I used a verse last Sunday in the lesson that I would like to revisit, only because I didn’t really expand on it much, if at all. And although its thoughts may not be considered in such detail when sharing the gospel with others, I believe it would be something worthy of visiting once someone obeys the gospel. So, before we look at the verse I am talking about, I want to start by sharing these words from Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). The translation called The Message reads, “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.” This selfless act of love is mentioned again in 1st John 3:16, where we read in part, “And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” The type of care and concern we are exhorted to have towards one another is on display in these words and it is beautiful. Dying for someone! For a brother or sister in Christ! Substitute myself, my life, to protect the life of another.
As the apostle Paul writes about Christ, he says, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die” (Romans 5:7). What is the difference between these two individuals? If I understand it correctly, the “righteous man” is seen as someone with great integrity, while the good man seems to also have the qualities of “kindness, amiableness, tenderness” (Barnes). It seems reasonable that the latter is someone who would easily fall into that friendship role with others. The point is, both individuals represent a person with qualities that would give reason to this act of selfless love by the giving one’s life for one of them. But, when push comes to shove, not many people are worthy of such sacrifice. With this in mind, let’s transition to our verse for today which is found in 2nd Corinthians 5:21. As we consider this verse, I want us to seek to understand the idea of Substitutionary Atonement and how it fits into what has already been said above.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us…” (2nd Corinthians 5:21a)
What is meant by substitutionary? The word substitute means a person or thing acting or serving in place of another. I am a visual person, and so I think we can gain insight by looking briefly at Luke 23:13-24. In this text we find that Jesus has faced His accusers, and like I mentioned last week, the only thing they could bring are false accusations. Pilate proclaims to the crowd, “And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod…indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him” (Luke 23:14-15). Jesus was innocent! Thus Pilate, with the intent to release Jesus, is faced with a crowd that cries out against it, demanding that Barabbas be released instead. It is here that we begin to grasp this whole idea of substitution. They wanted a rebellious murderer released (Luke 23:19), instead of the One who “knew no sin”. Outrageous! But it was all part of God’s plan. You see, “He made Him” for this very reason. This word made means I do, act, cause. The story of the Christ gives the appearance that mankind was in control, but they weren’t. God, knowing what sinful man would do to His Son, gave His Son nonetheless. One commentator writes, “The Son of God has become incarnate for our sins and has suffered and died in our stead.” It would be through this sacrifice of His Son, that He planned “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), that sinful man would find the opportunity to be redeemed through faith. What does it mean that Jesus would “be sin for us”? God substituted His Son Jesus, sinless, to take the place of mankind, sinners. Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of the world, “bore our sins in His own body” (1st Peter 2:24) when He went to the cross. Hebrews 10:14 from the Message reads, “It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people.” He substituted Himself in our place! Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you put away the doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, you have disemboweled the gospel, and torn from it its very heart.”
“…that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2nd Corinthians 5:21b)
We have been hearing a lot about the idea of reparations lately in the news. It means the act of making amends and it is part of understanding atonement. Atonement is the act of making amends for an offense or injury. Christ’s atoning sacrifice presents sinful man, once a slave to sin (i.e., unrighteousness), to now, through faith, become “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:19). I like how the ETRV translates Romans 3:22, “God makes people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. He does this for all who believe in Christ.” One commentator writes, “It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done….The idea is, that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured in our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and had never become exposed to its penalty.” What we deserved because of our sins; Christ took upon Himself. What we do not deserve; that is, to be accepted as righteous in the sight of God, is only possible because God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. It is only in Him, through Him and because of Him that we can confidently claim to be righteous!
We come full circle and remind ourselves of this simple and potentially life changing truth, “But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Would you die for a brother or sister in Christ? Better yet, would you die for someone who was your enemy? Christ did! He substituted Himself, being obedient to His Father’s plan, so we can become the righteousness of God in Him. Heavenly Father, thank You for the substitutionary atonement found only in Your Son Jesus Christ!