2 Corinthians 5:17-21
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 19, 2017
If God is as wonderful as the Bible says He is, and as some of us swear He is from our personal experience – and if any who wish can enjoy a deep, lasting and life-enhancing friendship with God – what is there to do but gasp in awed and glad gratitude over the infinite pains to which Christ went, in His death and descent into hell, to reconcile us to God? By His suffering He overcome our estrangement and opened the way to peace with God.
There are, however, some people who fail to appreciate Christ’s costly efforts to effect this reconciliation, for they don’t understand the need for such suffering. Why, they ask, couldn’t God have just decided to get over His sense of grievance against us and move on, letting bygones be bygones? Why couldn’t God have accepted that boys will be boys – and girls, girls – and then forgiven us and forgotten all about our past misdeeds?
God couldn’t, because God is perfectly and completely just, righteous and holy.
But God did something else, because God is perfectly and completely loving and willing to go to whatever lengths it would take to make us His friends again.
Those lengths were long indeed, for to a righteous God our sin was not a slight offense that could just be put out of mind. Sin is worse than most of us realize. It is nothing to be dismissed as a matter of no consequence without violating what it means to do the right thing.
But can our sins really be that serious? Indeed, they can!
First, the depth of evil in any wrong deed is measured by the one against whom the wrong is done. Torturing a moth, as some boys do, is bad; but it is incomparably worse to torture a fellow human being. Neglecting your cat and causing it to suffer is bad; but it infinitely more heinous to neglect God and cause God to suffer. God has the first and foremost claim on our behavior, and deserves better than what we give Him.
Second, every wrong deed is a sin against the God who established the code of right and wrong. To disregard that moral law is to dishonor the moral law-giver behind it, the best Person there is.
Third, every wrong deed is a sin against the moral fiber and foundation built into the very nature of existence, an act of violence against the essential integrity of life without which the structure of the world falls apart.
Our sin does such harm that it must be made up for, and the greatness of the evil requires a greatness in the compensation paid out because of it.
Thus, unless God set things right in putting away sin, unless God satisfied the just requirements of the moral law – God could not give us the forgiveness, welcome, friendship and blessings He aches to give us.
All this is to say that something had to happen outside of us before something supremely good could happen within us. Justice had to be served before the restoration of the relationship and of the wrong doer, before there could be peace between God and sinner, and in each sinner – a peace that makes them whole and in harmony with life as it is meant to be.
In other words, “no justice, no peace” is not just a slogan of political protest; it is an imperative of the spiritual life. We could not have peace with God apart from justice getting its due.
Justice calls for the paying of the debts that wrongdoing has incurred. Someone has to pay. We can’t meet the price without bankrupting ourselves. Christ covered the cost for the sake of reconciling us to God.
Joshua Ryan Butler in his book The Pursuing God notes that someone always eats the cost of every wrong that is done. For example, if a drunk driver crashes into your car and totals your vehicle, you could say, “I forgive you. Don’t worry about it. Go and be at peace.” But your forgiving him doesn’t cover the bill for getting a drivable car again. As the wrongdoer, the drunk driver should cover it. But if you forgive him like that, he won’t. But then you will. You will eat the cost yourself. After all, someone always ends up eating the cost.
Butler next invites us to consider a more complex example. During the U.S. housing crisis nine years ago, bank corruption and shoddy governmental practices devastated the world’s economy. Many people were left holding the bag for someone else’s failures.
There was a huge debt to pay. (Bank of America alone owed people $17 billion.)
However, because corporations like Bank of America were deemed “too big to fail”, the government forgave the debt, in the most expensive bailout in history. But the actual debt still had to be paid. The bailout didn’t make the obligations go away, and someone still had to cover them. In this case, the federal government paid for the debt – which is to say everyone who pays federal taxes paid for it. Someone always ends up eating the cost.
By our sin – that is, by our failing to do as well as we could have, by our bringing upon innocent people harm that need not have happened, by our rebelling against God’s rule and disrespecting the One who is worthy of nothing but highest honor – we had brought upon ourselves a debt of guilt so large we could not pay it off without being destroyed in the process. But the Offended Party Himself had the resources to pay it for us, and so save us from that destruction. In a bailout ten billion times more expensive than the Wall St. bailout a decade ago, Christ at Calvary ate the cost of our sin, fulfilled justice, satisfied its righteous demands, and made possible reconciliation with God.
To eat the full cost of our sin and to reconcile us to God, Christ – who had never committed a single sin – “was made to be sin” on that cross, says this scripture. He absorbed into His broken body all the righteous wrath of God against evil, and paid in His forsaken soul the entire penalty we’d incurred.
“All this is from God,” the Apostle Paul says here. It happened solely at God’s initiative, when God had every right to sit back and let us reap what we had sown. And it was wholly achieved by God’s action, so that we have nothing to do but to trust in it and hope in it.
And what reason for hope it gives us! For, in this reconciliation, God made it possible for us to become completely different, for us to become the righteousness of God (that is, the living, breathing demonstrations of how God can make people right), and for us to become His ambassadors who represent Him and through whom He makes His appeal to everyone to be reconciled to God.
Of course, the story may not be believed, the efforts and pains of Christ may be ignored, and the offer of friendship may be refused. That’s why God gave us “the ministry of reconciliation”. That’s why we need to be new proof for this day of the love behind it all. Let us pray.