“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 – – – –
Several years ago while teaching a Bible class, I was confronted with how perplexing the apostle’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:21 can be. As we studied from the Scriptures, I appealed to Paul’s declaration in this text to clarify a point. To my surprise, I was immediately reprimanded by a member of the congregation for suggesting that Christ was made “…to be sin for us…” Asking that we turn to the passage, I insisted that it was not my thought, nor even my words, but that Paul himself had written it by the Spirit of God. Reading it directly from the Scriptures didn’t seem to help my assailant. Thus, we devoted the rest of our class time to deciphering Paul’s words. Let us spend a few moments today doing the same.
The Scriptures teach us that sin must be punished. God pronounced His judgment upon Adam and Eve, and then drove them from the garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The world of Noah’s day was destroyed on account of their wickedness (Genesis 6-8). Sodom and Gomorrah perished in brimstone and fire for their evil deeds (Genesis 19). According to Moses’ Law, a sacrifice was to be made to atone for sins (Leviticus 4-5). In an all-encompassing statement, Paul said, “…the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). However, God’s love would not allow Him to leave man dead in sin, eternally condemned.
The sacrifices of the Old Testament could not remove sin from man’s account, but rather served as “…a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins…” (Hebrews 10:3-4). These were but “…a shadow of the good things to come…” (Hebrews 10:2), the sacrifice of “…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” (John 1:29). However, “…Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many…” (Hebrews 9:27). Thus, Paul tells us “…that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them…” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
It is the “how” of our reconciliation that sits uneasy with some, and it should. Our sins were not merely wished away or swept under a rug. God did not wipe us clean with a cloth or remove our sins by a magical wand. The prophet Isaiah speaks pointedly about our reconciliation: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 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. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was stricken … He shall see the labour of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-8, 11). The price for our reconciliation was not simply that Jesus should die a horrible death, but that our sins would be laid upon Him. Indeed, Peter said that Jesus “…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). Great was the price paid for our salvation!
As Paul stated to the Corinthians, “…He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us…” Our sins were cast upon God’s own Son, thus He visited death on our account. Does that mean Jesus became a sinner? No. Jesus did not sin, and if He had sin or was sinful, He would not be suitable as an offering for sin. The animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant were given to bear the sin of the people. They had to be pure and without blemish, else they could not be offered. And yet they were inadequate. We needed the Lamb of God, Jesus, God’s own Son, to bear our sin. And He did — “…Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many…” (Hebrews 9:28). Having conquered death, for “…it was not possible that He should be held by it…” (Acts 2:24), God’s great glory and mercy has been manifest. For we, having had our sins paid for by the blood of Christ, have now “…become the righteousness of God in Him.”
“Show us Your mercy, LORD, and grant us Your salvation. I will hear what God the LORD will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yes, the LORD will give what is good; and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway” (Psalm 85:7-13).