The Incarnation: A Pardon and Perfection - 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (Sermon)
Hi, I am pastor Rob. It is great to be with you this morning. Could I have a couple of people pray for us as I preach? Thank you.
Okay, to get us in the Christmas spirit, and thanks, by the way, to those who volunteered to make the sanctuary look so great. Also, I want to thank those of you who helped invite over 8,000 people to our services this month. We want people to know where we are, and they are welcome to join us as we celebrate the reason for this Christmas season, Christ. If you are here visiting with us, thank you for checking our church out. We have some more room. In your bulletins are invitations to our services. Maybe you have a friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor who doesn’t have a church. I see some open seats. Let’s pray. God fills them, that our friends have a place where they can know God’s truth and love.
I have a question for you, what is this? A present! What could be in here? Lots of things, right? If this was for you, what would you want? For some of you, what would you want would never fit in this. You may wish for a reconciled relationship. You may want something intangible. You want something to have never happened or to happen with certainty and soon.
What do you want?
Today, we are going to talk about what I think is the greatest gift of all: Jesus.
Someone asked me what the theme was for Christmas this year. I paused. I had to think about it. We didn’t have anything that stuck out in my mind. I said, “I guess our series is about Jesus.” Duh. But it is true. That begs the question, what are we communicating about Jesus? We are looking at the Humility, the Incarnation, and the Emmanuel reality of Christmas.
Last week, we learned about the humility of Jesus, as seen in Philippians from Joe. That was wonderful. We talked about Jesus’s humility and how we are to consequently exalt others and pursue unity by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am a little intimidated following him up.
Today, we are exploring the Incarnation of Christ. I thought of a text to help us understand the importance of the Incarnation that we don’t typically think of, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.
I am going to have J. N. read for us from 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. Would you stand now in honor of God’s Word, if you are able?
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, 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.
THANKS & PRAYER
Thank you, J. Let’s pray. God, we need you. I need you. You are the greatest gift. Yet, we miss it. We need you every hour we need you. Help us now. Amen. You may be seated.
ACTS TO CORINTHIANS
This year we have been exploring the book of Acts in our sermon series. 2 Corinthians occurs during the third missionary journey around chapter 20 of Acts. Obviously, 2 Corinthians follows 1st Corinthians. Both letters Paul defends his ministry and corrects the church. When he left the church, he heard reports that they were attacking him. In this passage, he defends his ministry. He communicates what the joint ministry is that God has given the church and why that is important. I think 2 Corinthians captures the trajectory of the Incarnation for us.
What is the value of the Incarnation? Why did Jesus have to come to earth? What is so amazing about it? I will argue today that if Jesus had not come to earth, we are wasting our time this morning.
In Paul’s first letter to Corinth, he stated that if Jesus was not raised, our faith is futile (15). He said of first importance is that “Christ died for our sins.” In this second letter, verse 21 culminates in a sentence about the substitutionary work of Christ. We find forgiveness and rightness in Christ’s work on our behalf. That is the trajectory of the Incarnation. I think if Paul were here during Christmas, he would say if Jesus wasn’t incarnate, our faith would be futile. You cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion, and you cannot have the crucifixion without the incarnation. The incarnation had forgiveness and rightness as direction.
So what is the Incarnation? The word comes from Latin, Caro -flesh. Jesus came in the flesh. God became man and dwelt among us.
Why is that important? Why is it important that God took on flesh? Couldn’t God forgive without doing so? He doesn’t change. He is loving. Didn't he forgive before Jesus? Yes, He was.
COULD GOD FORGIVE WITHOUT JESUS?
The prophet Micah 700 years before Jesus proves it. He wrote
7:18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Moses agrees. God spoke to him in Exodus 34 and said,
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
God was forgiving before Jesus and continues to be today. If that is so, then why did Jesus have to take on flesh? Why did he have to take on flesh and became one of us? Why did he have to humble himself to the point of death, even death on the cross? Why did he have to embrace what the Jews thought was a curse? Why?
WHY HE DIED?
I think one answer to that is 2 Corinthians 5:21. Repeat it with me.
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.
Let’s do that one more time. How does that help?
Paul previously said,
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,
How can God justly reconcile? God reconciled man through the death of Christ on the cross. Sins were forgiven, passed over, covered by Christ’s blood. People were reconciled, redeemed, and made right by the result of the Incarnation through the crucifixion.
Why, then, did God have people perform animal sacrifices in the Old Testament? Why not just send Jesus right away? Every year God commanded offerings of animals to Himself for the forgiveness of sin. Why?
HEBREWS - NOPE
God answers that question to some extent in Hebrews, chapter 10.
3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
That doesn’t make sense. These sacrifices didn’t take away sin? Why did God have them make the sacrifices? They were reminders. So what was the point? I think God allowed years to pass to showed how it is impossible to get to God apart from God’s grace and, ultimately, Christ. We have sinned. As to the exact timing, there is much mystery in that.
Hebrews continues and compares Jesus to a High Priest and sacrifice in verse 11
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, [himself] he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
God’s forgiveness past, present, and future are built-in Christ’s work on the cross. The Old Testament sacrifices were reminders and pointers to the work of Christ. For “All time,” Jesus’s death is what offers forgiveness of sin. Time past and time present and time to come.
Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, predicted Jesus’s death. An Apostle documented this event writing,
29 The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
LAMB OF GOD?
How did Jesus take away the sin of the world? How was he a Lamb? This is a metaphor. John the Baptist, unknowingly or knowingly, made a connection between Jesus and the Passover. In Exodus, God passed over his people, through the sacrifice of lambs, and saved His people. In Genesis, God spared Isaac with lamb in his place and saved God’s people. In Leviticus, God commanded that yearly sacrifices were made for their sins. God forgave his people by the representative blood of lambs. Jesus would be the ultimate lamb slain for the sins of the world. The previous lambs were reminders, place markers, foreshadowing Christ.
VERSE IN QUESTION
So we come to 2 Corinthians 5:21. Repeat it with me.
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.
Who is the He, and who is Him?
To answer that question, look at verse 18.
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
So the He and Him could be God, or Christ in verse 21. Which is which? You may already know or have thought it through. Working backward, we understand that the verse ends referring to God and begins talking about “our” being us the church.
The "He" must be God, the initiator, the ultimate cause, different from the “him” and the “Him” Is Christ.
Consequently, the reading of verse 21 is,
For our sake he/God made him/Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him/Christ we might become the righteousness of God.
If that is the case, what does it mean that Christ knew no sin?
JESUS WAS WITHOUT SIN
The book of Hebrews again comes in and answers. It teaches that Jesus was the Great High Priest without sin. Hebrews 4:15
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus never sinned, never, ever sinned.
Friends, what is a sin? I think we all can recognize it in its grossest forms. Look at the news. Murdered, abuse, stealing, and infidelity all feel like a sin. But is that all? No. Sin is broader, more diabolical, subtle, and widespread.
Romans 14:23 states,
For whatever does not proceed from faith is a sin.
So sin is acting in ways that are not filled with faith. So worry, anxiety, controlling, manipulating, overbearing, arise from sin. Jesus knew none of that. He knew no sin.
James define sin this way,
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (4:17)
Sin is not just doing the wrong thing. It also is not doing the right thing. Jesus always acted in faith, did the right thing, and never did the wrong thing. That means he never lost his temper. He never said anything that he regretted. He never had to go hat in hand and apologize. He never envied, complained, or was jealous. He never lusted or lied. Instead, he was always loving, patient, kind, merciful, self-controlled, gracious, generous, peaceful, considerate, humble, honest, faithful, and good. He never sinned. How? Friends, he was perfect; that was how. He was the God-man. He was tempted in every way, yet he never succumbed. He never gave in. He never compromised. He was perfect.
ALEXANDER POPE WAS WRONG
You may have heard the poet Alexander Pope’s (1688-1774) wrote, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” Pope was right and wrong. Yes, we err as humans, and yes, God is forgiving. However, Jesus was fully human and divine and never erred. He was tempted in every way yet without sin.
JESUS WAS SIN?
2 Corinthians 5:21 also claims this sinless Christ became sin. How? Great question. Let’s go to another prophet around Micah’s time. Isaiah stated,
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
The Lord laid our sin on Jesus. In a sense, Jesus became sin. He bore the fury of God on behalf of all who would believe. He took our punishment. The incarnation was meaningful because of Jesus’s pardon. He took our sin. God made Christ be sin in a sense, and Jesus died in our place for our pardon.
Why, again, does sin merit death? That seems harsh. I think we understand it in obscene cases like violent homicide, but for a little lie, jealousy, a complaint, or pride. Who isn’t prideful from time to time? Is it that big of a deal? Did Jesus have to die? Here is where we, I, must go to Scripture to help understand the spiritual reality. The Bible says the heart is deceitful above all else, and the wages of sin is death.
If you ask the guilty, what did you do, or why did you do it? I think the natural instinct is to downplay, to make excuses, and shift the blame. We don’t want to take personal responsibility for the wrong we have done. The Bible says the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), the penalty of rebellion punishment. God laid this consequence out for Adam and Eve in the Garden at the beginning of time. It was clear, disobey, and die. God’s commands were not nor are complex. Obey. However, we can’t. Genetically, we are bent towards immorality, and nothing, I mean nothing, can erase the wrongs done. There is no editing or airbrushing out the past. So someone has to die according to divine law.
ROCK TO THE WINDOW
If a hooligan grabbed this rock and broke your car window today, that would be horrible. If he said afterward, “I am sorry.” Would that suffice? What if he gave you a fruit cake. Would that fix it? Would that make things better? No! You need a window. Either you need me to pay for it or you will. A window for a window.
Friends, we are broken people who can never undo our rebellion against God. We, as a human race, have sinned against God and us as individuals. We can’t wipe out our past. The penalty of our rebellion is death. We have Hell to pay, literally without the Incarnation. Jesus took our place and bore God’s stated punishment on our behalf. This was not just an ordinary execution. The punishment of God was worse than the embarrassment and gruesomeness of the cross. The little baby Jesus was born with death in mind. Jesus willingly gave up his life to be sin on the cross that you might find pardon. a
He bore our sins. He became sin. And takes all of it, AMEN! Isn’t that great news? Your sins are taken! What I love about that is we can look at our history in the face and acknowledge who we really are and were. We can say yes to our guilt and shame. We were that bad or worse, but the penalty is paid for at the cross. We have forgiveness because God took on flesh to bear our punishment for our sins. That means you are forgiven. Justice is satisfied for those who believe. Purgatory is not in the Bible. Jesus paid it all. It doesn’t get you part of the way to God. It gets you all the way. There is no penalty box for the Christian after we are gone.
CONSEQUENTLY, YOU ARE FORGIVEN
As Joe aptly put it last week, “But wait, there is more!” The verse says not only did he became sin for us, but we become the righteousness of God. The gift of Jesus’s incarnation was not just eventual pardon but also perfection. He gives us his righteousness!
How many times do you feel like garbage because of something you have done, or said, or thought? We can get hung up on ourselves and miss what Jesus did in taking our place. Jesus’s incarnation, then execution, subsequently gives you the best track record possible. His perfect righteousness is yours. It is like God sees you through Jesus.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
Brothers and sisters, do you believe? Then Jesus’s perfection is yours. God sees you through His Son. I think the cure to lousy self-esteem is not to reprogram our minds to believe overly positive things about ourselves, but rather to acknowledge how bad we have been, and how good God is. Perhaps, you think poorly of yourself, let God speak to you through the Bible, and tell you of His love. Romans 5:8 says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for you. God foreknew you would sin, rebel, reject, walk away, betray, backstab, deny, and foul up his perfect rules. Yet, he came as a babe to love you to death.
Jesus is the key to give you what you could never obtain. Cling to the perfection of Christ.
This Christmas season, we can end up wanting many things, I do. This gift bag could have so much for you. What if we revel in a God who became man, who became sin, who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God? God is giving you and me a gift this Christmas that can never be matched. Be reconciled to Him and these facts today. He offers pardon and perfection. Will you embrace Him?
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