II Corinthians 5:14-21
Today we have come together to remember a death. Usually when a death occurs, changes happen. When our car dies, we get a different one. When a dream dies, we stop thinking about it. When a person dies, we no longer have a relationship with them. All of these changes signify loss but the death of Jesus is significantly different. When Jesus died, it involved a very different kind of change, it involved a gain, not a loss. What changes have occurred because Jesus died?
As we think about the death of Jesus today, let us consider how significant and profound that is. II Corinthians 5:14-21 helps us think these things through.
I. The Death We Die
In II Corinthians 5:14, 15 the word “death” occurs 4 times in these two verses presenting us with some profound thoughts about something we often prefer not to talk about.
A. He Died For All - Vs. 14, 15, 21
First of all, let’s think about the death of Jesus. When it says “because we are convinced” in verse 14 it means that there is a foundational truth about death that impacts a lot of other things. When any structure is built the first while of the project is unseen. Most of the work takes place underground. It is the time of building the foundation and that foundation is so important that all else that will be built on it depends on it. The foundation determines the shape, height and integrity of the rest of the building. That is what we are talking about when it says, “because we are convinced.” This is foundational truth and it is a foundational truth that impacts all the rest of Christian truth.
The foundational truth discussed here has to do with the death of Jesus. In these verses there are three statements about the meaning of Jesus’ death. In verse 21 it says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” The other verses which speak of His death are verses 14 and 15 which are both quite similar. Verse 14 says, “one died for all” and verse 15 says, “he died for all.”
The key message of all of these words is that Jesus death was substitutionary. That is that Jesus died in our place.
This is absolutely amazing because Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself. Although it says that “God made Him,” in verse 21 that does not mean that Jesus was forced. We see only too clearly in places like His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus went to the cross willingly. Philippians 2 also reminds us that He gave Himself over to death. So the substitutionary death of Jesus came about by the willingness of Jesus to die sacrificially.
The second implication of Jesus taking our place was that the only way that He could die was if He took our sin upon Himself. The Bible is very clear that death comes only because of sin. Yet Jesus was without sin. In John 8:46 Jesus asked the Jewish leaders to identify what sin it was that they accused him of and they could not answer. Many other verses indicate that He had no sin. 1 Peter 2:22 says, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Therefore, the conclusion is that when Jesus died, He died for us. We read in Isaiah 53:4, 5, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But 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." If there is no sin, there can be no death. Jesus did not sin; therefore, Jesus could not die. When it says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,” it means that Jesus died in our place. He died not for His own sins, because He had none, but for our sins and so “died for all.” Bruce points out that Jesus was made sin, not made a sinner. He writes, “God the Father made His innocent incarnate Son the object of His wrath and judgment, for our sakes, with the result that in Christ on the cross the sin of the world is judged and taken away.”
The motivating power behind this sacrificial willingness to experience the worst possible thing for any human being could experience was the love of Jesus. Bruce says, “He surrendered His body to death instead of all…This He did out of sheer love for us…”
This is what we are celebrating today. Jesus died in our place. Sometimes when I think about it I don’t know how to respond and all I can do is stop and be amazed. What did it take? How profound! How deep! God – the sovereign of the universe, came to earth as a human and died in my place. We must fix that reality firmly in our minds understanding the horrid wickedness of sin, our involvement in it and the tremendous sacrifice by which Jesus has died in our place.
B. We No Longer Live - Vs. 14, 15
But the meaning of this foundational truth gets very personal when we read about its implications. In verse 14 Paul makes a powerful connection. First we are told that “one died for all” and then we are told “therefore all died.” In verse 15 after saying “he died for all” it says that we “no longer live.” What does that mean? It is another way of saying that we have a significant identification with the death of Jesus. But how significant is that identification? How have “all died?” Evidently something very important has changed. In any death a lot of things change. What was is no more, the life that was is gone. So if we have died, what has changed? Since we still live, to what have we died?
“All died” means that we have died to death. Death is notorious because it separates. It separates us from life, from others and from God. But in the death of Jesus all of us who are in Him have died to death and death no longer has the power to separate us from life, from others or from God. After we die, we will live on with all those who have gone before and live in the most intimate relationship with God we could ever imagine and we will do it for all eternity.
We “no longer live” also means that we have died to sin. Sin is no longer our master and sin no longer dominates our life. Sin is active in a person as long as they are alive, but when they have died, sin no longer has any power over them. So if we have died, sin no longer is master in our life. To all intents and purposes the death of Jesus in our behalf and our identification with His death means that we have died to sin.
The most original and most often expressed sin there can be is the sin of self-centeredness and if we have died to sin, it means that we have also died to self. When we deeply contemplate the reality that Jesus sacrificed Himself to die in our place how can we continue to live a life focused on ourselves? When it says in verse 15 that we no longer live, it puts it this way, “…those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Thus we begin a new life by which we have died to self and live to Christ.
So the question which arises out of this foundational reality is, “have you died?” Sometimes people become Christians because they want eternal life, sometimes because they want to have the blessings of God, but how many of us become Christians because we want to die. Yet by coming to Christ and identifying with His death, that is exactly what we have done, we have chosen death – death to self, death to sin and death to death.
II. The Life We Live
What tremendous gain, not loss comes with that death! What will our life look like if we have died in Christ? The rest of the passage tells us.
A. Christ’s Love Compels Us - Vs. 14
The first implication is that “the love of Christ compels us.”
Whenever we read the word “of” we have to ask a question and that is, “of what?” What is it that compels us is, it the love which Christ has for us or is it our love for Christ? In the Greek there is a deliberate ambiguity about this and I think that translations which remove the ambiguity do us a disservice. The ambiguity allows us to say, “both.”
When we think about the depth of love that moved God to send Jesus to become a human being and to die on the cross for us it is an overwhelming almost unfathomable reality. That is why we love to sing songs like, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” I do not think we can dwell too much on the love which God has for us and has expressed towards us in Jesus. That love moves us.
The “both” comes in when we respond to that love with a deep and profound love for Him. When we understand how much He has done for us, the source of those actions and the incredible actions which arise out of the love by which Jesus came and died, our hearts are filled with a response of love that also goes very deep.
So we respond with love to the love we have received and that “compels” us. What is the depth of this compulsion? This same word is used by Jesus in Luke 12:50 when he expressed his compulsion to go to the cross. He was about to undergo the most difficult experience of any human being by taking the world’s sin upon Himself. He was compelled to go, not by any external pressure, but by the compulsion of his own love and the knowledge that there was no other way. He knew that this was so important, so deep that he just had to follow through. But to what does this love compel us? It compels us to live every part of our life for Jesus. It becomes the defining motivation and focusing direction of our whole life. Everything we are, everything we do is motivated by love. Our whole life is defined by and moves from this foundational reality that we have been loved and are in love with the one who has loved us.
Bruce says, we are “Shut in to one purpose…to live selflessly ‘unto God.’”
B. Live For Him – 15, 16
Verse 15 furthermore directs out attention to a life lived for Jesus. Since Jesus died all who are his have died to self centeredness, and “should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
What does a life that is living for Him look like? Have you seen one?
I think about what it means for me to live for Him. I have really enjoyed cross country skiing this past winter. Can I enjoy that activity as enthusiastically as I do if I live for Him? I believe I can as long as it remains a pleasant diversion, and not what most motivates me. I can talk enthusiastically about it but if given the opportunity to talk about Jesus that would be even better.
The important thing is that we realize that our life isn’t about us. We are servants of Jesus and are moved powerfully by the incredible love for Christ and therefore we choose to live our lives in sacrificial obedience and service for Jesus.
A fascinating verse follows which spells out one of the implications of living for Jesus. It says, “…we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” What does that mean? To explain, Paul talks about no longer looking at Christ from a worldly point of view. Paul had looked at Jesus from a human point of view and had not been impressed. Jesus was born in obscurity, lived in poverty, was fully human and died a humiliating death. At one time Paul thought, “What could possibly be significant about Him?” But then He met Him on the Damascus road and realized that these things meant nothing. He realized that Jesus was the Son of God who reigns over the whole universe. The death and resurrection of Jesus had totally redefined who He was and Paul understood that the human things were not the reality.
In a similar way, if we are thinking selfishly, we look at what people can do for us, or how impressive they are or how annoying they are. That is looking at them from a human point of view. But when we look at people from a Christ centered perspective, we look at them as people in relationship to Christ. Are they our brother or sister or do they need Jesus? If they are our brother or sister, what is God doing in them? What has Christ put in them by His Spirit? How can we love them in the way that we as terrible sinners were loved by Christ? Bruce says, “…race, social status, wealth, and title, should no longer govern the Christian’s estimate of his fellow-men…” If that is true, how can we go on living in broken relationships? How can we give ourselves only to meaningless pursuits that are just for this life?
Since we have died it means that our life has changed radically. The defining center of our life is the love of Christ which compels us to live for Christ in every respect, in all that motivates us, in all we do and in all our relationships.
C. A New Creation – 17
Since we have died it also means that we have become a new creature, as we read in verse 17. I suggested earlier that death changes things. This verse helps us understand some more of what has changed when it says, “the old has gone.” What is the old that has gone? The old that has gone is our sinfulness. The person who lives without Christ at the center and without the forgiveness that comes by His grace has a natural inclination to rebellion against God. The first old thing that goes when we belong to Christ is that rebellion against God is no longer desired. The other old thing that has gone is that the satisfaction with sinful acts has disappeared and they are no longer attractive.
In place of the old attitude of rebellion against God and actions of sin which hurt and break there is a new desire to please God and to live in obedience to Him.
This entire new creation is found “in Christ.” Bruce teaches that when we are in Christ it “speaks of security, of assurance for the future, of inheritance of glory in Him, of participation in the divine nature in Him and of knowing the truth.” He writes, “The believer, in his capacity as the re-created man-in-Christ, is the dynamic guarantee that all God’s purposes in creation are unfailingly being brought to full fruition.”
D. Christ’s Ambassadors – 18-20
The final part of the text declares that another implication of our death in Jesus is that we have become those who reconcile others to Christ. The love of Christ compels us towards an all encompassing, all consuming responsibility to proclaim the message of reconciliation.
Once again the foundation for this implication is declared when we read that we have been reconciled. This brings up another way of looking at the meaning of the death of Christ. Through that death we, who were enemies of God, have been made His friends. As those who have been reconciled, we become reconcilers. We have the amazing privilege and responsibility to tell the whole world that they can be made right with God!
One of the words used here is the word “ambassadors.” What does an ambassador look like? First of all, an ambassador loves his home country. Therefore, we are people in love with Jesus. The love of Christ compels us, moves us so that as new creatures we love to talk about our home country, in this case Jesus. But how do we speak? Tasker says that ambassadors are chosen because of their “tact, their dignity and their courtesy, and because they are gifted with persuasive powers…” We do not live in this world by default, but because we have been sent here by God to be His ambassadors. We belong to another country and we represent that country in this world. One danger is to be too much of our heavenly country so that we don’t relate well to this world. The other danger is to be too much of this world that we don’t speak well of our heavenly country.
As ambassadors, may we be faithful to engage in the ministry of reconciliation because we have died.
As we reflect on the death of Jesus, we have something really important to think about. It is a reminder that we are deeply loved as evidenced by the great sacrifice Jesus made for us. He has died in our place, for our sins in order to bring us to a new life.
If we have identified with Him by faith, the first questions we ask are not, “have we changed, have we become new creatures or do we live for Christ?” These are indicators of the more fundamental question which is, “have we died?”
The most important fact to think about today is, “Christ died for me.”
The most important question to ask ourselves today is, “Have I died in Him?”