Summary: At the cross, Jesus exchanged his righteousness for our sin. God invited us to give him our sin to be forever erased. And God called us to be his spokespeople, to share this good news with others.
We are about three weeks away from Easter! You know, the nice thing about being a little senile is that you can hide your own Easter eggs, and then have fun finding them. Easter’s coming soon, and it’s about a lot more than just Easter eggs, although those are fine, too. Today’s passage makes us think about the cross. What exactly happened there? I mean, we know the physical details, the agony, the cruelty, all exacted on one man that from all counts had done nothing to deserve it. Yet, what happened spiritually? With darkness covering the land, and with a big earthquake that somehow tore from top to bottom the heavy veil protecting the Holy of Holies in the Temple, it seemed something other-worldly was going on that day on a hilltop at Calvary.
Actually, something was going on, something so great that it impacts every single person in this room today, some 2,000 years after the fact. I’ve organized my thoughts from these powerful scriptures into three applications for us. First,
1. Fathom the great exchange at the cross
Verse 21 is our key verse here. Please listen carefully to it: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (v.21).
You see, at Calvary, a great exchange took place. Jesus gave his righteousness to you and me. He never sinned so he had it to give. And you and I gave him our sin. Yes, every human being that ever lived piled up their sin on Jesus in that one moment in history. I don’t know how that is possible timewise, how Jesus died for us before we were born; yet, with God, all things are possible.
Paul pictured Jesus—the sinless one—as literally becoming our sin as he hung there on the cross. He is still without sin, so another way of looking at it is that his status changed on that cross as one in a sinful state; just as our status changed as one in a righteous state. Neither party deserved their new status; yet it was the will of the Heavenly Father, the same will that Jesus surrendered to when he said, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done.” And as the weight of the sins of the world landed on his shoulders, it is no wonder Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our sin cut off the closeness of their relationship for the first time ever.
A couple of chapters later, Paul would use socio-economic words to describe the great exchange: “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
The Apostle Peter turned to the 700-year-old prophecy of Isaiah to describe what happened. Peter wrote, quoting from Isaiah 53, “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” 1 Peter 2:24
So if all that happened at the cross, how can I be a part of it? How can my sins be erased? Only for the asking. And that’s part 2 on your outline:
2. Ask God through Christ to erase your sins
Notice what Paul says in verses 18-19: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (vv. 18-19).
God set up all that happened on the cross all to reconcile us to himself through Christ. That word “reconcile” became a favorite word of Paul’s here. He borrowed it from Greco-Roman politics, when two hostile parties came together to work out an equitable solution to both. Yet, here it says one party took the initiative. Paul begins, “All this is from God...” This was all God’s plan, to use his one and only son to purchase our reconciliation. And note the effect: God would no longer count people’s sins against them.
The word “count” (or “reckon” or “impute”) is a book-keeping term. It describes items listed in a ledger book. God took the ledger book of our sin and grabbed a giant eraser and erased them all, every sin. That’s one big eraser, right?
God set up the great exchange at the cross to take care of our sin problem for all who would believe. Remember John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Our part is to believe, to ask God through Christ to erase our sins.