Episode 1. A Whole New Take on Life
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Life just seems to happen doesn’t it? We get up, do pretty much the same thing as yesterday, over and over. And as someone who believes in Jesus it can be easy for us to lose sight of what God …
Most of us are immersed in the cultures in which we live. And that’s as it should be. But there’s a risk for the person who believes in Jesus, in getting to thinking that their a local … a citizen of this earth. They’re not – they’re a citizen of Heaven and what’s more, an Ambassador of Christ.
First a Citizen, Then an Ambassador
Right about now, depending on how you count some of the smaller ones, there are over 200 countries in this world. One source I read lists 223, another 192. Let’s say there are around 200 – some of them are huge and powerful, right down to the smallest country in the world. What a huge variation: China, population 1.34 billion, at one end of the scale, right down to the Pitcairn Islands, official population 50, at the other end and everything in between.
Now, anyone whose had brothers and sisters knows that siblings don’t always get on. And the history of humanity is a history of wars, invasions, conquests, dominance, exploitation – in fact right now, there are around thirty recognised wars going on around the world, not to mention the other, quote “lower level” conflicts.
So how do all of these cuntries get on? Well, hopefully these days, most of the time, when there’s disagreement on an issue, instead of fighting wars as the first step in the process, countries use a thing called, “diplomacy”. They have diplomats and so they use diplomatic channels to discuss and resolve most of the issues between them. The head of a diplomatic mission is usually called, “the ambassador”. So in my country we have an American ambassador, we have a Chinese ambassador; we have an Indian ambassador and so on. And here’s the thing: none of those people are Australians. The American ambassador is, well, he’s American, the Chinese ambassador is Chinese, the Indian ambassador is, well, as you would expect, Indian.
So not only is the ambassador a citizen of the country which he or she represents, they also look like they come from that country and they speak like that they come from that country because they do come from that country. Now, all of that is, I would hope pretty much blindingly, glimpsingly, obvious to all of us and the job of the ambassador of each country is to be his or her country’s representative with a foreign government – the channel through which their country raises issues with another government and vice versa.
Sometimes; many times those are difficult issues. You can imagine, for instance, the exchanges that occur between Indian and Pakistani diplomats or at times between China and America on trade issues or between the various European countries within their Union. Ambassadors are there to represent their country; the country of their citizenship, in a foreign land.
The Apostle Paul had this to say on the issue. Have a listen it comes – if you have a Bible, open it up – Second Corinthians chapter 5, verse 16:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though once we knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat 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.
See, almost sounds as if Paul is saying he’s not so much a Roman citizen, which he was, but he’s a citizen of God’s Kingdom, sent as an ambassador to explain and to share God’s message of reconciliation and forgiveness into a foreign world. “So we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making His appeal through us.” And in fact, elsewhere, Paul writes exactly that. Philippians chapter 3, verse 20:
Our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So there it is. Paul sees his role as being an ambassador of Christ – declaring the forgiveness that God has for each and every person on this planet, if only they will put their faith in His Son and the eternal and glorious reconciliation we can have with Him when we take that step. And that … that is simply carrying on what Jesus came to do. Mark chapter 1, verse 38 – Jesus answered:
Let us go on to the neighbouring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also for that is what I came out to do.
John chapter 18, verse 37 – Pontius Pilot asked Him:
So are you a king? And Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king, for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
Jesus came in order to tell us the Good News, and in fact, to “be” the Good News. The Apostle Paul saw himself as an ambassador of that Good News, even to the point of being an ambassador in chains, on death row. Ephesians chapter 6, verse 19:
“Pray also for me so that when I speak a message may be given to me to make known with boldness, the mystery of the Gospel for which I am,” writes Paul, “an ambassador in chains”.
My friend, what did you come to do? Where is your citizenship? Are you a citizen of this world or are you an ambassador in a foreign land, bringing the Good News of the Gospel of reconciliation with God, through Jesus Christ, into a lost and hurting world? My hunch is that anyone who calls themselves a Christian; anyone who takes on themself the name of Christ, is called, not to a life of comfort, so much, as a life of following hard after Jesus. Luke chapter 4, verse 27:
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Over these coming weeks on the programme we are going to be talking about living our lives as ambassadors … ambassadors of Christ. What does that mean – what does that look like? Well, we will be looking at that. Today the point I think we are meant to get out of our time together, you and I, is that firstly a disciple is a citizen of the country that he or she represents. And if we are to be ambassadors of Christ, as Paul wrote, as much as we are immersed in our culture, as important as that is in reaching out to those around us with the Good News of Jesus, we are not, my friend, citizens of this world, but we are citizens of heaven, sent as ambassadors into a foreign land.
And as ambassadors often find, the foreign places into which they’re sent – they don’t always want to hear what they have to say. It’s not always easy being an ambassador. In fact, the reason that countries need ambassadors is to deal with difficult issues; the tensions that could escalate into conflicts. Ambassadors, yes, have to be diplomatic but they also have to tackle the difficult issues. And as Jesus came as an ambassador of heaven to proclaim the truth and was ultimately crucified for it and if Paul followed in His footsteps as an ambassador of Christ and was ultimately executed for it, if you and I are going to life out our lives in the small corner where God has put us as citizens of heaven, we are to be ambassadors of Christ.
That’s not always going to be easy! The world won’t always want to hear – it could cost us everything but I’m afraid it comes with the territory … the territory of being an ambassador of Christ.
Did God Really Mean That?
I know of people who believe in Jesus, who go to church Sunday and Sunday; they sit there in the pews, sing the songs, listen to the preacher but they’re not flashy; they’re not up front performers or musicians or speakers or leaders. Every now or then perhaps, they make morning tea or contribute somehow to the life of the church, but because they’re not high profile, up front people, because they’re more people who blend into the background, they’ve decided, in their heart of hearts, that they have nothing to contribute. The world’s been telling them and subtly the church has been telling them, too, “You have nothing to contribute”.
So lots and lots of people have come to the conclusion that they have nothing to contribute – lots and lots of people have stopped trying to live out their faith in Jesus; a faith that used to burn so brightly, and gradually, little by little, the flame within has grown dim – it’s almost gone out. But for some reason … some reason they can’t quite put their finger on, they toddle along every Sunday, hoping … no, surely, there’s no more hope; secretly hoping perhaps – hoping in a way that they would never admit to themselves, let alone anyone else – that God is going to come along and do something powerful in their lives and through their lives.
I wonder if you know anyone like that. Well, if you do, if perhaps there’s just a little or even a lot of that going on in you; if perhaps you’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for God to do something powerful in you and through you; to give you some part to play in His plan that’s custom made, handmade for who He made you to be, and I believe with all my heart that today, that wait comes to an end. Today, that is over because He has a word for you today – His Word, not mine – that will set you free to be what He always planned for you to be an ambassador of Christ.
Not in the same way as anyone else, you know, because you are not the same as anyone else you know, but in a unique way that fits with who you are. Now, I know beyond any shadow of any doubt that there are countless of people listening to this message today who simply cannot believe that this could possibly be true – the flame has almost gone out. That’s why we are going to share with you a powerful, powerful word from God from Jesus own lips, in fact.
Anyone who spent just five minutes reading one of the Gospel accounts of His life, in the first century, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, will be able to account a stream of powerful miracles that Jesus performed. He healed the sick, He raised the dead, He made water into wine, He fed thousands with almost nothing – He did so many amazing, powerful miracles … miracles that were witnessed by many people. I mean, there’s no doubt that He actually performed those miracles.
It was this power that in the end got Him crucified. Not only did He preach with power, He acted in power and the people flocked to Him. It was because of the preaching and the deeds of power, the miracles that the Pharisees and the Sadducees – the religious leaders of the day – became so threatened by Jesus that they had Him crucified. And ultimately, just in case anyone was in any doubt, He Himself was raised from the dead.
Now you and I, we look at Jesus – He is after all, the Son of God. He is someone that you or I can never, ever, ever be. We look at Him and we think to ourselves, “WOW, no one could ever minister that powerfully again here on earth.” Have a listen to what Jesus said to His disciples, just before He was crucified – John chapter 14, verses 11 and 12:
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Jesus didn’t say that we would just be able to do the things that He did. No, no, He said that “anyone who believes in him will not only do the things he was able to do but, in fact, will do greater works than these,” Even greater!
Now, it seems to me we have a choice here. We can sit quietly in church, the third pew from the back, on the left hand side – you know, where we have sat every week for what seems like an eternity – we can just sit there and believe the world and the devil’s perception, that we have nothing to contribute, no role to play in God’s great plan of redeeming and saving and reconciling this world to Himself. We can believe that rubbish but if we do that … if we continue doing that the flame in our hearts for Jesus, the one that’s growing dimmer and dimmer these years; that flame will eventually go out.
Or, we can believe God and what He has to say. We can believe Jesus and what He has to say. We can believe God’s Word. See, so often, faith is believing God’s apparently outrageous claims and promises, square in the face of the mundaneness of life – a world that squeezes us into its mould – mundaneness verses majesty. The power of the Spirit verses the power of this world.
Let me tell you something, I’ve made my choice. I was a man whose life was broken; a terrible mess. When I accept Jesus, with simple faith of a child, just on face value and still today, I’m accepting what He has to say, really simply. Not in any complicated, theological sense, just on face value and Jesus said John chapter 14, verse 12 – He said:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father.
I’m taking that, how about you? You see, I think He really meant it … I think He really means it right now. Just as Jesus came as God in the flesh to bring the Kingdom of God near to us, I believe He’s calling you, He’s calling me to take up our cross and to follow Him and to be His ambassadors and to do just the things He’d always planned for us to do – not in our power, but in the power of His Spirit. Works greater than His because He has gone to the Father and His plan is to involve you and me in bringing His love … the love of Jesus Christ, the love that saw Jesus crucified on that cross; that love to those who need it.
That’s what I think. But in a sense, it doesn’t matter what I think. Question is, what do you think?
Does the World Really Want to Know?
So, God’s plan is that we should be His ambassadors. It’s a great plan! This plan that God has, to take every man, every woman, every child who believes in Jesus His Son and is therefore a citizen of heaven and appoint them as ambassadors of heaven; ambassadors of Christ to their little part of the globe so that through them God can make His appeal … an appeal of grace and love, to people so that they will be reconciled to Him.
Question is: does anyone want to hear what we have to say? See, so many people shy away from being an ambassador of Christ because they somehow imagine that it’s the guy with the smooth voice on the radio – it must be his job to be an ambassador of Christ. Or the one they see on TV or maybe it’s the youth pastor down at church – must be his job to be an ambassador of Christ. We imagine somehow, that being an ambassador in this great upfront role, someone with great public speaking style; someone with a presence – “Uh, you know, that’s not me. I can’t possibly do that; that can’t be my job.”
Whatever country you may live in you have diplomats from foreign countries living in your country; performing their roles as ambassadors, so let me ask you: how often do you see those guys on TV or hear them on the radio or read about them in the newspapers – how often? The answer is almost never! Yea, maybe every now and then an ambassador might get quoted but I know if I tripped over the Ambassador of China or the Ambassador of the U.S.A. in the street, I wouldn’t know them from a bar of soap.
Why? Because most of the time, being an ambassador isn’t about being up front in the public eye; most of it is about quietly building influence, one on one, or with small groups so that when there’s a difficult issue to be dealt with between the two governments, there’s a bridge already in place over which the parties can travel and talk. When there’s a sensitive issue or a border dispute or a difficulty with a foreign national in a country, the diplomats talk quietly, mostly in measured tones; mostly unseen and unheard by the rest of us, to resolve the issue.
Diplomacy is much more about individual relationships and trust than it is about overt brinkmanship. I wonder if we applied that model of diplomacy to our role as ambassadors of Christ, whether that doesn’t cast a whole new light on the job description. We all have friends and family and work colleagues; people with whom we already have relationships of trust and I wonder whether being an ambassador of Christ isn’t a whole lot more about letting our goodness shine into their lives than it is about standing up on a soapbox on a street corner or in the mall or down at the weekend at a crowded market, as I saw recently – screaming out words, supposedly from God, to a whole bunch of people with whom we don’t have a relationship and who don’t want to listen anyway.
I wonder whether it isn’t a whole bunch more about quiet diplomacy than beating someone over the head with a Bible. The people whom I allow to influence me, I’ve got to tell you, are the ones that I trust and the ones that I trust are the ones that I’ve known for quite a while. I’ve watched them, I’ve observed them – they are good people; honest, decent, have their lives together. You know what – they are the ones to whom my heart is open. Why would we expect that it’s any different in being an ambassador for Christ?
Jesus put it this way – He said – you can read this in Matthew chapter 5. He said:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under the foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.
In other words, anyone who steps out into the world who loves God, believes in His Son – anyone who is prepared to share that love and that faith with other people as an ambassador of Christ – you’re going to be persecuted. Look back through history and that’s what you’ll find. Now, where I live “persecution” simply means, people might reject you or they might make fun of you, they might keep their distance. Most people I know, know who I am and what I do and what I believe and even in that role, I don’t get much of that sort of stuff. And even if I did it’s not much of a price to pay.
Of course, in other parts of the world, persecution is very real – prison, torture, even death – very real. Look at Jesus – nailed to a cross. But what He’s saying here is to be the salt of the earth anyway; add flavour! “Be My light, anyway,” Jesus is saying, “Shine light into dark places. Do those things; be those things! Shine My love into the hearts of the people around you. And if you’re some upfront creature, okay, sure do that and if you’re a quiet, unassuming, relationships oriented kind of person, my oh my, what a great ambassador you are going to make.”
Go and build bridges and build relationships and build trust and let people see the goodness that’s in your heart and in what you do. Shine light, add flavour – people like some light; people like flavour – go and do that. Sometimes we are so worried about whether other people want to hear about Jesus or not; sometimes we are so concerned with how they will react.
I imagine that being an ambassador involves a lot of subtlety. I imagine the role is all about timing; knowing when to quietly build relationships; knowing when to speak about hard things. The Bible talks about speaking the truth in love – that’s what diplomacy is. I read an interesting Proverb this morning in my own personal time with God. Have a listen:
Well meant are the wounds of a friend but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Sometimes that’s a friend’s job – to speak the truth in love – and sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it hurts but the thing I know is this: being an ambassador of Christ is the job of every disciple of Jesus. Sometimes that involves just living a good life and shining a light; sometimes it involves dealing with difficult issues and doing it in love; sometimes it involves embracing your enemies; it involves all sorts of different things at different times but each one of us who believes in Jesus is called to be an ambassador of Christ in our own way, in our own neck of the woods.