The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 21, 2024
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
From the Jordan to the Mountain—
Committed to a Lofty Charge!
14For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever taken the time to evaluate how you look at other people? What I mean is this: If you saw a young family walk into our church— Mom, Dad and a couple of children— and they tell you that they have just moved into the area and are looking for a WELS/ELS church to join, how would you react? Would you excitedly welcome them with open arms and offer to help them in any way you can?
What if you were waiting for the worship service to start and someone came in carrying their tent, their duffle-bag and their backpack and they tell you that they grew up in the WELS/ELS but were now going through some hard times and were looking for a place to worship. How would you react? Would you excitedly welcome them with open arms and offer to help them in any way you can?
As we continue to follow Jesus from the Jordan to the mountain, the apostle Paul calls on us to evaluate how we look at the people we meet as we journey through this world. The most important part of this evaluation, the number one thing that guides and directs how we look at people is found in the opening verses of our text. Look at what Paul says to you and to me, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
No matter who we meet, as Christians, we are “compelled,” or a more literal translation of this word is, we are “impelled” by the love of Christ. Just as the love of Christ was the motivational force that “impelled” how the apostle Paul looked at other people and dealt with other people, so also the love of Christ is what “impels” us as well. The love of Christ is the foundation from which we treat other people. The love of Christ is what guides and directs how we speak to other people. It all begins with; it all comes down to the love of Christ!
And what does the love of Christ motivate us to remember as we look at other people? It motivates us to remember what the love of Christ impelled Him to do for everyone— including each and every one of us! And what did the love of Christ impel Him to do? Like Paul we are “convinced” that He (Pointing to the cross) “died for all.” The fact that every single person we ever see, the fact that every single person we ever meet is someone whom Jesus loves so very much that He was willing to die for them (Pointing to the cross)— that is what “impels” us, that is what motivates us to reflect to them the very same love that Jesus showers upon us— every single one!
And yet, when we are honest with ourselves, my friends, we realize that by nature we are all selfishly living for ourselves. This is the natural worldview that our culture fosters with advertising that promises that we can always be young and beautiful. It fills our mind with the thinking that says that I can be whatever I want to be and to do whatever I want to do. It gives us all the technology we need to isolate ourselves from the people around us and not to concern ourselves with what will happen to them— either now or in eternity.
Because that selfish old sinful nature is so powerful and so pervasive it takes the love of Christ to “impel” us to look at others the way He (Pointing to the cross) wants us to look at them. And how does Christ want us to look at others? Paul answers that question when he says to us today, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.”
Let’s start with the most shocking part of this verse. Paul is confessing that there was a time when he looked at Jesus “from a worldly point of view.” Back when Paul the Apostle was still Saul the Pharisee he saw Jesus of Nazareth as Someone who was proclaiming heretical teachings and making blasphemous claims. Saul the Pharisee had no time and no patience for Jesus’ claims that He is the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies that the Lord God of Israel gave to Saul’s ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Saul was so laser focused on seeing Jesus “from a worldly point of view” that he dedicated his life to eradicating the church that was built on Jesus and His claims. Then the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and changed Saul’s perspective on Jesus! The Lord Himself changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle.
There are many people today who still look at Jesus “from a worldly point of view.” When people look at Jesus as just that cute little Baby whose birth we remember at Christmastime, when people look at Jesus as Someone who would never judge and never condemn anyone for anything, they are looking at Jesus “from a worldly point of view.” When people see Jesus as a great moral leader or a wonderful example to follow but certainly not this world’s only Savior from sin, they are looking at Jesus “from a worldly point of view.” It is only when God the Holy Spirit uses the power of His holy Word and His holy Sacrament to create the gift of saving faith in a person’s heart can we or anyone else see Jesus for who He truly is!
It is that same gift of saving faith in our hearts that enables us to confess along with Paul, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Before we had the “love of Christ” “impelling” us to look at people the way God looks at them we saw other people as competitors who are standing in our way, or as steppingstones that we can use to climb our way up the ladder, or as failures whom we need to avoid.
And now? Because the “love of Christ” is “impelling” how we look at others, because the “love of Christ” is “impelling” us to no longer look at anyone from a “worldly point of view” we gladly say along with the apostle Paul, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” This “new creation” is a gift from God. For most of us it is a gift that was given to us through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism where Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection were “credited” to our own personal “account.”
The application of that “new creation” not only changes our perspective on other people, but it also changes our perspective on the purpose of our life here on this earth. Paul emphasizes both of those truths when he says to us this morning, “All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
The key word in this entire section of our text is the word “reconcile.” Very literally this word means, “to put someone into friendship with God; to reconcile.” This is an eye-opening word! This one powerful little word captures the essence of our biggest problem: sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled against their loving Creator, when they broke the one Commandment that God had given to them, “Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (See Genesis 2:15-17), they completely shattered the once perfect peaceful relationship they had with God. Ever since that moment we human beings have been conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). Ever since that moment we human beings were born enemies of God. (See Romans 8:7) Ever since that moment we needed to be reconciled to God. We needed to become “friends” with God. But there was nothing we could do to bring about the change that we needed! So God stepped in and produced that change for us!
Note very carefully, my friends, how God the Holy Spirit led Paul to very specifically emphasize that the reconciliation we needed is something that God does for us. God was not reconciled to us, as if some change had taken place in Him. God is the subject not the object of this reconciliation. He was reconciling us to Himself! To put it even more simply: God changed us! God took the brokenness, the alienation, the disunity, the enmity that sin created between us and Him, placed it onto His only-begotten Son (Pointing to the cross) so that He could be the atoning sacrifice for our sins— and not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world! (See 1 John 2:2) Then through the power of the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament God took the holiness of His Son and wrapped it around us like a robe— a beautiful, perfect, white robe. That is how and that is when we became a “new creation— in Christ!” That is how and that is when we became “friends” with the Almighty. That is how and that is when we were given a new purpose in Christ!
Our new purpose in Christ is highlighted in Paul’s word, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Ambassadors do not speak on the basis of their own authority. Ambassadors are to faithfully represent the one who sent them. This means that as ambassadors of Jesus Christ we are to faithfully proclaim to others what Jesus has done for them, namely, that He has “reconciled” them to God. He has restored “friendship” with God by taking away all of their sins!
This brings us right back to where we started, doesn’t it. This reminds us of how critical it is for us to have a proper perspective on people— all people. We are indeed to look at all people as people whom Jesus loves so very much that He was willing to die for them. We are to look at all people as people whom God has reconciled to Himself— in Christ. All that remains is for someone to share with them the “message of reconciliation.” That someone is you. That someone is me. Whether it’s talking to people one-on-one or whether it’s supporting the mission work that our Synod is doing both here at home and all across the world, our God-given purpose in life is to be an ambassador for Christ! What has been given to us now needs to be revealed through us.
God has committed to us a lofty charge, my friends. He has given to us a noble purpose, a glorious privilege that not even the heavenly angels have been given. We have been given the “message of reconciliation”— to share with others. And the heart of that message, in fact the very heart of the Gospel, is found in the picture that is portrayed in the closing verse of our text: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Let those words sink in. The Child who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary “had no sin” because He is the Son of the Most High God. And yet the Most High God “made him to be sin for us.” When the Most High God placed on Jesus all the sins of all the people who have ever or will ever live on the face of this earth, He was so covered with sin that we might say that Jesus became sin personified. When the heavenly Father looked at Jesus nailed to the cross on Calvary’s hill, He was repulsed by everything sin had wrought on all human beings— including us! Since all the guilt and all the punishment that we deserved for all of our sins was placed on the innocent Son of God, now through faith in what Jesus has done for us we are given the “righteousness of God”! Everything that we need to be pleasing and acceptable to the God of heaven is freely given to us— and to everyone— who believes and trusts in Jesus as their Savior. There are no exceptions. There are no limitations.
This is what the “love of Christ” “impels” us to remember as we look at everyone we see as we journey through this world. The “love of Christ “impels” us to remember that God has “reconciled the world to himself in Christ.” The “love of Christ “impels” us to remember that we are now “ambassadors” of Christ Himself— “ambassadors” who have been given the glorious “message of reconciliation” to share with others. The “love of Christ” “impels” us to remember that we need to strive— with God’s help— to remain committed to the lofty charge, the glorious privilege we have been given!
To God be the glory!