It’s All About the Message (October 7, 2018)
It’s All About the Message
2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2
I’d like to teach you all a little Telugu. Telugu is the language spoken in the state in India where Heather and I lived. The Telugu phrase I want to teach you is “chudadaaniki baagundi.” So repeat after me: “Chudadaaniki….baagundi.” See, languages aren’t that hard. “Chudadaaniki baagundi” literally means “to see is good” or “to look is good,” or sort of like we would say in English, “looks good.” Well let me tell you a story about chudadaaniki baagundi. One day at our place in India I heard some noise outside of our front door, so I opened the door and saw the cleaning lady, who cleaned a number of our buildings, sweeping our front porch. Wanting to make a good impression in our neighborhood where most people don’t like Christianity, we always tried to be friendly and nice to everyone, so I looked at the floor and I said to her, “Oh, looks good—chudadaaniki baagundi.” Then I immediately remembered that not two days earlier a Telugu friend taught me that the phrase “chudadaaniki baagundi” was the common Telugu idiom for saying that someone is attractive. So I quick looked up and saw her stunned face, then I pointed to the floor and said “Yep, the floor, chudadaaniki baagundi—looks good.” Then I turned around, went inside the house and closed the door. I went from wanting to show her that Christians are good people, to scaring her by making her think I called her attractive, and I ended up with, “Yep, this floor sure is attractive.” Not exactly the message I wanted to convey. It’s all about the message. That was definitely a message failure.
But that wasn’t the only message failure I’ve had. Heather and I also spent some time in China teaching English and leading Bible studies in Beijing, like Pastor Ehlers and Ruby. We used to ride the subway a lot, and just a few times I took what I called “fishing trips” where I would just sit on subway reading a Chinese-English Bible and wait for someone to comment on it because someone eventually always would. One time, sure enough a poorer-looking man sits next to me and says, “Sheng Jing,” which means “Holy Scriptures” in Mandarin, so he was just reading the cover. And what did I say to him? Thankfully it wasn’t chudadaaniki baagundi or its equivalent. Instead, do you know what I said back to him? Nothing. I got scared. I thought that since he was poorer he probably didn’t know any English and my Chinese was pretty bad that we’d both just end up being embarrassed, so I didn’t even respond. I didn’t even share the message, the gospel message. And it’s all about the message. For us Christians, it’s all about that message—the good news of Jesus. That was definitely a message failure—a gospel message failure.
If you and I counted, how many gospel message failures do you think we’ve had in our lives? I think we’d have more than we’d even realize, and certainly more than we’d like to admit. Whether it’s saying the wrong thing and embarrassing ourselves or not saying anything at all or even the way we live, I bet the number of gospel message failures is staggering, especially with the number of people we come into contact with in our lives. The apostle Paul is going to help us with that in this letter to the Corinthians. He’s going to help show us that it’s all about the message—the gospel message—and he’s going to show us three important things about that gospel message.
It isn’t really surprising that Paul had to talk about these things with the Corinthians because you can tell from his letters to the Corinthians that he had a difficult time with them. The Corinthians struggled with so many things. They had created divisions in their church. They had problems with sexual immorality. And now they were entertaining false teachers who were badmouthing Paul and even badmouthing the gospel message he was preaching. The Corinthians had lost focus on what it’s all about for Christians.
So Paul reminds them by reminding them of the message he was preaching and why. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” That’s why Paul was sharing the message: he was simply trying to honor Jesus and his love. Jesus died for all, therefore all died. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the tree they would surely…..die. They ate, and therefore death came as a punishment upon all people. Yet Jesus died for the sins of all people, therefore in God’s eyes all people’s sins are paid for—it was as if they had all died. The punishment that brought us death was put on Jesus.
And it was learning about that message that put everything into perspective for Paul. The love of Jesus changes everything for a Christian. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come!” Paul once looked at everything from an old, worldly, earthly perspective. He even saw Christ in an earthly way. Before he came to faith, Paul looked at Jesus and just saw a man from Nazareth. He saw a man who teaching false things about the Jewish faith. He saw a man who was destroying God’s religion. He only saw the message of Christ from a worldly, earthly point of view.
How do you do with your view of everything? Do you sometimes see Jesus and the gospel message in a worldly way? We all do sometimes. We often fall into that same old busyness in our daily lives with family, work, friends, and our own relaxation time. We slip into that old daily grind and forget why we’re here on this earth in the first place. When it all adds up, too often we lose focus on what this life is all about. We lose focus on who Jesus is and what that means. It makes us look at Jesus in that old, worldly way.
When we do that, it causes us to look at other people in that old, worldly way, too. So often our boss is just our boss. Our neighbor across the street is just our neighbor across the street. Our friend is just our friend. Our non-church friends are just our non-church friends, as if we’re supposed to segregate them or something. Our relative who is on a dangerous path in life is just our earthly relative. And there might be other examples of people like that in our lives. When we lose focus of the message, who Jesus is and what he did, we tend to see people in that old, worldly way. We fail to include them in the “all” in “Christ died for all.”
You know who else we fail to include sometimes in the “all” in “Christ died for all”? Ourselves. Christ died for all, and that includes you and me. That means every time we’ve lost focus in this life—God isn’t counting it against us, those times are gone. Every time we’ve look at something or someone from the wrong perspective—completely paid for, gone. Every time we’ve failed to include someone else in the “all”—it’s gone. Every time we’ve looked at Jesus in that old, worldly way—gone. “[Christ] died for all, therefore all died…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Yes, those old sins of ours deserve death. But Christ died for all, therefore the old is gone—forever. Christ has restored our relationship with God. We are made new.
For God, it’s all about that message. For God, since the fall into sin it’s always been about that message—your forgiveness—and he has put that message in your mind and he has put that message on your heart. And now he wants you to put it on your lips. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave 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 message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Christ’s ambassadors. The one who died for the sins of all people, the one who directs the world and gives all things, the Judge of all the earth has not only forgiven us and brought us into his family but has also appointed us as his messengers to the world. He makes his appeal through us.
In a little bit, you’re going to hear Paul call us “God’s coworkers.” If God was in your office and worked with you on your team, what’s your success rate going to be? 100%. So why do we get so shy about being Christ’s ambassadors and sharing the gospel message? I think sometimes we get afraid to share it with people, like I did on that subway in Beijing. There are different reasons for that, whether it’s a language or cultural barrier, or fear of a harsh reaction from someone, or fear of committing the don’t-talk-about-religion faux pas in this culture, or the fear of looking like a Christian fanatic that non-Christians get tired of.
You know what, though? We have no reason to be afraid. Now what I’m about to say, missionaries across the world might be shocked to hear at first, but ultimately I think they’d agree. Mission work is easy. That’s right, mission work is easy. Sure, there are difficulties and challenges that come up no matter where you do mission work, whether it’s in China or in India or in some cul-de-sac off of 31st St. But when you get down to it, the nuts and bolts of mission work is easy. And that’s for three reasons. First of all, who’s your coworker? The all-powerful God of the universe. Enough said. Secondly, determining who we can tell about the gospel message is also easy: Christ died for all. You see a human being, you know Jesus died for their sins. God has made that part easy; it’s universal. Thirdly, God has even made the message itself really easy.
I told you earlier about a couple of message failures I’ve had. Let me tell you another story. In Beijing I did some English tutoring at Intel the computer company. They wanted me to come in and just talk with their employees a couple of times a week to work on their conversational English because their American counterparts couldn’t understand them over the phone. So I would go in twice a week and just talk with them. There was one man in that office named Jack. Jack was an interesting man, maybe 25 years old. Whenever you would tell Jack something he would have this skeptical look on his face and he would always disagree in some way. One day in one of our tutoring sessions they started asking me basic questions about Christianity because they knew almost nothing and they knew what I was going to school for, so this time I didn’t shy away. There was a whiteboard, so all I did was write out a quick history of salvation and a quick diagram of God’s Great Exchange. The first two humans God created were perfect but then they sinned, and they brought pain and suffering and sadness to all people. But instead of just crumpling up the world and throwing it away, God decided he was going to send a Savior. So he directed everything in the world for the coming of that Savior, and when the time had fully come he sent his Son. His Son, Jesus, came and lived a perfect life in our place and died for the punishment of our sins; that’s God’s Great Exchange. If you don’t know God’s Great Exchange, Paul basically says it in verse 21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ took our sin and gave us his righteousness. That’s God Great Exchange. That’s it; that’s about all I said. And when I got done explaining it there was a bit of silence as everyone was thinking about it. I looked at Jack, and sure enough he had that critical look on his face. Then he said, “It’s perfect. It makes total sense.” I was shocked because I had never heard Jack utter those words before—my face probably looked like that Indian cleaning lady. And from that day, there were a few of those people who called themselves “Christians” in later class periods.
And what did I do? I didn’t do anything extraordinary. I didn’t make some eloquent argument. I just simply told them the basic Christian message, and God our coworker worked the miracle of faith through it, even in Jack’s heart. You do that and you never know what could happen. Mission work, when you get down to it, is easy because the message is easy. Christ died for all, therefore all died. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. The Bible is a big book, but that’s the Bible in a nutshell, and that’s the message we get to share. It’s all about that simple message.
So go share it with the world. Don’t wait. It’s all about the message and it’s an urgent message. That’s the final thing in this section Paul wanted to get across to the Corinthians, “As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” So we share Christ’s love today because tomorrow might be the Last Day. Christ’s love compels us, so we take advantage of every opportunity in our lives to share Christ. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. And who knows? Maybe this moment that you get to share the gospel is the pinnacle moment in that person’s life, the moment everything changes for them. And you get to be the messenger.
So have no fear, you know the message. Even if you embarrass yourself while trying to convey the message and accidentally call someone attractive, it’s OK. Thanks to Christ you know it’s all about the message. The message to all. The message to share. The message today. Amen.