20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, inasmuch as God is making an appeal through us. We urge you, on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. As fellow workers we also urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says: At a favorable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. Look, now is the favorable time! See, now is the day of salvation!
When I was a kid, I used to love to collect baseball and football cards. I spent countless hours studying and organizing my cards. It was a great thrill to open up a new pack of player cards and discover that I had just landed a card of some value or of a card of my favorite players. And part of the fun of the hobby was getting together with my brother or my cousins or some other friends and trading cards with them. Of course, part of the challenge was working out trades which would be a fair deal for both sides. For instance, you wouldn’t trade a George Brett rookie card for some benchwarmer or relief pitcher who made an appearance every sixth day. You wouldn’t have traded a Joe Montana card or a Brett Favre card for the card of some guy who got cut by his team the week before. Those wouldn’t have been fair trades. There needed to be equal value on each side of the trade, right? Otherwise, no trade. Trades needed to be equitable. They needed to be fair trades.
But I’ll admit something to you: sometimes, I tried to work up a trade with my little brother which wasn’t all that equitable. There were a couple times when I tried to trade my card of the benchwarmer-the card without much value- for his card of the All-Star standout-the card which had the value. And I don’t remember it ever working. Brett was/is a pretty smart guy, after all. But it’s good that it didn’t work. Because it was wrong of me, and I’m sorry for it. But you totally get why I did it, right: because I wanted to work a trade that benefitted me, that would give me the greatest value, that would take advantage of my brother for my own best interests. What I tried to do to my little brother was so…human. To make a trade for my own selfish advantage.
The Word of God which we’re focusing on right now,-the Second Lesson on this Ash Wednesday, from 2 Corinthians 5 and 6…this Word of God reminds us of how and why it’s true that we are on good terms with God, of why we can be sure that God is not angry with us and that he is not going to come after us in his wrath, that he will not punish us, and we have the certainty of knowing that we have a home in heaven with him, and that in spite of the fact that so many times we’ve acted like I did when I was trading baseball cards with Brett-with my own selfish best interests in mind. It’s because a reconciliation has taken place. A relationship which was once broken has been healed. Our relationship with God has been reconciled. We’re right with him. And it’s all because of a trade which was made, a trade which is completely the opposite of the kind of trade I tried to pull on brother Brett back in our childhood. This trade was made by God’s grace.
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, inasmuch as God is making an appeal through us. We urge you, on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
What the Lord is doing, through the Apostle Paul’s pen, is composing a picture of a trading table-a place where trades are negotiated and go down. And there are two parties which come to this trading table. On one side of the table is us. And what we bring to the trading table doesn’t, by almost anyone’s standards, hold any trade value at all. But we bring to the table what we have to offer. And what we have to offer is our sin. That’s it. That’s the best we can do. Our jealousies. Our lusts. Our greed. All the times when we’ve acted like we’re the most important, the times when we insist that others, including God, bow to our will. All the times we’ve hurt others. All our sins. That’s what we can offer at this trading table.
And a part of us doesn’t want to believe that that’s all we have to offer. It says, “No way. I’ve got a lot more to offer than that. Because I’m a good person. I’ve shown a lot of love to a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of good for others. I’m a good spouse. I’m a good parent. I serve on a church board. I’m a called worker of the gospel. In fact, as I look around the room at all the other spouses and all the other parents and all the other church board members and all the other called workers of the gospel here, it’s easy to see I bring a lot more to the table than most around here. I’ve got good to offer.” But that’s completely ignoring the standard of value set at this trading table. The only thing that has value at this trading table is perfection. Completely and utterly selfless, self-giving perfection. And nothing we have to offer rises to that standard. Even the best of what we do is marred by selfishness. So I suppose that means that we can add to the list of the things we bring to the trading table our self-righteous arrogance. Guys, it doesn’t look promising. The outlook for finding a trading partner here when we consider what we’ve got to trade….this situation looks pretty hopeless.
But suddenly, someone comes and sits down across from us on the other side of the trading table. It’s Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. And, he, by anyone’s standard, but even by the standard set here, brings to the trading table an extraordinary collection. He was never jealous. He never looked at another woman with lust in his heart-and that’s pretty remarkable considering the fact that some of the women whom he befriended were women who made it their business to be lusted over. He was never greedy. He was always humble. No deceit was ever found in his mouth. He was the perfect son and the perfect friend. He was perfect. He’s the Righteous One.
And as you eye up the potential trading partners here and consider what each brings to the table, you’re certain that Jesus made a mistake. He sat down at the wrong table. That he’s got no business being there. Because there’s certainly no possibility for him of a fair and equitable trade going down with this immoral trade partner sitting across from him.
But Jesus looks over at us on our side of the table and he looks at what we’ve got to offer to him and he thinks about what he has to offer to us. And he smiles at us. And he says, “Yes, this is the deal I’ve been waiting to make. Here’s the deal. You give to me all of your sin and all of your guilt and all of your shame and I’ll take it. And in exchange I’ll give you my perfection and my righteousness and my selfless love-yes, everything that your heavenly Father desires and demands to see in you. We’ll trade. Yes! This is a good trade. A great trade. In fact, it’s a trade I’ve been planning to make with you before I laid the foundations of this world.”
Good story, right? But it’s not make-believe. This is the reality. This is the reality of where our Lenten journey, begun tonight, ends up on Good Friday. This is the reality of the what the cross of Jesus Christ is all about. “God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” The greatest trade ever made. Our sins laid on Jesus. His righteousness credited to us. Our punishment suffered by him on a tree of death-an eternity of hell paid for you. His perfection clothes us before our holy heavenly Father.
Why would Jesus do such a thing? Why would Jesus want to make such an inequitable, unfair trade? When it’s so natural for us to try to make deals that take advantage of the other, which benefit only us-why would Jesus make a deal that has seemingly no benefit for him?
Because Jesus knew that this is the one way that reconciliation could take place between sinners and the Holy God of Israel. If not for this trade, we would be and would always be the enemies of God. But with this gracious trade, we’re now the friends of God and the children of God.
And if you were to press harder for answers, if you were to object to Jesus and say, “But Jesus, this doesn’t make any sense. No one would make a trade like this with his enemies, when your enemies stand to gain everything from you and you stand to lose everything to them in the process.” And Jesus would respond, “Friend, you’re thinking about this all wrong. When you gave me your sin and I gave you my righteousness, I didn’t lose everything. No. I gained. I gained what I wanted the most. Because I gained you. For all eternity, now you’re with me.”
Isn’t that the most nonsensical thing you’ve every heard? Yes! Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? Yes. Because this shows us what kind of love God has for us: it is an unmerited, undeserved, selfless love. We call that grace. And at the cross, Grace Made a Trade. And now in Christ, we’re the righteousness of God, and reconciled to him. Believe it and proclaim it. Amen.