Date: 05 Mar 2017
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
I hope I’m not alone in finding these studies in 2 Corinthians to be really enjoyable. Paul is always worth studying and this letter in particular comes across as special to me since Paul opens up about himself and his own situation more here than anywhere else.
As we move on to the next verses in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul has three main topics: firstly his ministry of reconciliation; that is, the reconciliation of sinful mankind with a merciful God. Then, the thought that Christ died for all, not just a chosen few; and finally, as a result of Jesus dying, those who accept Him as Lord and Saviour become a new creation. It is all simply amazing stuff in just a few short verses. There are other thoughts in this passage although the three points that I’ve just mentioned are what I want to focus on this morning.
Christ Died For All
A recurring topic of Paul’s in his ministry and preaching is that of Christ crucified, and it is also something that I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions in the past, particularly when focussing on that wonderful verse in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “we preach Christ crucified”. Jesus dying on the cross was the most amazing act of self sacrifice ever, especially as He died for all sinners the world over. It is also quite remarkable to think that a totally innocent Man should die for sinners simply because He loved them. The prophet Isaiah made it very clear that Christ was innocent with these words in Isaiah 53:9b, “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” And yet, despite that Jesus was prepared to die for everyone. Paul makes this equally wonderful statement in Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul reaffirms in 5:15 that Christ “died for all”, something that I regard as being absolutely true. Paul made it quite clear to the Romans that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Unless I’ve missed something, it appears obvious that all of mankind falls into that category, no one is exempt, and so it seems reasonable to suggest that Christ died for all. Not only that, but Paul also reminded the Romans that Christ died for us whilst we were still sinners. It is important for us to remember that as far as God was concerned, mankind was sinful and sin always had to be paid for. Scripture tells us time and again that the price of sin is death and for any sin to be forgiven blood has to be shed and a sacrifice has to be made. In Old Testament times it was always the blood of an animal; generally a lamb; that was shed to pay for sins. These sacrifices were made over and over again since the people kept on sinning. God sent His Son to be the once and for all sacrifice; to shed His blood to pay the price for the sins of those who accepted Him as their Saviour. Christ was the ultimate sacrifice and did indeed die for everyone; there being no special group that could claim that they weren’t sinners and therefore Christ didn’t die for them. On the contrary since all were sinners and Christ died for sinners, it surely follows that He undoubtedly died for all. Sadly not every sinner accepts that and many reject Him even though Jesus died for them too. The gospel is intended for everyone and no one, not a single person, is excluded. Now whilst Jesus did die for all, God knows that some will accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour and He knows too that many will reject Jesus. Many hear the gospel and it washes over them leaving them totally uninterested and undisturbed. That doesn’t negate though the fact that Jesus still died for them. However, we mustn’t give up on anyone since there are many stories in the Christian world of death bed conversions and conversions late in life when people have come to realise that Jesus did indeed die for them and they need to accept Him as Lord and Saviour.
Christ dying for everyone isn’t the end of the story. For those who accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour they now live totally new lives; meaning that they no longer live for themselves but for Jesus. Following his conversion, Paul surrendered his life to Christ by following and serving Him faithfully in any way that he could. Paul’s argument is quite simple, since Christ died for us we “should no longer live for ourselves but for Him Who died for us” (paraphrase 5:15b).
Paul expands on this idea of believers being given a new life when he talks in 5:17 of our being a “new creation”. This doesn’t mean that we have been reformed or reshaped in any way but that we are actually brand, spanking new creations! Our old sinful self has been crucified with Christ and we have been raised as new beings, as new creations. The prophet Isaiah recorded God’s words in Isaiah 65:17-18 when he wrote, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.” As believers in Jesus Christ and a new creation, we are part of that new heaven and new earth. Note that Isaiah wrote, “the former things will not be remembered”. Paul adds in 5:17b “the old has gone, the new is here”. If we are a new creation then there is nothing left of the past and we are totally new and need only look forward to a wonderful future with Jesus walking beside us.
In human terms there is nothing newer than a new born baby. On one particular occasion when Jesus had been performing miracles and preaching the coming of the kingdom of God; Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee, heard Him and recognising that Jesus was special, said to Him that because of all that He was doing God must have been with Him. Jesus replied that, “no one will see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Perhaps not surprisingly Nicodemus was confused and didn’t understand what Jesus was telling him and so Jesus explained that anyone who wants to see God’s kingdom needs to be born of the Spirit. It is by being born again that we become a new creation; we are new because of Christ and all that He has done and still does for us and because, when we accept Him as Lord and Saviour, we are born again through the Holy Spirit.
This is all well and good; Jesus died for everyone and in accepting Him as Lord and Saviour we become a new creation. However, none of this can happen as a result of anything that we do; it can only come from God and so it is all of God and none of us. But why would God do this for us since in His eyes we are sinners?
Many of course find it difficult to accept that they are sinners since they believe that they live good lives and feel they have done nothing wrong. Well, the answer to that problem is fairly simple. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and by doing that they introduced original sin into the world. Mankind as a whole inherited that sin from Adam and Eve and consequently became sinners. Over time people have added other sins to that original sin and simply confirmed the sinful nature of mankind. This original sin of Adam and Eve caused a rupture in mankind’s relationship with God and means that mankind has always been at odds with God and not in a good relationship with Him. If we are to become part of God’s family, and there are many who do want that, there needs to be reconciliation. However, reconciliation is one of the most difficult things to achieve since there are always two sides to an argument and quite frequently both sides take up intransigent positions refusing to make any concessions to the other side.
This is where God stepped in by making the first move. Before we consider that, we need to understand that God has never done anything wrong, in fact throughout history He has made repeated moves to bring about reconciliation with His chosen people. Sadly such moves were always rejected or ignored at every step. Despite that and despite having the power to do so, God did not destroy mankind; quite the opposite, He continued to provide what people needed to live. If you doubt that then just look around at harvest time and see the abundance of produce that is brought in. It is God Who has continued to give all that by providing the environment to allow crops of all descriptions to be nurtured and to grow so that they are ready to be harvested when the time comes. That doesn’t sound like a vindictive God to me.
In order to bring about this much needed reconciliation, God sent His Son Jesus to die and pay the price for the sins of all who accepted Him as their Saviour. In that way God brought about that reconciliation between Himself and mankind. None of this was down to us and as Paul reminds us at the beginning of 5:18, “all this is from God”, and adds later in 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ”. As I’ve already tried to make clear, we are all sinners, and yet in taking this step of reconciliation God didn’t count people’s sins against them (5:19b). As Paul wrote to the Colossians, despite the fact that we were dead in our sins and had a sinful nature, “God made us [you] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,” (Colossians 2:13b).
Paul regarded his ministry as being as much about helping bring about this reconciliation as anything else. Yes, he spent time preaching the gospel and helping people come to faith in Christ, but he saw that as being an important part of that ministry of reconciliation. We know from experience that families often need to be reconciled one with another and it is the same with mankind; we all need to be reconciled with God so that we may be forgiven and become part of God’s family. In 5:18-20 Paul uses the words: reconciled, reconciliation, and reconciling, and they all point to the work of Jesus Christ in dying for us; all of us.
At the very end of this passage Paul reminds us that, “For our sake He made Christ to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in and through Him we might be in an approved, acceptable and right relationship with Him” (paraphrase 5:21). It was all of God and none of us that brought this about.
The message contained in these few verses is both wonderful and amazing. Paul gets to the real crux of his ministry and explains why Jesus came to earth in the first place. In just a few verses Paul discusses the thoughts that Christ died for all and not just a select group; that by accepting Christ as Saviour we become a new creation, and finally that all this was instigated by God to bring about reconciliation between Him and mankind.
In Old Testament times, God’s chosen people were the Jews and more or less everything He did was for them. He cared for them, nurtured them and forgave them when they transgressed His Law. Eventually God expanded His reach to include Gentiles, basically everyone else. The Jews were no longer God’s exclusive chosen people. Jesus came to minister to everyone not only the Jews and to die on the cross of Calvary for everyone not just a select few who were chosen for arbitrary reasons. Since all had sinned, Jews and Gentiles alike, it follows that Jesus died for all.
Paul goes on to make clear that anyone who understands that that is what Christ did and accepts Him as Lord and Saviour becomes a new creation; as Jesus told Nicodemus, they are born again.
All of this happened because God wanted to reconcile mankind to Himself rather than our constantly being at loggerheads with Him. Reconciliation is not easy and in human terms no one likes to make the first move. However, God took no notice of that thought and made that vital first move by sending Jesus to earth to become the sacrifice needed to pay the price for the sins of all mankind.
There’s a lot to think about but meditating on what Paul has to say will bring its rewards as we give thanks to God for His grace and mercy for sending His Son to die for us so that we could be reconciled with Him and become part of His great family.