4th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, what is it that makes life miserable? Now you might say, “There’s all kinds of things that make life miserable.” Maybe you think not having enough money makes life miserable. But the Bible says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil” and a little later “there was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.” Or, maybe you think, it would be miserable to be sick, to have some health problem. But again the Bible says, “Two are better than one…if one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.” You see, what really makes life miserable is broken, fractured, strained relationships. You can have great wealth, you can have great health, but be in incredible misery if you have no good relationships. And the opposite is also true. You see, in order to have a good life on earth, everyone really needs to have 3 things: A good relationship with God, good relationships with other people, and opportunities for meaningful service. Look at the Garden of Eden before the fall. Adam and Eve loved God, had a great relationship with God, God would come to the garden and talk with them. Adam and Eve also had a great relationship with other people. Adam first greeted his wife Eve by saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” And their opportunities for meaningful service abounded: rule the world, subdue it, take care of the garden. Everything changed, however, when they disobeyed God. Remember? They hid from God, they were scared of him, they were ashamed. What about their relationship to one another? They’re blaming each other, hiding from each other. And their opportunities for service were totally changed: thorns, thistles, pain and sweat. Where did it all go wrong? It was when they broke their relationship with God.
What about us? What is it that brings misery in your life? I would guess that the great majority of misery in our lives comes from broken, strained, fractured relationships with other people. Maybe it’s with our spouse, with our family, with our siblings, with our parents, with our children, with our coworkers, with our in-laws. There’s pain, there’s history, there’s words we can’t forget, there’s hurtful actions that we still feel, there’s anger, there’s resentment. And all of that makes life miserable and difficult. What we need is reconciliation. But before we have reconciliation with other people, we first need it with God. Our need for reconciliation, the method of reconciliation, the effects of reconciliation.
No matter how bad our relationship with another person may be, it doesn’t even come close to the brokenness of our relationship with our God. Notice that there are four words here in Romans 5 that God uses to describe our relationship with him: powerless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies. First, God says we’re powerless. We all like to think of ourselves having some kind of strength, right? Mental, physical, financial strength. Something we can be proud of and boast in. But what does God say? To the world we might think we have something, but to God? We’re powerless, we’re weaklings, we have a total inability to do anything positive in our relationship to God. God also says we’re “ungodly.” That means we were godless, we despised God, we had no respect for God, we would just as well spit in God’s face if we had the opportunity. God also says that we’re sinners. That means people who are failures, people who over and over again fail to meet God’s standard of perfection. And God finally says here that we were His enemies. We were in a hostile relationship with God, our relationship with God could not be any worse than what it was. We desperately need reconciliation with God.
How does it happen? What’s the method of reconciliation? How does reconciliation work in normal human relationships? The word “reconcile” as we are used to means “bringing together again, uniting, bringing two people back to a mutual friendship.” And how does it normally work? You have an offender, the person who was wrong, did something bad, and you have the offended, the person who was wronged. Normally, the way it works in our human relationships is that the person who did the wrong realizes the wrong, is sorry about the wrong, goes to the person who was wronged, pays the price either through words or actions and the person who was wronged reconciles, that is, they accept the apology and the relationship is restored. But in the Bible this term “reconciliation” is a little different. In the Bible the one who does the reconciling is always the offended party, the offender can only be reconciled. In our case God is the offended party, it’s up to him whether or not he’s going to change the relationship between us and him. Literally, the word “reconcile” in the Greek has the meaning of “change.” Something is changed. But it’s not the nature of the person who has changed, it’s not God who has changed, it’s the relationship between us and God that has changed. Also, we notice that in human relationships there’s always a price to be paid, an apology given, something done by the person who has committed the wrong. But that’s not how it is with God. Notice what God says? “When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” You see, God acted alone. There wasn’t a spark of good in us that led God to reconcile our relationship. Irrespective of us, God not only took the initiative, but He acted completely alone.
How is this possible? The offense has to be dealt with, sin has to be paid, the punishment has to be given. But what did God do? He sent His own Son, Jesus, who lived a sinless life, suffered the wrath of God on the cross, and died in the place of all people. That changed God’s relationship to the world of sinful people. God’s righteous anger against sin – all sin – was fully spent on Jesus. He suffered God’s full wrath for sin, he bore sin’s full curse as the substitute for the whole world. So there’s only room for God’s grace to people. So, it can never be someone’s sin that condemns them to hell, the only thing that will condemn someone is their rejection of God’s act of salvation on their behalf.
We didn’t change, God didn’t change, in Christ Jesus He changed our relationship to him. Here’s a brief illustration. This was a big thing a number of years ago, someone would change their relationship status on Facebook. Think about what that meant. Neither of the two people changed, their relationship changed. They went from being “single” to “being in a relationship” or “being in a relationship” to “engaged” or “married.” The relationship changed.
And that brings us to the effects of reconciliation. First and foremost, God changed our relationship status, God took us from being sinful, powerless, ungodly enemies of Him and He has made us not just former enemies, not just friends, but His own dearly loved children. In Jesus God has restored the relationship between Him and you. That’s reconciliation. In fact, God’s done that for everyone. 2 Corinthians states that “God reconciled the world to himself in Christ not counting people’s sins against them.” How do you know that you’ve been reconciled to God? He did it for all, therefore he did it for you! Second, your future is glorious. “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” If, while were enemies of God, He sent Jesus to pay for all our sins, now as God’s children, how much more won’t he make sure we end up in heaven with him! Third, we boast, “we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” That means God fills us with such joy for being his children that we can’t stop talking about what God has done for us.
This has a tremendous effect on our relationships with other people. God has restored our relationship with Him. We were God’s enemies, now through faith in Him we’re His own dear children and heaven is our home. Everything is right between you and God. What is it that makes life miserable? It’s broken relationships with other people. How do relationships get broken? It happens when I think I have the right to be angry with someone because they treated me badly. I heard a pastor once tell this story. He said he used to get so upset with people who were late for appointments and meetings with him. Until something happened. He was supposed to conduct a wedding that he thought started at 7:30, but it really was supposed to start at 7. So, he arrived 15 minutes early only to find out that the wedding had been going for 15 minutes already. He felt awful. Fortunately there was a 2nd pastor involved who took over. Sheepishly he sat in the back tearing himself up- how could he?! On the way out, the couple healed him on the spot, they said, “It could have happened to anyone, we appreciate all the pre-marriage counseling, it helped us tremendously, come to the reception, we won’t bring it up again.”
You see, we’re so tempted to fill ourselves with anger, bitterness, rage, “Look at what he did to me!” But what we forget is what we did to God and what God did for us. We were sinners, powerless, ungodly, God’s enemies, and what did God do? He healed us. He died for us. He reconciled us to him.
When I remember who I was, when I remember what I did to my God and then remember what He has done for me, whatever grievances I may have against someone else, really don’t even compare. And if God could reconcile me to Him, how can I not be reconciled with someone else? Since I’ve been reconciled by God, it’s my job to reconcile relationships as far as it depends on me. If I’ve wronged someone, God wants me to initiate the reconciliation. If I’ve been wronged by someone, God wants me to initiate the reconciliation. But what if I can’t? What if they’re unwilling? I can’t change them, but I can let go of the hate, the anger, the rage, the malice and always be ready to reconcile. Why so? Because God has reconciled me to Him forever. Amen.