The Ministry of Reconciliation. Simon McLeay. 2 Corinthians 5. 14-21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This is the most amazing verse, it describes a most amazing God, and it describes the length that he went to for you and me and everyone outside those church doors. It describes a glorious exchange where God takes our ashes and gives us beauty.
Last week I was talking about laying people on our hearts. I was talking about God laying people on our hearts, and to be fair I was probably thinking about people we already care about. Today I want to go further. I want to talk about how we care about people we don’t like. And I’m going right back to basics. I want to describe the absolute beauty of the gospel, summarised here by Paul. Then I want to talk about deep change, the deep call to really be changed inside out by Christ. Finally I want to talk about how we can care for people we don’t like, how we can share in the ministry of reconciliation.
When we are talking about caring for people we don’t like we need to remember that in becoming Christians we have made a vow of obedience to Christ, and it is he who commands us love your enemies.
At the centre of the gospel is a transaction, it is a spiritual transaction, it is an exchange, it is an unbelievable exchange that God offers to us.
Picture for a minute a tired old jacket that you have, and someone offered to swap old for new. The glorious exchange is better than that.
Imagine having a tired old beaten up car and going to the dealership and exchanging it for a brand new top of the range model. The glorious exchange is better than that.
Consider your home and being offered to swap it for a brand new, purpose built multi-million dollar mansion by the sea. The glorious exchange is better than that.
What if you could exchange your aging physical body with all its flaws and deficits, for a renewed body, you, but you in peak physical condition like a 25 years olds – ignore that one if you are under 25. The glorious exchange is better than that.
Or Imagine exchanging your soul with all its faults and jealousies and sins and brokenness; for a brand new pure one. The glorious exchange is better than that.
You see in Jesus Christ God himself came to earth, and put on flesh and lived as a man. He taught and loved and healed and delighted in life – he showed that it was possible to lead a perfect life. Then he did the one thing that only the perfect son of God could do. He died as a sacrifice for our sins. The bible describes this in many ways. But I like this metaphor of Paul’s best; he exchanged his perfect life for our imperfect life; he took down to death all our garbage and ashes; and he offers to us all his perfection. All this because he loves us even when we aren’t necessarily very likeable. And best of all God has made it very simple for us to take advantage of this offer. All we need to do is ask Jesus into our hearts, and give our lives to him to control. – Something we can do. And he takes away our sin and gives us his purity. – Something we have no idea how to do.
Now I wonder whether, when I was describing those exchanges, you weren’t thinking, “but I like my body”, or “I like my jacket”, or my house or my car; or certainly my life. And of course those are just not very good examples. Of course in God’s glorious exchange we don’t stop being ourselves, we start being truly ourselves. The ourselves God first imagined for us. Christ came to save us, not to erase us. But we all like to hold on, renewal is a process, we all like to hold on to sin. It’s like my old jacket, sin is comfortable. We are offered a new creation, to be remade from the inside out; but all of us hold on a bit. Yet once God takes hold of us, he holds on even tighter!
Christian faith is not about us reaching up to God on our own; it is about God reaching down to us and offering us a new body, a new life and new spirit; one that is immune to sin and evil and crime and hatred. While on earth it’s like we live in two sets of skin. Paul has a lovely way of saying we need to keep on taking off the old clothes and putting on the new.
Jim Wallace was sharing with me this week another way of seeing this. There is a branch of science called quantum physics which suggests that energy exists both as wave forms and particles, but that waves only become particles when they are observed. The wave function collapses and the particles appear when they are observed. Christians have long maintained that the universe only exists because God upholds it; so one expression of this theory is that the universe only exists because it is observed by a loving God. Eternal Death can be understood as God turning his face away from us. If we are no longer observed, we would utterly cease to be. Yet eternal life is to exist eternally in the love and memory of God. So here’s the exchange at work. Jesus takes on our sin and ashes, and on the cross God turns his face away from Jesus, and all the dross and sin of people is forgotten in nothingness. But because Jesus is God’s son, part of his own very being, Jesus continued to exist through that cosmic event. There are no words to adequately describe what happened to Jesus when he died. Yes, he died literally on a roman cross; but spiritually he died for our sins so that we could live in His goodness. It’s expressed in the song. How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. How great the pain of searing loss. The Father turns His face away as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.
Let me say that simply. There is a brokenness, a spiritual, moral and very real brokenness in the human race; and we all participate it, the bible calls it sin. Both collectively and individually we aren’t able to live pure and holy lives. This is not only theory this is lived reality. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3.23. And, the inescapable consequence of that should be eternal separation from God for all of us. Because God is pure and holy and good; he’s like a purifying fire. If we went to live in God’s closer presence in the body and soul that we have, we would be burnt up in a millisecond. But thanks be to God he sent a saviour, Jesus who lived and died for us; so that we can be clothed in Christ. We can be born again with Jesus and so be fit to live eternally with God.
How do we do it? God has made it so simple. There are no magic words. It is just saying Yes in our heart to God and no to sin. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved Romans 10.13. Not just special, super holy, good people – everyone! If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10.9
But we all want to hold onto the old. We have to let go. That is our task.
How can I have Jesus perform that exchange in my life. Well a simple prayer might be. Thank you Jesus for loving me and dying on the cross for me; I am sorry for my sins and I turn away from them, please save me and fill me with your holy spirit. Amen. It’s not the words that matter, it’s the heart. But a decision is essential. You must decide to follow!
Well a big summary of a massive salvation.
Now let me get even more serious. Whether you are a newbie or you have been a Christian for 50 years, God doesn’t just want to save you in the future; it’s not just about eternal life in heaven. God wants to change you today. V15 and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them.
Proverbs 21.2 states A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. Most of us think that we are doing Ok at life, that we are good people. We wear our Christianity as an accessory. But that’s such a waste. I want to teach you to use your Christianity as a tool. As a tool to reach into your soul and ask – Jesus what do you see? What do you want to refine in me? Just this last week God’s been giving my an insight into some area of my personality, that have not been delighting him. I remember in the last few weeks of my mum’s life, reflecting on the good things and the bad, about Tui. And this week God has been showing me a couple of things about myself that I used to find unpleasant in my mother, that I also do. It has not been an easy realisation. But God only shows me that because he loves me, and he can change me. God only ploughs things when he’s ready to change them. But I can promise you – once he’s shown you what he wants to change, he will wait as long as it takes; he will cut as deep as it requires; he will push as hard as necessary to bring real change. He is the great surgeon of our souls.
And because he has made me a new creation, the old is going, the new is coming. When I die I know that change will happen instantly, but before then it’s with blood sweat and tears. I can choose to cooperate with God’s spirit, you can choose to cooperate with God’s Spirit and see real change. Don’t be surprised if at first you notice you are making the same mistake again and again and again. Don’t be surprised if you come up against great pressure, that’s How God re-carves our souls. All we need to do is listen and obey, God has the plan.
Paul believes that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, he wants to use you and me as ambassadors to others. He wants to be reconciled with everyone in the world. I believe God offers salvation to everyone, directly through his spirit, indirectly through his church and personally through us.
So how do we write on our hearts, or better allow God to write on our hearts people we are indifferent to and people we don’t like, or people who have hurt is. God asks us to be like Him, and he loves people who act in ways he does not like. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. How do I act with love towards someone who has hurt me?
Who’s hurt you recently? Friend, Christian, neighbour, non Christian.
First.Paul’s says – so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Even though once we regarded Christ that way. That aggressive and nasty bloke down the road – worldly point of view, he’s a user, he’s scum, he’s a manipulative narcissist. From a spiritual point of view – he is someone who Christ died for. Who’s someone who’s hurt you. It might be your brother, or your husband, or daughter or your father; work mate, school bully, or worse. From a worldly point of view, a jerk. From a spiritual point of view – a person made in the image of God, scarred, broken, sinful, spoilt, but a person for whom Jesus died. For there is nothing Jesus would not do to restore that person to relationship with him.
Number one Loving people we don’t like. See them from a spiritual point of view.
Number two. Pray for them. Pray for God to give you his heart of compassion for them. Pray for their conversion.
Number three.Three Speak well of them. Don’t lie. If they have abused you tell the truth. But speak as if they were a person of worth who has done bad things. Don’t run them down unnecessarily. I’ve got a friend who has really disappointed me this last month – and I struggle not to run them down. But I will try to speak well of them, while acknowledging the thing they did that annoyed me is wrong.
Number four.Love is action not a goey feeling. Act graciously and kindly to your hard case person. The only way you will do this is through prayer. I keep finding myself praying for little things and getting answers. Pray for the strength to be good to the bad. Because that is what your father in heaven is like.
Number five. This is the hardest one. Try to think well of them, try to believe the best about them. Try to imagine that their motives are better than they are. I’ve left this to last because it is the hardest, you have to consciously change your thinking. And here’s the thing – you will be ahead of their transformation. You are not doing it for the scum bag. You are doing it for Jesus. Remember his words – forgive them father for they know not what they do. I reckon they knew what they were doing; but look at Jesus’ grace – thinking the best of the lads who crucified him. God is ahead of us. (And remember one of the soldiers who crucified him said, surely this man was the son of God.)
The ministry of reconciliation
Remember, God has sacrificed his only son so that you can be reconciled to him.
Then, we implore you on God’s behalf be reconciled to him. Grasp not just his salvation but his transformation.
Lastly, be an agent of reconciliation where you are. Love people who hurt you.