Now all things are of God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
As we anticipate formally merging our two churches in the very near future, we can rightly rejoice that the Lord has blessed our union thus far and allowed us to transition smoothly to where we are now worshipping together as one congregation. Over the last few weeks, as I have had opportunity to share about the merger with various people, the one reaction that has been consistent is one of amazement that two churches can actually merge into one congregation! Many people immediately spoke of problems in their own church where deep divisions were present, while others expressed amazement at how two churches could compromise enough on what made them different from one another in order to form one congregation. While this process which has now spanned 2+ years has not always been easy, the one thing we have been able to keep in focus, by His grace, is the truth that in Christ we are more alike than we are different. As we have studied in the past together, what God has done in Christ to reconcile enemies (Jews and Gentiles, cf. Ephesians 2-3), He is certainly able to do among us who have enjoyed a friendship and fellowship together over the years. Praise the Lord for His abounding grace to us in enabling us to be a witness to others that it is more than possible for Christians to get along and to love one another as our Savior commanded. The story of the Christian church does not have to be one where Christians are always dividing and fighting—it can be one, again by His grace, where love for Christ and one another allows us to unite. Remember, it was Jesus Who reminded His first disciples that the world would know that they belonged to Him as they loved one another. What a blessing it is to have a chance to show that we belong to Him before a watching world!
However, our recent study in the book of Leviticus has been a good reminder to us that the work of God in Christ was not chiefly designed to reconcile man to man, but rather to deal with the great problem of our being enemies of God by nature. The one reconciliation (man to man) flows out of and is a consequence of the other (man to God). In Leviticus we have been learning about the absolute need for a blood atonement, a wrath-bearer who would stand between a holy God and sinful man to pay the penalty for our sins. The text in 2 Corinthians 5 quoted above makes the order perfectly clear: be reconciled first to God and then to one another. Our witness as ambassadors for Christ is to implore people to be reconciled to God first, not to one another. The world cries for peace between man and man, for a laying down of arms and for everyone to get along with one another. These are noble aims and goals for sure, but impossible apart from sinful man being reconciled first to God. The atonement is the fountainhead of all true peace.
Pastor John R. DeWitt, in writing on the subject of Christ’s sacrifice for us, said the following in a chapter (pp. 26-27) published in a small collection of articles on the Atonement:
“Paul is telling us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God the Father constituted God the Son sin. The Father legally made Him liable for the punishment of sin. He consigned His own Son to darkness and separation from His presence. It was as though He, the spotless Lamb of God, was responsible for the sin of the world…We must understand that the Father stripped the Son of His own holiness and perfection and made Him wear the rags of our unholiness and imperfection. He stood in the place of the condemned and guilty.”
Of course, what makes this all the more amazing is that the Son willingly submitted Himself to such darkness and separation from the Father! There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. We have become friends of God through what Jesus has done for us on the cross of reconciliation.
As you prepare to come this Lord’s Day to His Table, do so remembering what Christ has done for you in taking the wrath of God upon Himself for your sins—a wrath that you and I deserve and He does not. Many have tried to argue that the cross of Christ was intended solely to melt our hearts that we “cannot resist responding to the spectacle of the dying Son of God.” But is far more than that—“forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration of the breached, ruptured, and broken relationship has not only become possible, but has become a reality…The barriers were broken down. All that stood between us and God was removed and obliterated by Christ’s enduring the wrath of His Father on the cross. All of this was so you and I might be the righteousness of God forever in Him” (Atonement, p. 29). And so we will come—and should come—to that Table as one body, reconciled to one another in Christ, but always remembering that what we enjoy now together in Him came at a great cost: “for He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Come rejoicing with faith in your heart, giving thanks to God for all He has accomplished for us in Christ. We will soon be Grace Presbyterian Church—a most fitting name for those gathered now in one place, who are who we are solely by the amazing grace of God!
By His grace alone,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar