My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, March 29, 2010

"The Real Story Behind Reconciliation" - (03/28/10)

Over the past weeks and months all of us have watched as our United States Senators and Representatives have wrangled and argued over the proposed comprehensive health-care bill. We have listened as they have expounded the perceived merits or inadequacies of the legislation, depending on which side of the aisle they usually sit on.

In the discussions about how to get the bill passed through the House and Senate the politicians and pundits have thrown a particular word around a lot—the word, “reconciliation.” This morning I don’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, an Independent or a Libertarian. I don’t care whether you are happy or sad about the newly-passed health-care bill. I just want us to focus our attention on this word that has been so bandied about recently. What does “reconciliation” mean? What does it imply? Where does it come from? And how does it affect us?

The dictionary is almost always a good place to start. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that the English noun, reconciliation comes from the verb reconcile, which comes into English straight from the Latin word, reconciliare. That is a compound word from re, the prefix meaning “again, anew, over again,” and the Latin verb, conciliare (in English, conciliate), which means (“to bring together, win over, soothe the anger of, make friendly, placate.”) Thus, our English word “reconcile/reconciliation” means “to make friendly again, or win back over to a friendly attitude.”

But under what conditions is reconciliation necessary?
1. When a break in fellowship has occurred.
2. When a friendship has been compromised.
3. When an understanding has been lost.
4. When the lines of communication have been cut.
5. When people see one another as “the enemy.”

The powerful boys and girls in Washington D.C. did not invent this big word, “reconciliation.” They just borrowed it from the Bible. Moreover, when they use the word they are referring to the effort to make the House bill and the Senate bill and the President’s amendments all come together in a friendly way. They want to bring all their differences to the table, have everyone agree on everything, kiss, make nice and make up, and everybody go away happy. That is their idea of reconciliation.

However, there is more to reconciliation than this. It just isn’t that simple! Reconciliation always has a cost factor. It always costs somebody something. Now I’m not here today to talk about politics. Truthfully, I’m sick of politics. I’m sick of watching unscrupulous politicians that we voted into office make bad decisions that will financially enslave generations yet unborn. If my faith were based on the so-called “goodness” of human beings, governments, politicians, scientists, or religious leaders I would probably go out and drive my car off the end of a bridge somewhere. Thankfully, my hope is in the Lord, who never lies, never cheats, never fails, never deceives us, and never leaves us. He is the Rock of my salvation and a Shield about me. Praise God!

In the N.T. the word for “reconcile” is katallássō (καταλλάσσω) and it means, “to change from enmity to friendship.” But with regard to the relationship between God and man, the use of this word (and related words) shows that “reconciliation” is what God accomplished by exercising His grace towards sinful man on the ground of the death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice under God’s judgment that is due to man’s sin. Through this reconciliation sinful men are invited to “be reconciled” to Him; that is, to change our attitude, and accept the provision God has made, whereby our sins can be forgiven and we can be justified in God’s sight in Christ.

The Bible says that the breakdown of fellowship between God and man is due to “hostility.” However, it is very important to understand that the hostility is, and has always been, on man’s side, not God’s. It is man’s hostility toward God that is the big problem, not God’s toward man. Not once in the Scriptures is God said to be “reconciled” to man. The enmity is all on our part. Therefore, we are the ones who needed to be “reconciled” to God, not God to us. And it is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross that makes the “reconciliation” possible to those who will receive it. His blood is the basis for our reconciliation to God. Without that blood sacrifice reconciliation would be impossible and all men would be forever lost and without hope. J.B. Lightfoot, in his book entitled Notes on the Epistles of Paul on page 288 says, “Whenever the writers of the NT speak upon the subject of the wrath of God, the hostility is represented not as on the part of God, but of man. And this is the reason why the apostle [Paul] never uses diallássō (διαλλάσσω) in this connection, but always katallássō, because the former word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility, an idea absent from katallássō.”

“Mutual concession after mutual hostility.” Did you understand that? Let me explain. There are two words in Greek meaning reconciliation, but there is an important different between them. Diallássō would be the correct word to describe what our Senators and Representatives have been trying to do. Between the various sides there has been mutual hostility. There has been give-and-take of anger, threats, ultimatums, etc. Now they are coming together to attempt, through mutual concessions to be reconciled to one another. Mutual reconciliation—get it?—because there has been mutual hostility. That is diallássō. Mutual concession after mutual hostility. Katallássō, on the other hand, is the word used in the NT to describe the reconciliation of man to God, but it is different. It is not a mutual thing. It is one-sided. Remember, God is not the one who moved away. God is not the one who broke fellowship. God is not the guilty party. God is the victim. Therefore, God does not need to be reconciled to us. No, we need to be reconciled to Him. But for that to happen, somebody had to die. According to the Bible a sacrifice was necessary, and Jesus was the Lamb who was slain so that sinful man could be reconciled to Holy God.

Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem on that Sunday of what would turn out to be the last week of His life. Just a few days later He would be hanging on a Roman cross, shedding His blood for you and for me.

Many have referred to that Sunday morning as “The Triumphal Entry.” In fact, many of your Bibles have that as the chapter heading for Luke 19 and the other Palm Sunday texts. However, that adjective is somewhat of a misnomer because there was little about Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem that was truly “triumphal.”

First of all, only a few people showed up. Oh yes, there were quite a few people on the road but many of them were arriving with Jesus, for the celebration of Passover. A few others from Jerusalem showed up to greet Him, but notably absent were the leaders of the city, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, the City Commissioners, the president of the Better Business Bureau, the Chief of Police, the motorcade, the fire trucks, the hundreds of school children lining the road, the religious leaders decked out in their finest robes, the flags waving, and the bands playing. You see, that’s what would have been going on if a truly “important” person had been arriving. All Jesus got was a few poor disciples, a bunch of kids, and a handful of sore-headed Pharisees who showed up to kibitz and criticize. In fact, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was important exactly for what was missing. It was that that broke Jesus’ heart and brought Him to tears, because what was lacking revealed the fact that the people of Jerusalem had no clue that their Savior, their Promised Messiah was coming to town. Luke 19:41 says, “And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.’” You see, God did not turn away from man; man turned away from Him. For that reason, all of us need to be reconciled to Him, not the other way around.

Maybe you think that this is a small thing, an insignificant difference, but it is not. God has already done everything He is going to do. He has made reconciliation possible, but we have to avail ourselves of it. He will not force it on anyone, unlike our politicians in Washington who have managed to force their reconciliation plans on all of us. God is not like that.

Though the word “reconciliation” is found in several other places in the N.T. there is one particular chapter that deals with this issue in greater depth. It is II Corinthians chapter 5, verses 17-21. Let’s look at that text for just a moment.

Verse 17: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
  • This is my life verse. It tells me that God doesn’t look at what I was in the past but at what I am now. I am His child. I belong to Him and He has made me into a new person, a totally new creation.
Verse 18: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
  • Who gets the credit for transforming a person? Only God. “All these things are from God.” Hebrews 12:2 calls Him the “Author and Perfecter of our faith.” And Paul says here that God is the one who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. He provided the Way by which we could come to Him to be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. That Way is through Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the whole world.
  • Not only did God make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him, He then turned around and entrusted us with the ministry of sharing this Good News with others. Paul calls it, “the ministry of reconciliation.” In the next verse he explains what he means by that.
Verse 19: namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
  • So who was the active Agent in this peace process called reconciliation? God! “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” What man could not do, and would not do, God did. He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, and to have our trespasses not counted against us.
  • But again, Paul tells us that with this privilege goes the responsibility of passing on to others the “word of reconciliation.”
Verse 20: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
  • We are God’s ambassadors, His special envoy sent out into the world. Our job is to give out the message without watering it down and without softening it up. In ancient days an ambassador’s job was to memorize the king’s message word for word so that he would leave nothing out or add anything to the message. They would even try to use the same tone of voice that the king had used when he entrusted them with the message.
  • You and I are God’s voice. Paul says that it is as though God were speaking directly through us and begging people, on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. That means, when we speak they should hear God.
Verse 21: He [God, the Father] made Him [Christ, the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [in Christ].
  • This is a precious verse. God, the Father laid all of our sins on His Son, Jesus. Jesus carried those sins to the cross and died in your place, and in my place, that we might come to God through His shed blood. His death paved the way for us.
The Palm Sunday story is recorded in all four Gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12. Evidently God thought it was so important that He had it recorded by all four of the Gospel writers.

Today we have been reminded of that day long ago when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt, fulfilling all the prophecies of the OT concerning the coming of Messiah. He was welcomed and praised by a few. But He was either scorned or ignored by the majority. Not much has changed from that day to this. Most people today still either scorn Him or ignore Him. Only a few welcome Him. So how about you? What are you going to do?

But the Bible says in John 1:10-12 (NLT), “He came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him. 11 He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. 12 But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” That deal still goes today. He is still in the life-saving, life-giving, life-changing business.

If you would like to be reconciled to God, just place your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Savior. He is the Redeemer. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He is waiting right now for you to call out to Him to save you from your sins and to make you a child of God. Won’t you believe on Him right now? Don’t put it off. The Bible says in II Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, today is the day of salvation.”

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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