“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) For four months leading up to Christmas we were getting “prepared to answer” – learning how to talk about Jesus more wisely and boldly, confidently and effectively. Our message today wraps up that series. Firstly, it talks about the wonderful new life we enjoy as Christians.
A BRAND NEW PERSON
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Actually most translations are not accurate at this point. Most say, “He is a new creation,” or “he is a new person”. Literally Paul says, “there is a new creation”.
The MESSAGE puts it well. “Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.”
The Living Bible expresses this wonderful truth beautifully.
When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! (Living Bible)
Most religions are all about turning over a new leaf, working hard to become a better person, struggling to try to live up to God’s standards. But becoming a Christian isn’t about turning over a new leaf. Becoming a Christian is about beginning a new life! God doesn’t just call us to follow the example He has given us in Jesus Christ and to live by Jesus’s teachings. God actually makes it possible for US to share in Jesus’s life! So as Christians we enjoy a brand new life. That newness of life is not just “less old”, like changing to a newer car. Nor is it like so many washing powders just some “new improved” version of the old life.
It is not the kind of superficial change you see in all those “makeover” shows. God’s work in our lives is not mere cosmetic surgery. It is a heart transplant. God gives us a brand new life – a dramatic transformation from the old, like the butterfly emerging from the caterpillar.
But God does not want Christians to keep this amazing good news to ourselves!
WE ARE AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 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.
We are Christ’s ambassadors. We are His representatives. We are His Messengers. What an amazing privilege. And what an awesome responsibility!
We could all name literally hundreds of famous people. Monarchs. Politicians. Sports people and entertainers. Although their influence representing our country is enormous, I can only name one ambassador. Andy Sparks, CMG was Her Majesty’s Ambassador first to the Congo, then to Kosovo, and most recently to Nepal. We happened to be at university together. Ambassadors are very important diplomats. But most of the time we haven’t a clue who our ambassadors are. The glorious task of an Ambassador is to draw attention to the one they are representing, not to themselves.
Ambassadors don’t have any choice about whether they deliver their Sovereign’s messages or not. That is their job. That is their responsibility. They may be scared of the reaction their message may provoke. But ambassadors don’t have the option of staying silent. Their job is to speak!
We may be scared of talking about Jesus and delivering the life-saving message of salvation. But we don’t have a choice. Even the apostle Paul was scared of talking about Jesus, understandably because among many other sufferings Paul had ended up in prison for preaching the gospel! But Paul was conscious of his responsibility as an ambassador for Christ, so he asked the church at Ephesus to pray for him.
“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20)
If we find ourselves anxious or afraid of fulfilling our responsibilities as ambassadors for Christ there is one thing we should bear in mind. What is the source of an ambassador’s authority? They never speak on their own authority. They always speak on the authority of the ruler who they represent. In the first century a Roman Ambassador was the personal representative of the Roman Emperor himself.
Christians do not talk about Jesus on their own authority. We don’t share the gospel on our own authority. We do so because Almighty God commands us to. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
… as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us.
We are speaking for Christ, on His behalf. The message is not our message but God’s message. And we are not delivering it on our authority but on the authority of the One we represent, even Almighty God.
Matthew 28 18Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
When we talk about Jesus and share the good news, and seek to help others to become His disciples, we are only doing so in obedience to the command of Jesus Himself, Jesus who has all authority in heaven and on earth! Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And Jesus has appointed us to be HIS ambassadors. We are HIS representatives. We are HIS Messengers.
But Jesus’s Great Commission isn’t our only motive, or even the most important motive for talking about Jesus. Earlier in the passage Paul says, “Christ’s love compels us.”
2 Corinthians 5 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 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.
Paul talks about the love of Christ. He is not talking about the love we have for Christ, although that should be a motive for obeying Christ. Paul is talking about Christ’s love for us. Jesus loved us so much that He died for us! So we should live new lives, not doing whatever we want but doing what Jesus wants. Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead to give us this new life. When we realize just how much Jesus loves us, we will want to tell other people about Jesus so they can come to experience this new life for themselves. Christ’s love for us will indeed compel us to reach out with His love to our friends and neighbours and colleagues and even to strangers. God loves them too – and we will want them to know that!
Probably the greatest evangelical thinker of the 20th Century, Karl Barth wrote, “The church exists to preach the gospel. The life of the one holy Universal Church is determined by the fact that it is the fulfilment of the service as ambassador enjoined upon it.”
“Where the life of the Church is exhausted in self-serving, it smacks of death; the decisive thing has been forgotten, that this whole life is lived only in the exercise of what we called the Church’s service as ambassador, in proclamation.”
“The “Christ-believing group” … is sent out: “Go and preach the gospel!” … In it all the one thing must prevail: “Proclaim the gospel to every creature!” The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message.”
God has appointed us to be Ambassadors for Jesus. To drive home his point, Paul then explains for us the heart of God’s masterplan of salvation.
THE GREAT EXCHANGE – OUR SIN FOR GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS
This one verse explains perfectly the wonderful salvation Jesus obtained for us by His death on the cross.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The Good News Bible translates the verse like this.
21Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.
God took the initiative in bringing us back to Himself. There was nothing we could do to make a way for us to know God. So God gave His one and only Son for us. And Jesus took all of our sin on Himself by dying on the cross.
Jesus took the physical place which the notorious revolutionary Barabbas should have occupied on that middle cross between the two thieves. But Jesus took our place spiritually taking upon Himself the wrath of God. Jesus shared our sin. In fact, Paul says something even more amazing. Literally Paul says that the holy and sinless Son of God was made to BE sin for us, on our behalf. All the sin of humanity splitting the eternal Holy Trinity in two for our sakes, for our salvation, so that we might share or even become the righteousness of God!
Again the Living Bible expresses this verse beautifully. “For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us.”
The second century Bishop Irenaeus explained it like this. “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is.” God became a human being so that we could become God’s children. In the incarnation Christ shared in our humanity so that we could share in His divinity. On the cross Christ became sin so that we could become righteous.
As the old hymn says,
“Bearing shame and scoffing rude. In my place condemned He stood.
Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
Like that glorious phrase of Graham Kendrick’s, “Exchanging for my wretchedness your radiant robes of righteousness”
Martin Luther explained it this way. “Lord Jesus, You are my righteousness but I am your sin. You took on You what was mine; You set on me what was Yours. You became what you were not that I might become what I was not.”
That is the good news! This is what Jesus has accomplished for us. These are the blessings His death on the Cross have bought for us. And this is the wonderful gospel we have to proclaim. The message which reconciles people to God. The message which changes us from God’s enemies into God’s friends. The great exchange – our sin for God’s righteousness.
So as Christ’s ambassadors we take this good news to a lost world.
We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.
Over the last three months in this series “Prepared to Answer” we have been thinking about how we can talk about Jesus more boldly and wisely, confidently and effectively. We have been thinking about how we might make the best of every opportunity for conversations about Jesus. Talking about Jesus isn’t something we should just talk about. Talking about Jesus is something we should DO!
I have a recurring nightmare. It is that on my way to the gates of heaven I will have to walk up a path past all sorts of friends and neighbours I haven’t seen for years. Past work colleagues and even members of my family who are trapped outside never to enter. The nightmare is that I will hear each one of them saying to me, “you never told me.” I knew the way to heaven, I had found the way to eternal life, but they say to me, “you never told me. I never knew.”
We are all Ambassadors for Christ.
18… God …through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends!