2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 I don’t think that any of us set out to do it but it happens anyway—we begin to go our own way rather than God’s way. As the hymn-writer says, we have a heart that is prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love.
We begin to make room for some pet sin. We make excuses for it or we rationalize it away. We become embittered towards someone and it’s easier to avoid them rather than resolve it. And our hearts begin to harden.
Before long, our prayer life and worship life and devotional life is not what it should be and the distance between us and God has grown greater than we could have ever imagined.
We know it’s not right. We know we can’t continue on in the same direction. But how do we make things right? How do we begin again? Can we return to God at all? Isn’t he tired of forgiving us again and again?
The Good News for us tonight is that we can begin again and we can return to God and he stands ready to receive us to himself with arms of mercy and love and forgiveness. Paul says: We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
What Good News it is for us on this Day of Repentance that the way back to God doesn’t begin with us at all-- but it begins with a gracious God who calls out to us just like he did to Adam and Eve and says “where are you”?
Now of course the Lord knows just exactly where we are in our life of faith just like he knew with Adam and Eve.
But he calls to us tonight so that we might recognize where we are—so that we might understand just how quickly and just how far we have departed from the narrow road that leads to eternal life—so that we might return to him.
The Holy Spirit speaks across the centuries- on Christ’s behalf -through the words of Paul -and begs each and every one of us to be reconciled to God.
Can you imagine such a thing! That the one, true and living God of the universe who is holy and righteous—who is offended and grieved by our sins-- is also the very one who calls us to be reconciled to him so that we do not live our lives on earth alienated from him and spend eternity apart from him?! Can you imagine such love?!
What wondrous mercy and grace it is that reaches out to sinners going their own way with no thought of God-- and desires only that they would turn from their sins and return to their Father’s house.
But perhaps there is some nagging doubt as to what kind of reception we will receive. Perhaps we tell ourselves that it is no use, that there is simply too much water under the bridge; that we have wandered too long, that our sins are too many or too great. Hear what your Father says to you:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Have you ever heard more joyous, wonderful news than that!? For OUR sake, Jesus came. For OUR sake God sent him. For OUR sake!
Can that possibly be true? That for the very ones who have wandered away; for the very ones who have made room for sin in their life so often that it crowded God out; for the very ones who have rationalized their rebellion; God sent his holy Son.
For OUR sake God sent Jesus Christ into the world to bear our sin. Just think of it! The holy, innocent, perfect Son of God took upon himself our sin so completely, so inclusively that Jesus Christ became sin in his Father’s eyes.
He went to the cross bearing the burden of our sins. The sins of which we are particularly ashamed. The sins that are known only to God. The sins that we have made room for. The sins that we have excused.
Every sin, of every sinner, placed by God himself upon his perfect Son who died in torment upon the cross, under his Father’s wrath, forsaken before the world.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, For God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son. It is only there at the cross that you can begin to see how much God loves you—only there that you begin to understand the lengths that God went to so that you can be reconciled to him. Now then, you should understand…
There is a purpose in this sacrifice—not so that you could continue to go your own way, not so that you could carve out a little place in your life for sin, not so that you could exercise lordship over your own life-- but so that you could become the righteousness of God.
In other words, Christ died in your place, bearing your sins so that you could be washed of your sins and forsake a life of disobedience and be reconciled to God and live as his child in righteousness.
That is God’s purpose in his saving work that forgave your sins and he gave you faith to receive that forgiveness: that you might be righteous and holy in God’s sight.
That is why God calls you to be reconciled, so that the work of Christ on your behalf might bring you blessing and a life with him. Paul says: Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
You may be hearing the voice of Pastor Eckert-- and you may be reading the words of the Apostle Paul-- but you should be very, very clear in your own mind that it is God’s own work that is being done and God’s own word that is being spoken as we work with him!
And God is imploring you and appealing to you so that his saving work in the Lord Jesus Christ would be received by you in living faith and produce in you the purpose for all of it: that you would turn from sin and turn to God in faith and restored fellowship.
That is what Paul is talking about when he warns us about receiving the grace of God in vain.
That word means hearing this call to be reconciled in a way that does not penetrate our inmost being-- and remaining in a dead, inactive “faith” where we are hearers only and not doers of God’s Word.
This call to be reconciled to God-- and the wonderful promise that God has made his own Son to bear our sin-- has a purpose in our lives: that his gracious love would make us new, different people than we were before, people who are willing to walk in his ways and do his will in every part of our lives. That is why God speaks to us today and says:
“In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Just as Christ promised, the disciples were his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the very ends of the earth as they knew it. Even in Corinth, a city filled with pagan temples, there was a Christian Church just as there was throughout the cities of Asia Minor.
But look at those same place today. The church is almost extinct in what is a Muslim world—the favorable time has passed
In Luther’s day the Gospel swept through Germany and Scandanavia and Great Britain and Europe and countless souls were delivered from falsehood and superstition. But in those same places today church attendance is in the low single digits—the favorable time has passed.
The same thing can happen in the life of an individual believer. It does us no good to start strong and fall away. It is only those who endure unto the end who will be saved and Jesus says that if he did not cut short the last days even the elect would be lost if that were possible.
That is why this call from God to be reconciled to him goes out to us on this day of salvation-- and he is speaking to every one of us. None of us can says that we have walked with God is such a faithful way that we do not need to stop and return to him.
And so the Lord has appointed this moment for each of us where we can hear his voice and where we can be reminded of the sacrifice of his Son that makes our return to him possible.
The Lord knows just exactly where we are in our life of faith. He has seen our sins and he has heard our excuses.
But rather than condemning us as we deserve, he has promised to help us in (what is for us) no less than a day of salvation—a favorable time when we can hear his voice and draw near to him in faith.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these Gospel-filled, grace-given moments are precious. You are living and breathing and present here tonight because you have in the Lord a gracious God who desires only your salvation and has done everything necessary for you to turn from your sins and turn to Jesus in faith and be reconciled to your heavenly Father.
This is your day of salvation! This is the favorable time that God has appointed for you and you and I have absolutely no idea whether or not there will another and so be reconciled to God for he made him who had no sin to be sin for you so that in him you might become the righteousness of God. Amen.