14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 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. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 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. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5: 14-21
Before we work through our passage this morning, let me share a bit of the backstory of our church, specifically as it relates to our own name and our statement. So first, our name: Red Village Church. As far as I know, we are the only church named Red Village Church.
Naturally, this leads to the question of why this name and where did it come from? The short story is that before Red Village was started or planted, I was having a conversation with a buddy while in seminary who was also hoping to someday church plant.
In the conversation, I was asking him for thoughts, ideas, and suggestions on what the church plant could be called. So in this conversation, we started to search around a bit online for churches in Madison to see what church names were already being used. This eliminated some ideas that I had bouncing around in my head.
As names were being eliminated, many of which are more traditional names for churches, my friend suggested trying to think of a name that is a little unique to Madison. So what is Madison known for? Well, among other things, it’s known for the University of Wisconsin, the Badgers. And what color are the Badgers? Red.
As we talked about the word Red, we thought about how the word could convey a little bit of a double meaning for the church. The first meaning is simply tied to the Badgers and the red color that people in Madison love to wear to show their support for the hometown team. So Red hopefully captured that reality of where the church is located. The second meaning is that Red is the color of blood when it is shed, and we are a Christian Church that believes deeply in the need for Jesus, the one who shed his red blood for us as he spilled it on the cross on our behalf.
So we started with that: Red. Now we couldn’t just be Red Church because it felt like something was missing there. So we began to talk through what a church is, and among many things, a church is a community of believers who come together to worship God and to love and serve one another through the process of discipleship and evangelism. And as we talked about what a church is to be, the word Village came to mind.
Now, I grew up in a very small town in Wisconsin, and the village I grew up just outside of was a village of 300 people. Very small.
And in this Village, Hatley, as a kid, we had a little mom and pop grocery store. There was a small mom and pop hardware store. There was a place to get your hair cut, a little bank, among a few other small businesses that served the community. And in a sense, everyone in the village kind had their job, their role to help the Village as a whole. Now, as a little Village, we didn’t have a lot, but with everyone playing their part, really we had all that we needed.
And I love how that picture of a village does relate to the church, where each of us has a role, has a part, to help the church as a whole to grow. Not that we have a lot as a church, but as we all faithfully play a role, we all faithfully play a part, do our part, we have all that we needed. So that’s the backstory on the name, Red Village Church.
After the name was settled on, then the conversation was taken to what a potential church statement might be. Now it is not necessary for churches to have a statement, but sometimes statements can be helpful. Helpful in terms of either communication, some kind of vision or goal that church is striving toward, or communicating in a snapshot what the church is about.
And as a potential statement was thought about from the start, the hope of Red Village Church was to be a church grounded in the good news or the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the hope of why we exist as a church. It is because of the gospel and it for the gospel that is why we exist. And really, without the gospel, if the gospel message becomes void, we will cease to be a church as the Bible defines a church and we simply be a social group.
And because of that reality, the desire from the beginning for our church was to have a statement that reflects the message of the gospel. And so what was decided was Red Village Church, where a wooden cross and an empty tomb mean everything to us, which is where the message of the gospel is found: Christ’s death on the wooden cross for sinners who rose again on the 3rd day leaving his tomb empty. And, by the way, as far as I know, we are also the only church with that exact wording in our statement.
Now I share that with you this morning not simply to give you a little history lesson on our church but to help set us up for our passage this Easter morning, that in short declares that the wooden cross and the empty tomb mean everything. And this meaning of everything is not just on this weekend as we already celebrated what happened on the wooden cross, which we did on Good Friday and what we are celebrating today, the resurrection of Jesus and his empty tomb on Easter Sunday, but this message, what Jesus did for us, is something to celebrate every day throughout the rest time. The wooden cross and empty tomb has been and will continue to mean everything.
Now before we work through our passage today, real briefly let me set a bit of the context of our passage just to help us get our bearings. As mentioned, this text comes from 2 Corinthians, which is how we label this letter, and we refer to this letter that way because it is the 2nd letter that we have in the Scriptures written by the Apostle Paul to a local church in the ancient city of Corinth, which was a sea port in now modern-day Greece.
As mentioned, our letter today is the 2nd letter that we have in the Scriptures; however, let me mention that this letter was at least the 4th letter that Paul wrote to this church.
And we know that because both 1 and 2 Corinthians refer to other letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.
From the information we have in 1 and 2 Corinthians, it is pretty clear why Paul wrote multiple letters to this church. Which was simply because of all of the different theological and relational issues they were having. So Paul felt the need to write and continue to write them letters with the hopes that they would function as a church in ways that honor the Lord.
I won’t give you an exhaustive list of all of the issues they seemed to have, but let mention a few. And as I give these to you, these are struggles that churches still have today. In Corinth, they struggled with division, specifically dividing over their favorite celebrity pastor. And even dividing in ways in which they were seeking to take each other to court.
They struggled trusting in worldly wisdom over the wisdom of God, specifically the wisdom of God would in the cross.
They struggled falling to sexual sins, as well as being callous to when the occurred in the church.
They struggled with the order in which God created things as it relates to men and women, as well as the order that God desires to be lived out in the life of the church.
They struggled with the Lord’s supper as they made a mockery of it.
They struggled with the use of spiritual gifts where they used them as a way to stroke their own pride and ego.
They struggled to love one another. In fact, probably the most famous passage in 1 and 2 Corinthians is from 1 Corinthians 13, which defines what love is. As Paul called them to love one another in the church. Which is not always easy to do.
They seemingly struggled with money that they were holding on to in ways they were not being generous.
They struggled with submitting to authority, particularly the authority of the Apostles, even though it was through the teachings of the apostles how Christ has built his church.
And they had this struggle with authority for a few reasons with maybe the primary reason they were entertaining false apostles who were leading them astray, with teachings that resemble what we today refer to as the health and wealth gospel. Which is a false, unbiblical teaching that promotes the idea that it is the will of God for everything to be healthy and wealthy. And if either of those are lacking, it is because of a lack of faith.
So this church in Corinth was twisted around and struggling in seemingly every way in which a church could be twisted around. In these letters, not only did Paul confront them in all of their various struggles, but He also wanted to give them hope in their struggles. So throughout these letters, including our text today, Paul proclaimed to the church in Corinth the message of Good Friday and Easter, the wooden cross, and empty tomb that he desired to mean everything to them.
So with all of that being said, look back within our text starting in verse 14, which says, “For the love of Christ controls us” or “the love of Christ compels us.”
I read a commentary this week that said the love of Christ is like guard rails keeping us on track. Which here, this is at the core of living our faith.
It is the love of Jesus Christ that is working in our hearts in such a way that it is controlling us, compelling us to do all that we do. When we pull the thread that is our faith to get to the bottom of why we do what we do, this at the end.
The love of Christ that God plants deep into our hearts is the guiding force. And by the way, notice that it is his love for us that compels us, that controls us, that guides us.
It is not our love for Christ that is at the center, even though our love for him is present, but our love for Christ is only present because he loved us first. His love for us compels us to love him, not the other way around.
Say it again. That is at the end of the thread of faith: the love that God has for his people through Christ, which is a love that our text tells us is grounded in the truth that Jesus has died for all, with the all here referring to all of his people of faith.
His death is where we most clearly see the love of Christ that is now controlling us. The apostle Paul also wrote this in the book of Romans: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We know this. There are many ways in which God shows his love, but it is most uniquely found here.
That One, Christ, has died for all. Therefore, in our text, all who have faith in him have now died.
And this death here is not talking about a physical death, which is a death one day we will all experience as one day the bell will toll for each of us. Rather, this death here in the text is referring to a more spiritual death, specifically as it relates to a death to self, a death to living for self, a death of living for our own sinful desires.
The love of God in Jesus, who died for us, puts to death the life of living for self. He puts to death our sin, which we see in verse 15: “And he Jesus died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves.”
To say it again, through Christ, a life of living for self for sin has been put to death. Living for self, and indeed all sin, have been nailed to the cross. And our text tells us that now through Christ, through his great love that is controlling and compelling his people of faith, we set our hearts to now live for him. Who is the very one in verse 15 for their sake died, in accordance with the Scriptures, and was raised. Raised from the dead on the 3rd day in accordance with the Scriptures.
We will talk about this more in just a bit, but the wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything because that is where we find life. And not just now, but eternally.
In fact, the most famous verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in him but have eternal life.”
Keep going in our text, verse 16, because we now live for him. No longer do we regard anyone according to the flesh. Meaning, when our hearts are captured by the love of Christ, when we live for Christ, one of the distinguishing marks of that love that is controlling us is how we view others.
No longer do we view people simply on some kind of human, fleshly standard, whether it be rich or poor, young or old, some kind of political leaning, or some kind of racial or ethnic background.
Which, for Paul who wrote this letter, was how he viewed others before Christ’s love fell on him. Before Christ’s love captured his heart, all Paul could see was Jew and Gentile.
When Christ’s love controls us, we no longer identify others by some kind of world’s standard. Instead, in this new life that God gives, with our eyes of faith, we start to see what God sees. That becomes our focus.
And for those who have been with us in our study of 1 Samuel, as we have learned, while man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart.
So the heart becomes our focus. That is what matters most to us: if others around us know the love of Christ, if they have been made alive in Christ. What we want them to know is what we know. We want others to know the love of Christ.
Keeping going in the text, even though we all once regarded Christ according to the flesh, that is, before we had faith in him, we judged even Jesus by worldly standards. But now we regard Jesus in that way no longer. Because when we have been made alive to Christ, we understand that we are not the ones who stand in judgment of him. Rather, we see that Jesus is the judge; he is the Lord.
Red Village. This is all part of the love of Christ that is controlling us. Everything is flipped on its head, and we start to see everything differently with new eyes, including how we see Jesus. We are completely transformed. Verse 17, therefore, if anyone is in Christ, where the love of Christ is controlling him, that person is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
And this is the reality because, through his love, Jesus has fully changed our hearts, where in his love and mercy and grace, through the power of His Spirit, he takes out a heart of stone that is dead in sin, dead towards God, blind to who Christ truly is. And God replaces that dead heart with a new heart, a heart of flesh that is alive to Christ. A heart that now beats for Christ as we see that Christ is the greatest of all treasures who is worth leaving all behind in order to have.
So that our text tells us the old way of life has passed away, and this new life of treasuring Christ has come. Verse 18, and this great work of heart change that brings us from death into life, old into new, all of this, this entire work, this is all from God. This is all because of his love and mercy and grace. Meaning we didn’t do anything to make ourselves new. We were lying down on the operating table, and God performed our own open-heart surgery. We were not there even perhaps assisting God in this heart change by handing him things like surgical instruments. And we certainly were not sitting in our spiritual grave, dead in sin, and then thinking to ourselves, “You know what, I want to be spiritually alive. So I am going to get up out of my spiritual grave.” Only Jesus has the power to bring life from death, which is what Easter is all about.
Verse 18, not only has God made us alive through Christ, God, through Christ, has also reconciled us to himself. Before our heart surgery, when our hearts were dead in sin, we were apart from God, separated from him. And not only that, Paul wrote in the book of Ephesians that we were at enmity with God, where we by birth and by choice, were actively rebelling against God, actively rebelling against his rule in our life, rebelling even against his love.
So before this grand heart surgery, we did not want God to be God. Rather, we wanted ourselves to be God. However, now through this incredible transforming work of God found in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose again, God is reconciling sinful rebels to himself by reconciling them.
And friends, let me tell you that this work of reconciliation that God does, this is not a partial reconciliation where we move from enemies towards God to maybe neutral towards God, spiritual Switzerland, kind of there, but not on anyone’s side, just in the middle.
So God is not really against us, but he also is not really for us either. Just kind of apathetic towards his people.
No, the reconciliation through Jesus Christ is a full reconciliation. We fully move from being enemies with God into being in a perfect and eternal relationship with God.
A relationship where through Christ, God sees his people of faith as his precious children. Where his precious children have been given full sonship. Which in Biblical times, sonship is not a term to simply used to communicate gender. Son or daughter. Rather, biblically, the term sonship refers to position, to place, which is a place of great honor.
Through Jesus Christ, through what he accomplished on the wooden cross and empty tomb, that is the type of reconciliation we have been given. Full, complete, eternal reconciliation where we have been given a position of honor. And scripture tells us that as God reconciles us to himself, nothing will ever separate us from God again. We will always be his. We will always be his children who he loves. And let me tell you, he loves us. Even on our worst days, with the same love even on our best days. Our reconciliation to God through Christ never changes. It is always full.
And not only are we reconciled to God through Christ, but God in his mercy and grace has even given to us a ministry of reconciliation. Which is a ministry by which we are called to proclaim Christ to those around us.
Verse 19: We are those who declare to the world that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.
Church: God could have chosen any means that he wanted to proclaim this message. But in his wisdom, God chose to proclaim the message of reconciliation through his people. In our text, it is his people who he has entrusted this message of reconciliation.
Verse 20: Therefore, because we are God’s chosen vessels, we are ambassadors for Christ. Which is an honor, a privilege, ambassadors of the crucified and living Christ who, our text tells us, are used by God by which he makes his appeal through us. And for us, because God is at work through us in this way, we are confident ambassadors. Confident, knowing that in the end, it is not us who make the appeal. Rather it is God himself who makes his appeal.
Because we have this confidence, in our text we boldly seek to implore others, pursue others on behalf of Christ himself. As we implore others to be reconciled to God. Which, by the way, includes any and all who are here today who have yet been reconciled to God by putting your faith in the crucified and risen Christ.
Today, I am imploring with you, our church as a whole implores with you. Be reconciled to God. Turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. Call upon his name. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is indeed the Lord, and this Easter Sunday believe in your heart that indeed Jesus rose from the dead. Trusting and believing what verse 21 tells us that for our sake, he, God the Father, made him, God the Son, Jesus Christ, to be sin, even though Jesus was the one who knew no sin so that in him, in Jesus, we might become the righteousness of God.
And friend, the reason why we can become the righteousness of God is because on the cross of Christ, there is this great transition. On the cross, sinless Jesus became sin because all of our sin fell on him so that he, Jesus, might take on all of the judgment of God that burns over sin.
Which he did in our place, where he paid our debt. Our sin fully transferred to him, and as Jesus took the punishment of our sin. For his people of faith, his righteousness is now counted as their righteousness, so that his people are fully justified, fully forgiven, becoming the righteousness of God.
Friends, that is why the message of Jesus is such good news to us. Without the message of Jesus, we are utterly hopeless. But because of Jesus Christ, because he loved us enough to die for our sins only to rise again, we have eternal hope.
To say it again, that is such good news. Good news that means everything. Which is how I want to finish this time here, is just to circle back to all that we just went through and organize them into a few simple points. And all of these simple points fall in line with why the wooden cross and empty tomb mean really do me everything.
First, the wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything because this is where love is found. God shows his love to us; that’s why we are still sinners. Christ dies for us. And as our text tells us, this love, the love God through Jesus, is so great and so powerful love that it is now controlling or compelling us to do all that we do.
As mankind, when God created us in his image, it seems clear to me based on what we see in the Scripture, is that we have been designed to love and be loved. Specifically, to love and be loved by God. That is our design. However, since sin entered into the world, scholars throughout history have pointed out that there is this God-sized hole in our hearts. And we are constantly looking for some kind of love to fill this void. However, as the old country song sings, we look for love in all of the wrong places. Because in the end, the only love that will satisfy our need to be loved is right here; it is in Jesus Christ. The one who loved his people enough to die for us. This love means everything.
Second, the wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything because that is where life is found. And just like searching for love, as mankind, we also are searching for life, are longing to find a life worth living. However, for mankind, our default way of thinking where we by default search for life is through some kind of hedonistic living for self. Even though the reality is when we live for self, it only leads us into deeper and deeper misery. But the good news is that through Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, our text tells us that Jesus gives life to all who by faith come to him. In fact, Jesus even says this about himself, that he is the way, the truth, and the life. God tells us that he is the God of the living, not the dead. He is the giver of life. So friends, apart from Christ, there is no life, only death. But the good news is that through Christ, there is life. Abundant life. Both now and eternally.
Third, the wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything because that is where we find reconciliation. The world we live in is broken, where we are divided on every front. And in our conscious, we know this is even true when it comes to our relationship with God. It is broken. And this is why we have feelings of guilt and shame; they reflect our brokenness before God. Guilt and shame reflect our understanding that we need reconciliation. However, despite our best attempts as mankind to bring about reconciliation, we have continued to fail, which is why the guilt and shame remain.
We can’t even bring reconciliation between each other. Why do we think we can bring reconciliation between us and God?
But friends, the Good news in our text in verse 18 and 19 is that through Christ, God is reconciling his people back to himself.
To say it again, we can’t reconcile ourselves but God can. He has the power to do that which our text declares that God does through Christ, who is our redeemer, our redeemer who took upon himself in his death all of our guilt and all of our shame on the cross. And because we know that our redeemer lives, we know that through him, there is reconciliation. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. As mentioned, we have been fully reconciled back to God. The fourth wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything because that is where we find purpose. And just like all of the other things that I mentioned, as mankind, we are looking for purpose, we are looking for meaning.
And I think one of the reasons why so many are crippled with depression is because they feel void of purpose and meaning.
For us, we know our purpose, the reason why we were created was to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And in our text, one of the great ways in which we bring glory to God, to find great joy in God, to fulfill our purpose, is through the ministry of reconciliation, where we are ambassadors of Christ used by God in ways in which we implore others on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. Doing so with all boldness, knowing that his love not only casts out all fear, but that his power is present as he makes his appeal through us.
Friends, if you are looking for purpose, look here and set your heart to be a faithful and courageous ambassador. And for us, this ministry of reconciliation that we are to do together as a spiritual Village starts here in our Red wearing Badger loving city of Madison. And from here, extending to the very ends of the earth itself.
One more, the fifth wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything because that is where we find righteousness. As just mentioned, we all know we are broken and in need of reconciliation. And this also relates to the reality that in our conscious, we know that we are not righteous, no not one of us, which is what the Scripture declares to us.
So as mankind, we are on endless quests to try to make ourselves righteous. So we try to be a good person, we try to do various religious activities. We try to find enough good works that we can do with the hopes if we can just do enough or just do the right things, we can make ourselves righteous. But Scriptures could not be more clear, there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right. We can’t do enough to wash away our sin. Which is why in our hearts, we sing the question, “What can wash away my sin?”
And friends this morning let me remind you of the good news, that God has given us the answer. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Through his shed blood, we are washed clean, all of our sin, including the most vile of our sins. So that through his blood, by grace through faith, we are counted as righteous, the righteous of God, with the righteousness of Christ counted as our righteousness. Could there be better news than this?
Friends, this is why as a church, Red Village Church, we so boldly declare, without any apologies, that the wooden cross and the empty tomb mean everything.
So this morning, as I close, I want to ask you, does the wooden cross and empty tomb mean everything to you? And if not, I want to implore with you, our church wants to implore with you again, to put your faith in Christ by confessing and turning from sin, and trusting in the one who died and rose again from the dead. And promises to give life to all who come to him.