Reconciliation


And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the roster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

Mark 14: 30, 31

This is a very familiar story, and most of us are probably aware of this time when Peter spoke out of his impulsiveness and in his passion. Of course, he was not able to follow through and stick with Jesus through the Lord’s arrest and trials. Just as certainly, Jesus was exactly right in foretelling how it would all take place. Peter made promises that he could not keep, and he entered into commitments that he would not fulfill. So do I, and in all probability, so do most of you, too. This is our nature as humans. We say things that are not well thought through, and we fail to stick to the course when that path becomes too hard for us to handle. Like Peter, we attempt to go through life operating out of our passions with promises too easily given and without the resources to do what we swear that we will do.

Peter had available to him everything that he would have needed to remain strong, faithful, and true to his word, but he didn’t yet realize that it was so. Peter was standing in the presence of God in human form. He was serving Jesus, and Jesus was generous with gifts of courage and strength that exceeded anything that people could summon up from within their own resources. Still, Peter decided to do it all in his own power and out of his considerably more limited capability and capacity. When I look at Peter, I see myself. I see a stubborn unwillingness to admit when I am frightened by the situation at hand. Peter provides me with a look into a heart that is like mine in that it is uncertain and not willing to admit those areas of doubt in public for fear of looking less than competent and capable. In Peter’s story of gross failure, I see an example of the sort of thing that I have experienced in many settings over most of the years of my life.

So, in this same story, I also see something that gives me great hope, for Peter is not left to suffer in his failure and to live out his days in the misery that he was feeling in these hours right after Jesus was arrested and he refused to acknowledge that he even knew the Lord much less that he traveled with Him and served Him. Jesus sought out Peter, and He brought grace and redemption to the fallen disciple. Christ granted forgiveness to Peter, and then the Lord commissioned Peter into service to Him and in the newly formed Kingdom of God now established on earth in the form of Christ’s church. The setting is not as dramatic as was the one by the seashore when Jesus interacted with Peter, but the result has been the same for me, and this story of redemption and purpose are repeated continually in the lives of other people too. Jesus grants infinite grace to His stubborn, overpromising, and fallen sheep. His love and mercy are unceasing despite all that we might do or fail to follow through with. So, it is important to remember that when I fail, and I know that I will again and again, Jesus is ready to pour out forgiveness on my spirit as He is also there to send me out again into service to His Kingdom.  

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And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 11, 12

A great trial is underway in our world. Evidence is offered up and presented on a regular basis, and the jury is soaking it in as it is set forth. Perhaps the greatest difference from this trial and those that we are most familiar with is the fact that this jury is not comprised of a set number of people who hear all of the testimony before rendering a singular verdict. This jury is populated with an ever changing group of people and their number is enormous. Although the stated object of the trial might be faith in Jesus; so, Jesus is on trial, the lives that are really on the line as they will be subject to the life or death outcome of the adjudication that is on view are all of the participants in the jury itself. They see the evidence, and each of them is placed in the position of making a decision, of rendering a verdict, that either accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior or that rejects Him.

 Those of us who know Christ are placed in the position of being living witnesses to the life that we have been granted in Christ. Our testimony is fleshed out and placed on view for the jury to consider in the form of the lives that we live as a result of the presence of Christ in us. The transformative work that Christ does in our hearts and minds presents a powerful expression of the grace, mercy, and love that God pours out upon His Creation and that Christ grants to each of us in His Spirit. All that we speak and do is seen by the world around us, and it is evaluated as either legitimate evidence of the effectiveness and the truth of the claim that Christ is the singular answer to the question of life or death, or it is rejected as fabrication or self-deception. The credibility of us as witnesses is primarily determined by the sincerity of our faith in Christ.

We can do nothing about the receptivity of others. These witnesses will evaluate and think about what they see with various forms of personal filters in place. Some will remain skeptical and unbelieving for the full term of their lives, others will turn away from unbelief and enter into a relationship with Christ in a moment, while still others will contemplate and consider what they have seen for a long while before rendering their final verdict. The only aspect of this courtroom drama that we do get to control is found in the way that we live and the consistency of the testimony that we give to the unfailing love that Christ provides to us. As followers of Christ, our lives are on view by this large array of jurors, and our testimony is heard over and over again throughout the course of our days. During each of those days there will be members of that jury who will render a verdict for themselves by choosing life in Christ or death without Him.   

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2: 17

Durability is something that matters to most people. We consider it when we are looking to purchase items that we might want to have with us and use for a long time. We also think about it when we consider things like career choices, long-term housing selection, and relationships. We not only want each of these things to last for an extended period of time, but we also desire for that tenure to be one that is filled with enjoyment, satisfaction, and even appreciation in value and worth. Yet, the place where all of this takes place and on which it is constructed is, itself, failing and crumbling as it traverses its final epoch od existence in its current configuration. God has promised that this world will come to a terrible and even catastrophic end at a date that is certain to Him but that is left undisclosed to us. This will take place so that its great, glorious, and redeemed replacement can be launched forth by God; thus, all that is here now needs to be removed.

God has included us in His plan for what comes next. We are not necessarily included with the physical world in the need for removal and destruction. Jesus has given each person the opportunity to gain a place in an eternity that is formed out of God’s love, grace, and desire for an unending relationship with us. Eternity for us is found in and through Christ, and all that surrounds us in this world will find its own form of that same redemption by the word and the work of Christ upon His return to dwell upon it. All of this is a part of that great and rather mysterious thing that we can call God’s will. It does seem to me that God’s will is defined by certain big picture concepts. These include redemption, restoration, peacemaking, grace, and a form of love that is enduring and self-sacrificing. We engage with God’s will when we live in a manner that reflects these qualities and that is modeled after the life that Christ lived and the words of truth that God inspired to be provided to us in His Word. 

So, it does seem that this will that leads to eternity is firstly determined by the presence of Christ within an individual, and thus, it is made real and active as we submit our lives including all of our thoughts, words, and actions to Christ. I think that God intends for eternity to touch this world today primarily through the way that followers of Christ interact with all aspects of this fallen and failing world; so, it is vitally important for us to be aligned with God’s will as we go about each and every day of our lives. Thus, God’s will is a very large and dynamic thing. It is not confined to specific areas of life or to certain relationships. It applies to everything that we might imagine, touch, or speak about. Christ’s hand of redemption is applied as we seek to abide in the presence of His Spirit and set aside our personal concerns and inhibitions in order to engage more fully with entering into Christ’s loving care of and for all that is broken and dying in our world. God’s will is played out in the salvation that each of His people enjoy, and it is carried out as we bring the fullness of Christ’s redemptive gospel message into the world where we live today.   

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like aa deer,

   and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

   and streams in the desert.

Isaiah 35: 5, 6

This is a description of some of the healing that Christ’s presence in our world brings about. Although Jesus did demonstrate physical healing of the sorts described here, He did much more than that while He lived as a man with us. In addition to all of this, He promises a form of healing in the future when He returns again that will include all of this plus something far greater. Yet, even now, when the restoration of creation exists in an incomplete form, we do enjoy the restorative and strengthening touch of the Lord in our souls, upon our hearts, and in our bodies. Isaiah was speaking about captive people who were going to be set free from the oppression of their enemies, and he was also describing aspects of God’s even greater plan that would be set in motion in Jesus so that all people could know freedom from our universal captivity to sin and be launched forth into the fullness of life that comes to us only by and through God’s approval and acceptance.

In reality all of us are blind, deaf, lame, and unable to speak. We may or we may not be experiencing some aspects of any combination of these conditions in our bodies, but every single person who is born upon this earth is afflicted with the limitations and the restrictions upon our mobility, in our ability to communicate, and in the understanding that our minds and our hearts allow us, and these conditions are so profound and pervasive that humanity, itself, is severely handicapped in its ability to live in peace, with grace for others, and in a state wherein the marvelous resources that God has granted to us on earth are being used to provide flourishing for all of the globe’s inhabitants. These ideas are not just fanciful dreams or concepts that have no place in a world where people hold that there are supposed to be some who have great wealth and power and others who are not ordained to be in possession of the basic commodities of life. They have traction and resonance in the halls and streets of God’s Kingdom come, and they should have the same presence in our hearts and minds, too.

The vision that Isaiah sets forth will not be fully realized until Christ returns again to overthrow all of the evil in this world and return everything to its original state of perfection. Yet, Christ has come, and He has already set His people free from all that binds our hands and hearts so that we are capable of engaging in doing the work of restoration and care that is so badly needed in our world today. We may not be able to make water flow freely and naturally in the desert places of our world, but we can bring the skill to drill fresh water wells in fever plagued places. Our hands might not hold the power to restore mobility to those who have lost it, but we can share our knowledge and training in setting broken bones and fixing shattered bodies with people who do not know hope or have the ability to dream about a life that is better than mere daily survival. So, until that day when Christ does come to us again in the flesh, those of us who do know Him are called upon by our Lord to be the ones who seek out the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the voiceless so that we can enter into their pain and suffering with them in the name of Christ. We are to be their protectors, their encouragers, and people who love them all with grace, mercy, and respectful acceptance as the language that Christ grants to us to use in leading others into the freedom of the soul that comes as the greatest gift from God through Christ. 

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10: 26, 27

Jesus has just been in conversation with the young man whose wealth was a major impediment to his ability to leave a life that was ruled by law and enter into one of service to God by selling all and following Jesus. So, the topic of salvation was on everyone’s mind, and Jesus takes a moment to enter into sharing one of the most important aspects of God’s desire, design, and plan for restoring people’s relationships with Him. In the conversation with the young man an impasse was reached in which the young man felt that he could not do what was being asked of him, for his wealth was far too important to him, perhaps his identity was primarily established by what he had accomplished and the rewards of that effort, for him to give that up. Yet, I think that Jesus is saying that the possibility still existed for that person to come into a saving relationship with God. We don’t know the final outcome, but the story of the wealthy young man and Jesus may not have been finished on that day.

The bigger question here takes us into God’s heart and its desire and intent. God does not want any of us to perish. He desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of the people who exist on this earth. No one is outside of His plan for grace and redemption to prevail over the lostness of sin and the separation from God that is its result. All of us are born lost and with dead souls that conform to the declining states of our bodies. God provided us with an absolute and all-inclusive answer to that desperate state of being in the person and the blood sacrifice that Jesus grants to any and to all who will receive it and surrender control over this life to Him. It is the second of these two aspects of entering into eternity, salvation, that the young man was not willing to do. He could accept Jesus and even ask to follow Him, but the young man was not able to submit to Christ’s authority and leave his old way of life behind. So, he was unwilling to enter into the new life of redemption that God wanted to provide to him.

Thus, since the things that God requires of people in order to enter into a relationship with Him are so hard for most people to accomplish, the question regarding who can be saved seems to be important to consider. From God’s perspective there are no people who are beyond the reach of redemption. No one is so evil, so set in his ways, or so antagonistic to God that the Savior’s reach cannot extend to him. So, we should never give up on anyone either. Our words may be rejected, and we may even find ourselves in a position where that push back has become so strong that our ability to interact with an individual or with a group may be jeopardized. There are places and people in our world where it is physically dangerous to discuss Jesus, but even these places and people are not beyond Christ’s reach and outside of the arena of prayer. We may be discouraged or feel defeated by the lack of response to Christ in others, and we will encounter rejection and dismissal when we present our faith to some. These are inevitable facts that are a part of living in a word where God’s standards are exacting. However, we also follow and serve a Lord who is greater than all of this and whose love for these same people that are rejecting our appeals to them is beyond measure. With Christ all things are truly possible, and in Christ we can trust Him to never stop the pursuit of any lost soul. 

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12: 24, 25

People tend to operate differently than does God. I know that this thought is probably not all that surprising to most of us, for if we have spent any amount of time in a relationship with God and have also traveled through life in human company, we have observed this fact in many ways as it has played out in others and in ourselves. We look toward honor or position achieved as a sign that we should give respect and even deference to a person. Thus, when someone has achieved success or has been granted authority or power, we will grant that individual even more of the same. Although we may grumble, complain, and even struggle against the rule of others, in the end, generally we want to let someone take the responsibility for leading so that we can place blame on them when things go poorly and we can benefit from what goes well. God does things in another way, and He desires to see His people live out our relationships in a manner that is similar to His approach to relating with us.

The Lord seeks to elevate the weak, the disenfranchised, and the outcasts of our world. He desires to bring people who are cast off to the fringes of society into close proximity and engagement with those who are at its center. In Christ, God has provided to the world the common ground upon which we can all stand in an ingathering of races, genders, cultures, and even of belief systems or faiths. Christ calls upon all of us to see more deeply so that we look through the exteriors of others and into their hearts and souls. I think that this is something that we do firstly with those who we should be closest to in the course of our days. That would be our families, neighbors, co-workers, and others who we engage in fellowship with on a regular basis. We can ask the Spirit to show us that deeper worth and greater value that resides within every person created by God in His image. We can begin to see the giftedness that flows out of Christ within each person that we encounter as we consider them from the perspective of our best understanding of how Jesus, Himself, would have viewed that beloved individual.

Seeing the people who are closest to us in the light of Christ’s presence in them and with their giftedness on view may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is much more challenging to live out than it might seem. People are all complex and relating to them is never simple. When we look more deeply into those inner places in a person’s life we are taken into the pain, fears, hopes, dreams, and aspirations that are a part of how we are all constructed by our Creator. Yet, these are the places where we need to go if we are to follow the Lord’s desired plan for the way that His body would exist and flourish in this world. As we care about and then for those who are closest to us, we are trained and empowered to do the same for people who are more distant from us. When the portion of the body of Christ that we are associated with in fellowship is healthy, nurturing, and all-embracing, we have a compelling story to tell and to demonstrate to others who do not know Christ, for it is in Christ that we have learned to truly love, and it is through Christ’s love that we have begun to live in a society that values all people equally and that seeks what is best for everyone without regard to relative strength or weakness or human perceived value and worth. 

Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech.

Genesis 20: 17

This is a story of fear and failure to trust, a tale of how the very human man, Abraham, couldn’t find it in his heart to remain strong, or better, to live in the center of the strength that God grants to His children. Thus, Abraham deceived Abimelech and came very close to putting him directly into the path of God’s righteous anger and all of its consequences. Although he was not one of God’s chosen, God came directly to Abimelech and warned him in clear and honestly direct terms about the dangerous course that he had entered upon because of Abraham’s deception.

There was a spiritual disaster in the making in these events, for here was a man who God, Himself, had visited and had eaten a meal with. Abraham was a man who was to become known as a “friend of God”; still, he was allowing fear, uncertainty, and his inability to trust God above his own understanding to cause him to fail miserably in his mandate to bring the Lord’s truth and His loving grace into the lives of the seeking souls around him. Still, the Lord’s plans and His will are greater than anything that we people are capable of doing to thwart them. Also, through His grace, God permits us to repent and turn to trust in him in order to redeem the catastrophic situations that we create.

So God called upon Abraham to enter into a time of focused and concentrated prayer on behalf of Abimelech in order to seek healing for him. Whatever may have been hurting or diseased with Abimelech’s body, it was his soul that needed healing. He would never be whole until he had surrendered his own life to the God of all Creation. Thus, this is what Abraham sought for his new friend. This is what God asks all of us to do as well. We are all to seek God’s gracious and saving intervention in the lives of people without regard for what our past experiences with them might have been like. We are also to set aside our fears and apprehensions that are based on a person’s race, religion, and affiliations. Then we need to watch in amazement and joy as the Lord works to bring these people into common familial relationship with us as we become one in Christ.  

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