Friday, April 15, 2022

Sermon for Good Friday - 2 Cor 5:14-21


Good Friday

                                                                                      2 Cor 5:14-21



          Do you think that there will be reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia during our lifetime?  It seems very unlikely.  On February 24 Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine.  It was unprovoked.  Ukraine had not attacked Russia.  Instead, Russia had already invaded Ukraine in 2014 when it took over the Crimean Peninsula and began a proxy war in some eastern regions of Ukraine that border Russia.

          While Russia expected a quick and easy victory, it has not turned out that way.  Ukraine has fought a brave and smart defense – a defense that has been supported with military aid from the U.S. and European countries.  Russia has sustained heavy losses, and the initial advance to take the capital of Kyiv has been repulsed.  The Russian military has been embarrassed as its competency has been called into question. Yet now the war seems to be shifting to a new phase as Russia prepares for further attacks in eastern Ukraine.

The invasion has caused at least forty thousand deaths.  It has caused more than four point six million Ukrainians to leave the country and has displaced a quarter of the population.  There has been massive destruction in cities. And as places like the Kyiv suburb of Bucha have been regained by Ukraine, it has become clear that Russia has committed atrocities against civilians.  Russia has become the hated enemy of Ukraine, even as Russia continues to seek territory from its neighbor.

These events make it seem that reconciliation is impossible. Yet in the epistle for Good Friday we are reminded that any human animosity cannot begin to compare to the condition that existed between God and man.  When there was absolutely no possibility for reconciliation from the human side, God acted in the death of Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself.

Paul says in our text, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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.” There are two things to note here.  First, the apostle says that God acted in Christ to reconcile the world to himself. Second, he says that this was done by not counting our trespasses against us.

The problem in the relation between God and us is, of course, sin.  Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

The original sin of Adam and Eve brought sin into the world.  And once sin entered into human existence, it has infected everyone born since then.  We are all conceived as fallen, sinful people.  As I have said in catechesis many times, I don’t know a single parent who has had to teach a child to be jealous, angry or to lie.  Instead, it is just there, ready to emerge and display itself.

And it’s not as if we get better at managing sin as we get older.  Instead, the more our powers and abilities grow, the more sin shows up in our lives.  We find and create false gods that rule our lives – the wealth, the hobbies, the sports, the sex, the desire for approval by others.  We get better and better at mistreating others in order to get what we want.  We grow in our ability to ignore the needs of others.  The last thing we want to do is to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

But God is the holy and just God.  He does not change. Sinners cannot exist in his presence.  They cannot have fellowship with him.  Paul told the Romans, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works.”  

In our existence, sin brings death. God told Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  It has continued to mean that for every person since Adam. Paul told the Romans that, “The wages of sin is death.” And it doesn’t just bring death.  It brings the eternal death and the punishment of hell as it leads to judgment of the Last Day.  Paul told the Romans “that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”  On that day God will render to each one according to his works.  And by that standard, every person who has ever lived would receive damnation as sinners.

That is the reality upon which Paul’s statement in our text is based. And yet, the apostle says to the Corinthians: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.”  When we had no ability and no desire to be reconciled to God, he did the unthinkable. He acted in his Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile us to himself.  He did this purely as a matter of his grace and love. The apostle says that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”

God is the holy and just God.  How could he not count our trespasses against us? The answer is provided by the event that we are remembering tonight.  He sent his Son to die on the cross.  God sent forth his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.  The holy Son of God took on humanity without ceasing to be God.  And he did not cease to be holy.  Instead, he lived a perfectly holy life as he fulfilled God’s will. Despite the devil’s temptations; despite the fact that he lived in a sinful world that rejected at every turn his work of love, he did not sin.

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ arrived at the goal and purpose of his ministry.  Paul expresses it in our text in a way that it so succinct that it is shocking. He says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  The apostle is absolutely clear that Jesus Christ had no sin. But then he also says that God made Jesus to be sin.  This was not a matter of his own sin. Instead, it was ours.  The sinless One became sin by taking our sins as if they were his own.  Indeed, in God’s eyes they become his own. 

The holy and just God judged sin when Christ died on the cross. He poured out his wrath against his own Son.  Sin was judged.  The sinner was damned.  It occurred as Jesus Christ suffered and died in our place.  The apostle says in our text, “that one has died for all, therefore all have died.”  This is why forgiveness is now possible.  This is how God was true to his holy and just nature, and yet does not count our trespasses against us.   This is how God reconciled us to himself.

One of the challenges of preaching on Good Friday is that the day is indeed about the death of Jesus Christ.  We focus upon how Jesus died in our place – how he took our sins as his own – and received God’s judgment against them.  But on Good Friday, that’s not what things looked like.  It did not appear that anything of meaning was taking place.  Instead, all those in Jerusalem saw was a man dying in the most humiliating and pathetic way possible. They saw the ultimate demonstration of weakness – a tortured individual now dying a slow and painful death as he was mocked by those below.  They saw one more crucifixion by the Romans – one of thousands upon thousands that they carried out during their rule.  Indeed, we know of occasions when the Romans crucified thousands of people at one time.

If that was all there was, then we would not be here tonight.  Paul alludes to this in our text when he states, “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.”  To regard Christ according to the flesh would be to see only a dying man on the cross.  Yet the apostle declares that this is no longer possible. As he says in the prior verse: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

The One who died, was raised. Paul told the Romans, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

God has called you to faith through the Gospel – the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you.  We believe in Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be “in Christ” as Paul expresses it in our text.  It is through faith in Christ that God no longer counts our trespasses against us.  Instead, God counts us as righteous on account of Christ. In him we have become the righteousness of God.  Because of this, we already know that we are justified – that we will be declared not guilty when we appear before the judgment seat of God on the Last Day.

On Good Friday, Jesus Christ died on the cross.  Regarded according to the flesh, he was messianic pretender who died in the humiliation of Roman crucifixion.  But because God has called you to faith in the Lord Jesus, you know that it was so much more.  It was God’s great saving action to reconcile you to himself. Only God could do this. And he did.  As Paul says in the epistle lesson for Good Friday:  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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.”
















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