2 Corinthians 5:14-21 The Bible says that, in the beginning, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”. Adam and Eve were mankind. And so when they sinned, and became alienated from God, and subject to God’s judgment of “guilty” under his punishment of death--so did all mankind.
The Bible says that, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men.” Every person in this world, by nature, is alienated from God, guilty in God’s sight, and subject to the death.
But on this Good Friday evening, we hear the best possible news of all: that just as far-reaching and all-encompassing are the effects of Adam’s sin upon every one of us, so the death of Jesus Christ, who is the new Adam, has paid for those sin and taken that judgment and reconciled us to God. The Bible says:
The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
“For God so loved the world, that he sent his only-begotten Son…” For God so loved the world. God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross embraces all people without exception.
Jesus went to the cross as the new Adam, representative of all people in every place and time. He took upon himself the flesh we all bear and he lived a holy life for all people and he died a terrible death for all people and when God poured his wrath upon his son and delivered the punishment of death promised to Adam in Eden, it was all people that God was dealing with so that in Christ, every person was judged by God and punished by God.
And so why would God send his Son to die? Why would Christ become one of us, subject like all of us to the demands of the law, and die this terrible death under the full weight of God’s wrath? The Bible says that:
Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Our creation and our redemption has but a single purpose, that we would live with God in perfect fellowship as his children for time and eternity. But Adam and Eve destroyed that life for themselves and us by choosing to live outside of God’s will for them. And we, as their children, have chosen to go our own way as well.
That is what sin is—the creature’s rebellion against the will of their Creator—creatures who can longer see or know the love and mercy of God, creatures who no longer understand that God’s will for them is an expression of his love for them, creatures who are turned in on themselves, rather than open to the love that God wants to pour out upon them.
That is why God sent his Son and not just a servant, because only God’s Son could re-make of us what God intends us to be: his sons and daughters who live their lives for the One who died and was raised to bring them home.
And so for our sake, Christ bore our sins on the cross and died in our place. And for our sake he was raised so that we would have the life God intends us to have, a life unbroken by death. For our sake and for the sake of every person in the world. The Bible says that:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.
When Paul stood in the crowd of people who were murdering Stephen for his testimony concerning Jesus, it was blind hatred that filled his heart. He regarded Jesus as a deceiver of God’s people and an enemy that had to be destroyed. He couldn’t see the truth about Stephen or himself and he certainly couldn’t see the truth about Jesus.
But the risen Savior met him on the road to Damascus and blinded his physical eyes with his glorious presence and opened his eyes of faith to see truth. Paul saw that he was a sinner who needed saving and Jesus was that Savior and those Christians who ministered to him were the only ones who could show him the way of salvation. From then on his eyes were open.
He saw that all people—without exception were loved by God. Jew or Gentile, men or women, young or old. Notorious sinners or notoriously self-righteous. God loved them all and Christ died and was raised for them all so that all of them could have new life. The Bible says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
God loves all people and Christ died for all people and has been raised for all people so that all people might take their place in God’s family but it is only those who are IN Christ who can claim this for themselves and benefit from it.
These verses signal a major shift in in this passage from what Christ has done for all people on the cross and who actually receives the blessings of his saving work.
It is only those who are IN Christ who are new creations. Only those who are IN Christ who can say that the old has passed away. Only those who are IN Christ can rejoice in the good news that the guilt and shame of the past has been taken away and only those who are IN Christ can rejoice that they have a new life that death cannot claim.
Despite the all-encompassing embrace of God’s love, despite the all-sufficient merit of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, all people will not be saved-- but only those who lay hold of him by faith—which is what God wants for all people.
And so he has given us who are IN Christ, who have laid hold of Christ by faith, the privilege and responsibility of making sure that God’s love for all people is made known in this world. The Bible says:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
When Paul says that “all of this is from God” that is exactly what he means! Our salvation from beginning to end is the work of God ALONE. God’s love-- not our worthiness sent Jesus into the world. Christ’s death-- not our good works won salvation for us. The Spirit’s call-- not our decision opened our hand of faith and placed us IN Christ.
But in doing all this for us, God used means—people and places and events—to reconcile us to himself. He used the water of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion and he especially used men and women to tell the story of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice.
Paul calls this work of telling others about Jesus “the ministry of reconciliation” and the message is this: where before God was angry over the sins of the world, now God has been reconciled to the world, a new relationship with the world, on account of what Christ has done.
It is the ministry of saying to the world: no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, God loves you and has forgiven you in Christ. There is no longer any reason to be afraid of God, no longer any reason to wonder what God’s attitude is towards you, because looking to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and the blood that was shed there for you can know beyond any shadow of a doubt that you are loved and you are forgiven.
And Paul says that we have been “entrusted” with that message and that ministry! Can you imagine it! God has entrusted you with the most important work in this world and says that you are now his “ambassadors”—that you are empowered to speak for him and represent him in this world.
That is the difference Christ has made in your life and that is the difference that God wants to make in the life of all people. And so then, our message to the world is this:
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
On this Good Friday, we have once more seen by the faith, in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatness of God’s love that embraces the world through arms outstretched on the cross and the fullness of Christ’s saving work that says to every person about their sin: It is finished! We know that a great exchange has been made there at the cross for us and all people: that our sins and the sins of the world were willingly borne by our Lord Jesus Christ and that his suffering and death has been counted as our own through faith and that in this great exchange, God is reconciled to all.
But there is one more thing that we need to see: countless millions of people whose sins were forgiven at the cross, countless millions of people who are loved by God, remain dead in sin and blind to God’s love and deaf to Christ’s words, “Father, forgive them.” That is why Paul’s message to the world is this: We implore you, be reconciled to God!
And so it must by our message too to those around us: Be reconciled to God! God loves you and the sinless Son of God has died for you. There is a place in God’s family for you. You no longer have to be weighed down by sin and shame and guilt but instead the righteousness of God is given to you if you will only receive it in faith.
On Good Friday we are thankful beyond measure to look to our Lord Jesus Christ as he dies on the cross for us and know and believe and trust that he has done everything necessary for our salvation.
But we also turn our eyes from the cross to the world and we see what our Lord saw from the cross: the countless millions who do not yet know him as their Savior and wait for those who are his ambassadors to proclaim that love to them. Amen.