A common aphorism is politics and in sales is “Perception is everything.” Even if someone has the best of motives and intentions, what matters is how people perceive you. To a large degree, that’s true in life in general as well.
How we perceive things is really important, in the sense that if our perceptions are wrong, we can be hurt. If they’re accurate, we benefit. And this is especially true in the spiritual realm, which brings us to today’s passage, which has much to say on perception.
Their first problem with perception was how they saw Paul. He’d been the one to lead many of them to Christ, he’d started the church in Corinth, and he was an apostle, equal in authority to Peter or James. But because of some false teachers who’d infiltrated them, some of them had been led to discount his authority and disparage the sacrifices he’d made for them. Some said he was “out of [his] mind.” But he wasn’t trying to bring any fresh evidence to convince them to come back over to his “side.” He’d written this and 1st Corinthians to remind them of what they already knew.
Then we come to their perception of Christ, which is even more immediately relevant and important. In fact, how you perceive Christ is second only in importance to how Christ perceives you. Jesus at one point asked his disciples “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” How you answer this question determines your eternal destiny.
People who encountered Jesus while he walked the earth had all sorts of perceptions of him, most of them at least partly wrong. The people saw him as a great teacher and prophet, a miracle worker who said and did some pretty strange things at times. The Pharisees saw him as their mortal enemy. Paul, who (apparently) only became entangled with Jesus after his death, echoed their thinking and saw this Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest threat ever faced, since he (Paul) went from town to town searching out his followers to haul them away.
But since his encounter on the Damascus Road, his perception had changed 180 degrees. Now he saw Christ, this same Jesus whom he’d persecuted through his followers, as his only hope. This is how he saw Jesus, the One who’s our Go-Between:
· On one side, he’s the One who reconciles us to God the Father. Because of our sin, we had declared war on God, and he had no choice but to be at war with us. And as you might've guessed, anyone who’s at war with God Almighty is, well, not going to win. But the Good News is that through Christ’s shed blood, we’re now reconciled with the Father. Not only are we not at war with him anymore, but he’s adopted us as his children and heirs, co-heirs with Christ himself. It's one of my favorite aphorisms: All of God’s enemies will be destroyed, but his preferred method of destroying them is by turning them into his beloved children.
· On our side, he’s the One who’s appointed us as his ambassadors. We’re reconciled to the Father, but there’s a whole world out there of lost people who are not. Our incredible responsibility is to carry God’s appeal, this “message of reconciliation,” to lost sinners.
I’d like to focus on this jaw-dropping truth for a moment. We’ve talked about it before, but I never get over it, and I hope you don’t either. The Lord could choose any number of sinless, incredibly powerful, perfectly obedient angels to carry out his Message to people who don’t know him. But he bypassed all these volunteers and chose you and me--frail paper bags—to carry this hidden diamond to those who desperately need it.
And what is this “message of reconciliation”? Well, the first part here is pretty simple: “Be reconciled to God.” Put down your arms. Raise the white flag. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Court. Take the Son as your Advocate, your Defense Attorney.
How does this reconciliation take place?
It’s in verse 21, one of the greatest and most mysterious explanations of what Christ did in the entire Bible. God (the Father) made him (Jesus) who had no sin (which we know from other verses) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. What follows is the best explanation of this verse that my feeble brain can come up with: We made a trade, Jesus and me. The Father placed my sin upon him, and for a brief period saw my sin when looking at him, and treated him as my sin deserves. Then he credited to my “account” the perfect righteousness of Christ. How did he do this? We’re not sure, since the Bible doesn’t go into further detail. But if you want to read a more explicit description of this Great Exchange, see Isaiah 53:
He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
This is the message of reconciliation. The only way for us to be reconciled to God was for the Father to do this. Our part is to believe, and worship, and tell others about it.
Father God, I feel so inadequate even talking about this. To say I’m out of my depth is a huge understatement. I feel like imitating Job and placing my hand over my mouth and just meditating on this for a while.