Talk 1 - Reconciliation
"Friends for Life" (Reconciliation)
As we move from the cradle to the cross – from Christmas to the atonement – I thought it might be helpful to look at three Bible words which find their centre in the cross of Christ: reconciliation, justification and faith. These words are related, but each on its own reminds us about the centrality of the cross of Christ. A good book to read as we move through this series is one by John Stott, "The Cross of Christ".
as we well and truly move away from Christmas and toward Easter, we pray for renewed vigour to ponder the wonders of the cross. As we consider the words reconciliation, justification and faith over the next few weeks, may our hearts be stirred and our lives illuminated by the amazing outpouring of your love. Help us now as we read your word, may your Spirit help us in our weakness and train us in righteous living. Amen.
reconciliation is a live issue
When I typed "reconciliation" into google earlier in the week I got about 32 million hits. Mind you, whenever you type anything into google you get millions of hits and this is no less true with the word "reconciliation". Narrowing the search a little, I soon came across "National Reconciliation Week" which is scheduled for 27 May – 3 June this year. The blurb says:
The theme of National Reconciliation Week for 2007 will be One People. One Place. One Future. It reflects the reality that there is currently a 17 year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in Australia. National Reconciliation Week offers people across Australia the opportunity to focus on reconciliation, to hear about the culture and history of Australia’s Indigenous people, and to explore new and better ways of meeting challenges in our communities.
National Reconciliation Week is a time for us to renew our commitment to reconciliation and to think about how we can help turn around the continuing disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
There's even a reconciliation flag and an "Australian Reconciliation Party" – all of which are concerned with ending the conflict between European settlement and indigenous Australians. Reconciliation is a live issue.
the meaning of reconciliation
What is reconciliation? I wouldn't want you to have sleepless nights wondering what the Greek word for "reconciliation" is and so let me tell you its καταλλαγή and it carries with it the idea of "change" or exchange". In secular Greek and the Bible a change of relations, antagonism transformed into harmony, enemies turning into friends. To reconcile means to bring together persons who have fallen out, to replace hostility and opposition by a relationship of peace and goodwill. When people are reconciled it puts their relationship on a whole new positive footing.
George Harrison died in December 2001. He was one of the Beatles (not of the crawling variety). During his final days his wife and child, and his sister, Louise were at his bedside. It was Louise's presence that was especially moving. She and George had been feuding with each other for almost forty years. Their feud began when Louise opened a bed and breakfast named "A Hard Day's Night".
The rift was healed only when George realised he would probably die from his cancer. Louise reported that their reconciliation was difficult but satisfying. "We sort of held hands like we used to do" she said. "We used to talk for hours about life and God and the universe. We were able to look into each other's eyes again with love. It was a very, very positive and loving meeting".
This episode tells us exactly what reconciliation is at a human level - two people who have been at odds with one another coming together in a renewed and restored relationship.
the need for reconciliation
Now the Bible makes it clear that there is a need for reconciliation between God and humanity. And the estrangement is mutual. We are sinful people and a holy God rejects those who sin.
we are sinful people (Rom 3:23, 8:7)
Men and women are born rebels. By nature we rebel against our Maker. Paul says in Colossians 1:21 that before we were reconciled to him you were "alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour". This is the natural state of every child of Adam. Our birth disposition is alienation from God. Elsewhere Paul says, "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7). Sinful people are opposed to God and to everything that is of God; it is his nature to disobey God's law, it is his nature to disbelieve his gospel and to reject his restraint. In summary, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).
Men and women are born rebels. There is a wicked opposition of the sinner to God.
a holy opposition of God to the sinner (Ps 5:5-6; Rom 1:8)
The other party in the reconciliation equation is God. There is a holy opposition of God to the sinner. And so we talk about God's anger, the wrath of God, a divine response to sin. Psalm 5:5-6 isn't quoted very often because it's so politically incorrect. The psalmist says, "You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with the wicked you cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors".
God's anger means that he intensely hates all sin. WAYNE Grudem, whose systematic theology sits on my shelf (I suggest it’s a worthwhile addition to your shelf) - Grudem makes an interesting comment. He says that God's anger is an attribute that that ought to attract our thanks and praise. We are not used to praising negative things. Grudem says, "It would be helpful for us to ask what God would be like if he were a God that did not hate sin. He would then be a God who either delighted in sin or at least was not troubled by it. Such a God would not be worthy of our worship, for sin is hateful and is worthy of being hated. It is in fact a virtue to hate evil and sin and we rightly imitate this attribute of God when we feel hatred against evil, injustice and sin".
God's anger against sinful man is not a fitful flicker or an unsteady temper. God's anger but an expression of righteousness by the just Judge of the earth.
And Paul tells us that all sinners are exposed to this hostile reaction by God. The first truth in Romans is that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men" (Rom 1:18). Men are opposed to God in their sin, and God is opposed to men in his holiness. Those who are under the rule of sin are also under the wrath of God.
It is against this background that the gospel of reconciliation is explained. The background of the good news of grace is the bad news of judgment. God's grace burst forth from his active wrath.
the making of reconciliation
Now it's unusual for an injured party to seek reconciliation. But in the Bible it is God, the injured party, who takes the initiative. We see this in 2 Cor 5:19, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ". We never read of man reconciling himself to God, or a third party working with God so that he can be reconciled with man. God himself is the Reconciler and he takes the initiative in Christ. Paul says the same to the church in Rome, "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Rom 5:10).
At least three important ideas flow from the death of Jesus: sacrifice, propitiation and substitution. Each one of these is a sermon in itself, some brief comments:
the idea of sacrifice (Rom 5:10)
Firstly, reconciliation made through the blood of Christ points to the idea of sacrifice. According to the Old Testament the shedding of blood is required to cancel the effect of sin. The only way that reconciliation between God and man could be affected was by the spilling of blood.
the idea of propitiation (Col 1:20)
Secondly, through the shedding of Christ's blood, peace was made between God and man. Christ came as the "peace-maker". We are told in Col 1:20 that Jesus made peace "by the blood of his cross". At the cross the divine anger is turned away forever. The word "propitiation" is the turning away of God's wrath on account of what Christ has done. Propitiation is the technical word for the reconciling, peace-making effects of the cross of Christ.
a judicial exchange (2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13)
And thirdly, Paul says, God reconciled the world to himself by means of a judicial exchange. A swap: Jesus death for my life. In 2 Cor 5:21, Paul says that "him who knew no sin God made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him". A judicial exchange.
A few years ago a series of tornados caused extensive damage in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. We're talking America here. Nearly 100 lives were lost. Prior to the storm, a man named David Kostka was umpiring a Little League baseball game in Wheatland, Pennsylvania. When he saw the black funnel heading toward the field, he rushed into the stands and grabbed his niece. He pushed her into a nearby ditch and covered her with his body. Then the tornado struck. When the youngster looked up, her uncle was gone. He had given his life in the deadly storm to save her.
The reason why we do not have to endure the punishment for our sins is that Christ bore them - he was sucked up into the awful vortex of God's anger in our place. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Gal 3:13).
the receiving of reconciliation
We have seen that reconciliation between God and man is possible by Christ's death – God's anger satisfied and payment for sin and the rightness of Christ becoming ours. But this reconciliation it is not possessed till it is received. Reconciliation is received by faith – not by works and earning it – but by believing it and taking it – by receiving a living Saviour and submitting to him as King. When Paul says in 2 Cor 5:20, "Be reconciled to God", he is not saying that we need to go out and organize reconciliation for ourselves, that somehow our activity pleases God and so he makes peace with us. "Be reconciled to God" means "receive your reconciliation" which means receiving the one who makes reconciliation.
We are reconciled to God when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus. This is the conclusion of the matter. God and men were at enmity with each other by reason of our sin, but God has acted in Christ to reconcile sinners to himself through the cross. Christ completed reconciliation on the cross, there is nothing more to be done either by him or us. And in light of Christ's finished work of atonement, God now invites sinners everywhere to receive the conciliation that Christ offers by his blood.
It's too good an invitation to refuse!
Believers enjoy through Christ a reconcilement with God which is perfect and final. Nothing can be added to it, because nothing is lacking in it. And as it is perfect, it is also everlasting. Jim Packer says that "the new life that it brings, in which you know God as your Father, Jesus Christ the Reconciler as your friend, and yourself as fully and freely forgiven, is both joyous and endless. Reconciliation is the very heart of the gospel, and must forever be the crowning theme of Christian praise".
the outworking of reconciliation
In what ways should Christians to respond to Christ's work of reconciliation? We get some clues from Colossians, 2 Corinthians and Romans.
it’s a big gospel (Col 1:20)
Our lives are so intense and all-consuming that its hard at times to lift our heads and look at the big picture. There's always so many things vying for our time, so much so that its sometimes hard to keep life under control. We use so much energy taming the backyard of our lives. Yet the gospel is far bigger than the backyard of our lives. Paul says in Col 1:19, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross".
The gospel is God's way of resolving the conflict on earth and in the heavenly sphere. Christ makes peace with God through his blood, and so all of creation is reconciled to him. Those who gladly receive the word of reconciliation know life and know it abundance. They are saved by faith alone – by trusting in God's promises which orbit around Jesus. For others peace will be compulsory and imposed upon them. Christ triumphs over the powers and principalities they will "submit against their will to a power which they cannot resist". Rebellious heavenly beings will be pacified whether they like it or not. In the same way, not all people accept the peace offered through the death of Christ. And so reconciliation with God will be imposed upon them. In the end "all things" will bow before Jesus and confess him as Lord.
For those who gladly accept the word of reconciliation there is life – for those who will be pacified against their will there is death and destruction. Peter O'Brien says that through the shed blood of Christ "heaven and earth have been brought back into their divinely created and determined order ... the universe is again under its head ... cosmic peace has returned".
It's a big gospel. We need to lift our heads and look at the world as God does. We need to do more than intellectually assent to the splendour of the gospel – we are caught up in the last days and Christ is coming soon to finalise the work of reconciliation and in the interim we must live as reconciled people and be prepared to share the message of reconciliation.
a message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-19)
Paul uses the plural in 2 Cor 5:18, "Christ gave us the message of reconciliation". It's a wonderful message to share – how people can find peace with their God. We are ambassadors with a message. God has committed to us to the ministry and word of reconciliation.
Friends, I'm good at reconciling my finances, I try hard to reconcile my kids, I want to please my boss and so I work hard to be at peace with him. I live in this world and its always crouching on my doorstep and if I want freedom it takes alertness and hard work. By nature the reconciliation I seek is with this world. The worldly message of reconciliation is a message of social status, careers rather than jobs, high finance, selfishness and self-indulgence. This is the message of peace on earth. Have a look at this ad for Brian Rosner's book, "Beyond Greed" (slide 1). The ad goes onto say, "Sometimes its hard to spot the difference, because the 'air we breathe' is laced with the love of money and the race for the material comforts".
The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. The message of reconciliation is that important – the message of peace with God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you don't won't to be a Christian – that's your choice. But don’t tell me that you are a Christian and the gospel hasn't profoundly changed the way you spend your life. People are perishing and the gospel is their lifeline, "God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (2 Cor 5:19).
One young pastor (Warren Wiesbe) said that he used to be embarrassed talking to people about Jesus. Then one day he realized that we was an ambassador of the King of kings! There was nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, he says, "the people I visited should have been grateful that one of Christ's ambassadors came to see them".
This morning remember that you are an ambassador for Christ. The message is not ours to change – it is ours to proclaim. The great news that we were once alienated from God but now we are reconciled by the blood shed on the cross. So we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.