We all have to cross the river Jordan in our own life, one day!
The Israelites successfully crossed the river Jordan before entering the Promised Land of Canaan.. In Part-1 we already saw the first two points of how to cross this river. Here is the second part of the same topic:
Using the mantle to cross river Jordan
Prophet Elijah was an Old Testament saint and a prayer warrior. He was also the one who had brought down rain and fire from heaven. With the mantle, both he and Elisha had crossed the river Jordan, while ministering together. And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. 2 Kings 2:8.
What does the Mantle refer to?
Spiritually, the Mantle refers to the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Without the Anointing, we cannot cross the river Jordan like situations in our life. Moreover, to enter the Kingdom of God we need to have received the Anointing of the Holy Spirit. We need to be people who are always relying on the Anointing.
To face greater trial, we need to have greater unction of the Holy Spirit. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s Anointing, before being taken up. 2 kings 2:9. For this to happen, Elisha had to keep his eyes focused on Elijah. they both didn’t know when the latter would be taken up.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; 2 kings 2:11-13.
So by using the mantle, that is, through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we can cross the river Jordan in our life.
By using the staff
Shepherds use a staff for grazing their flock. Old people also use this for walking. However, Jacob also says that he used a staff to cross the river. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Genesis 32:10.
Jacob used that staff from the beginning to the end of his life. When he left his Father’s house, he also took the staff along with him. Later on, the staff continued to be with him, even when he was returning from Padanaram (Laban’s place). Finally, in the end of his life as well, Jacob leaned on his staff and passed away. Spiritually, Staff refers to the Promises of God. Dear child of God, use the promises of God to overcome your troubles. May the Lord help us!
“For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Heaven’s influence on our lives is never greater than when our sights are fixed upon it. The man or woman with their eyes turned upward is marked by a life lived differently. We know this because the Bible and Church history is replete with the accounts of those who determined to fix their gaze far above the earth.
Take Moses for example. In Pharaoh’s house he had every benefit laid at his feet, yet Moses was not captivated by the security that the Egyptian court afforded him. “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) For him, looking up equated to living beyond the fleeting rewards of playing it safe. And in the deliverance of millions of his people from bondage, he was vindicated.
Missionary to China, Hudson Taylor was another who lived with heaven in constant view. In writing about winning souls to Christ, Hudson said, “China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women.” Through his courageous – and some might say outrageous – trust in God, he inspired thousands to forsake the comforts of the West to bring the Christian message to the vast and unknown interior of China.
The Magi of the Christmas story trained their eye to the heavenly star, in order to find the Christ Child, that they might worship Him. Christian, what will you set your sights on in the months ahead? What will be the driving force in your worship of your King? I pray that you turn your eyes upward to that which will one day be yours – heaven.
“Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts. They have no fear of God at all. In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are. Everything they say is crooked and deceitful. They refuse to act wisely or do good. They lie awake at night, hatching sinful plots. Their actions are never good. They make no attempt to turn from evil.”
As the battle for our Nation’s future continues, I am once again reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s challenge to the American people. At the conclusion of our Founding Father’s Constitutional Convention, Franklin was asked by a woman waiting in the crowd outside, “What kind of government have you given us?” Franklin answered with both a challenge and a rebuke, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Freedom, like the Gospel, must be preached and practiced or else it will grow old and wither away.
“Facts are stubborn things,” said John Adams. But sadly, we have lost our appetite for truth. We have become a nation unworthy of the very freedoms we enjoy in this God-given republic.
Most today, but thankfully not all in the United States, are civically ignorant of their constitutional rights and biblical calling. Uninformed to the point that they have no vision nor understanding of what to do with them. They are willfully blind, having resigned themselves to 15-second sound bites promulgated by those who are themselves blind. To that end, Psalm 36:1-4 speaks to me about those boldly and brazenly committing acts of deception, lying, cover-ups, and fraud. They are, in short, political jihadists.
During these days, I have dedicated my morning hours to intercessory prayer for our Nation. I teach and preach that Jesus Christ could return at any moment for His Church in the Rapture (Titus 2:13), yet I must also occupy in this world until He comes. I must be busy about my Father’s business in all things, obedient to live it out now.
In the next several weeks your life and mine are about to be changed forever. The coming persecution and violence can only be met with an equal resolve to preserve our liberty and freedom for our children and our children’s children.
Truth is active and the pursuit of it is a vigorous ethos. Christian, be ready to defend your faith, family, and freedom. Someday, our children will ask us, “What kind of government have you given us?” May our answer to them be, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
The raw truth puts the fear of God in people! How many of us can truly count on one hand the number of people they know who they believe possess the fear of God? When was the last time you heard someone say they weren’t going to do something because they didn’t want to go to hell? Or how about this one, “I want to do what pleases the Lord”. Conviction is at an all-time low (in the church and the world).
Our ears have been tickled with lollipop and gumdrop teachings to the point where we think and unconsciously view Jesus as a “pushover, hippie genie”!
Read the Book of John and you will find that Jesus was INTOLERANT of ALL sin, EXTREMELY direct, sugarcoated NOTHING, and still was pure love and showed compassion. Did you know that Jesus’ heart races every time He looks at you? He’s madly in love with you.
The reason why He preached more about Hell than Heaven, is because He doesn’t want to lose us and desperately doesn’t want us to go there. He preached warnings for safety! It breaks His heart every time a soul is eternally lost. It’s unfathomable to imagine a life forever without God, lacking EVERYTHING, being void of all that is good. Friends, family, companionship, laughter, hope, rest, and even food are all nonexistent in the abyss.
We all hear the question so many typically ask, “Why would a loving God send someone to hell?” Yet, the truth is, people send themselves there. If you see someone walking toward a cliff and you yell to them, “Wrong way! There’s a cliff! You’re going to fall off and die if you don’t go the other way!” But the foolish person responds with either, “I’ll take my chances”, “I don’t believe you”, or “all roads lead to safety”, then that person who was warned ends up falling off the cliff and dying, who sent them there? THEY DID!
All things good come from God and Him alone. You can know the entire Bible by heart and still end up in H-E-double-hockey-sticks. Now is the absolute WORST time to be uncertain about where you’ll go if you die. Death does not discriminate against age, race, gender, nationality, or religion. You won’t just cease to exist. You’ll exist somewhere forever, but the question is, “Where?”
There’s one of two places to choose from—Heaven or Hell. Heaven will give you a forever warm reception, while in hell, you’d be an eternal unwelcomed guest.
I’ve had four near-death experiences and the first time I was NOT ready and truly uncertain if I’d see Jesus face to face. Oh, and guess what, I was a Christian! By God’s grace, He rescued me every time!
You see, some may have said a prayer at the altar once and thought they were heaven-bound, but if there hasn’t been a TRUE, genuine transformation of your life, thoughts, and speech, then it’d be wise to do a self-examination of the heart, because that’s where it starts. When Jesus enters your heart, there’s an evident transformation and your surroundings will know it. You can’t fool God.
The reason why America is in the state that it’s in today is because of the failure of the church. The church is what leads by example. Things can turn around for the good, but it starts with the church, first.
If you want to belike Jesus, then you’ve got to teach like Jesus!
Hell is the default. Heaven is your CHOICE. Jesus is the WAY! If you haven’t already, receive or rededicate your life to Him today. He’s the ONLY God Who thought you were worth dying for…and ACTUALLY DID! That’s love.
Whether you do or not, January is the perfect moment to pause and consider how to lay strong foundations for the year ahead… especially when it comes to your walk with the Lord.
Ask yourself what kind of year you want this to be. Will 2021 be a time when you draw closer to Jesus or drift away from Him? Because spiritually speaking, there’s no standing still… there’s no middle ground. We’re either moving toward Christ or away from Him.
But before you get overwhelmed, let me encourage you that it’s not about coming up with our own plan to follow Jesus closely. It’s about surrendering to His.
If you remember Jesus’ familiar story of the wise and foolish builders, you’ll see what I mean.
The wise man built his house on the rock while the foolish man built his on the sand. And then the storms came… and you know how it ended for each of them!
So here’s the challenge:
This year, will your life be built strongly on the rock solid promises of God’s Word, enabling you to weather whatever trials may come your way?
Or will your life be flimsy and fragile, built on the shifting sands of circumstance and status, liable to come crashing down when stormy seasons hit?
Of course you’d choose the former! And wonderfully, Jesus tells us how to make it happen.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
According to Jesus, there are two keys to building wisely in the year ahead: hearing His Word and doing it!
So here’s my resolution.
This year, I will hear God’s Word each day by opening the Bible and listening to Him speak. And I will do God’s Word as I live in prayerful obedience through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Christmas is celebrated in a multitude of ways around the world. In Mexico, for instance, homes are decorated with lilies, evergreens, and farolitos, little paper bags lit with candles—an inviting tradition we’ve continued where I live in New Mexico.
In fact, Christmas is all about an invitation. The beauty of the first Christmas gift, given so long ago in tiny Bethlehem, is that the invitation is for everyone, everywhere—or as the angel told the shepherds that historic night, “Good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). The angel’s birth announcement was an invitation to all humankind to receive the Savior.
It’s noteworthy that Jesus was born not in a large city but in a backwater of the Roman Empire, far from the center of power and influence in Rome and a good walk from the religious epicenter of Jerusalem. He was born in Bethlehem not just because his father had to return to his family home to participate in a Roman census, but because God decreed it in Micah 5:2 and used Roman roads and Roman peace to fulfill it.
But Romans weren’t the first to hear of this monumental birth. That honor was given to a group of shepherds. Think about it: the news of the greatest gift ever given came first to the most overlooked group in the empire. No one cared about shepherds. They were considered the lowest of the low, ceremonially unclean in the eyes of the Jewish religious leaders. They were the humblest and poorest of society.
This set the tone for the life Jesus lived. He regularly hung out with society’s lowest classes. No one was beneath His notice—not shepherds, not lepers, and not the masses of overlooked women and children. When it came to His death, He wasn’t crucified between two candles on an altar but between two thieves. And even in His agony, He forgave the thief who acknowledged Jesus’ innocence and coming glory.
The message? Anyone can come to Christ at any point, even up to the point of death. The accessibility of Jesus is perhaps the most overlooked and unopened gift we have at Christmastime. Remember, He is Immanuel—”God with us” (Matthew 1:23). And the invitation the angel announced at His birth still stands today. Will you receive those “good tidings of great joy”? They’re for everyone, everywhere—including you.
The will of God for the church in the world is to proclaim the gospel. That is our calling. Churches have been distracted, to put it mildly, in this current climate, get into all kind of things that are not the gospel even though they want to label them as the gospel. The gospel is the gospel. And this is a time for us to understand it explicitly and clearly.
Last week we looked at the conversion of Matthew, tax collector, and we heard the words of Jesus, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And that is the remarkable reality of the gospel, that God saves sinners; that when we were enemies, He set to save us; that those people who are self-righteous and religious are by their own self-righteousness cut off from the hope of salvation. We saw last week that it was the religious Pharisees who thought they knew God and were the representatives of God who were most strongly denounced by Jesus and who were sons of hell, and making their disciples more sons of hell. Satan’s strategy is in religion. False religion is the satanic strategy across the world. Any deviation from the true and pure gospel is a damning lie, but it gives the illusion of knowing God.
You remember in the text that we looked at in Luke chapter 5, it ended by recalling the fact that there was an illustration of those who are religious being content with the old wine and not wanting to change to anything new. That was true of the Pharisees. It was so true of the Pharisees, so true. There were six thousand Pharisees or so at the time of our Lord in the land of Israel. There is only one conversion of a Pharisee in all four Gospels, one. They loved the old wine. They loved their religion. Jesus came to those who were irreligious, who were confronted with only their sin. The gospel always goes to those who are not holding onto any false religion.
Only one Pharisee in the four Gospels comes to salvation. I want to tell you his story. Open your Bible to John 3, John 3. His name will be familiar to you. His name is Nicodemus. That’s a good name. It means victory of the common people: Nicodemus. And I want to read beginning in chapter 3 in verse 1.
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Now let’s stop right there.
We have a responsibility as a church in doing the will of God to proclaim the gospel, and the gospel is here articulated by Jesus as sinners needing to be born again. Proclaiming the new birth, proclaiming being born again is the priority, the most critical responsibility the church has. “Born again” is a very familiar term. Books have been titled Born Again. There are a lot of books on how to be born again. I went through some of them just this week. Five Steps to Being Born Again comes to mind, How to Pray to be Born Again. One book entitled How to be Born Again. All of those are familiar to us because the notion of being born again is so commonly expressed. It’s part of evangelical pop culture. But almost no one seems to understand what our Lord is saying.
It’s a simple idea, being born again. In fact, down in verse 12 of chapter 3, Jesus calls it an earthly thing. In other words, an earthly illustration. Here’s the truth: this is so simple that you should never be confused by what it means to be born again. Here is an earthly illustration. “And if you don’t understand this earthly illustration,” – verse 12 says – “how are you going to understand it’s heavenly meaning?”
Like any parable or any illustration our Lord used, He picked something very common and simple. If you can’t get the illustration that in order to enter the kingdom you must be born again, you’ll never understand the heavenly reality of the new birth. And you must understand the heavenly reality of the new birth because it is a foundational truth of salvation. You must be born again.
Nicodemus says in verse 4, “How?” And we’ll look at it more closely in a moment. “How?” If there were an evangelist there he might say, “Pray this prayer.” Might say, “Take these steps.” But that would miss the entire point. And actually, Nicodemus was getting the point. And here is the point: you must be born again. Perhaps, more accurately it’s translated: “You must be born from above,” – anōthen – “you must be born from above.” Anōthen, two other times later in the gospel of John, is translated “from above.” “You must be born from above.”
Let me tell you how simple the analogy is. What role did you play in your birth, your physical birth? That’s an absurdity. You played no role in your physical birth. What contribution did you make to your physical birth? You made no contribution to your physical birth. And that is exactly the idea in our Lord using this analogy. To assume that you have anything to do with your physical birth is an insane idea. To assume that you have anything to do with your spiritual birth is equally insane. It’s absurd. That’s why our Lord chose this analogy, because it’s so clear. It’s not really possible if you give it any thought to miss the point.
To be born again, or born from above, is a work in which you play no role. Your birth happened to you, you had no part in it. And the same is true of new birth. The message of our Lord here is that it’s a work of God and it’s totally a work of God, which immediately obliterates all works righteousness – all religion, all ceremony, all ritual, all sacraments, as having any contribution to make to new life. It is what theologians call monergistic. It isn’t something you and God do together, it is God alone. You’re not going to enter the kingdom of God because you try harder to be a better person, or more religious, or more moral, or moral philanthropic, or more virtuous. That is exactly the point the Lord is making. And – mark it – He is making it to a man who was just introduced to us as a ruler of the Jews, and – down in verse 10 – a man who was called the teacher of Israel.
This is a simple earthly analogy as to the foundation of salvation. It is solely a work of God, solely a work of God. This stops a legalist dead in his tracks. All his life the legalist – in this case the Pharisee, and in specific, Nicodemus – was achieving heaven, or trying to by his self-righteousness. Here our Lord says, “It is all for nothing: meaningless. Your morality, your supposed virtue: useless.” This is a dramatic, dramatic moment in the Word of God, crucial revelation that is introduced to us in the story of Nicodemus.
Now I want to take you through this story, and it’s important that you get this because this is how you need to explain to people the gospel, okay. I’m trying to teach this to you so you can teach it to others, so we can do what God has called us to do in the world. And I’ll say this: I’ve been here, as you know, fifty-one years and I’ve never seen a better time in all fifty-one years for us to be the church and proclaim the gospel. Incredible. And so you need to know what the gospel is that you’re going to proclaim.
This is more than a story. It is a story. It is an incredible story about the only Pharisee who is recorded to have come to Christ in all the four Gospels. It makes crystal clear that salvation is not for those who are good. It’s not for those who try harder. It’s not for those who live better. It’s not for those who are more moral or more religious, or forsake certain vices or pray certain prayers. You can’t pray yourself into birth. You have no more role in your spiritual birth than you had in your physical birth. You are in the same situation: you play no part, it’s all a work of God. This is a crushing reality to legalists for sure.
Now let’s set up a little bit. Go back to chapter 2, verse 23. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
Just a small note here, by the way. Jesus is God, so He’s omniscient. Nobody has to tell Him what people are thinking because He reads their minds. This is omniscience. And He knew that these people who were believing in His name because they saw the signs, the miracles, were not expressing a saving faith. They had faith in Him, but He had no faith in their faith. He knew their hearts; He knew it was superficial.
If you go a little further into the gospel of John, chapter 6, you get a picture of this same kind of faith, this false faith, verse 14: “People saw the sign which He had performed,” – that’s the feeding of the thousands – “and they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ – Prophet promised back in Genesis – ‘This is the Prophet.’” So they believed at least that He was the Prophet.
And verse 15: “Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him a king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” So there were those who thought He was the Prophet, perhaps the messianic Prophet, that thought He was the messianic King, and they wanted to thrust Him into His reign. They surrounded Jesus, they followed Him; and if you go toward the end of that same sixth chapter, and you look at verse 63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” Again, this is again the work of God to give spiritual life, birth.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe. You believe, but you don’t believe savingly. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who didn’t believe, and who it was who would betray Him.” He had some nonbelieving believers following Him. They were believing that He was perhaps the Messiah, perhaps the Prophet; and Jesus says this in verse 65, shocking: “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” Wow. Your own sense about Jesus is not enough to save you. “No one comes to Me with saving faith unless it’s been granted to him by the Father.” That’s an echo of chapter 6, verse 44: “No one comes unto Me except the Father draws him.”
Verse 66: “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” The false disciples left. “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord,’ – there’s the word, “Lord,” not just Prophet, and not just Messiah: “Lord” – ‘to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.’” They knew that He was God, the Holy One of God, and that He had the words of eternal life. They were the ones that stayed, the rest left.
So what you see – back to chapter 2, verse 23 – is superficial faith; and it was all around Jesus. Eventually they would drift away. And that’s an illustration of that that we see in chapter 6 – disciples that walked no more with Him.
So at the end of chapter 2, there are these people who believe something about Jesus, maybe that He is potentially the Messiah, the Prophet; but they don’t believe savingly in Him as Lord and the Holy One of God. One of them is introduced to us in chapter 3, the man named Nicodemus. “There was a man of the Pharisees,” – he’s one of the group who believed, but not savingly. He believed something about Jesus, and he’s going to tell us what he believed.
“He came to Jesus and he said this,” – in verse 2 – ‘We know You have come from God as a teacher,’ – so he believed Jesus was a teacher. Why? – ‘because no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” He didn’t necessarily believe that He was the Messiah. He certainly didn’t affirm that He is God the Son. He simply says, “You must have come from God as a teacher because of the signs that You do.” So he gives us an illustration of what it meant to believe in chapter 2: to believe that He was from God, a prophet, a preacher, a teacher. Because of the signs that He was doing, God must have been with Him.
Now backing up to verse 1 for a moment, “There was a man of the Pharisees.” Pharisees – that’s a term that means separated. They were the legalists. They were the heart of apostate corrupt Judaism. To show you how corrupt they were all you have to do is go back to chapter 2, verse 13: “The Passover of the Jews is near. Jesus went to Jerusalem. He went to the temple. He goes into the temple and He’s right at the heart of Jewish religion. And, of course, the Pharisees were the leaders of Jewish religion. Even though it was the Sadducees that operated the temple, the Pharisees were the popular theologians of Judaism.
“He goes into the temple and He finds people selling oxen, sheep, doves, money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the coins of the money changers, overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house will consume Me.’” Jesus went in and wiped out their corrupt operations. Pharisees were a part of that; they were corrupt. In fact, we are told they were lovers of money, they were lovers of money.
In Matthew chapter 23, we learn more about them – and I commented on this last time. I just want to refer to the opening of that chapter, a description of the Pharisees. Our Lord says this: “They tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. They do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries” – little boxes that made them look holy – “and they lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.” Then He goes, starting in chapter 23, verse 13, “Woe, woe, woe,” and pronounces curses on the Pharisees; and they were at the top of the theological pyramid. And He pronounces blistering curses on them all the way through chapter 23.
Nicodemus was one of them. It was pretty remarkable that he at least got to the point where he believed Jesus had come from God, because the rest of the Pharisees conclude that He came from hell, and that He did what He did by the power of Satan. Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews. What does that mean? He was a member of the Sanhedrin; that’s the Supreme Court of Israel – seventy members, plus the high priest, so they had an odd vote if they needed it. They were the Supreme Court of Israel. They were wealthy, rich, scholars, elite from prominent families, ex-high priests who made up the Jewish court. Nicodemus was one of them. So he was at the top of the theological pyramid as a Pharisee, and he was at the top of the structure of Judaistic authority by being a member of the Supreme Court. There just is not much hope that a man so situated in life, so happy with the old wine, is going to show any interest in Jesus; and that is why this story is so unique.
We’re not surprised then in verse 2 when it says, “This man came to Jesus by night,” are we? A lot at stake if he comes in the daytime. “He said to Him, ‘Rabbi,’ – this is good, by the way; “Rabbi” recognized Him as a teacher – ‘we know You’ve come from God as a teacher because of the signs that You do.’” He came. He was curious. He was interested. “Rabbi” was very respectful.
The signs, he recognizes that they have to be done by God, there’s no other explanation for them. God has to be with Him. He agreed with many others that there were no possible human explanations for the miracles Jesus did. He is not alone because he says, “We know that You have come from God,” because he’s a part of the group from chapter 2 that believed at some point to some degree.
So here, first of all, is objective, plural, first-person, eyewitness testimony to the authenticity of the miracles of Jesus as proof of His divine mission. And Nicodemus recognizes that, and he is polite, and he is respectful; and I imagine there’s a certain amount of excitement in his heart as well. He’s a professional religionist. He’s a money-loving theologian. He’s a justice in the Supreme Court of Israel. He is at the top of everything. And by the way, some of the theology of the Pharisees was accurate: they believed in divine decree, they believed in moral accountability, they believed in immortality, they believed in bodily resurrection, they believed in angels, they actually believed in punishment and rewards in the future. But they thought that they attained to the kingdom of God by law-keeping ritual observance. And since they never saw a change in their hearts, they pretended to be holy. This is Nicodemus.
And he did take the road less traveled – only six thousand of them. And he lived the most restricted life. I mean, it was a horribly restricted life. For example, you didn’t want to look in anything that reflected your face on the Sabbath because you might see a gray hair and pull it out on the Sabbath, and you’d violate the Sabbath. You could swallow vinegar on the Sabbath for a sore throat, but you couldn’t gargle it.
But this man’s heart is full of fear. Externally, he looks like he’s got it all nailed down. This is the sinner’s worry. This is where religious people are at the top of the pile. They have all this on the outside, but they know the rottenness of their hearts, and they have no confidence that they are in the kingdom of God.
We go from the sinner’s worry to the Savior word in verse 3: “Jesus answered.” “What do you mean, He answered? He didn’t even ask a question. What do you mean, ‘Jesus answered’?” “He answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again’ – or born from above – ‘he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” What is He answering? He’s answering the question that is in the mind of Nicodemus.
Go back to chapter 2, verses 24, 25. He knew people’s thoughts: omniscience. And He knew Nicodemus that with all his religion and all his ritual and all of his external righteous acts, he was not related to God, he was not in the kingdom, and he was right.
God is King. Psalm 93:1 says, “The Lord reigns.” He reigns over the universe, the universal King. He reigns over the realm of salvation. He reigns over the millennial kingdom to come in the future. He will reign eternally.
What Nicodemus wanted in his heart was to be in the kingdom, which is to be accepted by God, to have the hope of eternal life. He wanted to be in the realm of the redeemed, those who are saved from judgment, those whose sins are covered and forgiven. He wanted to be in relationship with God forever and bound for heaven. That was the question in his heart. That’s a question very like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 who said, “What do I do to have eternal life?” That is not asked by Nicodemus, but that is on his mind. He had a high place in Judaism. Abraham was his father. But he knew God was not His Father, and he had no place in the kingdom.
Jesus’ answer is stunning, verse 3: “Truly, truly.” That appears 25 times in the gospel of John: “Truly, truly.” It’s emphatic. It’s strong. It means, “This is new, this is new. Listen, this is new.” Ancient Jewish religion said that all Jews would be in the kingdom unless guilty of apostacy or blasphemy. That’s recorded in the Mishnah. So by being Jewish you were already in the kingdom. That’s what they taught.
But Jesus says, “I have something other than that to say; this is new. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” To see means to participate. That is to say religion is totally ineffective. Judaism is ineffective even at its highest level. And Jesus’ words shatter once and for all every supposed hope in religion. All of religion combined at its highest level is a zero for God. All of it is useless. To be in the kingdom you have to be born from above. And by the time you get to verse 8 in this text, our Lord will have said that five times: “Born from above, born from above, born from above,” five times.
And by the way, John picked up on that so that in his first epistle, 1 John, he talks about being born from above six times. And what our Lord is saying to Nicodemus is, “There’s nothing to add to your life to kind of top it off and get you into the kingdom,” which Nicodemus might have assumed. “Look, I’m as high up as I can go. What’s the next step?” and our Lord says, “There is no next step. Your religion is meaningless. You might as well be an atheist, you might as well worship a rock, you are so alienated from God. All your works are dead works. They give no life. You have no spiritual life. You have no relationship to God. In order to have that relationship you have to be born from above. Something has to happen to you that is a work of heaven.”
Now the New Testament picks up on this reality of the new birth. Second Corinthians 5:17, “If any man be in Christ, he’s a new” – what? – “creature, new creation.” First Peter chapter 1, verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born from above to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Later in that chapter, verse 23, “You have been born again, born from above, not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” New birth. Titus 3 says the same thing.
But look for a moment at James 1. James chapter 1 and verses 17 and 18 – we’ll hurry through this: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift” – and that would include obviously a place in the kingdom, salvation – “is from above. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,” – and ancient Jewish title for God who was the Creator of light – “with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth.” Did you get that? That is unmistakably clear.
“Every good thing given,” and salvation and life, being born from above is one of those good things. It is a perfect gift. It comes from above. It comes down from the One who created light. And in the exercise of His will, He brought us forth, He gave us life. The New Testament Epistles recognize this. Ephesians 2, “You were dead in sins, but in Christ you have been made alive.”
So this is something that you don’t contribute to. This is stunning. This is stunning. And Nicodemus understands, verse 4. He knows Jesus is talking in earthly illustration to make a spiritual point. “So Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’” And he’s being purposely kind of silly. He’s saying, “Well, this is ridiculous. You’re saying you must be born again. Nobody does that. Nobody can be born again.”
He understands the figurative language so commonly used by rabbis and teachers, he picks up on the analogy, and his point is unmistakably clear. Jesus is saying, “It’s impossible.” That’s what Jesus is saying. “You want to be in the kingdom? It’s impossible. No contribution you have made or will make puts you in the kingdom. You have to be born from above. It has to come down from heaven. This is what is so new: truly, truly. This is really new. In your legalistic system you have never heard of such a thing. How can that happen? It’s impossible. It’s impossible.”
He doesn’t say to Him, “Well, you’re a good man, you’re a very religious man. Just kind of do this, say this little prayer.” No. “You’re at zero. You’re at zero. Oh, you’re high up in the religious stratosphere, but with God you’re at zero, and you need to be born from above, and that is a work of God.” So, Nicodemus says, “How is that supposed to happen? That’s impossible. I can’t do anything to contribute to my birth.”
Verse 5, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you,’ – He says it again because this is new – ‘unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”
“Unless one is born of the water and Spirit; what is that?” I’ve heard all kinds of answers to that question. Water is human birth because a woman’s water breaks, and so that’s referring to human birth. Well, that’s kind of an American English colloquialism that wasn’t in existence in Hebrew. So it’s not talking about, “Unless you’re born physically and spiritually.” That would be a ridiculous statement because he was already born physically.
Some people say, “No, the water is baptism, and baptism is essential for salvation.” Nicodemus wouldn’t know anything about water breaking; that was not a colloquial expression in his language. And he wouldn’t know anything about Christian baptism either, because it hadn’t been implemented yet. When Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Unless you’re born of water and the Spirit you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven,” Nicodemus should have known what He was talking about. He should have known.
But go down to verse 10: “Jesus says to him, ‘Are you the teacher in Israel and do not understand these things? Is it possible that you are the teacher in Israel and you don’t understand these things? You’re supposed to be the Old Testament expert, and you don’t know that salvation is not a matter of something you do, but it’s a matter of what God does in giving you life? Do you remember Ezekiel 11 where God says in verse 18, ‘When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. And then I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statues and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God’?” In other words, “They will become My people, I will become their God, when I wash them from detestable things and put a new spirit in them.”
In Ezekiel 36 – this is just an incredibly important portion of Scripture – verse 25. This is speaking about the new covenant, verse 25. Listen to Ezekiel 36. This is God promising salvation to Israel and to all who believe: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
Do you notice there in verse 25, “I will, I will.” In verse 26, “I will, I will.” In verse 27, “I will.” And finally, “you will.” “I will wash you,” – that’s the water. “I will put My Spirit within you,” – that’s the water and the Spirit.
This is not obscure in the Old Testament. Even the prophet Jeremiah a couple of places, but I’ll show you one in chapter 31; says essentially the same thing. Chapter 31, verse 31: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I’ll make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,” – the new covenant, which was ratified, of course, by the death of Christ – “and not like the covenant I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, not the Mosaic covenant of law which they broke. But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel in the future. I will,” – here it is again – “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. I will. I will. I will. I will.”
Apostate Judaism had thought that religion was to be achieved on the outside, the exo part of human identity. And God had all along said that, “I am going to wash you from your sins and put My Spirit within you. You must be born of water,” – the water of cleaning, the washing of the word Paul calls it – “and the Spirit must be placed in you to renew your spirit. You should know that. You’re a teacher of Israel, you don’t even know the new covenant promises.”
Then a second line of reasoning, verse 6. Nicodemus should have known this: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. You should know that Nicodemus. You should know that. You should know what Paul says in Romans 8:8. He says, ‘Those in the flesh cannot please God.’ You should know that.”
Why should Nicodemus know that? Well, he could go back to Genesis: “My Spirit will not always strive with man, because his flesh, he is flesh. Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” “Go back to Genesis. If you’re flesh, then all there is in you is evil.”
And God says in verse 13 of Genesis 6, “The end of all flesh is before Me; for the earth is filled with violence.” He says in the previous verse, “All flesh has corrupted their way on the earth.” Job 15:14, “What is man, that he should be pure, or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” Psalm 51, “I was brought forth in iniquity, in sin my mother conceived me. I was sinful from the beginning.” Listen to Isaiah 64: “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name.” Wow.
Nicodemus should have known that. He should have known that salvation was internal, not external, because of those new covenant passages. He should have known that man’s flesh can only produce flesh. He should have known that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9. He should have known Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then neither can you who are evil do good.” Nicodemus had in the Old Testament a doctrine of human depravity that should have told him no man from his flesh could produce anything to honor God. Nicodemus should have known those passages about the new covenant, the washing, and the granting of a new spirit and the Holy Spirit.
“So, Nicodemus,” – look at verse 7 – “do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ You shouldn’t be shocked. It was all there. You’re supposed to be the teacher in Israel, you should have known this.” So we see Nicodemus worry. Then we hear the words of the Savior. And then finally we come to the work of the Spirit.
Verse 6: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Verse 8: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and from where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So now we know that this birth is not something that we partner with God in accomplishing. It’s something that comes down from heaven, God does it; and it is, in particular, a work of the Holy Spirit. And it is such a sovereign work, verse 8 says, that it’s like the wind.
Here’s another earthly illustration: “The wind blows where it wishes, you hear the sound of it, do not know where it comes from or where it is going.” In other words, “You can’t control the wind. The wind is from above. It is invisible, it is irresistible, it is uncontrollable, it is unpredictable, and so is the work of the Holy Spirit. And just as the wind is at the whim of God and irresistible, so the new birth is at the will of God and equally irresistible.”
What He’s saying here is not, “Pray this prayer, Nicodemus, and you can be born again.” He says, “Well, this is a work of the Spirit. This is all of God, and God does it when God wills.” In both Ezekiel and Jeremiah, it was, “I will, I will, I will, I will,” all the work of God.
Nicodemus said in verse 9, “How can these things be?” Wow, he’d just been taught – probably this is a cryptic representation of hours of conversation – he had been taught again from the Old Testament about flesh producing flesh. So he had gotten from the Lord’s lips Himself a doctrine of human depravity that made it clear to him that there was no possible way that flesh could please God. And then he had been told that all of his religion added up to zero, and he needed to be born from above; and that was not something he could do. This is the true condition of the sinner: totally depraved; unable, unwilling, and completely at the mercy of God.
So Jesus says to him in verse 10, “You’re the teacher of Israel and don’t understand these things? You don’t have a doctrine of total depravity? You don’t understand the flesh? You don’t understand that God’s salvation’s not some external religious activity, but it’s a transformation that washes away your sin and gives you a new heart and plants the Spirit of God within you?”
This shouldn’t have been new. But the fact that Jesus says a couple of times, “Truly, truly,” meant that He was bringing it to Nicodemus as something he didn’t ever really know. What’s Nicodemus’ problem? Verse 11: “Truly, truly,” – again; here’s something new again – “I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we’ve seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
He says, “You’re not a believer. You’re not a believer, Nicodemus; that’s a problem. You’re not a believer. You don’t even understand these things. I’m trying to give you earthly illustrations, but you don’t move from the earthly illustration to the heavenly reality. The problem is you don’t believe My testimony.” Verse 11 indicates Nicodemus is not a true believer: “You do not accept our testimony.” Verse 12: “You do not believe. That’s your problem, you don’t believe.”
Verse 13: “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up,” – and He’s talking about His cross – “so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” So there is a reality that applies to the sinner. And what is it that the sinner must do? What? Believe. Believe. Believe.
This is just shocking. This is a man who has worked his whole life to get into the kingdom – religiously, morally – and he is not in or close. And with all that achievement, Jesus says in verse 15, “Whoever believes in the Son of Man will have eternal life.” This is literally the worst possible news or the ultimate legalist: “You have wasted your life.” “All your righteousness is” – what? – “filthy rags.” Paul called it excrement. He was the only other Pharisee who gives his testimony in Scripture.
This is just crushing to people trying to earn their way to heaven. And worse, not only are they not in the kingdom, but God offers the kingdom to those who have done nothing to earn it. And we’re right back to where we were last week, right? “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Whoever believes. Why? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Most familiar verse in the Bible. You knew we’d get there, right? Don’t look to Moses. Don’t look to Abraham. Don’t look to the temple. Don’t look to the law. Look to Jesus. Look to Jesus.
“For God did not send His Son” – verse 17 – “into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Go to the end of the chapter, verse 36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Verse 12: “Believe, believe.” Verse 15: “Believe.” Verse 16: “Believe.” Verse 17 indicates that salvation comes through Him to the one – verse 18 – who believes, who believes. You can’t earn your salvation.
So what about the rest of the story? We don’t see any comment now from Nicodemus. What happened? Well, let’s go to chapter 7; I’ll give you the rest of this story briefly.
So verse 40, conflict among people over Jesus. “Some of the people were saying, ‘He’s a prophet.’ Others, ‘This is the Christ.’ Others, ‘Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee.’” They were arguing over the identity of Jesus, that He wouldn’t come from Galilee.
“Has not the Scripture said that He comes from the descendants of David, and Bethlehem, the village where David was? So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. Some of them wanted to seize Him,” – that is to arrest Him and take His life – “no one laid hands on Him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and said to them, ‘Why did you not bring Him? Why didn’t you just arrest Him?’ The officers said, ‘Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.’ The Pharisees then answered them, ‘You have not also been led astray, have you?’” The police couldn’t even arrest Him they were so transfixed by what He said.
Verse 48: “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” What’s that saying? Well, if the Pharisees who are the most religious of all didn’t believe in Him,” – and none had at this point, including Nicodemus – “why should anybody believe in Him? They’re the experts.”
“But this crowd which doesn’t know the Law is accursed.” In other words, they looked down on the hoi polloi. Then we see this, verse 50: “Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, ‘Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he’s doing, does it?’” A year before our Lord’s death now, so two years have passed, and Nicodemus has not been born from above. But now he’s defending Jesus against the Pharisees’ desire to take His life. He’s not yet a believer, but he’s not part of the Pharisees either.
Verse 52, they mocked him: “They answered him, ‘You’re not also from Galilee, are you?’ – this is a joke – ‘Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.’” Mockery and sarcasm against the teacher, rich and powerful member of the Supreme Court. So two years have gone by and now he’s defending Jesus.
So how does this story end? Go to chapter 19, verse 38 – so wonderful. This is the burial of Jesus after His crucifixion. “After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.” Joseph of Arimathea is a true believer in Jesus, secret that he kept because he was afraid for his life. Pilate gave him the body of Jesus.
Look at verse 39: “Nicodemus,” – oh – “who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
Two men buried Him: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Joseph of Arimathea of the rich, also a Sanhedrin member, but not a Pharisee. He had been born from above. And then Nicodemus showed up with seventy-five pounds of spices. That was a volume of spices fit for the noblest of people – powdered rosin with aloes and fragrance, sandalwood smell to cover the odor of corrupting flesh. He is now a new creation. He is bold. He’s not afraid anymore, and neither of Joseph of Arimathea. They’re not afraid. They go to Pilate, they want the body. They’re not afraid of Pilate, they’re not afraid of the Jews. Somewhere between John 7 and 19 heaven came down on Nicodemus.
What about the rest of the rest of this story? Well, tradition says Nicodemus gave a defense of Jesus at his trial before Pilate. Tradition says that Nicodemus was baptized by Peter and John. Tradition says that his confession of the Lord Jesus as Savior led him to be deprived of his role as a Pharisee. He was excommunicated, and he was dismissed and banished from Jerusalem by hostile Jews.
Tradition says that his family was reduced to utter poverty, so severe that there’s a charming story about his daughter. And his daughter, on behalf of the family, they were so poor, was reduced to the shame of digging in the dung piles to find grain to eat. The daughter of Nicodemus is approached by a rabbi who sees her looking for seeds in the dung pile and asks who she is, and she replied, “I am the daughter of Nicodemus,” to which the rabbi supposedly said, “What happened to your father?” and the girl says, “He followed Christ and was banished,” and the rabbi refused to helped.
Photios, centuries later, refers to an ancient document that records that Nicodemus was martyred for his devotion to Christ by being beaten to death by a mob. Now that’s tradition. I have good news for you: ask him when you get to heaven.
Heaven comes down, and God makes sinners new. It’s a divine miracle. We contribute nothing. All we can do is believe, right? Cry out to God, “Lord, give me faith, give me life.” There’s not a formula, a formula prayer you pray. Cry out to heaven, that God would grant you life and repentance and faith.
Father, we thank You for the time that we’ve been able to be together today. It is the most sacred of all times because we bow our knees to Your sovereignty, and You speak to us through Your Word. We thank You that You save sinners, not on the basis of anything that they have done, but when they have recognized they are utterly undone, when they come to the point of spiritual emptiness and bankruptcy and cry out with that publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
May every heart, every soul, every mind recognize that we will live forever in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of darkness, kingdom of hell – pain unending – and that the kingdom is only available to those to whom You give life from above. All the sinner can do is pound his chest and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Grant me life. Grant me faith. Grant me repentance.”
We have the promise that whoever comes to You, You will never turn away. Those promptings to come to You are promptings that You initiate. So where those desires rise in the heart, it’s Your Spirit at work. Bring people into Your kingdom. Give them life from above. May they believe in Christ, the Holy One, the Son of God, Lord and Savior, crucified and risen from the grave; and in believing have eternal life. Help us to have opportunity to proclaim the glories of the new birth that You have taught us from Your Word.
I pray, Lord, that You will bless this precious congregation of people. Give them open doors to talk about what it means to be born from above. And may they be instruments that you can use as even the Lord spoke to Nicodemus. May they find people with whom they can share the gospel. And may You be gracious to open hearts. That’s our prayer, for Your glory alone. Amen.
Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, but is this holiday becoming so politically incorrect that one day it will be doomed to be sent down the “memory hole”?
There is a war on American history. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Antifa and other leftwing groups toppled more historical statues. Tyler O’Neil of PJ Media (11/28/20) describes the extent of this vandalism, which included the spray-painting of anti-Thanksgiving messages and statues torn down in Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, and Spokane.
Statues that were toppled or defaced included George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and William McKinley.
It is interesting to note, during these anti-Thanksgiving melees, that George Washington was the first president to declare Thanksgiving as a holiday—a time for the nation to thank God for us having been able to create the Constitution. And Lincoln was the first president to make Thanksgiving an annual holiday.
This weekend’s vandalism, of course, comes a few months after the toppling of all sorts of American historical statues, including Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, and even abolitionist Frederick Douglas. The war on America as founded continues unabated.
One of the emphases on last week’s new spate of American history-bashing seemed to focus on a grievance of some Native Americans. There was a push for what they called “a national decolonial day of action” and what they called “land back.”
O’Neil explains: “’Land back’ seemingly refers to The LANDBACK campaign, a Native American movement supposedly fighting ‘white supremacy.’ The campaign calls for the dismantling of the ‘white supremacy structures’ supposedly responsible for removing Native Americans from their lands.”
America has never been perfect. Injustices have been done. On the other hand, we have made great strides to address many of these past sins. Meanwhile, notes O’Neil, “the nefarious message of Marxist critical race theory suggests we should upend society in order to satisfy historical grievances in the name of racial justice. This toxic vision undermines the very real progress America has made in terms of establishing civil rights regardless of race and in terms of securing broad prosperity through a free market economy.”
Recently, I spoke with a Native American pastor to get his thoughts on the Pilgrims and American history for a television documentary. Rev. Billy Falling, author of My Cherokee Roots, does not agree with those who denigrate the founding of America for all the bad things that did indeed happen—later—to Native Americans.
For example, Rev. Falling said of the Pilgrims, in whose honor we celebrate Thanksgiving: “The Pilgrims did have good relations with the Indians. The Pilgrims were kind to the Indians. They showed them love. They showed them compassion. They showed them the godly way to live.”
Falling added, “As a Native American, I thank God for the Europeans that brought us the Gospel and brought us Western Civilization.” He said that the Indians need the Gospel as much as any group of people: “We owe everything to those who brought us civilization and brought us out of the cannibalism and out of all of the sins of the flesh that were practiced in the day just like the heathen of the world. It’s hard today to find a ‘sweat’ where you can go as a Native American and go inside and ‘smoke out your sins,’ but it’s easy to find Native Americans in any congregation in the United States, worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ because of the Europeans. And I thank God for that.”
The war on American history does not bode well for our future. Tens of millions of young Americans are brainwashed into thinking America is evil and always was evil.
In his nightmare vision of a totalitarian future, “1984,” novelist George Orwell speaks of history constantly being rewritten by the state in order to satisfy those in charge. That history which was no longer acceptable to the Party was sent down the “memory holes” where it was to be burned away in “the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.”
Orwell adds, “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”
Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel, once noted, “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”
Those of us who appreciate what God has done in the creation of America have a lot of work on our hands to try and convince a lot of young Americans who have been brainwashed by Marxist assaults on American history in our schools that our history, flawed as it is, is worth preserving. Abolish Thanksgiving? No thanks.
The verse that we’re going to look at is 2 Corinthians 5:21, 2 Corinthians 5:21. It says this: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The Bible makes it clear, first of all, that all people are sinners by nature and by action. In fact, all people are sinners from birth. And thus, all people are born alienated from God who is holy, cannot look upon sin, cannot fellowship with sinners. That alienation because of sin prevents us from knowing God. He is too perfectly holy to have anything to do with sinners, except to reject them. Now the result of that rejection, the result of that alienation in time is Godlessness. The result of it in eternity is hell.
So this alienation in to which every human being is born is indeed a serious issue. It means that everybody lives their life without God and if they die in that condition, will spend their eternity without God in torment. Now, that kind of reality proves that the most deadly virus in the world is not the HIV virus, it is the SIN virus. Like the HIV virus, it kills everyone it infects. Only unlike the HIV virus it infects everyone. It kills not just in time but in eternity, it kills not just physically but spiritually. There is no cure for the HIV virus, but thankfully, there is a cure for the SIN virus. In fact, God has made it possible for sinners to be cured so thoroughly and completely that they can be reconciled to God and have eternal fellowship in His presence.
And that is the good news, that is what Christianity preaches, that’s the gospel. There is a cure for the SIN virus so that the hostility between people and God can end now and forever and sinners can be reconciled to Holy God. In fact, if you look back at verses 18, 19 and 20, you see several times the word “reconciled” in one form or another. Verse 18 says, “God who reconciled us to Himself.” Verse 19, “That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” And at the end of verse 20 we call on sinners to “be reconciled to God.” This is the good news, friends. This is the great news that you don’t have to live godlessly in time and you don’t have to live godlessly in – in eternity.
You don’t need to suffer through this life without God and to suffer eternal torment without God in the life to come. Reconciliation is possible. But that brings up the question; how? The apostle Paul has been talking about the ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to God and now we preach reconciliation. He mentions the ministry or reconciliation in verses 18 and 19, and then in verse 20 he mentions it by saying, “We are ambassadors for Christ, we go out and we preach to sinners that they can be reconciled to God.” That’s our ministry. That is the good news.
But the question then comes up; how can that be? How can such a reconciliation take place? How can an absolutely and utterly holy God who is infinitely pure and perfect ever be reconciled to sinners? How can He do that who is too pure to look on sin or to fellowship with transgressors? How can God satisfy His just and holy law with a condemnation of sinners by full and deserved punishment and still show them mercy who deserve no mercy? How can God end the hostility and how can He take sinners into His holy heaven to live with Him forever in intimate communion? How? How can both justice and grace be satisfied? How can love toward sinners and righteousness come together? To put it in Paul’s words; how can God be just and a justifier of sinners?
The one verse I just read you explains how. Fifteen Greek words and these 15 Greek words translated into English carefully define and perfectly balance the mystery of reconciliation. They show us the essence of the atonement. In fact, in the one verse that I read you is the heart of the good news. In that one verse is the most powerful truth in Scripture because it embraces and explains how sinners can be reconciled to God. Here is where the paradox of redemption is resolved. Here is where the mystery is solved. Here is where the riddle is answered. Here is where we find how holy justice and perfect love can both be satisfied, how righteousness and mercy can embrace each other. And the truth of this one brief sentence solves the most profound dilemma of how God can reconcile with sinners.
Well, needless to say, having said that you are aware that there’s a lot in this verse. We have to search carefully through this cache of rare jewels and stop to examine each one of them with a magnifying glass in order to understand the richness. Now, as you look at this verse together I want to point your attention to four elements, four features of the text that unfold its significance: the benefactor, the substitute, the beneficiaries and the benefits. That really sums up how God can reconcile sinners.
Let’s start at the beginning, the benefactor. The verse begins, “He made” – stop there. Now, if you’re a Bible student the first question you’re going to ask is to whom does “He” refer? The answer comes quickly. Look one word back at the end of verse 20. God. God is the antecedent. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf. The point is it’s God’s plan. He’s the benefactor. God is behind the whole reconciliation plan. He designed it. He worked it out. He brings it to fruition. It is His plan. This is a very crucial perspective and you’ll see why as I comment on it.
There could be no reconciliation unless God initiated it. There could be no reconciliation unless God activated it. There could be no reconciliation unless God applied it. He has to design it and He has to execute it. It cannot come from any human source. Nothing man could do, nothing man could not do could produce reconciliation with God. It isn’t anything we do or don’t do. In fact, all of our efforts in the religious realm amount to filthy rags, the Bible says.
The world is literally filled with religion and all of that religion, apart from Christianity, is man producing a plan with the aid of Satan in which he can initiate reconciliation with God. That is the fatal flaw of all world religions no matter what name they come under. Romans chapter 3 says, verse 10, “There is none that does good, there is none righteous, no not one; there is none that understands; there is none that seeks after God.” Nobody, absolutely nobody.
Now, you would think if there was anyone who could have devised the plan most aptly and pull it off it would have been the Jews, since after all, the Jews were the people of the true God, Yahweh, Jehovah. And God gave to them the law and the prophets and the covenants and the adoption and all of the things that Romans 9 mention. They had the revelation. They had the Old Testament and to them even salvation was given. Salvation is of the Jews, of them and to them came the Messiah. If anyone could have devised a system by which they could have achieved reconciliation, it would have been the Jews. But they failed. And in Romans chapter 10 Paul comments on the failure by saying, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God is for Israel for their salvation.” They have not achieved it.
They haven’t achieved reconciliation with all their religiosity, with all that they received by way of divine revelation from God because they believed that somehow this reconciliation depended on them and, therefore, they’re not saved, “I bear them witness” – Paul says in verse 2 – “they have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge so not knowing about God’s righteousness they seek to establish their own.” That’s what false religion is, in a word, it’s the religion of human achievement. But they never can accomplish it because the only way that reconciliation could ever occur is if God reached out to sinners. And He did.
It was God who made Him who knew no sin to be sin. It was God’s plan. He designed it, He initiated it and He executed it. So that Jesus went to the cross not because men turned on Him, though they did; Jesus went to the cross not because seducing spirits orchestrated the minds of the religious leaders of Judaism to plot His death, though they did; Jesus went to the cross not because an angry mob screamed for His blood, though they did. Jesus went to the cross because God planned it. God purposed it. And God designed it as the absolutely necessary means by which and by which alone reconciliation could take place.
That’s why Jesus said, “I came into the world to do the Father’s will.” That’s why in John 18:11 He said, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given Me?” meaning the cup of wrath. That’s why in Hebrews chapter 10 the Lord Jesus is quoted as saying, “A body Thou hast prepared Me and I have come to do Thy will, O God.” That’s why in Acts chapter 2 when Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached to the population of Jerusalem, many of whom had been screaming for the blood of Jesus and been guilty of calling for His execution, Peter says to that crowd, “You have killed the Son of God by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” In other words, you did your evil deed but it was all in the plan of the Father.
Only God could call the second member of the trinity to become incarnate and come into the world and humble Himself and take on the form of a man and be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Only God could ask that of Him. Only God could design an atonement for sin that would satisfy His justice because only God knows what it takes to satisfy His justice. Only God knows what propitiates His wrath. We don’t know. Only God could decide how His own infinite holiness, intense hatred of sin and inflexible justice could be perfectly satisfied without destroying the sinner in that satisfaction.
Only God could know what it would take to make a sinner acceptable to Him so that that sinner could escape eternal hell and live in the very presence of God in His own house. Only God could determine how the spiritual nature and the supreme authority and the unchangeable perfection of His law which is holy, just and good could be completely satisfied and the lawbreaker completely justified and rightly and purely forgiven and accepted, though fallen, guilty and depraved. Only God could bring all of those components to reconciliation. Only God knew what it would take. Only God knew how to solve the dilemma. Only He knew what would satisfy His righteous requirement. Only He knew how He could spend His wrath so that wrath was consummated. Only He knew what it took to bear the burden of sin, to endure the punishment of His fury, only He knew.
And so while the world may call the gospel and the work of Jesus Christ foolish, foolishness, it is to those who believe the wisdom of God, is it not? It may seem foolish to the world but it is the purest and profoundest wisdom that the infinitely holy God could devise a plan consistent with His infinite holiness to reconcile utterly wicked sinners, only God. So God is the benefactor. God is the benefactor. He is the one who made the plan, He is the one who must execute the plan. That is so important, beloved, absolutely important. It all flows out of this great reality. “God so loved the world” – right – “that He gave.”
And that is exactly what Paul says in different terms in Romans chapter 5 verse 8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died in our place.” It all came out of God’s love. “While we were enemies” – verse 10 says – “we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” And God initiated it because He loved us. “God” – Ephesians 2:4 says – “who is rich in mercy for the great love wherewith He had loved us” – has granted us salvation. God loves sinners. That’s why in Colossians chapter 1, the apostle Paul says, “Thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Only God knew what the qualifications were. Only God could qualify us. He was the only one who could know the standard. And thanks to Him, for He delivered us from the domain of darkness. He transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
That is exactly why the apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 1 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” It was the Father who chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. It was the Father who predestined us to the adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. Everything is through the praise of His glory. It is He who freely bestowed on us salvation in the beloved, who gave us redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, etc., etc. It was the Father who designed to lavish on us all wisdom and insight and all riches of grace.
Listen. This is very different in the religions of the world. The religions of the world basically operate on a premise of fear that God is an angry, hateful or indifferent God who could really care less about the prosperity of beings who grovel around underneath Him in this world. And so the goal of most all religions is to somehow appease an otherwise hostile and angry God. Somehow, they have to devise a system if they’re going to be reconciled to God so that He doesn’t crush out their life and punish them eternally. They’re going to have to appease this God. And so they are busily inventing systems of appeasement by which through certain religious ceremonies or through certain religious duties and actions or certain good works they can somehow appease this deity and somehow hold back His deadly fury.
On the other hand, Christianity proclaims a God who loves, who loves so much He is a Savior, God our Savior who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. We have a God who doesn’t hate but a God who loves sinners and has Himself designed a way for them to have fellowship with Him forever and ever. We don’t have to appease God. God loves the sinner. And God in His love provides the sacrifice and wonderfully and graciously and freely and magnanimously and eagerly offers the gift of forgiveness. This is the good news. The good news is you don’t have to appease God. The good news is you don’t have to figure out a plan of – of reconciliation. The good news is you don’t have to somehow work out your own righteousness. The good news is God is the benefactor. He knows what satisfies His righteousness and His holiness. He has effected that satisfaction. The price of sin has been paid and He now offers you forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s the gospel.
Now what did it take? It took death because, as it says in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 18:20, the person who sins will die. As it says in Romans 6:23 in the New Testament, “The wages of sin is death.” God knew what the requirement was. The requirement is death and God may that abundantly clear throughout the whole Old Testament economy. Because the Jews spent most of their lives, of course, either coming from or going to a sacrifice. They had to continually massacre animals, millions and millions and millions of them to deal with sin, to show the people how wicked they were and how sin required death.
It wasn’t that those animals took away their sin. They didn’t, they couldn’t. But what they demonstrated to the people repeatedly was that the wages of sin is what? Is death. Death, death, death, death, death, death. And every time they would sin it was back to another death, back to killing another animal. And they were wearied of that and longing for the ultimate Lamb who once and for all would take away the sin of the world and end this carnage. The animals were symbols that God’s law can only be satisfied through death and made the people long with all their hearts for a final substitute, a final substitute.
Well, the Father sent one and He didn’t come reluctantly. Not at all. He said, “No man takes My life from Me,” – in John 10 – “I lay it down of Myself, I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again.” He willingly did not hold on to what He had a right to grasp, but let go of it and condescended to die. So if there was to be reconciliation, the plan had to come from God, He had to initiate it. He had to design it. He had to execute it.
Second thing you see in this text – first the benefactor who is God, second the substitute. And the substitute is identified. “He made Him who knew no sin.” That’s the identification of the substitute. Who is it? Him who knew no sin. Let me tell you something, folks. That narrows the field to one. Him who knew no sin, who is that? It’s not a human being for there is “none of them who is righteous, no not one. They’ve all sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. There’s no human being who qualifies. Who is the one who knew no sin? Who is this one? Who is the one who can bear the full wrath of God against sin for somebody else because He doesn’t have to bear it for Himself?
See, no sinful person could be a substitute, no sinner could die for another sinner because he would have to pay the penalty for his own sin. There had to be a sinless offering. And it had to be a human being because it had to be man who dies for man. But he couldn’t be a sinful human being or he would have to die for his own sin and couldn’t provide atonement for somebody else’s. So it had to be a sinless man. Well, the only way to have a sinless man was to have a man who was God because God alone is sinless. So if you’re going to have a sinless man you have to man – have a man who is God.
And that’s exactly what God designed. That the second member of the trinity, sinless and perfect, equally holy with the other two members of the trinity would come into the world in the form of a man. He was not to have a human father. Joseph was not the father of Jesus and Joseph knew it. Joseph had never known his wife in a conjugal way. He found out that she was with child. He couldn’t believe it. And then the angel said, “That which was conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit.” so that Jesus had a human mother that He might be a human, but God was His Father so that He was the God/Man, the sinless human being.
The Old Testament pictured that because when the lamb was selected it had to be a lamb without what? Spot and without blemish. It had to be a perfect animal without a mark, picturing the real substitute who would be perfect. A man to die for men, God to be sinless so that indeed He could be a substitute. In Revelation chapter 5 there is a marvelous picture and it points up the fact that no one is qualified except Christ. In Revelation chapter 5, we go to heaven and we’re in the throne room of God. And God is on the throne and in His hand He has a scroll, sealed with seven seals. This is a title deed to the universe, this is looking at the future when God gets ready to take His universe back from Satan and sin, from the one, Lucifer, who fell and usurped the rulership of this universe.
And so God is holding in His hand, as it were, in this vision the title deed to the universe. Verse 2, John is watching in his vision, he sees a strong angel proclaiming with a loud verse and the angel says this, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And verse 3 says, “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. And I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it.” There wasn’t anybody. There was not one individual in the created universe, man or angel, who could step forward and execute the contents of this book. No one. And John began to weep. No one to take back the universe from Satan.
In verse 5, “One of the elders said to me, `Stop weeping, behold the lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the root of David has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’” Somebody is worthy. Who is it? “The lion from the tribe of Judah.” That’s a – that’s a man, out of the tribe of Judah. That’s a Jew, from the tribe of Judah.
But He’s also the root of David. Not the branch, not something that came out of David but what produced David. That’s God. And in what form is He? Verse 6, “A lamb slain.” There’s only one who is worthy to take back the universe and that is the one who was born a Jew, in every way human but the one who was God, the very source from which David came, the one who was the slain lamb. God then had to create a unique virgin-born God/Man in order to be the substitute because the plan demanded a substitute. Justice had to be satisfied. The law had to be vindicated. Wrath had to consume.
So Paul says to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time came God sent forth His Son born of a woman,” – Wow! Why? – “in order that He might redeem those who were under the law.” Galatians 4:4 and 5. Jesus Christ then, is the one who knew no sin. Him who knew no sin is Christ. And the testimony of everyone, historically, affirms that. You can go to the pagan world, start there. Jesus says in John 8:46, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” Silence and there is still silence.
Hear Pilate in Luke 23, Pilate, cynical, vicious, cruel, ungodly, pagan, idolatrous. Pilate said in verse 4 of Luke 23 to the chief priests and the multitudes, “I find no guilt in this man.” Verse 14, again – again he said it, “I have found no guilt in this man.” Verse 22, and again the third time, he said to them, “Why? What evil has this man done, I have found in Him no guilt.”
Listen to the thief on the cross, “We indeed suffer justly,” – he says to the other thief – “We’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Listen to the testimony of the centurion who watched it all in verse 47, “Certainly this man was innocent.” It wasn’t just unbelieving people who saw His perfection. How about the apostles? John who was with Him day – day and night for three years, John who followed His every footstep and heard His every word and saw His every act and maybe felt His every breath as he leaned on His breast as often as he could. It was John who said in His epistle, 1 John 3 verse 5, “In Him there is no sin.” And John said we were eyewitnesses of it.
And then there was the writer of Hebrews who affirms the very same reality when he says in chapter 4 of verse 15, “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but one who has been tempted in all things as we are tempted, yet without sin.” And in chapter 7, the writer of Hebrews says, “He was holy, innocent, undefiled and separate from sinners.” And then there was Peter who preached in Acts 3, and he says of Christ, “You have killed the prince of life,” and he calls Him a holy and just one.
And then you remember, it was Peter, especially Peter, who said of Christ that He was “a lamb” – 1 Peter 1:19 – “unblemished and spotless.” who said of Him in chapter 2 of that same epistle in verse 24, “He bore our sins in His own body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. But He” – verse 22 – committed no sin.” And then in chapter 3 in verse 18 of that same epistle, “God died for sins, the just for the unjust.” Now the testimony of unbelieving men was of his sinlessness. The testimony of those who knew Him best was of His sinlessness.
But there’s another who gave testimony and that testimony is indeed powerful. It was none other than God the Father Himself. At His baptism, recorded in Matthew 3:17 the Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am completely pleased.” And at His transfiguration in Matthew 17 verse 5, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am completely pleased.” You see, the Father was totally satisfied with the Son. There was nothing in the Son that dissatisfied the Father, He was perfect, sinless.
And maybe the greatest testimony of His sinlessness was the unbroken fellowship He had with God. “I and the Father are one.” I and the Father are one. He said that many times. He says that in John 10 verse 30. He says it in John 14 verses 30 and 31. He says it repeatedly in John 17, He says it in verse 11, He says it in verse 21, 22, 23, we’re one, we’re one, we’re one, we’re one, we’re united, we’re united. That was the greatest testimony of His sinlessness was that He had absolutely unbroken communion with God. Now had He not been man He couldn’t be the substitute. Had He not been sinless He couldn’t be the substitute. So He had to be man and He had to be God.
Notice our text again, “God made Him who knew no sin,” – here is the remarkable statement – “to be sin.” You see, He had to punish sin but if He punished the sinner the sinner would be destroyed in hell eternally. So He had to take the substitute and put Him in the place of the sinner and punish the substitute instead. He had to be sin. That phrase is very important and I want you to grasp it. What does it mean that He was made sin? That’s an astounding statement. What does it mean?
Well, first of all, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean and you need to understand this clearly. It does not mean that Christ became a sinner. It does not mean that He committed a sin. It does not mean that He broke God’s law. He did not do that. The Scriptures I’ve just read to you indicate that He had no capacity to sin. That’s what theologians call the impeccability of Christ. He had no possibility to sin. He could not sin. He was sinless God while fully man. And certainly it is unthinkable that God would turn Him into a sinner. The idea of God making anybody a sinner is unthinkable, to say nothing of making His holy Son into a sinner.
Well you say, “Well what does it mean then that He was made sin?” Isaiah 53 introduces it to us. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried.” Verse 5, “He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. And the chastening that fell on Him was because of us.” Verse 6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” He didn’t die for His own sins, He died for what? For our sins. What it means is the Lord took all of the iniquity of all of us and it fell on Christ.
What do you mean? It wasn’t His sin? No, it was our sin. What is it saying? Simply this. God treated Christ as if He were a sinner. How? By making Him pay the penalty for sin though He was innocent. He paid the penalty. God treated Him as if He was the sinner. More than that, God treated Him as if He sinned all the sins of all who would ever believe. Is that incredible? Sin, not His at all, was credited to Him as if He had committed it and paid the price. And He didn’t. But it was credited to Him as if He did. That – listen – is the only sense in which Christ was made sin, and the word is He was made sin by imputation. Sin was imputed to Him, it wasn’t His, He never sinned. But God put it to His account, charged it to Him and making Him pay the penalty.
It would be like some – it would be like all the sinners in all the world charging all their sin to your credit card and you having to pay the bill. Imputation. Listen. The guilt of the sins of all who would ever believe God, all who would ever be saved was imputed to Jesus Christ, credited to Him as if He were guilty of all of it. And then just as soon as God had credited it to Him, God poured out the full fury of all His wrath against all that sin and all those sinners and Jesus experienced all of that.
Is it any wonder at that moment He was alienated from God and said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was treated as a sinner. He was treated as a sinner deserves to be treated, with all the fury of just punishment. Let me go further. He was treated as every sinner cumulatively deserve to be treated and all the fury was poured on Him. He was personally pure, He was officially guilty. He was personally holy, He was forensically guilty.
Look at Galatians chapter 3 verse 10. Verse 10 says, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse.” All right, you want to try to earn your way to heaven? You want to try to reconcile yourself? You want to keep certain works? Do certain religious duties? Ascribe to some moral law or ceremonial law? You want to achieve your own righteousness? You’ve got a problem. All of you who try to reconcile to God through works, through what you do are cursed. Why? Because it says in Deuteronomy, “Cursed is everyone who doesn’t abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them.” You know why that curses you, that approach curses you? Because the first time you violate one law you’re damned. It just takes one. Cursed is everyone who doesn’t keep all that is written in the book of the law.
So if you’re going to try to reconcile yourself to God through human effort, every time you try to do that you put yourself under a curse because it only takes one violation. So the whole human race is cursed. And everybody in every religion on the face of the earth trying to achieve reconciliation by their own efforts is cursed. All this curse of iniquity has to be paid for. There has to be a penalty for this curse. So verse 13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse by being made a curse for us.” Wow!
That’s the point. He became a curse for us. He took the full fury of God’s wrath on our behalf. God placed Christ in the path of the curse and trampled Him with exhausted judgment. And again, I remind you, that it is imputation that is crucial to understanding reconciliation. He became sin by imputation. Our sin was imputed to Him – follow this – just as believers become holy by imputation – you remember that – being given His righteousness. Let me say it another way. Christ dying on the cross did not become evil like we are, nor do we by virtue of the cross become as holy as He is.
You say, “Well what happens?” It’s imputation. God puts sin to Christ’s credit, our sin, and puts Christ’s righteousness to our credit. It’s not that we are so righteous God is satisfied. It’s that because the penalty is paid and the guilt has been met that God can credit to us the righteousness of Christ. That’s – that’s the gospel. The only sense in which you are made righteous through justification is by imputation. And that’s the same sense in which Christ was made sin. He is made sin because God credits our sin to Him. We’re made righteous because God credits His righteousness to us.
Listen. I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian, I am not so righteous that as I am I can stand before a holy God. Are you? I’ve got a lot of sin in my life. And I would say if I got anywhere near God what Peter said, “Depart from Me, O Lord, for I am” – What? – I’m still sinful.” But God looks at me and does not consider me on the virtue of my human morality. He considers me on the virtue of the imputed righteousness of Christ which covers me. This is the point. Well, the benefactor is God, the substitute is Christ and by imputation receives our sins and dies for them, taking our place.
Thirdly, the beneficiaries. And these last points are brief. Thirdly, the beneficiaries. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin” – here it is – “on our behalf.” On our behalf. Who you talking about, Paul? Who is “our”? Well, it’s the same as the “we” in verse 20. “We are ambassadors.” It’s the same as the “us” in verse 19, “He committed to us the reconciliation ministry.” It’s the same as the “us” in verse 18, “Us who have been given this ministry.” Who is this “our, we, us” group. Well, they’re in verse 17 described, “Any man who is” – What? – “in Christ who is a new creation, old things passed away and new things have come.”
There is a transformation. There is a new creation at salvation. There is. We are transformed. We are changed. But even with that change, we wouldn’t have sufficient righteousness to satisfy a holy God. And so He has to cover us in the righteousness of Christ to make us acceptable until He can get us to glory and we’ll be made righteous. And it is for us, us who are in Christ then, us who have been reconciled that He died. He died in our place. The actual substitution in its efficacy was for believers, those who would believe. He died for our sins. He died for us. He died in our place.
The final point, the benefit. And what did He provide us? “In order that,” – this is the purpose of it – “we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” See, there’s that imputation. What is the benefit? We become righteous before God. This is what justification does. And the righteousness that we are given is the very righteousness of Christ.
Listen to what Paul said in Philippians 3:9. “We are now found in Christ not having a righteousness of my own,” he says. Not some righteousness derived from keeping the law, “but a righteousness through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God.” Wow! It’s imputed to us. He’s holy, God imputed sin to Him. We’re sinful, God imputes holiness to us. The very righteousness which God requires to accept the sinner is the very righteousness which God provides. When God looks at you He sees you covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s why all your sin is automatically forgiven in the eternal sense because Jesus already paid the penalty, right? God can’t hold you responsible for your sin, Jesus paid the full penalty for it, took the full fury for it.
You say, “Well what about the sins I commit after I’m a Christian?” Well He paid – died for those too because you weren’t even born when He died. They were all future. In fact, He is the lamb slain from before what? The foundation of the world, before even the creation. The plan was for Him to die for all the sins of all who will ever believe. This is the righteousness that Romans 3 talks about. “It’s the righteousness of God” – verse 21, “apart from the law.” Verse 22, “It’s the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” – for all those who believe.
And that’s the key. How do you get in on this? Believe. Believe what? Believe that you’re a sinner, believe you’re in a desperate situation, you’re desperately alienated from God. Believe that you have no hope of reconciliation and you will in this life live godlessly and in the next life you will suffer eternal torment. And believe all of that. And then believe that God sent His Son into the world in the form of a man to die as your substitute and take your place and that He took the full fury of the wrath of God upon Him.
And believe that the affirmation that God’s justice was satisfied was the fact that God raised Jesus – What? – from the dead. And when God raised Him from the dead He was saying, “I am satisfied.” And then God exalted Jesus to His right hand where He sits at the right hand of God on the throne and God says when that was done, when He offered Himself and satisfied My justice, I gave Him – Philippians 2 “a name which is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee in the universe must bow and every tongue must confess that Jesus is Lord.” That’s what you believe. That’s the gospel.
And when you believe that by faith, simply believing that, God in His mercy takes the righteousness of Jesus Christ and imputes it to you because your sins were imputed to Christ when He died on the cross. The Father knew you were there when the Son died. Your name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world and the atonement that Christ made was for you. And you come to believe and you receive the imputed righteousness. And then you live in this life with God in your life and in eternity in the presence of God in absolute perfection. That’s the gospel. That’s Christianity. That’s it.
The benefactor is God, it’s all His plan, it comes out of His love. The substitute is Jesus Christ who took your place, the perfect God/Man. The beneficiaries, all of us for whom He died, those who will believe. And the benefit – you receive the righteousness of God imputed to you as if you were equal to Jesus Christ in holiness. And someday you will be made holy. But until then you’re covered with the righteousness of God in Christ. And it becomes yours through faith. Believe, repent, put your faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we come to You at this time and ask that everyone of us might look into our hearts and be sure that we have been reconciled to God. Thank You for giving all of us the ministry of reconciliation. Thank You that You have not only reconciled us but called us to cry to others, “Be ye reconciled to God, it is available, it is possible. God has made a way.”
And we cry that to sinners here this morning who have not been reconciled and we ask, Oh, God, that You would prompt their hearts to believe and to repent, turning from their sin and saying, “I want forgiveness for my sin, I want the hope of heaven, I want God in my life, I want to be reconciled.” Oh, Father, I just pray that Your Holy Spirit will work that marvelous miracle of reconciliation in hearts today. And we thank You for bearing our sin and for letting us bear Your righteousness. This is all overwhelming and we are unworthy, but grateful.
Speak, Father, to those hearts who do not know the Savior, who have not been reconciled and draw them to Yourself. And may they have confidence in the words of Jesus who said, “Him that comes to Me I’ll never turn aside.” And we ask that sinners might come today and in faith embrace the righteousness provided for them by the one who bore their sin. We thank You in Christ’s name. Amen.
The problem with so many Christ-claiming celebrities is that they don’t actually believe Jesus is King. It seems Kanye does.
Oct 30, 2019
Kanye is starting quite the conversation, a conversation that has Christians, non-Christians, white people, black people, Democrats, and Republicans all engaging for different reasons. Is Kanye really converted? Does his affinity for Donald Trump take away from his impact, or aid it? Is this a phase that will fizzle out? Is his album objectively good? Or are his lyrics just refreshing?
While questions like these are worth asking, we can make observations about his newly released album “Jesus Is King” without having all the answers. One fact that simply cannot be overlooked is the truly countercultural message in Kanye’s lyrics — one that is essential to the message of the gospel but so often left out of pop-culture claims to Christianity that ultimately fall flat.
That message is hard to miss: Jesus is King. Kanye weaves this theme throughout his lyrics, and now throughout his life.
Culture Promulgates a Weak Version of ‘Christianity’
How does this differ from other professing faith-filled celebs? To recall an opportune example, consider Bachelor Nation’s beloved Season 15 Bachelorette “Alabama Hannah” Brown. Hannah talked about her faith and being a Christian consistently throughout the show, and although it was unfortunate that the infamous sex “accusation” occurred courtesy of the most universally hated bachelor on the show, Luke P., Hannah revealed her worldview is no different from other celebrity, in-name-only Christians.
When Luke confronted her, however narcissistically, about the possibility of her having sex with one or more of the few remaining bachelors, the conversation escalated to Hannah dismissing Luke from the show. When he all but refused to leave, Hannah replied, “I have had sex … and Jesus still loves me.”
She’s not wrong. She did have sex, and Jesus still loves her. Good theology, Hannah. But her remorseless attitude perfectly encapsulates the flagrantly unbiblical worldview of countless pseudo-Christian celebs. Upon Luke’s exit, she continued, “I didn’t just go to the Fantasy Suite, I f-cked in a windmill. And guess what? We did it a second time,” before winking at the camera, her face in an ear-to-ear grin.
I’m not here to beat the dead Hannah B. horse. She is merely symptomatic of our culture’s exceptionally weak notion of what passes as “Christian.” As Refinery29 put it, Hannah is “a devout Christian who praises Jesus Christ in her Instagram bio.” Really? Is that all it takes to call oneself a Christian these days?
Real Christianity Results in Obedience
Pop culture icons tend to appeal to Christianity only insofar as it broadens their appeal to a Christian base. As soon as it seems not to benefit their wallets anymore, their faith doesn’t seem to be all that active. Not that keen spectators can’t see the reversal coming, for their faith doesn’t result in any identifiable fruit.
Often, the only evidence of Christianity is simply an Instagram bio — directly above an erotic pose in Calvin Klein underwear. Or in an interview soundbite — promoting an explicit new album. Or in a gaudy cross tattoo or necklace — stuck somewhere amid cleavage. These icons are Christians in name only. Not in understanding, not in message, and not in obedience.
Kanye’s theology isn’t perfect. “Excuse me if I mispronounce anything,” he says. “I am a recent convert. It means I recently got saved within this year.” But the gospel isn’t complicated. (In a sentence, as Pastor John Piper articulated, “The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy.”) Children can understand it. And Kanye has grasped the transformational aspect of the gospel that so many haven’t.
As my friend put it, “[Kanye’s] passion for simple obedience is just so contagious.” It’s true. His simple obedience is evidenced in his lyrics, in his calls for modesty, in his warnings against premarital sex, in his denouncing of unbiblical public policies, and in his parenting goals.
Raise our sons, train them in the faith
Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake
Follow Jesus, listen and obey
No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave
Stand up for my home
Even if I take this walk alone
I bow down to the King upon the throne
My life is His, I’m no longer my own.
Whether Kanye is truly a Christian or not is something only he and God know. But one thing we do know is that a person can’t be a Christian if he doesn’t believe and live by these simple truths.
That’s the problem with so many Christ-claiming celebrities: They don’t actually believe Jesus is King. It seems Kanye does.
Kylee Zempel is an assistant editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @kyleezempel.