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March 15, 2020

Sermon II Corinthians 5:20. . .“Paul said:  ‘We are ambassadors for Christ’”

“Paul said:  ‘We are ambassadors for Christ’”

II Corinthians 5:20

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Born in April of 1928 in Santa Monica, California, Shirley Temple was an American singer, dancer, and Hollywood’s number one box-office draw from 1935 to 1938.

It all started when she was just three years old, when her mother enrolled her in LA’s Meglin Dance School.  It’s also when she began to style her hair in ringlets.

And while she was there, a casting director from Educational Pictures spotted her, invited her to an audition, and signed her to a contract at the ripe old age of four years old.

And from that moment on, her life was never the same.  Within the next few years, she starred in quite a number of films including, Rags to Riches, Stand up and Cheer!, Baby, Take a Bow, and Little Miss Marker.  Then when she sang, On the Good Ship Lollipop, in a movie called, Bright Eyes, she became the very first child star to win an Oscar, and planted her hand and footprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.  And since she brought such hope and optimism even in the middle of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt said, “It is a splendid thing that, for just fifteen cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”

But even though she was such a loved and admired child star, she couldn’t be an actress forever.  That’s when she got into politics.  And though she never did get elected to a public office, President Nixon appointed her, in 1974, to be the United States Ambassador to Ghana.  Then in 1989, President Bush, (the first one), sent her to serve as the first, and only(!), female Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

In the book of II Corinthians, the apostle Paul talked about ambassadors too.  Go with me to page 1228, as I read the words of our text.  II Corinthians chapter 5, starting at verse 16:  “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.  Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their 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.”

At the moment, we’re taking a walk through Paul’s epistles, his letters to both individuals and to churches.  Think, for example, of his letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians.  He even wrote three epistles to pastors, two to one named Timothy, and another to one named Titus.

But this book, his second letter to the Corinthians, is one we often overlook.  While we spend a lot of time on Romans and I Corinthians, we often never take the time to look at this one.

Yet it’s here that we find words like these:  ”For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,” ”But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” and, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now here in chapter 5, verse 20, we find the words:  “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

When you hear the word, “ambassador,” what do you think of?  If you think of a high-ranking diplomat or a nation’s official envoy, you’d be right.  It’s an ambassador’s job to attend international meetings, banquets, and parties, and act as a figurehead for their country of origin.  They’re a way one country promotes good international relations with another country, for culture, trade, and foreign policy.

Even brands have ambassadors!  For example, when you think of Progressive Insurance, who comes to mind?  “Flo,” played by actress and comedian, Stephanie Courtney.  Taylor Swift sells Diet Coke, Tiger Woods sells Nike, and the Most Interesting Man in the Word, Jonathan Goldsmith, sells Dos Equis.  His only regret, he says, is not knowing what regret feels like.

And here in the words of II Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul says we are ambassadors, not of some brand or government, but of Christ.  As he wrote in verse 20:  “We are ambassadors for Christ.”

Have you wondered why, after you came to faith, that you’re still here?  I mean, think about it.  As one commentator put it, “We struggle to be holy here.  We struggle with our fellowship here.  We struggle with our praise here.  We struggle with our communion and our prayer with God here.  We limp along in this life and wonder why God doesn’t just get us out of here.”  As the hymn puts it so well, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.”

Every day, we want to be perfect.  We long to escape the trials and troubles of this world, and to live in the glories of heaven.  So why are we still here?

Because, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we are Christ’s ambassadors.

Let me tell you about a boy whose name was Benjamin.  In many ways, he was very much like any other ten-year-old boy.  Most times, he was lovable.  Other times, he drove his parents crazy.  

But there was one thing that made him different from any other ten-year-old you might meet.  He was an American born to two American parents while they were living in a tiny country in Eastern Europe.  It’s where his father worked as an engineer for an American oil company.

But even though little Ben was an American, he had never seen America.  As a result, he talked, dressed, and ate, not like a ten-year-old from the United States, but like all the other children in the land where he lived.  He had never seen a hot dog.  He thought Times Square was a building tool, and the Pittsburgh Steelers was a contracting firm.  Though he was an American by birth, he blended in with everyone else.

But when little Ben was thirteen, something important happened.  His father was reassigned back to the United States.  And after a brief period of adjustment, Ben was exposed to all the customs and culture of America.  It was like being reborn.  And within a few short months, he became as American as apple pie.  He finished high school, attended college, and graduated with honors, receiving his degree in Political Science.

Then through a series of interesting events, he became part of the diplomatic corps.  A few years later, he was appointed to the office of ambassador to the very same little country he had grown up in as a child.

But at his briefing before his departure, the Secretary of State gave him a series of warnings that every departing American had to know.  

This is what he said:  “Number 1--Do not become entangled in the affairs of the land to which you are being sent.  Number 2--Remember that, at all times, you’re not a citizen of that country; you’re an ambassador.  Identify with the people, but don’t forget who you are, or what nation you represent.  Number 3--You are the official representative of your Commander in Chief.  Wherever you go, people will make assessments of the one you represent based on their assessment of you.  Number 4--Don’t heavily invest in the economy of the land to which you are sent.  Make your investments in your homeland, where you’ll someday return.  Number 5--At any time, the land to which you are going could be the center of a revolution.  If that should ever happen, you’ll be called home immediately, with no time to gather any of your possessions.  And number 6--When you return, the Commander in Chief will assess your ambassadorship and reward you accordingly.”

With those clear guidelines, Ambassador Benjamin went off to live in that foreign land.

At first, his work was a delight.  His commitment to America made him a walking billboard for democracy and free enterprise.  And he took good care of the affairs of the people, encouraging them to always remember the importance and the goodness of America.

But as time went on, Ben began to change.  Little by little, he adopted the philosophy and culture of the people around him.  His friends were all natives of that foreign country.  Soon, he met and married a girl who was not only a native, but her father had been involved in a series of anti-American activities.  Ben even adapted his religious beliefs to those of his foreign land, even though they were so different from what he had known as a child.

Before long, his duties as ambassador became colored by the land in which he lived.  He put his money into business ventures and savings opportunities in the banks of that little country, until everything he owned was invested there.  And though he lived and worked at the U.S. Embassy, he dressed and acted like everyone else in that foreign country, often doing the very opposite of what the Secretary of State had told him to do.

Then, one day, it happened.  A civil war broke out and a revolution was about to start.  Immediately, the State Department sent him a wire.  It read, “We are sending for you and for all other American citizens immediately.  Leave everything behind.  You are no longer welcome in that country.  The president will greet you upon your return.”

It all happened so suddenly.  With tears and sorrow, he was evacuated from the country he had grown to love.  His investments were confiscated by the new government.  He was even forced to leave his wife behind.

Once back in Washington, he was ushered into the White House, where he was granted an audience with the president.  And as the Commander in Chief gathered all of the ambassadors together for an awards ceremony, Ben thought of the time he had spent in that little country assigned to him.  What had he done to bring honor to the nation he represented?  How faithful had he been?

The more he thought about it, the more he realized he had violated every one of the rules.  He had lived as if he were a citizen of the land he now had left behind.

And as the president went around the room and congratulated each ambassador for their particular contributions, he said, “Well done!  You’ve been good and faithful.”

But when he came to Ben, he looked into his eyes and said, “You will always be a citizen of this country.  No one will take that away from you.  But you have so little to show for all those years.  You forgot who you were and what nation you served.”

In a book called, Designed to be Like Him, the author writes, “There can be no higher goal.  There can be no higher ambition.  There can be no higher purpose than that which the Word of God puts before us as the chief end of the child of God--to glorify God.  The greatest goal in the believer’s life is not his own enjoyment of his salvation.  His greatest goal is to live Jesus Christ so that men may know the Father.”

I don’t know what it says above your door.  I don’t know what letters follow your name.  You could be a teacher, a doctor, a farmer, or a lawyer.  All of those things are good things.

But more than anything, as the apostle Paul once wrote:  “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

 

Out of Your great grace and mercy, dear Father, You have chosen even us to follow You.  Grant that we may in every way we can, for as long as we can, to all that we can, share the good news of our Savior Jesus.  We pray in His name.  Amen

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