2 Corinthians 5:21
For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
1. These are bold words of Paul. So much so that the great majority of interpreters are tempted to alter them. For "sin" they take the liberty of reading "sin offering." I suppose if Paul had meant sin offering he could very easily have said so. The ideas conveyed by "sin" and "sin offering" are exceedingly different. No man carefully expressing himself would now use the one term, when he intended to give the idea contained in the other. We know no man without sin. He who has had no experience of sin, has not had a human experience. If Christ had been man in every other respect, but without being in some way conversant with sin, men would not have felt the power of His sympathetic love reaching to the worst extremities of their case. The problem is clear enough; Christ to establish His thorough sympathy with my heart must be conversant with sin, which forms so very large a part of my experience; and yet to deliver me from sin He ought to be above it, and in no way involved in its entanglements. He knew no sin, and He was made sin. Here Paul affirms as real those very two things that I have felt to be a necessity.
2. Let us try and find our way through this difficulty, and understand some of the important conclusions in which we may be landed. The difficulty may come up in three different forms.
(1) As an intellectual difficulty; arising from the apparent impossibility of the infinite entering into the experience of the finite. Christ is not the manifestation of the infinite and absolute, which in its infiniteness is incapable of being manifested. he is the manifestation of all that is intelligible and conceivable in God, which can be pictured to the mind.
(2) There is the moral difficulty we are necessitated to consider. How then is it morally possible that the sinless should have the experience of sin? Here careful reflection is necessary. The experience of sin, so common to men, is more complete than may at first seem. There are. three things to be carefully distinguished in it.
(a) There are all those inducements that lead to it, and that may for a long time be operating on the mind before its commission.
(b) Then there is the deliberate, wilful act of sin, which for the most part is momentary; and
(c) There is that long course of sorrow, in numerous forms, which flows out of sin.Into how much of this can the sinless enter? Into the deliberate determination and act of wrong, it is clear that Christ the sinless cannot enter; nor can He have the slightest sympathy with it. But this forms the very least part of the experience of sin; and in every case, as we may see, forms the greatest barrier to all sympathy. But the inducements to sin, the prompting occasions and influences, as they are not in themselves morally wrong, becoming so only when they are wilfully ripened into action, in themselves arising from weakness and suffering, into all these the sinless can enter, without the least moral contamination. I admit that Christ could not Himself feel any inclination to do wrong; therefore neither could He personally feel the difficulty of resisting.. But He could feel for those in whom that inclination and difficulty are greatest. His feelings can go with us up to the point of actual commission, where our guilt begins. Can we not see at once the truth of this? There may be strong temptations to a child that are none at all to an adult. That does not prevent a parent from entering into the difficulties that beset his child's path. In Christ this sympathy was immensely strong, so strong that we can scarcely realise its power. So too was His experience of the general condition of humanity wonderfully deep and comprehensive. Hence into all this experience of sin He could enter sinlessly, to an extent that would make the realisation of temptation in Him far greater than in any one single human being. Then again on the same grounds He could enter as fully into all that after experience of sin in bodily sufferings and bitter mental agonies, with which we are all so well acquainted. He could enter into these because they are not themselves morally wrong; and though He could not know personally the reproaches of conscience and the dreadful remorse of a soul under self-condemnation, He could enter into it all, and that most intensely, through that strong sympathetic love and that perfect knowledge of our human condition which we know Him to have possessed. Still in putting this view before thoughtful men, I have found them clinging yet to the notion that Christ's sympathy and temptation could not be perfect without His actually committing wrong, being a sinner, and overcoming it, which leads me to another remark or two.(i.) It might be so if sin (actual) were a misfortune that we could not avoid, a calamity and woe in which we were plunged against our will. Then our sympathising Saviour would go with us there. And I think the difficulty greatly arises from taking that view. But sin is not that. It is a deliberate intentional act, which at every point we are perfectly conscious of the ability to avoid. Temptation is not doing wrong. Many men are most powerfully and sorrowfully tempted in those cases in which they triumph. It would not lessen the reality of that temptation if they should conquer in every case. Nor does it in Christ who enters perfectly into our temptations so far as they are suffering and wrestling; but who cannot go with us, even in sympathy, when we turn the temptation into actual crime.(ii.) As a matter of fact, it is by no means true that we either get or expect most sympathy, as sinners, from those who have committed most crimes. Quite the opposite. Nothing so destroys sympathy as wrong doing. And that for a very obvious reason. Every commission of crime destroys the sensibility of the soul and makes us comparatively indifferent both to the suffering of temptation and to the after sorrows which form so large a part of the experience of sin. All our instincts as sinners teach us that it is not in the guilt of another that we shall find the ground of his sympathy with us; but quite apart from that, in the moral tenderness of His nature (which the commission of sin destroys), and in that general humanity of disposition which enables him to make another's case his own. This is just what we see so wonderfully manifest in Christ. we may say then that it is His entire freedom from sin in act that gives that fine tone to His sympathy.(iii.) I only add one remark on the practical view of the matter. If you can feel the force of what I have put before you in removing objections, then you can unhesitatingly fall back on the simple narrative as it stands in our Scriptures. And in doing that I may confidently assert that as a matter of fact we do in our deepest sinfulness feel the sympathy of the sinless Jesus, as we feel no man's sympathy.
3. I have now only briefly to notice the concluding part of this verse. The entire power of Christianity over us rests in the love, or the loving sympathy of Christ, towards and with us; just that which we have been looking at. It is the love of a holy Saviour to us, that breaks our bonds, that gives us hope that all evil may be conquered, and strengthens us to enter upon the warfare. Most beautifully has Paul put this fact into its sublimest form, when we thus understand his words. Christ the sinless, he teaches, came down into the midst of our sinful humanity, took it and us into his warmest heart of love, became conversant with all the forms of sin that oppress us and make us miserable — though without ever allowing Himself to be in the least degree conquered by them. Herein He awakens our hearts to love, He strikes to the very depths of the soul with His loving sympathy, till His conquest over us is complete.
(S. Edger, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.