Sermon Notes – March 31, 2019

For Our Sake – 2 Corinthians 5:21

For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

   In her short story, The Transformation, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley spins a Gothic tale from the perspective of a self-centered, sinful young man from Genoa (Italy, not Illinois). He confesses to us his “excess of fiendly pride.” To make a short story even shorter: he squandered his inherited wealth, refused offers to restore himself honestly but is enticed by a wicked, foul, physically and morally deformed imp who tempts him with a chest full of treasure if the young man would loan the monster his handsome face and youthful body. “’I ask for a loan, not a gift,’ said the frightful thing: ‘lend me your body for three days—you shall have mine to cage your soul the while, and, in payment, my treasure chest.’”[1]

   The transformation takes place. The young man takes on the body of the monster and the monster takes on the body of the man. The monster does not return in three days and for the conclusion to the story (how the young man repents and is restored and forgiven) I refer you to Shelley’s story itself. (It is available on YouTube.)

   Our purpose today is to consider how we are genuinely forgiven by God. How we are reconciled and restored. How can our sinful, fallen selves (monstrous and vile selves compared with pure righteousness and holiness) possibly be changed into redeemed children of God? It involves a transformation that is not a Gothic tale but is at the heart of God’s Good News: For our sake God made Jesus to be sin. Think of it! The holy, righteous, perfectly obedient, Son of God comes to us and He “who knew no sin” becomes sin for our sake “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Luther branded it “the joyous exchange” and it is the way, the only way, you and I are restored and forgiven by God. “If anyone is in Christ,” Paul writes, “he is a new creation…All this is from God…in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” (5:17-19)

   Without this transformation, without this joyous exchange, without God making Christ to be sin for our sake we could never be righteous before God, we could never be children of God, we could never be forgiven by God. With this transformation, with this joyous exchange, with God making Christ to be sin for our sake we can shout with Isaiah, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” (12:2)

   There are the usual schemes and objections: (1) The Pharisaical, self-righteous scam that we can handle it on our own, clean up ourselves, cover our sins with our own good deeds, pay our own way (like someone arguing in a restaurant about going Dutch because they don’t want to feel obligated to anyone else). It all may look good, but it is a catastrophic failure in the end and we remain sinful. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. (Matt 23:27)

   (2) The scandal of the cross for some people centers on the vehement objection that one person cannot pay for someone else’s sins. If, by that, they mean that one regular fallen human being cannot pay for another regular fallen human being’s sins they are correct. Jesus, however, is not a regular fallen human being. He is both divine and human—and in His humanity He is sinless. Therefore, if God chooses to send His Son to be our Savior, and for our sake makes Him to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God it is a transformation that works! [1 Peter 2:24] “Then you get off Scot free!?” (An objection waged in the Jussie Smollett debacle) “It couldn’t possibly work!” (Yet, it does.) Paul: “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

   The Emperor Constantine is a 1951 play by Dorothy Sayers. In the play, “Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and proclaim religious tolerance” doesn’t have a true experience of repentance until the last years of his life. In one scene he confesses to his mother Helena, “You told me once that until I understood sin I should never understand God. Now I know sin—I am sin; and understand nothing at all…Sin is a corruption of life at the source.” Constantine thinks it intolerable that he should be saved by the blood of the innocent. “It is the hardest thing in the world,” she tells him, but “there is no redemption except in the cross of Christ.”[2] Constantine is brought to faith, as we are, that he is no longer sin. “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin…that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

[1] More Deadly than the Male, edited by Graeme Davis, Pegasus Books, New York, ©2019, pages 1-18.

[2] The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers, edited by Carole Vanderhoof, Plough Publishing House, New York, ©2018, pages 133-134.



1 Corinthians 10:13


   Our text is frequently misused to tell us that God will never give us more burdens than we can handle.  With God’s help it is certainly amazing what we are sometimes able to handle, given all of the difficulties life in a fallen world throws our ways.  If we are talking sheer physical endurance, however, there will be that one final burden, that one final assault, that one final breath signaling our mortality. 

   I don’t want to spend too much time on what this text is not about, but you remember in last month’s news the story of Anne Swaney, a local ABC news executive producer who was found murdered in Belize?  When ABC7 asked her father about his strength through this most recent family tragedy (Anne’s older brother died of a heart attack at age 39 two years ago) he answered honestly, “I don’t have it.  I’m not strong.  I’m a mess.”  The poor man died of a broken heart last Tuesday.  He had met his final burden in extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

   What Paul is talking about in our text, however, is something that is “common to man.”  Paul is talking about temptation to sin, and, as one commentator puts it, “It is the kind of temptation that humanity is commonly called on to endure.” (Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary – First Corinthians, ©2000, page 331)  Paul provides examples from Old Testament events, letting us know the Israelites had received the same grace from God that we have received, “but if [we] succumb to the same sins, [we] will be punished just as Israel was punished.” (Ibid)

   Example # 1 – Simple idolatry (“desire evil”) when some people spurned the manna God had miraculously provided and coveted the meat and vegetables of Egypt (leading to the “Graves of Craving” in Numbers 11); and gross idolatry with the golden calf before which “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32)

   Example # 2 – Sexual immorality as Moabite women invited Israelite men to participate in their fertility rites in honor of the false god Baal of Peor.  God struck more than 23,000 of those sinners down in a single day (Numbers 25). 

   Example # 3 – Some of the people put God to the test with their unceasing complaining and grumbling, occasionally leading to acts of divine judgment: the poisonous serpents (Numbers 21), the faithlessness of the ten spies (Numbers 14), and the rebellion of Korah and company (Number 16)

   God was always faithful (as Paul announces to us in our text), but some of the people were unfaithful.  They probably said, as people say today, “I couldn’t help myself;” “the devil made me do it;” “if God wanted me to resist the temptations He should have made me stronger.” The temptations then and the temptations now are not irresistible as the Apostle testifies that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

   Sally Hogshead is a brand consultant who helps companies increase appeal for their products or services.  In 2010 she wrote a book called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.  In the book she asserts there are seven universal triggers, the first of which is “lust.”  She writes, “Lust conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking, and start feeling.” (page 73)  This is, in my opinion, a very true statement.  It is also among the top reasons this world of ours is sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of selfish sinfulness.  [NID mission director] 

   The original fascinating triggers are the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth).  Today, far from trying to escape the temptations they bring, we just use more and more tools to enhance their availability and their acceptance.  We had better start looking for the way of escape before we end up “overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5)  Paul wrote in our Epistle, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)  Jesus warned in our Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), “Do you think [those who died tragically] were worse offenders than all others…?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  God taught through the prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (33:7-20), “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.’”  The way of the Lord is the way of escape! 

   The way of escape is to stand firm on the overwhelming faithfulness of God, to stand firm on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to stand firm on the endless work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us through the Gospel.  God does not lead us into temptation; He is in the delivering from evil business.  Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are led to the way of escape.  That way may not be sexy but it is quite effective. 

   What, however, about the times that we fail and the fascinating seven deadly sins take momentary control of our lives?  There is still the way of escape.  As John wrote in his First Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1)  “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  With that sinless life He rescues us—He is the way of escape.

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