Genesis 45:1-15, Luke 15:11-24
August 21, 2005
“Reconciliation.” That’s a big word for us in the Church, isn’t it? We are reconciled before God by the work of Jesus Christ here on earth. That’s what we believe. Listen to these words of Paul in Second Corinthians. These will be familiar words, I’m sure.
“So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come!” That’s II Corinthians 5:17. I hope you know that passage. But then listen to the next two verses. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
There’s that word “reconciliation” – several times! We are reconciled to God. We are made right again with him through Jesus Christ. We have been brought into a just relationship with him through Christ’s atonement. That’s the doctrine. We know all that. It’s pretty straightforward.
However, sometimes it seems as though we only think of reconciliation as a matter of the head, that is a matter of logic or even law. Listen to how this sounds. It’s like a formula: We are sinners, Jesus paid the price, God is “satisfied” with the work of Christ, God forgives, we are reconciled. That is all very orthodox. It sounds like a formula. It even sounds like a legal contract, doesn’t it? (“Please have that written up in triplicate!”) And of course there are some real practical and legal aspects of the atonement. And I’m glad for that! God has paid the price.
However, the more I think about it, the more I understand this whole business of reconciliation, the more I realize that to God, reconciliation is a matter of the heart. It isn’t just a “head thing.” It is a matter of the deepest core of our being. And it is at the deepest core of God’s being! Reconciliation is a matter of the heart. And when I say that, I don’t just mean emotion. I mean a deep, heart-felt love – Love that is beyond our comprehension. When we are reconciled to God, it is more than just the satisfaction of a legal contract of some kind. When we are reconciled to God, it is a matter of exuberant and passionate joy! Reconciliation is a matter of the heart. It is the heart that is being reconciled!
Think about that. You may not have heard it put quite that way before. You may be a “Four Spiritual Laws” kind of person. Those are the laws outlining the Christian faith as defined by Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade fame. And they’re fine. But they do tend to make God’s plan of reconciliation into a set of laws. And if you think about it, it’s much more. Just think of that first one. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That’s not law, really, is it? That is heart! That is a matter of joy. That is a matter of love.
Think about this. How did Jesus tell people about reconciliation? He did it by making up a story – as he often did. In this case, he told of this son who left the family and squandered his life and his fortune. I thought at first I was just going to refer to this story this morning. Because I’d like to take a whole sermon on it before too long. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed appropriate to use it as the New Testament focus for today. Because this is Jesus’ understanding of reconciliation.
Look at the reconciliation in this story. Look at the reuniting of this father and his “lost son.” This boy had it all figured out – in his head. He was dying of starvation. He would go to his father and ask simply to be made a hired servant. That was simple, contractual, “head stuff.” He would solve his problems by going home – even in a subservient way. But look at the reaction of this father! He ran to the boy. That was not a dignified thing for a man to do in that culture! He threw his arms around him and kissed him. Again, that was unexpected. He would have been expected to chastise the boy! Instead, he was incredibly joyous. He was so joyous that the son’s “practiced speech” about asking to be a servant seemed out of place. It’s as though the father didn’t even listen! “Bring out the best robe! Put the family ring on his hand! Kill the fatted calf! Let’s celebrate!”
Tell me that is not all about heart! That is what Jesus thought about reconciliation! It isn’t about the payment of an obligation. It isn’t just about recreating a state of sin-less-ness in a person. It’s about restoring deep, heart-felt relationship. It’s about the healing of the soul! It’s about the restoration of the heart!
Look at the story of Joseph. The part we read today is the story of his reconciliation with his brothers. We read from Genesis 45, but of course, this is a much longer story. I hope you had a chance to read the other chapters this week. If you haven’t, I’m still not letting you off the hook! It’s still your assignment to read it this coming week. If you have read it, you know that Joseph didn’t go to the reconciliation right away. He didn’t just get to this chapter, whip off a mask and say “Tadaaa!” “It’s me!” No, first he “toyed with their minds.” First he “made ‘em sweat.” At one point he “planted” a valuable cup in their belongings and then accused them of thievery. You almost can’t blame him after what they had done to them! But then, when he couldn’t stand it any longer, when he finally revealed himself to them, it was all heart! And there was an awful lot of weeping on each other’s necks!!!
The more I think about it, my friends, the more I believe that God deals with us in the same way. We think of God as love, but sometimes I think we miss the point with the whole idea of love. Love and the reconciliation God gives us through his love, is not simply a contract with God. Yes it has some of that element. But some people think of it only that way. They think only that “Jesus paid the price (!) of our disobedience.” Then “God satisfied the agreement.” “God paid the bill!” Not that there wasn’t a price to pay. But the reason behind it all was the heart of God!
Again, don’t get me wrong here. God does love us and therefore he fulfilled the “contract” of sin and salvation. And I for one am glad for that! But it’s so much more! God loves us like Jesus described in this parable. He loves us like Joseph loved his brothers and later his father. That’s the picture we should have when we think of our own reconciliation. We should picture our heavenly father running to meet us, exuberant in his joy over our return. We should picture him falling on us, “weeping on our necks” over the restored, reconciled relationship with us.
God doesn’t want to reconcile us just so our “record can be clear” and we can “go to heaven.” He wants to restore our hearts so we can be fully alive. Do you remember the quote I gave you in my first sermon here? “The glory of God is man fully alive?” Well that’s the place to which reconciliation leads. And yeah, like Joseph’s brothers, we may come to God at first simply looking for the basic necessities. And certainly Joseph gave them those basic necessities! But then he went much further. He told them they were to come and live in Egypt. Not only that, but they were to live in the best neighborhood. They were to have, not just food, but abundance! And their family relationship was restored! Their lives were full again!
That’s what God wants. He wants us to have that abundance. God wants us to be fully alive. Yes, we might just come to him for our basic needs as well – like Joseph’s brothers. And many Christians do. They ask for the necessities and nothing more. But God wants much more for us! Like the prodigal, we may just come to him asking to be taken in as a hired servant. And many in the Church feel just like that! Maybe that’s how you feel! But God wants so much more! Like the father, he runs to meet us! He puts the best robe on us. He puts a ring on our finger, and he begins the celebration. That’s what life in his kingdom is supposed to be like. That’s what reconciliation is about! It is a matter of the heart!
Know that today. And go and live it! Live it by being alive, and knowing that it is not just that your sins have been forgiven. Your heart has been restored! Your joy has been made complete! You are the child of God who has been welcomed home! God’s kingdom is a celebration and you are part of it.
Finally let me say that this whole thing is not just about the reconciliation between you and God. Know also that God wants us to be reconciled to each other the very same way! He wants us to be reconciled to each other from the heart! And he wants us to celebrate with each other just as did the waiting father and the brothers of Joseph. In fact, our celebration of the heart with each other should be a reflection of that celebration with the heart of God.
So I challenge you to err on the side of Grace. I challenge you to go to the reconciliation. Go to the heart. Live in the praise and worship born of that heart restored. Rejoice! For once we were dead, and now we are alive – fully alive in God.
Eternal God, we know that you run to meet us in your love. You embrace us and envelop us when we would often stop at telling you our needs. Help us to know we are reconciled to you. Help us to feel your healing and your restoration in our hearts. May our lives reflect the joy you have in us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.