The Great Exchange in the Death of Jesus
What could be stranger than celebrating someone’s death? It might be understandable if people celebrated the death of tyrant. But Christians celebrate the death of an innocent Man! An innocent Man died at the hands of wicked men, and Christians rejoice! So what does that make us? Well, that’s what we need to look at. We need to look at what the death of Jesus Christ means for us.
Romans 4:25, “[Jesus] who was delivered because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” Commenting on this verse Charles Hodge says: “The two great truths of the Gospel are, that Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins, and that He rose again for our justification.”
In the following we’ll look at the first of these two truths. I want to talk about how the death of Jesus Christ has affected us. We can see that His death is quite different to other deaths. We mourn the passing of others. Yet we rejoice at the death of Jesus Christ. Why? First off, His death means that God no longer holds us guilty for our sins.
The Guilt Exchange
“[Jesus Christ] was delivered because of our offenses.” We need to ask the question: Delivered by whom and to whom? Well, the New International Version offers us a bit of a commentary on this verse where it states, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.”
So, we see then that Jesus was handed over to death on account of our sins. If the Grim Reaper actually were death personified, Jesus was placed into his hands. However, it was Jesus Himself who handed Himself over to death, which is to say that He did the Father’s will and sacrificed Himself. But why was it the Father’s will to offer up His Son as a sacrifice? And why did the Son offer Himself as a sacrifice to the Father? Well, we’re told that it was all because of our offenses.
God did it so that He could justly forgive us our sins, didn’t He? So there’s an exchange of sorts taking place here, isn’t there? Jesus is ransoming Himself. He’s paying the ransom God requires for our sins. What is the price of that ransom? “For the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23a. So that’s what Jesus was doing. He was making an exchange.
At Calvary, He, as they say in the movies, “made the drop!” To make the drop is to make an exchange. Usually a brief case full of money is “dropped” somewhere for the release of a hostage. However, in the case we’re investigating, Jesus switched Himself for the hostages. He became the substitute for the hostages. But we need to be careful here, don’t we? We need to be careful not to make out that it was the Devil who held us hostage. I mean, there is a sense in which this is true. But Jesus never sacrificed Himself to satisfy the Devil! No, He was delivered because of our sins – but sins against whom? What is it that King David said, “Against You and You only have I sinned” Psalm 54:3. So, Jesus was delivered over to death because of our sins against God. Therefore, it is God who received the payment for our sins, not the Devil.
As you know, God is a just God, and therefore His justice needs to be satisfied. And the death of Jesus Christ is the proof that God is a just God. Jesus Christ was willing to offer up His life as a ransom for us, and God was willing to receive it. But how much was the life of Jesus Christ worth? His was a perfect life, wasn’t it? His life was worth a whole universe and more in the eyes of God.
What would you give for the life of your son or daughter? Would you give everything you have? Well, we can see that the life of Jesus Christ was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world if need be. His life is of infinite worth on account of who He is. God and Man in One Person, thus, He is a Divine Person. Therefore He is the perfect ransom for you and me.
So, the great exchange took place when Christ faced death, when He died. He went to the cross to make the switch – the Great Exchange. His sinless life for our sinful lives. Our guilt for His innocence. The Apostle Paul puts it like this in Romans 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Did you see the switch? Don’t miss it! God made Christ sin so that we could become right with God in Christ. So the great exchange that took place is this: God made Jesus our sin. And as He did so He made us Christ’s righteousness. As Isaiah says, “And the LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all” Isaiah 53:6b. So, the place where the Great Exchange took place was at the cross of Calvary. It actually took place upon the cross for all to see. It was done in the open. But it wasn’t until Christ had breathed His last that His end of the bargain was sealed. For remember that the ransom price owed was His perfect life.
So, the death of Jesus shows us Jesus really did have all our sins upon Him as Scripture says. Otherwise, Jesus could not have possibly died. For, as we’ve already stated, “The wages of sin is death.” But Jesus had no sin of His own. He was perfectly innocent of all sin. Therefore God would have no business taking the life of His Son. But we read these words in Isaiah 53:5&10, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him … It pleased the LORD to bruise [or crush] Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin.”
So, we might say that it was the guilt of our sin that was laid upon Him by God. Therefore, this was a legal transaction that was taking place upon the cross. Our guiltiness was exchanged for Christ’s guiltlessness. He received our guilt and we receive His innocence – His righteousness.
Do you see what happened on the cross? Jesus became a sin-offering when God placed our guilt upon Jesus’ shoulders. Therefore we have no sin because Jesus has taken all our sins away – past, present, and future sins. This means that God can justly declare us innocent because of what He did with Jesus. In other words, God accepted the life of Jesus as a substitute for your life and my life. Therefore, because Jesus died for our offenses against God we no longer need to die for them. We are no longer guilty sinners because God has removed our guilt in Jesus Christ. And, because we do not need to die for our own sins, the Bible says that we now have everlasting life.
We need to look at this piece of Good News a bit more closely.
The Life Exchange
To say that you will not die because of your sins is the same as saying that you have everlasting life. For death is the reward or punishment for sin – sin’s wages. Whereas, everlasting life is the reward for righteousness, which is the opposite of sin, sin is the opposite of righteousness and righteousness is the opposite of sin.
Jesus lived a perfect righteous, i.e., non-sinful guiltless life. And He lived that perfect righteous non-sinful guiltless life for you and me, for all believers. Therefore, not only is the Great Exchange a “guilt exchange,” it is also a “life exchange.” At the cross God placed our sinfulness, our guiltiness upon Jesus. And He took Jesus’ righteousness, His non-sinfulness and placed it upon us.
Now, we need to take careful note that this was all simply a legal transaction at this point. We have to be very clear here. Jesus didn’t become a sinner on the cross. He didn’t go through a change of nature and start rebelling against God, and cursing Him as He hung upon the cross. No, Jesus was perfectly obedient to God even to His very last breath. Had He failed and sinned at any point then He too, like us, would need a Saviour to save Him from His sins!
So, we need to understand that the righteous nature of Jesus did not change. He did not become a sinner. He became sin, i.e., a sin-offering. It’s as Isaiah says, God made His soul a sin-offering by laying our sin upon Him.
Now, likewise, as Jesus had no change in nature during the Great Exchange, neither did you or I at the point where we are justified or declared right with God. This is important, as Jesus hung on the cross God was dealing with our sins, because He had imputed, or accredited, or transacted, or accounted our guilt to Him. It stands to reason that if Christ is your substitute with God, then Christ’s righteousness has been gifted to you because He keeps on representing you before God. Therefore since God imputed our guilt to Jesus, He has imputed Jesus’ righteousness to us. Thus the Holy Spirit is now in a position to apply all the benefits of Christ’s cross to us. However, the great exchange is a legal exchange in that it does not affect the nature of Jesus or the nature of you and me.
At this point it only affects our standing with God. Jesus, on account of our sins, did not become a sinner, but rather became a sin-offering. The Great Exchange is that He receives our wages (which is death) so that we can receive His wages (which is life). In Christ we share the death we deserve (but He does not deserve) with Him so that He can share the life He deserves (but we don’t deserve) with us. So the cross then is the place where the Great Exchange takes place. It’s the place where our death is exchanged for His life, and His death is exchanged for our life.
God cannot look upon sin without condemning it, whereas, conversely, He cannot look upon righteousness without blessing it. That’s the nature of a Holy and Righteous God. He curses sin and blesses righteousness. The Scriptures attest to this. Therefore our sin is cursed in Jesus who, because God has imputed our sin to Him, removes that curse from us by His death. Then He is free to bless us with the everlasting life Jesus deserved on account of His perfect righteousness. Therefore, Jesus received our death and we received His life – everlasting life!
What a turnaround! What a switch! This is the Great Exchange! Instead of giving us what our sins deserve God gives us the exact opposite! And instead of giving Jesus what His righteousness deserves He gave Him the exact opposite! It’s like the Governor of Texas saying, “Un-strap that murderer from that electric chair and let him go free with a pardon – now strap me in to pay the penalty for his crime.” But, the Governor of Texas does not become a murderer, even though he is dying the death that belonged to the murderer. And neither is the murderer no longer a murderer even though he has now received the life that belonged to the governor. The murderer has simply had his guilt removed and paid for – a free pardon. He is free to live his life knowing that he will not be required to pay for his crime. Why? Because his guilt has already been paid for.
Now, if you’re thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great if that kind of thing happened in the real world?”, then think again. This is exactly the kind of thing that happened in the real world. For Jesus Christ died a real death on a real cross at the hands of a real God! He died for murderers, homosexuals, sodomites, adulterers, drunkards, you name it. He even died for the goody-two-shoes of whom butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths! How do we know this? We know because Jesus died for sinners! And Scripture makes it very clear that all of us are sinners. The well-known verse, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But let me just read a few verses from Romans chapter five, “For while we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
So Christ then died only for sinners. Tell me of any true Christian, you know, who is not a sinner! You won’t be able to point to any Christian who is not a sinner. To be sure, God no longer sees the Christian as a sinner on account of Christ’s righteousness. However, this is vastly different to saying that you are not, nor ever were, a sinner! When Adam disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit all mankind became sinners with him. Therefore, all mankind was deserving of death – the wages of sin. But God, by His grace has sent us another Adam, a second Man, the last Adam to perfectly obey Him on behalf of sinners. Therefore, those who know themselves to be condemned sinners sitting on death row also know their need for a Saviour. Christ is the only Saviour. He is the only one who died for sinners. Therefore Christ is the only one who can give us life – life everlasting.
And how is this life, this everlasting life, received? Well, it’s been received the same way ever since our forefather Adam rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. It’s received through the Great Exchange. Scripture uses Abraham as an example. Think about it, Abraham lived at least 1800 years before Jesus. Genesis 15:6, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” This is what the Apostle Paul is writing about in Romans 4. In simple terms Paul is saying that Abraham’s faith is Abraham’s righteousness. The Great Exchange that took place was that the LORD revealed something to Abraham that was going to take place at a future point, and Abraham believed in the LORD.
It is through this “believing” in the LORD that the LORD accounts or accredits or imputes to Abraham righteousness. Do you see what’s happening? To paraphrase, the LORD is in essence saying, “Abraham, you know that I have revealed that I am sending a Saviour of sinners. Well, believe also this: He will come from your own loins.”
Paul informs us in Romans 4:20ff that Abraham did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief. He was fully convinced and therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness. So we see then, though Jesus died close to 2,000 years after Abraham, Abraham received everlasting life through faith. And so it is for us today, though we live 2,000 years after Jesus died, we too, like Abraham, receive everlasting life through faith.
Both Abraham and we look to the Great Exchange that took place on the cross. It was there that God took away our everlasting death and gave us everlasting life instead. But what good is everlasting life if you don’t know you have it? If you didn’t know you had everlasting life you’d be walking around in fear of judgment. You’d be walking around trying to avoid the whole issue of God and His judgment wouldn’t you? You’d be trying to deny the real God by perhaps inventing a replacement, i.e., a God who won’t judge sinners. Or you might be trying to convince yourself that you’re not a sinner! You might try any number of ways to escape the judgment of God. But the only escape is through faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.
For us, as it is for all Christians, on account of what Christ did on the cross, we can now live life to its fullest! For Jesus says that He came to bring us life, life in abundance! Therefore we can get on with our lives knowing that all our offenses have been paid for.
So, for us, life has truly taken on a new meaning. We can see that there is a merciful and compassionate God at the helm of creation, guiding it forward. We can see that there is justice in this universe, because we can see the justice of God. He will not let sin, any sin big or small, go unpaid for.
And we see this most clearly at the cross. For there God satisfied His justice by pouring out His wrath upon His Son on account of our sin. And also there we see God expressly manifest His mercy by accounting Jesus’ righteous law-keeping to us. Therefore at the cross our death deserving guilt was removed and was exchanged for everlasting life.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”The cross is the place of the Great Exchange. It was the place where Jesus was delivered up because of our offenses. That’s something to celebrate, isn’t it? Let’s all continue to glory in the cross of Christ and in nothing else! For we have everlasting life because of Him!
(Excerpted from my Paving Paradise eBook: https://www.amazon.com/PAVING-PARADISE-Neil-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B007SU154U/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1492136529&sr=1-12