2 Corinthians 5:18&19 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation”
We are told that after a husband or a wife has filed for a divorce only one couple in eight make any attempt at reconciliation. But of those who do as many as a half of them in fact manage to get their marriage back together again. To try to be reconciled is worth while at all sorts of levels. Some people live estranged from others for years because neither party attempt to speak or show affection to the other. Families, friendships and churches suffer as a consequence. The great model for reconciling grace is God himself, the “God who reconciled us to himself through Christ” who has also given to us “the ministry of reconciliation.” The word ‘reconciliation’ means to change or exchange, a change of relations, an exchange of antagonism for amity. The word means to restore to friendship, or to make up after a quarrel. It presumes that affection and peace once existed, but something has happened to end it. Today there is what is known as ‘alienation.’ That is a very 20th century word. The Marxist has made much of economic alienation – the farmer who struggles to grow a product sees a gulf between the money which he is gets and the price at which it is sold in the supermarket. Others speak of political alienation, a sense of powerlessness to improve health care and education, and to reduce the burden of taxation on ordinary people which constrains some parents to both be at work. Yet others have even deeper feelings of alienation from the whole maelstrom of modern life, its materialism, emptiness and superficiality. They are feeling unfulfilled and disorientated. They have discovered that many of our civilisation’s promises are null and void, and that what they have been given is fluff.
The Times recently interviewed numbers of young men and women in the city of London. Most of them were depressed with life. Raj Pabla is 26 and a solicitor from Putney in West London. He said, “I am really frustrated and have become very cynical about my life. I was really looking forward to starting my job, but I have found out that success is only about targets you reach. This is depressing. Sometimes I feel like a robot completing tasks, rather than a person. I have lost my enthusiasm because of the way that things fail to fall into place. I thought I would be a high-flyer with a great love life. When it does not work out the way you expect, it hits you hard, I have become so cynical that I just want to make my fortune. Money is the only thing that drives me and keep me going.” (Times, 23 May 2001). Six other people in their twenties all spoke of their angst in that way. All of them were alienated from that full rich life which had been promised them even though they had attained everything they had been encouraged to believe in ten years earlier. But none of this gloomy seven were a Christian. Let those believers who are tempted to look at their non-Christian friends and begin to itch for their imagined freedom, see how alienated and unhappy most of them are. Let not your heart envy sinners. Men without God are strangers in his world, without hope and peace. Our greatest need is to be reconciled to the Creator God.
How important that alienation be ended and that the world experiences the joy of a reconciled God. Dr Leon Morris points out that reconciliation “is not a word to describe good relations in general. It means good relations which follow when an enmity has been overcome. Imagine that I were visiting you in your home and while I was there your friend Mr Brown dropped in. If your Mr Brown and I got along well you wouldn’t say to your friends next day, ‘Last night Mr Brown and Dr Morris were reconciled at my home.’ ‘Reconciled’ would be quite the wrong word. This is the first time that your Mr Brown and I had met. It is impossible for us to be ‘reconciled’. Of course, if this were not in fact our first meeting, and if we had known one another in the past and had had a thundering great row and if you were able to bring us to be of one mind, then reconciliation would be exactly the right word. That is the way we use the term. It means bringing people into a state of friendship again after they had been at loggerheads. It means turning people from being enemies into being friends. It means replacing enmity with friendship. It means ending the quarrel” (Leon Morris, “The Atonement: Its Meaning and Its Significance”, IVP, 1983, p.132). So the word ‘reconciliation’ implies three states, first friendship, then a quarrel, then friendship again.
Then how is it between God and man? And if there is alienation, how can peace be restored?
1. THERE IS AN ESTRANGEMENT BETWEEN GOD AND MAN.
Last year was a bad time for a fellow pastor and friend of mine called Tom. He experienced an estrangement with one of his closest friends in the congregation. They had been fellow members and had worked together in their fine church for decades, but last year something happened, I know not what, and now there is a state of coolness between them. No matter what he and others have sought to do the friendship at the present time is over. The man has left the congregation. Friendship is a wonderful thing, but when it is destroyed what regrets it brings. There has to be a right attitude on both sides for reconciliation, or there will just be an uneasy stalemate. Friendship means that each is displaying trust, warmth and good will.
Think of David and Jonathan, and how nothing ever came between them. What enlargement was brought into both their lives by their affection for one another. There would be the added interest of their wives and families. Though Jonathan’s father hated David and wanted to kill him Jonathan stuck by his friend. There was never any need of their being reconciled because they never drifted apart. At Jonathan’s death David cried, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women” (2 Sam. 1:26). David also honoured Saul in that same lament and said, “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and gracious” (2 Sam. 1:23). But nothing David tried to do could achieve reconciliation with King Saul. There was hatred in Saul’s heart for David to the grave. The relationship which had begun so well, with Saul loving David and giving him the hand of his daughter in marriage, ended so ill.
Wherever an estrangement occurs between two people there is the offending party – who has behaved badly, and there is the offended party. Think of Cain murdering Abel, or Judas betraying Jesus, or all the congregations in Asia turning against Paul. One hurting and the hurt, and the result is alienation. So it is between God and ourselves, is there not a distance between the world and him? Are men not strangers and aliens to God? What has caused this? Who has been the guilty party? Could it have been the Shepherd of Israel? The God who is love? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? The Holy Spirit? Does God at times choose to behave like Baal, and separate himself, and give no reason? You say, “No way. God is always righteous and his purposes are that we lead rich and full lives.” The reason for the estrangement is ours. It is man who has offended him.
You know the history of our first parents, placed in the Garden of Eden, and living in perfect harmony with God. There was friendship between the Creator and Adam. They walked together in the cool of the day in the most sweet fellowship. The days went by and nothing came between them. One can compare them to two chairs in a pulpit facing one another, open to one another, in loving dialogue. But throughout this period before the fall Adam and Eve were under probation, being tested concerning their trust in God. Their condition was happy, yet mutable. Adam was capable of falling. The key to their future was focused on one single prohibition, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). While they obeyed God they were acknowledging that he alone was the all-wise Creator and they were creatures, living and moving and having their being in him. Then one day the serpent suddenly speaks to Eve saying, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). He plants the seeds of alienation in her mind, and soon Eve is ogling the tree, and she is stretching out her hand to take, and she is giving it to her husband and he is also eating it. Then their eyes are opened and they realise they are naked. They sew fig leaves together, make their own coverings for themselves, and go into hiding. They had a new disposition, a carnal mind, at enmity with God. What has happened? Man turned himself away from God to trust the serpent and also trust in himself. So one chair now turns right away from the other. Man has turned his back on a wise and loving Lord. He had become alienated and an enemy in his mind by his wicked works. Then, because of this wicked stance, God also turns his face away from man, and the other chair is facing the opposite way. “They rebelled and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them” (Isa. 63:10). The chairs have been reversed and stand back to back.
Two changes are needed to bring them back into accord. Firstly, God needs to change. His anger at man’s terrible sin needs to be removed. God must be reconciled to man. Secondly, man needs to change. His heart and whole disposition needs to be altered, to face up to what he has done, bow his head, ask for forgiveness, and to put his whole trust in God’s remedy, the uplifted Christ. That change is called regeneration and its fruits are repentance and confession of sin and a longing to please God.
Many religious people have claimed that in the New Testament when the language of reconciliation is being used Paul speaks about man as the one being reconciled, never God. They say that we are not to think of any attitude on the part of God needing to be changed. God is love, they say, and he is always prepared for men to return to him. It is in our own minds, they claim, that the hostility arises. Of course there is truth in all that. God is love, and so he will receive repentant sinners, but that concept by itself is erroneous because God is light. God is a consuming fire, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. In other words, we may say that sin is a problem to God. Think of a human analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the thief. God loves what he has made of us. God hates what we have made of ourselves. Love is not sentimental. Love suffers long and is costly. So the loving God holds the key to turning these two chairs so that they face one another again. If God can become a reconciled God then it would be possible for men to be reconciled to him. The gospel message is that that great reconciling event has actually taken place on this same earth as the great divorce has taken place, and it has cosmic ramifications, so, man, “be reconciled to God!”
Consider again what happened in Eden when our first parents defied God (John Calvin said that a preacher would often be in Genesis chapter 3, John chapter 3 and Romans chapter 3 as key chapters describing our relationship with God and God’s great answer). In Eden God comes to Adam to affirm that an enormous breakdown has taken place in the relationship since man did what God told him not to do. Chilly winds are blowing through Eden. The Lord searches for Adam who is hiding in the woods from him, and what the Lord does first is to interrogate and condemn pointing out to man that a tense relationship now exists between the Holy Judge and sinners. But God also makes a gracious promise of deliverance and a way of reconciliation. You remember God asks four questions which serve to draw Adam and Eve into their plight. Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? What is this that you have done? Then God pronounces a curse on the serpent, and on the woman, and on the man for the unending consequences of their wickedness. Now there is specified estrangement between them which has been caused exclusively by man. Things are not as they were, and God is saying “We can’t pretend that they are. You were under probation. The test was this: would you trust and love me more than anything else. You have failed the test, and taking the fruit was just the first definitive action for a whole different way of life.” Yet God also came in mercy and he promised that one day someone would come of the seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s head. God also made garments of skin for them and clothed them. Now these promises and actions indicate that there was going to be a way of reconciliation which God himself would accomplish. Then the offended Lord drove the offending ones out of the Garden, banishing them from his presence, setting cherubim as sentries preventing their return. God has been alienated and estranged by man’s sin, so man too has become separated from God. Paul writes to the Colossians and he reminds them of what they were before the grace of God saved them: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour” (Cols. 1:21). That is how it is with all men.
Do you see the problem? The two chairs have been turned around back to back. On your side, you have been content to live without God, and you sin against him in many ways. Consider the ten commandments, summed up in the two great commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength, and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is the need to be obedient to God’s law from your very heart. But not only are there outward acts there are inward transgressions of imagination and desire and omission. Do we do what our conscience tells us is right? The Bible tells us that not one person does. There is none righteous, no, not one. So, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. That is an immense problem, of human sinfulness. Because of this all the world lies guilty before God. We hurt those whom we love, even those who depend upon us the most. That is the reality of mankind’s great problem.
But there is this other chair, and it is the throne of the universe. There is a turning away on God’s side – the wrath of a sin-hating God. Do you not see it? Sin has affected God. There are the cherubim and a flaming sword. There is an inevitable reaction in God against all that contradicts his nature. There were angels that rebelled against him, and God turned his back. He cast them into eternal darkness. There was the world at the time of Noah when every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually, and God turned his back. He drowned it. There were the foul cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and God turned his back. He destroyed the cities with fire from heaven. There were the plagues God sent on recalcitrant Egypt, and even when his own people Israel were complaining, disobeying and rebelling, God turned his back and they all perished in the wilderness. There is all the teaching of Jesus about hell. That is God’s assessment of what his creatures’ wickedness deserves. Doesn’t this tell us that our sin causes God to turn his back? Is there not a hostility in the Lord to every evil thing and every evil person? Let me bring together these two problems of our alienation from God and his alienation from us by an illustration:
Suppose a person went to a blacksmith and said to him, “I wonder would you make me a long and heavy chain? Could you have it ready by such a time and I will pay you in cash – no cheque, no credit card.” The blacksmith was pressed with many other jobs but for the sake of the large amount of cash promised he drops everything and gives all his energy to making the chain. After many days this enormous chain is complete and he calls the man and tells him it is ready. “That is a fine chain,” he says, “but I can see that it is not long enough.” “But it is the length you ordered,” the blacksmith protests. “Yes, I know, but I have decided to make it longer. Work on this for another week and I will pay you.” So very reluctantly, but encouraged by the praise, and the promise of full payment in a week the blacksmith sets to work, heating up his furnace with the bellows, beating the red hot metal on his anvil, and steadily adding link to link, with tongs and hammer beating the metal upon his anvil. The customer is as good as his word returning in a week, and as before, he praises the chain, but again insists that it is too short and he needs more links. “Then you must pay me,” said the blacksmith, “I can do no more. I have used virtually all my iron and all my charcoal, and I am weary of this work. I need you to pay me for what I have done, and I will not add a link until you do so.” “Just a few more links and it will be perfect,” says the purchaser. “I cannot pay you now, but in a week’s time when you have completed the work to the proper length you shall be paid in full.” With that he walked out of the smithy. The blacksmith sat back and groaned, but he had done so much. He had committed such time and strength and materials into making this chain. He had to finish it and get his money. So, scraping everything together, and with his last ounces of energy he toiled on for another week and then the buyer arrived. He examined the chain in detail, saying, “That is excellent. You have worked hard and long in making it. All your skill is evident in this great chain. You can do no more. Now you shall have your wages.” But instead of taking a roll of notes out of his pocket he suddenly motioned to his men who took up the chain and overpowered the blacksmith, wrapping the chain round and round him and throwing him into his own furnace.
Such is the course of sin! It promises much, and it makes demand after demand – just a bit more, a few pounds more, some more effort and dedication, another week, another few months, another year … but its reward is death, and each sin is another link in that chain which will keep you in the prison house of hell. You serve sin, and you pay the penalty. Think of the parable of the talents and the alienated Lord Jesus saying of the wicked servant, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30). Consider how Isaiah cried to the people of his day, “Now stop your mocking, or your chains will become heavier” (Isa. 28:22). Sin destroys us, and the just and holy One will see to it that the sinner perishes. Isn’t that the warning built into the most well-known of all the texts of the Bible, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Some need not perish, because they have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, but some will perish! So sin has created alienation between God and man.
2. FOR RECONCILIATION THE CAUSE OF THE ENMITY MUST BE REMOVED.
Consider the response of the Lord Christ to the Pharisees, his scorn and his fierce denunciations: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! … You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean … You snakes, you brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matt. 23: 25, 27, 33). These men were particularly evil in their influence, pointing men away from the promises of the Messiah and his mercy to their own schemes of rules and regulations which they themselves had failed to keep. The Lord Christ denounces them thoroughly. He doesn’t flutter his eyelids sighing, Tut tut, or, Boys will be boys. He pronounces seven woes against them, that is, the fulness of divine woe is to fall upon them. Now how can reconciliation be accomplished between the one who is the way and the truth and the life and these false guides? You say, “They just say sorry, and stop doing it.” But what of all the damage they have done, the thousands of ruined lives, the many in hell through being pointed at the traditions of men? Is it enough to say sorry? Here is a man who bludgeons to death his wife and children and later in a fit of remorse says, “I am sorry I did it.” Does that mean men say, “Then that’s OK. You can walk around and carry on with your life?” Does not human justice demand more than that? What of divine justice for so reprehensible an act? Does not God hear the pleadings for pity of those being murdered? What can change God’s anger with the cruel murderer? What can satisfy his justice against the wickedness of the Pharisees and murderers – even if they cry, “We are sorry that we did it”? God has to do something.
There is an anonymous woman and an anonymous man mentioned in the New Testament. There is a woman mentioned in the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians chapter 7 and verse 11. There is some alienation between herself and her man, and Paul urges her to “be reconciled to her husband”. Something has happened, and she must put it right, not by thinking sweet thoughts about her husband, but by doing something to end the alienation. “Go to your husband and deal with it.'” She has been involved in a separation and now by an action on her part a reconciliation must also be accomplished. Then there is the man mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 and verses 23 and 24. This man is about to lay his offering on the altar in the temple when he is reminded, “Your brother has something against you.” It may be purely in his brother’s imagination, but whether it is or not, there is some grievance in his brother making him troubled with this worshipper. Jesus tell the worshipper what to do, that when you “remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Go to him and sort things out. Remove the grounds of the estrangement by an action. Put things right with him. Then, when you have done that, return to the temple, pick up the gift from before the altar and put it on the altar. Those are two examples of reconciliation from the New Testament. By actions which people take reconciliation is effected. It has little to do with changing our own feelings towards the other party. For the alienation of the husband or the alienation of the brother to be removed one has to go and do something! See them and attempt a change.
Leon Morris has a fine description of this process: “let us suppose you have had a quarrel with a friend. In the heat of the moment strong words were spoken and the friendship you have so valued has been strained. Perhaps when you cool down you say to yourself: ‘I was a fool to quarrel with him. He is a wonderful person and a valued friend.’ Then you think, ‘I’d love to be friends again. I’d like to have things as they used to be.’ You decide that you will try to repair the damage. You will take the initiative. Then what are you to do? You take steps to deal with the root cause of the quarrel. If it were a matter of harsh words spoken you go along to your friend and say, ‘I am very sorry about what I said. I apologize sincerely. I withdraw that statement entirely.’ As far as you can you remove the cause of the enmity. You take it out of the way. If any action is required you perform that action. If it was a matter of a letter that had to be written you write it. If it was a document to be signed you sign it. If it was money that had to be paid you pay it. You give thought to what the root cause of the trouble was and take it out of the way. It is only when the root cause is identified and dealt with that there can be genuine reconciliation. Without that it is possible to have no more than an uneasy, patched up truce. But not peace, not reconciliation … People concentrate on the symptoms and do not get to grips with the deep-seated causes of the trouble. This can never lead to long-lasting peace” (Leon Morris, “The Atonement”, IVP, 1983, pp.138&139).
So the barrier that sin has erected between man and God has to be dismantled. That problem which is keeping God’s chair turned against us must be completely removed. It will not go away by our wishful thinking. Religious meditation won’t remove it. Filling our lives with kind deeds to others won’t take it away. Sitting quietly and waiting and forgetting will not make it disappear. That does not happen in the ordinary course of affairs in life, and it does not happen in our relation with God. The woman had to act to be reconciled to her husband. The brother had to act and go to see his offended brother.
Because of our sin, God is the offended God. Consider how God sees sin. It is like a man covered in disease: “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness – only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil” (Isa. 1:5&6). If you were with your children you would avert their eyes from the sight, drawing their attention to something else. Multiply by infinity! Our God is of purer eyes than to behold wickedness. What offence he takes at our behaviour. How does God see sin? It is like a herd of pigs wallowing in a pool of mud. It is like a pack of dogs returning to eat their own vomit. It is like a brood of vipers. It is like a white-washed tomb full of rotting flesh. Aren’t those pictures horrible? But it was not Jonathan Edwards who said that. Neither was it John Calvin. It was the Lord Jesus who said it. Before him the cherubim hide their eyes and feet and sigh to one another, “Holy! Holy! Holy! Isn’t he holy!” He humbles himself to consider the affairs of heaven let alone this fallen world. When men see his glory they cry, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips!” (Isa. 6:5).
Eternal light! Eternal light!
How pure the soul must be
When, placed within thy searching sight,
It shrinks not but with calm delight
May live and look on Thee. (Thomas Binney).
God has to take action against the reprehensible actions of men that have caused God to be angry with us. That must be done before man can rise to that sublime abode where God dwells. The very cause of the enmity must be dealt with before there can be reconciliation.
3. GOD HAS ACCOMPLISHED THE RECONCILIATION THROUGH CHRIST.
The staggering message of the New Testament is that reconciliation is a work of God. Here he is, the offended and injured party, the one sinned against, and yet he sets up the whole machinery of reconciliation. God dedicates himself to the healing of the breach. We never read in the Bible of man reconciling God and thus God being reconciled. God is the Sovereign Reconciler. It begins with God and it is accomplished by God. It is a work that does not draw within its scope human action. It does not enlist the assistance of men. It does not depend upon the activity of men. Paul says in our text, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (vv. 18&19). We took the forbidden fruit and hid from God, but he comes to seek and save us. We created the barrier, but God is going to destroy it. The cause of the alienation was an action of man. The cause of the reconciliation was God’s action. It has to be a divine work because man is so wrapped up in himself and his sin. Man has no natural desire to leave his playthings, and, anyway, the task is too much for him. It is beyond a Samson, but it is not beyond the Lord Sabaoth’s Son, and he will win the battle of reconciliation. His glory is seen in the accomplishment of this great task, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” It is a finished work. Reconciliation is not a process. It is not being continuously done by God. It has been accomplished. The tenses of reconciliation in the New Testament are all past tense. The action has been perfected.
“All this is from God,” (v.18) says Paul. In other words, reconciliation is a work of sovereign grace from beginning to end. One version of the New Testament translates it, “From first to last this has been the work of God” (New English Bible). The conception was his, the continuance was his, and the consumation. The initiative for reconciliation was certainly not ours. We have nothing to offer, to contribute, to plead. What did you have to give to God? The only thing of your very own which you contributed to God to accomplish reconciliation was your sin and need. That is all. The plan and its accomplishment was from God. If today you and God are friends then you owe all that to him alone.
But you must not think that you owe it to his omnipotence. Reconciliation is not merely a work of almighty power. It is all from God to us because he has loved us. I am affirming that there is a warm, fervent, passionate affection in the very heart of God himself to every single individual believer with whom he has become reconciled. He loves us with all the longing of his holy nature. He hates to see our chairs turned against him. Think of the very first mention of this reconciliation between God and man in the New Testament. It is in Romans 5, where Paul says this, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Roms. 5:9&10). Paul mentions God’s love and immediately he goes on to speak of free justification and reconciliation. The love and the reconciliation go together. The reconciliation is achieved by the love. “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:8-10). Jesus Christ the great Reconciler did not die to make God loving, but he died because God is loving.
‘Twas not to make Jehovah’s love
Toward His people flame,
That Jesus from the throne above
A suffering man became.
‘Twas not the death which he endured,
Nor all the pangs he bore,
That God’s eternal love procured,
For God was love before.
There were reservoirs of oil and natural gas in the rocks under the North Sea long before anyone knew of their existence. So the immeasurable fulness of love in God existed long before Jesus, the incarnation of love, revealed to the world its unsearchable riches. He loved us in Christ before the foundation of the world. “Always Thou lovest me.” The work of reconciliation in Christ did not alter God’s fundamental character. It simply revealed his character in a new relationship to his people. But let me add this, that the sin of man did not suddenly make God a sin hating God. That hatred existed before the foundation of the world. When angels rebelled against him and were swept out of heaven and into judgment it was not their rebellion that made him act like that. God is eternally a consuming fire, and light in which is no darkness at all, and one who cannot behold iniquity. It wasn’t man’s sin that made him the holy and just God. He is eternal holiness and justice.
God loves men whom he has created, yet he is also offended by them because of their daring and presumptuous sins. He will maintain his honour in his own universe. He will not lightly give it over to the dominion of sin. He will blaze in his steady indignation against it. Yet he loves favoured men and women with a love that can never forget them, and so what God does to achieve a reconciliation with us is this – he sends his only begotten Son, his beloved holy child Jesus to deal with the cause of the alienation, that is, with our sin. God cries, “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them” (Ex. 32:10). But God in Christ also cries, “I will bear that wrath. I will be consumed in their place.” That anger of God’s at everything that contradicts his nature is borne by the Lamb of God on Golgotha. He who becomes their substitute is also their judge. The punished one is also the punisher himself. Reconciliation requires the removal of the cause of the divorce. Divine justice against our sinfulness demands satisfaction for that sin in order for there to be reconciliation. The divine compassion provides the satisfaction, indeed, it becomes the satisfaction. So God the Son is extracting the abscess of our wickedness on Golgotha. He is becoming the great alienated one, the scapegoat who is departing out of the universe of the divine love into outer darkness far away in the extra-cosmic wilderness bearing our rebellion. That is why he is crying out to God the Father who has turned his back on him, in other words, God has turned his throne of love away from his Son, and forsaken him. Jesus, there, is experiencing the alienation as something utterly new to him. The chair of Father and the chair of the Son have always been facing one another. They are virtually one chair, one throne, one sovereign love. But now Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” God has done that because the Son is bearing everything that alienates God. A full and proper satisfaction has been offered by Christ to the violated law and offended justice of God.
Thomas Erskine illustrates this with the story of a king called Zaleucis of the Locrians. He wanted to stamp down on immorality in his kingdom and so he decreed that everyone guilty of a certain offence should have both his eyes put out. One of the first men to be convicted of this sin was his own beloved son. If he were only a father then he could forgive and then forget. If he were only a king then he could inflict the punishment and then forget. But he was a father who loved his son and he was also a king who must maintain justice. The king solved the problem in this way. He had just one of his son’s eyes put out, and then one of his own put out. Always after that the eyeless socket in the face of the king testified to everyone who looked at him that this king loved his son, and this king also loved justice and righteousness. Now that story is only a story, and when we are thinking of the atonement there is no adequate illustration of it in the whole creation. In reality God in the person of his Son took our whole penalty, and when we look at him in the midst of the throne we do not see a one eyed King but a slaughtered sacrificial lamb. He comprehensively bears the costly marks of his love for us and of how much our sin cost him. We bear nothing!
We return to this, that for reconciliation the cause of the alienation between ourselves and God has to be put away. Imagine it to be like some vast angry boil, unlanced, ugly, full of disease, throbbing with pain, a carbuncle as big as Everest. That is our sin, and because of that, God has turned his back on us, yet in his love for us he takes up that sin of ours, he handles this mass of noxious defilement and he does not count it against us. He counts it against his own Son. He puts it all upon Christ. He lays all our sin to Christ’s account. That is the cross and the meaning of the death of Christ. Our text says that God, “reconciled us to himself through Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (vv. 18&19). In other words, because of Christ, God can turn his own chair around and now he can look in love at man because in Christ our alienation has all gone. God has no more demands to make. His own love, at immeasurable cost, has accomplished the change, and this act of divine grace brings us back to himself. The blood of Jesus has washed away our sin and created peace with God. Then regeneration, the gift of the Holy Spirit, a new heart and a new nature that loves and obeys him – all that succeeds in ‘turning our chair around.’ God and man face each other once again as they did in Eden, but no longer are we under probation. Christ has passed the test for us and God and ourselves are friends for ever.
There are the most wonderful words that affirm this very clearly in the letter to the Colossians chapter 1 and verses 19 and 20: “For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” The word ‘blood’ refers to the thought of sacrifice. In the Old Testament the sinner brought a lamb or a goat and it was sacrificed, its blood was shed, in order for the sacrificer to be forgiven. Peace with heaven through the blood of the lamb. Without the shedding of blood there was no remission of sins. That was the message of the Old Testament, and we pour into it all the new light of the words of John the Baptist as he points men to Jesus – “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
O Christ, what burdens bowed thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A victim led, thy blood was shed,
Now there’s no load for me.
There are also other great words which explain the reconciliation through Christ and they are found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2 and verses 13 and 14: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace.” See Adam and Eve driven out from Eden far away from God, living in alienation from him. Then the Lord Jesus Christ comes and reconciles God to us so that we may be brought near to him, through the blood of Christ, for he himself is our peace. On the first day of resurrection the Lord Jesus suddenly appears in that upper room in the midst of men who had all run away and left him to die, and he says, “Peace be unto you.” He does not come to condemn them but to bless. Today the good Shepherd comes to us to seek and to save his lost sheep, and he preaches to us and smiles at every one of his people and he says, “Shalom! Peace to all of you.” Our deepest needs are satisfied in Christ. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. GOD HAS GIVEN US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION.
Notice how insistent Paul is on this, that God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (v.18) and again, “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (v.19). In other words, peace with God has happened. Reconciliation has taken place – before the first New Testament gospel was ever preached. Because of the work of Christ consumated on the cross our God is reconciled. It has been done, once and for all. This is my ministry. This is the ministry of every Christian, whether we are teaching children in a Holiday Bible Club, or talking to a friend at work the very best way we can serve our neighbours is to tell them of the great Reconciler, Jesus Christ. Because of his singular divine achievement, sinner – be reconciled to God! Avail yourself of what Christ has done. Receive the reconciliation. There is peace with God – accept the terms God lays down. They are non-negotiable. All you can do is accept them. Nothing else! Nothing more remains to be done, because nothing is lacking. God’s chair is turned back towards you in love. You now have to turn your chair around and accept that love of God. You must, we beseech you, turn it round! Don’t go on living with your back turned to God.
If you will, you may come to him and enter into his love and forgiveness. You may freely take the reconciliation of God, even though you have sinned greatly against him. One thing he insists on, and that is to acknowledge that you have been living with your back turned on God. This thing he requires, if you are going to know God’s blessing on your life you have to accept the work Jesus Christ has done on the cross. Nothing else will avail. Nothing else can turn away the just anger of God at your sin than the death of the Lord Jesus. Take the reconciliation God is offering. There is not the slightest reason why you should not be a reconciled sinner today. I believe I speak on behalf of the mighty God and I am saying that his throne is turned towards you now. He wouldn’t have allowed you to hear these words of the gospel of reconciliation if it were not to give you this sincere opportunity of salvation. If you go on with your back to God through life then that is your decision. You have chosen an angry God for ever, and an angry God for ever is what you will get! From that throne, which now is turned towards you in love, he will one day speak and say, “Depart from me, unreconciled sinner.” I tell you that he is the ever-blessed God today when he is offering you his friendship, and he will be the ever-blessed God on that tremendous day when he will be offering you his wrath. He is happy within himself without our love and without our service. It is we who are undone if we are not reconciled to him.
Think! Please consider the love of God, we beseech you, who sent his Son to Golgotha. Think of all he has done that sinners should be reconciled to himself. Our text tells that he has not counted our sins against us! We do! We pitiful sinners will not let men forget that we do count their sins against them. “I won’t forget what you did to me,” is our attitude. We ignore men. We turn our eyes away from them. We will not smile at them. We will not speak to them. We want them to know that we are counting their sins against them. Thank God that he is not like us! Your theft – but he has not counted it against you! Your lust – but he has not counted it against you! Your cold and stubborn and loveless heart – but he has not counted it against you. Consider what he has done for you, in bringing you here to hear this message. Millions live and die never hearing of Jesus Christ. You have heard of him many times, but you are still unreconciled. Say to yourself, “Why should I go on one day longer alienated from God, a stranger to the Creator?” Turn the chair around! Be contented with your sin no longer, and as you do you will manifest his regenerating grace has saved you. We beseech you, be reconciled to God! Cry to yourself,
Arise, my soul, arise, Shake off thy guilty fears,
The perfect Sacrifice In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written in His hands.
My God is reconciled, His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And Father, Abba, Father! cry.
The real living Christ can produce in you this new disposition to constrain you to return to God. Everyone is converted in a different way, and over differing spans of time. Many cannot tell the year they were converted. Others of us know the day. Richard Baxter said, “God doesn’t break all men’s hearts alike.” But there is one point at which all the roads to Christ converge, and that is when we realise that our backs are turned to God, and our whole lives are heading away from him, and that there is no hope for us except in the reconciliation that Jesus Christ himself brings. You will each express that in different ways, but the sentiment is always the same. You have been out of step with the holy living Creator God, but now you are trusting Jesus Christ, and all your hope of peace with heaven is because of what he did on the cross and what he is doing on the throne.
3rd June, 2001 GEOFF THOMAS