From 2 Corinthians 5:19 - In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (NRSV)
Since reading Richard Lischer's book, The End of Words, I have decided that 2 Corinthians 5:19 is a better 'sound bite' for communicating the Gospel than the ubiquitous John 3:16. I'm not saying I disagree with John 3:16, but I don't think it speaks easily to people today.
Here's how I'd unpack 2 Corinthians 5:19:
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself - In a world where humanity is alientated from God, it is God who makes the first move towards us. God does this in the incarnation - in Christ.
not counting their trespasses against them - This is the really important bit to me. God forgives us. Full stop. Period. No strings attached. That's what is meant by Grace. Forget about all the good Christian people who say that you have to repent before God forgives you. That's not the way it works. God forgives us and, in consequence of that forgiveness, we repent. It is in being forgiven that we know we are sinful, not in recognising our sinfulness that we obtain God's forgiveness. That's another reason why the Gospel is a scandal and another reason why it is 'upside down'.
Imagine this. A family member comes up to me and says: 'I forgive you.' I am am not aware of having offended this person but when they explain what happened I realise that I have indeed offended them. Then I apologise and thank them for their forgivness. Sound good? But how many times do I respond instead by saying 'What do you mean, you forgive me?! I have done nothing to you! How dare you forgive me!' If I'm honest, I react in the second way far too often. I suspect it's because many of us react in this second way that we either don't see that God has forgiven us already or that we are offended by the idea of a God who forgives someone before they have repented.
Finally, 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us that God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. When we have been reconciled with God, we are then in a position to proclaim to others that reconciliation with God is on offer to them too.
As James Alison puts it, what we find difficult is not asking to be forgiven, what we find hard is receiving God's forgiveness before we even ask for it.
To me, this is the scandalous message of the cross.
Credit for ideas in this post to: James Alison, Paul Fiddes and Richard Lischer.