The Heart of the Gospel
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. The heart of the gospel is redemption, and the essence of redemption is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. They who preach not the atonement, whatever else they declare, have missed the soul and substance of the Divine message. In the days of Nero there was great shortness of food in Rome, although there was abundance at Alexandria. A certain man who owned a vessel went down to the sea coast, and there he noticed many hungry people, watching for the vessels that were to come from Egypt. When these vessels came to the shore there was nothing but sand in them which the tyrant had compelled them to bring for use in the arena: Then the merchant said to his shipmaster, "Take thou good heed that thou bring nothing back with thee from Alexandria but corn, for these people are dying, and now we must keep our vessels for this one business of bringing food for them." Alas! I have seen certain mighty galleys of late loaded with nothing but mere sand of philosophy and speculation, and I have said, "Nay, but I will bear nothing in my ship but the revealed truth of God, the bread of life so greatly needed by the people."

2. The doctrine of substitution is set forth in the text. I have found, by long experience, that nothing touches the heart like the Cross of Christ. The Cross is life to the spiritually dead. There is an old legend that when the Empress Helena was searching for the true Cross they found the three Crosses of Calvary buried in the soil. Which out of the three was the veritable Cross they could not tell, except by certain tests. So they brought a corpse and laid it on one, but there was neither life nor nation, but when it touched another it lived; and then they said, "This is the true Cross."

I. WHO WAS MADE SIN FOR US? "He who knew no sin."

1. He had no personal knowledge of sin. Throughout the whole of His life He never committed an offence against the great law of truth and right. "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" Even His vacillating judge enquired, "Why, what evil hath He done?"

2. As there was no sin of commission, so was there about our Lord no fault of omission. He was complete in heart, in purpose, in thought, in word, in deed, in spirit.

3. Yea, more, there were no tendencies about our Substitute towards evil in any form.

4. It was absolutely necessary that any one who should be able to suffer in our stead should Himself be spotless.

II. WHAT WAS DONE WITH HIM WHO KNEW NO SIN? He was "made sin." The Lord laid upon Jesus, who voluntarily undertook it, all the weight of human sin. Instead of its resting on the sinner it was made to rest upon Christ. Christ was not guilty, and could not be made guilty; but He was treated as if He were, because He willed to strand in the place of the guilty. Yea, He was not only treated as a sinner, but He was treated as if He had been sin itself in the abstract. Sin pressed our great Substitute very sorely. He felt the weight of it in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the full pressure of it came upon Him when He was nailed to the accursed tree. The Greek liturgy fitly speaks of "Thine unknown sufferings": probably to us they are unknowable sufferings. The Lord made the perfectly innocent one to be sin for us: that means more of humiliation, darkness, agony, and death than you can conceive. I will not say that He endured either the exact punishment for sin, or an equivalent for it; but I do say that what He endured rendered to the justice of God a vindication of His law more clear and more effectual than would have been rendered to it by the damnation of the sinners for whom He died. The Cross is under many aspects a more full revelation of the wrath of God against human sin than even Tophet.

III. WHO DID IT? "He," i.e., God Himself. The wise ones tell us that this substitution cannot be just. Who made them judges of what is just? Do they say that He died as an example? Then is it just for God to allow a sinless being to die as an example? In the appointment of the Lord Jesus to be made sin for us, there was a display of —

1. The Divine Sovereignty. God here did what none but He could have done. He is the fountain of rectitude, and the exercise of His Divine prerogative is always unquestionable righteousness.

2. The Divine justice.

3. The great grace of God. God Himself provided the atonement by freely and fully giving up Himself in the person of His Son to suffer in consequence of human sin. If God did it, it is well done. If God Himself provided the sacrifice, be you sure that He has accepted it.

IV. WHAT HAPPENS TO US IN CONSEQUENCE? "That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Every man that believes in Jesus is through Christ having taken his sin made to be righteous before God. More than this, we are made not only to have the character of "righteous," but to become the substance called "righteousness." What is more we are made "the righteousness of God." Herein is a great mystery. The righteousness which Adam had in the garden was perfect, but it was the righteousness of man: ours is the righteousness of God. Human righteousness failed; but the believer has a Divine righteousness which can never fail. How acceptable with God must those be who are made by God Himself to be "the righteousness of God in Him"! I cannot conceive of any thing more complete.

(C. H. Spurgeon).

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

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