For Christ - Our beloved - 2 Corinthians 5:9-21
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Let me tell you about Henry Martyn. In 1805 he left England for India and later moved to Iran in order to share the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Martyn was a first class scholar at Cambridge University. He translated the New Testament into Hindi and Persian so that Muslims who spoke those languages could hear about Jesus. His Christian devotion was so intense, his love for Christ so deep that he could hardly bear the thought of any disgrace being brought to the name of Christ. In Shiraz a year before his death at the age of thirty one, somebody said in his presence that the crown prince of Persia had killed so many Russian Christians in battle that Christ had taken hold of Mohammed’s skirt and begged him to stop. This is how Henry Martyn reacted when he heard that statement, he wrote in his journal, ‘I was cut to the soul at this blasphemy. I could not endure existence if Jesus were not glorified; it would be hell to me, if he were to be always thus dishonoured.’
You see, not all jealousy is wrong. The Bible tells is that God is jealous- jealous about his honour and name. This is because God is the highest, most glorious object of devotion and love there can be and so not to be concerned about that is to settle for something less, which would be sin. God cannot sin and so he must be concerned with his own honour. That is why Jesus says we are to pray for that honour as we have it in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Hallowed be your name.’ It is the kind of protective jealousy or intense concern that a husband should have for his wife, so that he rightly get’s upset if she is denigrated in some way or someone tries to intrude into their married relationship. It shows how much he values her, how much he loves her and in that sense he is properly jealous for her. And that is the kind of intensity of love that Henry Martin had for Christ which explains why he reacted in the way he did. It is also the same intensity of love that drove the apostle Paul to tell as many people as possible by all legitimate means as possible about God’s reconciling kindness in his Son. And so as we turn to our passage in 2 Corinthians 5 this morning to hear the heartbeat of the apostle, let us use this as a benchmark to measure the extent to which we are for Christ and think of him as our beloved
First, the judgement of Christ vv 9-13: ‘verse 9: ‘So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.’ For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 11Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 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.’ The Apostle Paul had more than his fair share of detractors within the church as well as outside of it. At a time similar to ours when greater emphasis was placed on style rather than substance, image over reality, Paul really did buck the trend within Greco-Roman culture. In fact he could have been from Yorkshire because when it came to explaining the Gospel to people he tended to ‘tell it as it is’ which did not go down too well in some quarters. That is why Paul is upfront about his method of approach when he speaks of ‘persuading’ men. The original has a pejorative tone to it, a certain distaste attached because it can mean ‘cajoling’ or even ‘bullying.’ If Paul were around today I guess he would be dismissed as a ‘Bible basher’. But there is a reason why Paul is so forthright, not pulling his punches when it comes to explaining the Gospel message. He tells us, that his aim is to please Christ, that one day we will all have to appear before his throne of judgement and so he rightly fears him- he doesn’t want to fail him.
Both as a teacher and university chaplain I have always been struck how examinations can bring about an amazing change in students. As the day draws closer and closer, parties give way to prep, TV time makes way for study time. Why? Because a day of reckoning is on its way and can’t be avoided. Paul is saying that something similar but far more significant is going to happen to the Christian- ‘We must ‘all’ appear before the judgement seat of Christ.’ Or as one translation has it: ‘We all have to appear without disguise before the tribunal of Christ.’ And what is the Risen Lord of glory going to judge? The answer: what we have made of our lives. We are saved by Christ’s death on the cross as we shall see in verse 21, but we are judged, in terms of rewards and losses by what we have done with the gifts and opportunities Christ has given us. Would it not be a terrible thing to have come before our Saviour on that great day with the whole of heaven and humanity looking on and, when he asks: ‘What did you do with your life?’ having to admit, ‘Not that much’? When the church needed prayer I didn’t bother with that prayer meeting. When workers were needed to take the Gospel to children, I kept my wallet shut. When someone wanted to know about my faith, I kept my mouth shut too. And I am ashamed to admit Lord that these were the main features of my life- not the occasional lapse, all there was, was coolness and mediocrity. ’ As it has often been said, this life is not a rehearsal. And Paul knew that and so he wanted not to be ashamed of meeting his Saviour any more than will be necessary for any sinner to meet him. He wanted to make his life count for Christ by simply serving him. That is all he is asking for. Is it that so much to ask? Sure, for some this dedication might appear to be bordering on religious mania- being dismissed as being ‘out of our minds’ as was Paul in verse 13. But in fact it is the sanest thing we could ever do- be all out for Jesus.
And although I think Paul primarily has Christians in his sights when he speaks about coming before the bar of Christ’s judgement, the fact that he says, we ‘all’ suggests that non-Christians are in his mind too. People’s real need is often hidden behind fairly decent, happy go lucky lives. But whatever superficial masks we may be wearing now they will be stripped away on that day and our protective fig leaves will be as useful as Salome’s seven veils in a force nine gale. J Oswald Chambers puts the seriousness of the matter like this: ‘Mankind is divided into the righteous and the wicked with no intermediate class. There is good and evil without any middle ground. There is light and darkness without any twilight. There is heaven and hell without any purgatory. Man must choose between life and death, between being saved and being lost.’ And that is a choice that some of you here this morning have to make- one way or another. And the apostle Paul and any loving Christian will want people to make the right choice, because it simply breaks their heart to think of their family, friends and neighbours entering a Christless eternity, having to stand before him whose eyes are like burning fire, naked in judgement- who wants that for people? Paul certainly doesn’t that is why he seeks to ‘persuade’ men. When a building is on fire and the occupants are asleep in the bedroom, it may be polite to gently knock on the door and wait there until someone gets up to answer, but it is incredibly irresponsible- you yell or break down the door to persuade them to get out don’t you? That was Paul’s outlook because it is God’s outlook- why else did he send his Son to die on a cross if the human predicament wasn’t that serious?
But left there we could be merely guilt driven and that is not a sufficiently good motive for Christian living and evangelism. However, we have something much more wonderful to spur us on which is not unrelated- the love of Christ- vv 14-17, ‘For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And 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. 16So 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!’ Paul was not driven by an unhealthy fear, but by holy love. This ‘fear of the Lord’ in verse 11 is due respect for the Lord who saved him and commissioned him and he does not want to fail him. And why? Because of the ‘love of Christ’ which compelled him- that is presses upon him. Paul is not talking about Christ’s love which works through him, but Christ’s love for him and for everyone. And it is this love which Paul says ‘compels him’ – a word often used by Luke in his Gospel to describe the pressure of the crowds bearing in on Jesus. I am sure that you have been in a similar situation, perhaps going into a football match or a department store during a sale, the pressure of the crowd is such that you are simply swept along. That is what Christ’s love is like on me says Paul, it just keeps sweeping me along from place to place and person to person. The New English Bible translates what Paul says in a way which stresses the result- ‘the love of Christ leaves us no choice.’ You couldn’t shut this man up even if you wanted to. Often we say, don’t we, of talkative people- ‘They could talk for England.’? Well Paul certainly could talk for Christ. Not because he was naturally garrulous, but because he was so marinated in Christ’s love that he couldn’t do anything less.
Do you remember what Jesus said in Luke 6:45? ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.’ If our heart is not full of the love of Christ then our mouths will not speak of the love of Christ. I remember when I was a student coming across a little booklet on evangelism by John Stott which challenged me then and still challenges me today. In it he says, ‘Nothing shuts the mouth, seals the lips, ties the tongue, like the poverty of our own spiritual experience. We do not bear witness for the simple reason we have no witness to bear.’ Could I gently ask: Could that be said of you? The reason why you find it so difficult even to invite someone to the carol services or the Christmas quiz or to this place on a Sunday is because your heart is luke warm at best? The same challenge comes to people like Scott and myself. A number of years ago someone asked a group of clergy this searching question: ‘Do you love people because you want to see them converted or do you want to see them converted because you love people?’ There is a subtle but important difference: ‘Do you love people because you want to see them converted or do you want to see them converted because you love people?’ I ask God that it will be the latter.
And what is the source of that divine love from which it flows? The cross of course. He died for all people, says Paul, so those who live, that is those who have come to know the life transforming power of Christ, should no longer live for themselves but for Jesus who died for them and is now alive and their ruler. In fact when a person becomes a Christian they become an entirely new being in God’s sight- a new creation. The original reads more like a newspaper headline- it is meant to be that startling: ‘If in Christ- New Creation!’ Because we are new people we have new eyes and so we view people and things differently- including Jesus- v16. There are many people who look at Jesus today and are singularly unimpressed, they find the Christian claims positively underwhelming. So what that there was a Galilean sage who preached peace and love in the first century- the Beatles did that in the 20th century. But that is a superficial view of Jesus because a careful reading of the evidence reveals he is much, much more than that- he is the beloved of the Universe- its Creator and its Goal. And similarly when as Christians we look at each other we are to see each other as we really are, that is as God sees us. So when we take a glance at the person sitting next to us or opposite us this morning, what do we see? Someone who happens to be in the same building as me? Someone to be tolerated for the sake of appearances? Or do we see a new creation, someone for whom the Lord Jesus died and if worthy of his death is surely to be worthy of my love? That is the challenge.
And all of this flows from the cross of Christ vv18-21: ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that 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.’ God is in the reconciling business. The cost he bears himself- ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’- that is who Jesus is-God. How does he do it, by ‘becoming sin.’ We might think of it like this: on that cross the Holy Son of God’s pure and perfect body became the eternal landfill site for all the moral filth the world has ever known in order to bear it away in our place as our substitute and to bury it for ever. So as the Reformer Martin Luther put it, on the cross Jesus became the greatest liar, the greatest perjurer, the greatest adulterer and the greatest murderer the world has ever know- he became sin for us so that by being united with by faith him we might become the righteousness of God- acceptable in God’s sight. Isn’t that something worth sharing in a guilt ridden world like ours?
I don’t know how many of you have seen the film, ‘Flags of our Fathers’ a very moving and at times harrowing film about the Battle for Iwo Jima in the Pacific during World War 2. Many of the Marines were teenagers- seventeen, nineteen years old. The island was defended by 22,000 Japanese soldiers, 21,000 of which were killed but at the cost of 26,000 US casualties. On one of the gravestones at the cemetery there someone chiselled this message: ‘When you go home, Tell them for us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today.’ Can you think of a more fitting tribute for a Christian to be able to say to a family, a church, a city like Hull, ‘For your tomorrow, I gave my today.’? Not just their tomorrows on earth but the countless tomorrows in eternity which just get better and better with gladness in the love of Christ? Just think of what some of those teenagers went through to secure our tomorrows. Here is an extract from one such account: ‘William Hoopes was crouching beside a medic names Kelly, who put his head above the protective ridge and places his binoculars to his eyes just for an instant....in that instant a sniper shot him through the Adam’s apple. Hoopes, a pharmacist’s mate himself struggled frantically to save his friend…. Hoopes recalled “His blood was spurting. He had not speech but his eyes were on me. He knew I was trying to save his life. I tried everything in the world. I couldn’t do it. I tried. I couldn’t get to the artery. I was trying so hard and all the while he just looked at me. The last thing he did as the blood spurts became less and less was to pat me on the arm as if to say, ‘That’s all right.’ Then he died. One Christian writer commenting on this story says: ‘In this heartbreaking moment I want to be Hoopes and I want to be Kelly. I want to be able to say to suffering and perishing people: ‘I tried everything in the world…I was trying so hard.” And I want to be able to say to those around me when I die, “It’s all right. To live is Christ and to die is gain.’
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