November 23, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
In Christ
#4—We are reconciled

Introduction and offering:

Does anybody here have an enemy?  Someone with whom you are at odds? Or you just don’t like?  Don’t look at me that way!

We live in a deeply divided world.  People hate each other based on religion, race, nationality, economics, status, and even this: ESPN video.  Shortest blind date ever!   I’m betting that some of you have enemies; you have people with whom you need to be reconciled.

The good news is that in Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself.  God is your friend!  He is for you, not against you!  And when that’s settled, He reconciles us with each other.  That’s what we’re talking about today.

This is part 4 of our series, “In Christ.”  Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” or some variation of it over 100 times in his letters in the New Testament.  To be in Christ describes our position: we are in Christ like the ball is in the bucket, or the check is in the mail, or the Zags are in the top ten!  And to be in Christ describes our relationship: we are united with Christ, we are following Him, loving Him with all we’ve got.  As we live in relationship with Jesus and follow Jesus, all that is true of us because of our position in Christ begins to work its way into our lives.

The Big Idea: When you are in Christ, all that is true of Him changes what is true of you.  In Christ, we are reconciled with God and each other. 

As we talk about this, think about the two questions at the bottom of your outline.  What will I do?  We read the Bible not just for information, but transformation.  If you recognize a clear next step—“God wants me to do this”—write it down and do it this week.  Who will I tell?  You may think of someone who needs to hear what you heard.  Write their name and tell them this week. 

 

1. In Christ, we are reconciled to God.

ILL: During the Revolutionary War, there was a pastor named Peter Miller who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania and enjoyed the friendship and respect of George Washington.  In that same town lived a man named Michael Widman, a troublemaker who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor, including spit in his face, trip him when he walked by and once even punched him.  One day, Michael Widman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die.  Peter Miller traveled fifty miles on foot to Valley Forge to plead for the life of the traitor. 

“No Peter,” George Washington said.  “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher.  “He’s the most bitter enemy I have; but I don’t believe he is guilty of treason.”

  “What?” cried Washington.  “You’ve walked fifty miles to save the life of an enemy?  That puts the matter in a different light.  I’ll grant your pardon.”  And he did.

Peter Miller took Michael Widman back home to Ephrata–no longer an enemy, but a friend.

That’s what it means to be reconciled.  It means that enemies become friends.  It means that we exchange our hostilities for friendship.  In Christ, we are reconciled to God.  Here’s our text:

2 Corinthians 5:17–21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

If you are in Christ, you are a new person.  You are changing day by day, becoming a new you.

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 people’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.

God reconciled us to Himself in Christ.  Here are a couple things you need to know. 

First, the enmity was all ours.  God was never your enemy, but you were at odds with God.  It was never that God felt enmity toward us, but that we felt enmity toward God.  We were rebels who declared our independence from God.  Some of us simply walked away and ignored Him.  Others actively resisted Him.  But all of us became enemies toward God.   The enmity was all us, not Him.

ILL: Many years ago, a lady came to Laina after church and said, “I just have to confess this and get it off my chest.  I have always hated you.  You seem so perfect.  Please forgive me.” 

This was really stupid for two reasons.  First, this is not something you confess; you just deal with it.  Second, it was stupid because how can you not like Laina?  She may be the nicest person on the planet!

But here’s the deal: Laina liked this lady.  There was never any enmity or bad feelings on Laina’s part.  It was all this lady feeling enmity toward Laina.

That’s how it was between us and God: the enmity was all in us, not in Him.  God has always loved you.  God has always been for you, not against you.  We were God’s enemies, but He was never ours.

Romans 5:10–11 For if, while 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! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notice that we were God’s enemies, but He was never ours.

Colossians 1:21–22 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—

You were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your behavior

ILL: Many years ago, a friend of mine suddenly dropped out of my life.  He avoided me.  He stopped calling, stopped hanging out, just stopped being friends.  I wondered what I had done.  What I discovered was that he had moved in with his girlfriend and they were sleeping together.  I hadn’t done anything—it was his behavior and the guilt he felt that made him pull him away from me.  I still considered him a friend, but he wanted nothing to do with me.

That’s how it is with us and God.  The enmity is all on us.  God was never our enemy.  We were the ones who rebelled and walked away. 

First, the enmity was all ours. Second, the reconciliation was all God.

God was the one who made peace.  Normally, we expect the person in the wrong to make amends, to initiate reconciliation. God was in the right, and we were in the wrong, but it was God who reconciled us to himself.  Peter Miller was never at odds with Michael Widman—the enmity was all on Michael; he was the one with bad behavior.  But it was Peter who made peace; it was Peter who reconciled Michael to himself.   

In the same way, God is the reconciler.  He reconciles us to Himself in Christ. 

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 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 people’s sins against them.

God reconciled us to Himself.  It is not a negotiation; it is a gift.  He acts, we receive. 

Romans 5:10–11 For if, while 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! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

God is the reconciler; He is the active one.  We are passive; we were reconciled; we have received reconciliation.  We didn’t contribute anything to the reconciliation; we didn’t participate in a negotiated peace. 

ILL: In Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, she tells the story of Ulysses S. Grant leading the Union forces against Fort Donelson in Tennessee.

After many had died, the Confederate commander, General Simon Buckner, proposed a cease-fire “and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation.” (In other words, let’s negotiate a settlement that will be good for both of us.)  On February 16, Grant telegraphed back the historic words that would define both his character and career: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”  (p. 418).

We don’t come to God and negotiate peace; we don’t dictate the terms.  He comes to us and declares the war over, and asks for nothing less than unconditional surrender to His love.  All we brought to the table was our enmity; what God brought was full forgiveness—He won’t count our sins against us anymore.  This is pure grace.  No one can boast and say, “I made peace with God.”  We can only boast in the Lord who made peace with us.  Michael Widman did nothing to make peace; it was all Peter Miller.  Michael only had to receive it: accept the pardon as a gift and walk home with a new friend.  God has reconciled you—forgiven all your sin—you only have to accept it and walk with Him as your new friend.

God is your friend!  He is for you, not against you. 

In Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself—everyone!  So why isn’t everyone acting reconciled?  Why are so many people still at war with God?  The short answer is that we need to tell them the good news.  “The war is over.  God has forgiven you.  He’s for you, not against you.  God is your friend, not your enemy.  Turn to Him and receive the gift of full forgiveness, total reconciliation.”  Or in Paul’s words: “God is making His appeal through us.  We implore you: be reconciled to God.” 

ILL: Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese soldier stationed on Guam in World War 2.  As the war drew to a close, fearing capture by American forces, he ran into the jungle and hid in a cave.  He learned later that the war was over by reading one of the leaflets dropped into the jungle by American planes, but he feared it was only propaganda and that he would be captured and tortured.  So he remained in his cave—for 8 years.  In 1952, he learned that the war was over, but he continued to live in hiding for another 20 years to avoid the disgrace of being captured.  So for 28 years he came out only at night.  For 28 years, he existed on frogs, rats, roaches and mangoes.  After 28 years, two hunters, Jesus Dueñas and Manuel De Gracia discovered and captured him.  When he returned to Japan in 1972, he said, “It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned.”

I love it that the two hunters who found him were names Jesus and Manuel: Jesus and Immanuel (God with us).  God came hunting for us in Christ, and now sends us out to be the hunters who find others, tell them the good news, and bring them home. “The war is over.  You are reconciled to God. God is your friend.”  There are people all around us running from God, hiding from God, at war with God.  They need to hear the good news that the war is over, that God is not holding their sins against them, that they are forgiven and reconciled to God.  We are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us.  Be reconciled to God; He is your friend.

God is your friend!  He is for you, not against you. 

 

Communion: Worship while pass out the elements, I’ll lead prayer.

 

Be open for business this week.  Be ready to tell people that the war is over and they are reconciled to God.

 

2. In Christ, we are reconciled to each other.

In Christ, we are not only reconciled to God, but also to each other.  In Christ, the barriers between us have been destroyed, and we have common ground on which to stand. 

Ephesians 2:11–22 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

In the ancient world, the division between Jews and Gentiles ran deeper than you can imagine. Notice how Paul describes Gentiles: separate, excluded, foreigners, without hope and without God, far away.  There was a huge chasm separating Jew and Gentile.

For a Jew in the first century, there were only two kinds of people in the world: Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). 

ILL: “There are two kinds of people in the world: _______________.”  You can finish that sentence in a million ways, depending on your perspective.

  • There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Neil Diamond and those who don’t.  Bill Murray
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’ and those who say, ‘Here I am!’ ”  Abigail Van Buren
  • There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who know math and those who don’t.
  • There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t.

Zomato, a website dedicated to food enthusiasts, created a fun series of infographics to illustrate our differences.  Let’s see which you are!  (9 slides.)

“There are two kinds of people in the world…”  You can finish that sentence in a million ways, depending on your perspective.  For a Jew in the first century, they would have said: There are two kinds of people in the world: Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).  Jews considered Gentiles unclean; they weren’t allowed to eat with them, or visit their homes.

All that changed in Christ. 

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in Christ you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

The barrier is destroyed, the two are one in Christ.  If this could happen for Jew and Gentile, the deepest division in the ancient world, it can happen for us in our divisions.   In Christ, we are one.  In Christ, we are reconciled to God and each other.  In Christ, the old divisions and barriers have been destroyed.  In Christ, we are one new humanity.  We are no longer enemies, but friends.

Galatians 3:26–28 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

  • In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile: race is no longer a barrier.   Red and yellow, black and white—we are one in Christ.
  • In Christ there is neither slave nor free: social and economic status is no longer a barrier.  Rich and poor, high and low—we are one in Christ.
  • In Christ, there is neither male nor female: gender is no longer a barrier.  Paul isn’t saying that we cease to be men or women—our faith in Jesus doesn’t neuter us.  But gender no longer divides us.  In ancient society women were oppressed, but that changed in Christ.  Men and women are equally called to follow Jesus—we are one in Christ.

In Christ, all the old barriers cease to matter.  We are no longer enemies but friends. 

What is the best way to get rid of an enemy?  Turn him into a friend.  Here’s what Jesus said:

Matthew 5:43–48 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

When you love your enemy, you turn him into a friend.  When Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” I think he was talking about being perfect or complete in our love.  We are to love as God loves, and he gives the sun and the rain to everyone, both the good and the bad.  That’s how we’re to love; we’re to do what’s best for others whether they deserve it or not, whether they like us or not.  And when we do, we may turn an enemy into a friend.

ILL: One of the best true stories of loving an enemy is told in the movie, “The Scarlet and the Black.” 

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish priest who worked at the Vatican during World War 2 and led an operation that hid and transported Jews, Allied soldiers and conspirators out of occupied Rome to safety.  Colonel Herbert Kappler was the head of the Gestapo in Rome and was in charge of the Nazi occupation of Rome.  He knew what O’Flaherty was doing and tried desperately, but futilely, to catch him. 

In the process, Kappler captured, tortured and murdered several of the priest’s friends; and he confined the priest to the Vatican grounds, threatening him with death if they ever caught him outside the Vatican.  O’Flaherty continued his work, moving freely through Rome, by wearing dozens of ingenious disguises, including a nun’s habit. 

When the Allies neared Rome in May of 1944, Colonel Kappler met privately with O’Flaherty and begged him to spirit his wife and children out of Rome.  The priest refused to have anything to do with the Nazi overlord, and left with Kappler yelling at him that he was no different than anyone else, that his rescue work was not done on principle but just on self-preservation.  But after his capture, at his interrogation, Kappler learned that his wife and children had mysteriously escaped to safety; and he knew who did it!  The man he had sworn to destroy had saved his family.

By the way, the end of that story is even more amazing. After the liberation, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was honored by Italy, Canada, and Australia, received the US Medal of Freedom and was made a Commander of the British Empire.  Herbert Kappler was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes. In the long years that followed in his Italian prison, Kappler had only one visitor.  Every month, year in and year out, Father O’Flaherty came to see him.  In 1959, the former head of the dreaded Gestapo in Rome was baptized into Christ at the hands of the Irish priest.

In Christ we are reconciled with each other.  In Christ, enemies become friends.

God is your friend, and wants you to extend that friendship to each person you know.  Is there someone with whom you need to reconcile?  Let’s bury the hatchet! 

What will I do?

  • Be reconciled to God.  Unconditional surrender.
  • Stop fighting against God.  Believe the He is your friend and wants the best for you. 
  • Love your enemy.  Do something good for that person who dislikes you.
  • Reconcile a broken friendship.

Who will I tell?