God through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18
Real, original Christianity is not found in one denomination or style only. Real, original Christianity is found wherever people gather around Jesus Community Mission. Jesus comes first, because the newness of life we need is pouring out of him. Community next, because Jesus is not rescuing isolated individuals; he is creating a gospel culture. Then mission, because Jesus wants this new community to grow and include more people. Jesus Community Mission.
Let’s think about mission today. Our mission is: making the real Jesus non-ignorable in our city and far beyond. But why do we even think in terms of mission? Why not settle for Jesus and community? We are missional, because Jesus is missional. From the beginning, Genesis chapter 12 and the call of Abraham, God said, “I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing, . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). God did not say, “I will bless you” – period. He said, “I will bless you and make you a blessing.” All through the Bible, God uses his people to advance his mission. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Throughout the book of Acts we see the early Christians gathering in more and more people, until, in the book of Revelation, there is a great multitude no one can number from every tribe and people. We don’t like the silly old poem that says, “We’re God’s chosen few, all the rest are damned; there’s no room in heaven for you, we don’t want heaven crammed.” Well, God wants it crammed! And he is giving us the privilege of partnering with him in gathering more people in. Paul says here, in chapter 6 verse 1, “working together with him.” God is at work in the world today. We are working with him, by his grace.
This Sunday marks the beginning of our new ministry year. We today are the core group for the new Immanuel Jesus wants to build from now to next summer. In a few minutes I’ll explain what every one of us can do about that. But to help us see the beauty of our mission, and to help us get ready for communion, let’s look at what the apostle Paul says about the mission of God here in 2 Corinthians 5.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18
God did not wait for us to reconcile with him. God reached out to us. God is a reconciler.
What is reconciliation? Paul’s word was used in Classical Greek for exchanging one thing for another. On our vacation Jani and I exchanged American dollars for British pounds. We traded currencies, because dollars don’t work over there. And so it is with God the reconciler, God the exchanger. We didn’t research God and figure out how to win him over. We didn’t even want him – not on his terms. Our allergic reaction to God – the Bible calls it hostility (Colossians 1:21). Whatever we don’t like about our lives – it’s always God’s fault, isn’t it? So much anger within us! But God didn’t accept the alienation we created. God exchanged our anger for his mercy. We went to him a thousand times with our dollars of complaint and bitterness. What did he give us back? Pounds of mercy. God simply changed the subject in this relationship from our accusations against him to his kindness toward us. God changed his enemies into his friends. That is reconciliation. We didn’t bring it about. God gave it to us. That’s why the Bible says we receive this reconciliation (Romans 5:11). Have you received the friendship of God? Have you put your defenses down and opened up? God is open to you today.
But Paul is saying more. He is also saying that we can spread this gift of reconciliation. It all started with God, and the circle of reconciliation widens through us. Paul says here, “God gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He doesn’t say, “We have moments of reconciliation now and then, when we feel like it, when it suits us, when it’s convenient, when we don’t have to lose too much face.” No, Paul says that reconciliation is our ministry. In other words, reconciliation is all we do. For gospel-defined Christians, reconciliation is how we roll. If God really has exchanged our touchiness for his kindness, our short fuses for his patience, our fault-finding for his forgiving – if that’s what God is pursuing, then reconciliation coming down from above is the greatest thing going on in the world today. In fact, the Bible says that God will reconcile all things throughout the universe (Colossians 1:20). Not that everyone is going to end up in heaven. If you refuse God, he will make sure you don’t get him. But if you’ll have him – if you’re just willing, his standards are so low – he will reconcile you to himself through the cross of Christ. But in the end, God will win. God will end up with a happy universe, filled with his friends, enjoying him forever. Our part right now is to serve his reconciling purpose. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. We didn’t ask for it. He gave it. Reconciliation is all we do here at Immanuel. What else is there in a gospel culture?
Immanuel is not an us-versus-them kind of church. I know that some churches build their ministries by increasing anger and intensifying grievance. I see that nowhere in the New Testament. Here at Immanuel, we are a for-you kind of church. We seek reconciliation at every opportunity. And in our violent world today, I can’t think of anything more relevant. But God will not advance his cause of reconciliation by some wonderful magic. God has given this to us. The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, put it simply: “Without him, we can’t. Without us, he won’t.” Immanuel, let’s gather more and more people into God’s reconciling arms. He has given us his ministry of reconciliation. He has made us his partners. If we aren’t reconcilers, how can we say we’re Christians at all?
Here’s how urgent this is. Paul explains how the heart of God can be felt here in our angry world. How does God’s love for the undeserving move from heaven above down into people’s actual experience in this world? Verse 19:
. . . that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19
The “how” question – how does God’s reconciliation get traction down here – the “how” question is answered here at two levels: then in the past, and now in the present. Back then in the past, at the cross 2000 years ago, God did not count our trespasses against us but counted our trespasses against Jesus. God dished out to our willing substitute the punishment we deserve, in order to give us the mercy we don’t deserve. A Scottish theologian put it simply: “Do you know what Calvary was? It was damnation. And he took it lovingly.” If you have accepted Jesus with the empty hands of faith, here is what God wants you to know. He has exchanged all your evil for all his mercy. The cross changes everything for you and God, thanks to God. That’s how God brought reconciliation down into this world – back then.
But what about our world today? How does divine reconciliation gather more people in now? Paul continues: “. . . entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” After the cross, here in our time, God has entrusted to us the visibility of the gospel. It’s in gospel-centered churches, like Immanuel, that people can hear about and experience divine reconciliation. A gospel culture makes the truth real to people. God is leveraging community for mission. So, here’s how God wants us to see ourselves now. Here’s our new self-understanding. Verse 20:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20
If you are not serving as an ambassador for Christ, are you reconciled? And do you see the urgency of that? It doesn’t say, “You’re not right with God? Whatever!” It says, “We implore you, be reconciled to God. And it isn’t just us speaking. We are nothing. But God is making his appeal through us. We are imploring you on behalf of Christ himself. And all he wants to do is reconcile with you! His arms are wide open to you right now. Come to him! Not even your sins are a reason to turn away from him. He doesn’t think so. But the moment is now. God isn’t guaranteeing you another chance. Now is the day of salvation. Delay is refusal. Come now!” Here’s why you can come right now, as you are, with all your mess:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
Let’s help more people hear what that gospel is really saying, in all its wonder and relevance. And here’s what we can do together in this new ministry year. Our theme this year is “Peace in the city.” Shalom. Human flourishing. Reconciliation. We’re going to have special events this year, to offer God’s peace to our city:
November 14-15, Friday and Saturday, Paul David Tripp is speaking on gospel marriage.
January 23, Friday evening, Rosaria Butterfield is speaking on gospel sexuality.
April 18, Saturday, Russell Moore is speaking on gospel citizenship.
These are all world-class speakers in their area of expertise. They will not embarrass you. I believe, you can feel good about these excellent speakers and these highly relevant topics. And here is how every one of us can be involved. There are two things I’m asking of every one of you. One, pray. Two, bring. Pray for God’s blessing, and bring a friend to each of these three events. Start thinking and praying now. Who can you bring? A year from now, we’ll all be rejoicing at what God the reconciler has done.