This sermon is part of the sermon series "Restoration Hardware". See series.
There was once a couple who had been married for 60 years. Throughout their life they had shared everything. They loved each other deeply. They had not kept any secrets from one another, except for a small shoebox that the wife kept in the top shelf of her closet. When they got married, she put the box there and asked her husband never to look inside of it and never to ask questions about its contents. For 60 years the man honored his wife's request. In fact, he forgot about the box until a day when his wife grew gravely ill, and the doctors were sure she had no way of recovering. So the man, putting his wife's affairs into order, remembered that box in the top of her closet, got it down, and brought it to her to the hospital. He asked her if perhaps now they might be able to open it. She agreed. They opened the box, and inside were two crocheted dolls and a roll of money that totaled $95,000. The man was astonished.
The woman told her husband that the day before they were married, her grandmother told her that if she and her husband were ever to get into an argument with one another, they should work hard to reconcile, and if they were unable to reconcile, she should simply keep her mouth shut and crochet a doll. The man was touched by this, because there were only two crocheted dolls in the box. He was amazed that over 60 years of marriage, they apparently had had only two conversations that they were unable to reconcile. Tears came to his eyes, and he grew even more deeply in love with this woman, even at the end of her life. Then he turned to the roll of money. "What's with this?" he asked. His wife said, "Well, every time I crocheted a doll, I sold it to a local craft fair for five dollars."
I don't know how you handle conflict and reconciliation in your relationships, but it is absolutely essential that we learn how. The greatest resource for getting back on track with relationships is the cross of Jesus Christ. If you and I were to get up from our seats and go to the cross of Calvary and consider what Jesus Christ has done for us, it would change the nature of our relationships with other people, and it would change the way that we reconcile with others.
Today I want you to see that reconciliation is not just a possibility at the cross, but it is a priority. It is absolutely essential, and it's something God has charged us to do in our lives. With that in mind, let's read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 together:
So 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. Therefore, 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: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 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. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I want you to see that this passage is in the middle of a place where Paul defines his missional ministry. He preaches that Christ has been crucified and raised to a new life, and because Christ has been raised to a new life, Paul looks at people through a new lens. This is where we must start today in our study.
The cross can change anyone.
Because the cross puts sin to death and offers new life, it changes people. Paul says in verse 17 that "if any person is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" Paul is saying that the cross has the potential and the power to really change people. And as a result, Paul says, "we no longer regard people from a worldly point of view."
Paul was no longer going to look through a worldly lens when he looked at people; rather, he was going to look at people through the filter of the finished work of Jesus Christ. He was no longer going to look at people based on their external circumstances, their outward sin. He was no longer going to look at people according to their offenses or even their accomplishments. Instead, Paul was going to look at people through the filter of their potential—the potential of the cross to be at work in their lives. Paul was going to imagine that people could actually be brand new.
Has the cross of Jesus Christ changed you? Has the cross worked radical transformation in your life? If the cross of Jesus Christ has changed you, it can change the person sitting next to you. And if the cross of Jesus Christ can change the people sitting around you, it can change the person who has hurt you the worst. It can change the person who has violated you. It can change the person who has abused you. It can change the person who has cheated you and abandoned you. The cross of Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world when it comes to reconciliation.
Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine that there is a girl who grows up with a daddy who loves his job more than he loves his family. He's a workaholic. He finds all of his significance in what he can accomplish at the office. As this man grows further apart from his family, he becomes verbally abusive. He takes all of the guilt that he feels and he pushes it off on other people. Eventually, this man divorces his wife, the little girl's mother, and because of all the conflict, he doesn't even pay child support. This family is torn apart.
The little girl grows up. She heads off to college. She wishes that her relationship with her daddy was different, especially when she sees the relationships her friends have with their fathers. But this girl is not going to move toward her father. She doesn't want to get hurt again. There's too much risk. The past is too painful, and she's willing to live with one kind of pain to avoid some unknown pain that might be there if she draws close to him. But what if she hears news that her daddy, living on the other side of the country, is invited by a friend to a men's retreat? He goes to this retreat and encounters the cross of Jesus Christ. God gets a hold of her daddy's life, and over the course of the next few months, he becomes a changed man. The filter through which he looks at the world is changed, his priorities are changed, and his heart is made tender to the things of God. He is humbled. In fact, he calls this girl's mother and acknowledges his responsibility in the failure of their marriage. He begins to pay the child support that he neglected and makes good on college payments. He does all he can to reconcile that relationship.
Do you think that young lady might want to be reconciled with her daddy now? Now the impossibility has become plausibility, and the plausibility has moved toward possibility. She sees the cross is at work in her daddy's life, and because the cross changes people, she now has a greater possibility of moving toward her daddy.
The problem we have with reconciliation is that we're not sure that the cross of Jesus Christ that has so radically changed us could actually change other people. We're not quite confident that the life transformation God has brought about in our life could actually be brought about in the lives of the people who have hurt us so deeply.
So let me tell you this: God can change people. I know that, because he changed me. And I know that because I know some of your stories, and I know that God has changed you. And if it were simply left up to us, all would be hopeless, because people can't change by themselves. If I continue to look at people from a worldly point of view, I have no hope, because I don't believe that the people who have offended me will actually change—that they'll be brought to repentance, that they'll be humbled. I don't believe that people can change by themselves. But I believe that God does what none of us can do for ourselves and that if any person is in Christ, they can be a new creation. The old can really be gone, and the new can really come.
I love what Paul writes in verse 21: "God made him who knew no sin,"—Jesus—"to become sin," that is, to take upon himself all of our sin, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." The object of this sentence is God. God is the one at work. He took all of our sin, and he took all of the violations made against you, and he put it on his Son, Jesus Christ. He sent his Son to the cross where he paid a price for the sin that was in us against God and the sin that was in us against one another, and he made it possible for lives to be changed. We can actually begin to live out the virtues and the values and the righteousness of God. That's what God did.
Here's what I want you to hear today: People can genuinely be changed. If we believe that people could be and would be changed, it would be a whole lot easier to be reconciled to those people, wouldn't it? So we need to get those people to the cross of Jesus. That person who has offended you, who has taken advantage of you, needs to get to the cross of Jesus. If we could get those people to the foot of the cross, just like you and I have been to the foot of the cross, they could encounter the life-changing, powerful Person of Jesus Christ, and we could be reconciled.
God has charged us with the ministry of reconciliation.
But Paul says there's another way. He says that we should take the cross to them: "God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation." And God "has committed to us the message of reconciliation." So if you have come to the cross of Jesus Christ and been reconciled to God and transformed, you have also been given the message and the ministry of reconciliation.
God gave you that ministry and message of reconciliation the moment he changed you. You are a minister of the life-transforming power of the cross to the world around you. In verse 20 Paul says that God made you to be an ambassador—a representative of the person of Christ. It is through his changed people that God chooses to mediate the beauty and the benefits of the cross to other people. The way to be reconciled with people in your life is not to wait for them to go to the cross; rather, you take the cross to them.
What does that look like? Well, this week I was sitting in a coffee shop working on this message. A fellow walked in, and I caught his eye and he smiled. I waved. He waved. It was one of those "Do I know you?" moments. The guy got his coffee and came over to me and said, "Hey, you're David Daniels, the pastor of Pantego Bible Church." I said, "Yes, I am." He proceeded to tell me about a week when he had visited our church. He said, "I really loved something your church did when I visited." I was touched by this. But as we continued to talk, the conversation grew strange, because he began reflecting on his discontentment with something going on at his own church. I know we all have things that we are unhappy with at our churches, but I began to feel uncomfortable as this man went on to express his unhappiness with his church, his pastor, and all the people there. His disappointment with his church grew into a disappointment with the church, and then into a disappointment with our church and with me. The issue just became bigger and bigger.
We eventually end up in conflict with one another, and I'm thinking, How in the world did this happen? Typically, real conflict happens with people that you know, but this guy was a complete stranger. I didn't know what to do, but in my heart I realized that if I was confident that this man's heart could become tender, that his heart could change, we could probably get on the same page with one another and be friends. I had to decide whether or not I believed that the cross could work in his life. I know it works in my life, but could it work in his? I wished that he could just see the cross for himself and come back changed.
Then I felt God say to me: Why don't you take the cross to him? If I did that, what would taking the cross to him look like in this conversation? It would look a bit like Proverbs 15:1: "A gentle answer turns away wrath." Isn't that the cross at work in a person's life? So I started being gentle. I said, "I'm so sorry. It sounds like you've really been wounded at church. That must be very hard for you." Then I gave him a little bit of Ephesians 4, where Paul says, "Be completely patient and humble with one another, bearing up with one another." Then I gave him a little bit more of Ephesians 4 as I listened to him: "Speak the truth to one another in love." I said, "That's an interesting point of view, but I wonder if you might consider this other point of view." Then I gave him a little bit of Hebrews 10 where Paul says, "Let's consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." I felt like it was important for me as a Christian brother, because this man claimed to be a Christian, that I challenge him a little bit and say, "Can I encourage you to go back and talk to your pastor about this? And can I encourage you to consider getting involved in your church? I know that's hard for you, but I really believe that that's the answer to this challenge you're facing in your life."
It was interesting, and he was not totally turned upside down by the time we were done, but the nature of our conversation changed. In my mind I was thinking, I want to mediate the effects of the cross. I could've pushed back against him. I could've said, "Whoa, buddy, you're messing up a perfectly good morning here. Can't you see I'm working on God's Word here?" Or I could allow the cross to be at work in me so I could bring the cross into our conversation and give it opportunity to be at work in him. Do you see that? That's your charge.
If you have come to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ and it has changed you, then you have a message. Sometimes that message is the verbal proclamation of the gospel—telling people that Jesus Christ is Lord and the cross changes everything. And sometimes the message and the ministry we bring is through the way that we live, by the transforming power of the cross in our lives. As we live that out with other people, God seasons their hearts to lead them to an understanding of the truth.
Virtues of transformation
What are the transformational virtues that God wants us to bring into meetings with other people for the purpose of reconciliation? What virtues are evidence that the cross has really changed me? What are the virtues that God uses to change my relationship with other people? Let me highlight a few for you.
The first virtue is courage. Second Timothy 1:7 says: "God has not given you a spirit of fear or timidity, but he has given you a spirit of love and power and self discipline." Spiritually courageous people are courageous because Christ is at work in them. Being willing to go and do the hard thing—that will sometimes change people. The courage of confrontation is a powerful witness of the cross at work in you.
The second virtue is gentleness. It is fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we control our speech, and when we are kind and tender and open, that gentleness has an impact on people.
The third virtue is humility. Humility is tough, especially when you are confident that you're right. But Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that humility is the picture of Christ. When you minister humility, when you are careful with your words, when you take responsibility for your actions, when you acknowledge that you're wrong, when you bear the brunt of things, that humility speaks volumes about what Christ has done in your life.
The fourth virtue is patience. Patience means not demanding that things go as you planned them. It's being open for God to be at work and to take the conversation in places that maybe you aren't anticipating. Patience is a virtue.
The fifth virtue is truth—speaking the truth in love, being willing to deal with the tough stuff openly and honestly. Jesus came not only full of grace but speaking what was true.
And number six is grace—forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you, being willing to forgive other people and to release them from the debt that they owe you.
If you demonstrate these virtues in a conversation with somebody else, you have brought the cross to them and you have become an ambassador of Christ ministering and messaging the work of God's reconciliation in your life.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.