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The Christadelphian | April 2013

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Signs
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Peace and reconciliation | Colin Crawford
  • The Prophecy of Nahum 04 – “Where is the dwelling of the lions?” | Mark Allfree
  • “The LORD is my shepherd” 01 – Psalm 23: setting & structure | Peter Heavyside
  • Israel’s Geography 04 – Water of life | Nathan Kitchen
  • The burden of the curse | Bernard Skinner
  • For better, for worse … 04 – Job and his wife | Mark Vincent
  • Medical ethics and the Bible 01 – Abortion and contraception | Simon Parsons
  • Faith Alive! Mary, the mother of Jesus | Paul Movassaghi
  • Readers’ Q&A
  • Christadelphian Jewish Clothing Relief | David & Jacqueline Griffin
  • Book review Tongue of the Prophets | Jacob Cheek
  • Signs of the times A new Pope
  • Israel and their land The Golan Heights
  • Epilogue Kept by the power of God | Terry Fearn
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Peace and reconciliation

I had cause to reflect recently on Paul’s life, his “thorn in the flesh” and how he had pleaded through prayer for it to be removed, but it never was. The life that then followed for Paul was full of unimaginable stress and difficulties. Paul himself left us in no doubt of the beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks and utter misery he went through. Yet despite all of this he was so full of hope and a preacher of peace that he could say in his letters, even from prison, “Rejoice … and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

Consider these greetings in Paul’s letters:

“So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:8,9)

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:3)

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:2)

What wonderful greetings!

In John 20:19 Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”. In John 14:27 he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

But I do feel afraid, afraid of the troubles affecting the world: the earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, the cyclones and tornadoes, the floods and tsunamis, the acts of terrorism, the sheer brutality of man’s inhumanity to man, the plight of the world’s hungry, the pathos of starving children covered in flies. I know these troubles are signs of the times which herald the return of Jesus and the establishment of the kingdom (for which, thank God), but from time to time I need reassurance. And that reassurance comes from two New Testament words, “peace” and “reconciliation”.

Peace

In the New Testament the most common Greek word translated “peace” is eirÄ“nÄ“ and occurs eighty-nine times translated as peace and once each as “rest”, “quietness” and “unity”. Peace is defined in the dictionary as “A state of national tranquility, exemption from rage and the havoc of war”, and between individuals as “Harmony, concord, security, safety and prosperity: to make and keep things safe and prosperous”.

But it is only the Messiah’s peace that leads to the peace of salvation. The Greek language uses many different words with different nuances of meaning, which are all translated by our English word “peace”. For instance there is a totally different Greek word which implies silence, hush; another for the metaphor of a calm sea; another for rest, cease, be quiet, hold your peace; another for keep silence, keep secret and so on.

But this word eirēnē is the messianic peace used in all the apostolic greetings of Paul and of all the other New Testament writers. The peace of God is a quiet assurance in face of a full knowledge of the facts. But all creation is at war, at war with itself, at war with evil, at war with God. God alone is at peace, because God alone is one, and peace may only be found in a unity, which is perfect.

Everything else groans under the burden of division and disorder, because everything else is tainted with the evil of selfishness and pride. Institutions once considered sacrosanct have disintegrated into a morass of muddled thinking and decadence. The banks and the professions, the governments and industrial establishments all seem to have become incapable of being honest in their dealings with others.

What we usually call ‘peace’ is a more or less successful attempt to throw a bridge between individual men and women, or between nations. And what we usually call ‘love’ is an aspiration never fully realised, to restore harmony from chaos, to bring together husband and wife, friends and enemies, rival factions within divided nations and rival nations within a divided world. For only the love of God is absolute love, and our human love increases or decreases in proportion to our power to apprehend divine love, and through complete submission, to allow it to transform our hearts.

Such transformation can only be achieved when we are in the world, but not of it because we are disciples of Christ – only then shall we dwell in peace. The peace of God does not depend on a change of temper or emotion. It depends on love for our union with God through our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Reconciliation

This brings us to our second word, “reconciliation”. Only Paul uses the term in connection with the relations of God and men and he does so in only five places. In Ephesians 2 we have the link between reconciliation and peace:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation … that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:14,16)

Similar ideas are expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Colossians 1:19-23 and in Romans 5:9-11. It seems that Paul felt so strongly about this word that it became the substance of the Gospel, describing and interpreting the central fact of the Christian message, namely the saving work which God wrought through the cross of His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So he refers to the Gospel as the “word of reconciliation” and to the preaching of it as “the ministry of reconciliation” and thence sums up its content in the great affirmation, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”. Paul then makes its application as an appeal to sinners to be “reconciled to God”, and describes the response of faith, for which the Gospel calls, “receiving reconciliation” as Romans 5 declares.

It would seem therefore that reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel according to Paul; and that of all the great words the New Testament uses to explain the saving work of Jesus – redemption, justification, and the rest – the word reconciliation is the fullest and most expressive.

Well what does it all mean? The general idea conveyed by the Greek root is that of change or exchange, and in the context of scripture the implications are changes in relationships, a turning of enmity into friendship. To reconcile means to bring together again persons who had previously fallen out; to replace alienation, hostility and opposition by a new relationship of favour, goodwill and peace; and so to transform the attitudes of the persons reconciled towards each other and to set their mutual dealings on a new footing, thereby cementing a friendship.

Now in two places we read of reconciliation on the human level and in each case it is the person who caused the breach who should initiate the reconciliation: the brother who wronged his fellow in Matthew 5:24 and was told first to be reconciled before offering his gift, and in 1 Corinthians 7:11 it is the woman who leaves her husband who is envisaged as making the move to end the marriage. In both cases the person seeking to ‘make it up’ is said to be reconciled to the other, because in these circumstances the decision which affects the reconciliation is that of the injuring party. The offender can only confess his fault, offer reparation and request pardon; he must then submit to the injured party’s decision, yea or nay.

Only when the latter grants pardon and shows a willingness to let bygones be bygones can we say that the offender is reconciled to the one he wronged.

God’s own work

But this is not what happens in the reconciliation of God with man, for here it is God, the injured party and not us, the guilty, who takes the initiative. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”, as 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us. The healing of the breach which man’s sin had made is God’s own work. We never read of man reconciling God, or of God being reconciled; God is the reconciler Himself. So when Paul exhorts his readers in verse 20, “Be ye reconciled to God”, his meaning is not that they should try and make amends for their sins in the hope of inducing God to be favourable to them, but that they, and of course that means us too, should humbly and thankfully accept by faith the reconciliation which God has already achieved for them in Christ – and for us too! What a wonderful, gracious and loving God we have!

But let’s look at what all that implies. On the one hand, those whom God is said to have reconciled to Himself were before alienated and enemies in their minds by wicked works (Colossians 1:21). The state of every child of Adam, the mind of the flesh, is enmity against God (Romans 8:7).

Sinful man is opposed to God and to everything that is of God: it is his nature to disobey God’s laws, to disbelieve His Gospel, to grudge Him service and chafe under His restraints. On the other hand, God is equally at enmity with sinners. We were reconciled to God through the death of Christ when were enemies, says Paul in Romans 5:10. Again says Paul, we were all “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), heirs of the vengeance which God has proclaimed against those who transgress His laws. That is our inheritance from Adam! Men are opposed to God in their sin and God is opposed to man in His holiness. Those who are under the rule of sin are also under the wrath of God.

It is against this background that the brilliance of the Gospel of reconciliation shines out. Reconciliation means peacemaking; and Christ made peace, we are told, through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20) and we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Paul’s analysis of the meaning of reconciliation is that through the blood-shedding of Christ, peace was made between God and men, the enmity between them was destroyed, and the divine wrath was turned away from them for ever (Romans 5:9,10).

God reconciled the world to Himself: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Just think of that! As Paul says in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us”.

So my beloved brothers and sisters, we don’t have to bear the burden of our own sins because Christ has borne them. It was by a propitiatory sacrifice on the part of the sinless Son of God that our reconciliation was achieved.

So much did salvation cost – our salvation – and it was for God’s enemies that this price was paid. “Christ died for the ungodly … God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God demonstrated His love by sending and sacrificing His own Son to atone for our sins in the darkness of Calvary. God “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

It is this that teaches us the measure of the mercy of God, and this that really shows us the meaning of God’s love. What an uplifting thought this is. True baptized believers enjoy through Christ reconcilement with God, which is perfect and final. Nothing can be added to it, because nothing is lacking in it. And as it is perfect, so it is everlasting. Let us think on these things as we truly break bread and drink wine in deep memory and sheer and utter thankfulness. Amen.

Colin Crawford

 

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