The message of reconciliation
- Order of Service: Common Service, CW p15
- Lessons: Genesis 3:8-15, 2 Corinthians 4:13-18, Mark 3:20-35
- Hymns: 343, 424, 155, 53:3-6
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
In the Garden of Eden the first divorce took place. Adam and Eve, happily married to God, decided to end that marriage. They cheated on God and committed adultery with the devil. They broke the marriage between them and God. And they wrecked it for all of us. Paul told the Romans, Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12, NIV84). In other words, all of us have a divorce in our past, a divorce from God.
As evidence, I submit today’s Gospel (Mark 3:20-35). Jesus preaches and teaches and performs miracles, and His own family, His mother – Mary! – and His brothers say, He is out of his mind (Mark 3:21, NIV84)! The enemies of Jesus, not surprisingly, pile on and say, “He’s possessed by the devil!” Both groups speak against better knowledge and run the risk of committing the eternal sin that Jesus says can never be forgiven. Jesus’ family had the words of Gabriel, The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35, NIV84). Jesus’ opponents had the words of the prophets to compare to Jesus’ words and actions.
Yet in both cases we hear something extraordinary from God. The LORD in the Garden, holding the freshly printed divorce decree thrust into His hands by arrogant Adam and egotistical Eve, says, “Satan, a child of this woman will crush you.” The LORD Jesus, with those dreadful words still ringing in His ears, surrounded by people on the verge of sinning against the Holy Spirit, says, “I’ll show you my family.”
This puzzles us. Until we hear our verse of the day put into doctrinal terms the anecdotes of Genesis and Mark: 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 (2 Cor. 5:19, NIV84). The verse of the day you heard me speak leaves out that all-important central phrase: not counting men’s sins against them. But we who sin, like Adam and Eve, like Jesus’ family and His opponents, need that word. We need that word above all other words. Because in that word God gives you heaven.
Many preachers and teachers tell you to seize heaven by your own power. So many American preachers preach sermons about how sinful man is and how gracious God is. They talk about Jesus dying for your sins and saving the world. And then they say, “Now make that yours! Ask Jesus into your heart!” Or you have the Roman Catholic Church telling you that Jesus died for your sins and got your salvation started, but you have it in you now to earn heaven. You can do those things necessary to wash away and blot out your sins. Pray your rosary. Go to Mass. Do your penance. And they would appeal to Scripture. What must I do to be saved? the jailor asked Paul. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, Paul replied (Acts 16:31, NIV84). Or, for the Pope, Those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:29, NIV84).
But to seize heaven is not in your power. You were dead in your sins, the Holy Spirit told the Ephesians and you (2:1). Those are the very same sins Paul tells the Corinthians God did not count against you. Even the Greek word is the same – paraptoma. You can’t choose Jesus. If you could, there’d be no reason for Jesus, because you can do it. And, as for Rome, if you can finish the job of salvation, again, you don’t need Jesus, because if you can do some, you can achieve all given enough time, talent, and gumption.
But you can’t do that because you’re Adam and Eve. Think of all the ways you’ve tried to hide from God. Think of all the excuses you’ve given God or His representatives. Think of all the fingers you’ve pointed, blaming someone else for you. And you’re Jesus’ family too. You’ve seen Jesus in action, you’ve listened to some of God’s Words, and said, “God, you’re nuts! I’m not going to do that!” And you’re those teachers of the law as well, snaking your way out of obvious conclusions by blaming God, or calling God’s words or actions Satanic so as to avoid having to hear them, listen to them, or do them. “Well, my God would never say or do this or that.” Yeah, I’d sure like to see you seize heaven for yourself. Because if you’re going to ask Jesus into your heart, you have to ask the whole Jesus into your heart – every word, every truth, every hard saying, every rebuke of the things you love to think or do or say. And if you’re going to finish the job Jesus started, it’s going to have to be a complete and total success. Every word sincere. Every action pure. Every thought thunk exactly according to God’s will. Yeah, you’re ready to seize heaven for sure, you divorcees.
So put it out of your mind once and for all that any word or action of yours has anything to do with your eternal destiny. Instead, go back to our verse of the day: 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. God reconciled the world. God didn’t count men’s sins against them. God committed to us the message of this reconciliation.
That’s the key word of this portion of 2 Corinthians: reconciliation. It means to change. You reconcile your bank statements and your check book, to make sure they match up. If they don’t, you fix it, you reconcile it, so that they do. In a marriage, when spouses separate, or even divorce, but then end that separation, we call it reconciliation. To reconcile is to return to favor, to go from hatred to friendship. It’s a change in relationship, from bad to good. And notice the significant subject of that verb: God reconciled the world to Himself. God did it. Not Adam or Eve or Jesus’ family or you. God.
Then pay attention to what modifies that subject and object. Paul didn’t only say “God reconciled the world to Himself.” He said, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ. God didn’t reconcile Himself to the world. “Oh well, things aren’t getting any better, I’ll just lower the bar a little and live with that.” Parents know how that goes, right? You say, “No TV until you finish this job,” and then settle for it half-done. Or, “No dessert until you eat this vegetable,” and then it’s, “Well, you can have dessert if you eat two more bites.” No, God didn’t forget how He felt about sin, or change His mind about hell. He didn’t blink it away like an indulgent grandparent. God worked it through an agent: Christ.
Listen to some other things Scripture tells us that God did in Christ: God made Him our sin. God presented Him as the sacrifice of atonement. God blessed us in Christ. God chose us in Christ. God predestined us in Christ. God freely graced us in Christ. God redeemed us in Christ. God was not counting our sins against us in Christ. All ways of describing what God did, how God did it, when God did it, and why God did it. In Christ: the One who came from heaven and who returned to heaven, who in-between died in our place for us. In Christ God reconciled the world, not some, not a few, not believers, but the world to Himself, because the blood of Jesus atoned for the sins of the whole world, not only for Christians. As Paul said just a moment after our verse: God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21, NIV84). That’s the message of reconciliation. A message God gives us. A message that tells us about Christ. A message that the Holy Spirit uses to sow the seeds of salvation in our hearts as He reconciles us individually to the God who started all the reconciling work by sending Jesus to crush the devil by being crushed. Jesus reconciled us to God by letting God damn Him instead of us. And now the Spirit says God doesn’t count your sins against you anymore, in Christ. He changed everything…in Christ. For you. Believe it: God reconciled you to Himself in Christ. Amen.