Be an Ambassador of Reconciliation
God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation … 2 Corinthians 5:18
I love to tell this story when I preach the gospel in Africa. It’s the true account of an old Baptist pastor from the 1800s, preparing his Sunday sermon on Saturday afternoon. After several hours of study, he got tired and went for a walk to stretch his legs. As he walked through town, he saw a boy carrying a birdcage in one hand and a stick in the other. Inside the cage were a dozen little field birds, and the boy was jabbing the birds through the bars with the stick. The birds were shrieking, feathers were flying, and the boy was laughing. The pastor approached the boy. “Son,” he said, “why are you tormenting those birds?”
The boy said, “Sir, I love to hear them shriek. I love to see their feathers fly. It is so much fun.”
“What will you do when you are finished having your fun?” the pastor asked.
The boy smiled broadly. “Oh sir, that’s the best part. I will bring them home, take them out of the cage one by one, pluck their feathers, and feed them to my cat.”
The pastor’s heart was broken. “Son, let me have those birds,” he said.
“No, these are my birds. I caught them myself. You can get your own birds. You can catch some in the field.”
“But I want those birds.”
“Why? They don’t even sing. They aren’t canaries, you know. They are just ordinary field birds.”
“Please, son. I’ll buy them from you. How much do you want?”
The pastor took out his wallet and opened it up. Suddenly the boy saw a business opportunity. “How much money do you have, sir?” The pastor counted two dollars, which was a lot of money in those days.
“What a coincidence,” the boy said. “They cost exactly two dollars, cage included.”
The pastor knew the boy was ripping him off, but he took all the money out of his wallet and handed it to the boy. The next day the pastor told this story as he stood before his congregation. He said, “I took that cage out into the field. I opened the door and I backed away. One by one the birds hopped to the open door. One by one they spread their wings, and one by one they began to fly. And as they flew to freedom they began to sing the same song. And this was their song: ‘Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed.’”
This is what Jesus has done for us. When God looked down on a world full of helpless souls trapped in the prison of sin - tormented by fears and tears, by addictions and compulsions - His heart was moved with compassion. He knew that we could do nothing to save ourselves and He knew that without His deliverance, we would spend eternity in hell. This does not mean that God made a deal with the devil. I don’t believe any such thing. But it does mean that God truly “redeemed” us from our bondage.
The word “redeemed” in the New Testament means to liberate by the payment of a ransom. But what was the price of our ransom? Peter tells us explicitly: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet. 1:18-19, niv).
We have been redeemed. We have been purchased - not with dollars or Euros, not with silver or gold. In fact, the currency God used to purchase your redemption was the most precious substance in the universe - the very blood of Jesus Christ. When God purchased your salvation, Heaven went bankrupt. For even the streets of gold are worthless by comparison to the blood of God’s eternal Son. God could create a whole new universe with a word. But only that precious blood of Jesus Christ could redeem our souls. So Paul says, “Those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again!” The next verse takes it even further.
Who He Is, Who I Am
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 2 Corinthians 2:16
Jesus has made us more than ordinary people. He has created us as part of the divine family. The Bible speaks often about our true identity as God’s people in Christ. We…
- Have been resurrected from the dead with Christ (Col. 3:1).
- Are the expression of Christ’s divine life (Col. 1:4). - 3:4
- Are chosen, holy, and loved by God (Col. 3:12).
- Are children of the light (1 Thess. 5:5).
- Have a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1).
- Are sons and daughters of God (Gal. 3:26).
- Are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16).
- Have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20).
- Have been raised with Christ and seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).
- Have been set free from sin (Rom. 6:18).
- Are the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15).
- Are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14).
- Have been sealed by the Holy Ghost (2 Cor. 1:22).
- Are joint heirs of God with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
- Are anointed (2 Cor. 1:21).
- Have been born again of imperishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23).
As a believer, you have been raised to a new, divine life with Christ. You have the ability now to live a holy life. You have the ability to do good works. You have the power to live in the truest, most biblical sense of that word. Dead men can do nothing. A dead man can’t be asked to do good works. But when God breathes His new life into you, He can then require something of you. And it is in this context that in the next verse Paul expresses this well-known passage - this piece of biblical gold that every Christian knows by heart.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 2:17
This is too wonderful for words! The old you has died and was buried with Christ. That person, so full of lust and pride, is dead. That person who was a guilty sinner is gone. That person who was defined by people’s opinions or former abuses, who always felt inadequate, who always felt like a disappointment, who walked around with an orphan spirit, who was a slave to sin… That selfish, lazy, hateful, arrogant, undisciplined, unholy person has disappeared forever. He died. The old is gone - and the new has indeed come. You are now a new kind of human, made in God’s image, and capable of doing extraordinary good works. He is for you, not against you. He loves you, and as a Father, He wants the best for your life. Now we can rise up, wake up, and fulfill His destiny for us. How wonderful! How glorious! But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to more wonderful things still…
A Powerful New Vocation
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 2:18
Not only has God reconciled us to Himself through Christ, He has also given us the ministry of reconciliation - a service to bring people back to God! Have you ever had a bad quarrel with someone you loved? Maybe you didn’t talk to each other for a few days afterward. Do you remember what that felt like? Your heart was painfully heavy. The whole world seemed overcast and gloomy as long as that schism remained.
But do you remember what it felt like when you reconciled? Life returned and your heart felt “born again.” Relationships are very powerful. When they are broken, the sun goes down. But reconciliation brings a new day. This is what happened when God reconciled with the human race. Even though the schism was entirely the fault of humanity, God initiated reconciliation with us! We caused the split, putting God on the receiving end of our wickedness and rebellion. Yet it was He who gave Himself up, making Himself vulnerable to further rejection and abuse from us - all to become our Friend.
And while most of the world has refused Him, a few of us have seen His outstretched arms. Something inside of us broke. We came to Him, and were reconciled to Him. Then, in the most dramatic, divine, miraculous, and powerful way possible, the sun rose again and new life returned to our hearts. The reconciliation of this relationship made us born again! What a wonderful reality! We are no longer enemies of God! We are His friends - close, intimate friends. We have been brought near through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
But once we are brought near to the living God, the life-giving power of that reconciliation comprises more than a new friendship. It empowers us to become ministers of reconciliation. Put another way, we are qualified to become ministers of reconciliation, not when a church ordains us, but when God reconciles us!
Usually when people hear the word “minister,” they think of an ordained, full-time preacher. But when I travel internationally, and customs officials ask for my occupation, I tell them, “I am a minister.” Their follow up question is, “A minister of what?” They assume if I am a minister, I work for a government. To them, the word “minister” means an agent, representative, or ambassador. In fact, that is the proper meaning of the word. So yes, I am a minister - not because I am ordained as a full-time preacher, but because I work for God’s government in the department of reconciliation. And so do you! We got our jobs when we were reconciled to God. Now we are called to bring others into the same renewed friendship of reconciliation to God in Christ, and that leads us to the next verse.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 2:19
Paul elaborates on this ministry of reconciliation. Not only did God qualify us to become His ministers, but He also entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. That means we have both the privilege and responsibility to share the “word” of reconciliation.
It is exciting to think about being ministers in God’s department of reconciliation. But it is also sobering - because it is our duty.
When we became ministers of reconciliation in v. 18, Paul explains that we were also entrusted with that ministry in v. 19. God blessed us with the honor of our new role when we became friends … and He also expects us to fulfill that role.