Good morning to all of you. It is a privilege and an honor to see you. I can see you beautifully on the screen before me, and so very, very thankful for the conference and the meeting and the opportunity to speak to you. But today was a very special day because I received my own copy of the MacArthur Study Bible in Chinese. Thank you to Joseph Lee again. I read the names of all the people who helped. Thank you to all of you, and may the Lord reward you greatly for your effort.
Last Sunday in our own church, our people have been anticipating the Study Bible in Chinese, and some of the Chinese people in our congregation, and we have many Chinese people in our congregation, came up to me to ask if this would be available in Los Angeles and in America. I told them it would be and that we would have them available at our church and through our website for Grace to You Ministries. So this is a very wonderful, wonderful day for me to finally see the result of so many prayers.
My interest in China started many, many years ago when I visited China. I was walking through a small village, and I met a family. I had a translator with me, and I met a family. I gave them a little bit of money because they were very poor, and I asked them if they ever heard of the Bible, and they said, “What is that?” I asked them if they had ever heard the name Jesus Christ. They said, “We have never heard such a name.” I had many conversations with other people while I was traveling through China, and I met so many people who had no knowledge of Scripture, no knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, no hope of salvation because salvation comes only through the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but by Me.” The writer of Hebrews says, “Neither is there salvation in any other name than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The book of Romans says, “Salvation comes to those who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead.”
My wife and I left China with a deep heartache praying that the believers in China would be empowered to reach further and further and touch many more lives. Here we are today many years later realizing that the Lord has brought you all together, the Lord has grown many strong believers. But I have had a great interest in China, a great desire to see the Gospel come again to China as it did once in the days of Hudson Taylor and other missionaries in the past.
So this is a wonderful day, and we are all praying for you and for the work of the study Bible in Chinese and other books and ministries. God has done a great work in China in the past. I know there are many millions of believers there, but there are so many who have not heard.
So what is the church’s responsibility? What is our responsibility in the western world, in America, North America? What is your responsibility in China? As believers, what is your responsibility? You say, well, we are here to worship the Lord, and that is true. We are here to live godly lives, and that is true. We are here to minister, and that is true. But all of those things you will do perfectly in heaven. You will worship perfectly. You will love perfectly. You will obey perfectly. You will serve perfectly.
Why does the Lord leave us here in the imperfections of our lives? And the answer is because there is one thing that we do on earth that we will not do in heaven, and that is to proclaim the Gospel to sinners. That is why the church is in the world. That’s the Great Commission. Go into the world, preach the Gospel to every creature. That is our commission, and that is the reason we are here. I want to be certain that you understand what that means. I know you understand the Great Commission. I know you understand the responsibility to preach the Gospel because somebody came to you with the Gospel and you believed, and you have been saved. But I want to clarify that in our session this morning.
Turn in the Word to 2 Corinthians chapter 5; 2 Corinthians chapter 5. I want us to look at verses 17-21. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. This, I think more than any other single passage, defines for us our responsibility as believers in a world of dying sinners who are headed into eternal punishment. This is a passage that is just rich with insights into our responsibility. None of you will leave tonight with a question about what it is that we are to do. So let’s look at these verses, and I want to read starting at verse 17.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Now, in this very important passage, you see the word “reconciled” five times. Five times a form of the word “reconcile.” This is the heart of your responsibility as a Christian. God has called us to preach the Word of reconciliation, as it says at the end of verse 19, the message of reconciliation. At the end of verse 18, He says He’s given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Now, what does this mean? We know what reconciliation means. It means to be rejoined, reconnected to someone from whom we have been separated. Reconciliation is the opposite of alienation. It is to tell people who are enemies that they can become friends. More than that, they can actually become family. Our mission and our ministry is to tell sinners who are alienated from God, alienated from the life of God Paul says to the Ephesians, sinners who are enemies of God, sinners who are haters of God that they can be reconciled to God.
All of the people of the world are born sinners. All sinners are alienated from God. Therefore, they are children of wrath, as Ephesians 2 says. They are under the looming judgment of God, which is eternal punishment. The good news is this: sinners can be reconciled to God. That’s our ministry. The good news that the hostility and the hatred and the alienation can end, and sinners can be fully embraced by God, fully embraced by God so that instead of enemies, they become friends and even members of His divine family. That is the Gospel. That is the good news.
I was flying on an airplane some time ago, and I was sitting next to a Muslim, a man who was from an Islamic country. He was asking me some questions, and he saw I had a Bible in my hand. So he said to me, “Is that a Bible?” and I said, “It is a Bible.” He said, “Could you answer me a question?” and I said, “Of course.” He said, “Could you explain American religion to me? I am just immigrating to America from Iran. Everybody in my country is Muslim. I don’t understand all the different religions in America. Can you explain religion to me?”
So I gave him an explanation, and then I said to him, “May I ask you a question?” He said, “Of course.” Here’s the question I asked. I said, “Do Muslims have sins?” He said – and I knew the answer, but I wanted him to speak the answer. He said, “Of course we have sins. We have many sins. We have so many sins I don’t even know all of the sins.” I said, “Do the sins offend Allah?” “Yes, they make Allah very angry.” I said, “Well, what could happen to you since Allah is angry with you?” He said, “I could die and go to hell forever.” I said, “So, why don’t you stop the sins if they could send you to hell forever and if they make Allah angry?” He said, “I can’t stop. I can’t stop.”
Then he said this, “I hope the God will forgive me.” I said, “Why would He forgive you, why? On the basis of what? How could you possibly be reconciled to an angry God?” He said, “I don’t know. In Islam there is no way. There is no such reconciliation. I just hope the God will forgive me.”
That’s the sad reality of that entire religion. There is no reconciliation with God. You can gain God’s favor by becoming an Islamic terrorist, but there’s no promise that that will produce a real reconciliation. I said to him, “I have some good news for you. God will punish you. The true God will punish you. The true God will punish you for your sins unless you accept the path of His reconciliation.” He said, “You mean there is a way to be reconciled to God? There is a way so that God will not be angry? There is a way to heaven? There is a way that I can become a friend of God?” I said, “Yes,” and I explained to him the Gospel, the Word of reconciliation, the message of reconciliation.
That’s what sets Christianity apart. There is no reconciliation with the gods of false religions. There is no path to becoming forgiven; but for us, we have the message of reconciliation. We have the Word of reconciliation. We preach reconciliation. This is the best news the world will ever hear. “The preaching of the cross,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “seems like foolishness to those who are perishing, but unto us who believe, it is the power of God unto salvation.” The Word about the cross, the Word about the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is the message of reconciliation.
That’s the theme of this passage. I want you to notice one other word in this portion of Scripture, and that word appears in verse 20, and it is the word “ambassador”, the word “ambassador.” This describes our function. In the original language of the New Testament, it is the word presbeuane [???]. It means to be a representative. It is a word that refers to older, experienced men who were sent out by kings and emperors to represent them. They took the king’s message. They carried the king’s authority. To reject an ambassador was to reject his king, his monarch, his emperor. To mistreat an ambassador was to blaspheme the king who sent him.
An ambassador then is an official legal messenger and representative of a king, and that is exactly what we are. We are ambassadors in a foreign land. We are here to proclaim the message of our great heavenly Lord and King. We come from a different place. Our citizenship is in heaven. We speak a different language. We live a different lifestyle. We have a different spiritual understanding. We are aliens in this world. The Bible says, “We are strangers and pilgrims in this world.” As ambassadors, we don’t bring our own message. We don’t design our own message. We bring the message of our sovereign ruler. We honor Him by serving Him in discharging that message.
Now, the apostle Paul, who wrote this passage certainly understood that. What he spoke, he spoke because it was the Word of God. All of us who are believers then fit into the category of being ambassadors from heaven with heaven’s message as representatives of our great heavenly King to proclaim that message to the world. What is the message? The message is the good news about reconciliation. Sinners can be reconciled to God. Sometimes it’s a difficult task.
In Ephesians 6:20, Paul calls himself an, “Ambassador in chains” because he was imprisoned for this, as many in your country have been and probably still are through the years. God makes His appeal to the world through us. Look down at verse 20 again. We are ambassadors, and it is God making an appeal through us. God has chosen us to be in the world as His representatives proclaiming the good news of reconciliation. God makes His appeal to sinners through us. Now, that’s the foundation of understanding this text, and of understanding why the church exists in the world, and why you as a believer exists in the world to fulfill this ministry of reconciliation.
Even as a church, you’re taught the Word of God. You grow in grace. You worship the Lord. You honor the Lord. You serve the Lord. You pray. You come to the Lord’s Table. You break bread together. You serve one another. You minster your gifts to one another. Why? So that the body of Christ can be built up for the purpose of proclaiming the ministry of reconciliation.
Now, that’s the general truth here, but let me break it down for you. The ministry of reconciliation has several component parts, okay? Several component parts that help us understand this passage and our responsibility. Number one, very important, reconciliation is by the will of God. Reconciliation is by the will of God. Look back at verse 18. “Now all these things.” What things? All that’s related to verse 17. “Anyone being in Christ is a new creation. Old things passed away. Behold, new things have come.” That’s regeneration, transformation, new birth, being born again. Everything connected to being born again, everything connected to regeneration, everything is from God.
Now, what is that telling us? That God is the initiator of this reconciliation. Oh, that is so important. God is the initiator of this reconciliation. That’s foundational. Everything associated with salvation, everything associated with new life comes from God. Sinners can’t come up with a plan to be reconciled to God. Sinners can’t do that. Listen, every false religion in the world that acknowledges God, every false religion in the world is a system of men trying to reach God, trying to be reconciled to God by their works and their effort and their will and their religion and their spirituality. That’s what defines all false religion. It is all some form of works, some form of religious ceremony, ritual, morality that attempts to be reconciled to God, but reconciliation can’t start with man. It has to start with God. Sinners can’t decide to be reconciled to God. Only God can decide that.
When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above.” That’s what the word anothen [???] means. You must be born from above. Well, Nicodemus wonders how can that happen? I can’t do that. I can’t enter into my mother’s womb spiritually-speaking and produce my own birth. Now, that’s a simple analogy. I’ll ask you a question. What role did you play in your birth? None. You can’t participate in your own birth. You had nothing to do with your own birth. You made no contribution to your own birth, and that’s the very analogy Jesus uses.
Nicodemus says, “I can’t bring about my own birth, so what do I do?” What did Jesus say? “The Holy Spirit comes and goes like the wind when He wills, to whom He wills, where He wills.” This is a work of God. Reconciliation is a work of God. It’s an incredible thing to think about. It is God who reaches down and saves. Jesus Himself said, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save.” Jesus said in John 6, “No man comes to Me except the Father draw him. No man comes to Me except the Father draw him.” This is a work of God.
Sinners have been forever banished from the presence of God, and if that relationship is to change, God has to initiate that dramatic change. That is the Gospel that God so loved sinners, not that sinners so loved God, but God so loved sinners that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God is a Savior by nature.
This is the good news. You can search the religions of the world. You will not find a god, a deity who is by nature a savior. That’s not a part of false religion. You can go back into the Old Testament. What did Baal require? What did Baal require in that religion to be satisfied? Well, he required not only obedience to the system of religion, but he required that you take your baby and burn your baby to death as a sacrifice to satisfy him. The gods of India required that you throw your baby in a river and drown the baby to satisfy God.
There is no god in any false religion that is by nature a savior except the true and living God who is a Savior. That’s why the Bible says, “God, our Savior. God, our Savior” over and over again. “God, our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. What does that mean? Well, God displays His saving nature. How? To all men. How does He do that? All men don’t die the first time they sin. “The wages of sin is death.” If God was just going to be just and not loving and merciful and gracious, the first time you sin, you should die.
God said to Adam, “When you eat of that tree, if you violate my law, you will die.” Adam lived almost 1,000 years. What is that? That is God showing that He is a Savior by nature. Paul calls it, “The forbearance, the patience of God with sinners.” God displays His nature as a Savior even in letting sinners live, and the Bible calls this grace. Theologians call it common grace because it belongs to everybody.
You look at the world around you, people who hate God or are alienated from God, headed for divine judgment, and yet they love and they live and they eat and they sleep, and they do things that are fun and enjoyable. They have the precious reality of having children. They look at the beauty of a sunset. They see the magnificence of a country. This is God’s displaying His nature as a Savior. He does it on the physical level, but for those who believe, He does it on the spiritual and eternal level; but God is by nature a Savior.
If you have anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church and you may know something about it, the theology of Roman Catholicism says that God is harsh and God is a judgmental God. So you don’t want to go directly to God because He might turn you down. He might not accept you. Now, Christ is better than God in that sense. He’s more gracious, more merciful because He was human, so He knows our struggles, but He also can be pretty tough and pretty hard. So you don’t really want to go to Christ either, but Mary the mother of Jesus – and this is at the heart of all Roman Catholic theology – Mary is very compassionate, very tender, very merciful. So if you want salvation, don’t go to God, don’t go to Christ. Go to Mary and plead with Mary.
That’s why Catholics pray to Mary. That’s why Mary is at the pinnacle of every Catholic church above God and above Christ in the statues and the art because Mary is the merciful one. Such an idea is a blasphemy against God. God is by nature a Savior. Jesus came to seek and to save, and Mary doesn’t hear anybody’s prayers. We don’t have to go through anyone as if God was reluctant to be reconciled to sinners.
So we start with all of the elements of salvation in this ministry of reconciliation are from God. That’s what verse 18 says. “All these things are from God.” Tremendously important truth. Now, let me say it another way; you don’t have to convince God to save someone. You can work on the sinner and present the Gospel to the sinner. Then you don’t have to turn around and plead with God to be willing to accept the sinner. He’s already demonstrated His willingness. He receives all who come to Him.
Jesus said, “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and are weary, and I will give you rest.” Jesus said, “Whoever comes to Me, I will never turn away.” Jesus said, “Why will you die when you can live?” The book of Revelation ends the Bible, “Come, come.” Book of Isaiah, “Come, everyone who thirsts. Everyone who hungers, come.” This is the open invitation.
So the first thing to know about reconciliation is God is by nature the Savior. He loves to save sinners. He loves sinners. God so loved that He gave Christ. The ministry of reconciliation then begins with God. God is a reconciler, and what is God doing in salvation? What is the Creator of the universe doing? He is gathering a redeemed people as a bride for His Son. That’s what Scripture says. He is gathering the bride to take us to glory, and the bride to be presented to Christ who is the bridegroom. And then for all eternity, the redeemed, the bride of Christ will serve Christ, honor Christ, praise Christ forever and ever and ever.
So in a sense, the redeemed, the reconciled are the Father’s gift of love to the Son. When you think about salvation, you might think about God loving you and you would be right, but even beyond that and above that is that the Father loves the Son with such a perfect eternal incomprehensible love that He has sought to create a universe, create humanity, and out of that humanity redeem a bride for His Son; a bride that will forever honor His Son, serve His Son, worship His Son and even more, be like Him. The Bible says when we see Him, we will be like Him.
So He is making a bride conformed to the image of His Son to dwell forever in His presence. It’s an incredible reality to think about. So when we go out to proclaim the message of reconciliation, the Gospel, we are the human instruments through which God is making the appeal to gather the bride for His Son. The Spirit draws them under the hearing of the Gospel, and their names have already been written in heaven.
Now, notice please that God is the one doing this. “All these things are from God.” It’s God’s work we do. It’s God’s work we do. We tell sinners, “You can be reconciled to God. You can be reconciled to God.” Sinners have to understand that to be alienated from God is a terrifying reality because it’s terrifying judgment in everlasting hell. Sinners need to know that. We have to tell them about that. We have to warn them about that. “You will die in your sins,” Jesus said, “And where I go you can’t come.” And then tell them that God is a reconciling God. God has given to us the ministry of telling sinners they can be reconciled to Him.
That’s a wonderful thing as I travel around the world sometimes on an airplane sitting next to someone to say to that person when they say, “Well, what’s your profession? What do you do?” to say, “Well, I tell sinners they can be reconciled to God. I tell sinners under divine judgment they can be reconciled to God. I tell sinners that God loves them and desires that they be reconciled to Him. I tell sinners that you don’t have to be the enemy of God. You can be the child of God.”
So reconciliation then is by the will of God. That’s the first point. The second point, equally important; reconciliation is by the act of forgiveness. It’s by the act of forgiveness. How can God do this reconciling? Go to verse 19, “God is in Christ reconciling the world.” Again, it says the same thing, God is the reconciler. It all comes from God. God is through Christ reconciling the world. How does He do it? Answer: “By not counting their trespasses against them.” That’s the only way there can be a reconciliation because sin has created the separation. Sin has created the alienation.
The only way that God can reconcile sinners is to remove what alienates and what alienates is sin. So God must forgive sin. God must forgive sin. The Bible tells us that God is a forgiving God. The prophet Malachi says, “Who is a pardoning God like you? Who is a pardoning God like you?” None exists. You forgive sins. Moses in Exodus 33 says, “Show me your glory. Show me your glory,” and God says, “I’ll let you see my mercy. I’ll let you see my grace.” God is by nature a forgiving God. That is required. God must forgive our sins.
You remember Romans 4:8 says, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” Psalm 32, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not count iniquity.” That’s the blessing. The amazing thing is Romans 4:5, one of the important statements in the Bible says, “God justifies the ungodly.”
Now that’s contrary to most religious thinking. God declares righteous the unrighteous. How can that be? How can God just forgive an ungodly person? It would make more sense religiously-speaking if the verse said, “God justifies the godly. Be good. Be religious. Be moral. Be godly, and God will justify you.” It doesn’t say that. It says, “God justifies the ungodly.” Well, He has to justify the ungodly because that’s the only kind of people there are in the world. There are only ungodly people. There are only sinful people. There are no other kinds of people, and God justifies the ungodly.
How does He do that? Colossians 2, “Having forgiven all our transgressions.” Amazing statement, amazing statement. God doesn’t hold our sins against us. Now, you have to recognize you are a sinner. You have to acknowledge you are a sinner, and then you can begin to understand the immensity of what God has done in forgiving sin. Sometimes in a conversation you might say to someone, “Did you know that there is a way to have all your sins forgiven completely? That’s the good news. That’s the best news.” People know they are sinners. They might not admit it. They know it. You can’t hide from yourself. You can’t hide from your accusing conscience. You can’t hide from the violated law of God written in your heart. You can’t hide from what you know to be true about yourself and everybody else knows to be true. You can’t hide.
What good news! God will forgive all your transgressions, all your sins, even the severest. What did we hear Christ say hanging on the cross? He looks down at the criminals who have put Him there, the blasphemers who have put Him on the cross, and He says, “Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do.” That is the worst crime that has ever been committed by anyone, to crucify the Son of God. Jesus prays for the forgiveness of the blasphemers who execute Him.
That is the good news, that God has sent us through the world to tell sinners they can be forgiven of all their sins. That’s an incredible, incredible gift. This is the Word of reconciliation. This is the message. How can I be reconciled to God? Through forgiveness, through forgiveness, through forgiveness. We tell sinners they can be forgiven.
There’s a third principle in this ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is by the will of God, by the act of forgiveness. Sin being removed out of the way ends the alienation. Thirdly, it is by the obedience of faith, by the obedience of faith. How do we appropriate this offer?
Back to our text, and go down to verse 20, “We beg you on behalf of Christ, we beg you, be reconciled to God.” Now, wait a minute. You said God did it. You said it’s all of God, verse 18. It’s all of God reconciling the world, verse 19. Now it says, “Be reconciled to God,” which means we have to do something. What is the sinner to do? And the answer throughout all of Scripture is to believe, to believe. No works. “Not of works lest any man should boast,” but to believe.
Listen to John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God – ” that’s full reconciliation “ - even to those who believe in His name.” It’s believing. You know the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son is an outrageous sinner. Jesus invents him in the story in Luke 15. He’s an outrageous sinner. He is the worst imaginable young man. He resents his father. He wants his full inheritance, and his father is not even dead. Of course, in Israel you didn’t even get your inheritance until your father had died. He wished his father was dead, so he goes to his father and he says, “I want my inheritance. I want it now,” and you remember the terrible story.
The father gave him his inheritance. He went off to a foreign country and wasted it on immoral and evil women, and ended up eating with the pigs. What brought him home? What brought him home? What brought him home was he remembered his father. He remembered his father’s house. He remembered his father’s kindness. He remembered that even a day laborer with his father was richly paid. He had tried life without his father, and it was a total disaster.
So he goes back and he goes back to his father. What he is saying is, “I’m going to go back and put my life back in my father’s hands.” And the father accepted him, ran, threw his arms around him, kissed him all over the head, put a robe on him, sandals, a ring on his finger, had a celebration. What brought him back? He believed in the goodness and the forgiveness of his father. That’s that incredible story. That’s faith.
Romans chapter 3 says that salvation comes by faith and faith alone. In Romans 3:26 we read, “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” What does it mean to have faith in Jesus? To believe He is who He said He was, to believe He is the incarnate God, to believe He lived a sinless life, to believe that He died on the cross for our sins, to believe that He rose from the dead. If you believe that and confess Him as Lord, that is the path of reconciliation. It’s by faith.
Now, the sad reality is that the nation Israel rejected the Lord Jesus Christ even when they saw all His miracles and heard all His words. So we call people to faith. In fact, go back to verse 20. “We beg you, we beg you.” That’s a pretty strong word, deomatha [???]. It means we plead with people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Like the apostle Paul said to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved and so will your household, all those who believe.”
So we are calling people to recognize their sin, recognize their alienation, and turn and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and like the prodigal, go back to Christ, go back to the Father, go back to forgiveness, back to blessing. It’s not easy, not easy to turn from your sin. That’s why the teaching of Jesus is that it’s hard to believe, very hard, very hard. The kingdom of God is hard to enter. Jesus said, “It’s narrow. It’s a narrow door, and few who find it.” Jesus said, “People are pressing in.” It’s a struggle. It’s a battle. Why is it a battle? Because you have to hate your own life, Jesus said in the Gospel of John. You might have to reject your mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your neighbors, your society, your culture. Jesus said this, “You must deny yourself and even take up a cross,” which means you could be a martyr, “and then follow Me.” You must lose your life to find it.
Now, that’s hard. Some years ago I wrote a book called Hard to Believe. It’s not only hard; it’s really impossible for a sinner without the power of the Holy Spirit on his heart. How hard sinners are, aren’t they? Remember when Jesus went to Nazareth in Luke 4, preached the first sermon back in His home synagogue where He grew up. He had been there every Sabbath until He was 30 years old. They all knew Him. He preached one sermon, one sermon in Luke 4, and they tried to throw Him off a cliff and stone Him to death. They all knew Him, and they knew the perfections of His character. They knew Him.
Why would they try to kill Him in a mob action after one sermon? Answer: because He exposed their sin and demanded that they repent and believe in Him as the Messiah. They did not want to repent. They did not want to believe, and they wanted to execute Him. You remember He escaped them.
Faith is difficult. Saying no to your sin, no to your family, no to your relatives, no to your own ambition, denying yourself, counting the cost like the man who needs to go to war has to count the cost. Luke 13, like the man who builds a tower has to count the cost. If you’re going to come to Christ, you count the cost. You’re turning your back on the old life. God is a reconciler by nature. Reconciliation is by the will of God. It is by the means of forgiveness. It is by faith in Jesus Christ.
There’s something else that I need to say. How can this be? How can this be? How can God be just and the justifier of sinners? How can you just come to God and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to sin anymore. I don’t want to go to hell, please forgive me?” and God just say, “You’re forgiven. You’re forgiven. I forgive you. I love you. I show you mercy and grace. Your sins are wiped away. I’ve forgotten your sins. They’re buried in the deepest sea, removed as far as the east is from the west. I remember them no more”? How can God do that and be just?
To illustrate that, think of it this way. If there is a court and presiding over the court is a judge, and someone comes in and is indicted for criminal behavior – let’s say he murdered ten people. The man steps up and says, “I killed all those ten people, but I’m very sorry. I repent of killing all those people. Please forgive me, judge, and set me free. Would you be gracious to me and forgive me and send me on my way?” If the judge said, “Yes, of course, I forgive you. I know you feel sorry about it. I’m happy to forgive you. You’re dismissed,” he wouldn’t be a judge any longer.
What is a judge’s job? His job is to uphold the law. The law will dictate what happens to that man. The judge can’t just dismiss the law, dismiss the crime because he wants to. Well, if a judge can’t do that, if a human judge can’t do that, how can the divine Judge do that? How is that possible?
The answer takes us to the fourth principle in this text. This is the very important one. Reconciliation is by the will of God, by the means of forgiveness, by faith in Jesus Christ, and by the work of substitution, by the work of substitution. If you will, notice verse 21. This is one of the great verses in all Scripture. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” So profound. If you understand that verse, you understand the Gospel. How can God be just and justify sinners? Answer: He made Him – who is Him who knew no sin? Who is that? Jesus Christ. You only have one person to choose from, only one sinless person.
So God made His Son sin. Well, what does that mean? He made Him sin? Well, what does that mean? It means that He treated Him as a sinner. God treated His Son as a sinner, His sinless Son as a sinner. This is the heart and soul of Gospel truth. God treated one who was sinless as if He was a sinner, for us, on our behalf, for our sakes. Let me expand that a little bit. God treated Jesus as if He had committed all the sins of all the people in history who would ever believe. God treated Jesus as if He had committed all the sins of all the people who would ever believe.
God punished Jesus for all the sins of all the people who would ever believe – on the cross. Another way to say it, God punished Jesus as if He lived your life, as if it were you on the cross. “He became a curse for us,” Galatians 3. 1 Peter, “He bore in His body our sins on the cross.” Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He was punished for our peace.”
He is a substitute pictured, of course, in the whole Old Testament sacrificial system. All of those innocent animals that didn’t sin because animals don’t sin, they were all innocent substitutes who died and shed their blood to send a picture, a picture of the fact that God one day would bring an innocent substitute for sinners. None of those animal sacrifices forgave sin. None of them provided a sufficient atonement; only Christ. But they all were pictures of the one who would be the Lamb of God who actually takes away the sin of the world.
This is verse 21. How does God then remain just and forgive sinners? By punishing a substitute. So He pours out His wrath against all our sins on His Son, on His innocent Son. God’s wrath is satisfied. God’s wrath is propitiated. God has had His justice met but by a substitute. Now, Jesus was under the wrath of God, alienated from God in the darkness of three hours at the cross. You say, “How in the world could Jesus, one person, in three hours absorb all the wrath of God for all the sins of all the believers through all of history?” Answer: He could take an infinite amount of wrath because He is an infinite person, an infinite person.
No wonder in the garden He’s sweating blood as He thinks about the horrors of this. But that’s only part of the story here in verse 21. Go back to it. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Then the other side, “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” What is that? We become the righteousness of God in Him? If you’re in Christ, you have become the righteousness of God? What does that mean? Listen carefully. On the cross, God punished Jesus for your sins so that He can consider you righteous.
Let me say it another way. On the cross, God punished Jesus as if He lived your life, and now He looks at you as if you lived Christ’s life. You are in Christ. It’s an amazing statement. Christ takes our sin; He’s our substitute, and gives us His righteousness. This is substitution. This is the greatest Gospel truth. This is what was going on at the cross, and God was so satisfied with that substitutionary exchange that He raised Jesus from the dead in triumph.
This is the ministry of reconciliation. God is reconciler. He does it by forgiveness. He does it through faith, and it’s possible because the Son takes the full payment for sin. So God is just. Listen, every sin that you’ve ever committed that all believers through all of history have ever committed is paid for, but it’s all paid for at Calvary. Now, God can look at you and see His Son. He looked at the cross, He saw you. He looks at you, He sees Christ. This is the staggering, stunning reality of the Gospel. This is the heart of the ministry of reconciliation.
May God help us as believers, whether we’re in America or China or anywhere else in the world to proclaim this ministry. This is why you are where you are. This is why the Lord has saved you to carry on this wonderful ministry of reconciliation. You are ambassadors of the great King of heaven. Pray with me.
Father, we thank you for this great truth. We thank you for your grace to us in Christ. I pray for my brothers and sisters there in Hong Kong and China that you would grant them full understanding of these truths and an eagerness and a passion to proclaim them for the sake of the people in their part of the world who so desperately need to hear the message of reconciliation. Thank you, Lord, for what you’re going to use them to do to your glory. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.
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