By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
May 7, 2023 – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Lost people matter to God. That young child in Brazil that has grown up on the garbage dump outside the city. He survives by scrounging other people’s garbage. That young child matters to God. The Ukrainian mom, who is one of the thousands of refugees with her three young children – She matters to God – they matter to God. That man in Sudan who is battling faminie and the results of war. He matters to God.
The Artist in France that has grown up surrounded by churches – but has understood that religion is irrelevant. He matters to God. That Canadian housewife – the one who has to keep so many balls up in the air. She treks from her son’s hockey game to her daughter’s ballet lessons – never asking, “What is it all about?” The meaning of her existence eludes her. She matters to God. Lost people matter to God.
The Ottawa bureaucrat. He goes to the office hoping to protect his turf. God is not on his radar screen. He has heard of Christianity of course, but he doesn’t really know any Christians. He matters to God. The Perth Factory worker, who is always adapting to shift work. She matters to God. The High school student trying to figure out what social set she belongs to. She doesn’t understand that God really loves her. She matters to God. Lost people matter to God.
John 3:16 (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Lost people matter to God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Lost people matter to God.
But we live in a country where religion is a private thing. Polite people don’t talk about religion. And we can only speak about God in the most generic of terms. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe.
And, of course, that is true. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe. That right was given to them by God. But that doesn’t mean that a person shouldn’t be presented with the good news of the gospel of Jesus. Lost people matter to God, but it seems a lot of us have trouble sharing our faith.
I get that. I get that we don’t want to be impolite in polite society. I get that while we have experienced Christ ourselves, that experience is subjective. How does one take my subjective experience and say that it should be normative for you? I get that sometimes we want to say something, and sometimes we just don’t know what to say. I’m a pastor, supposedly trained in these things – and sometimes I don’t know what to say.
I get that sometimes we feel like our lives have to go better than they are – or we need to be better Christians before we feel like we can share our faith. I get that sharing our faith takes time, and time is one of the commodities that many of us have precious little of.
I get all of that and yet I look at the passion of Christ – His journey towards the cross. I see him whipped and beaten. I see a crown of thorns placed upon his head. I see him being mocked and jeered. I see his hands be nailed to the cross – his feet being nailed to the cross. I know that he could have called 10000 angels to be delivered. I hear the desperation in his voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” And I hear his heart. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And when I see and hear and know his passion – his passion for the lost – his passion for me and you – his passion for my friends and my neighbours – I get that lost people matter to him, and they need to matter to me. They need to matter to us.
In fact God has put you on a mission.
2 Corinthians 5:16–21 (NIV)
16 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. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 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. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
This passage is fairly dense in terms of content. It is also one of the key passages in the new testament to help you understand who you are in Christ. So let me try and break it down for you. The key word in this passage is “reconciled.
To be reconciled, according to the dictionary, means to “re-establish a close relationship.” To be reconciled means to, “re-establish a close relationship.” Keep that in mind. Then let me walk you through a paraphrased version of this passage starting at verse 17. It starts out saying this…
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Paraphrased
vs 17 If you have given your life to Jesus Christ, you have changed on the inside. God has made you new in the core of who you are. You are not what you used to be. You are a new creation. It is God who did this – not you. God has re-established a close relationship with us through his son Jesus Christ. He has called us into his service to invite others into this relationship.
Here is your message. God has set up the conditions to re-establish a close relationship with himself to everyone in the world. What alienated us from God was sin. He made a way through Christ, so he didn’t have to count our sins against us. God has made a way through Christ for us to be his friend.
For those of us who have become friends of God, He has entrusted us with this message. Namely, people can now re-establish a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
So what is it that makes you an ambassador for Christ? You speak on behalf of God to those who are still alienated from God. God is making his appeal to these people through you. Your message is simply this – Jesus’ words to you, my friend, is, don’t remain alienated from God but re-establish a close relationship with God.
God made his one and only son, the one who was completely perfect, completely sinless – he made him the sin-bearer, he took all our sins on himself – he became sin – so that if we move into Jesus and allow Jesus to move into us that we will become completely righteous, completely sin free. Free to be friends with God.
That is what this passage is saying.
God has given you a ministry. It is a ministry of reconciliation. He has committed to us and entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. He has given you a new title. You are an ambassador. You speak to the world on behalf of God. As far as the people around you are concerned – you are Christ’s voice to them
This is God’s word to you. This concept that have been lost to many of us. We don’t think of ourselves as having been entrusted with this ministry. We don’t think of ourselves as ambassadors. But that is what the scripture calls us. So the question is, how do we get from where we are to where we conform to the Word of God.
Jesus just lived his life, and took the opportunities as they presented themselves. He never did it the same way twice. John 3 describes Nicodemus coming to him. Just as some people may come to you because you know they are Christian. Jesus spoke to him one way.
In John chapter 4, he talks with a woman at a well. She is culturally and religiously different than he is. He approaches her another way. He doesn’t force anything.
That is Jesus’ way. He didn’t force. He lived life authentically. He took opportunities as they came up. He spoke truth with love and grace.
But I know – a number of you are thinking – yes, but I’m not Jesus. So how do I get from where I am to where God’s word calls me to be.
Here is what I want to ask all of you to do today. I want you to take a baby step towards being what God’s word is calling you to be. I want you to take a baby step toward being like Jesus. I want you to take a baby step towards allowing the things that matter to God, matter to you. And lost people matter to God.
Here is the baby step. I want you to commit to pray for three to five people who don’t know Jesus – that they would come to know Jesus. If lost people matter to God, then the least we can do is pray for them. That is all I am asking of you today. I want you to start praying for three to five people who don’t know Jesus.
Praying for them is doable. Pray that God’s Spirit would speak to them and prepare the way so they could know God. Pray that God would draw them to himself. Pray that God would remove the obstacles that stand in their way of receiving Christ. Pray that God would speak to them in ways that they can understand. This is something that we can all do. It’s just a baby step but a vitally important step. The question is – is will you commit yourself to pray?
I asked my former church to do this. What I did at that time was hand out Bible Book marks that people would leave in their Bibles. Since so many people read the bible on their phones or computers, bookmarks don’t work the same anymore. But I asked them to fill out the names of three to five people on those bookmarks. When they saw them, they would be prompted to pray for the people whose name they had written down.
A first-year university student by the name of Kim was here that day. She had come to know the Lord not all that long ago. She wrote on her bookmark the name Beatrice. Bea lived in residence with Kim. Kim prayed for Bea a number of times. It wasn’t that long until Bea started coming to church. She gave her life to Christ. Bea grew up in Christ and became a significant part of the church. God answered Kim’s prayer.
Not everyone who you pray for will come to know the Lord. People have free will. They must make a decision for Christ. But here is what I know. God does what he would not otherwise do because we pray. I also know that when you pray for someone to come to know Christ, you are praying in line with God’s heart.
The question is – will you pray in line with God’s heart. Here is what I am going to do. I am going to pray in a few moments. I am going to ask God to bring at least three names to your mind that He wants you to pray for.
Some of you will be able to remember those names. Some of you might want to jot the names down on the visitor’s card in front of you to take home and remind you of who to pray for. Some of you may want to make a note on your cell phone. Some might want to put your names on your fridge or mirrors as a prompt to pray. Here is what I believe. If you will pray – God is going to move.
So let’s pray. This isn’t the end of the sermon – but we are going to pray now for God to speak to us.
PRAYER FOR NAMES TO COME
Lord, would you bring at least 3 names in our minds right now of who we should pray for.
- Lord, prompt us to pray.
Some of you may want to write those names down.
Now let me talk for a few minutes about how to pray for the people on your list. The big prayer is that you want them to come into a personal relationship with Jesus.
For that to happen, God has to be drawing them to himself.
John 6:44 (NRSV)
44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me…
So you are praying that God will draw your friend, your family member, to Himself.
Jesus, talking about the Holy Spirit, and how we came when Jesus left this world says this.
John 16:8 (NASB95)
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;
So, you are praying, Holy Spirit would you convict my friend concerning sin, and righteousness and judgement.
You are praying that the Spirit of God would be working on your friends heart so that they will see things in a different way.
2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
It is God’s will that they come into a relationship with him. They have free will. They have to choose. But you are praying that God would be working in their life in such a way that their choice would be obvious.
Now I know that some of the people you are praying for seem a long way away from God. You know that there are seasons in a person life where they are more open to considering God and his word.
What do you do when they are not in one of those places. This morning I want to teach you about step prayers. Step prayers are the kind of prayers you pray when the overall ask seems too big. These kinds of prayers can be used for any big request, but I am going to apply it to praying for your friends.
You are praying for your friends, and maybe you have been praying for your friends for a long time. It seems like it is such a big request. It is hard to believe that they are going to turn to the Lord.
If that is the case, what can you believe God for. Could you pray for an opportunity to have a significant conversation with that person? Not necessarily where you share the gospel, but you get to share something about God.
Could you believe that God might bring another Christian across their path? Could you pray that person would be someone they would listen to and respect?
Could you believe God for an opportunity to attend something together that will start a spiritual conversation?
A step prayer is a prayer you can believe God for that takes the person one step closer to Jesus. Step prayers are the kinds of prayers you pray that get you one step closer to the answer to the big prayer.
One of my favorite stories from church history is about a woman named Monica. She was raised by Christian parents in North Africa. When she was old enough, her parents arranged a marriage to a pagan man.
Evidently the marriage was very difficult because of divided spiritual loyalties. Monica and her husband had three children who survived. Two of them followed Christ but one son left the faith of his childhood. By his own admission, he chose the path of worldly pleasure.
For many years he lived with a mistress and together they gave birth to a son out of wedlock. He broke his mother’s heart by joining a religious cult. Monica prayed for 17 years that her son would return to Christ and to the church. Looking back, her son said that she watered the earth with her tears for him. She fasted and prayed and asked God to save her son.
One day she went to see the bishop and with tears asked why her son was still living in sin. The bishop replied with words that have become famous across the centuries: “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish. Your son will be saved.”
He was right. It took several more years of fervent praying but eventually Monica’s son came to Christ. His name is Augustine. We know him today as St. Augustine. He is universally regarded as one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. Sixteen centuries later his books and writings are still in print. He makes it clear in his Confessions that his mother prayed him to Jesus. She would not give up and eventually God answered her prayers.
Will you pray for the people that God has brought to mind. Pray and don’t give up.
Sermon Questions – Praying for the Lost
1. What are you giving thanks for this week?
2. What are you praying about this week?
3. How do John 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 show that “lost people matter to God?”
4. Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. What does this tell us about who we are in Christ? What does this tell us about the ministry that we are called to do? What is a good definition of “reconciliation.”
5. Considering the previous answers, take each verse and put them in your own words.
6. What are some of the challenges in being “ambassadors for Christ?”
7. The sermon asked you to ask God for 3-5 names of people you can pray for to come to know Christ? Who are the people you are praying for?
8. Read John 6:44 and John 16:8. What do these tell you about how to pray for people who don’t know Jesus? Pause and pray for them right now.
9. The sermon talked about “Step Prayers.” What are some “steps” that you could pray for, for people to come to know Jesus?