THE GOSPEL IN A VERSE – 1

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:21; Numbers 21:4-9

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV].

Here in one sentence is a summary of what Jesus did on the cross and what it means to us who believe – Jesus became sin so that we could become righteous. Today we will look at the first half of this verse.

What exactly does it mean that Jesus became sin? Jesus was the perfect man and God in one person, and never sinned. Jesus was tempted in all points like we are yet without sin [Hebrews 4:15]. He was the perfect Son of God, and yet the Father made Him to be sin for us. One of the great truths of

Scripture is that Jesus bore our sin, but even more than that, even though He never personally sinned He became sin. All the sin of every man was placed upon Jesus at the cross. There had been perfect, unbroken fellowship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit throughout eternity, but when

Jesus became sin for us the Father turned His face away. He is holy and cannot look upon sin. In that moment on the cross when Jesus became sin

He was separated from His Father and in great agony cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

On the cross Jesus became sin for us and took on Himself all the effects and penalty of sin. Not only did Jesus become sin, but “He became a curse for us” [Galatians 3:13]. In addition to becoming sin and a curse, Jesus also bore all of our pain and sickness [Isaiah 53:4 compare Matthew 8:17].

There is an Old Testament story that helps us to understand this amazing truth. As a result of Israel’s complaining the Lord sent fiery serpents among them and many people were bitten and died. In response to the cries of his people, Moses prayed, and the Lord told him to make a fiery serpent and put it on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a fiery serpent could look to the serpent on the pole and live [Numbers 21:4-9]. Jesus referred to this story saying, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:14,15]. The serpent on the pole was a foreshadowing of what happened on the cross when Jesus was crucified. Just as the people of Israel looked on the image of sin and curse in the wilderness, so we look to Jesus, the One who became sin and a curse for us, and as we believe on Him, so we receive salvation, deliverance, healing, and eternal life.

Questions:

Why is it important to understand that Jesus became sin for us, and in doing so bore all our sin, and the punishment that our sin deserved?

Why did Jesus cry out with a loud voice on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”

What do you think is the meaning of the statement, “Jesus was made a curse for us”?

A NEW CREATION

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV].

This is probably the best known and most quoted verse of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians. The verse begins with the word “Therefore” linking it to the verses that go before it. In the previous verses Paul made it clear that everything he and his companions did was to honour God. Christ’s love now controls our lives. Because Christ died for us, we also are dead to our old lives. Like Paul, we should no longer live to please ourselves, but to please Christ [verses 13-16]. This is the background to today’s verse.

The comments on this verse in the Application Life Bible are very helpful: “Christians are brand-new people on the inside. The Holy Spirit gives them new life, and they are not the same anymore. We are not reformed, rehabilitated, or re-educated – we are re-created [new creations], living in vital union with Christ [Colossians 2:6-7]. At conversion we are not merely turning over a new leaf; we are beginning a new life under a new master.”

We have a new nature! We are no longer controlled by sin. The old sinful nature is dead. We were crucified with Christ. Paul writes, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20] I have noticed that often when a person comes to Christ they are full of new life, but after a while, so many seem to lose that first love, that shine, that first thrill of knowing Christ? We are a new creation but the world and the devil want to persuade us otherwise. The words “he is” in “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation,” are alternatively rendered in the margin of some Bibles as “let him be”. Yes, old things have passed away and all things become new, but we need to be what we are, and not believe lies that tell us otherwise.

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” [Ephesians 4:22-24]. Even though we are a new creation we have to put off those old things that would pull us down and think with a renewed mind.

Elsewhere Paul also says, “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened” [1 Corinthians 5:7]. In simple language, you are a new creation, now be who you are!

Questions:

What part does the mind play in maintaining the new creation that we have become in Christ?

The lies of the devil and the spirit of this world would seek to turn us away from the truth that in Christ we are a new creation. How can we maintain our life in Christ?

AMBASSADORS OF JESUS CHRIST

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Yesterday we looked at the ministry of reconciliation and the importance not just of our being reconciled to God but also being in right relationship with others so that we could model the meaning of reconciliation to the world.

Paul continues this theme and says, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT]. An ambassador is an official representative on behalf of one country to another. In a similar way we are ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom and sent to the world. When we speak, we speak what He speaks. When we act, we act as His representatives. David Jeremiah says, “Christians are His head [the mind of Christ], hands [the works of Christ], and heart [the love of Christ] to those who need Him. And their message is this: be reconciled to God” [Taken from the margin of the Jeremiah Study Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:20].

In this context as Christ’s Ambassadors we are expected to represent Him well. As His ambassadors they will think more or less highly of Christ based on the effectiveness of His ambassador’s service. I often wonder how much the Lord might be grieved when Christians are often seen to do things with less excellence than the world. There are many fine Christian people in the market place and in business, but I have heard on various occasions an employer say that they don’t want to employ Christians again. That is a sad indictment. We dare not take the responsibility of being an ambassador of Christ lightly. For Paul it was his passion. Not only did he model reconciliation in the way he lived, but he also pleaded for people to be restored to God.

Paul says that God makes His appeal through us – he doesn’t say that he speaks for God but rather that God speaks His word through us. Here is a paradigm shift especially for preachers who think that they are speaking for God – actually we need to understand that it is God who speaks through us!

We are simply ambassadors through whom our King speaks His word. Christ’s ambassadors are those who are sent out into the world to represent Christ. He is the one who sends us to be His ambassadors, and nowhere is this clearer than when he spoke with His disciples after His death and resurrection. He said to them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” [John 20:21]. We go in the same way that the Father sent Jesus.

Questions:

Where has Christ placed you as His ambassador? How are you serving Him?

Do people around you know that you are different from the world?

Why is working in the market place full-time Christian ministry? How can we best serve Jesus Christ in our place of work?

In what way did the Father send Jesus? How is that applicable to us to today as His ambassadors?

PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR MINISTRY – 4

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favour, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]. It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favour with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favour)” [2 Cor. 5:18-19 Amp. Bible Classic Edition]

Paul writes that God has gave to us a ministry of reconciliation. The word ministry is the Greek diakonia. Our English word deacon comes from diakonia and can be translated as service. In a sense, everything that benefits others is a diakonia. Reconciliation is the Greek word katallagē. It is only used four times in Bible, once translated as atonement and elsewhere as reconciliation or reconciling. The word atonement is very apt because it can be understood as AT-ONE- MENT – one with God. The word literally means a change, so that instead of a state of enmity between two parties there is harmony and friendship. In the Biblical sense God took the initiative to reconcile us and make us one with Himself when He sent Jesus to redeem us. He restored us so that we enjoy oneness with Him and His favour.

Once we have been reconciled to God we are called to minister to others so that they too will come into a right relationship with God. One of the ways in which we do this is to model the meaning of reconciliation. Just as Christ reconciled us to God, so we also are to be reconciled with one another. As we model His ministry of reconciliation, the world will be impacted. “All this comes from God who settled the relationship between us and Him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other” [2 Corinthians 5:18 Message].

Before we left for Indonesia there was a Christian man who told me that we were not real missionaries, and he really made life difficult for us as a couple.

Living in Indonesia there was a fellow missionary who made life miserable for us, and almost destroyed us. It was only by God’s grace that we survived. In both cases the Holy Spirit challenged me to be reconciled to them. I cannot even begin to tell you the joy and the peace that came when I did this. How can we speak about being reconciled to God whom we cannot see, if we are not prepared to be reconciled with our brother whom we can see? We don’t have to be best friends but we do have to have right relationships.

Questions:

How would you explain in simple terms to a pre-believer the meaning of being reconciled to God?

Is there anyone in your own life whom you have not forgiven and sought to be reconciled with? Why is this so important in terms of our relationship with God and with others?

What do you intend to do if there is someone with whom you are at enmity?

PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR MINISTRY – 3

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” [2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NKJV]

The word compels is translated in various ways in the different English translations of the Bible. These include controls [NASB], and constrains [KJV].

J.B. Philips translates this as, “The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ.” It is not our human love upgraded but God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given unto us [Romans 5:5]. Love for Christ and love for His people should be the motive of our ministry for Him.

Paul had experienced very powerfully God’s love reaching down and saving him. He recognised that all men were dead in sin, and that One Man, Jesus Christ died humanities death to die to save them all. More than that he recognised that having received God’s love in Christ that it was incumbent upon him to share that love with others. He was saved by God’s love and that same love became his motivation to reach out to others who were lost and dead in sin. Speaking of this verse Matthew Henry writes, “We should not make ourselves, but Christ, the end of our living and actions. A Christian’s life should be devoted to Christ. Alas, how many show the worthlessness of their professed faith and love, by living to themselves and to the world!”

I constantly find myself coming back to the evidence of love in Paul’s writing to the Corinthians – love is patient, kind and not proud. It does not behave rudely, and does not seek its own – it is not selfish [1 Corinthians 13:4,5]. It is no longer I that live but Christ lives in me – love lives in me!

I have been deeply challenged over the years by the story of the Moravian Church and its missionary movement. The Moravian Community of Herrnhut commenced a round-the clock prayer watch that continued nonstop for more than 100 years. Then, 65 years after the commencement of that prayer vigil, that one small community sent 300 missionaries to the ends of the earth. Two of them worked in leper colony, but no one would listen to them, until the missionaries themselves became lepers, and then many of that colony came to faith in Christ. Count Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian Community said, “I have but one passion – it is Christ, it is Christ alone. The world is the field, and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ.”

Questions:

Why are the words Christian and selfish a contradiction of terms?

In what practical ways are you compelled by Christ’s love to serve Him and to let Him love others through you?

Is it true in your life that the very spring of your actions is increasingly love for Christ? If this is not the case what will you do about it?

PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR MINISTRY – 2

Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-21

“Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” [2 Cor. 5:11].

We have seen that Paul’s first motivation for ministry was the desire to please God. We now turn to his second motivation – the desire to see lost people rescued from a terrible eternal destiny.

The word terror here is the Greek word phobos from the word phěbŏmai meaning to be put in fear, alarm, or terror. It is not fashionable in today’s generation to speak about God’s judgment. Perhaps it is because of hard, hell-fire preaching that has showed little love and grace. Nevertheless the fact of judgment on sinners is a very real and clear Biblical teaching.

Elsewhere in God’s Word we read, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. Jesus spoke about two roads [Matthew 7:13-14], two trees [Matthew 7:15-20] and two foundations [Matthew 7:24-27]. Judgment is clear – the broad road led to destruction. The tree that did not bring forth good fruit was cast into the fire. The house built on sand fell down.

The word translated as hell in our English Bible is the word gehenna. This is an English transliteration of the Greek word γέεννα, which in turn comes from the Hebrew word gê’ hinnom, literally the valley of Hinnom. Traditionally the Jews considered this as the place of the final punishment of the ungodly.

Historically it was a burial place for criminals and for burning garbage, but in the New Testament it was clearly a reference to the everlasting state of the wicked. Every reference to gehenna apart from one in the book of James came from the lips of Jesus. He was very conscious of the judgment that sinful man faced when they rejected or neglected God’s salvation When Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31], we read that the rich man was tormented in fire.

Why would a God of love allow people to suffer eternally? Actually they condemn themselves to this punishment by rejecting the salvation that God offers in Christ. There is no other salvation [Acts 4:12].

Many years ago a missionary in India by the name of Amy Carmichael had a vision of multitudes of people walking on a broad road and falling off a cliff into a Christless and lost eternity. This vision totally changed her life and she became passionate to see lost people rescued.

This was Paul’s motivation. Knowing what it means to go into a lost eternity he sought to persuade men.

Questions:

How should we respond to the Biblical truth that our loved ones who are outside of Christ face a terrible and eternal judgment?

Why should this be a motivation for us to pray and seek to bring them to Christ?

Why is it important to understand that God is both love and just?