Mission Sunday

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I want to begin on this Mission Sunday morning by showing you a few photographs. Here are some of the children who live by the ocean that one of our mission partners the Navajeevana (or New Life) Health Care Centre in Sri Lanka minister to both medically and spiritually. Now here in the west living by the ocean usually means living in luxury but these children live in a squalid shanty settlement. When the tsunami hit in December 2004 their fragile corrugated iron homes were washed away. However the children were safe. Why? Because on that Sunday morning they’d all been in Sunday School run by another mission agency that Navajeevana work with. Praise God for their work. Why does Navajeevana reach out to the poor of Sri Lanka with the good news of Jesus Christ? Why do we partner with them? Why should we pray for them and give to its work in this month’s mission gift week? Why do we partner with Saul and Pilar Cruz, who we’ll be hearing from tonight, in reaching out to the poor of Mexico City? Well one very clear reason is given here in our passage from 2 Corinthians 5. Look at v14:

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…”

And that is my title and I want to unpack that along with two other reasons Paul gives in 2 Corinthians 5&6 for mission and evangelism. You see it’s not just our mission partners who are to be engaged in mission. No, we’re all to be on mission for Jesus Christ. As v20 states all who are in Christ are Christ’s ambassadors whether we’re on Tyneside or in Sri Lanka.

Yet some Christians don’t believe evangelism is for them. But what was the first thing Jesus said to his disciples (Mt 4:19)?

“Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Yet many of us just want to be keepers of the aquarium. But what was the last thing Jesus said to his disciples in the same Gospel (Matthew 28:19)?

“Go and make disciples of all nations…”

Let me ask you this. Why do you work where you do? Why do you live where you do? God has put you there for a purpose. And that purpose is to be Christ’s ambassador to those around you until he calls you elsewhere. You might be the only Christian they know or meet. It’s one of God’s purposes for your life and mine and for the life of this church. And the opportunities to make Christ known abound: such as the carol services followed by the Christianity Explored Taster Sessions. I remember one person saying after the Taster Sessions last year – we should have all invited our friends! Yet if we’re honest sometimes the motivation is just not there. Our hearts are not right before God and so we don’t have Christ’s love for people. So where are we going to find the vitality that will change us from being a dead sea into being a living river?

Well here in 2 Corinthians 5 there is a wake up call for us all. Paul is telling us what motivated his missionary endeavour and what should motivate ours. He gives us 3 motives for mission.

First, The fear of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5. 9-11)

“So we make it our goal to please him[Paul writes], whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”

That Christians as well as non Christians must appear before the judgement seat of Christ is not meant to cloud our assurance of heaven if we’re trusting in Jesus, but it is meant to be a spur to our Christian walk and witness. That is exactly what it was for Paul.

Some at Corinth were objecting to his forthright style and wanted him to go to the school of soft sell but how could he and how can we be anything but bold in evangelism when we know that we have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ? Yes, being Christ’s ambassadors will sometimes require diplomacy in terms of being wise in how we act towards outsiders, and being aware of people’s needs (Col 4:2-6). But we must not misrepresent our King and his gospel. How could Paul and how can we face Jesus with a clear conscience if we know we have neglected trying to persuade men by sharing the gospel clearly with people who must one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ themselves? People do not have forever to repent and believe. Judgment and hell is a reality for those who won’t because of their sin. The next President of the USA is not the Saviour of the world – as the news may have us believe this week - only Jesus Christ.

So can I suggest a practical challenge for all of us? It is this: to pray for, spend time with, share with and invite to Christianity Explored or church one or two people you have some contact with. This is an urgent task. If you’re too busy then drop something. Evangelism is part of our Christian discipleship. It isn’t a Christian hobby. It’s an urgent rescue operation.

Secondly,The love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.12-17)

Paul’s second motivation to share the gospel plainly and without any manipulation was the love of Christ. Before Paul’s conversion his work of persecuting Christians was motivated by hatred. Now his ministry is motivated by love, by the love of Christ. And surely Christ’s love compels us too. V13-15:

“If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Some people will think we are out of our mind to be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ boldly today. And we might then be tempted to water it down. But of course then it is no longer the gospel and has no power. Do not to be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for all who believe, writes Paul in Romans 1, no matter what some people might think. For Christ’s love compels us. Paul is no longer concerned about his own reputation. He lives for Christ. Why? Because Christ died for him. And in Christ he has died to self, and been given a whole new focus for living. I live no longer for myself but for him who died for me and was raised again, he says. The reference to ‘therefore all died’ in v14 is stating that the death of Jesus should procure death to self in all who turn to him in repentance and in faith.

So often our fears about evangelism derive from what others might think of us. When Paul was tempted to think like that he turned his mind to the cross. You are not on this planet to live for yourself any longer, he said to himself, Christ has died for you, you were bought at a price, you have no right to live for anyone else but him. Do we think like that? Is Christ’s love compelling us in this way? What a difference it would make to our witness if we did think like that. The love of Christ for us and for all men compels us to evangelise. V14 again:

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…”

Christ didn’t just die for Paul or for you and me but for all, for the sum total of individuals, like Paul, whom he loved. Now that doesn’t mean that everyone is automatically forgiven and saved. No! The universal scope of Christ’s love and Christ’s death does not mean universalism – the automatic salvation of everyone. No there has to be a response. John 3:16 says:

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The Bible clearly indicates that not all will believe. But Christ’s love, his death on the cross for all compels us to go and share this news with all. And in heaven, Revelation 7:9-10 tells us that “a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and tongue will stand before the throne and in front of the Lamb crying in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” Perhaps God is calling you to go overseas on the mission field. He’s certainly calling us all to be on mission to those around us.(2 Corinthians 5.16)

“… from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!”

Does that not motivate us too? Surely the love of Christ should transform the way we view those around us, as we recognise their need of Christ’s love and see what they could become if Christ entered their lives. How do we view those around us? In a worldly way or in a Christ like way? Do they become the focus of our gossip or of our prayers? In Christ they too can become a new creation just as many of us have experienced.

Thirdly, The commission of the King v18-21

Paul’s third motivation was that God had called him to preach the gospel. And although you and I are not the Apostle Paul the ministry of reconciliation has been given to us too. We are Christ’s ambassadors. That’s what we learn from verses 18-21 along with the message we are commissioned to preach. V18:

18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So what is the gospel message we are still to proclaim today? Well those verses make three things very plain. One, it is a message about a great act of divine initiative. V18: ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…’ Christianity is not about people finding their way to God but about God sovereignly making a way to himself by a great, even a gigantic act of condescension. Two, the message contains a great act of divine acquittal. V19:

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

This is the root problem that Christianity addresses: the guilt of the human race. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. We need to be reconciled to God because our sin has separated us from him. It was that problem that God dealt with in Christ. So three, the message contains a great act of divine substitution. V21:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Now do you notice the beautiful symmetry of that verse? You see, Paul is describing a great exchange: on the one side there is Christ who is sinless, on the other side, there is man who is sinful. As a result of God’s gracious intervention, what happens? Christ, fully God and fully man, is made sin, and man becomes righteous in him through faith in him. What other word could describe what Paul is saying here except substitution? It now becomes transparently clear what Paul meant in v15, when he says that Christ died for men and women. Paul doesn’t mean that Christ died just to set us all an example of self -sacrificial love. Paul means Jesus died instead of men and women. Jesus took our guilt upon himself and bore the penalty for it. He was our substitute.

Some people object to this interpretation of the cross of Christ. They say it’s morally scandalous to imagine God punishing an innocent third party for other people’s sins. But Jesus, though innocent, was not a third party. V19 should be translated: ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.’ God and Christ are not two parties as far as this exchange is concerned. They are one. God was not laying the sins of the world upon somebody else when he placed them on Christ. He was placing the sin of the world on himself. Such is the love of God. And through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ we can be reconciled to God.

People need to hear the message of the cross, the love of God. The Bible tells us that

“faith comes by hearing the word of Christ… but how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:17,14)

And this section of 2 Corinthians 5 stresses this fact three times. V18: ‘God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. V19: He committed to us the message of reconciliation.’ V20: ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God!’

Now it is the Holy Spirit who brings people to new birth in Christ but we have a part to play. Our part largely involves telling others of what God has done in Christ or at least inviting people to hear someone else explain it. He committed to us the message of reconciliation. Yes our behaviour is important if people are to listen and it will be received with more plausibility when it is heard in the context of a community that demonstrates the love of Christ. But people need to hear the gospel. We can’t get away from that. Yes church planting has an important role to play in that. As David has said before, it’s easier to give birth than raise the dead. And with clayton.tv technology it may be possible to get the gospel not just on to people’s computers but also into communities where there is little gospel preaching. But human contact is vital. We are Christ’s ambassadors, to our workplaces, our neighbourhoods and our colleges. We are representatives of the King of Kings. What a privilege! So go and live up to your calling! And if you want some further training come along to one of the next three Sundays to learn how to help with Christianity Explored or go on a short term mission trip whatever your age. See myself or Joan Parker for more details. I must conclude.

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand have not been good ambassadors for the BBC. Indeed they need to hear and respond to the message of reconciliation by repenting and believing the good news of Jesus Christ! But what kind of ambassadors are we? Do we need to repent? Does someone here need to repent and believe the good news for the first time? We implore you, on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God while there’s still time. Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The time is now.

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