Be Reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5)
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
"Christ, the life of all the living, Christ, the death of death, our foe, who, Thyself for me once giving to the darkest depths of woe: through Thy suff’rings, death, and merit I eternal life inherit" (LSB #420.1).
We sang these words a moment ago. Words that reiterate and repeat St. Paul's words to the Corinthians. Nothing is now the way it once was. "From now on ... we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh" (v16). Once we saw things through dirty, earthly eyes. Now we see them through cleansed, spiritual eyes.
Once we saw things much like the prodigal son. Everything revolved around what we could do with our lives. What we could accomplish and show for what we've done. The more we put stock in our works, the more we find ourselves like that prodigal. Everything's wonderful as long as everything's going our way. But once disaster strikes, everything goes south in our minds. We find ourselves at our worst moments in time wishing to eat the slop being fed to the hogs (Luke 15:14-16). Everything revolves around the things of this world.
This is seen from the very beginning. Sure, the serpent enticed Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit by saying that she would become like God. But that wasn't the only shift he made in her sight. She looked again at the tree. It was good for food. It was pleasing to the eyes. It was too much to resist. Eve ate and she gave some to her husband "who was with her" (Genesis 3:1-6). They thought they saw something better. The grass was going to be greener after eating from the tree. The grass wasn't greener. It began to wilt. It was now cursed because of Adam and Eve's sin. Their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. But their nakedness wasn't covered. Their sin still lay naked before God. "Creation sinned against God and did not repent, so God, who did not want His work to perish, sent His Son in order to preach through Him the forgiveness of sins and thus reconcile them to himself" (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul's Epistles).
St. Paul writes, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (v17). Through Christ, everything is new. In Christ, you receive a newness that redefines who you are. Once again, you are like the prodigal. You realize what great benefits there are in the Father's house (Luke 15:17). The prodigal who was restored to his former circumstances after he returned home. Not because he gave such an impassioned speech. He was restored because his father forgave him. His father made him a new son.
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven," David writes, "Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him" (Psalm 32:1-2). You are the child who has been clothed with the best robe--the robe of righteousness. You've had the fattened calf slaughtered for you. You've had the celebration thrown for you. But why have you had the celebration thrown for you? God has reconciled you to Himself.
This is the greatest mystery of the Christian faith. In every other religion, you strive to reconcile yourself with an angry God. In Christianity, that same angry God reconciled you to Himself. Instead of you working out your own salvation, your salvation has been handed to you. This great mystery of Christ's vicarious satisfaction is yours.
You have been reconciled to God because Christ has made satisfaction with God for you. He did everything necessary for your salvation. He did it in your stead. He gave it to you. God demands that you perfectly obey His Law. He has promised eternal damnation to everyone who transgresses His Law. But you cannot perfectly obey His Law. You are God's child because Jesus has given you His Sonship. God laid the guilt of your sins upon Jesus. Jesus willingly accepted your sins and the responsibility to keep God's Law in your place. God is satisfied with you because you have been clothed with Christ's righteousness. You are a new creation. The old you has been drowned in the waters of Baptism. The new you thrives on knowing Jesus as your Savior. The new you has been covered by the blood of Jesus the slaughtered fattened calf. The new you celebrates your reconciliation with God. This celebration is the complete settlement of your debt with God. Your account has been settled because Jesus fulfilled the Law in your stead. Your account has been settled because Christ has completely removed God's wrath through His death. Your account has been settled and you have the receipt because God raised Jesus from the dead.
This reconciliation isn't only for you. It doesn't stay idle. St. Paul calls it a "ministry of reconciliation" (v18). Being reconciled with God, you seek to minister to your neighbor. You seek to bring God's reconciliation to them as well. This ministry reaches out into the world and shows those who only know an angry God what it means to have a loving heavenly Father. This ministry shows what the Pharisees and the scribes saw in our Gospel reading: "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). This ministry shows how "for our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (v21). St. Gregory of Nazianzus summarized this verse thus (Theological Oration 5):
- But look at it in this manner: that as for my sake He was called a curse who destroyed my curse, and sin who takes away the sin of the world, and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as head of the whole body. As long, then, as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ is also called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued to Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God.
This ministry is all about sin and grace. Law and Gospel. The ministry of reconciliation is the administration of the Law onto Christ the Righteous. It is the administration of the Gospel upon you the unrighteous. In the words of our sermon hymn: "Thou hast suffered great affliction and hast borne it patiently, even death by crucifixion, fully to atone for me; Thou didst choose to be tormented that my doom should be prevented" (LSB #420.6). Christ suffered everything in order that you might be reconciled to God. This great mystery--this great ministry--God has given to you. You have been reconciled with Him. He seeks that all men be reconciled. This reconciliation comes through the Holy Spirit's proclamation of Jesus' vicarious satisfaction for sinners. This reconciliation comes straight from God. It gives you the power and ability to share this good news with others. This reconciliation is Jesus' image imprinted on your heart: "Jesus, crucified for me, is my life, my hope's foundation, and my glory and salvation" (LSB #422). With this inscription on your heart, you truly understand your role as Christ's ambassador.
You are Christ's ambassador. Christ who is the life of all the living. Christ who is the death of death your foe. Christ gave Himself to the deepest, darkest woes to reconcile you to God the Father. Christ gives you His eternal life so that you may be filled with His abundance. For this reconciliation you have received, what more can you say than "Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus unto Thee" (LSB #420, refrain)? Amen.