By Paul Koch –
There is something deep within us that longs for the sweet promise of reconciliation. The healing of broken relationships, the restoration of what was torn is a profound longing we all share. Reconciliation is a featured part of the movies and TV shows we watch and the books we read. It is often the unsung hero we long for in our own history as well. We can get sucked in to stories as simple as Shrek, where a donkey is reconciling his friendship with an ogre, and with a lump in our throats we cheer it on. Or we can stand and celebrate in the movie Invictus as Nelson Mandela endeavors to bring reconciliation to an entire country. We love to root for the hope of reconciliation. After all, you don’t have to spend too much time on this planet to understand the need for reconciliation. We have all had relationships that have gone astray. We have all experienced to various degrees what it is to long for healing, to be able to return to the way it was before, to try and forgive and forget. And so, we all know how incredibly difficult it can be to do just that.
And yet the church possesses the greatest reconciliation story ever told. All these other stories we love to be caught up in, they are but a shadow of the story of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those stories are a reverberation of the reconciliation that He worked upon this earth. It’s something like throwing a stone into a perfectly calm pond. The rings that press out to the edges of the shoreline are the many stories and the many hopes that we have for reconciliation. But here among the household of faith, here alongside the brothers and sisters of Christ himself, we are not dealing with a ripple on the surface but the stone itself that caused the whole thing to move. And His work of reconciliation wasn’t between estranged family members. It wasn’t to mend friendships. It was more. More than healing divisions of race. More than overcoming years of warfare and bloodshed. He brings reconciliation between an entire creation that is consumed by sin and a pure and righteous Creator of all things.
This division, this separation between God and man is so deep that it is impossible for man to overcome it, there is no strength no ability within man to repair what was torn. What is more, mankind doesn’t even desire it. So this reconciliation isn’t a matter of getting both sides together. Jesus isn’t some sort of crisis manager that brings both parties to the table to mediate a mutually beneficial resolution. God does all the work; God’s only begotten Son takes up our flesh. He takes the form of a servant to do the work of reconciliation. He offers the perfect sacrifice to his Father while bearing the sins of all mankind. And so it is with confidence that St Paul can declare, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Now there is a problem with being a new creation. While being a new creation means we are reconciled through Christ to the Father and this is our joy and hope, being a new creation also means we are disjointed from the creation we were before. That is, we are disjointed but not completely removed. We still live in the midst of what we were. We don’t look all that different. We don’t have lives free from the stain of sin and rebellion. We continue to give into temptations, to do the things we do not want to do. We fail to do the things we know that we should do. We have relationships that are strained and broken. We know full well that we are sinners and yet our Lord, our reconciler, has declared that in Him we are saints. This is the problem that we face. This is our constant trial. What we are declared to be doesn’t match up with what we see in the mirror – or what our friends and family remind us of.
This is the place where our faith rests. This place between what we see and what we hear is the seedbed of our faith. For our faith at its core is the trust of a Word outside of ourselves. Outside of our own opinions, outside of our own desires, outside even what we see. And this glorious Word comes to us. It gets ahold of us in the washing of our Baptism and there that Word gives to you all the blessings and all the merits of Christ himself. All the work of His great reconciliation, then, become yours by hearing. If you struggle or know someone who struggles with depression you know the power of the word from the outside. I had a good friend who taught me much about the deep darkness of depression. When his depression was really bad, he couldn’t see any way through or any way out of it. All he had was pain and agony; all he could see was his own failures. I couldn’t make him see anything else. I couldn’t change the darkness. All I could do was speak words from the outside: words of hope in Christ alone, words of forgiveness and the promise of a more glorious day to come. All I could do was sit with him in his darkness while speaking words of light, words from outside the darkness.
In the famous parable of the Prodigal Son we see the power of the external Word at work. We all know the story, we know about the younger son who takes his share of the inheritance and squanders it recklessly in a foreign land. We know of the depths of his depravity and his hope that he might return home and at least work as a servant in his father house. As he comes back down the path and his father rushes out to embrace him. He knows his sin. He knows his shame. He knows his failure. He declares, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And he’s right; he isn’t. He is not worthy. But the father speaks a Word that changes everything. It’s a Word that is not deterred by the unworthy wretch, but rather it changes him, recreates him. He declares, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And even when the older son refused to join in the party, seeing and pointing out the sin and shame of his brother, the Word of the father gives something beyond what the eyes can see. He declared, “It is fitting to celebrate and be glad.”
This external Word restores a son and creates a celebration. This Word brings light into our darkness and joy to our hearts even in the midst of heartache, trials, and depression. This Word kills the old and brings forth the new. It declares us sinners to be the very saints of God. This Word then is not just a description of something nice, it’s not just a wishful promise, it actually delivers what it speaks. For the eternal Word of God accomplishes that for which it was sent. And there is no half measure with the Word of God. It doesn’t operate in fractions. That’s the way of the flesh, to divvy up what seems fair or to give out a little grace here and there. But we no longer regard anyone according to the flesh. For we have a full and free gift of God, “who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Listen to how far our God goes to reconcile us to himself. Listen to the total completion of your salvation. Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ himself becomes sin, he becomes your sin, all of it. He dies because God justice demands a sacrifice for sin and because he is our sin he dies in our place. His resurrection then is the confirmation of our hope and salvation. He breaking forth from the grave means that the eternal Word of God will triumph over this passing age. And it is this Word that has done these very things that has called each of you by name. This Word knows your sin, know your darkness, knows your anxiety and this Word says, “I forgive you, I love you, so now be reconciled to God.”
Since then our salvation is secure in the external Word. Since he doesn’t operate with half measures but has truly reconciled us to God, then we are free. Free to love and free to do the work of reconciliation. Paul speaks of being given a ministry of reconciliation. And that ministry is ours. We now take up the banner of our Lord. Not because our salvation is dependent upon it, but we get to do it. We get to set others free. We get to forgive. We get to reconcile.
I received a message from my colleague and friend Pastor Barkett just the other day. He talked about a woman who came into his office and slowly but surely opened the floodgates of regret and remorse. She confessed to all these sins she had been hiding away so creatively throughout her life. With almost unbound excitement, he told me how he stood before her and absolved her of all her sins. He did the work of reconciliation. He was the voice of the external Word for that moment in time. In the name of Christ, he forgave her all of her sins. And he said to me that change in her was visible. She left entirely different than she came in. She left as one who heard the Word, as one who had been set free.
This is our joy as well. We are to be doers of reconciliation. We are to take that free gift of Christ and recklessly give it to a world that is hurting and fearful and lost. And we don’t have to look too far. Those who need this constant living Word are all around you.
So what are we waiting for?