Reconciliation; Ambassador of Christ; Evangelism; Witness
July 9th, 2006
Living a Reconciled Life
2 Corinthians 5:11-20 (Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others vs.11)
Vicar Brian Henderson
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN
Our message this morning comes to us from our epistle lesson, with special attention on verse 11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”
Introduction: Fear is a powerful motivator. It can motivate us to do something or it can cause us to do nothing; it can freeze us dead in our tracks so to speak. As a boy I knew the fear of the Lord, or should I say the fear of Hell and it caused me to dread going to church. As some of you may know, my grandfather was a Baptist preacher, a deacon by title but an evangelist by function. He was the pianist for our church but he was also a regular proclaimer of God’s Word from the pulpit. Now in keeping with the Baptist tradition, my grandfather’s sermons were very often centered on the eternal consequences of living a life separated from God, and I have to be honest with you, as a young boy I learned to be afraid of my grandfather and God because of those messages. I also learned that I did not want to burn in Hell for living a life centered in fornication and licentiousness, even though I didn’t have a clue what those things meant. For sure, there was something powerful in the Words that my grandfather spoke from his pulpit; something eternal and fearful. Now to be fair, my grandfather also was very good at proclaiming God’s love, but for a boy of eight, it all just got lost in my fear of God and the place where bad boys went.
One day, on a Saturday morning, my grandfather through a series of questions discovered that I was very much afraid of God and him. He realized that I was thinking much more about hell than I was about heaven. So, in an act that only grandfathers could pull off during a church service, he allowed me to sit with him on his piano bench during Sunday’s service, while he occasionally hugged me and briskly rubbed my hair and whispered “I love you”. Then when it was his time to enter the pulpit, he whispered in my ear again and said, “Listen carefully.” His sermon went on for some time, and I could not tell you what it was about, accept this one portion: “Jesus loves you. He will never hurt you or leave you alone. Do not be afraid of Him.” On that morning, my grandfather did two things for me: He demonstrated God’s love and he communicated that love through God’s Word. Ever since that time, I have understood that while hell should be feared it should not be my fear because Jesus does in fact love me. Through my grandfather, God helped me to understand that because of Jesus, I did not have to be afraid of Him. In a sense, God realigned my fear into love and trust.
I. Our message this morning is centered around three central truths in living a Christian life, and the story I just told will help us understand the first central truth: Christ’s love has reconciled us to God and secured a peaceful relationship with Him forever.
While this is most certainly true, we must live this reality in order to realize it, and the only way we can realize it is through the gift of faith. Only faith can cause our hearts to believe in redemption. Only faith can take the truth of the cross and make it our own truth. The truth of redemption is simply that God has readjusted us to Himself. Without faith, we can never believe this, because it requires us to first admit that there is something wrong with our very selves. The Bible reveals that there is anarchy somewhere, real thorough-going anarchy in the heart of men against God; so our need is strong that something should come into us from the outside to readjust us, to reconcile us, to turn us around, to put us right with God. And that something is faith. Without faith, no one can believe in their need for the Cross.
A person who says, “I believe in Christ’s teachings” means that they give their mental agreement to it—“it is a good ideal for us to try and live up to Christ’s teachings,” they say. But if all Jesus came to do was to tell me that I have to love God with all of my heart and love my neighbor as myself, then He would have been the cruelest man who ever lived, because I already know these things and my own conscience testifies that I could never do them. But the teaching of Jesus Christ is not an ideal; it is a reality that is ours by faith, because we have been reconciled to God through what Christ did for us upon the cross. The type of life Jesus lived, the type of character He expressed, is only possible for us to have when we believe that by His death, and only by His death, God has paid the price of redeeming all of His children, and that includes me and you; for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. God does not simply wish to redeem us, He has redeemed us! And that dear friends is the Gospel—God has redeemed the human race. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”
II. And now that we have received God’s message of reconciliation, here is another central truth in living the Christian life: Christ’s love is right now transforming our view of the world and the people in the world. Through this new standard that God gives us through faith, we are enabled to see people as He sees them: People for whom Christ died and rose, who just like us, need to hear the message of reconciliation and know the reality of that message, which is made possible through the life giving waters of Holy Baptism!
There is an old saying that while often used has not worn out its usefulness: “There but for the grace of God go I!” Think for a moment, what your life here and your eternal life away from here would be like had God not intervened by way of the water and the Word! If God had not through the gift of faith allowed you to know and believe His truth and the intimacy of speaking to Him in prayer. What if God had not devised a way to strengthen your faith and ensure you of the forgiveness of your sins through the eating and drinking of His body and blood! When we see our neighbors, coworkers and even family members living apart from God’s grace, we should not look at them judgingly but with compassion and great fear knowing if it were not for the grace of God that would be me!
If you noticed, our Old Testament reading (Job 38:1-11) and our Gospel reading (Mark 4:35-41) speak quite eloquently about this fear: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Wow can you imagine standing before God and hearing His voice thunder these WORDS at you?! And the apostles knew that fear as well, for we read in the Gospel this morning, that “they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” But if because of Jesus, we no longer need to fearfully see God as angry, what is the purpose of our natural fear of God? Simply put, we must be afraid for our neighbor’s sake!
We should be afraid for our neighbors because we know the terrors of judgment and the eternal separation from God that awaits them. Because of faith, we have the advantage of knowing that they should fear the Lord, but they don’t have this advantage, this faith. We know what terror and horror awaits them without Jesus Christ. We watch them slowly passing into eternal judgment, and it is as if we are watching a train wreck in slow motion, and wondering can’t anything be done to stop this?!
Scripture tells us that judgment day will be a day of awful wailing and terror when all the living and the dead will be arraigned on trial deciding what their eternal destiny will be; and then countless hosts of the guilty and unrepentant sinners will be thrown down to an eternal hell. Who can describe the amazing terror of that scene? Who can imagine the horrors of the countless guilty and wretched people who will then hear that their punishment has been set to last forever in a world of unspeakable misery? Oh how fearful and awful the consequences of their sins will be on the day of their judgment.
What can be done? Dear God in heaven, for Jesus’ sake help them,” we pray!! And the Lord says, “Yes, pray for them. Pray that they too will be given the gift of faith. Talk to them, and through your relationship with them, I by my Spirit will persuade them to be reconciled to me, through my Son, Jesus Christ.”
III. Here friends, the Lord give us our third central truth in living a Christian life: we are to build relationships with those who do not know Him by faith, pray for them and teach them that they have been reconciled to Him. In vs. 11, when Paul says, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others,” he means that we work towards encouraging our neighbors to flee from the wrath to come; to be prepared to stand before the judgment-seat with no fear, so that by faith in Christ they may be suited to enter into heaven. We all know from experience that we can not drive people into heaven and we know that we cannot scare them into it. But instead, by faith we go forward, propelled by love, armed with God’s Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit and we encourage them to flee from the wrath of God which is to come.
Christ’s love inspires our efforts to encourage those who are outside of the church to come to Him through Christ. Now some will say, “I tell my neighbor the Good News because I love the Lord!” Very well, but you love Him only because He first loved you, and he loves your neighbor too; just as He loves you, He loves your neighbor with an everlasting love! It is His love that we are to proclaim to our neighbors, friends, coworkers, strangers and even family members. We are sent out to proclaim that love as his spokesperson. Dear friends, Paul says in vs. 20, that we are Christ’s Ambassador’s, and as his ambassadors we have been called to communicate God’s message of reconciliation to all to whom God provides the opportunity. Now perhaps some of you are wondering “How does one go about this task of encouraging? Do I read a book or take a class?” Well you could do that, or you could follow St. Paul’s example; simply tell your own faith story. You see, while St. Paul was certainly a great preacher and teacher, he was also a great witness to God’s love and mercy, which he knew saved him from eternal damnation. And when he told his story, he also became a master encourager.
By telling his own faith story, Paul was able to show others that they were very much like him, and if God chose to save him he must also desire to save them. Listen to a paraphrase of Paul’s faith story and see if it helps you to format your own: “Dear friend, I was once like you, only worse I am sure; for I sought to destroy anyone who professed faith in Jesus Christ. But one day on the road to Damascus, Jesus confronted me and showed me the truth, and now I am controlled by the love of Christ, the very thing I once hated! Now I must be honest with you, life has not been easy; in fact, my life has been very difficult. I have been beaten, stoned, attacked by mobs, shipwrecked and left for dead, but not once have I felt alone or afraid. I know for certain that Jesus is with me. And I know that when I do leave this body I will immediately be present with Him. But until then, I continue to walk with Him and serve Him as His ambassador of love and grace. Oh friend, if he has so wonderfully changed me, think of what He will do for you.” Paul’s life was a witness to his faith and so ours shall be as well, but we must first learn to live for Christ; to know that we were bought for a price; a price He paid for with His life. When we begin to live with this reality as our central truth, then our witness for God will be powerful and persuasive.
ILLUS: Do you remember the former Secretary of the State George Shultz, during the Reagan administration? He kept a large globe in his office. When ever newly appointed ambassadors had an interview with him or when ambassadors returning from their posts for their first visit with him were leaving his office, Shultz would test them. He would say, “Hold on. You have to go over the globe and prove to me that you can identify your country.” They would go over, spin the globe, and put their finger on the country to which they were assigned. And this was an error that Schultz quickly pointed out.
When Shultz’s old friend and former Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield was appointed ambassador to Japan, even he was put to the test. This time, however, Ambassador Mansfield spun the globe and put his hand on the United States, and proudly said: “That’s my country!”
Friends, if we want to be persuasive Ambassadors for the Lord, then we must know where our true country is; we must live as if heaven is our true home and country, because it is. And now as Ambassador’s of Christ, we must go out into our posts and through prayer to the Lord of the harvest, and through the art of persuasion, work with God to make new fellow harvester, new citizens within our home country, the Body of Christ. May God equip each one of us in this noble task, for Christ’s sake….AMEN.