"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5v21
Through January, we'll be thinking about the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. One aim is to see more of his glory and greatness, as that is one of the ways we are changed as individuals and as a church community (2 Cor. 3v18).
Paul tells the believers in Corinth that he has a "message of reconciliation" (5v18), and that this reconciling takes place "in Christ" (5v19).
Reconciliation takes place when a broken friendship is mended. Our friendship with God has been broken by sin. When we put our trust in Christ - when we trust our whole lives to him - he is able to mend our friendship with God, so we can know Him and come near to Him. Jesus is able to do this for "the world" (5v19), for all kinds of people.
How does he do this? Jesus lived a sinless life, so that he could die carrying the sins of other people, and cover those people with his sinless life.
1. Jesus lived a sinless life - "he knew no sin"
If you travel on a train, you'll have other people around you. Sometimes, you'll have lots of people around you, crammed into a carriage! And yet you might not know any of them. You'll have people all around you; see and hear them; yet none of them will be known to you. They'll be strangers to you.
That's how Jesus was with sin. It happened around him. He witnessed it taking place - for example, he heard people lying about him at his trial. But he never made friends with sin. Sin was a stranger to him.
Jesus was "one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4v15) How did he manage that? Was he like a stone, unfeeling and detached?
No! When asked what were the most important laws, Jesus' answer was that you must love God with everything you are, and love people with everything you do. He was sinless here, too! He wasn't unfeeling or detached - he was always loving, and demonstrating the fruits of love in his behaviour towards people.
So in his humanity, Jesus was just like us, and tempted just like us! But where we failed, he succeeded. Where we gave up, he kept going. Where our love grew cold, his kept burning. Where we sinned, he remained sinless.
But why is this important?
2. Jesus lived a sinless life, so he could die carrying the sins of other people - "For our sake, (God) made him to be sin"
When Jesus Christ died, he did so on behalf of all those who trust in him. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." (1 Peter 2v24) On the cross, Jesus was being punished, but not for his own sins, for he had none. Instead, he took the place of all those who trust him with their lives, and he died for their sins.
Jesus lived a sinless life so that he could die for the sins of others - so that our sins could be put to death without us being put to death.
We'll consider this more next week. But there was another reason Jesus lived a sinless life.
3. Jesus lived a sinless life so that he could die carrying the sins of other people, and cover those people with his own sinless life - "so that we might become the righteousness of God in him"
What is "righteousness"? In a nutshell, it is doing and being what God says is right. As our creator, God has written our instruction manual. He made us, and so He is the only one with the authority and insight to define the right and best way for us to live.
By rejecting His way, and following our own way, we have all sinned, lost our righteousness, and lost our friendship with God. In order to regain that friendship, we must regain that righteousness. But where can we find a perfect righteousness that pleases God?
God Himself tells us at the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus is baptised, God speaks from heaven: "You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased." (Luke 3v22) Jesus is the perfectly pleasing Son of God. He is the one with the righteousness we need.
When Jesus dies, a big swap takes place. He carries our sins, and we receive his righteousness. We are covered by his sinless life.
As an illustration, I recently bought some very soft, warm dressing gowns for a couple of my sons. When one of the boys was wearing it the next day, he said "I feel like a rich man when I wear this!" You might relate to this - sometimes, at a hotel or a health spa, you'll find a dressing gown put out for you, which is really thick and soft, and makes you feel important!
Jesus provides us with a luxurious robe of righteousness! We are covered by his sinless life! This means that when God looks at you, he sees the righteousness of Christ. In a sense, He says "you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."
God doesn't take this view because you've done better today than yesterday (but perhaps tomorrow His view will change!) He doesn't take this view because you've finally reached His standard of perfect righteousness in the way you live, nor because He's lowered that standard since you became a Christian.
He takes this view because of what Jesus has done - because Jesus not only died in your place, but also lived in your place. In a sense, Jesus died carrying your sins, but he lived carrying you. You are covered by the sinless life of Christ.
How do you receive this covering? By faith. Paul writes of "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Rom 3v22) and the righteousness "that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philp 3v9).
So, Jesus lived a sinless life so that he could die carrying the sins of other people, and cover those people with his sinless life. So how should this affect our everyday lives?
Firstly, it encourages us to be bold for Jesus - God will never lead you along a path and then leave you stranded! You are safe in the sinless life of Jesus. We can be courageous in our praying, our sharing, our living, knowing that God will never brush us aside because we didn't quite get it right. God is with us - who can be against us?
Don't be crushed by your sins. When you fail, don't waste time deliberately detaching yourself from God and His people until you think you're good enough to return. Instead, repent and believe that God accepts you as His child because of Christ's sinless life, not your's, and get straight back on with following Jesus as an individual and as part of a church community.
Be obedient for his glory, not your own. Paul removes the option of being selfishly selfless - of doing things for God's glory so that we can hold on to our salvation. Instead, Paul writes that we are to be controlled by the love of Christ (5v14) and living for his sake, not ourselves (5v15). We follow him not to receive glory from him but to give glory to him.
We cannot supplement the already-perfectly-obedient life of Christ that covers us, but we can magnify it through our reliance upon it, and in doing so give Jesus glory.