Pastor Chris Royce
Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Sunday June 27, 2021

Lately I’ve been seeing more information about this year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics. Maybe you have too – athletes qualifying in swimming, pole vault, USA basketball team is taking shape and filling a roster. Are you looking forward to the Olympics? Do you prefer the summer ones or the winter ones?

One cool thing about the Olympics is that it brings us the world together for a few brief moments. It’s almost like the issues that plague the world take a gentle pause while we all huddle around our TV’s and watch some of the best athletes compete. I think about our own country. There’s always divisions and differences of opinion in this country – but the last year and a half has been so brutal, hasn’t it? An election cycle, all of the different opinions and approaches to COVID, heightened attention to race and racism – this has been a hostile environment. But when the Olympics come – we all share a few weeks of unity. Regardless of your beliefs or social class or race – we all have this in common – we support and cheer on our home athletes. And like I said a moment earlier, Olympics bring not just the country but the world together. Athletes who carry different flags will hug and show respect after a fierce competition. We, as observers, can appreciate the talent and skill that other countries produce. Even though in the “real world” there might be tensions between two countries competing, during the Olympics we set those tensions aside and enjoy the events and festivities together. The Olympics have a way of bringing Americans, the world, together, in a way unlike any other.

Over these last few weeks here at Messiah we’ve made a point of separating ourselves, Christians, from the rest of the pack. Upside Down: “Let’s see how the world approaches this life, and now we’ll talk about how we as Christians do it differently”. That’s the way we have approached these 2 Corinthians lessons. But today, we’re not so much going to talk about how we are different from the world. Instead, today, it’s more about something we have in common. What does every human being have in common? Is all of humanity united in some way, shape or form? I guess you could say “we all have bodies” We all were born, we all will die”. But there’s something else that links us all the world together. And it’s not the Olympics.

It’s sin. All of humanity is united in sin. We use this word here every Sunday and it’s not really a word that you hear too often outside of these four walls. What is sin and why do we make such a big deal of it Sunday after Sunday? Maybe we can describe sin as simply as this – a failure to love God and a failure to love people. When people fail to do one or both of these two things, they have committed a sin. And sin has eternal consequences. Unbelievers are filled with sin. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and you see plenty of violence and hatred and wrong being done by unbelievers against other human beings. But you know that we are no strangers to sin, either. We are filled with it, too. Honestly, we might be worse sinners than the rest. We come to church every Sunday and yet we mistreat and hurt those we love the most. We sing praises to God’s name in this place and then we go home and use the Lord’s name in vain. We read and meditate on God’s word in our homes and yet we tell lies, we try and deceive other people, we succumb to pride, greed and lust – the list goes on. By our actions and attitudes we, believers, often do more to harm the cause of the gospel than to help it. Unbelievers commit many sins. But so do believers. We all have this in common.

But regardless of our behavior day in and day out, all humanity is united in sin from the beginning of our existence. That hymn we sang just earlier is so true: “All mankind fell in Adam’s fall / one common sin infects us all. All thanks to our first parents, Adam and Eve, we were doomed from the start. Before you were old enough to think a thought or utter a word, you were a sinner. The moment you exited the womb, you were a sinner. Even, as David says in the Psalms – the moment you were conceived, you were a sinner. Sin is a constant disease that plagues us. Sin corrupted us before we even began. This is what we all have in common.

But there’s something else we all have in common – Jesus died for all. That’s the vital truth that reverberates throughout this whole section. Twice in the first two verses, it’s stated so plainly and beautifully. He died for all. In addition to the word “sin”, another word we use here at church every Sunday is gospel. Gospel means “good news”. Why is the story of Jesus and the story of the Bible such good news? It’s because it’s for all people! I think of what the angel said to the shepherds on that first Christmas: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Jesus, true God in human flesh was born for all people. In our closing verse from today’s section – Jesus, who had no sin, took on a sinner’s punishment, for all people. Good news for everyone. Jesus died for your sins. Jesus died for theirs. From the richest executives and billionaires to the poorest in distant countries – Jesus died for them. From the most hardened criminals to the most saintly people you know (if such a thing even exists) – Jesus died for them. For those who haven’t missed a Sunday of church in decades to those who never have ever set foot in a church to those who willingly decide to avoid all of this – Jesus died for all. If Jesus is good news only for the Sunday morning crowd, then why would Jesus tell his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”?

Jesus told his disciples to go, he invites us into that work too as his ambassadors, to tell everyone that this good news isn’t just ours. It’s theirs too. And this good news has a way of changing hearts. Paul mentions in verse 17 – if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: God sent the world the ultimate gift, his son, Christ. Jesus paid the ultimate price for sins, on the cross. The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life. New hearts, new attitudes, new creation as Paul calls it here. Maybe your life is a testament to this. You once weren’t a Christian, but now you are. Perhaps you know people in your life, or people in the public realm, who went from darkness to light in Christ.

If you want one Biblical example, Zacchaeus comes to mind. He was a tax collector – in Bible times, these individuals didn’t have a good reputation. They were notorious for dishonesty, greed, and selfishness. Jesus came to him and said he wanted to dine with him. Yes, him! Jesus got ripped on by the onlookers for wanting to spend time with “a sinner”. But this gesture touched Zacchaeus’ heart so greatly, look what unfolds in Luke’s gospel: Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The love of Jesus does miraculous wonders on even the stubbornest, dirtiest hearts. This kind of change can happen to any and every heart, but how can they believe if they have not heard the good news? We are Christ’s ambassadors, we have a message of reconciliation to share with them.

That word is peppered all throughout this section: reconcile. When you think of that word you might think of counseling or mediation – where two parties try to work through their problems and be at peace with each other. Again, because of sin the two parties sitting across the table from one another were God and humanity. Sin separates from God. But God, the same one who was wronged by our sinfulness – he single handedly did the reconciling, through Christ. “Lord ‘tis not that we did choose you” – truer words have never been spoken!

So Christ did all of this for all people. What does that mean for us? Our motto for life is stated so crystal-clearly here by Paul: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. In other words, look at people the way God looks at people. And here’s where we need to confess to God that we’ve gotten this wrong so many times. We’ve dismissed people because they don’t look the way we look, behave the way we behave, make the same amount of money we make, or vote the way we vote. So often we look at people the same way the world looks at people. We like people who are similar to us and we’re not so fond of people who are fundamentally different from us. And to continue viewing others that way is a problem as far as God’s kingdom is concerned. Remember, though there will never be a shortage of issues that divide us, one truth remains – all of us have sinned, but all of us are justified by his blood. We know what Christ has done for us but yet the god of this age, Satan, has blinded the eyes of millions, billions from recognizing the giver of all good things. If the world would end right this moment, consider the legions of individuals who would be cast eternally into hell’s fires! This should break our hearts, because it breaks God’s heart. The same blood that washed away our sins washed away theirs. They just don’t realize it yet. So God calls us to be Christ’s ambassadors, but how can we carry this out effectively if we continue to get hot and bothered about all the same things everyone else gets hot and bothered about?

We want to look at people differently. We want to look at humanity from a God’s-eye view. That’s what Paul did. You can clearly see as you read this section that Paul speaks with a sense of urgency: For Christ’s love compels us… And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation… We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God… Why is Paul so moved to carry out this ministry and urge others on God’s behalf? Because that good news found his hard heart and made it alive. He used to view people the world’s way. He persecuted people (Christians) who were different from him (a devout Jew). But that good news lit a fire in Paul’s heart. And so Paul did radical things for the name of Jesus Christ. He took an insane amount of physical punishment. He willingly bent over backwards to reach people with the gospel – he became all things to all people. He knew darkness better than most. And now he knew free grace. And he wanted others to experience the rich mercies of God.

I’m sure you admire Paul’s zeal for the gospel. What do you need to become more like Paul? Nothing. Because Paul’s operating software is the same as yours. A heart touched by good news. Paul once called himself the frontrunner of all sinners. You would say the same thing about yourself. But good news changes people like nothing else can. Good news of Jesus is the only thing that can change a human heart. Truthfully, the gospel is the only thing that can change the world. You already possess it in rich measure!

Since God has given us this good news, may it cause us to look at our neighbors on this planet in a new light. A Christian author I have great respect for posted this on his social media recently: In every interaction with others, especially those with whom we disagree, let us say to ourselves: “This is one for whom Christ died”. The next time you turn on the TV and you see that person who makes your blood boil, say “This is one for whom Christ died.” The next time your co-worker drains your spirits for the thousandth time, say “This is one for whom Christ died.” Now that you see more large crowds assembling post-COVID, look at those large gatherings again and say “These are ones for whom Christ died – all of them”. The next time you look in a mirror, say “This is one for whom Christ died” May God give us eyes like his and then a mouth of courage to relay these precious truths to those around us. Amen.