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.