The resurrection of Jesus was not an odd circumstance in an otherwise unchanged world. This world is not what it used to be because this world is the place where a man once came back from the dead. And when He came back, it was not as a resuscitation, as happened with Lazarus, but as a true resurrection. And as the Bible plainly teaches, when a man comes back from the dead, He pulls the whole dead world after Him. The resurrection was the introduction of an irrevocable principle into a dead world—and there is not a single thing that dead world can do about it except to wait on the approaching life.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
Summary of the Text
First we are told what happens when a man is in Christ. When a man is in Christ, he becomes a new creature. Everything old passes away, and everything becomes new in and through Him (v. 17). This is what happens to any man who is in Christ, but how extensive is this phenomenon? The answer is global in scope—all things are of God, who has reconciled the Church to Himself (already) and has given to this Church the ministry of reconciliation (for everybody else). So the message is broadening, and it is enormous in scope (v. 18). What is the heart of that ministry of reconciliation? Paul lays it out—God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing the world’s sin to it, and as a result committing the ministry of reconciliation to us (v. 19). As a consequence we are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God Himself were speaking through us (v. 20). We therefore implore everyone—be reconciled to God (v. 20). This is all based on a glorious and unbelievable exchange (v. 21). But even though the transaction is unbelievable, we are called to summon the whole world to believe it.
Heralds or Campaigners?
As we think about the task of evangelism, it is crucial that we get our mission straight in our heads before charging off to fulfill it. Alacrity in obedience is no virtue if you have gotten your task all muddled in your head.
So here is the issue. We are heralds announcing a salvation for the world that has already been accomplished. There are certain things that people in the world must do because it has been accomplished, but one of the things they don’t have to do (and indeed, must not do) is install what has already been installed. Another way of putting this is that we are heralds, not campaigners. We are proclaiming that Jesus has been enthroned; we are not canvassing for votes trying to get Him elected. We are not manning the phone banks on election night. Jesus has been wearing His crown for a long time.
Our message is x has been done, and so we summon you to y. It is not x is desirable, and so we invite you to join us in making x a reality. The gospel is good news; the gospel is not a good platform.
Man in Christ, God in Christ
If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. We are then told, by implication, that “all things are new,” which is to say, that God has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ, and He was able to do this because God Himself was in Christ. Nothing can be the same. Nothing is the same. We have no authority to consider anything outside of Christ.
The key is to learn how to “implore” those who are not yet in Christ (through faith) in a way that does not drag us into their unbelief. The sun is up, and we implore those hiding in coal cellars to come out and lift their face to the sky. We must never beg them to come out of their coal cellar so that the sun might come up, and so that we might live in this new world.
One other thing must be said in this regard. Note that God is making His appeal through us, and note that it is not supposed to be a lackluster appeal. We implore, plead, beg, beseech non-believers to come to Christ—and we do not do this because we are frail, emotional humans and have run out ahead of the taciturn decrees of God. No, when we plead, God pleads. When we implore, God implores. How can He do that? God was in Christ, remember? God was in Christ, bleeding for the world, and can He not weep for the world? God was in Christ, shedding tears over Jerusalem, and can He not shed tears over a world that He has already purchased? Why will you die, o house of Israel? The world is alive—there is no point in you staying dead.
The Resurrection of the World
What has God done for the world? What has God already done for the world? It says here that He has reconciled the world to Himself. It says, second, that He is not imputing their trespasses to them. And it also says— undergirding this—that we have had the word of reconciliation entrusted to us. But since that word has been given to us, as in a trust, we must take care to be faithful to it.
In Christ, we were raised to life again. In Christ, the Church was raised to life. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself. In Christ, we plead with the world to be reconciled. Now there is no reconciliation apart from resurrection, and this is why we declare that (in principle) the world is a world of resurrection. We are preaching the resurrection of the world in the resurrection of Jesus.
And so this is the glorious pattern of the indicative and the corresponding imperative. You have been reconciled; therefore, be reconciled. This has been done; therefore believe that it has been done.