Tonight, we have come together not to worship self, but to consider the singular Triune God, to hear from him and learn about him in his Word, the Bible. So if you have a Bible please open it to 2 Corinthians 5:18. We will be studying verses 18-21 together.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave 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 to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore 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.”
2 Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul to a local church in the Greek city of Corinth. You can read of how Paul became a Christian in Acts 9, and how the church in Corinth began in Acts 18. There are two of Paul’s letters to this church that are Scripture, 1 and 2 Corinthians.
Why did Paul write this letter? He wrote because self-proclaimed “super-apostles”, really just wolves, or false teachers, had come to the church in Corinth and were teaching contrary to Paul and questioning his character and authority, something that is probably commonplace at this fine institution. Paul wrote to address these false teachers and their falsehoods, his goal being the obedience of the Corinthian Christians to his doctrine and exhortations, which include giving to the relief of the saints in Jerusalem. To quote from 2:9, “For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.”
Our passage tonight is first and foremost about the work of God, not primarily about you and I. Do you see that?
“from God, who through Christ…” (v. 18)
“gave us…” (v. 18)
“God was…” (v. 19)
“not counting…” (v. 19)
“entrusting to…” (v. 19)
“God making his appeal…” (v. 20)
“he made him…” (v. 21)
In 4 verses, we have 7 statements of action, with the Actor being God himself.
Christians come up in this passage as those acted upon. And the expectations of Christians we will see are derivative, consequences of God’s activity.
This is not unique when it comes to the Bible, for the Bible is by God’s inspiration and for God’s, not man’s, magnification.
So what is the work of God that Paul tells us of here?
It is twofold: 1. God reconciles his people to himself. 2. God gives his people the evangelistic ministry of reconciliation.
Consider with me 5 points from our passage.
First look at v. 18.
v. 18 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.”
1. If you are a Christian, you were in need of reconciliation to God.
Why is this? You have trespassed God’s law, as verse 19 says. In Genesis 1-2 we learn that God made man in his image, to represent God’s rule in this world that he created by trusting and obeying his Word. In Genesis 3, we learn of the fall of mankind into sin. Adam and Eve disbelieve God’s Word, reject his rule, and rebelliously go according to their own word, in alliance with the Devil himself. All of us, born with Adam’s guilt and corruption, with the unrighteous bent to disbelieve and disobey God, have acted like Adam.
Paul speaks to our unrighteous transgression with cutting clarity in Romans 1. Turn with me there, starting in v. 18.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
Here we read Paul’s indictment against each of us in this room. God has made plain to all that he is God and that he is worthy of all worship. But all mankind, in unrighteousness, in hatred of and opposition to God, in stupid thinking and darkened heart, has purposefully suppressed that all too obvious truth and looked to anything but God to serve as objects for worship.
And so no one exists before God with an excuse. We are all transgressors.
And so each one exists under God’s immense righteous wrath, his holy fury. If you are a Christian, you were an enemy of God, at enmity with him. In his wrath, he’d given you over to dishonorable passions. And though you knew that to follow those passions against God’s commandments was deserving of death, you knowingly did just that, and encouraged others to do the same.
You deserved to face his tormenting opposition forever in the flames of hell.
Paul writes likewise in Ephesians 2:1-3.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
If you are a Christian, you were in need of reconciliation to God.
2. If you are a Christian, God has provided that reconciliation. God has reconciled you to himself.
This means that there is no more enmity between you and God. That war is over. There is peace. You have been granted the right to be a child of God. You are new creation. You will be with the Triune God forever in heaven.
This is the accomplishment of God, for his glory and your eternal benefit. You did not accomplish your own reconciliation to God. You could not. But he has. He has transferred you from the domain of darkness, that domain which will entirely be thrown into the lake of fire on the Day of Judgment, into the kingdom of his Beloved Son. Your reconciliation to God is entirely God’s work, and thus there is no room for boasting in yourself, and a necessity to boast in him.
3. If you are a Christian, God has reconciled you to himself through Christ.
Verses 19 and 21 help us understand precisely how God has done this.
In v. 21 we read, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In this verse we learn the great doctrine of double imputation. This means that God credits our trespasses against Christ’s account, and treats him accordingly, and credits Christ’s righteousness to the account of every Christian, and treats Christians accordingly.
This is what we see on Christ’s cross. It is at the cross that Jesus, God in the flesh, fully God and fully Man, the height of perfection and exact representation of God’s nature, dies in the place of every one, from anywhere, who would trust in him as Savior and King, paying in full the penalty for their sin. Whereas every Christian deserves an eternity of hell facing the white-hot fury of God’s wrath, Jesus takes it in their place in just 3 hours on the cross where he died.
Taking this awful load upon himself, he grants to all those for whom he dies the righteous splendor of his perfect record. God having exhausted his wrath for his people upon his Son, he lavishes his favor and steadfast love upon his people, declaring them righteous through faith alone, justified in his eyes, and treating them as Christ deserves to be treated forever.
This is what we see in Romans 3:21-26, where we read,
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
It is what we read in Isaiah 53, written some 700 years before the great miracle of the incarnation.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
God has granted his chosen people Christ’s gift-righteousness, declaring them justified, right before him, through his substitutionary death on the cross 2,000 years ago. And he has granted you to receive this gift through faith alone in his Son. Praise be to God!
4. If you are a Christian, God has given you the ministry of reconciliation.
And what a gift that is! What an honor! What a privilege!
But what does it mean? What does it mean to for you, Christian, to have been given by God your Maker and Savior the ministry of reconciliation? For is not God the Reconciler, as we have just seen? Is not the work of reconciliation God’s work?
Why, yes it is, from first to last, it is all of him.
As we have seen, man is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and no man shall be justified, declared righteous, be made the righteousness of God in Christ, apart from faith in Christ.
And it is according to the vast wisdom of God that men would be granted faith in his Son in response to God’s own appeal to them, which he makes through those whom he has already reconciled to himself. God makes his appeal to be reconciled to himself through those whom he has already reconciled to himself.
Those he justifies by the substitutionary death of Christ he employs as ambassadors of Christ! If you are a Christian, you are an ambassador of the King of kings!
Look with me at verse 20 of our passage, 2 Corinthians 5.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”
In Numbers we learn that God made an appeal through an ass, and here in 2 Corinthians we see that God makes his appeal through his reconciled people.
As we see in this passage, God does not do this through his reconciled people being nice in action to those who are his enemies. No, he does this by charging his ambassadors with a verbal proclamation. He has tasked them to declare a message to those who make war against him. Christian, you are to preach. You are to speak.
This is what we read in v. 19. It is the message of reconciliation.
The Christian is charged by God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, Father of the blood-bought and reborn elect, to go to his enemies as a herald of King Jesus, who presently sits on the throne, whose rule and dominion will never fade, and “implore” them “on behalf of Christ”, in the name of Christ, “be reconciled to God!”
We are tasked with declaring God’s righteousness, that the Holy Creator and Ruler is All-Glorious and Worthy of Worship.
We are tasked with telling people that they are sinners, facing God’s terrible wrath for their purposeful rebellion against him.
We are tasked with telling them that if they go before him on Judgment Day in their present state, they will face the fire that is never quenched.
We are tasked with telling them that there is still hope, that they can be reconciled to God, and that they must be while there is still time.
For Christ, the God-Man, the King of kings and Lord of lords has died on the cross in the place of and for the sin of any and all who would repent of their sin, reject their silly, futile efforts at self-rule, and trust him as Lord and Savior.
We are tasked with telling them that he has risen from the grave, that it is a certainty that all who believe in his name will be reconciled to God, their sin credited to Jesus and his perfection credited to them.
We are tasked with imploring them to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ and so enjoy peace with him forever.
If you are a Christian, you must speak.
No man will believe in a Savior and King of whom he has never heard. It is in the context of the proclamation of this message of reconciliation that man is given faith by the Spirit, and so reconciled to God in Christ.
1 Peter 1:23-25 reads,
“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
It is in light of this great privilege and responsibility, that of being given the ministry of reconciliation by God, being made ambassadors of the highest King, that Christians in Acts 8 responded to terrible persecution by preaching the word of Christ wherever they were scattered.
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
If you are a Christian, let me ask you, does this mark you? Do you live as an ambassador of Christ? Are you faithful in discharging your delightful duty?
Is your life marked by persistent, persevering evangelism? Do you regularly tell those who are not Christians the gospel, how sinful man can be saved, reconciled to God? Are you known as one who implores the unbeliever to be reconciled to God?
If not, you are disobeying your God. You are in sin.
And let me prod you further. If you are not regularly telling unbelievers this message of reconciliation, verbally declaring it, using words always in this ministry, might it be that you are ashamed of it, ashamed of the King and his glorious work? Has the disapproval of the pauper overshadowed the pleasure of the King in your heart? Have the opinions of the renegades made you think not of the mind of your Father?
If you are a Christian, know that you have been granted a task far greater than any task this world can provide. You have been made an ambassador and charged with the ministry of reconciliation. How marvelous!
So join with Paul in deep, earnest, eagerness to preach the gospel wherever you go, to any who still breathe.
Be unashamed of the gospel, the good news of the Highest King and his glorious work, his death and resurrection to magnify his name in the rescuing his people.
This message is the power of God for salvation. And God will grant the response of repentance and faith to his chosen ones as they hear us implore them on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.
If you are a Christian, God has given you the ministry of reconciliation.
5. And if you sit here as one who is not a Christian, I stand here tonight as one who loves you, and earnestly implores you, while there is still time, even now, today, be reconciled to God! Repent and believe the gospel!