Part 1: With God
Today, we begin a four-week series called “Making Peace”. So many people live with unresolved conflicts and broken relationships, with bitterness and resentment, and with lingering guilt and regrets.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Blessed are the peacemakers. It’s good to be a peacemaker. But it is easier said than done. How do you make peace with God? How do you make peace with yourself? And how do you make peace with others? That’s what we’re talking about, and today we start with God.
Friday morning, Randy Sylvia, left us and went to heaven. Many of you know and love Randy and DeAnn. DeAnn leads our nursery; Randy led our men’s ministry and recovery ministries. Randy had been battling a brain tumor for the last year; in the last couple weeks, his condition went downhill very quickly, and he died on Friday. He was 50. Randy and DeAnn became Christians here at Life Center 23 years ago; we’ve been friends ever since. 23 years—I’ll miss Randy. A memorial service for Randy will be at 3 o’clock this Wednesday, here at Life Center. Please be praying for DeAnn and their four sons, Aaron, Andy, Adam and Zach. Prayer for the Sylvias.
We’re mixing things up today. I’m going to give the talk first, and then we’ll take communion and we’ll worship.
ILL: When I was in 8th grade, I stole my buddy’s girlfriend…sort of. She was going with him, but decided she liked me, so she gave him his ring back. He wasn’t mad about it, but he said, “You stole my girlfriend; I guess we ought to fight.” I laughed, he laughed—and we scheduled the fight for right after school. It was really a big joke, but word spread: “Fight after school! Joe and Dennis are fighting over Linda.” (Does this sound like junior high?)
After school we hiked down to the fighting spot in the woods behind the school. Surrounded by a herd of junior highers, we put up our dukes and started dancing around. All of sudden, to my surprise, he threw a left jab that caught me square on the cheek. I thought we were just goofing around, and he hit me! So I uncorked a big right-handed haymaker that caught him on the side of the head and put him on the ground. He was holding his head, and I was holding my hand, and we both decided that was enough. The fight was over, and we were friends again.
Don’t you wish every conflict could be solved so easily? It’s usually much more complicated, isn’t it?
By the way, my hand hurt because I broke a bone in it!
We live in a broken world, filled with broken relationships and broken hands. How do we heal these broken relationships? How do we make peace? The introductory statement at the top of your outline reads:
The first broken relationship that needs to be fixed is our relationship with God. The good news is that He fixed it!
I want to talk about making peace with God first because if we make peace with God, He will help us make peace with others. If we straighten the vertical, the horizontal will start to line up. God first: here’s the problem.
1. The problem: We were enemies of God.
The Bible says that we were enemies of God. It never says that God was an enemy with us, just that we were enemies of God.
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
We were God’s enemies. Paul is writing to Christians, so he uses the past tense: we were God’s enemies, but we have been reconciled—we’ll get to that in a moment. We were God’s enemies; why?
Colossians 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
We were enemies in our minds…why? Because of something God did? No. Because of our evil behavior. We were at odds with God not because of anything He did, but because of what we have done. We became enemies of God in our minds—our thinking, our perspective changed when we sinned, and we perceived God as our enemy. Our evil behavior made us hate God; it never made Him hate us. He loved us, even when we were in rebellion against Him.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God has always loved us; the enmity was entirely on our part, in our minds.
There are two ways to become an enemy of someone. The first is if the other person does something terrible towards you, you become his enemy. If someone cheats you, you may end up hating them; you become their enemy because of what they did you. We all get this: you treat me badly, I hate your guts. The second way is if you do something terrible to them. You cheat them, and then you feel guilt and shame and enmity toward them. Your thinking, your perspective changes, and you become an enemy to that person.
ILL: There is a story in the Bible that illustrates both of these. One of King David’s sons, Amnon, gets the hots for his half-sister, Tamar. He and a friend concoct a plan. Amnon pretends to be sick, and asks for Tamar to serve him lunch in bed. When Tamar comes with lunch, Amnon rapes her. 2 Samuel 13:15 “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.” Who did the wrong? Amnon. Who was filled with hate? Amnon.
When Tamar’s brother, Absalom heard what happened, he hated Amnon because of what he had done to sister. For two years, Absalom nursed his grudge and looked for an opportunity for revenge; then he killed Amnon. Who did the wrong? Amnon. Who was filled with hate? Absalom.
There are two ways to become an enemy of someone. Absalom is an example of the first: he became Amnon’s enemy because of what Amnon did to his sister; Absalom hated him for it. Amnon is an example the second: he became Tamar’s enemy because he did something terrible to her. His own shame and guilt made him hate her.
ILL: In an article for ChristianityToday.com entitled “Our Divine Distortion,” Christian songwriter Carolyn Arends shared this personal story:
When I found a brand new laptop for half price on eBay, I told my friend and musical colleague Spencer about my bargain of a find. He was worried: “Usually when something’s too good to be true …”
“I know,” I replied impatiently, “but the seller has a 100 percent approval rating.”
“Be careful,” warned Spencer.
“Of course,” I assured him, annoyed. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”
I sent the seller $1,300 and discovered in very short order that I had fallen prey to a classic scam. A fraudster had hacked someone’s eBay identity in order to relieve easy marks like me of our money.
I felt like a fool—and didn’t want to tell Spencer. The next time I saw his number on my caller ID, I didn’t answer. I could just imagine his “I told you so.”
Soon, I was avoiding Spencer completely. And I started to resent him. Why did he have to be so judgmental? Why couldn’t he be on my side? Why was I ever friends with that jerk?
Eventually, we had to fly together to perform at a concert. “Whatever happened with that computer thing?” he asked an hour into the flight. Cornered, I finally confessed my foolishness, dreading the inevitable response. But as soon as I told Spencer about my mistake, a strange thing happened. The enemy I had turned him into evaporated. Spencer turned into Spencer again, my teasing but empathetic buddy.
As embarrassed as I was by my eBay error, I felt even dumber about the way I had allowed my shame to distort my perception of a best friend. If my hand had not been forced, I would have remained estranged from him indefinitely.
Our shame and guilt distort our perception of God.
Colossians 1:21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
God loves you. God is for you not against you. And yet we were enemies of God, even though He had done nothing wrong; it was us who did the wrong! We spurn His love and rebel against His commands; we resist His authority over us; we avoid and resent Him and we become His enemies. We declared war on Him, not Him on us.
So this is our problem. We sinned, and “were alienated from God”—our sins separated us from God; “and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behavior.”
What’s the solution?
2. The solution: God made peace with us.
Here’s the amazing thing: the enmity was all on our part; the solution is all God’s doing! We made war; He makes peace. We broke the relationship; He reconciled us to Himself.
To reconcile is to turn an enemy into a friend. The best way to get rid of your enemies is to turn them into friends. This is what God did. God reconciled us to Himself; He turned us from enemies into friends.
Whenever the Bible talks about reconciliation, it is always God who reconciles, and we who are reconciled to Him; He is the reconciler, we are the reconciled.
Colossians 1:19-22 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.
Notice who does the reconciling and how He does it:
Who: It is God who does the reconciling. “God was pleased…to reconcile to himself all things…” “But now he has reconciled you…” You don’t make peace with God; He makes peace with you. God repairs the damage I caused.
How: God reconciles us by Jesus’ sacrificial death: “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross;” and “by Christ’s physical body through death.”
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that 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. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Notice the same thing here. Who does the reconciling? God! God reconciled us to Himself through Christ,” and “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” And how did He do it? “Not counting men’s sins against them.”
What made Carolyn Arends hostile to Spencer? Her mistake, not his. What makes us hostile to God? Our sins. So God removes the thing that stands between us: He forgives our sins in Christ. Jesus absorbed all our sins, all our wrong-doing, all our bad attitudes, all our selfishness—all of it—He took on Himself and paid our penalty. He died in my place and yours. He died for me, to take away my sin and turn me into God’s friend.
ILL: I was playing golf this week with my friends Dana, Peter and Leo. On the fifth hole, I flubbed a little chip shot from the edge of the green, and in a fit of temper, flung my 9-iron toward my bag—50 yards away. It helicoptered through the air and landed on the concrete cart path. There was a moment of silence and then Dana said, “There’s a sermon illustration.” And here it is.
I thought and prayed about this episode. The big deal is not that I got irritated and tossed my club—that’s pretty insignificant in the big scheme of things. The big deal is that I care too much about things that don’t matter and care too little about things that do matter. That’s a big deal. I’ve been following Jesus for 45 years; you think I’d have my values straightened out by now! But every day, I still find myself caring too much about things that don’t matter and caring too little about things that do.
Why do I tell you that? Because I need to be forgiven…daily. I need to be reconciled…often. I need Jesus and what He did for me on the cross. My sins have alienated me from God, but God reconciled me to Himself through Jesus.
ILL: In his book Hidden in Plain Sight, author and pastor Mark Buchanan tells this story that came from the genocide in Rwanda:
A woman’s only son was killed. She was consumed with grief and hate and bitterness. “God,” she prayed, “reveal my son’s killer.”
One night she dreamed she was going to heaven. But there was a complication: in order to get to heaven she had to pass through a certain house. She had to walk down the street, enter the house through the front door, go through its rooms, up the stairs, and exit through the back door.
She asked God whose house this was.
“It’s the house,” he told her, “of your son’s killer.”
The road to heaven passed through the house of her enemy.
Two nights later, there was a knock at her door. She opened it, and there stood a young man. He was about her son’s age.
He hesitated. Then he said, “I am the one who killed your son. Since that day, I have had no life. No peace. So here I am. I am placing my life in your hands. Kill me. I am dead already. Throw me in jail. I am in prison already. Torture me. I am in torment already. Do with me as you wish.”
The woman had prayed for this day. Now it had arrived, and she didn’t know what to do. She found, to her own surprise, that she did not want to kill him. Or throw him in jail. Or torture him. In that moment of reckoning, she found she only wanted one thing: a son.
“I ask this of you. Come into my home and live with me. Eat the food I would have prepared for my son. Wear the clothes I would have made for my son. Become the son I lost.”
And so he did.
(Mark Buchanan, Hidden in Plain Sight (Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 187-189)
This is what God did for me…for you. We killed God’s son; and God invites us in to be His sons and daughters. When Jesus died on the cross, God was reconciling the world to Himself, making sons and daughters out of His enemies.
The war is over. God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus. But some of us act like the war is still on.
3. The opportunity: Be reconciled to God!
God has made peace; God has taken the initiative and done what needs to be done to reconcile us to Himself. He has extended the olive branch…but you still have to accept it. The woman offered forgiveness and a home to the young man who killed her son; at that moment, he had a choice: accept the offer and be forgiven and become a son, or reject the offer and walk away. God has offered you forgiveness and the opportunity to become His son or daughter. In fact, God doesn’t just offer it; He begs you to take it.
2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
Today, as Christ’s representative, I beg you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. God is appealing to you through me: be reconciled to God. Accept God’s offer of free and full forgiveness; be reconciled to God. Grab the opportunity to become God’s son or daughter: be reconciled to God. How do you get reconciled to God? You just receive it by faith. Look at the next verse:
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
I call this the Great Exchange. Jesus took your sin and gave you His righteousness. Picture it like this.
ILL: This is my garbage. I have collected this all week. Imagine that tomorrow, when I take the garbage out to the curb to be collected, a man is waiting for me holding a bag just like this. “Let’s swap bags,” he says. Immediately, I’m suspicious—what do we want to know? “What’s in your bag?” I ask. “Cash—it’s filled with cash.” How many of you think I should make the swap?
What would you think if I said, “I don’t want to swap. This is my garbage. I’ve been collecting it all week.” You’d think I was crazy.
What would you think if I said, “I don’t know if I can trust you. How do I know you’re telling the truth?” Well, the doubt would be understandable—not too many people offer to swap their money for our garbage…unless you’re holding a garage sale. But still…what have you got to lose? Your garbage.
The bag of garbage represents my sin, what I make of my life on my own, being my own boss. The bag of cash represents all the righteousness of God, what He wants to make of my life when I let Him be the boss.
What does it take to make the swap? A little faith. I just have to believe that he means it and give him my garbage and accept his cash.
This is the great exchange. God took your sin and credited it to Jesus, and He took Jesus’ righteousness and credited it to you. You simply have to accept it as a gift.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus. Our sins have been taken away, we’ve been reconciled, changed from God’s enemy to His friend; we’ve been brought into the family. We have peace with God. It is all God’s doing—we humbly accept it as a gift by faith.
Now please don’t think that is the end of the story. When you accept the gift and become God’s child—you move into God’s home and you start a brand new life as a son or daughter of God. You start living like God’s child, like God’s friend. Everything changes! Your life is not your own; you’ve been bought with a price; you’re His now. You’re a follower of Jesus, which means He’s leading, not you. It’s a new life! We become new and different people. But it all starts with a decision, a swap: my sin for His righteousness, my enmity for His friendship, my old life for His new one.
I beg you: be reconciled to God.