Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 13 January 21:
A few notes from today’s readings, Part 1: Reconciliation
Genesis 33:16, 17 — “So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.”
Reconciliation is critical to a Christian. Reconciliation is a total forgiveness that restores two parties back to complete harmony or unity, back to the same quality of relationship, or greater, which existed before any disagreement or divisive offense – no emotional barriers, perfect peace, fullness of relational joy.
The Bible 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.” (Romans 5:10) In this reconciliation, our trespasses were covered over, not counted against us. (2 Corinthians 5:19) Having been reconciled through Christ, Christians have subsequently been given the mission and purpose of reconciliation – “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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
To be fit to carry the message of reconciliation, we must first be confident in our reconciliation with God and then we must be reconciled in our personal relationships with others. How important is reconciliation in our relationships? Jesus said, “Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24)
Reconciliation requires five conditions:
1) The offender must be repentant and humbly recognize the need for forgiveness.
2) The offender must desire forgiveness and be willing to ask for forgiveness and/or receive forgiveness.
3) The offended party must be willing to forgive (truly forgive) the offender.
4) The offender must TRULY believe and accept that he is forgiven.
5) Finally, the two must agree to return to their original relational conditions and activities (Amos 3:3 – “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?”).
The primary stumbling block for most Christians seems to be with the fourth condition – they don’t really BELIEVE that they are totally forgiven by God. Therefore, their relationship with God is still uncomfortable, lacking of the fullness of joy and blessings that are potentially available. There remains an elephant in the room. There remains a feeling of guilt and unworthiness that causes the believer to keep up emotional/spiritual barriers, to ‘hide in the garden’; to continually, awkwardly, and painfully seek to make up for what has already been nullified, to earn the forgiveness that has already been given, and/or to keep a comfortable distance from God, or simply to go their separate way. To many Christians believe the Gospel intellectually but not experientially, and too often this manifests itself in hidden guilt or shame or in self-righteousness and prideful attempts to earn or validate righteousness. As a result, too many Christians lack the peace, the fullness of joy, the thankfulness, and the gentleness they should experience in Christ – “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
When Christians don’t fully appreciate the grace and forgiveness they have received in Christ, when they aren’t truly amazed by grace, they have a hard time truly forgiving others and receiving forgiveness from others. Their personal relationships reflect the condition of their relationship with God. On the other hand, when Christians fully accept forgiveness through Jesus and abide in His love, they find it easy to forgive and love others – “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
We have all seen relationships that ‘just weren’t the same’ after a major offense, despite claims of forgiveness. The two that were once so close slowly drift apart. This is what we see happen with Jacob and Esau. Jacob was guilty and very fearful when he met Esau. However, Esau was ready to forgive, and despite being the offended party, he took the initiative — “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4) Initially, Jacob was overcome with emotion because of Esau’s graciousness — “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” (Genesis 33:10) Jacob was so moved, he compared Esau’s forgiveness to the forgiveness we receive from God, unmerited and overwhelming. However, Jacob ultimately could not trust in Esau’s forgiveness and politely went his separate way – the relationship was never fully restored; they never again experienced the joy and blessings of brotherhood. This is a sad story, given to us for a reason.
- Romans 5:8 — …but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- John 3:16 — For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
- John 15:13 — Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
- Romans 8:32 — He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
- 2 Peter 1:3-4 — His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
God took the initiative in your reconciliation. He loves you so much He sent His only Son to pay your sin penalty so you could have a restored relationship with Him. He did this even when you were still a sinner and despite the fact you still sin. This is His gift to you, not something you can earn. It is G.R.A.C.E – God’s riches at Christ’s Expense. God wants you to accept His salvation and reconciliation so you can fully experience the joy and fulfillment of His salvation and reconciliation today! He wants you to truly know Him today, to be united with Him and with others in His love today and into eternity. Don’t belittle God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice and don’t rob yourself of unsurpassable joy by pointlessly hanging onto your old guilt, shame, and pride. Put your old self behind you and put on Christ today, and live the New Life you have in Jesus –
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
- Galatians 3:27 — For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
- Romans 6:6 — We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
- Ephesians 4:22-24 – “…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and… put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
- John 17:22-23 — The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
To fulfill the Great Commandment of loving the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27), we must pursue genuine reconciliation in our relationships with God and other people respectively. With God, we must truly believe in and trust in (faith) our forgiveness and then return to our original relationship (serve and walk) with God without fear – “Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) With other people, we must master forgiveness and graciousness. We must deny self and joyfully surrender our rights before others. We must be ready to receive persecution from others and to bear the burden of that offense upon ourselves. This is a big part of what it means to ‘take up our cross’ and follow Jesus –
- Luke 9:23 — And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
- Luke 23:34 — And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
- 1 Peter 2:19-21, 23 – For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps…. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
- 1 Peter 3:18 — For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God….
- 1 Peter 4:1 — Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,
- 1 Peter 4:13 — But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
- 1 Peter 4:19 — Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
- 1 Peter 5:10 — And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
How are your relationships, both with God and with others? Are you experiencing the fullness of joy that comes from reconciliation in all of your relationships? Do you fully forgive because you truly know that you are fully forgiven? Is the truth of Christ Crucified and Risen revealed in how you treat others? If not, “leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
A few notes from today’s readings, Part 2: Asking to Receive
Matthew 13:10-13 – “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.’”
Today, Jesus delivers one of His most well-known parables, The Parable of the Sower. Matthew 13 opens with, “That same day Jesus went out of the house….” The same day as what? This was the same day as the events recorded in Matthew 12. This was the Sabbath day when Jesus and the disciples were chastised by the Pharisees for plucking heads of grain to eat. Then, Jesus was further criticized for breaking the Sabbath again by healing a man in the synagogue, and the Pharisees further accused Jesus of doing His work through the power of Satan. In response, Jesus calls His skeptics “an evil and adulterous generation.”
After the confrontation described in Matthew 12, Jesus walks outside and a crowd gathers around Him, standing (not sitting) to hear His words. (Matthew 13:1, 2) Then He delivers The Parable of the Sower. After Jesus addressed the crowd, “the disciples” (His followers) separately asked Him about the parable. Since Jesus explains the meaning of the parable, I won’t focus on that today (though we should all consider which seed/soil combination represents our lives), rather I would like to consider Jesus’ response to their question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” You see, many people ‘heard’ Jesus speak, but in their hearts, they really didn’t want to listen, understand, and accept what He was saying. Many people saw Jesus, the Son of God, face to face and saw Him perform many miracles, but they didn’t want to follow Him and accept Him as Lord and Savior, leaving their old lifestyles behind. Few ‘held fast to God’s word with an honest and good heart.’ (Luke 8:15) Few truly hungered and thirsted for righteousness. (Matthew 5:6)
When Jesus “went out of the house” after teaching and rebuking the Pharisees, I wonder how many followed Him because they wanted to hear more and commit to what they had learned? How many people were willing to stand there on the beach and really listen?
When Jesus spoke in parables, no one, not even the disciples, understood what the parables meant. But, in contrast to the ‘crowd’, the disciples stuck around and asked Jesus to explain the parables, and He did. Why did the disciples ask? Because they really wanted to understand, because they were honest enough, humble enough, and willing to ask, and because they trusted Jesus to answer. At the end of the day, most people simply didn’t understand because they really didn’t care to know the Teacher or His teachings and, therefore, didn’t ask Jesus to reveal more to them.
As we will see later, the harder Jesus’ teachings get, the fewer people will be willing to follow – “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ … After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 60, 66-69)
So, how intently are you willing to study God’s word to Know Him and His truth? How committed are you obeying God’s word? As you read your Bible this year, what will you do when you read things that are hard to understand or hard to accept? Obviously, we can’t pull Jesus aside and ask Him to simply explain it to us, but Jesus said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin.” (John 14:16, 17; John 16:7-15) As you read God’s word, do so in the Spirit, and pray to God to reveal His truth to you more and more. And patiently wait upon the Lord to increase your understanding, diligently obey what you do understand – “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 13 Jan 21: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Pray that God will increase your passion for His word and further open the eyes of your heart to His truth.