Reconciliation. The word has a beautiful ring to it even in terms of human life-for a marriage scarred by bitterness and distance and hurt; for friends who have fallen out; for parents and children whose relationship is now broken, hostile, and painful.
Reconciliation. What a beautiful ring that word has. The reuniting of those who are estranged so that the state of hostility is gone, enmity removed. And now there is peace.
The Scriptures speak to us of reconciliation between God and man. But the Scriptures are not concerned first of all with life on the horizontal, among men. But they are concerned with life on the vertical, between our soul and God. It is only when that is right that our relationships among each other can be right.
Scripture is the only place where you are going to get the truth. Your real problem and your only hope is in a saving relationship to the living God. Your real problem is your sin before a holy and a living God. The Bible was not given first of all to make your life simply manageable, to give you positive vibes, to improve the quality of your life. But it was given to declare the only way of reconciliation with God. For if you are not truly, really, personally reconciled to God, all of your life is worthless and empty. It is only a glazed-over hostility and evil. The removal of enmity, the covering of the breach between ourselves and the living God through His Son Jesus Christ: this is the message of the gospel. The enormity of our offense, so great that we cannot conceive of it, removed by the grace of God! We who offended the holy God, cast off allegiance, despised His authority, trampled His commandments, yet reconciled by the death of His Son! Reconciled to God. When that is true, then we can live in peace with Him and with one another.
I would like to consider with you today the truth of reconciliation with God.
We read of this very beautifully in II Corinthians 5:18-20. In the context of that Scripture Paul had, under the inspiration of God, given one of the clearest statements of what a Christian is. In verse 17 we read this: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” In this section of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul had been giving an explanation of his ministry. He began in chapter 4 by stating the purpose for his ministry, going on to explain the abuses that he suffered for the ministry, and then speaking of the fervor and the zeal of his ministry. There were those who interpreted the apostle Paul’s passion for the gospel as the zeal of a fanatic or lunatic, as one who was beside himself, gripped in some psycho-frenzy. No, says Paul. It is not because of some mental or emotional disorder, but the love of Christ constrains us. What drives me, what motivates me, what constrains me is the love of Christ, so that I no longer live unto myself but unto the Lord. Henceforth, he says, we know no man after the flesh. We do not view man simply in a natural, carnal way, but in a spiritual way. And we do that because if any man is in Christ he is a new creature. The Christian, then, is placed into Christ and constituted a new creature. He is something not of this world, but he now lives unto God. Old things of sin and lust and self are gone. And all is new. Is that true of you?
Then the apostle says, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” All things are of God. Literally, this all is of God. All of this, this wonder of being placed in Christ, this wonder of being made a new creature, this entire change, this work of salvation-this is all of God. God is the author of this glorious salvation.
But on what basis does God do that? How can God take a sinful man, a sinful woman, and recreate them, make them into new creatures? What is the basis upon which God can save? For do not you and I deserve to burn in hell for our sins? How then can God do all of this for me? How can He put me into Christ? How can He make me a new creature with holy desires? Does not the justice of God demand that I know only the terrors of the Lord? The answer is this: Who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, not imputing our trespasses unto us. God has reconciled us. On the basis of that fact He does and He may perform His gracious work in us.
Now we have a question: Reconciliation, what does that mean? More: Why is it necessary? And finally, How was it accomplished?
What does it mean? To reconcile is to reunite those who are estranged. To unite, by removing the enmity between them, thus to change from the position of hostility to a relationship of friendship. It speaks of the eternal love of God to unite those He ordained to eternal life to Himself, for we had fallen into sin. Reconciliation presupposes a former relationship of friendship. You do not reconcile strangers but friends (husbands, wives, parents, children). When God reconciles us He takes us, who in Adam were made to know and to love Him; us, whom He has predestinated out of mere grace: us, who had fallen and are separated and estranged from Him-He takes us to Himself through the cross. That is reconciliation.
The word is also used in I Corinthians 7:11, where we get the force of the word. Speaking in the context of a marriage of a believer with an unbeliever, the apostle says, “Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart (that is, if it is impossible for her to remain, either by his putting her away or by his unfaithfulness to her, she has two options), let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.” Reconciled to her husband would mean that the differences, the hurts, the misunderstanding, the coldness, the distance would be overcome, and husband and wife would be reunited in the bond of the exclusive love of marriage.
Now God has reconciled us to Himself. The enmity of our sins He has removed, so that when God reconciles us to Himself this is not simply a patching up for the sake of appearance. His reconciliation was not simply motivated by this: “Well, it’s gone far enough. We had better get back on speaking terms.” No, He has reconciled us in the way of removing our sins in the cross of Christ.
Why was this necessary? The answer is plain: our sin, our trespasses. The apostle says: “not imputing their trespasses unto them” (v. 19). The word “trespass” means “out of bounds”-when we go where we do not belong and we become worthy of punishment. We are out of line. We stepped out of the bounds of God’s law. We lifted up our hand against God. We ruptured fellowship. Isaiah 59:2 and 3: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.” Sin separates us from God.
The lamentation of Jeremiah in a day of apostasy in Judah, when the collective consciousness of God’s people was soothed with the words: Peace, peace when there was no peace. Then Jeremiah says this: “O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?” (Jer. 14:8). This is the devastation of sin. Do you feel that? This is the price of sin, the awful price: estrangement from God. Sin is not only transgression and disobedience. But it’s most devastating feature is that it breaks fellowship with God. There are many who do not see this. They do not think of their life in terms of God. They look at the cross of Jesus Christ and they do not see a great thing. They say, That’s very nice. But they are not spellbound. They think of sin simply in terms of bad decisions or being caught or in terms of themselves-not in terms of fellowship with God. When I sin, I insult my companion, the living God. How can I experience fellowship with God in the way of sin? So we must be reconciled because of our sins.
How is this reconciliation accomplished? It was accomplished by Jesus Christ. We read again: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.” And again, in verse 19, “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” It is through Christ that we are reconciled to God, that is, by the work of Christ, the atonement of Christ, on the cross which was a payment for the sins of His people. Through the blood of the cross of Jesus, through the work of Jesus Christ, we are reconciled.
That means that the cross of Jesus Christ was substitution. Christ stood in the place of, in the stand of, others, in order that our transgressions were not visited upon our head but upon Christ’s. The oceans of our sins separating us from God, into which if we were cast we would burn forever in hell, these were swallowed up by the Son of God who stood in the place of God’s children.
Now, if that is not the most wonderful truth that you have ever heard or could imagine hearing, something is dreadfully wrong with your heart. God, says Paul, was in Christ. He was God’s Son. God was working in Christ. God was performing a work in Christ. He reconciled us unto Himself in the work of Christ. At the cross God was not simply giving a stirring example to be an inspiration to man. But at the cross God was imputing our sin unto His Son, Jesus Christ, in order that His Son might wipe away that sin in His suffering and restore us to the fellowship of God. That is the truth of the cross.
The apostle Paul was very anxious that this phenomenal truth of what God has done in reconciling us His people unto Himself through the work of Christ be declared through the ministry, through preachers. This great fact, he says, must be published. Now then, he says in verse 20, “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.” And verse 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.”
This reconciliation must be published. It must be made known. If among nations there had been a threat of war and nuclear holocaust, but the leaders had reached an agreement, then this reconciliation would be proclaimed. Men would be commissioned to trumpet the news, to publish it in the streets, so that the citizens could again open their shutters and dance in the streets. If a father and a mother are reconciled in true confession and forgiveness in their marriage, if the threats of divorce are broken up before the cross of Christ, then they go to their children, whose hearts have carried this burden which was crushing them, and they call the family together to announce: We are reconciled one to the other. Reconciliation must be declared! It must be published. Of course.
This must be published officially in the name of God. So God has constituted a ministry to go forth, preachers of the gospel to herald this truth of reconciliation with the God of heaven, the removal of the most heinous of sin. To be restored to the only God who alone is good. The Christian ministry which God has established in the church was commissioned to go forth to declare that God has reconciled His people to Himself, to declare the great work that God has performed.
Now Paul is stressing that this ministry has been commissioned, or has been entrusted, to men, men who are sent and called by Christ through His church. He says in verse 18, “And hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Us, the apostles and the other ministers of the Christian church. Verse 19, “And hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” That is, entrusted to us, as a sacred charge, this word that we might declare it. And he says we are now therefore “ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.” We are ambassadors, messengers, representatives who have not come to speak in our own name, nor to deliver our own message and our own authority. We have not come to bring our own opinion. But the Christian ministry has been sent in the stead of Christ, in the place of Christ, to declare what God has done through Jesus Christ, and to declare this through preaching. Preaching is the trumpet of God. It is the call and declaration of God to all who are in Christ Jesus of what God has done. Therefore, it is commanded that it be heralded, “Be ye reconciled to God.”
Now we might say, wait a minute. Has not the apostle just said that God has reconciled us to Himself? Has he not said that God has commissioned His servants to bring the word of reconciliation? Not a word of mere plausibility, not merely a word of a prospect, not merely a word of good intentions, or fond wishes on the part of God, but a word in which ministers may stand up and say, “You hath he reconciled unto God.” Then, why the exhortation, “Be ye reconciled to God”?
Beloved, the answer to that is that it is the call to repentance. There is no conflict here. No, the call of the gospel of reconciliation is, Be ye reconciled to God! That is, live as those reconciled to God. Reconciliation is imparted to our experiences only in the way of the grace of God causing us to heed the summons, to repent.
We have offended God. We must confess our sins. We must seek Him humbly. We must forsake our sins. This is the message that I am called to bring: Be ye reconciled to God. God hath reconciled us unto Himself. Now you, who by grace hear and know your sins and long for Him, walk in that reconciliation. Part with and forsake all other friends and lovers.
Are you, by the blood of Christ, brought nigh to God? Are you reconciled? Well then, renounce, break off the friendships of the world and evil. Be estranged from this world. For Christ forsake the world-the world in its lyrics of music (they cannot be yours), the world in its behavior and language (it may not be yours). God must be your sole Friend and portion. Forsake your sin, cease your hostility against God, throw down your weapons of rebellion. Be reconciled with God. How long will you pamper your sins? How long will you pamper your lusts and your disobedience to God? Can you fool God? We cannot fool Him!
With willing heart and humble soul, heed the call: Depart from your sins, be reconciled to God! No longer be wedded to your lusts. No longer live in love with sin. But desire to come unto God who hath reconciled us unto Himself. Confess your sins.
This is the message which we declare unto you. This is joy and peace. You who were alienated from God through sin have been reconciled by the grace of God. The infinite distance has been bridged. You are brought into the arms of God. Now abide in Him. Be reconciled to God.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word and for the wonder of reconciliation. Bind Thy Word unto our hearts. Amen.