by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts May 16, 2004
Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church
Copyright © 2004 by Mark D. Roberts
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Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
A Rich Meal
Have you ever gone out to eat for some special occasion, and found yourself faced with more wonderful food than you could possible eat? A few weeks ago some friends took us out for a "no holds barred" kind of meal. We began with scrumptious appetizers. Then I had an unusually-creative salad, you know, the kind that combines things you'd never dare to mix on your own, but it tastes great in the restaurant. The bread served with the meal was so delicious that my "low carbs" commitment quickly vanished. By the time the main course arrived, I was feeling quite full and satisfied. So, even though I had ordered a fairly modest fish entrée, I couldn't finish it. Then came dessert. It was one of those rare times when I gave in to my sin nature and enjoyed a fantastically rich chocolate torte. But I couldn't even finish it. There was just too much good food at that meal for me to be able to eat it all. And, let me tell you, I can eat plenty when I'm highly motivated. But this night there was too much great stuff even for me.
This morning, as I look at our biblical text, I feel rather like I did when surveying the glories of that fancy meal. There is so much rich theological truth in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 that I simply can't even begin to serve much of it to you. In fact I could easily preach four sermons on this text. Now don't worry. I won't try to do four sermons this morning. But I want to warn you in advance that you may end up feeling like I left out a whole bunch of great spiritual food from this sermon.
Why Did Jesus Die?
Please allow me to skip the appetizers so I can get right to the main course. Why did Jesus die, according to 2 Corinthians 5? He died so that we might be reconciled to God. As our text puts it, "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (5:19).
Of course to say that God was reconciling us to himself through Christ implies that such reconciliation was needed, that, outside of Christ, we are alienated from God. This passage assumes that we saw explicitly last week in Romans 5: outside of Christ we are God's enemies. Thus the fundamental human predicament is not that we don't know God and need revelation. And it's not that we aren't sure how to find God and need to seek after him. The fundamental human problem is one of utter alienation from God. Our sin has cut us off from relationship with him and turned us into God's enemies. Thus, even more than revelation or discovery, we need reconciliation. We need to be brought back into intimate fellowship with God.
The Means of Our Reconciliation
So how are we reconciled to God? It happens not merely through the Incarnation, through the Word of God becoming flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation is necessary to reconciliation, but insufficient to accomplish it. Something else is needed, something that could only be accomplished by one who was fully divine and fully human.
We find that something else described in verse 21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." This is one of the most shocking verses in all of Scripture, not to mention one of the most important. The setup: Jesus is sinless, completely holy, enjoying the benefits of an unrestricted relationship with God. In biblical terms, Jesus lived fully in righteousness - right relationship - with God. 2 Corinthians 5 reveals that God made this Jesus "to be sin" even though he "knew no sin." God treated Jesus as if he were sin itself, banishing Jesus from his own holy presence. This happened as Jesus was crucified. On the cross he bore the ultimate penalty for sin, not just a painful human death, but spiritual separation from God the Father. So Jesus, the sinless one with a perfect relationship with God, experienced the fullness of divine wrath against sin, including a broken relationship with God. And what do we get in return for Jesus' punishment? "So that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Or, to paraphrase, so that because of the death of Jesus we might experience the fullness of right relationship with God.
Folks, I realize that this may be hard for some of you to fathom. You may wonder why Jesus had to die to achieve salvation. Wouldn't his sinless life be enough? No, from God's perspective, it wouldn't be enough. Sin is such an offense against God and his holiness that it can't be ignored or overlooked. Sin demands justice. The one who sins deserves eternal separation from God. I know this sounds harsh in our day. The problem is that we tend to minimize the vileness of sin, while at the same time minimizing the holiness of God. But Scripture never does this, and neither should we.
The great miracle of reconciliation is that God chose not to hold each of us accountable for our sin, but instead to lay the penalty for our sin on Jesus. This is a miracle that theologians call "substitutionary atonement." It's the idea that Jesus was able to be a substitute for you and me, to take our sin, so that we might be atoned - or reconciled - to God. In the death of Jesus, the terrible penalty for terrible sin was paid. The result, then, is that we might be reconciled to God, brought back into right relationship with God, just as if we had never sinned. What a mystery of divine wisdom and grace!
How Do We Enjoy the Benefits of Christ's Sacrifice?
Jesus sacrificed his life so that we might be reconciled to God. Now the question is: How can we enjoy the benefits of Christ's sacrifice?
Paul doesn't explain this directly in 2 Corinthians 5, though it's clear by implication. After speaking of God's work of reconciliation, Paul adds that God was "entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (5:19-20). In order for someone to experience reconciliation with God, therefore, that person needs to hear the message of reconciliation through Christ. When you hear this message, then you are free accept the gift of reconciliation through Christ. You acknowledge your sin before God and ask to be forgiven through Christ. You put your trust in him as your Savior, and choose to live in right relationship with him as your Lord. Then you are reconciled to God, once and for all.
The Results of Reconciliation
So if you hear this message, and if you believe it, and if you receive the gift of reconciliation through Christ, what difference will it make in your life? I have time this morning to point out four implications.
1. A New Relationship with God
Well, first of all, you have a new relationship with God. The barrier that separated you from God has been breached. The enmity that existed between you and God has been eliminate. Thus you get to experience right-relationship with the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. You get to know God truly and intimately. You are given the right to approach the King of Kings, not fearfully, but boldly and freely.
It's too easy for those of us who have been Christians for a while to take this for granted. But every now and then we need to step back and think about what we're saying here. You and I, however sinful we may have been, however tiny we are in comparison to the vastness of the universe, we can know God as our savior and even as our friend. This will blow your mind if you really stop to think of it.
2. New Creation, Beginning Now
But in 2 Corinthians 5 reconciliation with God isn't all we get as a result of Christ's death for us. Verse 17 adds another astounding benefit: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new." Now is this incredible, or what?! When we put our faith in Christ we begin to live in the new creation. We begin now to experience life as it will be in the future, when God restores heaven and earth to everything he once intended them to be.
I'm reminded of my friend George, who once had a dream of retiring to Morro Bay in Central California. George had worked hard in life, first as a school teacher, then as a principal, and finally as a pastor. He and his wife had raised two rambunctious girls. And, though George loved his work, as he neared sixty-five, he began to dream of his restful future in Morro Bay. A couple of years before he retired, George and his wife built a beautiful home in there. It had all the latest amenities, not to mention a stellar view of the bay. During his last year of work George used up all of his vacation time bit by bit, taking Fridays and sometimes even Sundays off. He would drive up to Morro Bay on Thursday evenings and return to Southern California on Mondays.
Those long, lazy weekends were truly restorative to George. They encouraged him to keep going at work even when he was plum tired out. Though he still worked full-time for a church in Los Angeles, George got to taste a bit of the future each weekend. And it kept him going during the week.
So it is for us. In Christ we've stepped into the new creation. But we're not completely there yet. We still work in Los Angeles, if you will. Yet because of the presence of the Spirit of God, we get to experience every now and then what our new creation will be like. We get to see ourselves, not in light of our past failures, but in light of our future perfection. And we get to share in the body of Christ which, though certainly not perfect, every now and then actually approximates the life of the future.
3. A New Purpose for Living
Third, once we are reconciled to God through Christ, we also receive a new purpose for living. Listen again to verses 14-15: "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."
Did you catch that? Christ died for you so that you might live no longer for yourself, but for Christ himself, the one who died and was raised for you. In Christ, your bondage to self has been defeated. You now get to live for what - or should I say, for the One who matters most in all creation. Your selfish purposes for life will be transformed into the God-honoring purposes that make life truly worth living.
The more you live for yourself, the more you will experience disappointment, frustration, emptiness, and even despair. The more you live for God, the more you will experience encouragement, freedom, significance, and hope. Christ has made this possible through his death. As you are reconciled to God, you get a whole new purpose for life - the very purpose God intended for you before the foundation of the earth. You will find the real reason your alive, and something really worth living for.
4. A New Calling as Divine Ambassadors
The fourth aspect of the reconciled life is a new calling to be an ambassador for Christ. Now let me say that your new purpose in life will take a form that is uniquely yours. It will fit your gifts, talents, experiences, and personality. As you seek to glorify God through your life, you'll probably not become the pastor of this church, and I'll probably not become whatever you're supposed to be. But God will lead each of us to discover the precise ways we are to live for his purposes.
Yet there are some aspects of living for God which we all share. One of these is spelled out clearly in our text today. Part of our purpose is to be "ambassadors for Christ" (v. 20). That is to say, once we've been reconciled to God, we become his official representatives in the world. We are blessed to share the message of reconciliation, to tell others what God has done in Christ and to encourage them to be reconciled to God.
Don't you love to be the bearer of good news? I do. I remember so well when we first discovered that Linda was pregnant with Nathan. We had tried for years to have a child, but with no success. Even with lots of medical help it just wasn't working for us. Then there was that magic day in April, 2002. Linda's home pregnancy test came out positive, as did the backup test at the doctor. Finally, after so much prayer and so much effort and so many disappointments and so much hope, Linda was going to have a baby. As much as I delighted in this good news with Linda, it was even more fun to share it with those who loved us and had been praying for us: the elders and staff at IPC, our close friends, and most of all our parents. Telling my mom that Linda was pregnant was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Well, my friends, you and I get to deliver even better news to folks around us. We get to tell them that God loves them so much that he came in Jesus and died on the cross in order to save them. We get to tell them that they can know God and live in an intimate, open, joyous relationship with him. We get to tell them that they have been created for an eternal purpose, that their life has ultimate meaning. Now I realize that some folks aren't ready to receive all of this as good news. Furthermore, I realize that along the way we have to deliver the bad news of sin. And to the folks who think they can find God by their own we have to let them know that their plan really won't work. But, be that as it may, our basic message is the best news anyone will ever receive in life: the God of the Universe loves you, desires relationship with you, and has made a way for that relationship to happen. The God who created you has the best possible life in store for you, and wants you to begin living it right now.
Reconciliation Seen in Reconciled Community
As wonderful as the message we get to deliver is, our neighbors won't receive it from us unless they see it in our lives. Religious language doesn't get much of a hearing in this era of cynicism. But genuine spiritual experience counts for plenty.
If you and I are going to be effective ambassadors for Christ, then two things need to be true of us. First, we need to live as if we are in fact reconciled to God. People need to see the peace and presence and power of God at work in our personal lives. Second, if you and I are going to be effective ambassadors for Christ, then we need to live in reconciliation with each other. If we cannot be reconciled to each other, then why should anyone believe what we have to say about reconciliation with God? If our fellowship is shredded by unkindness and unforgiveness, why will anyone believe that wholeness is really found in Christ?
Sisters and brothers, it is much, much easier to experience reconciliation with God than to experience reconciliation with God's people. God never wrongs us; God's people do. God always forgives us; God's people sometimes don't. God always treats us lovingly; not so with God's people. Thus we must continually work at being reconciled to one another, not only for the sake of our relationships, but for the sake of souls of our neighbors.
Many of you know Ray Ahadi. He's been active in our church for a while, and he's part of Young Life staff in Irvine. In high school, Ray was a football star at Woodbridge. But you may not know that Ray grew up in a culturally Muslim family. Yet in high school, as Ray explains it, football was his god, even more than Allah.
Through football at Woodbridge Ray got to know Shawn Whitt, the Young Life guy. In the summer of Ray's junior year Shawn invited him to Woodleaf, the Young Life camp in pines of Northern California. It was at Woodleaf that Ray decided to put his faith in Jesus Christ and be reconciled to God.
I asked Ray what made the difference, why he chose to become a Christian at Woodleaf. His answer at first surprised me, but then it made perfect sense. Ray enjoyed the great program at Woodleaf. And he was challenged by the speakers who spoke of life in Christ. But what really touched Ray's heart was what he saw in the leaders at Woodleaf. He watched them closely, and saw how much they cared for and respected each other. This quality of relationship was so different from what he had experienced elsewhere in his life. And, in the end, the reconciliation he witnessed among the leaders was the very thing that led him to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
My friends, you and I have this same opportunity and challenge as the leaders at Woodleaf. We have the chance to show people the truth of the gospel by living out that truth in our relationships, in our families and our church. We have the calling to live as reconciled people so that our neighbors will see in us the truth of 2 Corinthians 5 - that God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ. This is our high privilege and high calling.
In conclusion, what do we learn from 2 Corinthians 5 about the reason for Jesus' death. Why did Jesus have to die, according to this text?
• He had to die so that we might be reconciled to God.
• He died so that we might enjoy his quality of relationship with God.
• He died so that creation might be renewed.
• He died so that you and I might live with eternal purpose.
• He died so that we might live as reconciled people, to the end that our neighbors might see in our fellowship compelling evidence that the gospel of reconciliation is true.
• He died so that we might be his ambassadors, bringing the good news of reconciliation to our world.