Here is this morning’s sermon by Dr. Karl Böhmer held in the chapel of St.Timothy at our Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane: 2 Cor. 5:19-21 In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [men’s] trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Is it possible for you to be in Russia and in South Africa at the same time? Yes, it is. Just go to the Russian embassy here in Pretoria. In some of the suburbs around here, you find a different embassy on every street corner. Now here is the principle on which embassies work: The soil an embassy encompasses belongs to the country concerned. So, if you’re standing in the Russian embassy, you’re simultaneously in Russia, and inside the boundaries of South Africa. The property an embassy is built on is technically foreign soil. For this reason, when countries are at war with each other, sometimes even if they are offended by each other, they will close their embassy in the other country. When war breaks out, they’ll pack things up and withdraw their ambassadors and go home.
Now the apostle Paul tells us that Christ’s death was all about God reconciling the world to himself. Reconciliation is a complete reversal of the relationship between God and the human being. So what was there in this relationship that had to be reversed? Reconciliation puts an end to hostility and enmity. The brutality and the relentless ruthlessness of Jesus’ crucifixion and the events of Good Friday show us what we would never have imagined. The horrific death of God’s Son demonstrates the severity of this fight, this war between God and the human being, and it reveals that it was a war of life and death.
Sin in us and in others is a symptom of a fundamental damage. Sin is the root cause that pushes out shoots and causes deeds, thoughts, words. Sin denies that God is God, it wants power for itself, it stubbornly refuses to acknowledge Him and talk to Him. Sin has declared war on the Almighty God in the deluded notion that it can win the battle. And so sin has distanced us from the Kingdom of God, retreated from the reign of God, embassy closed, ambassador withdrawn, communication shut down. Sin has become the power that holds us captive.
Judging by what usually happens during a war, though, something really strange happened. When war breaks out, mutual embassies get closed and all communications shut down. Sin certainly did this from our side. God should have done that too. By rights, when our parents fell into sin, God should have withdrawn and shut down communication also. End of story. But that’s just it: God has kept the communication open from His side. Not only does He not close the embassy, He keeps sending new ambassadors!
But the power of sin remains. And sin keeps us in debt, keeps the wall up, turns it back on God. A soldier who goes AWOL, who deserts his post and his troops and takes off, can’t just come back to the unit after a couple of months and say: “Hi guys, I’m back!” A gambler who’s lost it all and played himself into major debt can’t just suggest to his creditors: “Hey, let’s just put that all behind us. Let’s be friends again.” There’s something severe between them. Debt is binding, it doesn’t just go away. So it is with sin. Sin has power over us. There is a debt that must be paid. Sin has caused war. And it’s not as if we’re sitting in no-man’s land, able to choose sides, either going with God or going with sin. No, we have already taken a side. We chose sin. It’s war. But God in His tremendous patience and love keeps sending representatives; He opens up embassies; He sends His ambassador. And then we kill Him. Good Friday puts it all into perspective:That’s how it stands between God and us. The Lord dies at the hands of our sin.
You would think: That’s it! For real this time. It’s all over. The ambassador has been killed. Last chance gone. But thank God, it is not so. The cross totally reverses our situation. God takes the biggest war crime of them all – and uses it to make peace with his enemies. God turns the whole situation on its head and puts an end to the strife. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We need to be clear on this: This is the war crimes tribunal. The guilty are put on trial, put on the stand. And then the judgment is given, the verdict is spoken. But it is not the sinners who are condemned to die, but the ambassador. The ambassador, Christ, identifies himself with the root cause and its consequences: He becomes your sin and mine. That’s sin, dying on the cross. That’s sin being executed. Sin is killed, has nails through its palms, has its body hanging for 6 hours. Why? So that God, when He looks at you, can say: Someone else is your sin. But you? Where you go, righteousness goes, where you stand, righteousness stands, where you live, righteousness lives. Because of Christ, that is so. So Luther also prayed: Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin; you took what was mine and gave me what was yours; you took on what you were not and gave me what I was not.”
That’s the foreign ambassador becoming your advocate. And it is reason for joy, great joy. The war is over, peace is declared, call it out, shout it out, let the message be heard. The great news is that he’s still at it. Still sending his ambassadors, establishing new embassies, sending his request: Be reconciled to God. Repent and rejoice. And now be his mouthpieces and his missionaries, his ambassadors bringing a message of peace to a world at war. Even to Russia, if need be. Amen.