It means that we are no longer God’s enemies but his friends. We are at eternal peace with God. It means that for all those who trust in Jesus, and his death on the cross, we can say: ‘God has taken my sins away by giving them to the sinless substitute.’
4. An incredible exchange
We all know what it is to swap something. Some people organise ‘toy-swapping parties’ where folks with children can come along with toys which are now unused, but which other children might really like to have. It’s a win-win kind of a party. You get to declutter and be an eco-warrior. And of course, you get to save money, going home with new toys at no cost. Let’s do it!
But the swap in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not like that at all. It’s an exchange which is hugely costly for Jesus. Our sins are transferred onto him. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…
But that’s only one half of the swap. Because the goodness of Jesus is transferred onto us: ‘so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Yes, our debt was transferred into Jesus’ account, but his goodness is credited into our account. Jesus fully obeyed the law at every point, always resisting temptation and living a life of love, a life we could never live. The mind-blowing thing is this: it’s as if we have lived that life. That’s how we are treated by God. We are justified.
If you are not yet a Christian, then listen to verse 20: ‘We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.’
Why continue as an enemy of God when you can be reconciled?
What more can God do than offer reconciliation through faith in Christ?
Come to Jesus today, apologise for your sin, and with thanks, accepts this wonderful offer of reconciliation.