Sunday, 7 June 2015

Beautiful people for a beautiful message

We are ... Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20

My minister recently made what I thought was a clever and thought-provoking remark in a sermon. Talking about people who don’t believe, he said that if anyone is an atheist it’s likely to be for one of two reasons: either (a) they have never met a Christian, or (b) they have met a Christian.

I’m sure you’ll get the point. If someone has never met a Christian, either in person or through books, films or some other way, obviously they can’t be expected to become a Christian themselves. But sadly, there are occasions when a non-Christian does meet a Christian - and is so completely put off that they say, “Right - if that’s Christianity, it’s something I can do without, thank you very much”. Sad indeed.

Paul tells us that “we are Christ’s ambassadors”. By “we”, strictly speaking, he means himself and his fellow-apostles, but I don’t think he would disagree that in a broader sense every Christian is an ambassador for Christ. Once you are known to be a Christian, people will judge you accordingly.

I remember a story of a test match cricketer who was well-known as a Christian. On one occasion he touched the ball to the wicket-keeper (which means, if you don’t know about cricket, that he was out) but refused to head back to the pavilion. He was, in effect, lying to the umpire, saying “I didn’t touch that ball”. Whereupon one of the opposing fielders looked him in the eye and said “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian?” Not good.

So if you profess to be a Christian today the question arises, What kind of ambassador am I? - one who truly represents Jesus, or one who just puts people off?

The main job of an ambassador is to convey messages from the government they represent to the government where they are working. So it’s important that they fully understand what those messages are and can put them across clearly, respectfully and persuasively.

What does this mean for us? Very simply, that we need to have a good grasp of our message - the gospel, the good news, of Jesus crucified for our sins, raised to give us new life, and one day returning in glory to take us to himself.

Paul sums this message up in one of the New Testament’s most beautiful words: reconciliation. In just a few verses he repeats that word several times:

“God... reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave to 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 ministry of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We beg you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God” (verses 18-20).

Reconciliation, even just on a purely human level, is a lovely thing. Think of a couple whose marriage was falling apart with bitterness and acrimony - and then see them, perhaps after weeks of painful talking, pledging themselves to one another once again “until death parts them”. Or the teenage son who just can’t get on with his parents and storms out of the home - but who returns and makes a new start, with tears all round. Or two people in a work-place who have long had a tense relationship, but who have a “clear the air” conversation, and promise to one another to start again... I could go on for ever!

But how much more wonderful is the miracle of reconciliation with God. And this is the heart of the message we Christians have been entrusted with for our sad and broken world: reconciliation of sinful men and women with God is possible!
The only problem is that we might well have the message right - oh yes, we know our Bibles, and we have been Christians for many years - but still be bad ambassadors. 

What if the way we present the message, or the way we live our lives, or the kind of habits we have, or the way we come across to other people, leaves them saying “Thanks but no thanks”?

When an ambassador is appointed in world diplomacy they have to show their credentials - official letters to say that they are indeed the mouth-piece of their government. We too need to have clear credentials in order to be Christ’s ambassadors. 

And what are those credentials? Simple: a blameless, holy and Christlike life.

Lord God, help me please to be a true ambassador for Jesus Christ today. Amen.

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