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 went by a variety of names. It was called the Black Plague, the Black Death, the Bubonic Plague. You’ve probably heard of it before. It got its start in October of 1347 when a fleet of ships from Genoa, Italy returned from the Black Sea unknowingly carrying in their holds not just the cargo they had obtained, but also the death sentence for Europe. By the time the ships landed in Messina, Italy, most of the sailors were dead. Those who survived wished they hadn’t as fever racked their bodies and festering boils erupted on their skin. The disease followed trade routes northward through Italy, France, and England, until it reached the northernmost European nations. Within a short and unbelievably brutal five years, 25 million people, or 1/3 of Europe’s population, had succumbed to the deadly plague. And that was just the beginning.
Three centuries later it still raged. As late as 1665 an epidemic left a hundred thousand residents of London dead, taking some 7000 lives a week until a bitter, yet mercifully cold winter killed the carriers of the disease. And who were the culprits that spread such death and destruction? Fleas. More specifically, the Oriental rat flea, whose body measures no more than a tenth of an inch.
When you make a list of history’s harshest plagues, you would definitely need to place the Black Plague near the top, right alongside of the AIDS virus which has claimed 35 million lives since 1981. But neither of those scourges earns the top spot. Yes, they are catastrophic. Yes, they are disastrous. But Scripture reserves the #1 spot for the darkest, deadliest, most far reaching pandemic of all. It’s a disease that no culture avoids, no nation escapes, no person sidesteps. Which means that I have it, you have it, and the person sitting next to you has it. That infection is known as sin.
While the Black Plague can be traced back to a flea-borne bacterium known as Yersinia pestis, the plague of sin goes back to a serpent-borne lie that I would label as Satanus deceptus (the deception of Satan). You know the story. Adam and Eve, who were the crowning touch of God’s creative handiwork, had their attention captured by the hiss of the serpent and for the first time since their creation, they ignored their Creator. I find it interesting that neither one of them said at the time of their temptation, “We’d better talk to God about this,” or “Let’s first consult with the One who made us because something just doesn’t seem right here.” Instead, they acted as if they were orphans, as if they had no Heavenly Father. His will was ignored, and the plague of sin along with its ultimate consequence of death was introduced into God’s perfect world.
Now when we think of sin, we typically think in terms of actions, don’t we? Acts of disobedience, rebellion, defiance. But I believe we learn from the Fall of our first parents that sin at its very core is an attitude, a God-less attitude that denies either the existence of God or at the very least the importance of God. The sinful mind dismisses God. Just like with Adam and Eve, his counsel goes unconsulted. His opinion is unheeded. His plan is unconsidered. Those who are infected with sin grant God the same respect my fellow students and I used to give a substitute teacher when we were in grade school. We might acknowledge her presence, but we didn’t take her very seriously.
And this lack of God-centeredness leads to a grand display of self-centeredness. Have you ever noticed that the middle letter of the word sin is “I”? I don’t think that’s a coincidence because sin at its very core is the worship of an unholy trinity known as “me, myself, and I,” rather than the holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Isaiah 53:6 puts it this way, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” “It’s my life,” we have the audacity to say, “and I can do with it as I please!” What shameless arrogance we sometime flaunt in the face of God. He says to love; I choose to hate. He says to forgive; I choose to remain bitter. He calls for self-control; I choose self-indulgence.
Do you realize that whenever we live this kind of a self-centered rather than God-centered life, we are really only echoing the song that one of the highest angels sang back in the very beginning, even before man sinned. That angel’s name was Lucifer, though we know him now as Satan. Listen to what he said back then: “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” I…I…I!!
This is the plague of sin. This is the disease that has infected and affected every single human being who has ever lived since Adam and Eve first introduced it into our world. And the question is, what happens when a whole world lives like this? What happens when a planet of sin-infected people live me-centered lives rather than God-centered lives?
Well, to answer that question, we need to we move from the infection of sin to the corruption of society. Make no mistake about it, my friends, we pay a high price for ignoring God. The Apostle Paul addresses this so well in Rom. 1 where he describes those who “knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused…So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.”
Ignore God enough and it’s not that he will ignore you or stop loving you, but he will let you begin to experience the consequences and the chaos that accompany a self-centered life as opposed to a God-centered life. And we’ve seen that chaos, haven’t we? We see it in the headlines everyday. We hear it on the news. It comes in so many forms: terrorists and citizens who use assault weapons to kill large numbers of innocent unsuspecting people, children who rebel against their parents, sexual predators who prey on the young, nations who are at war with one another, politicians who place themselves above the law. Listen, my friends, when you do what you want, and I do what I want, and no one gives a lick about what God wants, humanity implodes. A Puritan pastor by the name of Joseph Alleine had it right when he wrote: “O miserable man, what a deformed monster has sin made you! God made you ‘a little lower than the angels;’ sin has made you little better than the devils.”
So extract God from the equation of life and we can expect earthly misery, but extract him from the equation of your life and you can expect even worse. For then you can expect eternal misery. So we move now from the infection of sin and the corruption of society to the destruction of the sinner.
God has made it very clear in his Word that the plague of sin will never cross the threshold of heaven. The absolute perfection of Paradise will never be breached. The purity of his home will never be compromised. So lead a God-less life and you can expect a God-less eternity. Spend your life telling God to leave you alone, and when all is said and done with your life here, he will do just that. 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says that such people “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” We’re talking about hell here, a subject that Jesus actually spoke of more than heaven, no doubt because he never wanted to see anyone end up there. But his description of hell chills the soul. In Matt. 8:12 he calls it a place of darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Matt. 13:42 he calls it a fiery furnace. And in Mark 9:48 he describes it as a place where “’their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” Residents of hell long to die, but cannot. They beg for water, but receive none. They long for relief, but they find none.
All of which leaves us with a very important question to consider. If we have all been infected by sin and the world around us has been corrupted by sin and we are all walking on a pathway of destruction because of sin, what do we do? To whom can we turn? Or to borrow the question that the Philippian jailer asked of Paul and Silas in Acts 16, “What must I do to be saved?” Their answer was simple and straight to the point. They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”
But why Jesus? Why not Mohammed or Buddha? Why not Confucius or Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism? What sets Jesus apart from all these other so-called religious leaders? What uniquely qualifies him to save those who are sin-sick? The answer is found in the final point I want to talk about today, and that is Christ’s inoculation for sin. Paul describes that inoculation for us in our text for today where 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.” Or as author Max Lucado once put it: “Christ, the sinless, became sin so that we, the sinners, could be counted sinless.”
You see, my friends, life’s greatest tragedy from God’s perspective is when someone dies in their sin. Forget earthquakes. Forget hurricanes. Forget economic collapses. Forget terrorist attacks. The ultimate disaster from heaven’s vantage point is for you to be placed in your casket still carrying your sins because that means you’re still infected. And as we stated earlier, heaven has no place for a sin-infected soul. But thankfully, that monumental problem from our human perspective has been taken care of by God’s even more monumental power and love. I Peter 3:18 puts it this way: “He (Jesus) never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God.”
Imagine for a moment that back when the Black Plague was at its worst, a person was born with a gene that made him completely resistant to the plague. It could not penetrate his system unless he allowed it to. And imagine that this person also had the power to transmit his good health to those who were sick. But in order to do that, he had to take the sickness of these people into himself. Picture him going from village to village, from hospital to hospital, inviting people to come to him, saying to them, “Touch my hand. Give me your disease, and you can have my health.” What would possess someone to do something like that? What would motivate someone to make that kind of a sacrifice? One word: LOVE.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s allow our imaginations to wonder just a bit more. Imagine that the person who did that was not some peasant off the street or some farmer or factory worker, but was instead the king who sat on the throne, who held the highest position of power in the land. Would such an important and indispensable person be willing to make such a sacrifice, not just for his most loyal subjects, but even for his most disloyal ones?
Unfortunately, our history books tell of no such loving miracle-working king back then. But guess what? Our Bible does. Listen to this great description of our King Jesus and what he did for us written some 700 years before he even came into our world. It’s found in Isaiah 53: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” So God, out of love for a sin-sick world, responded to the infection of sin with an inoculation for sin that included the sacrifice for sin that was carried out by the one and only one who could bear our sin, our Savior, our friend, but also our King, Jesus Christ.
The question is, have you received that inoculation? I’m sure some of you have gotten your flu shots and pneumonia shots in preparation for the typical season of sickness that befalls us in the winter time. But have you gotten your vaccination for sin? If you have, if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, if you’re trusting his sacrifice as your inoculation for sin, praise God because you are bound for an eternity with him where the infection of sin will never touch you again. If you haven’t been vaccinated, though, you can be before you leave here today by simply trusting Christ as your Savior. And you can go home with a new spring in your step, a new peace in your heart, and a new lease on life, knowing that your eternal destiny is secure. That’s my prayer for all of you here today. In fact, why don’t we bow our heads and ask that very thing of our King on this Christ the King Sunday:
Lord Jesus, you are our reigning King. You are our Savior and friend. And you are the one and only vaccination available for the black plague of sin. We thank you that you were willing to take our infection upon yourself and to give in its place your health and righteousness. Lord, I pray for every person here today. I thank you for those who have already received your inoculation by faith and I pray for those who haven’t, asking that through the power of your Holy Spirit you would break down any walls that might be hindering them from coming to you for help. And use us, Lord, to share this good news that we have heard here today with others so that they too might come to know and receive the glorious antidote for sin that you alone can provide. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen.