Reason #13: Become sin.
As mere humans, we wrestle with many mysteries regarding our God. There are no answers which fully explain some of the mysteries which we are faced with. This should not surprise us when dealing with God our creator. For if we could fully describe him and understand him, he would no longer be deserving of our worship. Indeed, the breech between us and God is infinitely more than that which lies between us and ants.
At least for me, most of the things which leave me confounded are those that are intellectual in nature. How can we fully understand that Jesus was both God and man? The Trinity contains three persons but is just one God, how can that be? How is it possible that God has no beginning or no end? Try to ponder on these topics for a while and you may begin to fry the electrical circuits of your brain!
Today, however, I want to touch on a mystery that perhaps is more difficult to understand ethically and morally than it is intellectually. It is one that leaves my heart restless in a way that other mysteries do. It comes straight from the verse 2 Corinthians 5:21, which states:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We know from many different passages of Scripture that Christ was a substitute for us. It was I who deserved to be nailed to a cross, for I am the guilty one who sinned against God. Many have explained Jesus being our substitute using the example of a court case scenario where someone is on trial for doing a heinous crime and found to be guilty. The judge, who is just and must deliver a just punishment decides to give the criminal a life-long sentence in jail. However, the judge is also infinite in love, and decides that he does not want this person to suffer the time in jail, so he takes the punishment himself. In this example we have an exchange ... someone who did not deserve punishment receives punishment, and someone who does deserve punishment receives none. Now this in of itself, the fact that Jesus would offer himself up as a substitute, is already an unfathomable act of love and grace.
Yet our verse in question today takes the absurdity of the cross one step even further. Taking the text at plain value, it says that Jesus became sin. God made him to be sin. Jesus does not simply bear the punishment for our sins – he becomes the very essence of sin.
John Gill, who was a pastor in the 18th century at a church which would later become the place where Charles Spurgeon would serve as pastor, had this to say about 2 Corinthians 5:21: “But besides all this, he was made sin itself by imputation; the sins of all his people were transferred unto him, laid upon him, and placed to his account; he sustained their persons, and bore their sins; and having them upon him, and being chargeable with, and answerable for them, he was treated by the justice of God as if he had been not only a sinner, but a mass of sin.”
All of the perverse acts against children. All of the hate crimes done out of prejudice. All of the brutal killings of the unfortunate. Jesus did not merely die for those acts . . . he became those acts. There is an uneasiness about this but it is true. Jesus came to be all of that so that God in his justice could punish it and do away with it all. There are obviously no words that can make us understand this fully, perhaps it is best to just stand back in utter awe.
Sometimes poetry and music explains our inner feelings best, so I conclude with this hymn, titled “And can it be that I should gain”:
And can it be that I should gain An interest in the Savior’s blood Died He for me, who caused His pain For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
He left His Father’s throne above So free, so infinite His grace Emptied Himself of all but love And bled for Adam’s helpless race ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free For O my God, it found out me! Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shoudlst die for me?
Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night Thine eye diffused a quickening ray I woke, the dungeon flamed with light My chains fell off, my heart was free I rose, went forth, and followed Thee Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?
No condemnation now I dread Jesus, and all in Him, is mine Alive in Him, my living Head And clothed in righteousness divine Bold I approach the eternal throne And claim the crown, through Christ my own Amazing love! How can it be That Thou my God, shouldst die for me?
Questions to consider:
What do you think it means when it says that Jesus became sin on our behalf?
For further reading:
Listen to the hymn “And can it be that I should gain.” One version is found here: