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Reconciliation—The Heart of the Gospel.

August 18, 2008

Read II Corinthians 5:18-20.

I want to talk with you this morning about this most radical passage in the Bible. I realize that such a statement is a bold claim & there may be those here this morning who would suggest other Biblical texts as the rightful recipients of this title. I do not apologize however, and as we explore the passage that we have heard twice already this morning – II Corinthians 5:18-20—it is my payer that each person here this morning will come to grasp both the radical nature of the message found in these verses and the challenge that they present to each of us as Christians—members of the body of Christ.

James Denney, a little known Scottish pastor and theologian, spoke of the doctrine of reconciliation as “the inspiration and focus of all” doctrines of the Christian faith.[1]

Similarly Karl Barth, a much more widely known Swiss pastor and theologian stated that with the doctrine of reconciliation “we enter that sphere of Christian knowledge in which we have to do with the heart of the message received by and laid upon the Christian community.”[2]

Likewise Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian pointed out that the central message of the New Testament was that “God loved the world and reconciled it with himself in Christ.”[3]

The doctrine of reconciliation, I would suggest then—as the heart of the Christian message—as the heart of the gospel—is worth taking seriously.

Our passage of scripture this morning, II Corinthians 5:18-20 begins in the middle of the story—Paul makes an assumption in this passage that I want us to consider for a moment.

If we are all reconciled to God through Jesus Christ; if we have all been given the ministry of reconciliation as II Corinthians undoubtedly states, then Paul’s assumption is clearly, that for all of us, there is a need to be reconciled with God.

Reconciliation is necessary for all because the whole of humanity is sentenced to death as sinners, as enemies of God.

As we read in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Likewise three chapters later in Romans 6:23 we read “For the wages of sin is death.”

Humanity is caught in a sinful situation from which it cannot escape.

Not only are each of us as sinners under a death sentence, but our sinfulness has alienated us from God. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.” Colossians 1:21

Reconciliation involves a change in the relationship of people who were previously enemies. People who have been reconciled with each other “exchange” a relationship of separation and hostility for one of friendship and peace.

The word reconciliation carries the idea of an exchange, not an exchange of gifts or other physical objects, but an exchange of state or status. The Greek word that we translate as reconciliation is typically used outside of the NT in reference to enemies who exchange their state of separation, hate, anger, and war for a state of unity, friendship, peace, and love.

In the Good News translation, II Corinthians 5:18 reads:

“All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.”

This translation captures the meaning of reconciliation very nicely—we are changed from God’s enemies into God’s friends.

Reconciliation is actually not a very common NT word, occurring with its’ derivatives: reconcile, reconciled, reconciling, only 15 times. 12 of these times occur in the Pauline writings: in Romans, I & II Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, and Colossians. Importantly, in each of these statements God is clearly shown to be the sole author of reconciliation—that is, it is God who begins the process of reconciliation; it is God who initiates.

¨ All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ (II Corinthians 5:18)

¨ in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:19 )

There is no mention in any of the verses where this term is found, of God needing to be reconciled; or that God is the recipient or beneficiary of a reconciling act.

God initiates reconciliation when we were still enemies—God loved us first.

Our reconciliation with God can be described as a one-sided offer of peace where there was conflict. Our reconciliation with God does not take place on equal terms. As sinners we have nothing to offer; the reconciliation of sinful humanity with God is achieved only through Jesus Christ.

The reconciliation of humanity with God is achieved only through Jesus Christ.

¨ The sinless Christ is identified with human sinfulness

¨ As a result, sinful humans may be identified with God’s righteousness (II Cor. 5:21)

See also Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”

Romans 5:8 “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Don’t miss the immensity of that statement—Christ died for us while we were sinners.

Col. 1:22: “By Christ’s death in his physical body, God has reconciled you to himself.”

Col. 1:19-20a: “For in him God in all his fullness chose to dwell and through him to reconcile all things to himself.”

According to II Corinthians 5:19, reconciliation is the fundamental purpose of the Christ-event. We cannot speak about reconciliation without speaking of the cross—because without the cross there can be no reconciliation.

Miroslav Volf in his book Exclusion and Embrace puts it this way:

“The cross is the giving up of God’s self in order not to give up on humanity; it is the consequence of God’s desire to break the power of human enmity without violence and receive human beings into divine communion….The arms of the crucified are open—a sign of a space in God’s self and an invitation for the enemy to come in.”[4]

This momentous event—this breaking in of God into the human sphere is not something to be glossed over or taken lightly:

As Volf puts it:

“Whoever thinks the cross is not an offense has never followed the Crucified to Gethsemane let alone to Golgotha….If the fate of the Crucified and his demand to walk in his footsteps disturb us, then we will also be disturbed by the God of the Crucified. For the very nature of the triune God is reflected on the cross of Christ….At the core of Christian faith lies the claim that God entered history and died on the cross in the person of Jesus Christ for an unjust and deceitful world.”[5]

The nature of God—as mediator, reconciler—is indeed reflected on the cross of Christ.

Jurgen Moltmann in his book The Crucified God puts it as follows:

“In Jesus, God does not die a natural death, but rather the violent death of a condemned person on the cross. At Golgotha he dies the death of complete God-abandonedness. The suffering in the suffering of Jesus is the abandonment, and indeed condemnation, by the God whom he called Father….The God-abandoned Son of God takes the eternal death of the abandoned and the damned upon himself in order to become God of the abandoned and brother of the damned. Every person damned and abandoned by God can, in the crucified one, experience community with God. The incarnate God is present and accessible to the humanity of every [person].”

Through his death on the cross, Jesus Christ has reconciled the world—all humanity—with God.

Bono of the group U2 gets it exactly right when he sings, “But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.”

God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ has indeed conquered the great divide of sin that so irreversibly separated us from God.

The message of reconciliation that we are exploring today is a message of universal application—we are all sinners in a state of separation and alienation from God.

But the good news, the wonderful, magnificent, life-changing, reality-shattering news is that just as sin is a universal human reality—so is God’s act of reconciliation.

II Cor. 5:19. The implication here is that Christ acts and accomplishes reconciliation on behalf of the world as a whole. He acts representatively—on behalf of the world—so that the particular achievement of one becomes effective for all.

Jürgen Moltmann gives us this powerful image:

“Here [under the cross], rather, is where the godless are justified, enemies are reconciled, prisoners are set free, the poor are enriched, and the sad are filled with hope.”[6]

Reconciliation with God is not just a possibility that is open to individuals who respond to Jesus Christ in faith, but rather in terms of an already accomplished alteration to human reality—God has broken into our human reality in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Understand this: The world as a whole has been reconciled to God in Christ—this reconciliation has been accomplished already.

II Corinthians 5:19 points out that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them.” It is the world’s sins that are not counted—not merely those of the converted.

Paul points out in Romans 10:13 that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”

Murray Rae puts it this way:

“Here is the glory of the gospel. Neither race, nor religious purity, nor cultural pedigree, nor great learning, nor moral perfection, is the criterion upon which salvation is attained.”[7]

In this respect, God has dealt with humanity collectively—as a group—for God loves and has redeemed all that God has made.

The entire world is included in God’s mission to make all things new, not just some section of humanity. This means that if we rejoice that God came to rescue “me,” we must also rejoice that God came to rescue our enemies, those we don’t like, or with whom we disagree, or even those who have wronged us in serious ways. God did not act just for some. God has reconciled the whole world to himself.

The relationship of reconciliation with God is one in which nothing can separate believers from the love of God in Christ.

Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Once we were enemies of God. Once we were so separated from God by our sin that there was nothing we could do that would bridge the gap.

Now, having been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ—there is nothing at all in the entire universe—not death, not demons, not distance, not darkness—there is nothing that can separate us from God.

Such an incredible gift.

God acts toward the world in a way which calls forth individual faith and repentance and obedience.

The South African theologian John de Gruchy makes the challenging observation that:

“The fundamental difference between the church and the world is that the former recognises, acknowledges, confesses and seeks to express God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ in its life, whereas the world fails to recognize and acknowledge what God has in fact done….The church is thus a sign of the new humanity that God is creating in Christ, having broken down the walls that divide the human race into warring factions.”[8]

Faith is not a condition of reconciliation; but rather the objective reality of reconciliation invites our response of faith, repentance, and obedience.

These three human reactions—worked within us by the Holy Spirit—are the glad response to what Christ has accomplished for us; but are not conditions to be met before Christ’s act of reconciliation applies to us.

“The finality of this accomplishment notwithstanding, however, it is also the case that the reconciliation of the world in Christ involves—through a continuing event of divine grace—the Spirit-inspired but nonetheless human event of response and a new life.”[9]

The human response to God’s grace is a response of thanksgiving and praise. It is a response of gratitude and joy for that which has been accomplished in Christ.

Whoever responds in faith to the person and work of Christ does not aid Christ in his priesthood. The reconciling act is exclusively the work of God in Christ, directed to the world.

We cannot imagine as Karl Barth contends in his argument with Emile Brunner, that we are able to swim a few strokes on our own.

Our response then, is to be conceived fundamentally as an act of praise. It is in this act of praise and thanksgiving—or perhaps more properly, these acts—this life—of praise and thanksgiving, that we as the church become witnesses to the reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ.

Reconciliation implies a new form of existence, a new way of living, as Murray Rae puts it:

“the reconciliation of the world in Christ calls people forth to live according to the new reality that has, once and for all, been accomplished. The fact that the world has been reconciled to God in Christ becomes apparent…in a community of men and women who actually do live, albeit in a not-yet perfected form, in reconciled relationship with God and with one another.”[10]

We may then regard the life of Christian discipleship—living as the Church, the body of Christ in this world—“as a participation in and witness to the reconciliation of the world with God.”[11]

The reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ becomes apparent through the existence of the church—the body of Christ called into existence as a sign that God HAS reconciled the world to himself.

A final implication of this message of reconciliation is that because of the reality that we are all sinners, yet all now reconciled with God through Jesus Christ; the distinctions of class, nation, race, or gender lose their significance—our identity is defined only as sinners reconciled to God. This is the only label, classification, or categorization that matters—I am—and You are—sinners reconciled to god through Jesus Christ.

This is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We are all one in Christ Jesus—we have all been reconciled to God—and that is all that matters.

Remember Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John 17? Towards the end of the prayer in verses 20 to 23, Jesus prays:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The Nobel prize-winning English poet T. S. Eliot ends his poem “Little Gidding,” with the following words:

“And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.”

And the fire and the rose are one. And all manner of creatures are one. And all manner of Christians are one. And all manner, yes, even of Seventh-day Adventists, are one. And this broken and fearful world and its creator are one. And this broken battered church and its Lord are one. Thank God that we are each and every one reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.[12]

HYMN: Amazing Grace

Benediction:

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace as you celebrate the good news of your reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ.

Amen

Jeff Crocombe – Helderberg College Church – August 16, 2008.


[1] Quoted in John de Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (Augsburg Fortress Press, 2002), 44.

[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV:1 The Doctrine of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004), 3.

[3] Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 204.

[4] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 126.

[5] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 127.

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, “The Ecumenical Church under the Cross”, in Theology Digest 24:4 (1971), 382.

[7] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 97-98.

[8] John de Gruchy, “Racism, Reconciliation, and Resistance” in On Reading Karl Barth in South Africa (Charles Villa-Vicencio (Ed.) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eeerdmans, 1988), 147.

[9] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 94.

[10] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 94.

[11] Murray Rae “A Remnant People: The Ecclasia as a Sign of Reconciliation” in Colin E Gunton (Ed.) The Theology of Reconciliation (Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 2003), 94.

[12] This ending is modified from a sermon by John Wilkinson: http://www.covenantnetwork.org/sermon&papers/wilkinson3.html

One comment

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Would it be okay with you if I posted this on my blog, you being the guest author? I have three separate journals. I would put this one under the one dedicated to more academic theology. Let me know.

    I’ve already linked this post on my home page under Road Notes. I’ll keep it up for about a week.

    Noting the date on this post, I hope you haven’t given up on the blog. That would be a shame.



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