Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jesus, Lord of Reconciliation

Jesus, The Lord of Reconciliation
Colossians 1:18-20
Be Reconciled

Scripture Introduction:

Tonight we will continue in our study of Colossians. We will be reading chapter 1 verses 15-23, and focusing on verses 18-20. Do you ever notice how sometimes passages of Scripture leave out really big things? Tonight in our text there is a really big skip in one section. Paul is assuming something, try to listen closely and see if you can find it. Remember the context. Paul is just finished praying for the Colossians and reminding them of the mighty work of God in saving them and transferring them into the kingdom of His beloved Son. Then, as we noticed last week he talks about this beloved Son as the Lord of all creation. That is where it starts in verse 15, now as we read Colossians 1:15-23 see if you can pick up the big skip, as we will call it.

Read Colossians 1:15-23

Sermon Introduction:

If Colossians 1:15-17 were the only verse then what would we assume about the world? I, personally, would assume that God is in charge, so everything must be neat, orderly, and appropriately worshipping and obeying the Creator. Last week we discussed that all things were created by, through, and for Jesus. We could assume then that everything rightly surrenders to its Creator. Our experience and verse 18-20, however, will not allow that.

At first mention of the word “church” we know that something is different. The word church means, “called out ones”. Called out of what exactly? This shift is even more drastic in verse 20 when Paul uses the word reconciled. Reconciliation assumes something. It assumes that someone or both parties are estranged from one another. Somebody is ticked off and not talking to the other person. There is a breach between two people. There is a chasm that separates them. Something is messed up. Reconciliation is fixing the screw up. It is bridging the gap. We are left to wonder, though, what caused the gap? Why is there a need to be reconciled?

By the way, this question is not a mere philosophizing question that has no point in the “real world”. This truth touches you every day. Why do we have such difficulties in our relationships? Why can people not just be nice? Why is it that every time I try to pet a squirrel it runs? Why would my face get gnawed off if I tried to cuddle a badger? Why do I sometimes have a nagging feeling in my heart that not everything is okay? My guess is that, unless you have successfully seared your conscience, you know what has happened between verses 17 and 18. And I would also guess that you have a disturbing suspicion that it the problem lies somewhere in the mirror. If that is your suspicion it is confirmed in Scripture. We need to be reconciled, everything is not alright, and the problem does not lie in the Creator, the problem is with the creation.

Why a need for reconciliation?

One verse down confirms this truth; we are the problem. Scripture declares, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds…” This is the problem; this is why we need reconciliation. As we learned last week, God has created us. God has created us for His glory. As our Creator we are accountable to Him. Whatever He says goes. He has given us the way of life. Love Him perfectly and love others completely. We have rebelled. By rebelling, and we see this in the first man created, all of creation is thrown into turmoil, we have become “alienated and hostile”.

Rewind with me to the beginning of time as we know it. Genesis 1:31 is a very happy verse, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Now fast forward about a thousand years to Genesis 6. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart”. Can you fathom that verse? God is well pleased with his creation. Then 1,000 years later it seems as if he wishes he had never made it. What happened in between? Our answer is in chapter 3.

Adam and Eve are still in the beautiful Garden of Eden. God opens up all of the garden to them, he encourages them to eat of any fruit in the garden…except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat that one; if you do surely you will die. We know the story from there. Eve gets duped by the serpent. Adam does not man up and eats the forbidden fruit. They both rebelled from their Creator. They cherished the forbidden creation more than the available Creator. Does not our heart today still reflect this? Is it not still true that we desire the forbidden fruit over that which is available? We would rather go after the mysterious and forbidden than obey what is gloriously revealed.

We also know the result of that fateful moment. You can read Genesis 3 to see the punishment. But it’s really not all that necessary. Just look around you. Stuff is obviously messed up. Relationships are broken. Marriages fail. People are unfaithful. Work is difficult. Life is tough. Things are not fair. Attend a funeral and open up your eyes to see its reality…that is the reality of Genesis 3. What you experience every day is what the Scriptures declare, once Adam went after the forbidden fruit instead of the glorious God, everything in creation was turned on its head.

People would now fight each other. Death would happen. You could no longer ride a deer. Instead of ground that would easily produce food, you have to sweat and toil and labor. Your job is no longer fruitful and fun. It is toil. You do not much care for work. Trees do not sway quite as they ought. Tornadoes happen. Hurricanes happen. Calamity, calamity, calamity. Listen to how the Scripture says it in Romans 8:20-22, “For the creation was subjected to futility (that means emptiness), not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” It is obvious all of creation needs to be reconciled. Including you.

What type of reconciled?

It appears that this is precisely what has happened on the cross. All things have been reconciled.
This is what verse 20 says. The way this verse sounds, however, poses a small problem. Can anyone see it yet? First of all, it does not seem to match our experience. Things are still jacked up. So, maybe this reconciliation is future. There is a sense in which that is true. It will probably have a more fully expression in the future. The text though seems to be pointing to reconciliation as something that has been achieved, and achieved historically on the cross.

The second problem deals with our Christian theology. Verse 19 says much of what we talked about last time. The fullness of God is dwelling (permanently resides in) this beloved Son. In other words Jesus is God. And (God was pleased) through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven...Let’s stop there for a second. What does it mean to be reconciled? It means that things are set right. Does it not? And what exactly is going to be reconciled? Everything. That sounds as if everything is going to be made right, in the sense that everybody is going to be saved, even Satan. But that clearly cannot be the case. Jesus himself said that not everyone would be saved. Just look at Matthew 7. The closing book of the Bible, speaks of people that will be thrown into the lake of fire. Clearly they will not be “saved” or reconciled in that sense. So what then does this verse mean?

There are quite a few explanations for this, of which I will give you two. The first explanation is that if you look in verse 15-17 you see a universal scope; it is talking about every single solitary person (all of creation) that has ever been created falls under this category—they were created by, through and for Jesus Christ. Then, we notice a change in thought in verse 18. Paul starts talking about the church. The scope here is limited. The “all things” in verse 20 are things that deal with the church. All those that are Christians and all of the elect angels will be rightly reconciled to God. This could very well be the correct interpretation. I do not think it quite seems to fit with the context and it seems to neuter what Paul is saying in verse 19-20 a little much. But I could be wrong and this could be the correct interpretation.

The first option says that we do not rightly understand “all things”. We have to modify, based on the context, what we mean by “all things”. The second option, and the one I believe to be correct, says that we are not rightly thinking about the word reconciliation. Based on the context we ought to modify what verse 20 means by reconciliation.

Reconciliation at its most basic level simply means restoring something that is broken. We typically think of it in regards to relationships. But we know that the “all things” in this text will not be brought into a right relationship with God. Colossians 2:15 says that the spirits (those spoken of here and in verse 16) will be subdued, that means brought into subjection. They do not voluntarily bow to Jesus but they are brought to submission by his work on the cross. We see this also extended to humanity. As one commentator puts it:

“Thus reconciliation may be effected by voluntary submission to Jesus, which brings the blessings of salvation, or by involuntary submission, being conquered by the power of his might. Reconciliation must be defined…as all things being put into proper relation to Christ….In the end, everyone and everything will be reconciled in this sense. Everyone and everything will be subordinated to Christ.”[1]

This I believe is confirmed by verse 21, where it seems to speak of a different type of reconciliation that happens “now”, but awaits a more full expression in the future. And it is also very close to what Philippians 2 (among other places in Scripture) affirm about all things being brought into subordination to Christ. “Therefore God has highly exalted him (Jesus) and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What does that mean? It means that someday every person is going to acknowledge the rightful Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can speak of reconciliation as a present reality, because the Lordship of Jesus was fully established on the cross, and we can speak of it as future reality because every person will bow a knee on that day; not only every person in here but also every spirit. Every demonic force will bow. Even Satan himself will bow before Jesus Christ and confess Him as the Lord. And God the Father will be clapping in applause every second.

Some will bow willingly, others will be bow begrudgingly only minutes before being thrown into the lake of fire, to suffer eternal torment. This includes Satan, and this includes everyone whose name is not found in the Lamb’s book of life; those that does not willingly bow their knee to Jesus prior to that great day. Therefore you are urged today, to voluntarily submit to the Lordship of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 further confirms this. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

I am not sure if we really understand what it is that God has done and what he is offering to us. Every analogy that we could give would falter at some point. I could speak of one of you abusing and then murdering my son and years later I seek reconciliation with you. But that falls on a couple of accounts. One I am not without guilt myself. Two I did not create you, and you are not accountable to me. Three, I lack the capacity to truly be reconciled. There is no analogy which can accurately paint a picture of the infinite distance between us and God apart from His act of reconciling. And there is no story which can beautifully enough convey to you the unrelenting love of God to reconcile completely rebel sinners.

I have sinned against God. Even if we sum up the Law as Jesus did, to love God perfectly and love others completely it is obvious how messed up I have been. I have rebelled. I deserve hell. Really, I deserve hell. My heart even beating this second is an act of grace. Before I came to Christ God would have been perfectly just to have killed me and sent me to hell forever. I have been a rebel, this is true.

The problem is much more severe than just “my sins” separate me from God. It is not just that. Before Christ I separated me from God. As we read earlier every intention of my heart was wicked. It was not like I could just say I am sorry, I will try to do better. I want to become a better person. I will try harder, please just forgive me when I mess up. That is not the case; even if I wanted to “try to do better”, I would not succeed. I may try for awhile, but sooner or later it is back to my old way of living. The problem is that without Christ its not just that I sin it is that I am a sinner. What I mean is simply this we are not necessarily sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. The problem is that unless something happens to my heart I will remain in a state of enmity towards God.

But do you realize what God has done. He has taken the initiative. We will look more at this next week, but notice what verse 21 says. What is our problem? We are alienated from God and we are hostile in mind. Our hearts and our minds are at enmity with God. But what did he do, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

We were sentenced to death and God had every right to condemn us and throw us into hell. Our sin and our rebellious hearts stood opposed to Him. But out of his love he made a way of peace. Look again at that passage in 2 Corinthians. Now notice verse 21. Apart from Jesus Christ we have two big problems: The sentence of our sin and the truth that we must be fully righteous. Look what Jesus has done in verse 21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. What does that mean? It means that Jesus took care of both problems. He has taken care of our sin. He was punished where I should have been punished. In my place He stood condemned. And he has also taken care of our second problem. In Him we are righteous. God credits to our account the righteousness of Jesus, the one who knew no sin. I am forgiven because he was forsaken. I am accepted He was condemned. .

That is why Paul implores us in verse 20 to be reconciled to God. It means this: sign the peace treaty. God has signed his name to it. He has made the way. Now you sign it. Sign the peace treaty. Acknowledge your sinfulness, trust in His mercy, and live now as a right son or daughter instead of a rebel. Believe the gospel. That is what it takes to be reconciled.

What does it mean to be wholly reconciled?

We have kind of taken this passage backwards. We have camped out on verse 20 and skipped over verse 18-19. These, in a sense, point us to what it means to be reconciled. Paul is talking about the same thing that he mentioned in verse 13-14. We have been transferred into his kingdom and we have been redeemed. He is now opening up for us more of who this beloved Son is. Who is your King?

First of all we have seen that our King is the Lord of Creation. Tonight we see that our King is also the Lord of Reconciliation. He is the “head of the body, the church”. We can spend a ton of time speaking about the implications of this. If he is the head then that means that Jesus is in charge of the church, not the pastor, not the deacons, and not even the democratic vote, or if you are catholic it’s not the Pope. If he is the head then that means that he is the source. If that Jesus is the source it means that the church is his idea, not the idea of man. It also means that he is the creator of the church. And sense the church is made up of individuals this probably has something to say about the sovereignty of God in our salvation. This also has a vertical impact. It means that we are the body. It means that we ought to be united. Other places in Scripture discuss this. It also means that we ought to be connected to the body. Jesus being the head means that he is the organic head (meaning he causes it to grow) and he is the ruling head (meaning he tells it what to do). If you are not connected to the body then you are not rightly under submission to Christ nor are you going to grow as effectively. This is why church is important. By church I mean far more than meeting on Sunday and Wednesdays. The church is people not a building. It’s not a place you go, it’s a thing that you are. Those are only a few of the implications that we cannot much drive home, but only mention them in passing to spur some thought for later.

The key thing I want you to catch at this time is that if Christ is the head and we are the body then what does that mean about our unity with God? I do not want to stretch this too far and fall into a heresy that says that we are, or will become “little gods”. That is far from what the text is asserting. The text is saying that Jesus is in charge of the physical creation and the new creation. But part of what that new creation entails is that we, the body, will become like the head. As verse 22 says we will become holy and blameless and above reproach. That is really good news for those of us that continue to screw up and are burdened by our sin. Some day the body is going to look like the head wants it to.

Furthermore, this promise is confirmed even more beautifully in Paul’s next statement, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead”. Remember last time what we said, “first born” means? It is, in this context, first in rank. Meaning that even though there have been a few others that have been resurrected from the dead, such as Lazarus…Jesus is the one that matters the most. In fact his is the one that made all the others possible.

We are going to look at this better in a few weeks. For now let us look at what this means for reconciliation. If we are rightly reconciled to God, (by that I mean freely submitting to Him, or signing the peace treaty) then it means that we are brought back into a right relationship with God. If you rewind again to the creation story you notice something about God. He really loves to give us things. He likes to bless us. Or as Jesus said in John 15, I have come that they may have life and life abundantly. Would it surprise you if I said that God is passionately pursuing your joy? Part of the reason for this reconciliation that God has initiated is because God wants us to be filled with joy. Our rebellion tells us that joy is found in created things rather than the Creator. We rebel from the source of true joy.

Now, what does this have to do with Jesus being the “firstborn from the dead”? It means this: that what Jesus instituted by his resurrection is given to us. The new life that Jesus secured through his death is given to those that are “in Christ”. If you are reconciled to the head then you also have been given the gift of new life. You have been reconciled to God. We will spend more time on this in the coming weeks.

I want you to notice one more thing about this reconciliation. Notice the tense. Is it past, present, or future? This reads as a past event. On the cross Jesus Christ accomplished this act of reconciliation. He signed the peace treaty. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is still working to accomplish this work of redemption. He is still working on hearts to urge them to “be reconciled to God”. Sign the peace treaty. But this act of reconciliation is a completed act. What does that mean? It means that as soon as you sign the peace treaty the benefits of the reconciliation that was accomplished at the cross are certain. It means that you really are at peace with God. God’s wrath is no longer against you. You are not God’s enemy, nor will you ever be. You are free. You are clean. You are forgiven. You have been reconciled to the Father. That peace treaty analogy is only so complete. In the real world if someone breaches on a peace treaty then it’s cancelled and nullified. It is honestly not so with this peace treaty. This one has been sealed and set permanent by the blood of Jesus cross. It is finished.

If the Holy Spirit has already drawn you to Jesus Christ, if you have already “signed the peace treaty”, then I urge you tonight live like that. Live as one that is reconciled. Live as one that has been set free. Part of what that means is living in unity with the body. One of the things that you may need to do is be baptized. It is part of your identifying with the body of Christ. Part of your signing the peace treaty is you saying that you would no longer rebel and that He would be your King. Your King says that you need to identify with Him in baptism. But there are other things that the King is asking you to do. Missions. Giving. Loving. This is why a few weeks ago we saw that Paul prayed that they may be filled with the knowledge of His will. We know that signing the peace treaty means that we will do what the King asks us to. Knowing the knowledge of His will is doing what the King asks you to. Perhaps you need to repent. Maybe your life does not look like one that has been reconciled to God. Turn away from sin and come back to Jesus.

Perhaps there are some that have never “signed the peace treaty”. I ask you; tonight will you sign the peace treaty? Has God done a work of grace in your heart so that you see your need for reconciliation? Do you know tonight that you are lost and not in a right relationship with God? Your only hope is Jesus. Your only hope is the finished work of Jesus on the Cross. Your only hope of reconciliation is signing the peace treaty that is offered. You are not in a spot to draw up different terms. You are not in a place where you can negotiate. You either accept what the Father has written; that you are accepted wholly by the blood of Jesus Christ, not by works but by grace through faith, or you do not. You cannot do anything but sign. Will you tonight trust in Jesus Christ? He is offering, lo, he is commanding you to repent and to sign the peace treaty. Will you do it?

“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”.
[1] The NAC Commentary. Melick, Richard. Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. p.227

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