Reading: 2 Cor. 5:17-21.
"God... reconciled us to Himself through Christ."
"God... gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation."
"God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself."
"God... placed in us the word of reconciliation."
"We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God."
The wonder of reconciliation! It is a big word, it may sound a little technical, but say it slowly to yourself, break it up and listen. Re-con-ciliation. Doing something over again, bringing back somewhere. It is a re-something; it is a re-with-something, and when you break it up like that and listen, it is not so big and technical after all. Its message immediately becomes plain, its meaning clear. The implication is just that there was something both actual and intended and that something broke down and God has restored it. God has done it over again, God has brought it back.
Well, that is the Gospel, the Gospel of reconciliation. It just means that we, mankind, were made for a very living, close, intimate fellowship with God for it is, in the first place, reconciliation to God. We are reconciled to God, brought back into union and fellowship with God. We were made for that and we lost it and God has recovered it.
But oh, what a lot that carries with it! It carries two of the most tremendous things that we can think of. It carries man's glory and it carries man's doom. It carries the most wonderful thing, the most glorious thing. And it carries the most terrible and awful thing, because it means this: that the distinctive thing about man, the thing which marks him out as a peculiar creation of God, a particular creation as different from all other creations, is that he has been created with a capacity for fellowship with God.
I do not know what the relationship of angels is to God, but I have a doubt, a question, as to whether it is the same as this. I am not sure that angels were created for fellowship with God in this sense. They are His messengers, His servants who understand Him intuitively, but there is a difference. Man is unique in God's creation, he stands alone, and the thing which makes him unique and alone is this capacity for fellowship with God. I could use another word and be quite scriptural - friendship - for it seems to me that there is something in the tone of God which is very deep and very sacred when God speaks of one as "My friend"; "Abraham, the friend of God". It is a tremendous thing. What a glory, what a wonder, that we have been created in this way so that we are different in the whole creation from the rest, and this is the thing which makes us different - we have the capacity for fellowship, may I use the word: friendship, with God. That is man's glory, and all that it means on the side of Divine purpose and thought and desire. Who shall ever be able to tell what the possibilities are that are bound up with such a capacity?
But there is the other side, the very doom of man. I mean this: look at the world today, look at mankind today, mankind through the ages, struggling, groaning, longing, seeking, pursuing, ever and always in quest of something, consciously or unconsciously. It is always after something, wanting something, reaching for something; unsatisfied, groping in the dark, and as a prisoner bound, not free. Man has gone on like that through the ages, generation after generation coming, living its life with a feverish, eager, passionate quest and longing. And many have passed and never have reached that for which they were seeking, and it goes on. And that is the thing which lies behind all that we see and know in humanity, in the world, in the race. All these wars, strivings, activities and energies of men - they proceed from something in man which makes him crave to reach, to achieve, to arrive, to have, to possess something. And he is cheated, cheated all along, robbed all the time, mocked. This is the story, as a hymn puts it:
"I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But ah, the waters failed;
E'en as I stooped to drink, they'd fled
And mocked me as I wailed."
What lies behind it all? This capacity for God, for fellowship with God. If that thing could be plucked out of man's nature, that capacity for fellowship with God, if it could be rooted out, then all this would collapse. Man would just resolve into a passive, inert, uninterested being without any motive in life. The thing which was intended to be man's glory and which is in itself man's supreme glory, his capacity for fellowship with God, has become his doom. He craves for something, he knows not what. Some would put it into language and say it is God; the majority never say that, but they are as deeply and terribly gripped and in the power of this thing as any. They are straining after something and their very strain leads them to the excesses of sin and lust and passion. It is this capacity, but they do not know the meaning of it. That is where the preaching of the Gospel is called for.
It has always been like that. That which God intended to be for man's glory, by being diverted from its right goal and being taken over by wrong motives, has become the very thing which has undone man and been his doom.
But it is just there that this big word and this wonderful word comes in. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself", bringing back in Christ that which was lost, recovering in Christ, overcoming the difficulty and realising the great purpose - fellowship with Himself, in Christ. God was in Christ.
Man's Inability to be His Own Saviour
How is it done? Well, it is perfectly clear if only men would face facts honestly, that this situation is not going to be met and can never be met out of man himself, in spite of the tremendous propaganda that is going on now. It is not only that men hold these views and give expression to them, but there is an organised propaganda of the doctrine that salvation is in man himself, that he has the secret of his own salvation in himself and can be his own saviour. Now, I am not going to tell you what I know about that, but it comes into my hands every day in printed form. It is a definite effort and a subtle movement on an organised basis to get that into men's hands, that the secret of salvation is in man himself, that he can be his own saviour.
If men would face facts they would see that is a lie. It is not true, and God is allowing an outworking of the truth to demonstrate on a most colossal scale the falsehood of that. In our day, if there is one thing that is really being demonstrated before earth and heaven, it is that salvation is not in man, in his power, in his ability, resource or ingenuity; not at all, and certainly not in his nature.
No, you see man himself is out of reconciliation and in his own person there is the declaration and we all know it, that there is something not reconciled in us; there is a division and a conflict, a warfare in our own being. We want, we crave, but we cannot.
Reconciliation to God through Christ
How will God meet that need, or how has He met it? Oh, if there should come into this world and into this race One in Whom that conflict did not exist, One in Whom there was no basis for such a conflict, One in Whom already reconciliation existed perfectly, where there was no controversy with God but where God and Man met in one personality, in one life, in one being, on terms of absolute fellowship and friendship, that One would be unique among the sons of men, different from all the rest, and so different that He would not be as one of those men at all. He would be a different order of man; we do not know this man, we have never met this man among men. That would be a coming in from the outside, for he is not here; there would have to be a breaking in, an intervention, for he is not among us, it is not the common nature. God would have to do that, God would have to create that, God would have to make that Man, provide that Man; that would have to come from heaven, from God. That is exactly what has happened. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
How is it done? "If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). And "all things are of God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ." Well, here is one Man in Whom God and man are perfectly at one, in harmony, in friendship. There is no contrast, conflict, division, suggestion, shadow, or suspicion of any strain whatever, but perfect, full harmony. "If any man be in Christ..." reconciliation, you see, is something that God has done in the perfect harmony of man with Himself and Himself with a Man - His Son, Jesus Christ.
You cannot find it anywhere else. Look for it in yourself; look for it in the world, look for it anywhere; you cannot find it, except in Christ.
"E'en as I stooped to drink they'd fled, And mocked me as I wailed. Now none but Christ can satisfy." Well, that is the simple but glorious Gospel. It is reconciliation.
You see how it is done. It is not a doctrine, it is not just something taught, it is not even only a Gospel to be preached; it is a Person, a nature. It is One, God's Son, in whom, by whose Cross the sin which destroyed the conciliation has been removed, that sin which interfered with the original basis of life with God and with the great end which God had in view in creating man with capacity for Himself, fellowship with Himself. In the Cross of the Lord Jesus all that has come out against that has been met. "He who knew no sin was made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21), in our place made sin "that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Given the righteousness of God, you have conciliation. All the strain, the warfare, the conflict has gone, the discord is removed, you are at one. "Come unto Me... I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28); the rest of re-conciliation in Christ.
That is the Gospel for the unsaved and the Gospel for the saved. For there still remains in us, even after we have come to Christ, that basic conflict, and that is why the Lord not only says, "Come unto Me", but He says, "Abide in Me" (John 15:4). What He means is this, that the place of conciliation, rest, harmony, fellowship with God is in Him. If you get into yourself, the old striving will come up, the old warfare. It is just as you, by faith, abide in Him that you continue to enjoy the meaning of reconciliation, fellowship, friendship with God - the rest and the peace. That is the lesson of the Christian life - abiding in Christ. The fruit, says the Lord in His great picture of the vine, is the result of abiding in Christ and barrenness is the result of not abiding in Christ. And what is the fruit? Well, the fruit of abiding in Christ is the fruit of peace, the fruit of rest. Is not a restful life a very fruitful life? Is not a life which has the peace of God at its centre a fruitful life? That life does not have to do a lot, to be very busy; it is fruitful. I venture to suggest that in times like these, if the peace of God were really triumphant in our hearts, it would be one of the greatest and most fruitful blessings that we could give to this world. This world wants to find people who have the secret of inward peace today. That is fruitful in itself.
Put it the other way: unrest, uncertainty, strain, fret and anxiety are desolating, blighting, barren things, and the fruit of reconciliation is rest and peace. All is well in the realm where it matters most between God and myself and that is bound to affect everything else. If men in this world could really say, "I know it is well between myself and God!", what a change there would be! The trouble is that all is not well between themselves and God.
Abiding in Christ, oh, to learn this lesson and learn it more thoroughly, that we might come into the good and value of abiding in Christ; that is, keeping out of ourselves and what we are in ourselves and by faith abiding in what is true in Him.
In Christ reconciliation obtains; it is established. You cannot find any point at which there is a strain between Christ and His Father, where there is one moment's anxiety about their relationship; you cannot find that in Him. And that is not just something which they privately have between themselves. The declaration is that God did that in Christ for us. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself" and "hath reconciled us to Himself through Christ", and has planted in us the word of reconciliation. What is true in Christ is by God's own doing, for us. In Christ we are reconciled. There is no shadow, there is no question.
What Christ is to the Father is true for us through faith. Do we not believe that? Does our faith not grasp that, that the relationship of Christ with God is for us in its completeness if we believe? We cannot improve on that with all our strugglings; we will never get to that by all our striving; but God has completed it. Reconciliation is accomplished in Christ and it is for us by an act of faith. Lay hold of it. It is not what we are at all, it is what Christ is. So simple are the words and so familiar that they lose their edge. You and I need this rest and confidence and assurance, a settled joy that there is nothing now between God and ourselves since we believed into Jesus Christ. It is all accomplished in Him. He has given unto us the joy of reconciliation and the peace of reconciliation.
The word of reconciliation will come following the message of reconciliation. It becomes the passion of our lives that men should know. "We beseech you... be ye reconciled to God." That is, accept the reconciliation that is in Christ.
I do want you to recognise that it is Christ that settles this whole matter and if you look at Christ, look at Christ again when He was here. And if you look at Him now as He is still here, you can see the outworking of this matter of reconciliation. You see the double effect of Christ's presence. When He was here on the earth, He had a double effect upon people. On the one hand, His very presence made them aware of their remoteness from God, that they were not reconciled to God. However they felt about it before, when He came on the scene they discovered how far from God they were. Yes, the man who had been able to go on in a certain measure of complacency, when He came on the scene, fell down on his face and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).
And yet, on the other hand, He had just the opposite effect, that is, His presence made men feel that there was not remoteness from God, but nearness, reconciliation. Take the example of Zacchaeus, for instance. That day the little man discovered God was very near when Christ came. When Christ came into his life and into his house, God was very near, and although he in himself immediately cried out about his sin, hope sprang up in his heart, a new prospect and possibility came to light. And while on the one hand he would gladly have fled from the presence of this One, on the other hand, he could not. He had to stay because he felt this is where his hope lay. Peter said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord"; that is how he felt about it. But if he had said everything, I think he would have said, "But don't do it, Lord!" Christ's presence had the double effect that here is my condemnation and here is my salvation, in this Man. That is just it, the fact of a need for reconciliation, and the fact of the presence of reconciliation provided. It is in Christ.
And it is like that today. Men know when Christ is brought into their midst that all is not well. In various ways they may try to cover it, violently or with ridicule or in some other way, but underneath is the consciousness that there is no conciliation. If you can get past that, get down under that, if you can get them alone, if you can get them to open up, they admit it. They begin to tell you how bad they are, how wicked and God-forsaken they are, but they do not want God to give them up, to depart from them. They know that it is in that direction that their only hope lies and it is Christ brought into their presence that has the double effect, and that is the proof of the Gospel that it is in Christ.
I need not say any more. We rejoice in this reconciliation. May the word have the effect of showing us what a great Gospel we have, what a great message we have, how it touches the very heart and core of everything in man's need and condition. May it bear fruit in us in that we are not seen to be those who live under a strain, fret, worry, a burden of uncertainty, but in the peace and the rest of faith's assurance of being reconciled to God in Christ. There may be much to be done in us by way of sanctification, but the foundation is laid and settled. We are one with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and God has done it. The glory of this whole thing is that God took the initiative and did it.