“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. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 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. 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.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)
From the road to Damascus to his execution in Rome, there has been one theme that has reverberated through Paul’s ministry and message more than any other – the ministry of reconciliation. It is the heart of the Gospel mission of Christ Himself. It ought also be the heart of mission of the church first and foremost of all.
First, the ministry of reconciliation is about God reconciling Himself to His people. As our Creator, we belonged to Him in the beginning and were created for His joy and ours so that we might experience all the goodness that is within Him. But Adam, and consequently all of us, broke that relationship with his sin in the Garden of Eden. But God pronounced grace and mercy and restored that relationship with a sacrifice that produced a covering for the nakedness and shame of the sin of Adam and Eve in that garden.
What began in Eden found its ultimate promise in Gethsemane, and ultimate fulfillment on Calvary. Jesus, knowing that the time of His betrayal was at hand prayed earnestly that to “let this cup pass”, but He submitted to the will of the Father as He humbly declared “not my will, but Yours.”
However, the ministry of reconciliation doesn’t stop there. He follows up this prayer knowing that His disciples will face intense trials to come after His betrayal so He prayed for their unity. His number one concern for them in this time is that they were unified in their spirit and purpose for the Kingdom:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23 ESV)
The soldiers come led by Judas who betrays him with a kiss. Simon, who so boldly declared his allegiance only hours earlier would later deny he even knew he existed. And as Peter went back to fishing, Jesus showed up on the shore and patiently and lovingly reconciled Himself to him. And then He charged Peter with leading His church into the apostolic age.
The core of the Gospel message is that God has reconciled Himself to His creation and is recreating us into the image of His Son. The core of the Gospel mission is to for the church to draw all men (and women and children) to the Father as we reflect the goodness of the Son. The core of the Gospel motivation is to glorify the Father in all that we do and in every relationship that we have. The totality of the Gospel is the reconciliation of ourselves to God and ourselves to one another.
Love God, love people. It’s really that simple of a message and mission. And love is hard sometimes. It means having to tell the hard truths that we don’t always want to accept. But it means being willing to speak the truth in a way that draws all to Him. It means being motivated by a spirit of reconciliation rather than a spirit of judgment. It means being motivated by a spirit of grace and mercy rather than a spirit of condemnation.
The apostle John says over and over again that if we love God, we will love His people and His creation. And to paraphrase Paul, we look beyond the flesh to heart. We look beyond the creation to the Creator. Our lives and our world depend upon our obedience to this ministry. Christ in you, the hope of glory. When we are reconciled in Christ, we then must be reconciled to one another, so that we might become the righteousness of God – not our own righteousness. And that, my friends, is the humble message that makes all the difference in our broken world.