Friday, February 25, 2011

I Am Convinced That We Have Forgotten The Message And Ministry Of Reconciliation

The Body of Christ is a place of forgiveness, restoration and reformation but what do we do when people stop listening? There is nothing worse than a person burdened by deep remorse and nowhere to turn for help. We have all been there, in the darkness of the despair of our past sins, overwhelmed by regret and a great desire to do something to make up for our words and our actions. But there are times when there is nothing we can do to make up for what we have done, no words to speak other than "I am sorry", no actions that could possibly express the anguish of our soul. It is a dark and ugly place to find yourself and we long for some relief. The psalmist expressed it like this:

When I kept silent, 
   my bones wasted away 
   through my groaning all day long. 
For day and night 
   your hand was heavy upon me; 
my strength was sapped 
   as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4)

Yet, when the psalmist realized that there was someone he could turn to, someone he could trust, someone who knew and accepted him, he discovered a great release:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you 
   and did not cover up my iniquity. 
I said, “I will confess 
   my transgressions to the LORD”— 
and you forgave 
   the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Understand that this was before Jesus Christ, so if the psalmist could understand this then how much more should we understand and be able to share this great news with others. Unfortunately, the Church seems to have forgotten the core of the message, which is reconciliation of man to God. The first step in reconciliation is the acknowledgement of our wrong followed by forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the center of everything we do in the Body and yet it is what we are so terrible at doing. We end up failing to bring relief to people with the good news of Jesus, and instead leave them in a similar condition to Judas.

Jesus had just been condemned and now they were working out how they could bring the Romans to understand why this man needed to die. This was all thanks to Judas' betrayal. But Judas didn't want Jesus to die and was immediately filled with regret for his actions. It didn't turn out like he thought it would and now he wanted to find relief for his remorse:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. (Matthew 27:3)

He tried to undo what he had done, or at least his part in it. Then he confessed his sin to ears that would not receive it:

I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:4)

The chief priests and the elders had no direction, no words of comfort, no pity or sympathy, no talk of seeking God's forgiveness. There was absolutely no concern, compassion or love; no relief for this remorse that overwhelmed him.

Unfortunately Judas confessed to the wrong person. If he had sought Jesus and even from afar had expressed his sin, he would have found forgiveness in Jesus. He would have found restoration as Peter did later. But Judas did not turn to Jesus, he sought relief from the only option he thought was left to him and hanged himself. How like so many people lost in the darkness of their sins today, having no place to turn to for relief. They turn to the world and the world offers little comfort, only distractions and false promises. Councillors tell them to find someone else to blame so they never have to face the reality of their actions. Friends tell them to forget it and get on with life. The world says set it aside and come and play. It is never dealt with, never confessed, never forgiven and so it slowly eats away at us in the dark place, where no one can see.

Do they find anything different in the Church or are we not able to see the person past the sin? The chief priests and the elders did not have time for the wretched, tragic figure of Judas. Do we? Do we care that there are billions of people lost in the darkness of their sin, countless millions who are being eaten away by remorse, who can imagine no other relief but death? We are so caught up in people's actions that we forget that Jesus came after the heart of man. Once the heart has been taken care of the actions will change. Jesus came to allow man to be reconciled to God even though man is a wretched creature at best. Have we forgotten this?

As the Body of Christ we are not suppose to see people as the world does because we have been given a new perspective because of our transformed hearts:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) 

This must be central to every church's and Christian ministry's mission statement. The power of reconciliation changes hearts, causes a new creation, that what a person was is no more and they have become new. This we must believe for every single person regardless of their sins and actions so that when they turn to us we know we have the answer for their remorse. Now pay attention to this my brothers and sisters:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

He gave us the ministry of reconciliation, the message of reconciliation so that those who are drowning in the hopelessness of their remorse would be saved and brought into an excellent relationship with God. But what are we doing with this message? Honestly, what are we doing? Are we those who condemn and enjoy it, wanting to see sinners suffer for their injustices, or are we those who realize that God loves the worst of sinners and rebirth is found in the forgiveness of Jesus? Reconciliation is the ministry and message of the Church:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

We are here for the Judas' and Peter's of our age. We are here for those locked away in prison and for those who are locked away in the prison of their own heart. We need to be engaged with the sinners of this world, not separated from them. We do not engage in their sinful activity but we have to be close enough that when they are convicted, when remorse overwhelms their soul, we have the message of reconciliation to share with them, but we have to believe it ourselves. We have to be absolutely convinced of it so that we would never cause a Judas to turn away from Jesus. Instead, we must take them by the hand, lead them to the foot of the cross, and introduce them to the one who offers them a new creation. Thank you Jesus for loving me enough to forgive me for my sins and for giving me a new heart so that sin would never control me again. May the ministry and message of reconciliation burn deep in my heart and may your Church return to her purpose.

The world is desperately waiting to hear this good news.


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