Monday, October 14, 2013

2 Corinthians 5:21 The Heart of the Gospel - A Communion Sermon

TEXT :  2 Corinthians  5:20- 21
TITLE  :  The Heart of the Gospel
DATE :  13/10/2013 

It is a real joy to  welcome  you all  to this table  set before us in the Name of God the Father, and of our Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

In preparation for our participation in the Lord’s supper I want to focus our hearts and minds on the heart of the gospel, for the Lord’s supper is essentially a celebration of what Christ has achieved for us- and it is a vast thing that Christ has done for us! Our text for this purpose is 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 : “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 me begin by reading from a sermon preached on the 18th July 1886 by Baptist pastor C.H. Spurgeon entitled, “The heart of the Gospel“, based on this text:

“THE heart of the gospel is redemption, and the essence of redemption is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. They who preach this truth preach the gospel in whatever else they may be mistaken; but they who preach not the atonement, whatever else they declare, have missed the soul and substance of the divine message.In these days I feel bound to go over again the elementary truths of the Gospel. In peaceful times we may feel free to make excursions into interesting districts of truth which lie far afield; but now we must stay at home, and guard the hearths and homes of the church by defending the first principles of the faith. In this age there have risen up in the church itself men who speak perverse things. There be many that trouble us with their philosophies and novel interpretations, whereby they deny the doctrines they profess to teach, and undermine the faith they are pledged to maintain. It is well that some of us, who know what we believe, and have no secret meanings for our words, should just put our foot down and maintain our standing, holding forth the word of life, and plainly declaring the foundation truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Well said, sir! This message is needed as much today as it was needed in his day, when he was struggling against the tide of a liberal theology - even in his Baptist Union of the day [1]. Liberal theology, a tool in the hands of Satan has deliberately undermined the heart of the gospel by either playing down or denying the need for holding on to the substitutionary atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan knows how to get us occupied with many good secondary issues, so that we forget the heart of the Gospel, and learn to live and depend upon secondary principles for church life - and therefore he robs us of the the reason why we are truly alive! Our hearts are easily led astray by many things, brothers and sisters, and one thing is needed. It is my duty as your pastor to constantly remind of the things that are of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3) and to remind you constantly what you have been created for … ”forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus .” ( Phil. 3:14). The way of the upward call is via the cross , and the cross of Christ is all about the substitutionary atonement.

This is what I want to explain to you again, and keep before your eyes once again on this Communion Sunday - and therefore our text: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Here then is the great and central doctrine of the Christian faith: On the cross God imputes the sin of His people to His Son, who knew no sin, making Him to be sin for us, and in exchange He imputes the righteousness of Jesus to His people so that they become the righteousness of God. This is what we call the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement. God takes our guilt away by imputing it to Christ and then imputes His righteousness to us. Let us repeat this … slowly and thoughtfully.

1. “He made him to be sin who knew no sin “: Jesus, the eternal Son of God (i.e. He always existed before He became a man on earth) was born (became incarnate / was made flesh) in Bethlehem by the will of God and for the purpose of becoming the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world ( Jn. 1:29,36). He lived among men, but unlike mankind He was a sinless person, and during his earthly life He never sinned against God and men. His heart was filled with holiness and love. Not only did He do (commit) what is right ; He also never failed (omit) to do what is right. He was perfectly in control of His emotions . He did not sin when He became angry. He did not get sinfully irritated with others when He became tired. He never sinned in His thought life. He never looked at a woman lustfully . His words were always appropriate. He never entertained an evil wish or desire. When tempted , He responded firmly and steadfastly.
As for me, I might do everything right today, but I will certainly omit to do what I should have done today. Furthermore , I am often guilty of being lukewarm , self-reliant, unbelieving, or faithless in my attitude. All this was not true of the Lord Jesus. He was the epitome of perfection. Satan could not get Him to sin (Lk. 4:1-13). It was His nature to be holy. He always kept the law of God perfectly. He could say to all His accusers : “Which one of you convicts me of sin?" (Jn. 8:46). Even Pilate saw something of Jesus’ pure nature. Three times he confessed before Jesus‘ accusers: “I have found in him no guilt“ (Lk.23:4,14,22). The “sin” of which He was convicted amounted to the fact that He had made Himself equal with God (Lk.22:66-71 ; cf. Jn.5:18; 19:7)- which was true, but those who were watching Him were not seeing Him for who He was . They did not listen carefully to His words. They even failed to see that His miracles were extraordinary signs of God’s kingdom come among them . Truly, there are none as blind as those who will not see! 

2. “For our sake He made Him sin." “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-everyone- to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” It cannot be said in a simpler way : “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. (Isaiah 53: 6). The Lord God laid the burden of our corporate sin upon the Lord Jesus. By right we (each one of us) should have been responsible for our own sin, but Jesus willingly bore our collective sin. There was no one an no thing that could take away our sin. Only Jesus could do that!

3. “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.“ We receive the benefit of His righteousness: Here we have a double transaction which is credited to us:   (i) Christ bears our guilt 
 (ii) Christ gives us His righteousness,   “so that in Him we become the righteousness of God.” So then, we who by nature are guilty, are regarded as righteous, while He who by nature was sinless was treated as guilty. That is the great transfer, and this is the great miracle of the atonement! The Son of God became the Son of Man , so that the sons of men could become the sons of God !

Why Jesus had to die for us : The dilemma of God’s perfect hatred of sin and God’s perfect love for His people .
How could a holy God express His perfect hatred for sin and His perfect justice and at the same time love the sinner?
The answer: In the cross of Christ ! On the cross our Lord Jesus bore the full wrath for our sin – “ for our sake He made him sin who knew no sin”. The sufferings of Christ were immense, beginning in the garden of Gethsemane, where "his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Lk. 22:44). Bu the full fury of the weight of sin came upon him when He hung on the cross. In those hours of darkness He bore so much more than we can imagine. Not only was He forsaken by friends and family ; not only was He verbally abused and spat upon by those who passed by His cross. Not only did He suffer pain that defies human description. Not only was He thirsty, bleeding and in excruciating pain – all which He suffered as a real man, but behind all this was the agony of His spiritual sufferings as the Holy one, the sinless one experienced something that was so foreign to Him - to experience an amount of anguish , which we can never understand. "He made him to be sin who knew no sin." And therefore He was forsaken by God (Matt 27:46). That means more humiliation, darkness, agony, and death than you can conceive. What we do understand is what He endured satisfied the full wrath and justice of God. The wrath of God was satisfied. Divine justice had been met. 
Here we are made to understand both, God's perfect hate of sin, and at the same time His perfect love for sinners. How much God must have loved us to allow His beloved Son to endure this for us. 
Spurgeon says: 
“Here we must see the Only Begotten bleeding in body and bleeding in soul even unto death: he must, in fact, spell out each word of my text, and read its innermost meaning. There, my brethen, I am ashamed of the poverty of my explanation, and I will therefore only repeat the full and sublime language of the apostle—"He hath made him to be sin for us." It is more than "He hath put him to grief"; it is more than "God hath forsaken him"; it is more than "The chastisement of our peace was upon him"; it is the most suggestive of all descriptions—"He hath made him sin for us." Oh depth of terror, and yet height of love!"

In this substitutionary sacrifice we see the deep love of God for us. God made Jesus, His beloved Son to be sin for us - and it was in some sense his own self; for the Son is one with the Father. It is the Father's own Son that suffers and dies for our sin. This is the love of God! Some think that this is not love but “cosmic child abuse”. They say that God could have forgiven our sins without Christ’s atonement. The answer is that He could not have forgiven us without ignoring His justice! Substitutionary atonement is the only way God could be just and love you at the same time. 
And remember! God provided the sacrifice. You paid nothing. God paid everything …
The communion table set before you is your invitation to remember the work of Christ for you ! So , dear child of God , come now and and praise and adore Him as we give thanks for the broken body and the shed blood of our Lord Jesus. 

An Invitation to those who are as yet unreconciled :
"Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.“ (v. 20) 

This message of the substitutionary atonement needs to be proclaimed. Until we have peace with God we have no ground (no imputed righteousness) to stand before God. Here then is God, calling you to be reconciled ! 
There was once a time when I did not know Christ, and I did not care. That was 35 years ago. Ever since then I have loved Him and proclaimed him. Now my life’s calling is to tell every man and every woman and every boy and girl to be reconciled with God, who so very graciously extends His mercy and His invitation to you this morning. 

Notice how the text puts it: "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” This is what God is doing through me this morning. I am His ambassador and on His behalf I urge you to be reconciled to God. He is not asking you for money. He is not asking you to do anything at this time . He is asking you to be reconciled to Him. Come to Him as you are. Don’t delay ! Yield your heart to Him, NOW! He is calling you NOW ! He says : "To-day if you hear his voice, do not harden not your hearts." (Hebrews 3:7-8)

Flee to Christ. Trust Him. Receive His work for you . God has laid your guilt on Him and He invites you to receive His righteousness. Escape from the sure wrath of God which is to come. Believe and live!

[1] See for instance Bob Sheehan : C.H Spurgeon and the Modern Church pp. 70

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