This morning is the fourth week in our Lenten Journey toward the Cross of Calvary. During Lent, Pastor Drew will be preaching a 7-part sermon series which will focus on some of things Christ specifically accomplished through his suffering and crucifixion, collectively referred to as the passion of Christ. The series is entitled “Why Did Jesus Die?” and is inspired by John Piper’s book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. The main point of the whole series is that the suffering an death of Jesus Christ was a purposefully event; many of the reasons for the passion of Christ are for our benefit. The hope is that you will come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death on the cross. Today’s theme is reconciliation/friendship with God. The main point is that Jesus died to reconcile us to God.
- #1: March 6: “Faith Not Our Own But Ours to Live By“
- #2: March 13: “The Cross: The Means of Freedom“
- #3: March 20: “The Cross: The Means of God’s Blessings“
- #5: April 3: “The Cross: The Ground of Our Boasting“
- #6: April 10 (Palm Sunday): “The Cross: The Crowning Glory of Jesus Christ“
- #7: April 17 (Easter): “Victory!“
Scriptures: Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
I know I’ve shared with you about the time my broken relationship with a clergy colleague was restored through the wonderful, life-transforming gift of forgiveness. I won’t retell the whole story again today, but the gist of it is that during a prayer for reconciliation which took place during a worship service, my colleague, who was sitting behind me, reached up and laid his hand on my shoulder. And before that prayer was done, every ounce of bitterness I’d been harboring in my spirit toward him evaporated, never to return again. Many years later, when we unexpectedly ran into each other at a restaurant, I gave him and his wife sincere and heartfelt hugs and was truly elated to see them and hear how they were both doing in retirement.
Whenever the topic of reconciliation comes up, that experience comes to mind right away. I could share with you a number of other times when a strain in a relationship with another person was restored to wholeness through the gift of forgiveness. No doubt, you have your own stories of being reconciled to persons with whom the relationship had broken down.
These experiences of grace and forgiveness can be powerful reminders of the depth of God’s love, the love he demonstrated most fully by his willingness to suffer and die on the cross as he did. In his book, The Passion of Jesus Christ, John Piper identifies fifty reasons why Jesus came into our world to die. That is, fifty things that his death accomplished which could not have been accomplished through any other means. One important reason Christ suffered and died was to reconcile us to God.
With that said, some fair questions to ask would be, Why was reconciliation with God even necessary? Was our relationship with God broken? And if so, how did it come about? My hope is to answer these questions this morning.
As a faith tradition, Christianity has always acknowledged the human experience of being at odds with God, of our constantly being in conflict with what we know to be the ways of God. In the book of Romans, when Paul writes about wanting to do what’s right but not being able to do it and, conversely, not wanting to do what’s wrong but doing it anyway (see Romans 7), we read that and respond, “Yeah, I know! That’s my experience, too!”
From a Christian perspective, we see this very real struggle as proof positive that by nature we’re at odds with God and the ways of God. I say “by nature” because experience tells us that doing the right thing—doing life God’s way—always takes hard work on our part; it never comes naturally. What comes naturally is doing things my way. And what does God say about the difference between his ways and our ways? Isaiah 55:8 – “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.” I know it seems obvious, but God’s ways and our ways are different from each other! This means that what we’re inclined to do without first running it through the filter of our faith and God’s Word and the Holy Spirit within us is will never reflect God’s will, only our own.
The inclination to do things according to our own ways and standards is the product of what the Bible calls the ‘sinful nature.’ The Greek word for “sinful nature” is sarx and its actual definition is “flesh.” The problem for us English-speakers is that we really only have one meaning for the word “flesh,” and it has to do with our physical bodies. In the New Testament, when Paul speaks negatively about the sarx—the flesh—he’s not talking about our physical flesh. He’s talking about our human nature. Adding to the confusion is the fact that some of the “sins of the flesh” (sarx) are sins we commit with our bodies, most notably, sexual sins. So, some Bible translations opt to translate sarx as “sinful nature” because it points to the real culprit—our human nature apart from God, a sinful nature with which every person is born.
In the book of Romans, when Paul writes about wanting to do what’s right but not being able to do it and, conversely, not wanting to do what’s wrong but doing it anyway, we read that and respond, “Yeah, I know! That’s my experience, too!”
We don’t particularly like the idea of being born with sinful nature which has us separated from God from day one, do we? According to Romans 5:12, the blame for this lies at feet of our original parents. “Just as through one human being sin came into the world, and death came through sin, so death has come to everyone” (Roman 5:12). As illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit which they were specifically told not to eat, their sin is the root cause of our sinful human nature. Their disobedience brought sin into the world, and from that point on, every person is born with a sinful nature. Meaning, every person comes into this world naturally in conflict with God and the ways of God. And this reality, as Paul puts it in Romans 5:10, makes us “enemies” of God from the day we’re born. I know, to our ears that sound really harsh. How could a little baby be God’s enemy? What’s the word we most easily associate with newborns and little children who are consciously unaware of the realities of sin? Innocence. So, we wonder, how on earth could an innocent baby be God’s enemy?
Well, that’s just it. It’s because we’re on earth—even babies are subject to the spiritual realities of being a part of this broken world. Our Christian worldview is that each one of us came into this world predisposed to the likes of disobedience, selfishness, pride, jealousy, envy, and a craving for the satisfaction of our physical desires. We may not like and wish it were otherwise, but the truth is we come into this world as adversaries of God. This, then, is the reason we need to be reconciled to God. Humanity needed a Savior who would restore us to a right relationship with our Creator.
That Savior was Jesus Christ. And the vehicle through which he accomplished this was the cross. Romans 5:10 makes this truth very clear:
What? We were reconciled to God…
How? Through the death of his Son…
When? While we were still enemies of God.
In this regard, Piper points out something that I’d not seen before. He writes,
“The reconciliation that needs to happen between sinful [humanity] and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’ help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in his own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.
“The all-important words are ‘while we were enemies.’ This is when ‘we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.’ While we were enemies. In other words, the first ‘change’ was God’s not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: ‘The mind that is set on the [sinful nature] (sarx) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s laws; indeed, it cannot’ (Romans 8:7, parenthetical note added).” (The Passion of Jesus Christ, p. 60).
In Romans 5:10, Paul’s point is this: while we were still in a place of animosity towards God, albeit unconsciously, God took the initiative to put Christ forward to bear our sins and thus make it possible for him to treat us with mercy alone. As Piper puts it, “God’s first act in reconciling us to himself was to remove the obstacle that made him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. Or as Paul puts it in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (5:19). And just to be clear, “In Christ” means through the work of Christ on the cross.” Reconciliation to God comes by way of the cross.
One last thought. Reconciliation is closely tied to forgiveness, but they are not one and the same. Reconciliation denotes the restoration of a broken relationship. Forgiveness is often the means of that restoration. If we think of a broken relationship as being one in which there is something between the parties in question, something that has separated them, maybe even something that has them emotionally coming against the other or others. If this is so, then achieving reconciliation is a matter of removing whatever has come between, usually a judgment of some sort. That was certainly the case with the sr. pastor and me. I blamed him for letting it get to the place it did, and I’m sure he blamed me. That was our judgment against one another. Reconciliation was achieved when that judgment was removed, when the feeling or belief we each held against the other was eliminated.
Well, while it admittedly flies in the face of our modern sensibilities, in order to really appreciate the significance of our being reconciled to God, it’s important to understand the truth that God has something against sinful humanity. He still loves us, for sure! That’s never in question, never in doubt. but he nevertheless has something against our sinful nature, because it’s the very thing that comes between us and can keep us separated from him. And so, in his perfect mercy, he took it upon himself to remove the barrier between us, to remove the obstacle which kept him “against us.” He took the steps we could not to remove his own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation happened “while we were enemies.”
It boils down to this: reconciliation from God’s side was accomplished by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross. Reconciliation from our side is accomplished by us simply receiving what God has already done [through the work of the cross] in the same way the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift — we just receive it! When we do receive it, we do so with gratitude, humility, and joy. Let’s pray….