It is said that for several years, while the Roman Colosseum was under construction, that thousands of people throughout the city were starving. There was very little grain and other foods grown locally, and most of that went to the wealthy. For years Egypt had been the granary of Rome, and there was still plenty of wheat and corn across the Mediterranean. But Caesar had ordered that the ships of Rome carry sand to fill the Colosseum, not food. Freighter after freighter arrived at Portus, Rome’s harbor, filled with nothing but fine sand.

Sadly, modern Christianity is like ancient Rome; it is not feeding its citizens with the nutrition of the true gospel. Sometimes it is absolutely useless theological sand, and at other times it is more like poisonous sugar.

II Corinthians 5 is filled with great instruction – filled with God’s blessing in verse after verse. “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

After referring to future judgment, Paul points to something specific. He said, “God hath give to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Who is the “us” of this verse? Was he speaking of himself, or was this about all of us? Christ Jesus died that rebels and sinners might be brought peaceably back to God – reconciled to Him. And God “hath committed unto US the word of reconciliation.” Paul’s ministry concluded in, just as ours should: “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

This is the heart of the gospel; this is the message of the missionary – the evangelist. This should be the theme of Christ’s twenty-first century churches. But in much of Christendom, instead of meat of the Word, people are being fed spiritual Cheetos and beer.

In the heart of the gospel – that which is summarized in this verse – we see the heart of God, the heart of Christ, and the very needy heart of the sinner.

Let me explain what I mean, beginning with the HEART of CHRIST JESUS.

There is so much more that could be said about the Saviour than what is given to us here. But I will try to confine myself to this significant statement: “Christ knew no sin.” “Christ knew NO sin – none.” “Christ KNEW no sin.” How is it that Christ Jesus, omniscient Second Person of the Trinity, knew no sin?

Ordinarily, knowledge is something we consider with our minds. We know things because our eyes have seen them and that observation has been transferred to the brain. “Don’t tell me that the sun isn’t shining. I know that it is because I have seen it with my own eyes. I know that 9 divided by 3 is 3, because I have done the math. I know that there has been a world-wide flood, just as the Bible says, because I have seen fish fossils in Alberta and I have seen the Grand Canyon.” Our minds handle all kinds of information, and we know lots of stuff.

But Paul is not talking about the knowledge which the mind of Christ knew; he is talking about Jesus’ heart. Jesus is not ignorant when it comes to sin, the transgression of the will of God. Intellectually He knows more of the details of wickedness than you will ever know. And we thank the Lord for that. He knows about the origin of sin, because it was against Him that Lucifer first rebelled. You and I know only the little that the Bible reveals about that first act of rebellion. Christ was there in the garden talking with Adam and Eve after they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. The Lord Jesus knows more about the corruption that wickedness causes than we do, because He has eyes holy enough to properly measure it. And He knows the consequences of sin, which at this point no living sinner can imagine.

Perhaps more importantly, the Lord Jesus knows your sins and transgressions – every single one of them. He knows what you stole from that convenience store, and those lies you shared about your former friend. He knows all those lustful thoughts you’ve had, and the jealousy you have of that other woman. He knows every time you smiled, covering up the anger that was raging in your heart. You can be sure that Christ Jesus knows sin in the sense of the omniscient God. But still, Paul was correct, Christ “knew no sin” in the place where it really matters – in His heart.

Simply put, Paul was saying what is repeated throughout the New Testament: Christ Jesus was absolutely free from sin; He was, and is, sinless. This is an essential part of the gospel message; it is a necessary part of our salvation. “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” – Hebrew 4:15. He is our great “high priest… who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sins, and made higher than the heavens” – Hebrew 7:26. Sinners can be saved only through “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot… who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” – I Peter 1:9 and 2:22. The Apostle John said, “ye (Christians) know that he (Christ) was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin” – I John 3:5. Christ’s holy and sinless nature was prophesied in Isaiah 53:9. And on one occasion Jesus demanded of those who wanted His execution, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” “Is there anyone here who has any proof that I have ever sinned?” No one stepped forward, because the Lord never did anything against God’s law or against God’s will. Eventually, His enemies had to hire liars to perjure themselves before they could condemn the Lord Jesus.

As I say, this is an important part of the gospel; it is an essential part of our salvation from sin. Because if Christ were just a mere man – a sinner like us – then He could not have become our substitute under the law of God. If Jesus had sinned at any time during his life – and the wages of sin is death – then He would have had to die for His own sin, leaving us without His salvation.

One of the most important of all Christian doctrines is called “substitutionary atonement.” Jesus Christ, the Saviour, died the death of a sinner, without being sinful Himself. He died as a substitute – in the place of the sinner He intended to save. He died to pay the penalty for my sins, and for millions of other sinners like me. God the father “made him to be sin for us, who knew not sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

The heart of Christ was absolutely free from sin. “He knew no sin.” And that heart was completely surrendered to do the will of God as a sacrifice to save sinners like us. Our scripture text speaks of Christ Jesus’ sinless heart.

In addition to Christ, it also addresses the heart of GOD.

“For (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us… that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Jesus of Nazareth was NOT born in sin; He was not born sinful, like all the rest of us. When God’s angel, Gabriel, was sent to tell Mary that she was to bring the Messiah into the world, she was justifiably confused. “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” She said, “I know not,” in much the same way that Paul used it in our text. Mary certainly knew what men were, and she probably knew dozens of specific men – father and brothers. But she had no intimate relationship with any of them, just as Christ had no intimate relationship with sin.

Mary said, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The angel answered: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that HOLY thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Never before, and never since, has God’s angel spoken of a baby as a “holy thing.” No baby is a “holy thing.” They are precious; they are wonderful; they are marvelous; they may be cute, but they aren’t holy. That is because every baby is born a child of Adam and is an automatic recipient of his sin nature. We all come into this world as sinners. “There is none righteous no not one.” But there has been one exception: Jesus of Nazareth, whose father was not Adam or any of his sons.

Galatians 4:4 uses language about Jesus, which we’d never use to describe our children. “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” God’s eternal Son took upon himself a body and became incarnate when He was “made of a woman.” He was “made of the woman” in much the same way he was “made sin for us.” It was by the will and power of God. It was miraculous. Christ was not born a sinner; He was MADE sin for us.

And even more precisely, He was not made SINFUL. He was made SIN. When Christ hung on the cross, God looked at the Saviour bearing at that moment every sin of every person He would ever save. God looked at His only begotten Son and saw the most despicable of all sights – the epitome of sin. And God turned away in disgust, causing Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Some interpreters are wont to say that God made Christ to be a sin… offering. While that is in essence true, that is not what Paul says in this verse. Christ Jesus IS the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. “Christ also had once suffered for sins, the just of the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” – I Peter 3:18. Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree (the cross)” – I Peter 2:24. The greatest and highest of all sin offerings was made by the Son of God while on the cross. But this is not Paul’s subject in our text when he said, God “hath made him to be sin for us.”

Christ was made SIN for us. He wasn’t made sinful for us. He was made sin. And a related verse which uses the same kind of language says, “God made Christ a CURSE for us.” Galatians 3:18 – “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us…” The Saviour delivers people from sin by having been made sin for us. And he also delivers us from the curse which sin produces by being made a curse for us. These things have been made true, because it was in the heart of God to do so.

And before we leave this thought, consider the words “for us.” They mean “on our behalf.” Going back to that “substitutionary atonement:” Christ died in the place of the sinners He saves. You and I should have been hanging on that cross, under the wrath of God. Paul uses the same words “for us” in Romans 5 – “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died FOR the ungodly” – on the behalf of the ungodly. And, “for scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died FOR US.” He died in my place on Calvary’s tree.

And by the way, many false prophets say that Christ went to hell to purchase salvation. Joyce Meyer, for example, has said, “There is no hope of anyone going to heaven unless… you believe with all your heart that Jesus took your place in hell.” Frederick K.C. Price told his huge world-wide audience: “Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was [for Jesus] to go to hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God.” That is not true. These “word of faith” teachers suggest that something other than the blood of Christ provides atonement. They suggest that Christ became a lost man in order to save us. That is heresy. The payment necessary for our redemption was made on the cross; it was paid with the Messiah’s blood. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus died on Calvary. On the cross, Christ “shed (his blood) for many for the remission of sins” – Matthew 26:28.

Now, in the light of the heart of God, Christ and the gospel, consider YOUR own HEART.

Why was it necessary for God to sacrifice His only begotten Son? Why was it necessary that “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanse us from all sin” – I John 1:7? Because the heart of every human being is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” – Jeremiah 17:9. God today, just as He did in Genesis 6:5, “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The imaginations of our heart often try to tell us that we aren’t as bad as those old gospel preachers tell us. But the Bible declares: “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say that we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.” – I John 1:8 and 10. This is why Paul says, “We pray you in Christ stead, be ye reconciled to God.”

But Paul’s message is not all gloom and doom. He preached the gospel, which means “good news.” God the father “made (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew not sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “That we might be MADE the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God in Christ.” It is not necessary that you die in your sins, with a heart full of evil imaginations and wickedness. Christ was made sin that sinners might be made righteous. And that doesn’t mean that we might begin to live an outwardly righteous life. Just as Christ became actual sin in God’s sight, those He saves become actually righteous in His sight. God the father “made Christ to be sin for us… that we might be made righteousness itself, in Christ.”

Through God’s salvation sinners are put into Christ, and He is perfectly righteous. Paul says, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

The person who hears the gospel, believes the gospel and who puts his faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour – that person is reconciled to God. God in His grace puts that sinner in Christ. He sees the redeemed soul in the person of the righteous Saviour. From the day of that person’s salvation, when God looks at that heart, He sees the righteousness of Christ. It is not OUR righteousness; it is the righteousness of Christ. God says in Isaiah 45 – “ Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength…”

In the Lord, I have righteousness and strength. It is not mine. It is His. In Christ I have been justified; God has declared me to be righteous before him, even though you would be hard pressed to find proof of that in my life. But that is the message of the Gospel. That was Paul’s ministry and mine. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Have you been reconciled to God through Christ’s death on the cross? That is the case, if you have come to Him in repentance and faith. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”