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2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Unity. Reconciliation. Those were words we heard often this week as our nation went through a peaceful transition of power. Since we have never experienced a military coup as many other countries have, we can’t truly appreciate what a blessing this is. At the same time, it’s also clear that most who are calling for unity and reconciliation don’t truly understand the only way true unity and reconciliation can occur. Paul makes that way clear to us today.
The first and greatest problem we have is not a lack of unity with each other. The first and greatest problem we have is that we are born into this world as enemies of God. We are born in Adam’s sinful image. By nature, we are completely opposed to anything God says or wants. We are born into this world spiritually dead and unless that changes, unless we have a spiritual birth, our physical death will send us straight to eternal death, eternal enmity and separation from God. Any other problem we face in this world pales in comparison to this greatest problem. We and all humans are born enemies of God.
How do we solve this problem? We don’t. By nature, we don’t want to solve it. We don’t want to be reconciled to God. And since we are born spiritually dead, we couldn’t do anything to initiate a reconciliation with God if we wanted to. We can’t reconcile ourselves to God, he has to do the reconciling.
How did he do it? How did God go about making people who by nature were opposed to him and wanted nothing to do with him his friends, people who now love him and are eager to do his will?
Paul makes it very clear. God reconciled us to himself in Christ. He sent his Son into the world. Jesus became flesh. He put himself in our shoes. He experienced joy and sadness, pain and pleasure. He was tempted in ways we can’t even imagine. But unlike us, he never once sinned, not even by responding with angry words when he was unjustly mocked and beaten. Then, God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us. On the cross, one died for all. And Paul explains, therefore all died. Everyone ever born, except Jesus, deserved to die, deserved what Jesus got. But because Jesus volunteered to be our substitute, God considers that we all got what we deserve when Jesus was forsaken and died on the cross. Paul makes the same point in Romans 6 when he reminds us that through our baptism we were united with Jesus in his death.
I like the following example because, when you mention doing something wrong, people sometimes say, “you better be careful, or God might strike you down with a bolt of lightning.” That’s what we all deserve, to have God strike us down on the spot with a bolt of lightning and send us straight to Hell. And if God is the one aiming the lightning bolt there is nothing you can do to escape, there’s nowhere to hide, you can’t run away, he’s not going to miss. But when Jesus was forsaken by God on the cross he was stepping between us and God and absorbing all of those lightning bolts of God’s wrath headed right at us. God’s wrath and punishment for every sin was poured out on Jesus. God made him to be sin for us. When he was forsaken and died, we were forsaken and died because he took our place.
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. In Jesus we have become the righteousness of God. God counted our sins against Jesus, he put our debts on Jesus’ account, so he no longer charges them to our account. In Jesus, he no longer sees us as sinful and deserving his punishment. He sees us as righteous as Jesus was righteous. He sees us as his beloved sons and daughters with whom he is well pleased.
That’s what God has done for us, but there is still a problem. By nature, we don’t care. By nature, we still don’t want anything to do with God. We don’t want to be his friend. We don’t want to be reconciled to him. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.
By God’s grace, someone reached out to us and shared the message of reconciliation with us. Most likely, for most of us, it was our parents and grandparents. But for some, it was a friend or a neighbor, or a teacher, or someone who just happened to knock on their door. In one way or another, God caused us to hear about what he had done for us in Jesus. And the Holy Spirit used that message to move us to say, “Wow, that’s just what I needed to hear. Something has been bothering me. I’ve had this feeling that nothing I do is ever good enough. In fact, I was angry and hated God because he seemed to demand more than I could ever give him. But now I see that he has given me everything I need. In Jesus he has paid for my every sin and given me the righteousness he demands.”
When the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and enables us to see who God really is and what he has done for us we are born again, born from above. We are a new creation. The love of Christ compels us because we realize that he loved us so much, even when we were his enemies, that he died for us. As a result, we no longer live for ourselves, following our selfish sinful nature, but we strive to live for him who died in our place and was raised again.
What a change God accomplishes! By us to himself, removing our sin and unrighteousness, he removed all the things that put a barrier between him and us. He enables us to see him as a God of love who takes no pleasure in giving us the punishment we deserve but wants to save us and give us the heaven we don’t deserve.
We don’t want to miss what Paul says about how this change in our relationship with God also affects our relationship with others. He says, as a result, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. We don’t judge them by their outward appearance. We understand that there is only one race, the human race, so the color of a person’s skin, their nationality, their language, none of those fleshly things matter. We understand that every human is a descendant of Adam. Every human is born dead in sin. Every human is someone for whom Jesus, the second Adam, lived and died. God our savior has proven that he wants all to be saved.
All the talk about race and culture and some people being more advanced than others on the evolutionary timeline is pure fiction. It is being used by Satan to divide us, to make us look at each other according to the flesh. Yes, sinful humans have prejudice like Jonah, and sinful humans have done terrible things to each other. But the only way we can be truly united and reconciled is by recognizing the truth- Everyone is a sinful descendant of Adam. No one is better or worse than anyone else in God’s eyes. All have sinned and deserve his punishment. When Jesus came into the world he came as a substitute for everyone, no matter what their color or status in society. God put the sins of every human being on Jesus. He paid for the sin that every human ever has or ever will commit. In Jesus we look at every other human as our equal, a sinner like us for whom Jesus lived and died. That’s where true unity and reconciliation comes from. No law, no amount of reparations, nothing else that exists, will bring about true unity and reconciliation.
What can we do about this? We live in a world that rejects God and doesn’t want anything to do with those who talk about Jesus. So, maybe we should just be quiet, keep our faith to ourselves and hope that Jesus returns in glory sooner than later.
Well, Paul lived at a time when there was a lot more persecution than we have experienced and he was writing to people who lived in a place that was at least as sinful, if not more sinful than the place in which we live. His encouragement to the Corinthians and for us is this. You know these things, that God was in Christ reconciling the WORLD to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. The Holy Spirit has brought you to believe this and as a result the love of Christ compels you and enables you to look past the outward appearance and see that everyone is a sinner and a person for whom Jesus died. So, guess what. God has entrusted you with the message of reconciliation. He has given you a ministry of reconciliation. God is making an appeal through you to the world, to everyone you meet. Through you he wants to reach out to everyone with an urgent plea: Be reconciled to God!
The solution to our problems is not government. It’s not who is president. It’s not diversity. It’s not saving the planet, or the whales, or any other political or social movement. None of those things addresses the real problem. The real problem is sin. The real problem is that by nature everyone is an enemy of God. The real solution is God and the fact that, in Christ, he has reconciled the world to himself. Only in Christ is there a new creation, a change of heart toward God and our neighbor.
May the love of Christ for you, and for your neighbor, compel you. May the love of Christ for you, and for your neighbor, enable you to regard no one according to the flesh. May the love of Christ for you, and for your neighbor, move you to serve as ambassadors of Christ and urgently plead with friends and enemies alike, be reconciled to God. Only then can we enjoy unity and reconciliation now and for all eternity.