October 20, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#5—An Ambassador for Christ
Here’s a picture of the US ambassador to China, our own Gary Locke, one-time governor of our state. What is Ambassador Locke’s role? He acts and speaks on behalf of our nation, particularly, our President. He doesn’t just do or say what he wants. He does and says what he’s told. He represents President Obama and our nation to the Chinese people.
You and I are ambassadors for Christ. We represent Jesus to the world. I am Ambassador Wittwer, representing God the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ.
Today, we’re going to talk about what that means.
Introduction and offering:
This is the fifth and final talk in this series, “Difference.” What difference has Jesus made in your life? And how are you making a difference in the world? Those are the questions we’re asking. Our basic premise is that Jesus changes us, and we become change agents. Last Sunday, your next step was to do good for someone each day. Some of you did that and emailed me stories.
ILL: A single mom who is has very little money is trying to finish her degree. A few weeks ago, she scraped up the money to buy her kindergarten son’s school pictures. She discovered this week that a friend was unable to purchase her child’s pictures, so this mom bought them for her. She is strapped herself, but gave what little she had so this other mom could have her daughter’s first ever school pictures. Good work! You let your light shine!
I would love for people to be able to describe you, to describe us, like Peter described Jesus: “He went about doing good and helping people.”
Today, we’re going to wrap this up with one of my favorite passages in the Bible.
2 Corinthians 5:17–21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation. This is from God—it’s His doing. He made us new; He is changing us. God has reconciled us to Himself. We were enemies, and He removed the cause of the enmity and made us friends. Now we are His ambassadors, telling the world that God has reconciled them in Christ. Here’s:
Big Idea: God has reconciled you to Himself. Now the reconciled become the reconcilers! You are Christ’s ambassador!
We’ll unpack it in two points on your outline.
1. God reconciled us to Himself.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
How many of you have ever been reconciled? You’ve had a broken relationship, and it got repaired—friendship restored. Problem resolved. Reconciled.
ILL: Most of you are aware of the tragic car accident a couple weeks ago that killed two high school girls and put the young driver in the hospital. It would be so easy for those girls’ parents to be bitter and to hate this young boy. Instead, both sets of parents contacted the boy’s parents and expressed forgiveness. They assured the boy’s parents that they love their son and were praying for him. One of the girl’s parents even came to the boy’s hospital room with a basket of food for the family, wanting them to take care of themselves through this difficult time. These two families, who had reason to be angry, instead took steps to end the enmity before it could take root.
This is what God has done for us. We were at fault. Our relationship with God was broken because of us, not Him. I love the bumper sticker that says, “If you feel far from God, guess who moved?” We rebelled against God. We turned our backs on Him and went our own way. We broke the relationship.
Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
Sin is a clenched fist shaken in the face of God. We are rebels. We broke the relationship by our sin and rebellion.
God takes our sin very personally. When you sin, God hurts. Your sin causes Him pain. It’s the pain a parent feels when a child rebels and breaks the relationship. It’s the pain you feel when a trusted friends betrays you. It’s the pain a spouse feels when they discover their partner has cheated on them, or filed for divorce. You know that pain—the pain of a relationship broken by wrong-doing. That’s the pain God feels when we sin.
You’ve all experienced this. Can you think of a time when someone wronged you and it broke the relationship?
ILL: I’m thinking of someone who recently said some very untrue and unkind things about one of my family members. It not only hurt my family member, but it really ticked me off. I wanted to punch the guy! Honestly, that relationship is broken right now. I just saw this guy last week, and couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. Can anyone else relate to this?
So how will that broken relationship be healed? Well, since he did the wrong, he should come and apologize. He broke it, he should fix it! He inflicted the pain; he should heal it. That’s our natural way of thinking.
But that’s not how God works. We broke it, but God fixed it. We wronged God, we hurt God—over and over—but He took the initiative to reconcile us. God is all about relationships, and so He set about to heal what we broke.
ILL: Think of the story Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the man who owed the king 10,000 lifetimes of salary. Most of you will earn well over a million dollars in your working life. If you earn $25,000 a year for 40 years, that’s a million bucks. So let’s be conservative and say that a lifetime salary is a million dollars. This guy owed 10,000 of those—ten trillion dollars. (The US national debt is about $16 trillion.) He couldn’t even begin to repay so he begged for mercy.
Incredibly, the king graciously forgave the debt—the whole thing. Gone. Done. The king absorbed the loss, effectively paying the debt himself, so the relationship could be restored. Amazing. This guy broke the relationship; the king fixed it.
In Jesus’ story, God is the king, and I’m the one—and you’re the one—who racked up the unpayable debt. I broke the relationship; God fixed it. And to fix it, He absorbed the loss.
God reconciled us to Himself in Christ. We broke it, He fixed it. The one in the right paid the price so that our relationship could be healed.
Don’t underestimate what this cost God. He absorbed the whole debt. It says,
2 Corinthians 5:19 God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
“Counting” is the Greek term used for calculating a debt. God is not counting our debt against us; God Himself pays the debt that I racked up. This is what the king did for the man with the huge debt—the king absorbed it and didn’t count it against him.
God did this for us in Christ. Jesus paid my debt. When Jesus died on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished.” The Greek, tetelesthai, also meant, “Paid in full.” It was stamped across a bill that had been paid. And as Jesus died, He stamped it across our bill. Our debt was paid, our sin forgiven—all of it—and we were reconciled to God.
One last thing: most of you have heard this before and are familiar with it. But this was a radically new idea in Jesus’ day and Paul’s day. In the religions of the ancient world, the gods were angry and people had to bring sacrifices to appease them. Human beings sought the favor of angry gods.
But in Christianity, it is just the opposite: a loving God sought relationship with hostile human beings. He made the sacrifice to win us over. It’s just the opposite of what everyone was used to. God reconciled us to Himself in Christ. We broke it, but He fixed it—at great cost.
So here is the good news. You have been reconciled to God. The war is over. God is your friend, not your enemy. God is for you, not against you. God has invited you into relationship again.
God has reconciled us to Himself in Christ. Now…
2. We are ambassadors of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18–20 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
The reconciled are now the reconcilers. God has given us the ministry and the message of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors—His representatives.
Paul’s word for “ambassador” (Gk: presbeutes) was the word used for the emissary of Caesar. This person had a commission directly from Caesar and spoke with imperial authority. It’s very similar to our modern day ambassadors. I began by showing you this picture of our US ambassador to China, our own Gary Locke. Just like he represents President Obama and our nation to the Chinese people, you and I represent Jesus to the world.
We have been given a message to pass on. Our message is this: “God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. So be reconciled to God.”
Here’s an interesting thing: reconciliation is both an accomplished fact and an on-going process. It is an accomplished fact: God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ. It is finished—paid in full—it’s done. You have been reconciled to God. He did it!
But it is also an on-going process. God makes His appeal through us; we implore people, “Be reconciled to God.” The war is over—you can come home.
ILL: Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese soldier stationed on Guam in World War 2. As the war drew to a close, fearing capture by American forces, he ran into the jungle and hid in a cave. He learned later that the war was over by reading one of the leaflets dropped into the jungle by American planes, but he feared it was only propaganda and that he would be captured and tortured. So he remained in his cave—for 28 years. For 28 years he came out only at night. For 28 years, he existed on frogs, rats, roaches and mangoes. After 28 years, some hunters discovered him and convinced him that the war was over. It was safe to come out; he could go home.
The war is over. God has made peace with us in Christ. You can stop running and hiding! There are many people like Shoichi who are still running from God, still thinking that they are at war with God. But God has ended the war a long time ago and declared peace. We are like the hunters who found Shoichi. Our job is to tell people that God has reconciled them in Christ, that the war is long over and they can come home.
Here’s how Paul summarized it in one of the great verses in the NT.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I call this the Great Exchange. Jesus had no sin; He was perfectly righteous. I have plenty of sin—remember the $10 trillion debt? In Christ, God performed the Great Exchange. God took my sin and gave it to Jesus—He absorbed my guilt and paid my penalty. And God took Jesus’ righteousness and gave it to me.
ILL: I like to picture it like this.
Thursday is garbage day at our house. On Thursday morning, I collect all the trash, put it in the can and roll the can to curbside. So imagine this Thursday, as I roll out my can, I’m met at the curb by a man with can of his own. He says, “I’ll trade you, my garbage can for yours.” So what am I going to ask?
“What’s in your can?”
“Millions of dollars,” he says.
I laugh—he’s obviously crazy. Then he lifts the lid and shows me bundles of crisp new $100 bills—the can is full of them! What will I do?
Make the swap as fast as I can!
I’m not going to grab the handle on my can protectively and say, “Wait a minute. This is my garbage. I’ve been collecting it all week. There are a lot memories in this can.” No way! That would be crazy! Why hang on to your garbage when you can exchange it for millions of dollars?
That’s like the Great Exchange. I give Jesus my sin; He gives me His righteousness. I am reconciled to God. The thing that broke God’s heart and stood between us has been taken away—forever. I am reconciled to God.
This is the message we have for the world. The war is over! God has reconciled you to Himself in Christ. Jesus has already taken all your sin and He’s offering you His righteousness. So we implore you: take the deal! Swap cans! Be reconciled to God.
The word, “implore” is usually translated “beg.” Do you think the hunters begged Shoichi to believe them? I think so. “Please believe us; the war is over; you can come home.” That’s the same sense here. Paul says that God is making His appeal through us: we beg you, “Be reconciled to God.”
We don’t often think of God imploring or appealing—we think of Him commanding or ordering. But here, Paul says He appeals, He implores through us, “Please, be reconciled.” This is amazing. That God appeals and implores tells me God loves people more than we can imagine. He has gone to unimaginable lengths to reconcile us, and He keeps coming after us, appealing, imploring. “Please, be reconciled.” God is appealing to you today—if you’re not already, please, be reconciled to God.
ILL: A couple years ago, a member of my extended family left his wife for another woman. I appealed to him to be reconciled to his wife. So did many other family members. All of us were heartbroken and begged him to reconsider. But no one was more broken, no one appealed more strongly than his wife. She begged him not to leave. She begged him with tears to stay and work on the marriage. I’m sorry to say that he walked away and ignored her appeal.
But that is the picture here. God is heartbroken and begs us to be reconciled. And when we catch the heart of God, our hearts break and we appeal to people, “Please be reconciled to God.”
Sometimes, I’m afraid we present Jesus in a negative light. I believe that most people won’t say no to something unless there is something greater to say “yes” to. I became a Christian because I met someone who had a joy that I didn’t have and wanted. I said “no” to my old life, so I could say “yes” to Jesus and a new life. There was a greater yes.
When we appeal to people to be reconciled to God, we are offering them a new life in Christ, a life of friendship with God, a life of love and joy and peace. God has already secured that for us—it is done. He reconciled us to Himself in Christ. But you have to respond to God to receive it and experience it.
ILL: What’s your favorite store?
I’m going to go with Costco, because you can get most anything there. Let’s imagine that someone buys Costco, and offers you a key. You can go to Costco any time you want and get anything you want for free—no strings attached. Costco is yours! How many would like that?
So you’ve got the key in your pocket. It’s yours. It’s done.
But it will do you absolutely no good until you go there and get what you need. You’ve got to believe it’s true and act on it. It’s yours—but that only becomes a reality when you go get it.
God has reconciled you in Christ. So…we implore you, be reconciled to God. Go get it. There is a new life with your name on it.
I love telling people, “God has already reconciled you to Himself in Christ. The war is over. God is your friend. So be reconciled. Believe it and enjoy a new life.”
We are ambassadors for Christ. God makes His appeal through us: “Be reconciled to God.”
This is the end of our difference series. Jesus changes us and sends us out into the world as change agents. We are His ambassadors in every sphere of our lives.
How is my family different because I’m there?
How is my neighborhood different because I’m there?
How is my workplace different because I’m there?
How is my school different because I’m there?
How is my community different because I’m there?
How is my world different because I’m there?
Jesus has made a difference in you—what difference has it made in your world?
My next step: Tell at least one person this week that they are reconciled to God.