Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sermon: 2 Corinthians 5:14 - 6:2 Be Reconciled to God

Whenever we got married and moved into the Curate’s house in Dundonald, for the first week or so, all my post arrived through our door already opened and read. The postman was long gone, when letters addressed to me were put through the letterbox, having been opened. It took a wee while, but we worked out what was happening. We lived in number 6, but in number 2 lived a man called Gary Murray. The postman thought that my post should have been going to him, until we figured it out and got it sorted.

Gary Murray was getting the post for Gary McMurray. He was receiving word about our phone line being set up, and our electricity bill, but they weren’t for him - they were really for me. For a long time, I tried to do something similar with our passage in 2 Corinthians. I assumed that it was written for and to non-Christians, to get them to come to faith. If I had a Postman Pat outfit, I’d be putting it through their door. The gospel appeal is clear - be reconciled to God. But look at verse 20. ‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

Who was this actually addressed to? Whose door should it be put through? It comes as part of the whole letter of 2 Corinthians - Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. The address label says that it’s for Christians. Now think about that for a moment. Paul is urging Christians to be reconciled to God! Why would he do that? Why would he need to do that? To see why Christians are being called to be reconciled to God, we need to take the passage as a whole.

Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul is defending his ministry. The Corinthians were being influenced by some showy, super-spiritual superapostles. They were trying to move the church away from their roots, focusing on outward appearance and boasting. Paul sets out why he does what he does - sticking to the simple gospel message. And what is his motivation? It all comes down to the ‘love of Christ’ (14). ‘For the love of Christ controls us’. The love of Christ is the motivator for everything he does.

Jesus’ love for us led him to die for us, in our place, so that we share in his death. Through his death, we have died to ourselves. It confronts us with the question - who are you living for? Imagine that you were in great danger, perhaps you were drowning, but someone jumped in to rescue you. They died in the attempt, but you were saved. Would you get out of the water and forget about them? Could you continue on as before? Or would you give yourself to live for them? That’s what Jesus has done for us - how could we keep on living for our own concerns and wishes?

But more than that, Jesus didn’t just die for us, he was also raised for us. In his death and his resurrection, Jesus brings in the new creation. As we come to him, so we are made new creations - the old has gone, the new has come. The love of Jesus makes us new, and gives us a new agenda. This is the motivation of reconciliation - the reason Paul devoted his life to preaching the gospel, the reason he makes this appeal.

But this isn’t Paul’s idea. Rather, it’s God’s own ministry of reconciliation, which he calls us into. In Northern Ireland we hear quite a lot about reconciliation. It’s a word that’s bandied about, but what does it mean? It’s quite simply about coming together again; coming into relationship. Look at verse 18 to see how it works. God was reconciling us to himself. We are the guilty party, and God brings us back to himself. God begins the ministry of reconciliation, and when we are reconciled to him, he shares that ministry with us. It’s his work, but he gets us involved - like a father showing his son how to milk the cows or a mother teaching her daughter to crochet.

The ministry of reconciliation means that we become God’s ambassadors, his spokespeople, his agents. God gives us the words to say and we say them. So what is the message?

‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’ Come back to him. Come to relationship with him. It’s the message the whole world needs to hear. It’s a great evangelistic message. This is something to share with your non-Christian friends and family and colleagues. As we come closer to Easter, you could invite them along to the ‘Cross words’ services to hear what the cross means for us.

But this message isn’t just for them. Sometimes in church we can think that the message is for someone else. But don’t post this in the wrong letterbox. This is for us as well. Christians need to hear this message. Rather than running after amazing signs and wonders or spectacular speech or mystical experiences, we can know the truth that we have been reconciled to God.

And it all comes in that message of 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.’ The Lord Jesus knew no sin. He never thought, said or did anything that was wrong. he never failed to do anything that was right. He was the very righteousness of God. Yet on the cross, Jesus was made to be sin. Every sinful thought, word and deed, he took it upon himself. God punished those sins in Jesus. He died the death we deserved. He bore the separation we should have undergone.

In taking away our sin, he gives us instead his righteousness. In Christ, we are found to be righteous - as if we had lived a perfect life. This is what is on offer in the message of reconciliation. When Paul says ‘Be reconciled’ there isn’t a checklist of stuff we have to do to impress God. There isn’t a threshold of goodness we have to reach. God has already done everything that is needed.

God has removed the barrier between us; he has removed the sin that separates us from him. Every last bit.

This is what is offered to the church in Corinth. You see, there’s a danger of receiving the grace of God in vain. We can embrace the message at the start, but then move on to something else, something which seems more impressive. The superapostles lead us astray with their wonders. But Paul gets to the heart of the message. He appeals to the Christians in Corinth, and he appeals to the Christians in Aghavea: ‘Be reconciled to God.’

Stop pretending. Stop playing at Christianity, and get real with God. Come back to marvel at the great exchange of the cross. Remember that through Jesus’ death and resurrection God has done everything to rebuild our relationship.

Perhaps you’re not a Christian today. This offer is open for you today. Though your sins separate you from God, you can be welcomed in. Discover that love of Christ which compels and controls us. Surrender to him today.

If you are a Christian, this is also for you. be reconciled. Come back to the God who loves you. And as you do, discover that he gives you this ministry of reconciliation, as we call each other to stay close to God. Today is our opportunity. Today is the day of salvation, before it is too late. ‘We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 22nd March 2015.

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