The following is excerpted from the September-December 2009 edition of The Journey: God’s Word for Daily Living published by Bible Reading Fellowship. Canon Mark was asked to write twenty-five daily lessons on the subject of “Reconciliation.” These lessons are (c) copyright 2009 Bible Reading Fellowship and the article that follows is (c) copyright 2010 Institute for Christian Renewal and cannot (legally or morally) be reproduced without permission.
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by Canon Mark Pearson
Before we consider how we can be reconciled with individuals or groups of people, we must start with reconciliation with God. Why is that?
First, because God makes the initial move towards us, “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). When people try to find God on their (our) own, they (we) always get woefully lost. The human race was lost, could not find its way back, and God came looking for us.
Second, because God’s answer is always best. When people try to determine how to effect reconciliation with God, they usually either build idols (which leads to pride), or they sacrifice themselves or one another (which leads to fear), or they water down God’s commands (which leads to bondage).
Third, because God, and only God, could provide that which makes reconciliation possible. We instinctively know there’s a price to pay for our disobedience. Sensitive souls know that price is too great for ourselves to pay. God had to pay it for us.
Fourth, until we have been reconciled to God we are in no position to be reconciled with others. Before God works in us we lack both the wisdom and the strength to make such things happen.
Have you ever noticed that the Epistles always start with doctrine and only then move on to action? We must first learn the theological foundation of Who is God and What He’s all about. Only then can we know how to respond in our quest for holiness and in our ministry to others.
So, first, before there can be any reconciliation between people, there must first be a reconciliation with God, and He sets the tone and defines the terms. As Paul wrote the Corinthians, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself …” (2 Corinthians 5:18a).
God’s ministry of reconciliation started with Him coming to rescue the fallen human race. Isaiah pointed out the universal scope of human fallenness when he said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6a). Jews are guilty because they had the Law, the revelation of God’s will, and they disobeyed it (Romans 2:17-29). Gentiles are guilty as well, because, though they did not have the Law, they did have enough in the created order to know some things about God and God’s will, and they sinned against that (Romans 1:18-23). Therefore, Paul rightly concludes “ … all have sinned …” (Romans 3:23).
And God took the initiative to bring us back. He initiated reconciliation and He did it in Christ. “God … reconciled us to himself through Christ … that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
God did this not because we are worthy or loveable but because He is Love. “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Searching for That Which is Lost
Scripture uses different metaphors to help us understand God’s ministry of reconciliation. One image is that of lost and found. Way back in Genesis 3 God goes looking for the lost Adam and asks him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9). In Luke 15:3-10 we have two parables of lostness and how someone took the initiative to find what was lost. First, we have the lost sheep, and then the lost coin.
In neither story is sin mentioned per se. Although, of course, we are lost because of sin, the focus of these stories is simply lostness. The sheep got lost because sheep are both curious and stupid. They’ll see something that interests them and off they go oblivious to whatever danger might befall them. As for the coin, it is simply lost. In both stories an earnest attempt is made to find that which is lost.
First, the shepherd goes looking for the lost, even leaving the ninety-nine that were safe. From this we learn that God is not content that His loss ratio is only 1%. Even that is too much. This solitary sheep is so precious to the shepherd that upon finding the lost sheep he both rejoices (vs. 5) and rejoices with others (vs. 6). A shepherd who cares for his sheep will do that and Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). Jesus said about Himself, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Second, the woman loses one of her coins and searches diligently until she finds it. Upon finding it, she invites her neighbors to rejoice with her (Luke 15:9).
Lest we miss the point of these two parables, Jesus ends each story with the application to the Kingdom of God — that there is rejoicing in heaven when just one lost sinner repents (Luke 15:7, 10). The sheep is back in the flock, the coin is back in its purse, and a lost soul is reconciled to God.
The Passover Lamb
One well-known phrase used to describe the overall theme of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is “the thin red line.” The “thin red line” refers to the shedding of the blood of an innocent victim standing in the place of a guilty sinner to effect reconciliation of the sinner to a holy God.
God had sent several plagues to force the Egyptians to let the children of Israel go free. The last of these was the death of the first-born son. The Jews were told to kill a lamb and place some of its blood on the doorpost of their dwellings, and when God saw the blood He would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born (read the story in Exodus 12:1-13).
This lamb sacrifice was good, first, because God commanded it, and, second, because it illustrated the point of substitutionary blood atonement — the innocent animal shedding blood so the guilty human being would be spared. But, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews pointed out, it wasn’t good enough because it and all the other sacrifices had to be repeated over and over (Hebrews 10: 1-18). It was good, but not good enough.
The yearly sacrifice of the Passover prepared God’s people for what was to come. One day, early in Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:35).
John knew Jesus was the fulfillment of what the Passover had foreshadowed. He would be the One Who would accomplish what was needed — the shedding of blood so that the angel of eternal death would not visit those who placed the blood of Jesus on the doorpost of their lives.
When Jesus was about to die on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He was not saying, “I am finished,” but it, the work of redemption , is finished. As a result, the veil of the temple was ripped in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). That curtain had kept people out of the holy of holies be-cause of their estrangement from God. The blood of the Passover lamb was not sufficient to remove that veil, but the blood of Jesus was. As a result, we can have reconciliation with God and go boldly to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
Another image the Old Testament uses to describe the One to come Who would die in our place to reconcile us to God was “The Servant.” We meet him in the latter part of the book of Isaiah. The servant appears in four distinct passages, seeming to be, at various times, the people of Israel collectively, and at other times an individual. In hindsight we see that at least some of the time the prophet was referring to the coming Messiah.
In Isaiah 53 we see that this servant took upon himself the punishment of the sins of others. In verse 6 we are told that we, like sheep, have gone astray. We are all sinners. What happens to our sins? The verse continues, “The Lord [meaning God the Father] has laid on him [the Servant, God the Son] the iniquity of us all.”
Our sin has erected a barrier between us and God. That barrier must be removed in order for us to be reconciled to God. Someone must pay for our sins. If we pay for it ourselves, the cost will be eternal separation from God. But God chose His Son, foreshadowed here in Isaiah, to pay that price in our place.
Paul wrote that “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Thank you, Jesus, for doing this for us. +