By the grace of God I am the father of three beautiful children. I remember very vividly the day that I held the first child in my arms. Ariana Maria Stewart was born on October 10, 2009. It was an overwhelming experience. It was so overwhelming for my wife that she went straight up black church in that place and raised her hands crying out saying, “Praise the Lord!”
When the doctors placed that little girl in my arms a wave of emotions came crashing down on me. As I gazed into that little girl's eyes there was a feeling of joy for this blessing and I was praying to God that I will be a spirit-filled parent. Secondly, there was a little feeling of rage. I thought of boys dating her when she is older and someone possibly doing her harm. I could kill someone, I thought. Thirdly, and more seriously, my heart grieves as I knew the great human dilemma she, and now my other children, are faced with. They are sons and daughters of Adam and have been shapen in iniquity (Ps. 51:5). They stand before a holy God who must punish sin and their natural inclination will be towards sin, as this sinful nature has been imputed to them.
This human dilemma is the reality that man, in our natural state, is at enmity with God. God, the holy and just God, must punish sin. How, then, can we in this state be made right with Him? How can man be just with God. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul gives the answer to this great human dilemma. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
He Knew No Sin
Before exploring how Christ becomes our righteousness we must examine his character and see Him as the righteous one. The only substitute and sacrifice God would accept is one without spot or blemish. This one Jesus Christ had not one defect upon His character. To fully grasp how astonishing this is we must consider the reality of Christ’s humanity. He knew no sin and He knew humanity.
He Knew Humanity
In order to justify the sinful activities of man we will use an old cliche, “He or she is just human.” My friends being human is not the problem. As humans we were made in the image of God to be image bearers of God’s transcendence to the world around us. When God created man He said the words, “This is good.” Jesus knew this humanity. He knew what it was like to be man. He knew what it was like to endure the suffering that ensued from this world that has been affected by sin.
Jesus, the one who was born of the virgin Mary, reared in the city of Nazareth, and born in the town of Bethlehem was fully man and thus subject to the ordinary laws of human development. In the second chapter of Luke we read, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52).
He Knew Suffering
Jesus as a man knew, and personally experienced, the difficulties and sufferings that resulted from living in this world. He was no stranger to man’s duty of tilling the ground in an occupation. Jesus was familiar with the struggle of having an occupation, running a business, and living off meager wages. He was a man, who it seemed, lived in poverty much of His life. Yet in the world of business Jesus was honest in all of His dealings, fervent, and dedicated in His work. The thought never even entered into His mind of cutting corners or cheating someone. He never once compromised His character for dishonest gain.
Jesus knew what it was like to experience the pangs of an empty stomach and the despair of dehydration. For forty days in the wilderness He fasted. He knew what it was like to be hungry and thirsty and yet at the height of this He was tempted by Satan himself and He did not succumb to these temptations.
Jesus knew the emotional pain of witnessing friends very close to Him suffering due to loss. Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus broke down weeping before the Lord when her brother Lazarus died. Jesus had great compassion on her and the word of God tells us that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Jesus experienced and knew the height of physical suffering. His body was pushed beyond the limits of what most of us can even fathom. Jesus was beaten to a point where the flesh was literally filleted off His back. The crowds spit upon Him and beat Him. He was then put through the most excruciating way to die -- crucifixion. He knew suffering yet He did not know sin.
He Knew Temptation
Jesus never at one time experienced the guilt of sin. He did know weakness and temptation though, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are” (Heb 4:15). Jesus set off in the wilderness for His season of fasting. As Jesus was in this weakened physical state, on three different occasions Satan came dangling various seductive sins in His face. On each occasion Jesus quoted the Word of God, thus rejecting Satan’s temptations.
Jesus was a man in every way who faced suffering and temptation. Still, Jesus never drank from the cup of iniquity, feasted on the meat of transgression, nor dined with the wayward child. He was free from sin which meant that He could do what no other man in history could do; He could offer up His life as a sacrifice and a substitute in the place of us.
Christ Our Substitute
The Scriptures here declared to us, “For He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) to be sin for us (the believers). Jesus did not become a sinner and yet He was treated as if He was. Martin Luther once said, “Although Christ was sinless, yet He was the greatest sinner ever to live, because all the sins of His people lay on Him.” While I do have great admiration for Martin Luther and what he is attempting to say here I firmly believe there is a much clearer way to say it. Christ was in no way a sinner and yet He became sin for us. He was numbered among the transgressors in our place. He was treated and viewed as one who committed great offenses. As Jesus was placed on the cross He was in the company of transgressors. The Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah predicted that Jesus would be included in the company of lawbreakers.
Man could number Jesus among the transgressors but man could never make Jesus to be sin for us. Only God the Father could do that, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son and whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God the Father treated His son as a sinner. Christ became our substitute, “We are forgiven because you were forsaken. We are accepted, you were condemned.”
The Necessity of This
It was completely necessary for Christ to be our substitute. God the Father chose to love us before the foundation of the world and because of love He had to send His Son to pay our penalty. Since God remained just the same as He was then, He had to send His son to die in our place. Let me paint the picture in an allegory for you.
Picture that the divine justice of God took the tender love of God and locked him in a prison. With glaring eyes the justice of God looked at tender love and said those people must be punished for what they did. There is no way they can get away with breaking the law. Tender love responded with a grieving and broken heart saying there must be a way to go and get them. There must be a way to rescue them. The discussion went back and forth until God the Father interjected into the conversation. He said there is a way for justice to be satisfied and love to be expressed. There is a way for love to be set free without justice being violated. God the Father then pointed to that “old rugged cross on a hill far away. Here you will find the emblem of suffering and shame. On this old cross Jesus suffered and died and for a lost world was slain.” God the Father said look to this hill. That is the answer. God the Father unlocked that prison door, letting love go free. Love went and grabbed His companions of grace, mercy, and righteousness. He led them to the fallen race of people who were looking to the same hill. If you look to that hill you will meet love there. If you look to anything or anyone else you will find justice there. Look to Christ this day and my friends you will surely be saved.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.
As a pastor I have many conversations with many different people of all generations. I am finding that people of all generations struggle to find hope for the future. However, their reasons for feeling hopeless are very different, yet the same.
For the older generation, I often hear them reflecting on the good ole days. They look back upon their lives and they see how America has changed. They say we used to have prayer and the ten commandments in schools. There used to be some level of morality in the public square. Things are getting bad. Things are evil. Jesus must be coming back any day. They tend to retreat and wait for this wickedness to be over. They have embraced a defeatist gospel.
For the younger generation they are concerned for the future. They have seen their parents commit their entire lives to working at jobs they cannot stand. They don’t want anything to do with that. At the same time they look at the job market and see it in decline and are concerned about how they can make a living. So instead they want to delay growing up. They are worried about the future.
The common denominator with both of these people is they are looking to the world to find their hope and the only thing they find is the work of the Philistines covering up their well. Let me explain what I mean.
The Work of the Philistines
Isaac, the son of Abraham, found himself dwelling in the same land that his Father had lived in at one time. This was an area now occupied by the Philistines and at one time was a place that Abraham lived. When Abraham lived there, he dug a well that would provide water for his people and his cattle. This was necessary for them to survive. This well was a landmark for his people and was essential for life and death. When Isaac returned to this well of life he found himself in a very discouraged position. You see the Philistines did not value Abraham's well like Isaac did and they filled the well in with dirt (Gen. 26:15). Isaac was now there and he needed this well for survival, so he began to dig the dirt out of this well so he could provide life again. The unbeliever buried the well and the believer had to do the long slow work of digging out the well.
The same thing has happened in America and that is why so many of us are discouraged for the future. The Philistines have invaded our land and covered up the wells that our Fathers had dug for us. Our Father dug wells in this land in which God and His word ruled supremely. We have allowed the wells to be filled in though; the Word of God is no longer the rule for the individual, for the family, for the church, or for the government. They have bought into a lie of autonomy -- that they can just follow their own hearts wherever it may lead. This has led us to an unstable economy, broken marriages, and very little hope for the future when we fix our attention on that. What we must do now is the work that Isaac committed to doing. We must begin digging the dirt out of the wells. That is what will give us hope for the future! Only Christ can give us hope. Without Him we are of all people most miserable and are to be pitied!
The Three R’s
In school you learn about the importance of the three R’s: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Today I want to teach you about the importance of maintaining hope for the future. We must take our attention off of this world and fix our attention on Christ. As we are focused on Christ we must focus on digging the well. There are three steps to digging out the well. The first step is to repent of our sins. The second step is to reform our lives to the Word of God. The third step is to pray for God to revive us and the remember mercy in the midst of judgment.
Step 1: Repentance
We must repent of our sins as individuals, as families, as churches, and as a nation. This is the first step to restoring hope. We must acknowledge our sinfulness before God and confess that to Him. We must not only confess that to Him, but we must actually stop what we are doing and change to follow the path that God has instructed us in.
Let me tell you a story about a group of people called the Ninevites. They were settled thousands of years ago and were the capital city of the Assyrian empire. These Ninevites were wicked people and did wicked things. They were a culture of death and loved displaying the victims that they killed as trophies. Yet in the midst of their wickedness God offered them a chance to repent. He did it through this strange figure named Jonah.
Jonah was given a mission by God to go to the Ninevites. Jonah hated them for the bloodshed and havoc he brought upon his people though. He was afraid if he brought God’s message to the Ninevites that they would be forgiven and he did not want that. So, he attempted to run from God, which is impossible, and God brought Him to repentance in the belly of a whale. He then did go to Nineveh and the Ninevites turned from their sin. We can read about that in the book of Jonah:
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city,[a] three days' journey in breadth.Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Notice how they publicly repented. They mourned their sins and were okay to look like a fool. Do you know that you have the same hearts as them? In your heart you have murdered. In your heart you have committed adultery. You worship other gods and make your own idols. You lie and cheat and steal. Have you lived with an illusion that God will just forgive you for these things? If you continue to live in these sins you will have no hope for the future. If you do turn from them then you will certainly have great hope and God will have mercy on you.
Step 2: Reformation
We must not only repent but we must obey God’s Word. We must seek to conform our lives and our standard of living to His Word and not to the word of the world. That is the work of the Philistines. Let me tell you another story.
There was a man named Nehemiah who was held in captivity when his city, the city of Jerusalem, had been destroyed. Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king but felt called to return to his land and rebuild it. Actually his calling was to reform it. He prayed and waited on the Lord for the right time and the king gave him the go ahead to rebuild his city. He began by building the wall and had a tremendous amount of opposition to overcome, but he overcame and rebuilt the wall. That was only the beginning though. The real work began when he turned over the work of the reformation to the priest named Ezra. Let’s read what Ezra did.
"And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." (Nehemiah 8:1-8 ESV)
He read them God’s Word. We need the Bible for reformation. Let me speak plainly to you. If you don’t read and study God’s Word you will have no hope for the future. What role does God’s word play in your life, in your family, and in your church? You need to learn all things that Christ has commanded us.
Step 3: Revival
The last step is praying for a work that only God can do. Only God can revive a people and remember mercy in the midst of judgment. Only God can pour out His Spirit in this way. We, as a repented and reforming people, can pray for Him to do such a thing though. We can pray for Him to come down in power and change a people. Do you know that the vast majority of revivals in history have started primarily with a group of young people? People who prayed to God in heaven to come down in power. The book of Acts chapter 2 gives us a picture of what revival looks like. It gives us a picture of God pouring out His spirit.
"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
God is in the business of reviving people, families, churches and nations. Commit to repentance, reforming, and praying for revival. That is where our hope for the future is found. The best days are yet ahead for the child of God!
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.