This is the third part in the Bible study series Six Steps to Passover. Grace and peace begin with being reconciled with God. Christ’s sacrifice is a key to reconciliation. The Apostle Paul spoke of a ministry of reconciliation. This study explores what this means in our relationship to God and our friends.
[Darris McNeely] Let's go ahead and ask God's blessing on the Bible study. I'll just let you remain in your seats here, if you wish, and I'll ask God's blessing on the study here tonight. Please bow your heads.
"Our God in heaven and Father above we bow before You this evening and look to You gratefully for the many blessings of our calling; Your gracious and careful attention to our lives and this holy calling that You have given to us. As we begin this study tonight with all of us who are gathered here in Cincinnati and many who are gathered in their homes and other locations, listening in, we ask for Your inspiration and guidance upon the hearing and the speaking. Help us, Father, to understand a very important condition and decision that we have to make as we consider the sacrifice of Christ; consider ourselves before the Passover season. We commit this study into Your hands asking Your guidance and Your direction Father, thanking You for all that You provide us. We pray this in Christ's holy name. Amen."
This is the third of the steps to Passover. As the title says – on the board here – we are talking tonight here about Jesus and reconciliation.
I did want to mention as we start that there are three additional steps that we've outlined prior to the Passover in these Bible studies that we are conducting out of Cincinnati. The next one in the series will be given on March 12, 2014, just a couple of weeks away. Actually, this looks like it's about three weeks, isn't it? Three weeks from tonight, March 12th. On that night Mr. Steve Myers, who is the Pastor of the Cincinnati East congregations will be giving the presentation that night and it will be on the subject of the bread and the wine. So you'll want to be sure to tune in for that one as we move ourselves in a progression toward the Passover service which is not that far away; just a few weeks really. We're over half way through February. It has been a hard winter, not just for us here in Cincinnati, but really for much of the Country that has really been hit with a lot of hard weather this year. It has been quite a winter so far. We have a little respite right now; the snow is beginning to melt. We hope that this is the end of it but we don't know.
We have Rick Shabi in the audience tonight. Rick is one of our Pastors down in Florida; also the Treasurer of the United Church of God. He's up here helping to put the budget together. Just seeing him reminds me that Florida is the only state that has not had any snow this winter. All the other 49 states have had snow. Maybe you could throw a snowball at Mr. Shabi as we're going out the door tonight just to remind him of what it's like. He's from Indiana and he's plenty of snow in his life but he fled to Florida a few years ago and we're envious of that. At least we're getting a bit of break here.
The subject tonight is "Jesus and Reconciliation".
Thinking about this topic; it's a tough one. It's a tough one for me. It's a tough one really for any of us because it deals with a subject that is quite hard. Reconciliation. At times we may be called upon to reconcile in our relationships because, essentially, that's how we relate to the term As we think about it, reconciling differences; reconciling disagreements; reconciling disruptions that take place in relationships that sometimes can be very traumatic and challenging, and failed relationships are among the most difficult, greatest sources of pain that we probably face. And how we restore those and the steps we take toward that are, at times, simple, and yet oh-so-difficult because reconciliation deals with what we call the soft spots. That really is the hard places of relationships. This is one of them here.
Obviously in one short presentation of about an hour I am not going to be able exhaustively cover the subject but I do want to, tonight, deal with something; at least a couple of principles that I will bring out here that at least will help us form a foundation. We can study it and go into it and go into it deeper and perhaps this will inspire you to do this in your own life. Perhaps with the most important thing that you can do and that would be to pray for the gift, for the ability to reconcile with individuals.
If I were to ask you, if you look at the Bible, what are the most prominent stories about reconciliation? What would you think they might be? Anybody want to wager a guess for one, real quick.
Joseph. Okay. Very good. I hadn't thought about that. Somebody mentioned what?
Jacob and Esau. I'll put that one right over here (he is writing on a dry erase board). I did happen to think about that one. Any others that anybody could think of?
The Prodigal son. That is another one that I thought about here. You are correct. That parable is one of the most fascinating of the parables.
Isaac and Ishmael. We'll put that one over here with the same family of Isaac and Ishmael here.
I think this gives you some idea, unless I see any other hands out there, no one has mentioned, perhaps the one that we should begin with tonight. That is God and mankind. That, I present, is the biggest story of reconciliation in the Scripture. And that is, perhaps, where we should begin tonight because it does help us to frame certain principles that we should understand and think about. Before we go there, however, I'd like for you to turn over to 1 Corinthians 1. Let's read Verse 3.
When we think about reconciliation something that the Apostle Paul would often write to his churches, that we see in the letters that are the Epistles of Paul, tells us something that we want to work toward and achieve and maintain within the context of the subject of reconciliation.
1 Corinthians 1:3 this is the opening salutation. Paul says to the church in Corinth, "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
Grace and peace. Two concepts that Paul often talks about in Scripture, especially in his opening salutations, "grace and peace".
It is interesting as he mentions it here to the church in Corinth; we're going to come back to a couple of passages in Corinthians. He is saying to a church that is riddled with division. As the first letter to the Corinthians demonstrates, they had doctrinal divisions. They had some horrendous moral problems that needed to be dealt with and other matters that were dividing the congregation. In fact Paul opens up saying that, "some of you are of Paul. Some of you are of Apollo's. Some of Peter. Some of Christ."* So there was quite a division there in the church and yet he says to them, "grace and peace". He issues that to them. As we will see when we come back to it, this is something that Paul works for, strives for, and wherever you find it, among the church of God, the people of God, among any people, it must be understood that it is something that you have to work for and work at. ("Pardon my dangling preposition.")
*1 Corinthians 1:12 "Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ."
It takes effort. We almost have to wage grace and peace to achieve it. Like to wage war but you have wage something like this to achieve that and to maintain the level of reconciliation. So, let's talk about and look at what the Bible can tell us, in some broad strokes here tonight, about the subject of reconciliation. And let's begin with this concept of reconciliation to God as our first point because this is really what God desires with mankind above all else.
1. Reconciliation to God.
If you go back to the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, where all the stories of mankind begin. In the well-known story of Chapter 3, of the two trees and the separation that took place. One way to look at what the result of the decision that Adam and Eve both made to take of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil", after this confrontation with the serpent, with Satan, when he said that, with a challenging question in Verse 1.
Genesis 3:1 "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"
V.2 "And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:"
V.3 "But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die."
V.4 "And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:"
And, of course this was the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil". So this is the tree that we know they saw, in Verse 6:
V.6 "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."
V. 7 "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."
We're not going to have the time to go into all of the theological details of this event to understand. What God is giving us here is a very basic, foundational story of the first parents and their relationship with God where they did have a relationship with God that was reconciled. He did dwell with them in this perfect place; in this environment we are told here. We are not told all the details but they were instructed. They were in communion with God; in fellowship and there was peace and, if you will, there certainly was grace. And then they made that decision to take of the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil" and at that point a change overcame Adam and Eve.
If you note in the story the change was with them because what they did was sew fig leaves and then they hid from God. Their "eyes were opened" and Verse 8, when they heard God coming to them again, "walking in the garden in the cool of the day", we are told that Adam and his wife, "hid themselves".
V.8 "And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden."
They made the decision to break that reconciliation because of guilt and because of sin. Sin is the great issue. Of course, as we think about the steps toward Passover, every one of these studies is going to be looking at and examining the overwhelming impact of sin from different perspectives. Tonight, perhaps the perspective is that as we see what sin does in that it does separate us from God and breaks that harmony and that unity that we can have and that we saw that Adam and Eve had to the point where they hid themselves as God came looking for them.
What is important to note about the story (many things we could bring out) but at least for this subject is that God came looking for them. They hid from the presence of God. In Verse 9:
V.9 "And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?"
"Where are you?" God came looking for man.
Man was hiding from God.
And that has been the story ever since; man has hidden.
In the early, early church period; not the earliest one that we read in the Book of Acts, but about one 3 to 400 years later, as certain church theologians began to look at these passages and reason about the matter of sin, a man by the name of Augustine came up with a term of "original sin". Now with this decision and sin of Adam and Eve sin entered in and, taking and not fully understanding the words that Paul later talked about in 1 Corinthians 15, which Gary Petty talked about last time, they came up with this doctrine of "original sin", whereby every human being born from Adam starts off life with sin, original sin, because Adam "hardwired it" into their nature. And that really throws the whole concept, theologically, off kilter, but that is what a lot of modern theology is built upon. This is not a question here of original sin.
For our purposes tonight I think we can accurately look at it and understand that this was at least a breach of this perfect relationship that man had with God. From that point on there was a need for reconciliation between God and man because man is now hiding himself. As the story goes on here God does tell Adam and Eve what will happen. You go down to Verse 15 in this very famous passage, the prophecy that is the first of the known prophecies about the coming Messiah, is uttered here as God says to the serpent, to Satan:
Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
He, "the seed", would "bruise the serpent's head". When you bruise a serpent's head, you kill it. You chop the head off a snake and the entire, long body is dead. So God was saying, here, that there would be a point in time when this estrangement would be ended and sin that has caused that would be dealt with in a way that it would be removed from; at least that sacrifice, that bruising of the head, would remove the ability for that estrangement to continue with any and all who chose that particular path. And that's exactly what is going on. God made provision and a solution within His plan for this reconciliation and He announces it right here at the very moment, almost, that the breach takes place; the estrangement takes place. We know from other passages that Jesus Christ is called "the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world"*. I didn't intend to turn to it. I won't. But I will mention 1 Peter 1:20
* Revelation 13:8 "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
1 Peter 1:20 "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,"
Now from this point in time there was this provision in place at the foundation of this present world for the Lamb and even before in terms of the ability for that to be done that would provide that reconciliation. God has always intended that this be repaired and that has been His purpose and that had been His plan.
So now what we need to do is fast forward in the story and, if you will, let's turn over to the Book of Colossians and let's look at several scriptures here that will show us and teach us about this reconciliation. The passages in the New Testament that directly mention reconciliation are few but they are powerful and they tell us a great deal.
Colossians 1:19 "For it pleased the Father that in him", meaning Christ, "should all fulness dwell;"
V.20 "And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven."
Pretty well straight forward in these two verses. Now Paul turns his attention to his audience and he says,
V.21 "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works",
In our mind we were in a state of alienation and even enemies or in animosity toward God as this is bringing out here. And yet, he says, because of this, "yet now hath he reconciled".
V.22 "In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:"
V.23 "If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;"
Enemies in the mind, through wicked works and alienated. Yet now He has reconciled. So now, he says that reconciliation has taken place and it is done through Christ.
So far, so good. But there is something about this act that has taken place that we should understand because it kind of takes us back to the story in Eden where God came searching for Adam and Eve, looking for them. He wanted to be with them again as He had been. Again, we can think, "Well, didn't God know", and "wasn't He too late?" Yes, God did know what took place and He knew why they were hidden. In fact here's the dirty little secret: God even knew where they were hiding. But the point of the story is God went looking for them. And that's what we should understand about reconciliation, is that, just as He went looking for Adam and
Eve, He has gone looking for you and I and for all of mankind before we were looking for Him. Before we were looking for Him. Because as we are told here, we were once alienated and enemies and yet now He has reconciled.
Now if you turn over to Romans 5, he elaborates on this. I believe this has already been turned to in this series of Bible studies but it will be turned to even again. I know I'll come back to it on the last Bible study because of what it covers but it is a very important passage here. For our purposes here, tonight it is extremely valuable. The way Paul puts it here is very instructive.
Romans 5:6 "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
Christ didn't die for the Godly. He didn't die for the perfect people. He didn't die for those who were righteous. He died for the ungodly.
V.7 "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die:" What purpose would that be? There would be none. That's his point. "...yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die"
V.8 "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners," while we were sinners, "Christ died for us." Not while we were righteous. Not while we were justified. Not while we were reconciled. But while we were sinners Christ died for us. We know that, theologically, but we should think about that personally. And we always need to do that as we prepare our hearts for the Passover and certainly when we are being prepared for baptism we should think about that as well. He said "Christ died for us."
V.9 "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."
V.10 "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."
Verse 10 is a very critical verse in understanding not only this subject of reconciliation but also the importance of Christ's resurrection. I believe it was Gary Petty that talked about it last time in his presentation and, again, we'll come back to that later on in this series. But, while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.
V.11 "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (reconciliation)."
When you look at the reconciliation passages, and these are just two of them, here in the scriptures, it is implicit within these words of Paul, this one truth that God is reconciled to man through the death of Christ by that death. That is a given. That reconciles us to God. The point is this, the reconciliation is already there. It's already there. Before we ever take it. Before we ever know about it. Before we have any idea that it is available. The reconciliation is done. Not on our part but on God's part. On God's part through the death of Jesus Christ and that is a very important matter to understand regarding reconciliation. Through Christ He has already taken that step, as Verse 10 says, "when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His son." And that is what we have to think about because reconciliation at this level; this high spiritual level is very, very important. But as it so often is vital for us to understand, it also must be understood, the importance of it at our own personal level. Because, in this case, if we accept the fact and the truth that we were reconciled to Christ while we were still alienated, not even knowing it, if you will, God had taken that step because He had already, in a sense, come searching for us, while we were hidden from Him. Then that teaches us something about how we approach the subject, the matter of reconciliation in our own personal lives with our own relationships with other people.
How many of us in this room have ever had a broken relationship? Don't raise your hand because I think every one of us would raise our hand. This happens to us all. Disruptions. Hurt feelings. Offenses. Divorce which is obviously a very major matter. Problems of abuse. You can go right down the list of matters of offense that take place. At times we seek to reconcile. We make effort. Sometimes we don't want to because we are not ready to, or, perhaps it's so great in our minds, what has been done, that we can't even bring ourselves to even consider reconciling with an estranged brother or sister.
But, when we stop to think about what we are told in these scriptures about how God has reconciled with us, even when we were enemies with Him, it reveals a profound truth that is hard for us to wrap ourselves around. Here's that truth: When it comes to our relationships, we must be first willing to forgive and desire to be reconciled. At some point in your heart and mind, as we consider it, we must be willing to forgive and, if possible, desire to be reconciled, if possible. I recognize that there are some relationships that are broken such as in a divorce that are not going to be reconciled but there has to be healing for the parties at some point in time for their own emotional well-being and stability. And perhaps there are other relationships that may never be completely reconciled for whatever reason. But, when we stop to think about the hard core facts of this we have to stop and realize what God has done with us. And at least in our mind and in our heart be willing to forgive and to forgive in our heart and in our mind and, if possible, seek a reconciliation. If not, at least accept that. At least begin to move on even if the other person, the other party, has no desire to be reconciled. We have to at least come to that in our mind if we are going to follow the example we are told here of how God approaches us, "that, while we were still enemies, Christ died for us." That's hard. And I'll be the first one to raise my hand and say, "yeah, that's really hard," because I will struggle with that just like anyone else. But this is the reality, I think, of what scripture is telling us as we learn about reconciliation and the horrendous cost of removing sin which separates man from God as we're told in that story back in Genesis 3.
Let's turn to another passage in 2 Corinthians 5:12. I said we would come back to Corinthians, always a fascinating study. In the first letter, at least, a book that was written to the church during the Days of Unleavened Bread, during the very season that we are building up to and discussing in these Bible studies. In 2 Corinthians 5:12, there is a passage here about reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:12 "For we commend not ourselves again unto you," Paul writes, "but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart."
V.13 "For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause."
V.14 "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:"
V.15 "And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again."
V.16 "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more."
V.17 "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
V.18 "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;"
A famous passage that describes a ministry of reconciliation, of coming together. We've been reconciled to Him, to the Father, through Christ as we've read earlier. Paul shows we have been given a ministry of reconciliation; that is "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; and has committed us the word of reconciliation."
So an illusion to that work that is done through Christ.
V.20 "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
V.21 "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
One way to look at this second letter to the Corinthians is that it is a different tone of letter from the first. The first was highly corrective. The second is more conciliatory. Paul is reaching out to the Corinthians seeking a reconciliation among themselves but even of him toward them. Because, after he wrote that first letter, it was kind of stinging. As Hebrews 12* says, there is no correction that seems joyous but grievous. Any time we've been corrected by someone, a minister, a parent, a friend, it hurts. We get defensive. We don't like to admit it. But it hurts. And yet, if we listen to it, as Paul says in Hebrews; if we are exorcised by it, it brings about righteousness because we listen and we will change. It's hard but it's necessary. And it is necessary to achieve even a level of reconciliation and begin that process. And this is what Paul is doing as he is working with a congregation that he had spent a long time with and he loved.
* Hebrews 12:11 "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
We see the chronology in Acts of Paul being in Corinth. He spent a lot of time there in starting that church, founding it, raising it up, baptizing people and working with them and developing that congregation and then, as he had left it and heard about certain problems that they were having, he, as a good shepherd will, took corrective measures. Yet he wanted now to put his arms around that church and to have the assurance that there was a reconciliation there.
While we could talk long about this idea of a ministry of reconciliation, in Verse 18, and what that implies, what it means, the obligations that they put upon the church and the ministry and all of us, I do think at one level we can think of it as Paul's own ministry of reconciliation, that he says was given to us. And his first order is to reach out to his own congregation and seek to be reconciled to them. That's one way I like to look at this here as he describes it.
We, obviously, have responsibilities to be servants, to minister reconciliation in all of our dealings and to work toward that. I guess the best approach to reconciliation is don't have to be reconciled. Don't let yourself get into a situation where there is a separation. Try, at all costs, to maintain peace. Wage peace. Grace and peace Paul talks about, but it doesn't come easy. It is not maintained without extreme vigilance. Even maintaining it sometimes requires that we suffer loss as James talks about in Chapter 3, as he talks about a godly wisdom that brings about peace, we will be willing even to suffer loss when we may even be in the right to maintain that peace. Sometimes we're called upon to do that. Wisdom is knowing when it is best to give way in a relationship in order to save peace for the whole so there doesn't have to be that. I've seen that time and time again in small levels within the church among small groups of people and I've seen it at the largest level of the church as well that, if attitudes would give and even suffer hurt, the peace of the Body could have been maintained. It is a bitter lesson to learn but it is a true one. That ministry of reconciliation that Paul talks about here is something for us to take personally and to think deeply about so that, ideally, we don't get to the point where we have to employ it. But, if we do, that we are big enough, mature enough, to be able to do that.
Now, in this letter, Paul writes about this ministry of reconciliation and then he goes on to seek a reconciliation with this same congregation which I think, when you read the entire letter, there was an estrangement. There were some fences that needed to be mended after he wrote that first letter, when he dealt with the problems there. If you turn over to Chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, I think we see this. I'm going to read this beginning in Verse 14. I'm going to read it from the Phillips Translation which, I think, puts it quite well. He mentions in Verse 14 that he's "getting ready to visit for the third time and I'm still not going to be a burden to you. It is you," he says, "I want". It's you I want.
2 Corinthians 12:14 "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children."
In other words he wanted an affectionate, loving relationship with them. He said, "It's you I want," not your money. To them people were not money. They were not cows to be milked for what they could just give. They were people made in the image of God that he had been responsible in working with; helping to bring them into the church through what he had done and he was watchful for their salvation.
"...children don't have to put up by their savings for their parents; the parents do that for their children.
V.15 (Phillips) "Consequently I will most gladly spend and be spent for your good even though it means that the more I love you the less you love me."
V.15 "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."
WOW! I'm willing to exhaust all that I have for you, for your own good. But he says, "even if it means that the more I do it, the less you will reciprocate."
I think Paul is demonstrating this attitude of reconciliation that God has toward us in that, while he knew the congregation was not fully reconciled to him, they were willing to either forgive or to accept his correction, recognize his role as their Pastor; recognize their sin, what needed to be done. They weren't all there, in the same paragraph, from the same sentence. He was. He had said what needed to be said. He had exercised his responsibility as a vigilant shepherd and now he is standing before them saying, "I am willing to give everything I've got for you, but I know that when I do, I'm not going to get it all in return."
Down in Verse 19 (Phillips), he says, "Are you thinking that I'm trying to justify myself in your eyes? Actually I am speaking in Christ before God, Himself, and my only reason for so doing is to help you in your spiritual life."
V.19 "Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying."
As a Pastor exercising a ministry of reconciliation, this was Paul's duty, with what he had said back in Verse 15, to spend himself completely and to do it to help their spiritual life. His life was on the line for them.
That is the ultimate in a ministry of reconciliation. Any minister that wants to take that up, wave that banner, must be willing to do so. Any of us in the membership that want to engage in our part of responsibility on that, we've got to be willing to spend and be spent. And, even if we are not loved in return, at least in our minds and in our heart, we have made that step of being forgiven. Paul wanted to go and be a part of them.
V.21 (Phillips) He says, "When I come will God make me feel ashamed of you as I stand among you?"
V.21 "And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed."
He didn't want to stand in their midst and feel uncomfortable, out of place, estranged, unreconciled. That is why he asks the question. I think it implies here that his question is the desire for reconciliation.
It's a great tragedy, you know, when a congregation of God's people become estranged from their Pastor. That is a great tragedy. Even a segment of a congregation. Enough to create unrest and problems. That is a tragedy and creates a great deal of heartache when that happens. Paul's experiencing it here. He was doing all that he could to lay himself out before them, to explain who he was, why he did what he did, and what had to be done.
So, as we think about this, in relation to God's steps of reconciliation toward us before we accepted that, through the sacrifice of Christ, through the blood of Christ, by our repentance and seeking forgiveness, and His shed blood to be applied to us knowing that has already been done, we then need to think about our own lives. Again, bring it down to that personal level which is so important. The "what's in it for me?" approach. We are all broadcasting on radio station, WIFM What's In It For Me. What's in it for you? For reconciliation? What is it that we get? What do we have to do?
Well, let's look at another scripture that gets pretty explicit about that back in Matthew, Chapter 5. A well-known passage from the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:21 "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:"
V.22 "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
V.23 "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;"
V.24 "Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
First be reconciled to your brother when we come before God. We want to come before the presence of God, give a gift of thanksgiving, praise, and prayer, talk to God, be in a relationship with God, where we know that He hears us, and is working. Christ here is saying if there is any anger in our heart; any problems that have caused us to be estranged from our brother and they have something against us, there is a separation. Then we have to leave that gift before that altar and first be reconciled to our brother and then come and offer our gift. We have to seek reconciliation.
V.25 "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison."
V.26 "Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."
Very simple and straight forward and yet challenging and difficult instruction. First be reconciled to your brother. We want reconciliation with God. We want a clean path before us and God then first be reconciled. Pretty strong language. That's what's first.
I would say from my own experience and you may say from yours that, when we do make those steps to reconcile to whatever degree needs to be done – sometimes it's not always as much as we think. It may be just a phone call. It just may be a smile. It might just be to sit down with a cup of coffee type of an approach with somebody to clear the air; to remove any misunderstandings, create a situation where an apology can be made; understanding can be achieved. We all struggle with those in many small ways and sometimes they get a little bit bigger in our own minds than they really are. And then there are those situations that are bigger that, perhaps, involve some very deep sins that create scars and separation. In time life moves on, things heal over and yet we may come into the church and come to a point of understanding and we have to recognize that reconciliation at least needs to be there. We have to do that as it comes to us.
I would say that if the reconciliation is only in our heart and in our mind and not in the others, it still has to be done in ours. Even if it is not accepted, if it rejected or even if it is not physically possible. I've had to counsel through the years members who had been abused as a child, a young person and they later came into the church. They'd long since married, moved away from that situation, came into the church and they began to read the scripture like this and they felt guilty because they weren't reconciled with, in some cases, an abusive parent of their past. We would sit down and talk about it and in helping them come to understand, I think, the intent of this, we would come to realize that, in some cases, I remember talking with people and the abusive parent was dead. There was no way they could reconcile the relationship. Other cases they were so far gone, the parent, the other individual was completely out of their life and there would never be any involvement to even try to work toward a reconciliation. When you get to those extreme situations, my counsel was that, at least reconcile in your mind and in your heart, before God. Ask God for the strength and the character and the ability to even forgive and be able to reconcile in your heart even if the other person can't, won't, is unable to do so.
I think for our own health; our own stability; our own spiritual condition, a person has to get to that. I know that God can help one do so because I've counselled with people who have been in those situations and I know the power of God's spirit and the mind of God to cleanse a heart and to bring a person to an acceptance and even a measure of reconciliation in their mind and heart in forgiveness.
Those were some of the extreme cases. There are a whole lot of other, less extreme cases, perhaps, where we still have to recognize, you know, it's probably not going to work. We have to move one. There has been time and separation and we just have to be willing to let go.
Years ago I read an interesting statement that I've tried to apply but I know it's true. It goes like this: As you wrestle your emotions with somebody and somebody has offended you; somebody has hurt you, and it could be words, it could be actions, whatever situation it might be in our challenging human relationships. Friendship ends, people are separated, whatever, you have to move on. Eventually you have to deal with it and move on.
Somebody said once, "Stop letting people live rent free in your mind."
How many times do we chew it over like a dog with a bone that just won't let that bone go? And we'll work that bone down to nothing. We do that in our minds and we let people live rent free in our minds. That's just bad business folks. Good landlords are going to collect that rent (laughter). Or vacate. And, if it's a toxic situation, and if it's a toxic relationship, vacate it. Clear it out. Be willing to let it go.
In some cases we may never reconcile with some this side of the resurrection. It just may not be possible. But we can, at least, in our mind. If it's only in our heart and mind that reconciliation occurs, then we have to with others. We have to do to others as God has done for us. And if God reconciled with us, in Christ, while we were yet enemies; while we were yet sinners; dead in our sins; alienated from Him; enemies in our mind; if He did that through Christ then we can do that too. And we need to pray toward that end. We need to work toward that.
I think that is a very important lesson for us to learn about reconciliation as we think about Jesus and reconciliation in the preparation for the Passover.
You know these other stories that we talked about up here: The Prodigal Son, obviously a story of reconciliation between a father and a son in this story that Jesus told. That is profound and deep in its implications but showing reconciliation at multiple levels and certainly the level of God as the Father in that story to us as the wayward children, the prodigals, that we do come back and God always has His arms open just as that father did there. But it's a relationship between a father and son showing the very important qualities of a father. I wrote about this several issues back in the Good New Magazine in one of the first of a series that I've been doing on the parables we've been running in the Good News. I wrote about the Prodigal Son and I think in that article I kind of imagined; I kind of did a little bit of Imagineering in my thinking about that. I kind of imagined that father going out on occasion, maybe a short distance from his home, from his farm, toward the area where his son went and, maybe, looking down the road, hoping that he might see that lone figure coming back toward him and not doing it day after day, week after week, who knows? Year after year. You can stretch that story as long as you want. But a father looking for that son because in his heart he had already reconciled with that son.
The story of Joseph, obviously another big one from the Book of Genesis. Joseph wronged, offended by his brothers; sold into slavery. Then he gets on top, becomes second in charge and winds up rescuing his own family as well as the nation of Egypt. But having the satisfaction of having his brothers in front of him, begging, first for food and then for mercy when they realized who he is. And in Genesis 15:20, there, finally Joseph says:
Genesis 50:20 "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive."
You meant it for harm but God meant it for good. All is forgiven. And they reconciled. Beautiful story.
Jacob and Esau. Another one there. , Genesis 32, Genesis 33. Jacob coming back after having stolen and lied to his father over the birthright and the promise and what he stole from Esau even though Esau had already given it up. Then Jacob goes through the conniving and has to leave for all those years. Then he comes back not knowing how Esau is going to receive it. He finds out from some of his men that Esau is coming to meet you but he has a 400 person army. Jacob, "Whoa!" When you read through that touching story, the reunite and the enmity is melted away. The years have just melted away the hostility on both parts, especially on Esau's. And Esau says, "Come, let's take our journey together and I'll go in front." And they come together. Beautiful story. All of these are. But all of them, I think, overshadowed by this great story of God's desire to be reconciled to mankind and what He has done through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We might conclude this study on the subject of reconciliation in a strange place. I chose to do this in looking at the scriptures because there is a prophecy in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 9, Verse 24. One of the most involved and intricate prophecies in all the Bible. It is the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel. I have to confess I have studied Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy intricately in committee work; Prophecy Committee work; in personal study; read it many times and, believe me, it's a challenge. It is difficult and it is involve, it is a lot of history and a lot of chronology. Dates that are argued about by some of the best minds and, at certain points this is one of those prophecies (and I enjoy prophecy and love to study it) but this is one I just say, "I don't know. It's above my pay grade. I'm not paid enough to understand this one" (laughter). But I do understand one part of it in Verse 24. (I'm a little facetious about it being above my pay grade.) I do understand quite a bit of it, not everything. Verse 24, Daniel 9. Perhaps this is the most important thing to understand.
Daniel 9:24 "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins," sin; we're right back at sin again. The very thing that separated Adam and Eve from God in the Garden in Eden. Sin. And all of mankind. To make an end for sins which is, despite all the details of the prophecy, this is where it all ends up, "...and to make reconciliation for iniquity," for sin. 70 weeks. And when you do come to the end of that 70 weeks, whenever and however it all develops out, we are at the point of time of Christ, the Messiah, having returned and all of mankind's rule has been put down. And the rule of Christ and the Kingdom, and the millennium period begins on this earth. And all those prophecies and scriptures. Then there is the beginning to make an end of sin and the process begins of them harvesting all of mankind, beginning in that 1000 year period into a relationship with God and true atonement. "...and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy."
So there. You can say now that you understand the 70 weeks prophecy. In one verse. And when that day takes place; when that event happens, we will have true reconciliation because Jesus will be reigning on this earth.
As we close tonight I just want to repeat, again, when the next Bible study will be held. March 12th, three weeks from tonight. Steve Myers will be conducting the Bible study. The topic that evening will be "The Bread and the Wine".
Thanks, all of you, for coming out tonight and all of you that have watched us on the web and will be watching us later on. We hope that you will continue to watch this series, The Six Steps to Passover.
Good night everyone.