Beckett: The Ministry of Reconciliation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore 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.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

What is the ministry, or the message, of reconciliation with which the Church has been entrusted? We have another name for this ministry, which we call justification by faith. For pay close attention to Paul’s words: through Christ God reconciled us to Himself, through Christ He gave us the ministry of reconciliation, in Christ God reconciled the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them; and, in the final verse, the sinless Christ became sin so that we might become righteousness. This is none other than justification by faith; for by faith, we are put in the right through Christ, Christ taking upon Himself our sin and He transferring His righteousness to us—the Great Exchange of Christ’s righteousness being counted as ours rather than our many trespasses. It is no accident that justify comes from the same root word as righteousness (δικαιόω [dikaioō] and δικαιοσύνη [dikaiosune] respectively). For only by this divine justification can we truly be reconciled to God.

This is the ministry with which pastors are entrusted. Consider how our confession in the Augsburg Confession is ordered. Article IV begins, “Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for His sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (AC IV, 1-2). Then our confession continues on the Office of Preaching, “To obtain such faith [the justification of faith just described in the previous article], God instituted the office of preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V, 1-3).

The ministry of reconciliation is, therefore, Word and Sacrament ministry. For through His Word, we hear and receive the faith of this reconciliation—that is, justification by faith, just as Paul himself wrote, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? …So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-15a, 17).

Furthermore, the Sacraments are the means through which Christ delivers the benefits of what He accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection to us. In Absolution, you hear Christ speaking His reconciliation to you. In Baptism, you were reconciled to God in Christ Jesus by becoming a child of God and no longer His enemy. And in the Lord’s Supper, you receive the reconciliation of the King as He delivers His verdict of mercy to you.

The Lord’s Supper is zenith of the Divine Service. For at the beginning of the Service of the Word, we cry out to our King like knaves at the King’s gates in Trinitarian fashion, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” And the King of the universe declares the verdict, “Yes, yes, it shall be so.” There’s a reason why His mercy is centred on the Supper. We only have supper with people with whom we are reconciled. Therefore, in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, He is not content with leaving us at the gates like the rich man did with Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) but invites us to Dinner and feeds us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in His life-giving body and blood.


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