II Corinthians 5:16-21
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Bring up the name of Jesus in any place but in a church, and you’re apt to hear a variety of opinions about the man. You might hear, Oh, he never existed. He is merely the figment of some well meaning, but overactive imaginations. Or you might hear something a little kinder, and a little gentler, and a little more charitable like, Oh, he was a very good man who did some very good things and said some very good things, but who, over time, in the telling and re-telling of his story garnered legendary and god-like status. But very rarely will you hear, Oh Jesus, he is the co-existent and co-eternal second person of the Holy Trinity who came to this earth from the heavenly realms, and in the fullness of his humanity, died, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and who will one day return to judge the living and the dead. That one’s not apt to come up in normal conversation. In fact, it might not even come up in church!
And yet, if we were to take the time this morning to unpack all of that stuff that I just said we would discover just a bit of the awesome mystery of just who Jesus Christ really is. But when we come to our passage this morning, the Apostle Paul, at least on the surface, seems to be asking us to set aside the very real and very important human nature of Jesus. He says, “…even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.”
Well, what in the world does that mean? Does it mean that we no longer think about Jesus as being a human being, that we ignore the fact that Jesus is fully human, and that he shares all of our own humanity in every way with the exception of sin? Fortunately, that’s not at all what Paul is saying here. In fact, it is not even close to what he is saying. What Paul is saying is that once upon a time, before we met Jesus Christ, and received him as our savior, we had some very rational and some very human, but also some very defective opinions about Jesus. We regarded Jesus in much the same way as the folks that I described at the beginning of this sermon…probably lived for a time on the planet, most likely a good man and a good teacher, may very well have died the death of a common criminal, but winked out of existence just like everyone else who has preceded us on this planet. Good man gone. That is a very human, very rational, but also very defective view of who Jesus Christ is.
But Paul says, we don’t think about Jesus in that way anymore. We have a different view of Jesus that goes beyond mere human assessment. In fact, Paul says, we don’t even think about each other that way anymore. We don’t judge or assess each other from a human point of view. And that’s stunning and utterly amazing. But Paul says these things because it is very likely that some of the folks in the church in Corinth have been reluctant to set aside their very human ideas about Jesus and one another. Old patterns of behavior are sometimes difficult to set aside. Some followers of Jesus in Corinth might still be holding to the idea that Jesus was just a good man. And, just as important, some believers in Corinth had some pretty defective ideas about each other, too. We know that the followers of Jesus in Corinth liked a good fight. We know that they liked to judge each other’s spiritual maturity. We know that they enjoyed pretending that they were better and more lovely believers than some of the other folks in the church. We know that they liked to demean their brothers and sisters by putting them down and criticizing them. We know that their church was pretty much a mess, because we know that they were busy judging one another from a human point of view.
But this cannot continue. It is not just wrong, it fails to take into account an awesome miracle that our God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Paul says, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Everything old has passed away, look, everything has become new! Now this is certainly not a human perspective. I know from my own life that there’s still plenty of the old that is left inside of me. There is still plenty left to judge, particularly from a human perspective. This new creation stuff can only be a divine perspective, and that’s just what it is. If we have received Jesus Christ as our savior, we have been reconciled to God, and as far as God is concerned, we are a new creation, the old us has passed away. This is God’s doing. As hard as this is for us to imagine, when God looks down on us from heaven, he regards us not as broken, sinful, defiant, deceiving, lazy judgmental or reluctant servants, but rather as a new creation with amazing potential. It is almost impossible for us to comprehend this. As miserable a believer as we may be, our status has been completely changed in God’s eyes. Because we are reconciled to God, God now no longer counts our trespasses against us. Paul said this in a slightly different way in First Corinthians chapter thirteen. He said, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” This is the divine point of view. God keeps no record of wrongs.
And so, if we have been reconciled to God, we ought also be reconciled to one another. We ought not to regard one another from a human point of view, but rather from the divine point of view. We ought to regard one another in the same way that God regards us. If God keeps no record of wrongs, we ought to do our best to do the same.
Paul says that God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to all of us. We are the very ambassadors of Jesus Christ. This was especially important to Paul for a couple of reasons. The folks at Corinth were especially good at keeping records of the wrongs of one another and particularly good at keeping records of their perceived failings of the Apostle Paul. They needed to be reconciled to one another and to Paul, but especially to God. They needed to realize that they were far more than mere human beings stumbling around on the planet. They needed to comprehend that they were indeed a new creation, masterfully re-created to better reflect the image of God, and they needed to see that in each other.
Paul closes this passage with an awesome, profound, deep, and practically unfathomable statement. Paul, speaking of Jesus, says this: “For our sake, (for us, for you and me, God made Jesus) “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is so beyond me. I cannot fully comprehend it. I cannot imagine that Jesus Christ could love me so much that he would willingly become the very nature of my brokenness and sin, in order to create me anew so that I could actually become the very righteousness of God. I don’t deserve that. How could one who knew no sin become sin? That is a paradox beyond human comprehension. The fully righteous Jesus became the fully sinful Jesus in order that the fully sinful me could become fully righteous. And yet this is how we have become reconciled to God. The prophet Isaiah, as he peered into the future and saw this awesome miracle, came pretty close to explaining it. This is what he wrote down:
He was wounded for our
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment
that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are
All we like sheep have gone
astray; we have all turned
to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on
him the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53: 5, 6
On the one hand, I am completely undone by those words. But on the other hand, I am also made whole by them. What a glorious paradox! This is the work of God. Let us rejoice in it.