Being an ambassador is an important job.
When monarchs, governments or people in positions of authority send ambassadors to a foreign country, those ambassadors go with the full authority of the person or people who sent them. Ambassadors are given a message for those to whom they are sent. When they deliver that message, it is received as though the people who sent the ambassadors were speaking themselves. So ambassadors have a critical role to play in the relationships between nations, especially when the they might be tense or they are in conflict with each other. Ambassadors need to be faithful to the message they have been given if the message is going to be communicated, good relations between nations preserved and peace achieved.
When Paul says, ‘We are Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Corinthians 5:20), he is saying that God gives people the important work of bringing his message to the world. The message he entrusts to his ambassadors is the good news of reconciliation. This message is about the end of hostilities as two parties which had been in conflict with each other are brought together in peace. The message of reconciliation is about acknowledging the wrongs of the past, wanting to make things right again, and bringing healing to past wounds. The message God has entrusted to his ambassadors is a message of peace and restored relationships.
One question I have about this text is who does Paul mean when he talks about ‘us’ and ‘we’? On the one hand, Paul could be referring to himself as the writer of this letter, along with Timothy and others who might have been traveling with Paul at the time. If we understand Paul’s ‘we’ and ‘us’ as himself and those with him, then the appeal he is making is obviously to those who received the letter, the people of Corinth.
As modern hearers of Paul’s words, it is important that we hear Paul talking to us as well. Sometimes our biggest problem is that we don’t have a problem. We like to think that we can live our lives for ourselves, doing whatever suits us best, and God’s OK with that. We need to recognise that we all have the natural tendency to live like either the younger son or the older son, or sometimes both, from the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). We can behave like the younger son when we take what God has given us and use it selfishly. We can be like the older son when we think that God owes us something for the ‘good’ things we do. Either way, our actions bring us into conflict with God when we fail to trust in his grace and love others in the same self-sacrificing way that God loves us in Jesus.
That’s why Paul writes to Christian communities as Christ’s ambassador, pleading us to come back to God and be reconciled to him again. As Australians, we know how failing to admit past wrongs gets in the way of reconciling with others. In Jesus, God has done everything to reconcile with us. As Paul writes in this text,
God made him who had no sin to be son for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (v21 NIV).
Because of this great exchange Jesus made when he traded our wrongs and brokenness for his goodness and purity,
if anyone is in Christ, the new creation is come: The old has gone, the new is here! (v17 NIV)
We are reconciled to God through God’s work for us in Christ Jesus as he takes away everything about us that gets in the way of a relationship with God and restores that broken relationship by making us new.
This gives us a new purpose in life. As people who have been reconciled with God through the work of Jesus, God appoints us to serve in his Kingdom as Jesus’ ambassadors. This gives us a second way to understand Paul’s use of ‘we’ and ‘us’. He is saying that everyone who has been reconciled with God the Father through Christ Jesus has now been given the job of being his ambassadors to a broken and hurting world. God has authorised us to bring this good news to the people of the world: be reconciled to God!
This is important work because the world needs to hear this good news. Instead of thinking about God as some nasty being in the sky who plays games with people’s lives, or as a distant, uncaring thing who has abandoned us to suffer alone and work things out for ourselves, the work God is calling us to as his ambassadors is to help people see God as someone who is appealing to people, pleading with us, begging all people to come back to a new relationship with him so we can find life in all of its fullness.
The Parable of the Lost Son gives us a new way of understanding God as the father who is waiting at the front gate of his property, looking in desperate hope for his child to return. Ours is the God who throws away all of his dignity and pride as he runs up the road to embrace his child and welcome him home again. This is the God who wants all of humanity to come back to him, to live in a new, reconciled relationship with him, so we can all know God as our loving heavenly Father who doesn’t hold our sins against us but has done everything in his power, who has literally gone through hell and back in the person of Jesus, to reconcile with us. This is the good news we have to share as Christ’s ambassadors with our families, with our friends, with our community and with the world.
Being Christ’s ambassador is a very important job. It brings the message of reconciliation to people so we can live every day in peace with God, with ourselves and with the people around us. It gives us a place in our Father’s home for all eternity, but it also gives us value and purpose now. As people who have been reconciled to God through Jesus, we have good news to bring to the world. God’s not angry with us. God doesn’t count our sins against us. God just wants to embrace us in perfect love and grace.
As we work towards reconciling with the people in our lives with whom we are in conflict, we also have the opportunity to represent Jesus as his ambassadors as we plead with Paul: Be reconciled to God!