Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, day, 5 February 2022:
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 requires genuine repentance, total forgiveness, and a renewed trust which 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. Unlike forgiveness, reconciliation requires something from both the offender and the offended. Forgiveness is a gift offered by the offended, grace, with absolutely no strings attached. However, reconciliation requires the offender to genuinely desire to receive the gift, to willingly accept the gift, and to freely use or trust in the gift.
A Christian’s salvation is based not just on his or her forgiveness from God through Jesus but his or her “faith” and “hope” in that forgiveness, which is acted out or revealed, in part, by compulsive, unconditional forgiveness of others. Time and time again, we will hear Jesus say that those who truly love Him will unconditionally forgive others, even unto our personal crosses which Jesus said we would carry daily with the same kind of joy He had when He went to the Cross on our behalf. An unforgiving Christian (follower of Christ) is arguably not really loving and following Christ, at least at that time, and Jesus warns that in that condition, our prayers will be hindered, our blessings from Him will be constrained, we will get out of step with the Holy Spirit, and we will be disciplined by our loving Father whose purpose for our lives is to be conformed to the image of His Son. Forgiveness is at the heart of genuine faith, hope, and love. The Bible also explains that, as Jesus had a genuine heart for the sinner and pursued reconciliation with them, appealing for them to repent and receive the free gift of salvation (to do their part), we as His followers and image bearers must do the same, appealing to offenders first to be reconciled with God and then to be reconciled with us as necessary, while being careful not to let our own behavior get in the way of reconciliation by abiding in the love of Christ and producing the fruit of the Spirit. Reconciliation is also at the heart of Christianity.
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 as far as it depends on us. 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 in their reconciliation with God 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. Too 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)
Matthew 25:40 – “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
The way we treat others reveals what we really think about God, how much we truly love God, and how grateful we are for having received grace through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, a sacrifice He gave while we were still sinners and neither deserved it nor desired it. The “least of these” are often easy to disregard because they became “the least” as a result of their own destructive behavior, behavior in which they might still be engaging. Jesus says, treat them as He treated you – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Your love for God is revealed most clearly when you love those who don’t ‘deserve’ it.
- Psalm 145:8 — The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
- Matthew 24:12 — And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
- Luke 6:27, 32, 35 — “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them…. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
- Luke 7:47 — Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
- John 13:34, 35 — A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- John 15:12, 13, 17 — “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
- 1 John 3:10, 11, 14, 16, 17 — By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death…. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
- 1 John 4:7-12 — Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
- 1 John 4:19-21 — We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
- Ephesians 5:2 — And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
- Galatians 5:14 — For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Galatians 5:22 — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 — If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
- James 2:8 — If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
How does how you love the undeserving reveal what you really believe about Jesus? Proclaim the love of Christ to “the least of these.” Be, do, and tell the Good News of the Gospel.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) — 5 Feb 22: Love others, particularly the unloving, the way God loves you – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Be, do, and tell the Good News of the Gospel.