Posted by: reformedmusings | December 31, 2007

Lord’s Day Exhortation

I had the privilege of delivering the exhortation during worship yesterday. I actually wrote it about two years ago, but it snowed that Sunday and worship had to be canceled. So, I had it “in my pocket” when Pastor Brian went on vacation this week.

OT Reading: Ezekiel 36:25-30
NT Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Exhortation Text: 2 Corinthians 5:1-21

The Great Exchange

If asked what verse best summarizes our salvation, what would you say? John 3:16:

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. (NKJV)

Or Romans 10:9-10:

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (NKJV)

Let’s look at our message text today, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV):

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.

Let’s spend some time with verse 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.

This is indeed the essence of the mystery of salvation in a singe sentence! It is also sometimes called The Great Exchange.

As this is the Christmas season, a story about a particular gift exchange comes to mind. When I married my wife, I married into her family traditions. One of those traditions was a Christmas gift exchange. Oh, not the normal giving of gifts, but a somewhat different approach.

Every family brought a wrapped gift to put under the tree. It could be a nice gift or a gag gift. Once everyone arrived, each family picked a number from a cup. Then, the family with the first number would pick any gift from under the tree and unwrap it. If it was a nice gift, then great. If it was a gag gift, then, oh well.

But that wasn’t the end. Each succeeding family in number order had a choice of taking any previously opened gift from another family, upon which the previous family would pick another gift from under the tree, or an unopened gift from under the tree. It took me a nanosecond to realize that the ideal “strategy” was to have the last number in sequence.

Well this particular year, we drew the next-to-last number. When it came our turn, being the nice folks that we were and not wanting to take from the others, we picked a gift from under the tree. Upon unwrapping, it turned out to be a Dust Buster! We didn’t have a Dust Buster, and this was a great gift for us. However, we weren’t the last number. My sister-in-law had the last number, and she didn’t have a Dust Buster, either…at least until then.

Now empty-handed, we unwrapped the last gift remaining under the tree. And…I couldn’t make this up…it contained a rubber chicken. So, my sister-in-law got the Dust Buster and we got the rubber chicken. Not the best exchange one can imagine. As you might imagine, that chicken became a new family tradition.

That was one human gift exchange. Now let’s look at the divine version.

I wish to cover 3 points about The Great Exchange:
1) What did Jesus get?
2) What did we get?
3) How then shall we live?

1) What did Jesus get?

First, who was Jesus? Holy, eternal Son of God, 2nd person of the trinity, became fully man while remaining fully God (which we just celebrated at Christmas), lived the perfect life—kept God’s law perfectly and was without sin (Heb 4:15). Yet Acts 2:23 says that:

“Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”

So, the only truly innocent man in all of history was brutally executed by sinful men. The perfect Lamb of God slain for our transgressions, as John the Baptist exclaimed in Jn 1:29.

“He became sin for us…” Does that mean Jesus became a sinner? God told us in Hebrews that this wasn’t the case. Rather, our sins were credited to His account on the cross as in 1 Pet 2:24:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

When the Father looked on Jesus at that point on the cross, He had to turn away. Hab 1:13 tell us that God is so holy that He cannot even look upon sin. At that moment, Jesus felt the intensity of the Father’s just wrath upon sin and His turning away, hence Jesus’ anguishing quote of Ps 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Yet, God’s grace infuses this entire process. While we often talk of the quantity of our sin, I think that sometimes we don’t fully appreciate the character of our sin. When we pray “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” what kind of debt are we praying about? We’re accustomed to thinking of debts as financial, but that’s not the case here. Sin is a penal debt. Allow me to illustrate the different implications:

Let’s say that Charles and I have lunch together one day, say a the Silver Diner. We have a very pleasant meal and fellowship. Then, when we’re ready to go, we approach the cash register. I suddenly realize that I have left my wallet at the office. Knowing Charles’ kind and generous nature, I ask him to spot me $10. Being the kind and generous soul that I knew him to be, Charles gladly agrees. Now, is the cashier obligated to take Charles’ $10 for my lunch? Of course. It says right on the bill that it is legal tender for all debts. All is right with the world.

Now Charles and I had such a great time at lunch that we decide to do it again. And again, we have a great meal and fellowship. When it comes time to pay, I again realize that I left my wallet at the office. Now I’m really embarrassed. So, instead of borrowing $10 from Charles, I decide to slip out the door while he is paying. With my luck (remember the rubber chicken?), I get caught. The police come and take me away. As I go before the judge, Charles comes forward and offers to pay the $10 for my meal and make everything right. Is the judge obligated to take Charles’ $10 and wipe the slate clean? No. I’ve broken the law. My debt is no long financial but penal. I have transgressed the law and owe a penal debt to society.

Such is the nature of the debt that we pray about in the Lord’s model prayer. That’s why WSC Question #14 says: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. (1 John 3:4)

So, as we owe a penal debt, the Father was under no inherent obligation to accept the Son’s sacrifice on our behalf. He does so purely by His gracious choice made in love. In fact, that was the agreement or covenant between the persons of the Trinity before the foundation of the world which Paul describes in Eph 1:4-6. And all to God’s eternal glory, as Paul summarizes in Romans 9:23.

What was our part in all this? What did we contribute to our salvation? Only our need for it. As Paul tells us 3 times in Eph 2 and Col 2, while we were dead in sin Christ died for us. Dead. Not sick, not very sick, not very, very, very, sick, but DEAD. And dead people don’t reach for life preservers even if you hit them with one. God in three persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–did it All. We can never add anything by our works or any other way. We cannot earn it, we can only exercise the faith that God Himself gives us as stated in Eph 2:8. Augustus Toplady, author of our hymn of response, says it most pointedly: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.”

So, the first part of 2 Cor 5:21 says that Jesus was credited with all of our sins–past, present, and future–for which He paid the full price. This is only possible by God’s sovereign grace.

2) What did we get?

First, we often emphasize the cross and overlook what came before. Ever wonder why Jesus couldn’t have come down for supper with 11 of His closest buddies on Thursday, die a horrible death at the hands of sinful men on Friday, rise from the dead on Sunday, and return to heaven after the Redskin’s game that afternoon? He had to take our place on the cross, so had to live His life as we do, yet without sin, to be the perfect sacrifice, and so that His perfect righteousness could be credited to us.

But if this work was completed on Good Friday (“It is finished”), then why was Easter necessary? Why Acts 2:24, which says: “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it”? Rom 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death, but we already showed that Jesus never sinned. Therefore the Father HAD to raise the Son from the grave in accordance with His perfect justice. Jesus’ resurrection was vindication of His sinlessness and His perfect sacrifice on our behalf.

This is the essence of the gospel: Horatius Bonar, a 19th century theologian, once said that the two most profound words in all of theology were “instead of”. The fancy theological term is substitutionary atonement, which is the essence of the great exchange, Jesus got what we deserved and we got what He deserved. It is His perfect, infinite righteousness that He credits to our account when we trust in Christ alone for our salvation.

Of course, this has implications. In paying for our sins and crediting us with His righteousness, Jesus reconciled us to the Father as today’s text indicated. Being reconciled, as we heard Charles read in Romans 5, means being at peace with God. No longer odious to Him because of our sin, we have fellowship with the Creator of the universe, free to worship and serve Him for all eternity. Further, we have the honor of carrying His message of reconciliation to the world—“making His appeal through us” in verse 20. He has taken the marred clay of our previous unregenerate sinful life and fashioned it into a beautiful and useful vessel through the cross. All by His grace. We can rest in the perfect, infinite righteousness of Christ. Friends, that is the good news of the gospel.

We also have full and eternal assurance of our standing before God. If God did all the work and we contribute nothing, then it follows that we are fully in His hands. In Jesus priestly prayer recorded in John 15-17, Jesus says that He has brought out all who were given Him, not one was lost. No one can snatch us from His mighty hand.

Now, we can and do sin regularly. Though we grow in grace and become more like Christ over time in a cooperative effort with the Holy Spirit, we will still transgress His holy law until our last breath. But, Jesus already paid for all those sins that we’ll ever commit. We must confess and repent of our sin which so grieves our Savior, but we will never lose our eternal standing before God once He takes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh, nor the desire for His righteousness as Charles read earlier from Ezekiel. Oh, what blessed assurance! It’s no wonder that we can sing and worship God for eternity with grateful hearts of flesh.

So again, we received the free gift of Jesus perfect righteousness credited to our account by grace through faith. Gen 15:6 is the model for us.

3) How then should we live?

This great exchange that reconciled us to God by His grace cries out for a response. Can there be any greater cause for gratitude and love than this exchange and the gift of eternal life in heaven that follows it? I think not.

How then should we live? As John Calvin pointed out: “faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” We must live lives of gratitude to God. What marks such a life? Faithfulness. We should not abuse God’s grace by falling back into sin, confident of our salvation. There are people who advocate this, called antinomians, and here’s their creed:

Freed from the law,
Oh blessed condition,
I can sin all I want,
and still have remission.

Paul considers this absurd notion in Rom 6:1, concluding that we should walk in the newness of life. As Charles read in Ezekiel: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Assurance only belongs to those who show the fruit of the Spirit, just as Jesus tells us in his parable about good and bad trees and their respective fruit.

So faithfulness plays out in obedience. In Jn 14:15, Jesus says that if we love Him, we’ll obey His commands. In this we develop and display the fruits of the Spirit—goodness, kindness, gentleness, and the rest. We’re not saved by our works—they don’t change hearts of stone. Only God can give us a heart of flesh. But our hearts of flesh long to live out righteousness. We long for the fruits of our salvation, desiring to please God. The law displays the character of God and therefore tells us what pleases Him. The psalmist cries out that he hides God’s Word in his heart…that he may change his heart of stone to flesh? Not hardly. The psalmist doesn’t say he hides God’s Word in his heart to be SAVED from his sin, but to keep his heart of flesh FROM sinning.

If you are trusting in Christ alone for your salvation, then these words should resonate within you and give you great comfort. Your eternity rests securely upon God’s perfect faithfulness.

So there we have The Great Exchange. Jesus got the worse deal of all time in the form of all our sins—past, present, and future. We got the greatest prize—the forgiveness of all of our sins and Jesus perfect righteousness credited to us. The Great Exchange.

I charge you to live lives of gratitude characterized by faithfulness demonstrated in obedience, resting in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone, because of Christ’s work alone, and all solely to God’s glory.

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