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Monday, December 19, 2011

What is reconciliation?

There are certain words in the Bible that astound the mind and thrill the heart.  Words like "redemption," "forgiveness," "grace," and "salvation" are among those words.  The worldly minded can never appreciate the magnitude nor the depth of those words as they relate to matters eternal.   But those who have been rescued from the bondage of sin have an appreciation that cannot be expressed in words.   The word "reconciliation" is another word that falls into that category.   It is not a difficult word, nor is it hard to understand.   Webster defines the word "reconciliation" as meaning "to restore to friendship or harmony, to settle or resolve." When applied to people it means to get two separated people back together again.  It may refer to a husband who wants to be reconciled to his wife, or a father who wants to be reconciled to a wayward son.  But when we use the word to refer to a sinner who wants to be reconciled to God we have come upon the richest use of the word in all of human language.   Reconciliation occurs when sinners are brought into a state of favor with God.   You may speak of material blessings, abundance of riches, or great and abundant possession in this life.  But when you talk about reconciliation with God you have exhausted the meaning of what it means to be blessed.   

 

While it is not difficult to understand the meaning of the word, it may be difficult to put reconciliation into practice, so far as human relations are concerned.   It can be difficult, and even sometimes impossible, to get two family members who are at odds with one another to be reconciled to each other.   Alan Smith shared this humorous story with his readers some years ago:  A man once went to a preacher because he was having some family problems.  He wasn't a very well-educated man and sometimes got his words confused. He said, "Me and my wife need a re-cancellation."  What he meant to say was reconciliation, but the word re-cancellation wasn't a bad choice. Because there can be peace for those who have been separated only when sin has been canceled. As sinners before a righteous God, we need a "re-cancellation".  And that's exactly what Jesus made available when he died on the cross (Alan Smith, www.TFTD-online.com).   

 

Our English words "reconcile," "reconciled," or "reconciliation" appear ten times in the New Testament (Matt. 5:24, Rom. 5:10, 1 Cor. 7:11, 2 Cor. 5:18, 5:19, 5:20, Eph. 2:16, Col 1:20, 1:21, and Heb. 2:17).   Some of these passages speak of reconciliation between two human individuals; some speak of God's act of reconciling the lost to Himself; and some speak of man's responsibility to "be reconciled" to God.   It is 2 Corinthians 5:18 that I want to focus our attention on for this article:  "But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation" (emphasis mine, TW).  Let us notice the following truths relative to reconciliation as presented in this passage.

 

First, Paul speaks of the ministry of reconciliation.  The very focus of our labors in the kingdom is that of reconciling men to God.   So often we lose sight of our purpose as the body of Christ.  God has given unto us the task of saving the souls of men.  This should be the focus of our labors in all that we do.  If we manage to encourage one another, to uplift the body, or organize and conduct a dozen or more fellowship meals each year, but neglect the salvation of the souls of men we have not accomplished what God wants us to accomplish.  Ours is not a ministry to improve the physical man, maintain a soup kitchen, cloth the naked, pay electric bills, water bills, or stock and operate a pantry for the homeless.  Paul clearly points out that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.  Our task is to save the souls of men. If we neglect that part of our work as the body of Christ, nothing else really matters. 

 

Second, Paul sets forth the terms of reconciliation.  "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature" (5:17).   In another passage Paul tells us that we are reconciled unto God "in one body…through the cross" (Eph. 2:16).  The important word in both of these passages contains only two letters. It is the word "in."   It is IN Christ that we are reconciled to God; it is IN Christ that we become a new creature; it is IN Christ that men come to have salvation.  If we are to fulfill the "ministry of reconciliation" we must be about telling men how to get INTO Christ.   If we do not fulfill that responsibility, then it will not get done.  The religious world does not teach the truth on this matter and men in general have no idea as to how to get INTO Christ!   When Paul told the Romans that they were baptized "into Christ" (Rom. 6:3-5), and the Galatians that those who are baptized "into Christ" did put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) he forever settled the question as to the importance of baptism in God's scheme of redemption. 

 

Third, Paul sets forth the results of reconciliation.  "Wherefore if any man is in Christ he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (5:17).  Love of the world gives way to the love of God and Jesus; old views are replaced by new ones; new aims take the place of worldly goals; treasures are laid up in heaven rather than upon the earth.  A man once said that since he had become a Christian that all things had NOT become new because he still had the same wife, and same old sun shone every morning.  That man missed the thrust of Paul's words.  All things have become new in that the new creature no longer lives unto himself, but unto Him Who died for him (2 Cor. 5:15). 

 

Fourth, Paul tells us about the method of reconciliation.  "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).  If a man is estranged from his wife, he might be able to bring about reconciliation with some flowers and a large dose of humility.  But when man sins against God, his "iniquities" will hide God's face from him, and separate him from his Father in heaven.  All the flowers in the world cannot atone for sin.  We were not purchased with "corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19).   The vicarious suffering of our Lord is the method by which God would save man.  Thus, as the innocent suffered for the guilty, suffering what sin deserved to suffer, God could be just and the justifier of them that believe (Rom. 3:26).  Voluntary substitution is in perfect harmony with justice, provided every step is voluntary - the substitute in offering, the government in allowing, and the criminal in accepting.   Seeing that none of us have it within our power to pay the price for our sins, the very offer from the eternal God of grace to provide a substitute should drive us to our knees in grateful appreciation for this method of reconciliation!  C.C. Crawford once wrote:

 

This principle of vicarious suffering is the foundation upon which civilization has been built - in fact upon which all society has been built, civilized or uncivilized. It is also the essential principle of human progress towards that one, far-off event, towards which the whole creation moves.  Not so many years ago there went forth from our homes thousands of fine young men. They crossed the rolling deep and pitched their tents on Flanders fields and in the valleys of the Argonne.  When they started out, many thought it would be a lark.  But the poetry of war soon vanished, and nothing was left but the prose.  They lived in dug-outs.  They marched and ate and slept in mud. They rushed into living hells. They had ribs fractured, eyes put out, lungs filled with gas, limbs shot away. Thousand cried for water as they lay dying on the battlefields, and received it not.  They were cold and weary and homesick. No one but Almighty God knows the length and breadth and depth of the awful anguish and suffering of those who fought, bled and died on those European battlefields.  Why did fathers leave their homes and go to the front?  Why did young men, postponing the day of marriage, press the last, long, lingering kisses upon the lips of the sweethearts, and then rush away into war with its uncertain future?  I am still convinced that they died for a principle. I refuse to believe that it was all in vain - that a sacrifice is ever in vain.  There may have been greed, graft and corruption mixed up with all of it, but there was nobility, too!  Autocracy had to be overthrown, lest our own wives and daughters might have to suffer what the innocent women and children of Belgium and France suffered. The war had its sordid side, of course; but surely all this bloodshed was not meaningless!  A thousand times; yea, ten thousand times - no!  I still believe that these men suffered to advance the cause of democracy and freedom. As for me I glory in the crimson line.  I am thrilled when I read its suggestive meaning in the cup of the Lord's Supper. I am moved with an unexplainable ecstasy when I see the ancient altars dripping with the blood of the slain lambs.  Now I understand why the destroying angel who passed over Egypt at the hour of midnight, passed over those houses where the blood was sprinkled on the door-post. Now, I know to whom Isaiah refers, when he writes of One "in red apparel coming in dyed garments"; whom John the Revelator refers to, when he describes that heavenly chieftain whose vesture was dipped in blood; what Simon Peter means when he writes of that precious blood which cleanseth from all sin; and what the writer of our text has in mind when he declares that "apart from shedding of blood there is no remission."  I want to say to you, with all the power of emphasis and persuasion of which I am capable, that by the precious blood of Jesus you will be saved, or you will never be saved at all.  In all ages God has never pardoned a single sin-sick soul except on the merits of our Savior's precious blood, and He never will.  That lonely hill back of Jerusalem was the battleground of which the Prince of heaven fought with the powers of darkness, and won.  There God turned an evil thing into a channel of blessing.  There, Sin, in slaying the Son of God, slew itself.

 

Beloved, if mere men are willing to suffer for the betterment of mankind, how grateful that our Lord was willing to suffer and die for us.  How wonderful, indeed, is the ministry of reconciliation that has been placed in our hands! 

 

--by Tom Wacaster

 

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