The Lord's Day Evening
August 21, 2011
“Ambassadors on Behalf of Christ”
2 Corinthians 5:11-21
The Reverend Mr. Joshua M. Rieger
Good evening. Tonight we will be looking at 2 Corinthians chapter 5. But since we haven't been in 2 Corinthians, let me give you a little bit of a context before we come to tonight's passage. Paul writes the book, the second book that we have in our Bibles to the Corinthians, having sent another letter to the Corinthians. In fact, in the beginning of chapter 2 it tells us that it's a much more severe letter. We know that this is at least the third letter to the Corinthians that Paul has written, but for whatever reason God chose not to preserve that for us. There have been people in Corinth, teachers it seems like, who have denied Paul's message. They've called him a liar, they've denied his apostolicity. There have been denials of his teaching as a whole, and he begins this book — well really he begins this book telling them why he hadn't been able to make it to see them again. He spends about a chapter telling them he was sorry that he hadn't been able to see them again, that God had kept him from coming to see them again, and then he tells them that he is grateful that they received this much more severe letter well. I can imagine that. I can imagine sending — circumstances under which you had to send something that you were just dreading sending or talking to somebody in a conversation that you were dreading having and the relief in knowing that they received it well. And so he tells them he's glad that they received it well. And he begins the book this way.
And then once again he makes a defense of his apostolicity. He makes a defense of the truth of what he's been teaching, of his call from God. He reiterates this message, and as we get to chapter 5 he is in the middle of reiterating the Gospel, of reiterating the message that God had given him that he had been teaching them. And so as we come to 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 11 tonight, let's pray and ask God for help before we read it together.
Heavenly Father, as we come to Your Word we are reminded that our hearts are deceitful above all else; they’re desperately wicked. We have hearts that we cannot trust because there is sin within and no one can know the heart except You. Lord, when we look at our desires, at our thoughts, at our feelings, Lord, we cannot trust them, but as we come to Your Word, we can trust it; we can trust You. We can trust this Word that You have seen fit to preserve over two thousand years and bring to us, that You gave us as holy men of old were carried along by Your Spirit, Lord, and we come to Your Word knowing that it will not return to You void. We come to Your Word desiring that You would transform us as we hear it, knowing that faith comes through hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. We ask, Lord, that You would continue to reconcile us to Yourself tonight as we hear Your Word read and preached and that Lord, as even I have a heart that is desperately wicked, that You would allow me to faithfully proclaim that which You said knowing that You, Lord, are most trustworthy. Thank You so much for this Word You've given us, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's read in 2 Corinthians 5 beginning in verse 11 and reading through the end of the chapter:
“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I turned in a title for this sermon at the beginning of the week, and as I studied this week I realized that “Ambassadors On Behalf of Christ” might not have been what I wanted to turn in. I might wanted to have just dropped the “Ambassadors” part of that because this entire passage is about Christ. This passage, Christ shines through so centrally that there is nothing else that you can see when you being looking at it but the glory of Christ, and “Ambassadors On Behalf of Christ” almost made it sound like this was something about us. But the fact is, this passage is entirely about Christ and it's just incredibly beautiful.
In light of the eminent judgment that he mentions in verse 10 — he mentions in verse 10, right before we come to what we read tonight, “We all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each of us may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” This has brought about — he's been talking about sanctification, about our growth in grace, about growing towards God, and he makes mention of this, and in light of that he tells us, “Therefore” and gives us this passage. He tells us about some amazing things in this passage. I think there are a couple, and we're going to go into them a little bit but not as in depth as we could. There are a couple great doctrines of the faith that we find right up front in this passage.
The first is that he goes into the Trinity. He talks to us about the holy Trinity in the salvation of the elect. He talks to us about God calling His own and redeeming them through Christ, the Son. And he talks, in verse 5 even just before this, about how He has given us His Spirit has a guarantee for the ministry that He has called us to. We see this picture of the way that God, as a triune God, works in our salvation. And that's evident and it's going to be coming out all throughout the message tonight. But even more clearly, and I think this is going to be a bigger part of what we talk about, he talks about union with Christ. And while that might sound like, I don't know, maybe something that's not terribly important to you, if you are sitting here trusting in Christ today, that is the most important thing to you. There is nothing more important to you than the fact that you are united to Christ and that's what he talks about.
He talks about three things, at least, that I want to draw out tonight. The first thing he shows us is the transformation that takes place in our lives through substitution. The second thing that he shows us is the representation that He gives us, the ministry of representation or the ministry of reconciliation that He gives us as we are His ambassadors. And the third thing he shows us is the righteousness that is ours through our union with Christ. And I want us to look at all three of those things.
Transformation Through Substitution
First of all, let's look at the transformation that takes place in us through the substitution on our behalf. This is seen as he tells us, “one has died for all and therefore all lived.” And this message tonight is very clearly to believers. He is speaking to believers and he is telling them about what Christ has done on their behalf. He has already in the previous chapters made clear that he believes himself to be speaking to those who are trusting in Christ. He believes himself to be speaking to believers. And as he talks about this “one dying for all therefore all have lived,” he talks about two transformations, at least, that take place in the life of one who has trusted in Christ. The first transformation that he talks about is the fact that the love of God controls us.
There were a couple of places as I read that I really loved the language of the authorized version of this passage as I read it where it talks about the love of Christ compels us, the idea that we are entirely controlled by the love of Christ. He died for us that we might live. The love of Christ was most clearly evident in His death for us, and we look all through the Scriptures and we see these pictures of the humility, of the love that Christ shows us as He dies on our behalf. And this is something that isn't merely just Christ dying because we were supposed to; He took our sin on Him this passage tells us. “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf” and died in our place and there was a substitution that took place as He substituted Himself for us, as He became sin on our behalf and died in our place and loved us in a way that we can't even fathom.
And the transformation that happens as we are controlled by the love of Christ is a transformation of our desires. You are not controlled by the love of Christ before you trust in Christ. Your life is not one that is compelled by His love. It's one that is compelled by a desire for whatever it is that you’re seeking — self-seeking pleasures, self-seeking promotion, self-seeking in the way that you interact with others. It is certainly not one that is controlled by the love of Christ. We were those who were standing condemned because we sought ourselves; we sought our own, we looked for what was most important for us. We desired things that met the fleshly desires; we sought the things that made us happy for a few moments as we ran after the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. These were the things that we chased, and whether you became a believer at a very young age and don't remember the time when you didn't trust in Christ or whether you had a transformation later in life, this is true of you. We just heard about this a few moments ago as we heard about the nature, the nature of sin in us. You were somebody who chased your own desires and you were condemned because of that. You were condemned to die, condemned a sinner who deserved death, and the very death that Christ died condemned as a thief on a cross next to Him, condemned on the death penalty because the government had put Him there, was exactly what you deserved. Each and every one of us deserves to be sitting in an electric chair, to be dying on a cross, to be guillotined — whatever you want to talk about — we deserve a death that was punishment for sin and it was well-deserved. Christ did not. Christ knew no sin, and He loved us, and now we are transformed in our desires. We are those whose price has been paid. In 1 Corinthians Paul told these same people, “You were bought with a price; you are not your own.” We are a people whose price has been paid and we are now controlled by the love of Christ. We are transformed in our desires because the love of Christ brought about our redemption and our recreation.
The other way in which we are transformed is that re-creation. We are made a new creation. We are made new creatures. The very being of who we are is transformed, not just a transformation in our desires as we're now controlled by the love of Christ, but a transformation in the very being of who we are. We are not who we were before we were in Christ. We are new creatures. We now know and are known according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh he tells us. We’re completely remade, and as we look at this we have to ask, as we look at transformation, the transformation that happens through substitution, we have to ask, I have to ask, “Has Christ's death transformed you?” I think that's a good question and it's a hard question if your testimony is like that which I mentioned a few minutes ago. I don't remember a time when I didn't know Christ. I was raised in a Christian home and don't remember a time when I didn't trust in Him, so asking myself, “Has Christ's death really transformed me?” is hard. I don't remember a time when I didn't trust in Christ's death. The growth in my spiritual life has taken place as I have been in Christ. I think that for some of you that might be a difficult question, but for others of you I think that that's a really good question. You can understand that completely. You can look at your own lives and you can see either there has been a transformation since you made a profession in Christ or there hasn't, and that's a question you need to ask yourself tonight. It's a question you need to consider and consider seriously because it's not something that you can take lightly.
Another two questions that maybe are more applicable to those of us who have a testimony like mine — first of all, “Are you controlled by the love of Christ?” I can't give you right now four different points that are going to prove to you that you’re controlled by the love of Christ or not, but I think if you’re honest with yourself you can examine yourself and say, “Am I controlled by the love of Christ or am I not controlled by the love of Christ? What controls me? What do I seek? What's my first goal, my first priority? Is it the love of Christ? Is that the thing that dictates the way that I act or is it something else?” And also, “Are you in Christ? Where is your identity found?” You know how you identify yourself. How do you identify yourself first and foremost? Is it by the family that you have? Is it by your vocation? Is it my the church you’re a member of or the city you live in? If somebody really wants to know who you are — you know, not “Where are you from?” or “Who are you?” or your name or something like that — if somebody really wants to know who you are, what is valuable to you, are you in Christ? Is that your identity? Does that really compel you? And I think those are questions in looking at this that we have to ask ourselves.
Called to the ministry of reconciliation
The second thing we see in this passage though is that if we are in Christ, if we are truly controlled by the love of Christ, if Christ's death has transformed us, then we are called to a ministry of reconciliation just as the apostle was. And in that ministry of reconciliation, we're not just called to be ministers; we're called to be ambassadors. And I think we all know what an ambassador is, but still, Paul makes it very clear in this chapter, especially in verse 20, where he says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” And as you look at this, being ambassadors for Christ and imploring you on behalf of Christ — it's the same idea. “On behalf of Christ we are ambassadors,” he says. And then he says again, “On behalf of Christ, we implore you.” And he says very clearly, “God making His appeal through us.” You are not only transformed in your identity and in the fact that you are controlled by the love of Christ or compelled by the love of Christ, you are transformed because now you are Christ's ambassadors.
I grew up in northern Virginia, just outside of D.C., and went to school growing up and to church with a lot of people who drove cars with diplomat plates. I had a lot of friends who were from foreign countries whose parents were diplomats. And as I watched them and I was around their families and got to know them, the actual ambassadors — now remember there's only one here from each country — the actual ambassadors speak on behalf of their country. When they speak in their official capacity, they are the same as that country speaking for us. When our ambassador to the United Kingdom goes and speaks at court on behalf of the United States, it is the United States speaking to the government of the United Kingdom. And it's the same in each country. It is God making His appeal through us. When we speak on behalf of Christ as God's ambassadors, He is speaking through us. It is amazing to me that He chooses to use tools like us, not just in this — He placed His name on us. We are Christians. The immensity of the fact that we who, as I prayed in the beginning, are desperately wicked, deceitful above all else, we who, even once we are transformed, continue to battle sin for the rest of our earthly lives, we who understand the power of sin in our lives and know what a battle it is, God uses us and allows us — and not only allows us but commands us — to speak on His behalf. He calls us by His name; we are His. We sang that tonight from Isaiah 43 where He said, “I have called you by name.”
And not only does He call us by name, we are called by His name. And not only are we known by His name, but He is known as our God. The God who is holy, who created all the universe, who made everything, chose to identify Himself as the God of His people, the God of His sinful, broken people. He was the God of Israel; He was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; He is your God if you trust Him. He has chosen to be known through His relationship to you, and as we are His ambassadors we are called to make appeals on God's behalf to people who do not know Him. We are called to ask people to be reconciled. And he uses a verb here I think that's amazing in verse 20 because it always blows my mind as I'm reading through 2 Corinthians. It almost builds in emotion as you read through 2 Corinthians and get to this chapter. Paul says here, he says, “We implore you on behalf of Christ.” If you read some other versions you’ll see, “I beg you,” or “I beseech you on behalf of Christ.” As I read it, I get this picture of Paul on his knees, almost with tears in his eyes, begging, “On behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” He's just been telling you, “Christ died. Christ who knew no sin became sin,” he's about to tell you. “Christ died a death He did not deserve and became sin on your behalf. Be reconciled to God.”
And he says this in a way that is just amazing. I think he says it to believers, the people he has said have trusted in Christ. That's what's amazing in this book. He's saying this to the Corinthians who have already trusted in Christ so there's more to it than just a mere reconciliation in the idea of trusting in Christ. There's an idea of becoming, becoming holy, becoming righteous, becoming reconciled to Christ. We are to continue to become reconciled to Christ even once we have been called to Him, even once we have been reconciled to Him. There's this strange tension that's true here and in so many other places. If you trust in Christ tonight, if you are in Christ, you are a new creature. You are remade. You are transformed. You have new desires. You hold Christ, you bear Christ's name and He is your God. You are holy because the penalty for your sin has already been paid, and yet you still battle sin. And just as Paul talked about in the first half of 2 Corinthians 5 as he said there will be a judgment for sin — there will be a judgment for deeds, good and evil — what we have done in the body will be judged. We will be given our due. We will receive our due for what we have done - good and evil. Just as he is telling you, this is coming. There is a judgment.
He's also telling you that we need to continue to be reconciled to God. This is the ultimate priority — the love of Christ compelling us. Paul labored on behalf of these people for a year and a half. When you get to Acts 18 and you hear about his time in Corinth, it's amazing because it's the first place you read about that he hasn't been kicked out of. He's able to just stay and minister. He probably has developed a relationship with them unlike many of the other places he's been because of the time he's been with them and he knows them and he loves them. He knows them in their sin. He knows he's had to write a severe letter to them because they've begun to not trust the things that he's already taught them. And he's written a severe letter to them probably with a very heavy heart. He loves them. He knows their struggles as they grow in grace, and yet he tells them, “Be reconciled to God.” Be begs them. He doesn't just tell them, he begs them, “Be reconciled to God.” He pleads with them.
And so I think we have to ask ourselves as we look at this, “Is our heart affected as Paul's was by the death of Christ, by the fact that Christ became sin on our behalf? Is that something that drives us to our knees? Is it something that causes us to beseech others?” Don't you realize that Christ died? The God, the Maker of the universe, died so that we could be whole. Do we beg of people? If we're truly known as being in Christ, if this is really our identity, then why don't we beg of people, beseech people just like Paul did, “Be reconciled to God”? Is this the thing that is really our ultimate priority? Are we like that man who values this truth so much that we sell everything else to go buy that field with treasure in it? Is this worth everything else you own, everything else you care about? Is this the most valuable thing to you because that's what we're called to?
Righteousness through union with Christ
The third thing we see here though, and I think this is really important for those of us who trust in Christ — the others are also, but there is a righteousness through our union with Christ. We have no hope in salvation apart from being united with Christ. There is nothing in any of us that is worth anything to God except wrath. We don't have anything in ourselves that deserves anything but what Christ got on the cross, but when we are united with Christ we share with Him everything. We share His kingdom; we're brothers. We can call God the Father, Abba Father as Billy prayed earlier. We can pray as the Lord taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, heavenly Father. We can come boldly before the throne of grace because Christ has cleansed us from our sins. And this is an amazing, amazing truth.
This passage, this entire passage is a hymn to Christ. This morning we had a service, and as I listened to the service it was amazing as I went through it because it seemed like every point I was thinking about tonight was there in the service. We opened - first we opened with a quote. Dr. Duncan read a quote from Richard Sibbes. It was actually in your bulletin at the top of the morning order of service. It said, “If God brings us into the trial He will be with us in the trial, and at length bring us out, more refined. We shall lose nothing but dross.” But then just after that he told us about a little bit later in the book when Richard Sibbes continues and says, “All that is to be wished for in an all-sufficient Savior is all to be found in Christ.” Now that's the message of this passage in 2 Corinthians 5 tonight.
Then we sang a hymn of praise. We opened with the hymn, “O Worship the King,” and we sang all about God the Father. It's a paraphrase of Psalm 104 and we sang all about the Father and how He calls us and how He loves us and how He defends us and calls us His own and draws us to Him. And then we sang another hymn, “Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners!” saying about the way that Jesus has died on our behalf, has reconciled us to God. And we listened to the hymn, “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed?” and we heard that “He devoted that sacred head to sinners such as I” and that “Christ, the mighty Maker died for man, the creature's sin.” We have nothing apart from our union with Christ. We are called by the Father, we are united with Christ in His substitutionary work by the Spirit, and it's amazing that that substitution we talked about at the beginning works both ways.
In verse 21 we see, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” We kind of get the good end of that deal. That just makes light of it. The deal there that has been made on our behalf is unbelievable. Tonight, I know that you are sitting here in evening worship most likely because you trust in Christ. But I still want to beg of you, be reconciled to God. While there is still today, flee to Him. You don't know what the next minute will hold. You don't know what will happen when you walk out that door. You don't know what will happen when you get home tonight. If there is some area of your life that you have withheld, it is not worth holding back. Christ died on your behalf so that you might have the righteousness of God. There is nothing so valuable that you should hold on to in its place. For those of you who know Him, we're all, as verse 10 tells us, going to “appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive what is due for what we have done in the body, whether good or evil.” We need to live lives that are being reconciled to God. We need to live lives that are controlled by the love of Christ. We need to live lives in which our identity is found in Christ because do not forget — do not go home tonight and wake up tomorrow morning and forget that you have nothing apart from being in Christ. You have nothing apart from your union with Him. “For our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin so that we might have the righteousness of God in Him.”
Let's close in prayer.
Heavenly Father, this is an unbelievable message and I am, there is no one worthy of carrying this message. Paul the apostle was not worthy of carrying this message — I'm certainly not. But God You have chosen to use us. Lord we pray that You would drive home in our hearts this moment the value of Your substitutionary death on our behalf, that You would drive home our need of You and the gravity of our sin, that You would make the righteousness of God in Christ the greatest treasure that we could ever hope for, that You will, Lord, not allow anything to be in the way of our pursuit of You. And as we interact with one another, with the world, with our coworkers, our bosses, our employees, we will be controlled, compelled by the love of Christ, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Please stand and respond with me as we sing the fourth stanza of hymn number 449, “We Rest On Thee,” as it's found in your bulletin.
Now hear God's blessing, the blessing of the Triune God. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
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