Shabbat Shalom. This morning, Lord willing, we will be reading together 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2. This section of 2 Corinthians as part of 2 Corinthians 3-6 holds as very special place in my heart. This is because it is where I go for encouragement in ministry. 2 Corinthians gives us a model for what it means to be a minister of the Lord, how to share the Gospel, and what the Gospel is. 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 also contains what Charles Spurgeon called, “The Heart of The Gospel”, a powerful statement about what the Gospel is. We talk about the Gospel or the Good News a lot but don’t always define what we mean. In Spurgeon’s day he was very concerned about fake Gospels being taught as part of new and destructive theologies, or people drifting away, and I think that is still true today.
I say this because we can lose sight of how good, the Good News really is. In many congregations and churches, we become more excited about what the newest program or project is than the essentials of what it means to be a congregation.
Or we spend more time trying to follow the newest “hot” preacher or teaching, and not enough time in the community God has planted us in. Important callings like worshiping together, studying the Bible, Evangelism, serving, and hearing God’s Word preached become neglected. We then complain about not feeling connected and not feeling “fed” enough. While this can be legitimate, I think many times it comes from a lot of focus on asking what Messiah’s Community is doing for us and not enough on what we are doing for it. It is also very easy to lose our passion and energy for the Lord and find ourselves going through the motions without our hearts involved.
Even worse, there are many today who preach a message different than what we find in our Bibles. Some preach that Messiah Yeshua is just one way among many to have a relationship with Adonai, that Islam or other faiths are equally able to save us from our sins. Others teach that Jewish people don’t need their Messiah, or that while Yeshua’s sacrifice is great, there are things we must do on our own to add to that sacrifice.
Finally, all too often we see only part of God’s Word being preached with any passage that challenges the society we live in ignored or “reinterpreted” to make it more “acceptable”.
In many ways I think our society today in very similar to the Corinth Rabbi Paul wrote and taught in. Corinth was a thriving and bustling city that loved all things that were new and interesting. The main reason for the writing of 2 Corinthians, is that the people of Corinth had been taken in by the new and exciting preachers who had come to town. These false teachers claimed to be followers of Messiah like Rabbi Paul, but also said they had higher authority and contradicted his teaching. They also seemed in person to be much more charismatic and bolder than Rabbi Paul, who was quieter and looked down on for his suffering. Because these teachers appealed more to how the Corinthians wanted to be talked to and lead, many began to question Rabbi Paul’s teaching and even his authority as an Apostle.
So throughout 2 Corinthians Rabbi Paul gives an introspective and powerful defense of God’s power and the authority He has been trusted with as an Apostle. In this letter we see the greatness of the New Covenant and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform and reveal God’s Word. We also see how the Apostle Paul views himself as a servant of the Lord, enduring many trials and sufferings to plainly preach God’s truth without cunning or deception. Even though each day, he, and us as well, deal with suffering, we are being transformed through these trials to be more like our risen Messiah.
We then come to 2 Corinthians 5 which begins with Rabbi Paul explaining that whether we are in this body or heaven our desire should be to serve God. And in 2 Corinthians 5:10 we are reminded that one day Messiah Yeshua will judge everyone. Hell is a real place that no one wants to experience, and Rabbi Paul is not ashamed to preach the reality of Hell.
As the chapter continues, we read that because Rabbi Paul knows to fear the Lord’s righteous justice, and the reality of hell, he tries to persuade others, not through deception but in an honest manner. Rabbi Paul is not afraid to tell people about the reality of hell, but that is not all that move him to speak. Messiah Yeshua’s love also compels him to share the Good News. The Good News is that because of Messiah Yeshua’s love for us, He died for us, to satisfy God’s righteous justice for our sins. When we receive Messiah’s atonement, we die with Him as well, spiritually to our old way of life and are risen with Him with a new attitude and life. Instead of living for ourselves and for this world, we begin to live for Him looking towards Heaven.
This change of view is not just about us as individuals but how we view everyone in Messiah’s Community. We read in verses 16 and 17:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Messiah in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.
Those who challenged Rabbi Paul saw him as someone suffering and “timid”. They only saw Him as the world did and not the Lord. In the same way he also once saw Messiah Yeshua just someone cursed by God to be allowed to die by crucifixion. But if we have been given a new nature than the way we view the world around us has changed as well. When Rabbi Paul became a follower of Messiah the veil that was over his eyes was removed and he was able to see the Suffering Servant as the victorious conqueror of Sin and Death. The world around us sees Messiah Yeshua as just a good Rabbi, a crazy person, or someone who can just be ignored. But this is not the truth, Messiah Yeshua is the only way to become a new creation and cannot be ignored.
As Believers we also cannot evaluate and measure things by societies standard. We don’t chase after being rich or being popular online. In business we don’t crush or cheat people to get ahead. These are just some examples, but the point is that the way we live and the values we cultivate should be different than what surrounds us. We need to see one another beyond our weaknesses as well.
To not simply judge one another and look down on each other because of our differences. We need to look for and encourage the fruits of the spirit in one another that are laughed at by our society, things like gentleness, self-control, and sacrificial love.
These are signs that we have been transformed. Because if we are in Messiah, we are someone new. Hopefully you can see the differences between who you were before Messiah Yeshua entered your life and who you are now. Hopefully, you can also see how you have grown in the Lord over time and are still growing. I have seen changes in my own life as I have grown up and grown in the Lord.
When I was younger, I wanted to be liked and influential, I wanted to be the one to change and fix people. Through my walk with God and my life experiences I can see how little I really understood as a teenager. I felt I had everything figured out, but I realize now I knew very little. I’ve learned that only God can change people. That no matter how much you love someone or how eloquent your words, lasting change that saves lives comes from Adonai alone.
He alone is the only one who can save us from our sins and heal the brokenness in our lives. We see how Adonai has done this in the next two verses.
18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Messiah, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
With no help from us God has saved us from our sins. There is not a single thing we have done and can do to add to His saving sacrifice. Most false teachings, like the one being combated in Corinth, involve adding something to Yeshua’s sacrifice. It’s the Gospel +, plus our works, or plus some mystical understanding, or plus some trendy philosophy. But there is nothing for us to add to Messiah’s completed work. In fact, while we were still sinners God saved us.
In these verses, and in the rest of our reading we will see the word reconciled appear repeatedly. But what does it mean to be reconciled?
To be reconciled means that the distance between us and God has been eliminated. In the beginning everything had complete Shalom, there was a wholeness in the world that allowed us to be close to God, but it was then broken by sin. Generation to generation after the garden we are born broken and scarred by sin into this world. Each one of us feels this brokenness in different ways and we try to deal with it differently as well. Some methods like sex and drugs can be more destructive than others, but any method where we try to heal ourselves is doomed to fail. But God has healed this brokenness through Messiah Yeshua. This is the hole inside each person that is missing and the thing everyone is searching for. We are all in search of Shalom and only in Messiah Yeshua do we find true Shalom, true peace and wholeness.
Now once we have received this reconciliation, we are not to be passive or focused on ourselves. We are called to preach the same message as Rabbi Paul, the Good News of Messiah Yeshua, that we have had our relationship to God restored.
This is what the ministry of reconciliation is, preaching and sharing the message that God has made us a new creation. That He reconciled us to himself in Messiah, sparing us from Hell despite our sins so we can live forever with Him.
20 We are therefore Messiah’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Messiah’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Rabbi Paul in this verse was defending His apostleship. That he is Messiah’s representative and that God was speaking through Him. But the command here is for all human beings. Standing as an ambassador for God, pleading in the name Yeshua, we are told to accept His sacrifice and be transformed. To be reconciled to God. Everyone needs to be reconciled to God, to accept the grace that He has provided and receive lasting peace. Each of us are also responsible after being reconciled to God to share this Good News of reconciliation. When we go out and share our hope with others, we should be sharing what God has done and not ourselves.
We are servants imploring a lost and dying world to be reconciled to God. There is no room for boasting or showmanship.
So if we have been transformed, if Messiah Yeshua has made us a new creation and spared us from hell, then shouldn’t we have the same passion as Rabbi Paul in sharing this truth? If we don’t have this desire, then we need to examine ourselves and figure out why.
In verse 21 we see distilled down to a single verse the heart of the Gospel. The message of reconciliation we share.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This is the bedrock of our faith. The foundation of everything we believe in the New Covenant. While there are other in Scripture that summarize the Good News, this is my personal favorite. Messiah Yeshua lived a perfectly sinless life. He succeeded in all the ways we fail. In both thought and action He satisfied the righteous law of Adonai and gave us the perfect example of how we should live.
He serves as a perfect model for us and unlike human beings who are stained by scandal, He will never let us down. Being perfect and sinless Messiah Yeshua became the final sacrifice that was needed, laying down His life after taking on all our sins. Not just the sins we will admit to publicly, but our secret sins, from the smallest to the biggest, He atoned for them all. He did this to heal the world, fulfilling the prophecies of Scripture, many of which we find in Isaiah, so that by being joined to Him we could become truly righteous. Therefore, we read that God reconciled us to Himself, we play no part in this being accomplished.
In case the importance of what Rabbi Paul is preaching isn’t clear we have it reinforced for us powerfully in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
It is possible to receive God’s grace in vain. It is possible to respond in a positive way to the Good News but fall away later. I am reminded of people like Rob Bell, Bart Ehrman, and more recently Joshua Harris who have fallen away from the faith. In doing so they have led many others away from the Lord as well. Rabbi Paul was concerned in the same way for the Corinthians, that by accepting these false teachers they would experience terrible judgement from Adonai.
Rabbi Paul in verse 2 is quoting Isaiah 49:8, which talks about the future salvation of our people. Rabbi Paul sees the fulfillment of this prophecy rightly in the coming of Messiah Yeshua. God has heard our cries and He has helped us. Now we must make sure not to receive His gift lightly and to live in a way that pleases Him. We only have the promise of today and so there is an urgency in these verses. We need to wake up and act!
When I consider this passage, First I am struck by the urgency and passion of Rabbi Paul. The urgency when he says that today is the day of salvation, that God’s salvation has happened and now is the time act.
It wakes me up from my own spiritual sleepiness and ignites a fire within me. I am also reminded that most of my life in Messiah really isn’t about me, it’s about Him. I am also part of a larger community of Messiah Yeshua and need to be more focused on people other than myself. I can sometimes make things more about me, and what I want and feel, than about the Lord. I can chase after new things instead of really meditating on His timeless truths.
Second, I am also struck by the power of the Gospel. The power of God reconciling every single human being to Himself. The power of the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua dying for every sin. The power in being transformed by His sacrifice, by becoming a new creation and given a new nature. All of God’s power that is poured out on us and has nothing to do with our abilities but is freely given as a gift. It makes me bold instead of timid for the Lord and makes me want to do be dedicated to Him and what He has called me to do, not just as a Rabbi but simply as a follower of His. I need involved in my community, to studying His Word, and to serving my brothers and sisters in the Lord. What has the Lord called you to do and are you following His will for your life?
Third, I must take seriously the idea we can receive God’s grace in vain. Not that we can lose our reconciliation, but that we can fool ourselves into thinking we have received it when we haven’t. That we can be taken in by flashy teachers and new ideas that really contradict God’s Word. We can accept an incomplete false Gospel that fits society and discard the rest. We can also look down on teachers who don’t meet our personal desires and fit the ideas that we have on what it means to be a minister of the Lord. I have seen the Word of God powerfully preached and shared by the most unexpected people. By the blind or by those with special needs, but all of them shared the passion and urgency of Rabbi Paul. I looked at them with the world’s eyes, but the Lord showed me that I viewed them wrongly. We are challenged to examine how we view each other and see if we are judging one another on God’s standard or our own.
As we close our time today, I want to return to what Rabbi Paul urgently pleaded to us, that now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. If you have yet to receive God’s gift of reconciliation, then I urge you to hear God’s call and act. To act and experience the all-surpassing power of Messiah Yeshua in your own life. To experience that transformation that I hope most of us here today can testify to. If you have strayed from the complete Word of God, then I pray that you would be led back to the Lord and His complete truth.
Finally, I pray that each one of us would experience and have the urgency to share Messiah Yeshua’s good news of reconciliation. That each one of us would receive God’s unmerited favor and be transformed by Him. May each one of us be filled with God’s Shalom, the wholeness and peace that comes from being reconciled to Him and be healed from the brokenness in our lives.