The Gospel in Fifteen Words

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
– 2 Corinthians 5:21

Ever since the genesis of sin in the Garden of Eden, mankind has been plagued by death. Genesis chapter five is the “…and he died” chapter (Gen. 5:8,11,143,17,20,27,31). There have been many plagues upon mankind: the Spanish influenza outbreak following the First World War; the Black Death in the Middle Ages which may have claimed between 35% to 45% of the population of Europe. The Tenth Plague upon Egypt was the most devastating with the loss of the first born. However, there is a “Plague of plagues” or sin. It is 100 percent fatal. When Adam and Eve sinned, it caused spiritual and spiritual death as well. There is no man-made cure and there is no such thing as immunity (Rom. 3:23).

Sin brings death, because it separated man from God: the source of all life. A means of removing sin for the purpose of reconciliation is the remedy for this plague. 2 Corinthians 5:21 represents in a single verse consisting of fifteen Greek words that remedy. It is the Gospel or Good News of Reconciliation. It has been called “the single key verse of the entire Bible” (Jerry Bridges, The Great Exchange).

The Bestower

The antecedent to the word “He” is back in verse twenty: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

This reconciliation had to be initiated by God. The word “made” shows Divine intervention by the sending of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Jesus did not go to the cross by mistake or merely by the hands and plotting of the Jewish leadership, betrayal by Judas or the ruling of Pilate. God took the first step in reconciliation by sending Jesus to the cross. Peter preached on Pentecost that Jesus “being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death” (Acts 2:23).

God could not let His creation, made in His image, be doomed to suffer in sin without hope. After all, God is love. He could not overlook sin, because He is Just and Holy. Man could not pay for his sin with his own blood, because all men have sinned and are worthy the wages of sin which is death (Rom. 6:23).

The Blood

Sin required the shedding of blood or death. Animal sacrifices could not remove sin (Heb. 10:4). Animals cannot sin. Man can sin and all have sinned. Therefore, God had to make Jesus (“Him”) a substitute for sinful man. Just one catch, Jesus had to be sinless to be our alternate. To die for sinners, He had to be sinless. To die for men, He had to become a man. Only a man could die for other men. Jesus thus came to earth as a human to live a perfect life.

Jesus challenged His enemies, “which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” (John 8:46). Others who knew Jesus declared His innocence. Pilate said, “I find no fault in this Man” (Luke 23:4). The penitent thief next to Jesus on the cross said, “for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:4). Peter described Jesus’ sinless sacrifice: “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot…Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 1:19;2:22). The apostle John wrote, “and you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). One who stood in no need of reconciliation would reconcile sinners to God through His blood.

Jesus was made or created “to be sin for us.” This does not mean He was made a sinner or given the guilt of another man’s sin. He was chosen to be the unblemished sacrificial lamb for sinful man. Like an innocent little lamb Jesus experienced the consequences of the sins of man without ever committing a single sin. “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

The Blessed

The “us” and “we” in the verse also go back to verse twenty to find its antecedent in “ambassadors for Christ” in verse 20. In verse seventeen the “us” and “we” are the new creatures in Christ and those who are reconciled to God in verse eighteen. Jesus shed His blood for the blessed. Blessed with reconciliation to God. As a sinner all men were on death row. “There is none righteous, no, not one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10,23). All men thus awaited the same punishment. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Just as Jesus was a substitute for condemned insurrectionist and murderer named Jesus Barabbas, so He took our place on death row. Jesus died the death that Barabbas should have died. So, He died the death for all sinners.

This sacrifice of the Son of God/Son of man was once for all time never to be repeated. Countless millions of sacrificial animals shed their blood under the Old Testament. With the death of one sinless man that all ended.

The Blessing

The phrase “so that” declares God’s purpose in making Christ our sacrifice for sin. It is forgiveness of sin by which the path to reconciliation to God is open. The removal of the sin the hindered man’s friendship with God is seen throughout the many metaphors of forgiveness. “Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back” (Is. 38:17). In Isaiah 44:22 God says, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” The Psalmist says of God’s forgiveness, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Micah 7:19 says God “will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.”

Does this mean all men automatically receive the blessing of reconciliation through the blood of Christ? The words “might become” shows there is the potential for all to be reconciled. God has done His part in reconciliation. Man through faithful obedience must do his part. This includes hearing the Gospel message (Rom. 10:17), and believing that Jesus is the Son of God who was raised from the dead, and finally be willing to confess that belief before men (Rom. 10:9,10). Furthermore, in includes repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Potentially all men can be saved through Jesus Christ, but not all will be saved (Matt. 7:13,14; 21-23).

The end product of Christ being made sin is so that we are made righteousness. Righteousness is from God, not man. Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

We cannot make ourselves justified or right before God without Jesus. Therefore, the place of this righteousness is “in Him” or Jesus. Paul wrote, “for if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10). It is in Christ that is found all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) including reconciliation.

Salvation may not have cost the sinner his blood. But salvation is a free gift of God by His grace. However, salvation was not cheap. It cost God His Son and the Son His life. This God did for us. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).

– Daniel R. Vess

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Categories: The Forum