The Cross of Reconciliation
We have come here tonight to celebrate the death of an innocent man. And it is bizarre if you knew nothing about Christianity that this is a celebration rather than a time of morning. Those who call themselves Christians are meeting all over the world to remember this death that happened about two thousand years ago. Some are re-enacting that very death by hanging men on a cross. On the day before the Jewish Sabbath Jesus Christ was crucified. He was taken by cruel hands and his life was taken from Him. It was an excruciating death, and as the Scriptures record that it was an act of love. Everyone seems to stop and pay tribute to Jesus Christ today, whether politicians or entertainers or just about anyone. They all seem to stop and remember, but the question is what are they remembering? How we interpret the death of Jesus Christ makes all the difference. Everyone agrees He died in the cruel cross located outside the walls of Jerusalem, but the question is why did He die? That is the amazing thing about the Word of God. It does not leave us to wonder but God Himself interprets the meaning and significance of the death of Jesus Christ.
The vast majority of Christiandom remember the death of Christ and have reinterpreted it to mean something far less than what the Scriptures say. Some think that Jesus was an idealist and taught some radical things and in the end they were just too radical for people to believe. Some think that he was the best teacher their ever was but was certainly just a man like you and me and let his greatness go to His head. Some see that He was a good man that died for the oppression of the people, and those who came afterward embellished his teaching and added miracles and claimed that He was the Son of God. Many see Jesus Christ as a political figure that came to end the shackles of the social structures, and overthrow them, and He has been the rallying call for those who are oppressed to follow Him.
But what is missing in all those interpretations of Jesus Christ and His death is what does the Word of God says was the meaning of His death? If The Scriptures are truly God’s Word which they claim to be then we really need to delve into them to see God’s interpretation of this event. Almost everyone agrees that Jesus Christ was betrayed by Judas, taken by force by the religious leaders, and executed under Pilate’s direction by the Roman’s. That much is clear. The dispute comes from why did he die? Was Jesus Christ only a victim? Was He helpless as he hung on the cross? Did He only set an example that some things are worth dying for? And how you answer those questions according to the Word of God has eternal consequences. I think for many Christians who struggle with assurance of salvation because they just do not recognize the significance of the cross.
And what we have in 2Cor. 5:21 is one of those Scripture texts that makes the Gospel so clear. It makes the meaning of the cross indisputable. This is God’s interpretation of the Cross and the death of Christ. And as we celebrate the self-giving of Christ these are the truths that need to be foremost on your heart and mind. The truths taught here are what lead to worship. And as you consider the cross what do you think about? How do you explain it? God wants us to know and trust in His purposes for the Cross. And in order to see God’s purposes in the death of Christ I want us to see two truths.
1. Christ died because we are sinners. V.21.
It is not vogue to call others sinners today. We can explain people’s fundamental problem as a poor childhood, or bad choices, or even DNA, but don’t call them sinners, or if you do reinterpret what sin is. Sin is low self-esteem but certainly not a breach between you and God. Sin is not looked upon as a breach in God’s Law but something else. It is not done against a holy God who would judge you, yet the Bible defines us as sinners who sin, and we do not see the seriousness of sin that it is worthy of the severest divine punishment. It is so severe that the only remedy would be that God himself would have to come and take the punishment that we deserve, and this is what this verse is about. We have a penalty substitute, and He is Jesus Christ. But you will never glory in that Substitute unless you know you are a sinner and feel the depths of your sin that it is worthy of eternal punishment from God.
Now verse 20 indicates that we are ambassadors sent to proclaim the message of reconciliation or the message of the cross; the message God has given us that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. Reconciliation means to take hostile parties and bringing them into peaceful relations. The question is how could that be accomplished? Here is the message that we present. Look at the first word in this verse: “He.” The “He” is God the Father. It looks back to verse 19 where we find, “God was in Christ.” Reconciliation is His plan and it could not occur unless He devised it and applied it. The question is asked who killed Jesus Christ? And many say the religious leaders or the nation of Israel or the Romans or whoever, and everyone had a hand to play and were culpable for what they did, but what came about was the eternal plan of God. If God does not act then there is no hope for man. And this is such an important point for a couple of reasons. One is that this looked upon as the plan of God the Father through Jesus Christ. The reason why I say that is important is because so often the teaching or thought is that God the Father is a God of wrath and the Son is the God of love, and nothing could be further from the truth. This is the Father’s plan executed through the Son. The Father reaches out in love. The members of the Trinity are not at odds as far as humanity but work in concert on this beautiful plan. The second point is if the Father does not reach out there is no salvation. The great lie of false religions is that we are not that bad and we can reconcile ourselves to a holy God. But there is no way possible. Ephesians 2: 1 tells us that we are dead in trespasses and sins. There is an inability for any of us to reconcile ourselves to God.
Look at the plan: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin.” This does not mean that Jesus Christ did not know what sin was, but Christ has no knowledge of sin experientially because He was absolutely sinless. This is something that can be said of only one person in all of the human race. All of us are on the same plane as sinners except for one. He knew no sin. But the text says that God the Father made Christ to be sin. The idea here is that He did not cause Christ to sin but Paul is indicating what took place on the cross during those final three hours of darkness when Jesus Christ cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Why was the Son forsaken? He was forsaken because the sin of all who would ever look to Him were placed upon Christ. He because our sin bearer. He was treated as if He committed the sins that we committed. He became our substitute, our perfect sin bearer. Theologians many times talk about the big idea of the atonement, and the big idea is penal substitution. Christ died for the ungodly. He took the sin of others on Himself. We recognize that the wages of sin is death. And it does not just mean a physical death but also eternal death outside the presence of God in a place of eternal punishment. Since I am a sinner the only hope that I have has to come outside of me. If anyone is going to be my substitute he has to be human and must be sinless and this is what we find in Christ. Christ lived that perfect life that He could die that atoning death.
Now look how personal those next words are: “on our behalf.” These words are very personal. Look at the pronoun “our.” If you are a believer tonight this is what you profess. The innocent one became something that He was not for us. We could say that Christ dies for all believers but we could also say that Christ dies for me, as my perfect substitute. It is so personal. Paul speaking of Christ in Gal.2:20 says, “who loved me and gave Himself for me.” There is a personal love for me here. Christ was forsaken by the Father on the cross for me. His divine and just wrath was appeased for me. The shedding of His blood was the perfect payment for my sin. On that cross when Christ took my sin I was forever reconciled to the Father. This is where assurance of our salvation lies. It lies not at looking at self but basking in the finished work of Christ. Is this what you are celebrating today? If you are not then it will have eternal ramifications in your life. My sin was transferred to Christ and He paid the penalty. Horatio Spafford wrote the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” And the third stanza has been a favorite of many, “My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought - My sin, not in part but in whole, Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul.” Let that truth thrill your heart anew.
2. Christ died because we are unrighteous. V.21b.
What do you need in order to come into the presence of our holy God in heaven? Some say that you need to be forgiven and have the wrath of God placated because of your sin. And they would certainly be right, but there is so much more that we need. If our sins have been paid for eternally by Jesus Christ then it puts us in a neutral position. What the sinner needs is not only His sin covered and paid for but He needs perfect righteousness. The Psalmist says in Psalm 24:3-4, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Jesus Christ said something so shocking in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” If I am ever going to come into the presence of a holy God who dwells in unapproachable light then I need a perfect righteousness. The problem is that I am unrighteous, and here once again we see the significance of the cross and what Christ has accomplished for us.
Now look at what Paul says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Notice the “so that” is indicating a result. There was a result of Jesus Christ becoming sin for us. There was an outcome. And here once again it is very personal with the “we.” It is talking about the Corinthian believers and Paul and any who have truly put their faith and trust in Christ to bring them into the presence of God and not in what they have accomplished. And then Paul indicates the reason is that we might become something we were not. The death of Christ is for only those who will profess and recognize that they have this problem and that is that they are unrighteous. They have not done what is right in God’s sight. In fact the word of God even says that our best works that we have ever accomplished are filthy, worthless rags in the sight of God, and the reason why is that they are still so full or sin and unrighteousness. Look at what I need to become, “the righteousness of God,” in other words, I need a righteousness that God possesses; a righteousness that is just like God. The righteousness that I need can only come from God.
And look at the end of the verse: “in Him.” This is where the righteousness that I need comes from. It comes from Jesus Christ. When God sees us judicially as a judge He does not see our unrighteousness but he judges us on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ because we are in Christ. This is our legal position. And this really is the wonderful doctrine of justification. This was the chief doctrine of the reformation in the time of Calvin and Luther. The question is: how is man made righteous? The Roman church said that it was synergistic or partly what God has accomplished and partly what man does. They look as righteousness as a process. The reformers as they came to Scripture saw righteousness as declarative or positional. It is not based on anything that the sinner can do or accomplish but based on what Christ has done and on the basis of what Christ has accomplished God declares the believer not only not guilty, but also totally righteous.
And because of the cross there is a wonderful transfer that takes place. Our sin is transferred to Jesus Christ. The Son is forsaken and takes the punishment that we deserve, but also the righteous life that Christ lived is transferred to our account. Remember what we need if we are ever to come into the presence of God is perfect righteousness, a righteousness that is God-like, and we have that in Jesus Christ. This is why we celebrate Good Friday. The death of Christ was no accident, but all of this was ordained for the greatest good and the greatest need of man. So often people complain that there is so much evil in the world and why doesn’t God do something. And He has done something more remarkable than we could have ever imagined. He sent His Son to redeem and reconcile sinful man to Himself.
As we consider this text in light of this day what is your need? Maybe you have been in church all of your life but have been trusting in that church attendance but have never truly trusted in the Christ of the cross as your substitute for sin, and as your perfect righteousness. The call is to admit your need and your sin before God and thank Him for the wonderful gift of His Son, and begin to trust in Him and Him alone.
Maybe you have been someone who has tried to prove that you’re a Christian but it has never been good enough. God changes the lives of all those who trust in him, but those works will always be defective. The reason why you are saved, and the thing that really changes us, is what Christ has done. You need to begin today and throughout your Christian life celebrate and learn of Him and follow Him. Let us celebrate the cross and what God has done. May be you have been lethargic and wondered what the fuss is all about. Why do people get so passionate about the cross and about Christ? It is all right here. In love He did something that I could never have done, and met the greatest need of my life that I did not deserve to be met. Celebrate the cross of Christ and your certainty of salvation.