The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Reconciliation
4th Sunday after Pentecost
July 2, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Reconciliation
Dear friends in Christ,
On Tuesday, we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America. Our nation began when the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The British Empire did not want to lose the American colonies. The colonies did not want to live under British rule. Both sides felt so strongly about their position that they picked up weapons and killed each other until one side gave up. We could not say that the redcoats and the rebels were friendly at all. They were enemies, intent on defeating the other by armed conflict. They were enemies. That status continued even after the Revolutionary War ended. In 1814 British soldiers set the White House on fire. Friends don't do that, only enemies.
But something has changed since the 18th and 19th centuries. Americans are not worried about the British setting fire to the White House. Americans are not forming militias to defend ourselves against the British. And I don't think the British consider us enemies like this either. In most ways we are friends and allies in this world. That change from sworn enemies who want to destroy each other into friends who want to help each other is called reconciliation. I don't know history well enough to tell you exactly when and how that change happened between the United States and Great Britain.
However, the Apostle Paul tells us all about reconciliation between God and humans in our text today. We continue to examine the Christian Faith, One Word at a Time with a look at Reconciliation.
Romans 5:6–11 (NIV84)
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 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! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
God Reconciles His Enemies
God's reconciliation is different from human reconciliation. First of all, when we think of reconciliation in our lives we will usually think of reconciling with family and friends who have done something to upset us. Or maybe we have done something to make them angry with us. We are trying to repair a relationship that was good at one time. We want things to return to the way they were.
When God reconciles people to himself, he is not returning things to the way they were. He is completely changing the relationship. God describes our initial relationship with him in harsh and hard to hear terms. He calls us powerless, ungodly, sinners and enemies. I don't like being called a powerless, ungodly, sinner and enemy of God.
We like to think we have some control in our lives. And in human relationships, we do have some control. We have some power to fix what we have broken, to apologize when we have hurt others, to rebuild trust and friendship where it has been lost. We have the power to at least try and repair the relationship. Of course, it will take the effort and cooperation of the other person for that relationship to be reconciled.
In our relationship with God, we were powerless to make any attempt to reconcile with him. We had no ability to make up for our rebellion and sin. We could not do anything to fix what we had broken. We did not even have the power to want to be reconciled to God. We could not ask him into our hearts or even repent. We were powerless to do anything that would improve our relationship with God. In fact, our sinful nature was and still is content to be God's enemies forever.
Our Lord had to take the first step in order to change our relationship with him. So while we were still powerless and ungodly and sinners and his enemies, Christ died for us. The world of sinners did not ask for this or even want it, but Christ died for us anyway. Through the death of Christ Jesus, our God fixed his relationship with sinful humans. He removed sin. O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Jesus paid for every law we had broken. He removed everything that stood between us and God. He reconciled us to God through his death. We did nothing. Christ did everything.
This word, reconciliation, is important for us to remember. It reminds us of what we are now, friends of God, children of God. It also reminds us of what we were – powerless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God. If we only think about what we are now as friends of God, we could become lazy in our faith and slip slowly away from Jesus because we depend on our goodness as friends of God. If we only dwell on what we were, we can become afraid of God and think we have to do something to make it up to him. Instead of focusing on what we were or on what we are, focus on the change and the One who accomplished that change. Focus on reconciliation. Focus on the God who has reconciled us by the death of Jesus and rejoice in him.
So We Can Rejoice in God
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! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
There are some great stories of human reconciliation in the Old Testament. Esau hated Jacob and wanted to kill him. But twenty years later, when Jacob meet Esau again, Esau embraces him in love. Jacob's sons hated their brother Joseph. They sold him into slavery. More than a decade later the brothers went to Egypt to buy food and Joseph was in charge. When Joseph finally revealed himself to them, there was great rejoicing, hugging and not a few tears. We also rejoice that God has reconciled us to himself, that he has embraced us with his love in Christ, that we are now his children.
Paul wants the Roman believers and us to have complete confident and joy in God's reconciliation. He does not want us to have any doubt about what God thinks of us. But those doubts creep in. Does God still consider me his friend after my foolish actions yesterday? Does God still consider me his child after I said such a cruel thing? And the devil loves to pile on us at those times and remind us of all our failures, the sins of today, yesterday and decades ago. Has my status changed from God's friend to God's enemy again by my foolish sins? Is God waiting to punish me?
Joseph's brothers thought that about their reconciliation with him. They remembered the evil they did to Joseph and could not believe Joseph had truly forgiven them. They only though Joseph was being nice to them because their father, Jacob, was still alive. But when Jacob died, the brothers were terrified of what Joseph would do to them. They were waiting for him to take his revenge on them. Before Joseph could do anything they offered to be his slaves. But Joseph really had forgiven them. He had no plans for revenge. The reconciliation was real.
God's reconciliation is even more real. Paul tells us that God reconciled us to himself when we were enemies, when we deserved nothing from God but punishment. Yet Christ died for us while we were sinners. Now, we are God's friends and his children. How much more will he save his children. He will not abandon us when we sin, but will continue to forgive. His reconciliation is real and lasting.
With joy and confidence in our status before God, we want to be reconciled also with those around us. When you are around people, you will have opportunities to reconcile. Family members will annoy each other at times. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes just by breathing too loud. If you get angry at someone for breathing too loud, you are sinning against them. If you do something to annoy your sibling and make them angry at you, you have sinned against them. The same thing happens at school or work or with your neighbors. When you are in contact with other humans enough, sin will happen. And that begins to divide people. It can lead to broken friendships and broken marriages. How can we forgive and reconcile with someone who has hurt us?
Remember the joy and comfort in God's reconciliation. You have a rock solid relationship with God because Christ died for you. How can I hold a grudge and refuse to be reconciled to someone when Christ has forgiven me? And if that other person is also a believer in Jesus I have even another reason to reconcile. God has called me his friend. God calls them friend. How can I call them an enemy when God calls them his friend?
If I told you today that the United States and North Korea were going to be close allies and friends in the future, you may not believe me. I probably wouldn't believe someone who said that. But things like that do happen in history. At the time of the Revolutionary War, it would have been unthinkable to predict that England and the United States would be such close allies in the future. We rejoice in peace between the nations of this world. We rejoice when there is peace between people of this world. Most of all we rejoice that we are at peace with God through Christ Jesus. When we were still sinners and enemies, he died for us.
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