Sermon for March 14, 2010

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (Fourth Sunday in Lent—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

March 14, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Our text is the Epistle Lesson recorded in 2 Corinthians 5:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

         Down by 1 point with the time clock rapidly counting down the last few seconds, the forward took the pass from her teammate.  She put up the open jumper—the ball hit nothing but net!  2 points!  But the buzzer sounded before the ball left her hands.  The shot didn’t count. 

            He had taken a number of courses at a local college but decided that he needed to go to work full time.  A number of years later, he decided to return to finish his degree.  Things had changed so much in his field of study that the credits he had earned were not transferable.  His courses didn’t count. 

            Now let’s talk about something else that doesn’t count—sin.  What do you mean sin doesn’t count?  Since when?  Are you saying that it doesn’t matter if I sin; are you saying that I can sin as much as I want and enjoy it and it doesn’t matter?  Be careful!  There is a difference between not counting and not mattering. 

            Sin matters.  Its destructive effects and power over people are a big deal.  To sin means to do what God forbids, or not to do what He commands, or not to be as He wants us to be.  Every transgression of God’s Word is inseparably connected with guilt, of which you and I are all too familiar.  It is this guilt that continues to cling to our conscious long after the sinful act is finished.  So does this sin and guilt matter?  God says in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.”  Sin and guilt entails punishment!  In this case, it is death.  Essentially, death is separation—and it matters. 

            Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.  This is the condition of all people by nature.  In this state of unbelief there is no yearning, no longing for God, but all of our appetites and inclinations are toward sin.  The spiritually dead are separated from God, estranged from Him, accounting for all their griefs and sorrows, worries and heartaches, the restlessness and unhappiness, depression and despair of the human heart.  Sin matters. 

            Physical death is the separation of the body and the soul, the violent tearing apart of those two parts which God had joined together.  To this death we are subject from conception and birth.  Because of sin, people, who were created to live, is now born to die.  Our way through life is the way to the grave.  All bodily ills and evils, pains and diseases, toilsome labor and troubles are but forerunners of this final death.  Sin matters.

            Sin matters spiritually.  It matters physically, and it matters eternally.  Another consequence of sin is eternal death, the forever separation of people from the blessed presence of God.  It is not annihilation.  It is everlasting punishment, forever and ever and ever. 

            Clearly, sin matters to God.  It grieves His heart that people are lost in their sins to spiritual, physical, and eternal death.  But God is holy and cannot stand sin or sinners in His perfect presence.  He must punish sinners because that is what is demanded by His perfect justice.  “The wages of sin is death.”    “The soul that sins will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)  God has no choice because He is holy and just and sin matters.  So you and I and all people have sinned against God’s Word and deserve the punishment of death.  But we were talking about things that don’t count, and now sin is one of those things that doesn’t count?  How can this be?

Because sin matters and must be punished, the sinner ought to endure the punishment.  That would be the way that a holy and just God would have to render His judgment against sin.  But our holy and just God is also merciful, gracious, and loving.  All us sinners have transgressions, but God does not charge them (or count them) against sinners!  Say what?  He’s letting us off the hook?  We are being allowed to get away with doing what God forbids and failing to do the good He demands?  How can a just and holy God do that and still be just and holy?  We have a problem here, don’t we?  Not at all. 

God always loved the world He created.  The trouble is with the world, with us, with what our sins and transgressions have made us.  So God poured out His divine wrath and anger against the sins of the whole world.  He gave out His holy and just punishment of death for each and every sin of thought, action, desire, and talk.  He delivered the judgment against each and every sinner of all times and places.  And then God says to you and me, “Your sin doesn’t count against you because I counted it against My only Son.”  Jesus Christ took upon Himself our status and standing before God’s holy and just court.  Jesus was declared guilty of all the sin and evil in this world.  People’s sins were charged to the account of an innocent man—the incarnate Son of God Himself. 

We were wrong, we alone.  It was impossible to change ourselves, impossible to save ourselves from sin and guilt and death.  Only God could affect a change in us.  This, however, required the death of His Son in our place.  God reconciled us to Himself through Christ.  The sins and trespasses we accumulate had to be punished and removed.  Remember, God’s justice and holiness demands that.  Christ received their full punishment and removed each and every last sin and transgression by dying in our place, by making satisfaction for them with His blood. 

This changed the whole world of people in our relationship with God.  Then and there, at Calvary’s cross with Jesus suffering death and hell for the sins of the world, every sinner from Adam onward to the end of time was redeemed.  Forgiveness for our sins was purchased for us with the holy blood of Jesus poured out into death.  Because of what Jesus did in taking on our sins and their full punishment of death, God forgives, cancels our debt in His ledger.  He blots out the handwriting with the blood of Jesus in the same way that we would use a bottle of white-out to cover over our mistakes.  Because the holiness and justice of God has been fully satisfied by the death of Jesus, our Lord assures us, “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12)  Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for you and me, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) 

Many years ago a circuit court jury in Illinois convicted James Gibson, and 18-year-old high school senior, of voluntary manslaughter for stabbing his teacher to death.  The jurors fixed the punishment at one to seven years in the state penitentiary.  Then all went to shake his hand and wish him well.  Some embraced him, and one said, “God bless you, my boy.”  The farm-raised student, who had remained poker-faced during the 9-day trial, had tears in his eyes.  The jurors were moved to sympathy and compassion over the fate of the boy, but not one of them said, “Let me serve your sentence.”  But this is just what Jesus Christ did.  He served our sentence, dying a terrible death on the cross, suffering the agony of hell, and then rising victorious from the grave.  God now says, “It doesn’t count.  You are free; your punishment and your guilt have been transferred from you to Jesus.  You are free; you are forgiven.” 

In Christ, sin doesn’t count.  It has been paid for in full.  The punishment has been rendered.  God’s justice has been served by Jesus Christ in our place.  God has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.  He proves this to us as He raised Jesus from the dead.  Sins forgiven, guilt removed!  We are now the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus—freed from sin and death through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Amen.