Romans 5:6-11 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
It was years ago, when a small-town newspaper ran an article about the city council. The owner of the paper, upset by some recent events, had written an editorial which, in big, bold type, proclaimed, “Half the City Council Are Crooks!” While the editor expected some people would demand a retraction, he never thought people would begin to cancel their subscription to his newspaper.
Because of fear of having to shut down the paper, the owner did print a retraction on the front page of the following week’s paper. Along with the retraction, the newspaper featured a headline in big, bold type. The headline read, “Half of Our City Council Are Not Crooks!”
Now, I can’t tell you whether that town’s city council were dishonest or not. On the other hand, I can confidently assure you that all of us are sinners. Not just half of us are crooks. Every single one of us is a sinner, a crook, a murderer, an enemy of God – every last one of us.
St. Paul explains, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Paul plainly calls us “ungodly.” That means, “the opposite of God; wanting nothing to do with God.” Being godly means doing the will of God. But, we do the opposite of God’s will. We don’t worship God. We take His holy name in vain. We don’t put God first in our lives. We don’t honor God’s representatives in the government. We allow our temper to get the better of us. We lust, steal, covet, and gossip. All of that makes us ungodly.
We are ungodly. Christ is godly. We are full of sin. Christ is sinless. Everything that we fail to do, Jesus did perfectly. And yet, while we were ungodly, Christ, the perfect God-Man, died for us. In our place. As our Substitute. Look at Jesus hanging dead on the cross and then think of all the biblical stand-ins – the ram that spared Isaac (Genesis 22:13); the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:21); the scapegoat of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:21), the Suffering Servant of Isaiah: “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” (Isaiah 53:5). Christ is the stand-in for sinners. Christ is the vicarious Victim.
St. Paul again explains: Very rarely will anyone die for a person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” A righteous person might be willing to die for a good person. If his daughter is being held for ransom by kidnappers, a father will gladly substitute his life for his daughter’s. A soldier will jump on a landmine to protect the lives of his army buddies. A Secret Service agent will put her life on the line for the President.
But, those people will think twice before they die for a crook or a criminal.
Also, the father, soldier and secret service agent are certainly valiant, heroic deaths. But they are not vicarious deaths. They may substitute their life for another’s life. But, they are not able to substitute their life for the salvation of another’s soul. Their death – as heroic as it is – cannot change the other person’s eternal destination.
That’s what makes Christ’s substitutionary and vicarious death, so different! Christ died for thieves, crooks, and murderers. He died for the ungodly. For sinners. For His enemies. For you and me. He took the place of His enemies. Not His family. Not His buddies. Not His superiors. He died for those who wanted Him dead and gone. For those who wanted nothing to do with Him. Again, that includes you and me. And, He changed our eternal destination from hell to heaven.
Yes, you good, decent, hard-working, church-going, right-decision-making people are apart from Jesus. You, too, are the ungodly, the sinful, the enemies of God. Yet, this is how God shows His love to us – while we were still sinners and God’s enemies, Jesus Christ died for us.
One life in exchange for another. He becomes the sinner in place of every sinner; and we in Him become the saint – holy and righteous before God. That’s what Paul means when he says: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” The blood of Jesus shed on the cross is your righteousness before God. It covers you with Jesus. When God looks on you, He doesn’t see your sin any more, but He sees the blood of His Son, that perfect life lived in your place. And even though your sins are many and great, that blood is greater. He became your sin in His death, and by His blood you are declared to be righteous, innocent, holy, blameless before God.
St. Paul continues: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
“Reconcile” means to win over to friendliness. In World War II, Germany and Japan were America’s bitter enemies. But since the war, we have been reconciled and are now allies in the war against terrorism. “Reconcile” means to bring into agreement. There may be a labor dispute between the company and the union. An agreement is struck so that work within the company can continue. “Reconcile” means to restore harmony. When the marriage is falling apart, the couple seeks Christian counseling from their pastor. With the use of God’s Word and repentance on both of their parts, harmony within the marriage is restored.
Most of the time, when it comes to reconciliation in the world of nations, business, and marriage, reconciliation happens by each party getting a little and giving a little.
That’s not the way it worked with our reconciliation with God. We were God’s bitter enemies. While we remained enemies, Christ made peace with us. We were unhappy in our relationship with God. We weren’t doing the work that was assigned to us. We were the ones who cheated on God. While we remained unfaithful and disloyal, Christ restored peace between us and God. We did not give up anything … except our sins. Christ is the One who gave up everything – He gave up heaven to suffer hell on the cross; He gave His perfection to us; He who cannot die as God, became man so that He could die.
On Good Friday, in the darkness of Jesus’ death, God said to the world, “I am at peace with you.” In your Baptism, when water was poured on you in the Name of the Triune God, the Father said, “I am at peace with you.” In the Supper, with Jesus’ own Body and Blood as His gift to you, God says again, “I am at peace with you.”
Your name is written in the wounds of Jesus. Christ has dipped His pen in the crimson ink of His divinely human veins and written your name, indelibly, in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He has engraved your name on the palms of His hands. He has tattooed His name onto your soul and heart and mind and body — you are completely and everlastingly His and His alone. Why? Because He has reconciled you!
You did nothing to bring about this reconciliation. God did it all through Jesus Christ. In Baptism, you did not commit yourself to Christ; He committed Himself to you. More than that, in those waters He crucified you with Himself, laid your body with His in the tomb, and He carried you forth into the light of life again. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. That believing, that faith, is not a conviction you created but a gift you received. By the Holy Spirit you confess, “Jesus is Lord.”
Reconciled. Do you realize the implications? It isn’t a matter of you “getting right with God” but of you believing that Christ has made you right with God. You weren’t reconciled and made a Christian because you were so great a person, or had a heart that was so pure, or because you so awesome that God just had to have you. Nope. It was because you were so unrighteous that Christ covered you with the clothing of His righteousness. It was because you were living for yourself that Christ lived for you, and then died for you, and then lives for you again. It wasn’t because you asked Jesus to be your Savior that you were saved. It was because while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you, chose you, called you, and washed you clean in His own divine blood.
You might have heard people say, “God loves you just the way you are.” That sounds nice and loving. But when people say that, they are often using those words to excuse someone’s sinful lifestyle and harmful choices.
A better way to speak is to say, “God loves you just the way you are. … But He also loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
God loved you while you were still a sinner and His enemy. But, He did not let you remain in your sin or continue as His enemy. You were an enemy that Jesus saw needed changing. He did not leave you the way you were. What would be the point in that?
If you were going to stay the same, then what would have been the purpose of Jesus living and dying for you. No, while you were still an enemy of God, Jesus reconciled you to Himself. He chose you as an enemy so that He could make you a child of God. He chose you as a sinner so that He could remake you into a saint. He chose you while you were still friends with the devil and remade you into a brother or sister of Christ.
Please understand that this God-performed transformation is not painful. On the contrary, it is wonderful to be redeemed, recycled, and remade with a new heart and a new life filled with forgiveness. It is a blessed thing when God washes you with His baptismal waters, forgives you with His words of absolution, and feeds you with His divine supper.
And, all of this happens because Jesus, the Savior, reconciles sinners.
How do I know? Well, I know because He changed me, just like He has changed hundreds of millions before me. He has changed big sinners, little sinners, large sinners, and economy-sized sinners. He has changed … well, you get the idea.
You have a Savior who changed and became one of us. God’s only Son became Mary’s Firstborn. He who was present at the creation of the universe and called everything into being with a word, loved you too much to let you remain the way you were. He was willing to live and die so that you might be rescued, changed, reconciled. Amen.