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.
Have you noticed how all the greatest stories, the ones we love the most, are filled with the theme of vicarious sacrifice? A hero who takes the place of another. A soldier who volunteers for the impossible mission in order to save the entire unit. A victim who is protected at great cost to the protector. A bad guy rescued by the good guy, even though doing so risks the life of that good guy.
We love this story line because deep inside us all we know that we too need this kind of hero. We each need (and want – let’s be honest) that person who will take our place. The one who will do what we could never do. The one who will sacrifice their own life for ours.
Have you ever had somebody take your place in a difficult situation? Maybe a friend took the blame for something you did. Or maybe someone did something for you that you would never be able to do for yourself. Just think for a moment about the innumerable times each week that someone gives a part of their life for you? Are any of us completely self-sufficient? Of course not. We all get by with a little (or a lot of) help from our friends.
Of course, the ultimate story of vicarious sacrifice is Jesus; his life lived for us and his death died for us. This is why 2 Corinthians 5:21 is often referred to as “The Great Exchange.” On the cross, our sin was exchanged for Christ’s righteousness. This vicarious sacrifice of Christ on the cross is the foundational doctrine of the Christian life.
But let’s not forget that this greatest of doctrines came at great cost to Jesus. To take our sin was to take our guilt. Our shame. Our hell. The one who had never once in his life sinned, became our sin.
But what does that mean?
We know for certain that it does not mean that Christ committed sins. Paul makes that clear right away – he knew no sin.
What it does mean is that Jesus allowed himself to be bound by the power of sin. Just like every other human being is in bondage to sin’s condemnation, so too was Christ on the cross. The second Adam, the new representative of all humanity, the one subjected to the power and influence of sin never sinned. Not even once. And yet, on the cross Jesus was condemned as the curse bearer for all mankind, taking our guilt and our punishment of death.
He became sin.
Why would Jesus do this? Why would Christ put himself through the separation and condemnation of hell, not to mention the shame and physical torture of crucifixion? Why the degradation? Why the humiliation? Why the cross?
For our sake.
For your sake, For my sake. Because of his great love with which he loved us, he died for us. This is the deep, deep love of Jesus. Love that would go to any length to rescue us from sin and the curse of death. Love that would take our place to hell and back. Love that would despise the shame and die the death of a criminal slave. Your death. My death. Not only to forgive us, but to reconcile us to God. To make us what we could never hope to become on our own – his righteousness.
“To live is Christ” is to become therefore what we already are – the righteousness of God.
How can you celebrate the Great Exchange today?
You in Christ
How does knowing your sin has been exchanged for perfection bring you hope, joy, and peace today?
Christ in you
How can you live out Christ’s imputed righteousness today? Give a specific example. A neighbor to love? An injustice to make right? A person to sacrifice for?
Playlist: The Great Exchange.
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