(Copyright Marcelo A. Tolopilo)
Amazing love! How can it be…that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? rings out the great hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain.” This song of praise extols our great redemption in Jesus’ atoning work. It is my favorite all-time hymn celebrating the greatest gift I have ever, or will ever receive: the removal of my sin and the imputation of my God’s righteousness. I have received this! Me! The schlep in the back with the irrepressible grin of wonderment. Me! “Well, who let that guy in?” The answer to that question is Jesus! He bought my ticket and invited me to His Redemption Banquet. Are you invited? If not, all you have to do is ask, and Jesus will have you covered.
In the next couple of blogs, I hope to explore the remarkable redemptive love of our Lord Jesus Christ, but before we go there we have to lay the foundation for this brief and thrilling study. Biblically, ground zero for our discussion of redemptive love begins with Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf. In fact, this is how the Bible defines divine redemptive love in a broad stroke. Listen to the words of the apostle John, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [atonement, payment] for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The redeeming love of Christ is most beautifully staged in His atoning work on the cross.
And nowhere is this truth more wondrously described than in 2 Corinthians 5:21. The apostle Paul wrote, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Let’s unpack this verse together but let me forewarn you, it might deeply rock your soul–it has mine!
The holy Son becomes the embodiment of evil
Let’s consider the first half of this mind-bending verse. Paul writes, “He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” We start out with a statement that sounds almost scandalous, doesn’t it? God took His own Son “who knew no sin”, I.e., who was sinless.
This phrase tells us that Jesus was impeccable, that is, He was not able to sin (non posse peccare). Jesus did not “know” sin experientially; He was wholly unpolluted by it. Yet at Golgatha’s cross He bore all of our sin. The Father accounted to Jesus, imputed to His Son, all of our sin so that on the cross the Lord Jesus became the embodiment of all that was iniquitous. It’s hard to fathom, but that’s exactly what Paul tells us took place. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin.” As I heard one of my favorite Bible teachers once say, “On the cross Christ became everything that God could not endure.”
From eternity past Jesus had only known sweet, constant, perfect and happy communion with God the Father, but there, on Calvary, Jesus became severed from His Father and endured not simply His absence, but His Father’s full, unmitigated fury, wrath, and indignation against sin
Jesus, our substitute
For whom was this accomplished? For Us! Jesus was our substitute. This atoning work was done “on our behalf.” God placed on Jesus all of the sins of His people so that He might judge Him for their iniquity. He was judged for us, in our place!
As many of you know, Dr. James Dobson interviewed Ted Bundy the notorious serial killer in the days shortly before his execution. Dr. Dobson walked away from those interviews fully convinced that Ted Bundy had trusted Christ as Savior before his physical life was terminated. I have no reason to doubt Dr. Dobson’s conclusion. What’s more, credible accounts persist that another serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, also trusted Christ for salvation before he was killed by a fellow prisoner while serving a life sentence for the murder of seventeen souls.
This means that Christ’s unpolluted being (He “who knew no sin”) bore the dark, twisted, unspeakable wickedness of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer on His person. Jesus bore the shame of their sin, the eternal wrath of God Almighty against their wicked deeds. Jesus became as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer on the cross to God. He became their substitute and not just those two infamous men, but countless others like them, and worse. Yet, let’s take this a step further. Allow me to make this more personal. Listen, the guilt of, the shame for, the wrath for the darkest things that you and I have ever done, the very things that we are ashamed to speak of, these sins were pinned on Jesus at the cross where He took our place and our punishment.
The grand purpose of it all
The great and eternal reason Christ suffered as our substitute rings out in Paul’s purpose clause in the second part of the sentence, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God accounted our sin to His Son “so that” He might impute to us His righteousness, “that we might become the righteousness of God” by virtue of our union with Jesus “in Him.” Isn’t that amazing? Christ takes our sins, we get His righteousness, and the basis of this exchange is our union with Christ.
My friends, Christ’s perfect life is ours by imputation! This is more than just the removal of sin, it is the bestowing of Christ’s righteousness to us. As someone has well said, “God treated Jesus as if He lived our life, so that He might treat us as if we lived His!” This is true for you and me. Praise God for His remarkable redemptive love expressed in the great substitutionary death of His Son!!! May your soul feast on this marvelous redemptive reality today.