2 Corinthians 5:21
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
It happens just about every time I go to the doctor. The nurse calls my name and leads me back to one of the examination rooms. She asks me to step on the scale. Then after she weighs me, she asks me to have a seat, at which time she takes my temperature and writes it down in my records. Then she takes my blood pressure and writes that down. Then she takes my pulse and that’s when it happens. That’s when she hesitates a bit because typically I have a very slow pulse. It’s not unusual at all for it to run in the low 40’s. And after she’s told me what it is, she invariably asks the same question. She says, “So, are you an athlete?” Of course my male ego loves to hear that question, so I kind of puff out my chest and say: “Yeah, I guess you could say that. I try to play basketball twice a week and my wife and I like to hike on our vacations.”
There have been times though when the doctor wasn’t overly impressed with my slow heartbeat, but instead concerned. In fact, one time he even ordered me to go through a battery of tests at the hospital just to make sure everything was ok. And thankfully it was. My heart was proclaimed to be healthy, especially, as the doctor put it, for a man my age.
But then I went to another doctor. And this doctor begged to differ with that assessment of my heart. He told me that no, my heart was not healthy. It was diseased. For starters, it was out of rhythm. He said my arteries were clogged. And as he examined me further, he told me there was evidence that my heart had become hardened at times. He said it was a very sick and weak heart.
Now before you start thinking that you’re about to lose your pastor to a severe case of heart disease, understand that the doctor who gave me that diagnosis was no ordinary doctor. He’s best known as the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, and he knows my heart better than anyone. He knows that at times it beats out of rhythm with his will. He knows that at times its arteries become clogged with anger, worry, sorrow, and stress. He knows that at times my heart has become hard toward those who have hurt me or wronged me. Hence his rather bleak diagnosis that I have a very sick heart. But you know what? He loves me too much to leave me that way. He wants me to have a strong heart rather than a weak one, a healthy heart rather than a diseased one. So guess what this Great Physician does? He offers to exchange his heart for mine. His heart is sturdy, mine is frail. His heart is holy, mine is so unholy. His heart is pure, mine is anything but pure. Quite a deal, isn’t it? But you know what? It gets even better for he doesn’t just make that offer to me. He makes it to each and every one of you as well. And that offer of a new heart is found at the very heart of the verse we are currently studying in a sermon series that I have entitled “The Gospel in a Nutshell.” That verse is John 3:16 where Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” is sadly a response that many people offer to that very short and concise summary of the Gospel. “Why would I need God to send his Son to die for me? After all, I’m a decent person. I’ve lived a good life. I’m responsible with my job. I pay my bills. I’ve raised a family. I don’t understand why I need some Savior to die for me.” Maybe you’ve struggled with that same thought as well. I mean, it’s one thing to say that God sent his Son to teach us or to set an example for us, but this whole idea of him dying for us…it’s so barbaric, so uncivilized, especially when we take into account how he died – on an old rugged blood-soaked cross with nail-pierced hands and feet. And then we have the audacity to memorialize that death by wearing a cross around our neck or hanging a cross on a wall in our home. Why not celebrate the birth of Christ by wearing a gold-plated manger around our neck? Or why not celebrate the servanthood of Jesus by wearing a towel around our waist like he did when he washed his disciples’ feet? Why does the cross, this cruel instrument of torture and execution, take such center stage in our Christian belief system? Or to put it another way, what does the death of a man 2000 years ago have to do with you and me today?
To answer that question, we need to take a good, thorough heart exam. For when we do that, when we look at our hearts through the lens of Scripture we discover what I talked about earlier. And that is that we all have unholy hearts. We all have diseased hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Jesus, the great cardiologist, gives this diagnosis for the human heart in Matt. 15:19: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” In Psalm 14 David, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes the condition of the human heart in pandemic terms when he says: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Such is the Bible’s assessment of the human heart, the human condition. And such is the evidence that we see all around us in our world today, though our modern day culture seems a bit reluctant to use the “s” word to describe this condition. And that “s” word is sin. Sadly sin has become an outdated, outmoded concept to many people today. We live in an age of moral relativism where people may make mistakes, but we don’t dare call them sins for there are no absolute rights and wrongs anymore. Consequently we hear people saying: “What’s true for you may not be true for me. What’s right for you may not be right for me. And what’s wrong for you may not be wrong for me.” Everyone just kind of makes up their own rules as they go along. And the most horrible thing you can do in a culture like that is to criticize or question someone else’s standard of right and wrong. That’s when you get labels like intolerant and judgmental slapped on you.
So how about it? Is there such a thing as sin anymore? Well, a brief look at the 10 Commandments should give us a pretty good answer to that question. So let’s give it a try. Let’s start with the 7th Commandment: “You shall not steal.” Have you ever stolen anything before? Not necessarily something big, but maybe you walked off with something from your office rationalizing to yourself that they’ve got plenty of those things so they’re not going to miss it. Or maybe you cheated on a test and stole someone else’s answers. Maybe you copied a DVD from the video store to add to your home library. You know what that makes you? A thief.
How about the 8th Commandment: “You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.” Or to put it another way: “You shall not lie.” Have you ever told a lie? If you say no, you just did. How about the 6th Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” According to Jesus, if a man even looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he’s broken this commandment. How about the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” You’re safe there, right? After all, you’ve never bowed down and worshiped an idol of wood or stone. But you have put other things ahead of God in our life, haven’t you, like money or a relationship or a cell phone or lots of other things.
So we’ve just looked at only 4 of the 10 Commandments and as we tally them all we find that we are thieving, lying, adulterous idolaters. And looking at the rest would indict us even more. So if God assesses our hearts solely on the basis of the 10 Commandments, there’s no doubt about it. Our hearts are sick with sin. Our hearts fail to measure up to his standards. In fact, they don’t even come close. And we empathize with the psalmist in Ps. 130:3 when he writes: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”
So I think it’s pretty obvious that we need some help. We need a cure for our diseased heart. Or better yet, we need a new heart. And thankfully God is willing to provide us that new heart through his Son Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus had a holy heart, a heart that was completely untouched, untainted, and uncorrupted by sin. In fact, one day when he asked his enemies if any of them could prove him guilty of doing anything wrong, not a single one of them stepped forward to do so. I’ll tell you what. Today at lunch ask that question of your family and watch them line up to tell you all the things you’ve done wrong just this past week. And that’s from those who love you! Jesus asked that question of those who hated him and none of them could identify one single thing he’d done wrong.
So Jesus had a holy heart, a pure heart, a flawless heart. And that sinless, stainless heart of his will silence any boasting that any of us might want to bring to God about how good we are. Reminds me of the time I was playing in a tennis tournament here in Salem quite a few years ago. If I remember correctly, I had won that tournament the year before. So I was hoping to ride that crest of success to another championship. Well, I won my first match and then I noticed that in the next round I would be playing a young fellow by the name of Ethan Bryant. I knew Ethan played in the #1 spot on the high school tennis team, but I thought surely my years of experience would win out over his youth. Well, guess what? I was wrong – very wrong! He cleaned my clock that day. He humbled me. No, he humiliated me. He taught me a thing or two about how to play the game of tennis as he took the game to another level that I had never been at before and never will be – unless there’s tennis in heaven.
Well, that’s what Jesus did when he walked this earth. He lived his life at a level that none of us will ever come close to because it was the level of perfection. And the good news is that rather than separate himself from us because he’s so much better than we are, he willingly chose to do two things for us that go far beyond our ability to comprehend. He first of all took our place on the cross at which time all of our sin-stained, diseased hearts were given to him. Isaiah 53:5 says “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” And then in v. 6 we’re told that “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” So on the cross, God in essence extracted our diseased hearts from us and implanted them in Jesus.
But that’s only half the story. For he then took Jesus’ perfect heart, his pure heart, his holy heart and he now offers it to anyone who will receive it by faith. Martin Luther called this the Great Exchange. And the Apostle Paul describes it for us in our text for today when he says: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Incredible, isn’t it? God exchanges our heart for Christ’s heart, our sin for his righteousness.
There’s a great Greek word that appears in that verse that helps to explain my sermon title for today. I’m calling this message “Our Hyper Savior.” Not because Jesus was unusually overactive and abnormally energetic. But because the Greek word “hyper” probably describes him better than any other word. For that simple, common word literally means “on behalf of” or “in place of.” It describes the substitutionary work that Jesus did for us in order that we might be made right with God and be able to one day enjoy an eternity in his glorious and perfect presence.
My prayer for you today then is that you will first of all recognize that you do have a heart problem and you do need a new heart. And I pray that through the power and working of the Holy Spirit you will allow him to do major heart surgery on you by removing your diseased heart and replacing it with Christ’s perfect heart. If you do that, my friends, then you can pillow your head in peace tonight and every night knowing that whenever your time on this earth is up, your time in heaven will just be getting underway, thanks to your hyper Savior Jesus Christ who did for you – in your place, on your behalf – what you could have never done for yourself. Amen.