Reconciliation takes us right to the heart of the gospel. It moves us like few other themes in the Bible. Reconciliation crosses distances, overcomes hostility, opens access, melts indifference, and cultivates peace.
What could be more relevant in our angry and divided world today?
Restored to God
We once were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10). Not that we consciously hated God — mostly we were oblivious to our defensive attitude. If anything, we blamed him for not seeming closer to us. But our clueless resistance did not stop God. He moved toward us with love and even with sacrifice through Christ. He took his own righteous wrath against our rage by the atoning death of his Son as our Substitute. No wonder, then, that we “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11).
We didn’t earn or deserve our reconciliation, and we didn’t meet God in the middle. We contributed nothing except pouting indifference. God was the one who accomplished our reconciliation for us at the cross, and God was the one who offered our reconciliation to us in the gospel. All we ever did was receive it with the empty hands of faith.
But biblical reconciliation doesn’t stop with the vertical toward God. It goes further, reaching into the horizontal, with one another. It makes us uncomfortable, and pushes us out of our comfort zone, to pursue peace with precisely the people we naturally find most difficult.
Reconciled to Each Other
True reconciliation with God cannot hang in mid-air as an abstraction. It moves right into our hostilities and resentments toward one another. And let’s all admit it: we need help! One of the reasons people say they don’t believe the gospel is that we Christians come across as living denials of the very reconciliation we claim to celebrate. If our relationships with one another are chilly and distant, how can we commend the gospel to our watching world with persuasive power?
The apostle Paul bluntly gets up in our faces. In Ephesians 2:11–22 — an urgently important passage for our generation — Paul declares that Jesus himself is our peace. We will never find true unity through a “Jesus +” formula — whether it’s Jesus + the same ethnicity, or Jesus + the same style, or Jesus + the same background, or whatever else. Jesus alone is enough to bring us all together in loving, affirming fellowship.
Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, creating a new human community by reconciling us all to God on the same terms — his own broken body on the cross. His great message to us now is peace, since we all share the same access to God. How can we stomach two-tiered fellowship any longer? How could we show some people to the head of the line, while holding others back? How can we nurse our racial prejudices and stroke our ethnocentrism? We all come to God together by the reconciling power of the gospel.
And in the churches where this new peace reigns, God’s presence is tangibly felt in the midst of such a world of division as ours. Gospel doctrine must create gospel culture.
Dodge Reconciliation, Deny the Gospel
Let’s ask ourselves some hard questions: Who are we keeping our distance from? Who are we avoiding? Who are we hoping we won’t run into around town? Whose presence makes us feel awkward because of some painful history? To whom might we owe an apology? If we say we love the gospel of reconciliation, can we let any relational breakdown go on and on without at least trying to reconcile? And if we are unwilling to try, then let’s admit it: we are trifling with God. We are, in practice, denying the gospel.
We prove our sincerity about the vertical gospel of reconciliation through our willingness to move toward horizontal relationships that need reconciliation. Maybe that person or that church or that group won’t listen to us. But still, we must try. And we might be surprised at how God blesses our imperfect but prayerful effort.
The War Is Over
On December 26, 1944, the Japanese army sent Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda to the Philippine island of Lubang. His orders were to fight on indefinitely. Word never reached him several months later when World War II ended. For thirty more years, he went on fighting in the context of a war that existed only in his mind. He lived in hiding, came out at night to steal food from the villages, and even shot at people now and then.
Ten years into hiding, he found a newspaper article about himself, but he thought it was a trick to get him to surrender. The Philippine government dropped leaflets into the jungle, asking him to come out. They brought loudspeakers in and shouted, “Onoda, the war is over.” One day his own brother stood at the microphone and begged him to give up, but he wouldn’t believe it. Onoda fought on until 1974, when the Japanese government sent in his old commanding officer, Major Taniguchi, who ordered Onoda to surrender. He finally gave up.
Onoda was trapped in 1945, shut out the good news of peace, and lost thirty years of his life hiding in jungles, loyal to a lost cause. We can be like Onoda today when we trap our thoughts and feelings in a war that God ended long ago.
The night Jesus was born, the angels stepped up to the microphone and shouted, “Peace on earth” (see Luke 2:14). For two thousand years, God has been dropping leaflets of the good news into our jungles. Through his cross, Christ won the victory. Isn’t it time to give up on our ridiculous lost causes, come out of hiding, and start living again?
God has not only reconciled us to himself, but he has given us the ministry of reconciliation. What are we waiting for? Let’s go make some peace.