THE CROSS - THE MISSION OF RECONCILIATION
Peter S. C. Pothan
The other day I was watching the DVD Candle in the Dark on the life of William Carey, the 'Father of Missions.' After a perilous 5-month long ship journey, William Carey and his family entered the Bay of Bengal and the Hooghly river. Then, in the dark, they took a boat to a spot near Calcutta and entered the city late at night. This was because the British East India Company did not want missionaries in India, as it would upset their trade with the Indians. Mrs. Carey complained, "We have come all the way here and now we are unwanted and illegal immigrants!" "No, my dear," replied Carey, "we are ambassadors for Christ!"
Paul says, "He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors as though God was making His appeal through us." Like William Carey, we are all called, young or old, male or female, to be ambassadors for Christ. This is the mission of reconciliation that God has entrusted to us.
As we look at the cross, what do we see? Is it just a lonely figure hanging there, or is it a door into the future? As we view life through the cross, we will look at things differently. The cross highlights sin, but also emphasises salvation. The cross opens up to us victories and new visions. It is a place of blessing and a place of redemption. The cross illustrates the love of God. But it is not a love that we can hold for ourselves. No, it is a love we need to share with others.
Let us look at this topic under three headings, the meaning of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation and the mission of reconciliation.
Reconciliation means bringing together of two warring parties and doing away with their enmity or bridging the quarrel. It implies that the two parties that are now reconciled were formerly hostile to one another. In Biblical terms, it talks of reconciling us to God. The Fall in the Garden of Eden led to a breakdown of relationships between humans and God, and consequently between humans themselves and between humans and nature. It is from this position that we need to be reconciled to God. The New Testament tells us bluntly that we as sinners are enemies of God. Romans 5:10 says "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life." Paul is more blunt when he says "And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him" (Col.1:21-22). We should not minimise the seriousness of these passages. An enemy is one who is not a friend, one who is in the other camp. He is a 'hostile' opponent, as Paul describes us, and one who is 'estranged' or separated from God. It is in this desperate situation that God had to intervene through Christ so that we could be reconciled and restored to fellowship with God. That was the original intention of Creation where Adam and his wife had full fellowship with God and walked with Him in the Garden of Eden. This perfect relationship was broken, resulting in the spiritual and physical death of humanity. This most tragic event, which we call The Fall, led to the need for reconciliation and restoration.
It is interesting to note that the New Testament nowhere speaks of Christ reconciling God to man. Instead, the stress is on man's need of being reconciled to God. This is very important to understand. It is man's sin that caused the enmity. Thus, it is man's sin that has to be dealt with. So man has to "be reconciled to God" (2Cor.5:20). Unfortunately, man does not seem to be worried by this estrangement and the barrier between God and himself. So, it was God who had to take the initiative and break down the barrier, thereby reconciling man to God. Paul says, "For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Rom.5:10).
The means of reconciliation is the death of Christ on the cross. Paul refers to this twice in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. He says "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." Christ's death on the cross broke down the barrier between God and man that sin had raised at the time of the Fall. It was the perfect sacrifice having its effects both God-ward and man-ward. No wonder Paul appeals, "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." He emphasises, "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." This reconciliation is offered to us so that we will receive the double benefits of being righteous and being reconciled to God. Can we refuse such a great offer? The writer to the Hebrews says, "so Christ was sacrificed once to bear the sins of many people, and He will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him" (Heb.9:28).
As 1 John 4: 10-11 says," In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." The New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology comments, "These two sentences in the New Testament encapsulate the four most distinctive features of the Christian love ethic. It is theocentric, because the origin of genuine loving lies in God's gracious initiative. It is Christocentric, in that the Son is the focal point of the Father's love. It is active and self-sacrificial, reaching its peak in the death of Christ. And it demands a reciprocal, imitative response from those who are its beneficiaries."
As we have just noted, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross does not only bring reconciliation for us personally but it also "demands a reciprocal, imitative response from those who are its beneficiaries." No wonder Paul says, "Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." We have to take the good news of reconciliation to others. We need to be reconciled not only to God, but also to our fellow humans and to nature. Humanity and nature were separated from God and from one another as a result of the Fall. But we need to note that the Mission of Reconciliation covers all these areas.
Reconciliation is not just a process, it is also a relationship. It is the restoration of our relationship with God. As Oswald Sanders says, "Salvation is not merely deliverance from sin, nor is it the experience of personal holiness; the salvation of God is deliverance out of self entirely into union with Him." Salvation is the transformation from our own egos and lives into a personal relationship with God. We have to share with others what we have received from God in Christ. It is not just for the pastor, not just for the missionary, not just for the evangelist, but for all of us, young and old, male and female, to proclaim the good news of reconciliation. As the chorus goes, Freely, freely you have received; Freely, freely give; Go in My name and because you believe; Others will know that I live.
May God help us as we do the mission of reconciliation to our neighbours, our colleagues and our friends.