2 Corinthians 5:20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
Our own sinfulness is one of the traditional focuses of Lent, and we need to take time to ponder the reality and the danger of our sin. There is no such thing as a harmless sin. It is like acid: It corrupts and erodes every good gift of God with which it comes into contact. Sin makes us less spiritual, less civilized, less healthy, less loved, less secure, less respected, and less content. It makes us more beast-like, more dangerous, more difficult to get along with, more alone, and more desperate.
Even when we have confined sin to our thoughts and attitudes, it is constantly wearing away at our self-control. It fills us with all sorts of inner conflicts and tensions. And yet, though we have all experienced these miseries personally, we go on convincing ourselves that a little self-indulgence will make us happier in the end. It’s not that we are ignorant of what is right. We simply can’t bring ourselves to give up what we want in favor of God’s way.
We still haven’t touched upon its greatest danger. It is the subject of Paul’s concern here: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” People who need to be reconciled are people against each other. If Paul urges us to be reconciled to God, that means that sin makes us his enemies. It is not good to be God’s enemies. Who could possible hope for anything good if the almighty God were against us? What claim could God’s enemies ever lay on heaven?
And yet, God is the most wonderful “enemy” anyone could have. Look closely again at Paul’s message of reconciliation. What does he tell us to do? Simply “be reconciled to God.” Do you notice that this is a passive verb? Rather than laying down some activity by which we might make amends, his command simply describes something happening to us.
God does not expect his enemies to work out the details of this reconciliation business. He intends to remove the obstacles that created the bad relationship himself. And the pleading tones with which he moved Paul to make this appeal, imploring us to be reconciled (Can you imagine that, God through his servant almost begging us?!) reveal the great heart of love with which he desires to heal the breech.
The details of this reconciliation, the message that restores the relationship, is simply this: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” People often speak of giving something up for Lent. That is a useful custom if it leads them to devote a little more attention to the love Jesus showed at the cross.
But the really important thing given up for Lent is what God himself gave up for Lent: His one and only Son to be our Savior! That Son had no sin. The Greek says it a little more vividly. It tells us that Jesus never personally experienced what it was like to commit a sin of any kind or to have any sin inside himself. He was as far away from sin as anyone could possibly be.
Yet, perfect as he was, God made him to be sin for us, in our place, instead of us. God did more than consider his perfect Son a sinner. The Father made his Son out to be everything that sin is and involves in every human being who ever lived–the lost image of God, the rebellious heart and soul, the countless loveless thoughts, all the lost opportunities to do good, and every breaking of every commandment. Instead of us. In our place. Everything that we might have expected to receive for our sins, Jesus suffered instead.
So that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Inside of Christ, our sinful selves are blanketed by his perfection. He hides all our shortcomings behind his infinite and holy love. This promises does not stop at mere improvement. This does not describe the man who has merely conquered a few of his more obnoxious habits. This is absolute and sheer perfection! This is the righteousness that comes from God himself. In his grace, when God looks at us, he views us as though he were looking at himself in a mirror.
Doesn’t such grace stretch the bounds of our imaginations? How could God do such a thing? That is the message of this season. Follow Jesus through his suffering, death, and resurrection again this Lent and Easter, and you will hear God making his appeal to us again: Be reconciled!