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Pentecost 5B: July 9, 2006 – The Great Exchange

08 Jul

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The Great Exchange

        Grace,
mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes
from the Epistle which was read earlier.

        It’s
hard being a pastor. We get up each
Sunday, stand before our congregations and we preach about sin. We preach about the sin that first came
through Adam and Eve, we preach about the sin that we have, we preach about the
sin that Jesus doesn’t have. In our
ministry, people don’t like to hear about sin. If a couple comes for marriage counseling and we ask if they are living
together, the answer has a strong possibility of being yes. When we tell them that living together before
or without marriage is a sin, we become the bad guy. Who are we to judge them? What right do we have to judge their
behavior?

        When
people are unhappy about not being able to take communion because they are not
a Lutheran, we tell them that we are not a “members only” club, that we are
following the words of Scripture. We do
not commune them for their benefit, not because you have to be a card-carrying
member of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

        At
times, we pastors are seen as Public Enemy #1. So why do we continue to
be pastors? Wouldn’t it be easier for us to just quit, find a different
job where
everyone likes us and we’re happy? What
keeps us in the Office of Holy Ministry and in the pulpit week after
week? The love of Christ compels us. The love Christ has for those for
whom He
died and rose again is the force that motivates us.  And the love of
Christ
doesn’t compel just us pastors. It
compels all Christians. Every human
being is one for whom Christ died. By
that substitutionary death all persons, their sin, and their sinful
nature are
dead. People who are redeemed by Christ
are not to continue in sin or factional infighting, but to live for Him
who
died and rose again for them. Martin
Luther wrote that “sin is forgiven not so that we may continue in it
but that
we might break loose from it; otherwise it would be called a permission
and not
a remission of sin.” It is, therefore,
to further the aims of the loving Savior and to prepare His people to
love and
serve Him in return that Paul preaches.  It is for that reason why we
pastors continue
to preach.

         

        The
message that Paul gave to the Corinthians is the same message that pastors give
today: Christ died for all people, and because of His death and resurrection,
we live for the One who died for us, Jesus Christ. I’ve said this before and I will say it
again. Christ just didn’t die for the
rich and aristocrats, or for the poor and the lame. He died for all people, regardless of who
they are. Jesus, unlike sinners, doesn’t
play favorites. He treats all of us
equally: all as sinners.

         

        Through
Jesus Christ, we have died to sin and been made alive in righteousness. Our old self was crucified with Christ and
died there as surely as He died there. From the throes of death rises a new man fully redeemed and cleansed in
baptism to the glory of Christ our Lord.

        “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a
new creation: the old one has gone and the new has come!”
Our sinful self, though it is still very much
a part of us, is no longer seen by God. When God looks at us, He sees us wrapped in the holiness and sinlessness
of Jesus Christ. We have been made holy
by the blood of the Lamb who died on Calvary’s
mountain. While it is hard to understand
that we can be “simul justus et peccator,”
at the same time sinner and saint, that is exactly what we are. When we were brought into the family of God
by our baptism, we became saints, even though we are very much a sinner. Our old sinful self is now gone and replaced
with the newness of Christ’s righteousness.

        The
key to all of this is to remember that it is not anything that we did. Paul makes this point yet again in our text,
as he does in several of his letters to the various churches: “All
this is from God.”
Paul doesn’t say that this is from us. He doesn’t say it is from what we or someone
else did. God has reconciled us
to Himself through Christ by forgiving us all our sins, by counting them
against Christ instead of against us. In
Christ, God does not impute sin to us. Indeed,
the whole world is the named beneficiary of this reconciliation. God now considers all people to be different from what they were. Formerly, by
birth and nature, they were His enemies to be cast into eternal punishment. Now
their status is changed to make them holy and blameless in His sight. This is the saving grace of God’s love for
His people.

        Jesus,
the Word made flesh, is our substitute. He is the second Adam, undoing what the first Adam did by his
disobedience. He will take our place
before His Father and buy back all of humanity. Through His unlimited atonement, the whole world is reconciled to God.

      

        Jesus
lived our life perfectly. He became
fully man so that He would qualify as our substitute. Righteousness is
what He brings to God. But instead of righteousness to guarantee
God’s approval, He trades it all away to us for our sin. Jesus’
righteousness becomes ours by faith,
and our sin becomes His.

       

        As
I said, this isn’t easy for us to understand. But that’s the good part
of all of this: we don’t have to understand
God’s forgiveness to receive God’s forgiveness. You don’t have to
believe in the forgiveness of sins to receive it. Christ died for all people, even those
who choose not to accept it.

       

        Being
in Christ, being a new creation, is quite a gift in and of itself. But Paul tells us what it is that we are to
be: “be reconciled to God.” Those who receive the reconciliation as their
own, who give up trying to reach God by their own good works and take
forgiveness and life as the gift it is, they are the ones who are finally and
effectively reconciled to God. All
others, rejecting Christ, reject this reconciliation. These are those who choose to be reconciled
to self, seeking their own vices in a vain effort to bring about salvation of
some sorts. Everyone knows that Jesus
died for all, so it doesn’t really matter what it is I believe or what it is
that I do. I still have my golden ticket
to heaven. That is exactly what Satan wants
us to think and believe. But Scripture
says otherwise. “God made him who had no sin
to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

       

        Paul,
in simple and forceful terms, gives the gist of the “message of the reconciliation.”  Jesus had no sin, being born without it.  Yet God made Him to be sin, so covered Him
with the sins of the world that Christ became, as it were, sin personified.
When God regarded Him, He was affronted by all that sinful nature had become
and wrought, the sorry history of humankind, all its wickedness, and the ruin
of its goodness. But it was there, in
Christ, that we are made the righteousness of God.  Our sins are stripped from us, and the holiness
of Christ becomes ours.

        This
“message of reconciliation” that Paul
speaks of is our ministry, all of ours responsibility. Our Lord’s great exchange, His power of
reconciliation has been given to us as our ministry of reconciliation that we
are to share with others. We are ambassadors,
making known the wonders of God who desires mercy and grace toward His
creation. Just as we are no longer to
see ourselves in light of our old self, so we are no longer to see others in
the same way either, because God no longer sees us in that light. The gift that God has given to us He has
given to the whole world, the gift of forgiveness and the righteousness of
God. Amen.

        Now
the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus. Amen.

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