What is the reason that Christ had to die on the cross? How does that relate to our situation right now as people? Let me give you three reasons: First, it is to pay for our sins. Secondly, it is to give us the life of God and thirdly it is to make us right with God.
What does it mean to have the life of God? It means what it says in Ephesians 4:23-24, “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Please open your bible to 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, to see what God wants to teach us tonight about that.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
We understand what it means to be alienated in a relationship and to find a way back so the relationship is restored. But the idea of God being reconciled to sinners is much more difficult. When sinners are being reconciled to one another, this seems possible and reasonable since both parties are guilty of sin.
But with God all the sin is ours, He is totally flawless and perfectly holy and our sinning means that He has been violated. It's our entire fault, we are totally responsible and yet God has determined a way in which sinners can be reconciled to Him. From a human viewpoint this would seem impossible.
But with God nothing is impossible. Christ provided a way where there was no way. And all of us in all churches all over the world are given the same task as ambassadors of proclaiming that reconciliation now is possible. The term ‘ambassador’ that you see in verse 20 really refers to someone who represented his government.
An ambassador speaks for his king, or his government. He is the mouthpiece of his sovereign leader. He dos not utter his own thoughts; he never makes private personal offers or give personal promises. He doesn't make personal demands. He represents his sovereign president and country.
We have been given an ambassadorship not to fix the culture but to speak for God by proclaiming the message of reconciliation. Changed people who are changed by the gospel will change the society. This is your ministry, not just mine. This is our ministry.
What is involved in this ministry of reconciliation? What are the component parts of it? What are we talking about? So let us break it down in smaller parts. What are the elements? I'm going to give you four things.
Number one, reconciliation is the will of God. Look at verse 17 for a moment. In this very familiar verse Paul says, "If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." He's talking about salvation, new birth and all that comes with it.
Verse 18, "All this is from God," that is all the things that are new, all the elements of salvation, all the components of conversion, all these things are from God. What is this telling us? That God is the reconciler. That reconciliation is by the will of God.
Verse 19 puts it this way, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself.” The “world” is used in the sense of humanity. It doesn't mean every single person who has ever lived, but it means from the human race God is doing His reconciling work.
Then verse 20, we see that God is the initiator, God is the reconciler. Obviously the offended party has to set the terms for the reconciliation. You are a violator of God's Law and therefore a violator of His holiness and therefore the enemy of God and so only God can set the terms of the reconciliation.
I've studied many false religions, ancient ones and modern ones, and they invent these various kinds of deities. Some gods appear to be totally indifferent and not knowable and some really have no personal interaction with anyone. I’m so thankful that the true and living God is not like the false gods of this world but is by nature a reconciler.
The pagan people, the unfaithful and apostate Israelites began worshipping another god called Moloch, and this god was so angry, so vicious that to appease him, you had to incinerate your body in a fire. So on the one hand you've got the indifferent god, on the other one you've got the hostile god, this is typical of all the false gods, somewhere in between these extremes they all find a place.
And here comes the true and living God and there is nothing like Him at all because men and demons cannot invent the true and living God. And here comes a God who is not apathetic, and who is not cruel, here is a God who is by nature a Savior. Here is a God who is by nature a reconciler.
In Roman Catholicism that you don't want to go to God for your salvation, you don't want to go directly to God for your needs because God is a judge and God is wrathful. You might think you should go to Jesus, but Jesus can also be stern, and righteous. If you really want to be saved for sure, go to Mary, she's sympathetic and she's compassionate.
And Roman Catholic theology says Mary never refuses anybody who comes to her and Jesus can't refuse her, and so she sells Jesus on your case and then Jesus sells God on your case, and that's how you get God to be willing to accept you.
That really is an attack on the nature of God. God is no reluctant Savior. Paul, the Apostle, over and over again writes about “God, our Savior” in the letters 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and in Titus. The phrase ‘God, our Savior’ is in every chapter. God is by nature a Savior.
Reconciliation is the divine way by which God's holy displeasure can be made right again. It is the divine provision by which hostility can be removed. It is the divine provision by which sinners can be restored to Him. Man is unable to make reconciliation with God. We can only embrace what God has provided; it is not something that we do.
Reconciliation is through the will of God. So we are doing the will of God in this world when we, as ambassadors, are proclaiming the message of hope and reconciliation to anybody who wants to hear anywhere in the world.
Secondly, reconciliation is by forgiveness. Verse 19, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” That's the only way this can work. God erased the record of our sin through Christ. He has to treat us as if we never sinned. Only Christ made such an incredible thing possible.
He's willing to forgive all your sin, that is, all the sins you have committed in the past, all the sins you are now committing and all the sins you will ever commit in your life. He will forgive them all forever. He will bury them in the depths of the deepest sea, remove them as far as east is from west and forget them."
If God has forgiven your sins, you also need to forgive yourself for those sins. Do not beat yourself up for all the wrongs that you have committed. You are now a new creation, so acknowledge your sins and ask Him for strength to deny yourself and go on striving to become more like Jesus.
Thirdly, the ministry of reconciliation is by obedience of faith. Christ was obedient until death. Now the sinner is going to have to follow that example by doing what is in verse 20, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
This text defines for us the mandate that every Christian has from God, namely to proclaim the message of reconciliation; thereby functioning as an ambassador for Christ through whom God is conveying His message.
And then he continues in verse 20, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We beg you. So here we are counseling, urging, asking, pleading, admonishing, exhorting to get people to be willing to reconcile to the God who is willing to reconcile with them. Why in the world is this something you have to beg people to do?
Because Jesus said in John 3, "Men love their sin. They love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. They run from the light." We talk about them having to repent of their sin, we talk to them about having to be willing to give up their sin, and we hear the words of Jesus, in Luke 9:23, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
The sinner's life is defined by sinful thoughts, sinful attitudes, the cultivation of sinful activities and sinful relationships. Jesus said, you're talking about giving up everything, selling all to buy the pearl of great price, selling all to buy that treasure hidden in the field, Matthew 13. But how do most people respond?
Jesus goes in Luke 4 to His hometown of Nazareth, He preaches in the synagogue to the people He grew up with, He spent 30 years in that synagogue, everybody knew Him, it's His own synagogue where He was every Sabbath, where He went to Sabbath school as a kid and He goes, He preaches one sermon in Luke 4. Do you know what happens?
At the end of the sermon they try to throw Him off a cliff and kill Him, the same people who knew Him best. Why? Because they would not accept His diagnosis of their wretched sinful condition. They were proud religious hypocrites who wouldn't let go of their hypocrisy. The sinner clings desperately to his sin.
It is necessary for the sinner to repent and turn to Christ. And that's what we beg sinners to do. We beg them to start living this life of reconciliation, to practice it daily, to go to people who have been hurt by you and to patch things up. Even if you want to be reconciled to God, it takes time and continual effort to be reconciled with your neighbor.
One final point remains and this is the key to everything. God is a reconciler, willing to forgive the sinner who repents and believes in Christ, but this raises a huge question. How can God, to put it in the language of Romans 3:26, how can God be just and be at the same time the justifier of sinners?
How can God be just and holy and uphold His Law and still justify the sinner for believing in Jesus? That's Romans 3:26. Or to put it in language of Romans 4:5, how can God justify the ungodly?
God justifies the ungodly by punishing a substitute. When God's Law is being violated, every sin ever committed in the history of the world will be punished by God. Every sin you or I or any human beings who have ever lived or will ever live, every single sin will be punished because our God is a just God.
God maintains His justice and justifies those who believe in Jesus, justifies the ungodly, in verse 21, "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin.” The sinless Son of God, holy, separate from sinners, Hebrews says, the one of whom God Himself said, I am well pleased with Him, He made Him sin on our behalf.
Does that mean Jesus became a sinner? There's a teaching floating around in the Faith Movement that on the cross Jesus became a sinner. It's been told often that on the cross Jesus became a sinner and had to go to hell for three days to pay for His sin and then was raised from the dead. Blasphemy!
On the cross He is the Lamb without blemish. On the cross He says, "My God, My God, why?" There's no sin, that's why the question why. On the cross God treated Jesus as if He were a sinner. God brought Him, the sinless one, to be the substitute for sinners, depicted in all the sacrifices in the Old Testament, a substitute giving His life for the sinner.
God killed Jesus with His wrath over your sin instead of killing you. To put it another way, on the cross God treated Jesus as if He lived your life. God treated Jesus as if He had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever live through all of human history, though He committed none.
How is it that if it's going to take an eternity of punishment for one sinner and still the punishment is not enough, how could Jesus bear the punishment of all the sinners who belong to God and bear it all from Friday to Sunday?
The answer is this, that He could take an infinite amount of punishment summed up in a brief amount of time because He is an infinite person, He is God. So God treated Jesus as if He lived your life and unleashed the full fury of His wrath on Him.
Look at the rest of verse 21, "so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." I'm not righteous. You're not righteous. We know that, don't we? We all live in Romans 7:15, we don't do what we ought to do and do what we ought not to do. And we all say with Paul in Romans 7:24, "Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death."
We all long to go to heaven so we can get rid of this terrible flesh that keeps subjecting us to sinful things. I'm not righteous. But then again, Christ was not a sinner, but God treated Him as a sinner and though I'm not righteous, God treats me as if I am righteous. On the cross God treated Jesus as if He lived my life, and now He treats me as if I lived Jesus life.
People say, "Why did Jesus have to live thirty-three years?" If I were God I might have said to Jesus, I need you to go down to earth and redeem sinners, so go down on a Friday, you can die and be raised on Sunday and be back Sunday night. Just get it done. Why 33 years?
Jesus had to live a perfect life. He had to be in all points tempted like as we are (Hebrews 4:15). He had to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). He had to fulfill everything that was predicted previously. Why? So that a perfect life would exist that could be credited to the account of those who belong to God. Jesus dies a perfect death, the death that we should have died, so that we could be live a perfect life in heaven.
This is why Jesus rose on Easter, so that we are reminded that this is all God’s plan, all of it is grand and glorious, incomprehensible grace that God would treat His Son as if He were a sinner so that God could treat us as if we were righteous. This is the culmination of the work of our triune God for us his children.
Let us remember this as we remember those same promises from the Lord Jesus lips at the last Supper. Amen! Let us pray.