A major theme of Christ's message is reconciliation. But how does reconciliation fit into God's plan for you and me?
The Kingdom of God is about being reconciled to God and man.
Jesus Christ began His public ministry by declaring the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the people in Galilee. What He said and did during His 3 1/2-year ministry was so incredible that it just couldn't be ignored. Jesus called people to repentance and gave them hope. He gave them encouragement and healed their diseases. Even more, He possessed the power to forgive their sins.
Christ's countrymen were astonished that He spoke with such authority, and people excitedly crowded about Him everywhere He went. The popular response to His message was remarkable.
But His teachings weren't always warmly received. Sometimes they clashed with long-held traditions and ideas of men.
Part of His message, after all, was that all of mankind could be reconciled to God. Christ's own disciples were shocked to find Him talking with a Samaritan woman (John:4:27). Jesus had acknowledged to the woman that He was indeed the Messiah and that eternal life was available to all through Him (verses 10-14, 25-26). He explained that salvation wasn't offered to the Jews only; it was extended to gentiles as well.
Some accepted this as great news, but others felt threatened by it. Some had fallen into exclusivism in their worship of God and were not about to share what they viewed as their God-given right with just anyone, and especially not with gentiles.
Some who heard Jesus preach the gospel in the synagogue in Nazareth became so angry when He brought up the subject of God's dealings with gentiles that they even tried to kill Him (Luke:4:24-29).
It was a tumultuous time as Christ continued His public ministry to prepare for establishing His Church. That God would offer salvation to all, Jew and gentile alike, eventually sank into the disciples' understanding and grew evident in their teaching after Christ's death. Then, as their range of influence expanded, so spread hostility and opposition to this part of their message.
Separation of Jews and gentiles
The apostle Paul addressed the breach between the Jews and gentiles in Ephesians 2. The Jews had gone so far as to erect a wall in the courtyard of the temple to keep the gentiles away from them while they worshiped.
Paul wrote of this wall of separation: "For He Himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation . . . so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross . . ." (verses 14-16).
A gentile who ventured to pass through the gates in that wall would have been put to death. But Christ was busy reconciling Jew and gentile to God, and no such barrier was to exist in the Church.
The laws that kept Jew and gentile apart at the temple (verse 15) were not the laws of God. They were the rules and regulations of men. Paul went on to say: "And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both [Jew and gentile alike] have access by one Spirit to the Father" (verses 17-18).
God, through the supreme sacrifice of His Son, is not only reconciling us to Himself; He is reconciling us to each other as well. The two processes are inseparable. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you," Jesus said, "leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew:5:23-24).
First be reconciled to God
Part of the message of the gospel that Jesus brought was that we can all be reconciled to God. It is important to understand how that process takes place and what it is that separates us in the first place.
Through the prophet Isaiah God explains what is at the heart and core of separation from God: "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah:59:1-2, emphasis added throughout).
Man's separation from God is not God's fault. Our own sins stand between us and God, and we are powerless to remove the penalty that sin brings. The only solution is a divine act of grace. Christ lived His life without committing even one sin and then was sacrificed in our place so we could be reconciled to God. John explains how this can be: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world . . . to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John:4:9-10).
The word propitiation here conveys sin being covered and remitted ( Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1985, "Propitiation"). Some translations appropriately use the word atonement instead. The New English Bible words it simply that God sent His Son "as the remedy for the defilement of our sins."
Christ's sacrifice is the remedy for our sins, but we have our part as well. We must be responsive to God's call to repentance for the process of forgiveness and reconciliation to take place. Only when we have submitted ourselves to God, as symbolized by baptism, will our sins be blotted out. At that point in the process we are justified (made right) by the blood of Jesus Christ and reconciled to God so we can be saved (Romans:5:1, 6-11).
Reconciling with others
Still, we must bear in mind that our relationship with God should affect our relationships with other people as well. "Beloved," wrote John, "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John:4:11). Reconciling with each other becomes nothing less than a necessary part of our calling.
Paul referred to it as our ministry or service. We serve as representatives of the Kingdom of God. "Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians:5:18-20).
As Christ's ambassadors, said Paul, we must set an example to show others that they, too, can be reconciled to God and reconciled to man.
Healing the breaches
If reconciliation to God doesn't appear to have worked for us as representatives of Jesus Christ, then how much of a positive impact can our example possibly make? We must be reconciled with our fellowman if we are to prove to others that God's way really does work. Husbands and wives must reconcile. Parents and children need to reconcile. We must bridge the generation gap in our own families.
God is committed to helping us heal our breaches, but we need to commit to healing them as well. This requires that we perpetuate an intimate relationship with God; this is necessary if we are truly to draw on His power.
Fasting is one of the ways God shows us to help us stay close to Him. Going without food and drink teaches a lesson in itself, but our resulting attitude of humility is what is really important to God. (If you have never fasted before, we suggest that you begin by omitting only a few meals-perhaps not eating for a day or even less. If you have a serious health condition, it is best to seek medical advice first.)
Fasting should draw us closer to God and each other. God describes the result of fasting with a proper attitude and approach:
"Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail" (Isaiah:58:9-11).
God clearly links our relationship with Him to our responsiveness to each other. We should be at peace with other people (Romans:12:18). Sometimes we simply need to be more diplomatic. The book of Proverbs is of inestimable help in this regard.
Reconciliation brings peace. Breaches need to be healed, and we need to forgive. But this isn't a process that we carry out on our own. God intercedes for us and participates with us to help us fulfill His will. He restores us to a right relationship with Himself and with each other. He prepares us for an eternity with Him and with each other in His family.
Ultimately, that's what the Kingdom of God is about: being reconciled to God and man. In the Kingdom every human being will at last come to a right relationship with God-a relationship that had been prevented by our sins. As everyone learns to live according to God's law of love (Romans:13:8-10), proper relationships among human beings will develop and grow.
This is a vital part of the message Jesus Christ preached to the people of Galilee, and then to Judea, and that's the message the disciples began to spread throughout the world.
It's as timeless a message now as it was then: We need reconciliation. We can be thankful that God allows us not only to experience it, but to share it with others as He proceeds with His plan to offer salvation to all of mankind.