2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2
The apostle Paul was writing to a company of believers in Corinth, and he wanted them to understand more fully something of the greatness of the gospel. And so he gives them here the essence of it. To me there are four things that stand out.
The first thing is that God is not reckoning our offences. We have got a God who is favourable. He loves us. He wants us for Himself. He knows our offences, but He is not reckoning them against us. And then we have got this statement that “Him Who knew not sin He has made sin for us.” It speaks of what Jesus has done. And then the wonderful outcome of those that trust in Him, that we become God’s righteousness in Him. And a fourth thing is, “Now is the well-accepted time; behold now the day of salvation.” I want to speak about those four things because they are right at the heart of the gospel. And I am going to start with this one: that God is not reckoning our offences against us. He knows about them, He sees them. He sees right into our hearts. He sees everything we have done. There is nothing that can be hidden from Him. I will prove it to you, if you like. This is a quite true story. There was a man who lived, I think, in Devon – he was a christian. And one day he felt that the Lord was telling him to go to Folkestone. He did not know quite why he was going to Folkestone, but he felt that was what he had been told to do. There is a mystery about these things sometimes, but he felt that was what he should do. So he got in his car and he drove to Folkestone. When he got to Folkestone, he felt he was being sent down the road to the harbour. When he got to the harbour, he was given the idea that he was to meet somebody off the ferry from France. And so he parked the car and he got down somewhere where he could see passengers coming off the ferry. And sure enough the ferry came in and cars started to stream off, and then there were a few foot passengers. One man was there with two heavy cases and a rucksack on his back that was quite full, and he came off the ferry and started to walk up, towards the bus stop or something I suppose. And this man felt this was the person he was told to meet. So he went to him and said, ‘Can I help you with one of those cases?’ Of course, the chap was very pleased to have somebody take one of these heavy cases. So they walked on for a little bit. Then this Christian said to this person he met, ‘I think I have a message from God for you.’ And immediately there was a reaction, where this man swung round and swore at him and said, ‘I have come all the way from France to get away from people like you!’ I do not know what happened in the end. The brother who told me that story did not know. But there you are, it proves to you that you cannot hide from God. God had watched that man leave France, leave his house or whatever in France to get away from persons who obviously were speaking to him about the Lord and affecting him in his conscience. He came to England and what did he find? He found someone waiting to do exactly the same thing. Why? Because God had got His eye on him. You cannot hide from God!
David found that. He said, ‘If I go to the bottom of the sea, if I hide anywhere, I cannot get away from Your presence’ (Psalm 139:7-12). You cannot hide under the bed, you cannot hide in a cupboard: it does not work. God sees you wherever you are, and He knows exactly what you have done. But the wonderful thing is that, although He knows exactly what we are like, what our sinful history is like and everything that we may have done that is wrong, He is not holding it against us.
There was a report in the paper a few weeks ago that the police were only getting convictions for 5%, or some number like that, of the crimes that were reported. Some of them they did not even bother to investigate. Some of them they could not get enough evidence to get a prosecution. As a result, those things just got recorded somewhere and they were left. Sometimes, perhaps, they did not even get recorded.
God is not overlooking offences like that, you know! He is not just ignoring them because He thinks they do not matter: ‘Everybody is doing that’; or ‘we cannot get any real evidence’, or any of those sort of excuses. No, God is not reckoning our offences, because He wants to forgive us. He wants to bring us into a relationship with Himself, and He wants to do that because He loves us.
Adam and Eve committed the first, and probably the only sin they could commit – because it was the only thing they had been told not to do. God had told them not to eat of the fruit of a certain tree. That was the only sin they could commit. It was the only thing God had told them not to do.
Perhaps you think you might have been able to keep that. Well, they could not, and neither could you or I. When they did that and ate of that tree, it brought in a distance between themselves and God – because that is what happens when we sin. Isaiah tells us, ‘Your sins have separated you from God’ (Isaiah 59:2). That is why the children of Israel had got into such a mess by the time Isaiah prophesied: your sins have separated you from God. Adam and Eve found it at once. Why did I say, ‘at once’? Because immediately they became afraid of God. God had come down to speak to them before, I suppose. He came down in the cool of the day to commune with Adam and Eve.
Why? Because He wanted to have a happy, holy relationship with them. And then they sinned. And what happened? They had to hide. And it tells us they did the best they could to cover up what had been exposed. There they were. They saw they were naked, and so they got some leaves and made themselves aprons with them. Just before we came out, I happened to look out of the window, and there was a tree there in the front garden and the leaves were coming off it by the dozen in the wind. And I thought, yes, you could get them together, and sew them up a bit, but they would not make a very effective covering. They did their best, but it was not good enough, you see. It was not good enough for God.
There is nothing we can do to put right our sins. Paul could have told you that God was not reckoning offences, because he knew it in his own life and he could tell you in his own life that there was nothing that he could do to deal with the offences that he had committed. Paul had tried every way, you know. He lists some of the things that he counted in his favour before he came to Christ. He says he was, as to the law, blameless. He was of the Pharisees, and he could trace his genealogy and all those sorts of things (Phil 3:5-6). And he said that he had kept the law. Of course, he had not actually, because nobody can keep the law. Nobody loved God with all their heart and mind and soul until Jesus came. Nobody did, nobody could. Nobody loved their neighbour as themself until Jesus came, and He did. He went to the cross for you and me. He loved us. He loved His neighbour as Himself.
We do not love our neighbour as ourselves. I have probably told you this before, but one night Monica and I woke up in the night and we heard water pouring out of somewhere. And so I got up and I went to see whatever it was, because you could hear this stuff splashing on the path that was between the two houses. When I looked out of the window I saw that there was water pouring out of the house next door, from the roof, and splashing on the ground. It must have been a burst water tank or something, the volume of stuff that was coming out. What did I do? I went back to bed, and I said to Monica, ‘It is all right, it is next door.’ Did I love my neighbour as myself? Not a bit of it! Could I? No!
There was a man called Wolston – he was a great preacher in Scotland at one time. He illustrated it in a rather different way. He said, ‘If I love my neighbour as myself and I go along and I find a beggar, and he has got nothing and I have got a hundred pounds, what must I do? If I love him as myself I must give him fifty. And then if I go along the street and I find another beggar I must give him twenty-five: I have got fifty pounds left, and I love him as myself; I must give him the half of it. And he says, why, you will soon be ruined! Yes, exactly. It cannot be done, you see. You cannot love your neighbour as yourself. But Jesus did, and He came in to show the love of God in giving Himself as the perfect offering to meet the need that we had.
The gospel starts off with God not reckoning our offences. He knows about them, but He is not holding them against us. He knows all about them, but He wants us to be reconciled to God. It says here, just at the end of verse 20, “be reconciled to God.” But immediately – how can you do it? You cannot do it! You cannot keep the law. You cannot make restitution for the sins of the past – probably you cannot even remember all of them! What can you do? And the answer is, what God has done. And He has provided One: “Him Who knew not sin He has made sin for us.” Who was that? That was Jesus. Jesus was absolutely without sin. It was proved over and over again in His life. The final proof of it, you know- the most dramatic proof of it, I suppose – was what happened to Him in that trial before Caiaphas and that trial before Pilate and the indignities and cruelty that were heaped upon Him by persons there. Think of it! It tells you things like, they covered His face and they hit Him and said, Prophesy to us, Christ, who struck Thee? That was just one of a long pattern of cruelties and indignities that were done to Christ.
What was the result with Him? Did He curse them? Did He hate them? No! There was the most wonderful demonstration of divine love when He was there on the cross and He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). If ever you needed a proof of the love of God, think about that prayer.
Some people will tell you – and I have heard people say this – some people will tell you that if the Lord Jesus had not prayed that, then God would have swept the scene in judgment. But that is not true! When the Lord Jesus said those words they were exactly the things that God wanted said. You see, the Lord Jesus never, ever moved apart from the will of the Father. He went to the Cross to fulfil the Father’s will. In some mysterious way the Father was with Him even at that moment when He was crucified. In the garden, when His own fled and left Him alone, the Lord says, “yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me” (John 16:32).
And the Father was with Him all through that trial, that mockery in Caiaphas’ palace, that mockery that went on when Pilate presumed to judge him, that mockery that went on when they gathered against Him the whole band and put a crown of thorns on His head and the purple robe. (Mark 15:16, Matt 27:27).
The Father was with Him every step down that road to Calvary’s cross, and He was there until the Lord Jesus was actually made an offering for sin, and at that point He was forsaken. He was forsaken because that was the moment when the Lord Jesus – He who was sinless, He Who, as it says, was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners” (Heb 7:26) –took the burden that was due to you and me.
The real suffering of the Lord Jesus at Calvary was not what happened when they nailed Him to the cross, was not what happened when they put a crown of thorns on His head and when they scourged Him. Those things were horrible and painful, I quite agree. But the real suffering, and greatest suffering, that the Lord Jesus endured was the fact that He took the burden of sin that was due to you and me, and as a result He was forsaken of God.
He had never known what it was to be alone. The Father was with Him in everything, up to that moment, and the Lord Jesus knew what it was to be absolutely alone. And yet He went that way, He went that way that we might understand how truly God loves us. Because that is right at the back of the gospel – it is the reason for it. It is the fact that God loves us and He wants us to be in just the sort of relationship that He intended with Adam and Eve, a holy, happy relationship, and sin had come in and ruined it.
And God says, ‘That may have happened there, but I am going to put it right, and I am going to put it right – how? – by the gift of the Son.’ “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him may not perish, but have life eternal” (John 3:16). So that we should be brought back into relationship with God.
There is a very interesting story told about a man called Dwight Moody. He was a great preacher in the nineteenth century. He preached in the United States, he preached in England, and he preached in various other places. Huge numbers of persons came to trust in Christ through that ministry. Quite early in his life, when he was perhaps relatively unknown in the States, somebody went to the church where he preached, which I think was in Northfield, a man called Harry Moorhouse. And Harry Moorhouse said to him, ‘I have come to preach in your church.’ And Moody said, ‘Oh, have you? Well, I say who preaches here. You are not going to push yourself in here, you sit and listen like everybody else.’ Well, that went on for a week or two, and then Moody went away to attend a conference and he was away for three weeks. And the church elders said to Harry Moorhouse, ‘If you still want to preach, you can preach while Moody is away.’ So that is what happened, every night of the week for three weeks. And Moody comes back and he says to his wife, ‘What has been happening while I have been away?’ and she tells him that Harry Moorhouse has been preaching. And she said, ‘He does not preach like you do, he preaches that God loves sinners.’ And Moody’s immediate reaction was, ‘Well, he is wrong, and I am going to tell him so tonight.’ So she said, ‘Well, you come and listen to him tonight – he is preaching tonight in the church, and you come and listen and you see what you think.’ So Moody goes down there quite determined to put this young man right. Harry Moorhouse had preached, every night of those three weeks he had preached from the same part of Scripture, and it was that verse in John 3:16 – “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.” And Moody heard him preach again on that text, and perhaps through the preaching, but perhaps more as a consequence of seeing the results in those who listened to the preaching, he came to realise that there was something very wonderful about the love of God, and that it was the love of God that actually moved persons in heart. And from that time it is quite well recorded that Moody’s style of preaching changed. He no longer took the gaslight out of its holder and waved it around and said, ‘This is the kind of flame that you will endure in hell’ – and this sort of thing. He gave up those kinds of dramatics. He realised, as is true, that what lies behind the gospel is the love of God.
Paul could tell you that, too. He says, “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). He talks about God being rich in mercy: he wrote to the Ephesians about that. He told them God was rich in mercy – what does he say next? “His great love wherewith He loved us” (Eph 2:4). It is the love of God. God loves you – He loves you as you are. He loves you even though you are a sinner, and He wants you to be able to come near to Him, to be reconciled to Him, so that you might be in the sort of relationship with God that He wants you to be – not afraid of Him, not just ignoring Him, but in a relationship of love and blessing.
But what did God do? He sent His Son. Paul knew that God did not count his offences. If Paul looked back on his life, he was ashamed of what he had done: ashamed of the way he had persecuted Christians, ashamed of the way that, when it came to Stephen being killed, he gave his vote, ashamed of the way he had dragged off people to prison because they were believers in the Lord Jesus. He knew that God had not held those offences against him. He knew what they were to be forgiven, and he knew the way they had been forgiven: not by his keeping the law; not by his turning over a new leaf; not by anything that he could do at all; but by trusting in what Jesus had done. “Him Who knew not sin He has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him.”
And that meant that the Lord Jesus had to go to Calvary’s cross, and there, in the wondrous ways of God, He bore the sins of all those that believe in Him. And He bore the whole question of sin as a principle, so that it might be put out of God’s sight for ever. And so there is this wonderful way of salvation. And you think about the price that was paid for it – “Him Who knew not sin He has made sin for us” – Jesus bore the penalty that was due to you and me.
You know what the penalty was if we died in our sins? That we come under God’s eternal judgment. Jesus bore that in relation to the sins of everyone who trusts in Him. We cannot begin to think of what it was. Scripture gives us little hints about it. It gives us things like that cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). It expresses something of the agony of mind and soul of Jesus as that happened, when His soul was made an offering for sin – Isaiah tells us that (Isaiah 53:10). The very inmost being of Christ offered for sin. What was it for? A measure of the love of God.
John could tell you about the love of God. He says, “Herein as to us has been manifested the love of God, . . . not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). And this was the way of it: this was the only way we could be reconciled to God.
And what a way it was, you know, because as trusting in the finished work of Jesus we become absolutely righteous – as righteous as Jesus is – so that we become God’s righteousness in Him, in Christ. And in that way, you see, God remains absolutely righteous and we become reconciled to Him.
God could never become reconciled to us in our sins. It could not happen. I will tell you why it could not happen. It would just lead to absolute chaos. There would be no order or anything. Nothing works without a certain amount of order. People tell you they want to do what they like. Tell them to try and play tennis without any rules and see what happens, see what sort of game you would have! You will not get much of a sport that way. Nothing works without some rules.
The wonderful thing is that, even when somebody has paid a fine perhaps on somebody’s behalf, then that matter is settled completely. And that is what Jesus has done. He has paid the fine, if you like, on behalf of everyone who trusts in Him. How safely you and I can trust in Him!
How safely we can find that we become reconciled to God through the death of His Son. This is the great work that our Lord Jesus accomplished. “Him who knew not sin He has made sin for us, that we might become . . .”, that there might be a way of absolute righteousness for you and me. Something we could never possibly get on our own.
Even in very simple terms, you know, you could not get it on your own – we do not even understand some of the wrong things we have done. We have wrong thoughts, but perhaps we do not think of them as wrong. We do not understand some of the holiness of God. Some of the things that God actually abhors, and yet we do them without thinking. Everything like that, everything cleared completely in the finished work of Jesus. And the way open to everyone to come into that blessed righteousness.
It is not only coming into the righteousness that the Lord Jesus gives to us by virtue of what He has done, but we come into a relationship with God. Far from being at a distance, far from being afraid of God and wanting to hide, we come into a sphere of things where we understand just what Jesus has done and the way that we have been cleansed. And we have been given the Holy Spirit as a testimony to us that our sins have gone, gone in the death of Christ. And, as a result, we can approach God without fear. We can approach God and know His love, know the blessedness of trusting in our Lord Jesus Christ.
You know, it is more than forgiveness. God did not intend to have – if you might put it this way – a group of pardoned criminals in His presence. He intended to have a group of people who were as righteous and clear of sin as His beloved Son.
God proved that the Lord Jesus had settled the whole question of sin on the cross, He proved that had happened to His own satisfaction by raising Him from the dead. Wonderful thing that the Lord Jesus was raised from the dead! You get something of the excitement of it at times when you look at some of the preachings of the apostles and the others that we are given in the Acts. They rejoiced that Christ was raised!
Paul said that “if Christ be not raised . . . ye are yet in your sins”. And he says if that is the case ye are the most miserable of folk (1 Cor 15:17,19). But there it is, Christ has been raised, and it is the great proof that God is fully satisfied with what He has done. We can trust in Him with absolute assurance of God’s favour.
When the Lord Jesus was here you see the joy that He had in administering blessing. Persons came to Him – lepers came to Him. He touched them freely. They had never been touched by anybody for years, since they had been diagnosed with leprosy – nobody dared do it. The Lord Jesus embraced them. When it was a question of persons who were demon-possessed, persons who were obviously deeply into sin and so forth, when they came to Him in their need, He welcomed them. He rejoiced to liberate them, to give them their freedom. And yet every time that He did that it was, as it were, another commitment that He was making to go to the cross, because if that sin was to be forgiven righteously Jesus had to bear the penalty.
Today He is just the same. He welcomes ‘whosoever will’. It does not matter what kind of background a person has got; it does not matter at all. That is the glory of the gospel. It goes out to ‘whosoever will’. And the Lord Jesus is able to meet the need of everyone who comes to Him. Not only is He able to meet it, He delights to do so. He delights in blessing, just as much now He is in glory as He did when He was Man on earth. And you can see how He rejoiced in making people well and cleansing persons, and healing them, and forgiving them. You can see that as you read the accounts. And the Lord Jesus is just the same today. His power is undiminished. He can meet the need of a sinner. We not only come into the most wonderful gift of righteousness, but we become as clear of sins as our Lord Jesus Himself.
There was a man who once got very troubled because of the sins he had committed after conversion. Well, it is not a free ticket to sin as you like, but the simple fact is that every sin that we ever commit whether before we were converted and after, every one of them is dealt with perfectly before God by our Lord Jesus Christ. How perfect His salvation is! How glorious it is to trust Him! How blessed and wonderful to know such a Saviour!
Paul says, ‘now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.’ He is reminding people that – even though most of those that were going to read this were actually believers already – he is reminding them of the availability of Christ. He says, ‘Now it is.’ And it is important, that, too.
There was a man who used to come along occasionally to various meetings in Sevenoaks, and he was not the Lord’s. One Lord’s Day morning when I was walking down to the room I met him, and he said to me, could I tell him the way to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ hall, which was quite near to where our meeting room was in those days. So I said, ‘You know, you will not get any help going there. You come to the preaching. There is a preaching next Saturday, and I will come and collect you.’ He was separated from his wife, and they were living apart, and he was in a sort of common lodging house. I said, ‘I will come and collect you and take you over to the preaching,’ and he said, yes, he would come. Well, I went to collect him on the Saturday and I rang the bell, and no reply. I rang a few other bells and eventually got somebody. I said I was looking for my friend, and they said ‘No, we have not seen him’ (and they obviously did not care either). He did not seem to be around, so I very reluctantly gave up and went away. Sadly, what had happened was that he had been out that afternoon and got himself drunk, and he was taken ill on that Saturday night, and they eventually got an ambulance for him and he died on the way to hospital. I often thought of that, you know. A man so near, possibly, to coming to trust in Christ, and he missed it, missed it by a few hours. Missed it because he just got overwhelmed by the temptation to drink. Missed it because the number of times that he had come along and listened, and heard people speak to him privately, and he had just ignored it. And Paul says here, “now is the accepted time.”
There is a moment when things come to an end, and the offer of salvation for an individual may cease, and instead of coming into endless life through trusting in Christ, instead of coming to know God as Father, instead of coming to know the Lord Jesus as a friend, One who will be with you in all the journey of life, instead of coming into a situation where God will give you His Holy Spirit so that you have the inward witness that you truly belong to God, that you are truly one of His sons, that you are truly cleansed: you do not come into this blessing.
These are things that Satan often tries to overthrow people’s confidence in. He says, you have not repented properly, you have not believed perfectly. You have still got the same sort of sins going on at times in your life. Satan tells believers all those sorts of things, very often in the hope of shaking their faith. God has given you the Spirit so that you might have the witness within that you truly belong to God, that you truly are a son – He is the Spirit of sonship – that you truly have the forgiveness of sins. These are great things that the Spirit witnesses to us, and so defeats the attempt of the devil to overthrow our faith. He gives instead that confidence, that blessedness, and that knowledge that you have a life that goes on for ever, a life that lasts, a blessing that lasts – God’s blessings go on into the endless ages of eternity.
Every other thing turns to dust in the end. Rudyard Kipling said, ‘watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools’ That is what happens to so many ambitions and projects and so forth in this world: they turn to dust in the end and nobody knows or cares. But what God offers you is something that lasts. It lasts because Jesus lasts. It lasts because He lives. He lives eternally in the pleasure of God. You can live eternally for the pleasure of God, and in the sense of divine favour, as trusting in Him. You can do that with absolute assurance. That is what God wants, wants it to be. That is what He wanted from Adam. That is what He wants from you, and He has provided every means whereby you can come into it and know the wonderful blessing. God is sending out this message of His wondrous love and grace. What love it is! He gave His own Son. What love it is, and grace! –
“Grace . . . which carries with it salvation for all men”. (Titus 2:11). Grace, the grace of God. What could possibly be greater? And it is towards us tonight, and it is towards us for ever. It is toward us in that blessed One, our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise His name!
Hampton 25 November 2018