The Fellowship of Faith

Despite the fact that originally God had chosen a particular race of people- the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to demonstrate who He was, what his purposes were and His ways, he was now making the relationship open to all who would believe and trust in the name of Jesus the Christ.

You are: A Reconciled Humanity
O.T. LESSON Jeremiah 31:31-34
N.T. LESSON Hebrews 3:1-14

The Gates of Heaven are opened to the Gentiles

The early church was primarily Jewish. Jesus was a Jew [John 1:12], the disciples were Jews. The disciples were sent to “The lost sheep of Israel” [Matt 10:6]. Jesus said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” [Matt15:24]. However, before Jesus left this world he said that the Good News of Salvation should be dispensed to everyone [Matt 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15,16a- Go to all the world preaching and making disciples of all nations].

And in Acts 2:5,11 that’s what began to happen- People from every language group in the ‘then known world’ heard the Message. It moved to the rest of the country , Judea and Samaria, in Acts 8:4,5,14-17,25. Then God prepared Peter to consider going to the Gentiles in Acts 10 [ see vv 9-23,44-48]. A council met in Jerusalem a number of years later,[see Acts 15:5,6;12-15;19-21]The Apostles and significant leaders set an official policy of approach to Gentiles. Paul describes the relationship that came out of that in Ephesians 2:11-22.

Let’s note the Key Phrases-

  • ‘formerly called ‘uncircumcision’ ‘ v.11
  • ‘excluded from citizenship in Israel’ v.12
  • ‘he himself has destroyed the barrier’ v.14
  • ‘reconcile both’ v.16
  • ‘fellow citizens’ v.19
  • ‘built on the foundation’ v.20
  • ‘Jesus- the chief cornerstone’ v.20
  • ‘a dwelling in which God dwells’ v.22

Despite the fact that originally God had chosen a particular race of people- the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to demonstrate who He was, what his purposes were and His ways, he was now making the relationship open to all who would believe and trust in the name of Jesus the Christ.

Paul goes on to show that the ministry of reconciliation [see IICor 5:14-6:2] based on the sacrifice of Christ for us puts both, Jews and non-Jews, insiders and outsiders, together. Whether slave of free, male or female, young or old, all are invited to an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.

The old ceremonial law that was designed to separate Jews from Gentiles is completed and set aside by the finished work of Christ. He fulfilled all of the symbolism and modelling. –Note the moral law is common to man’s conscience, and was not set aside.[ the code of Hammurabi for example operated on the main principle that “the strong shall not injure the weak’. It set up a social order based on the rights of the individual and was backed by the authority of the Babylonian gods and the state. (“Hammurabi” World Book Encyclopedia.1980) ]

Jesus quoted Isa 56:7 when he said “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”, when he ‘cleansed the temple’ [Mark 11:17]. Isaiah had said “foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him to love the name of the Lord and to worship him…will I bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer…The Sovereign Lord declares– he who gathers the exiles of Israel; ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered”. [Isa.56:6-8].

God initiated the process of bringing us back into a relationship with him that is real and personal, and as a result we can also have meaningful whole relationships with other believers, both Jew and Gentile, with our family members and neighbours. Paul writes ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.’ Today is the day to bind yourself to the Lord. Recognize what he has done on the cross, and acknowledge that without him we are hopelessly lost. He is waiting for us to respond to his love and grace, so that we ‘all may be one'[John 17:21] and so that the whole world will believe.

2000 D. H. Friesen

Reconciliation in Preparation for Easter

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

RECONCILIATION IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER

CALL TO WORSHIP:

I am the light of the world, says the LORD; those who follow me will have the light of life. John 8:12

Scriptures: Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; I Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41.

Month end statements and Income Tax filing get us involved in trying to make numbers add up.  We sweat over them and get frustrated and sometimes hire someone else to do it.  New Years and family reunions get us involved in considering another kind of reconciliation– that of relationships.  We look back and see hurt feelings, wrongs done, practical jokes that got out of hand, and recognize ‘something should be done’– whether or not anything happens.

The Bible is full of such stories and incidents, but I would like us to consider just a few.

The story in John 9 is a study of contrasts and potentials and reconciliation.

On the one hand you have the blind man– unable to function completely in society.  His condition was considered a punishment, and a just one at that.  And the man seems to have accepted the situation.

Jesus comes on the scene and is challenged by his disciples regarding the man’s condition.  Jesus uses the challenge to demonstrate who he really is (and what God’s program really is) by restoring the blind man’s sight.

The Pharisees have their own agenda, and because it does not fit the true agenda of the Father, Jesus challenges it.  God is in the business of restoring what has been broken apart, what has been damaged; the things that have begun to disintegrate and rot.  God wants to restore society to what it should be from His perspective.  The focus in society needs to be on God and bringing praise to him, and then the relationships with other people will be resolved and become all they are meant to be.

Some are like ‘lost sheep’.  They don’t know where they are and they don’t know where the Father is; they just know they can’t help themselves. They need help from someone else.  There are those like the ‘prodigal son’: they know where home is; they know the father.  But they will not come to Him until they get to the end of their own devices and have come to the realization that their own way is a dead-end street.  Very often they think that parents and God are hopelessly out-of-date and irrelevant to their situation and to life.

Peter the apostle was like that. Like a rebellious two-year old, his attitude was, I do it self, until Jesus showed him up at the trial.  Can you imagine the look on Jesus’ face when Peter SAW Jesus?  We know Peter was filled with remorse.  But in the end Jesus has a word for him.  Look at John 21:15-19: “Feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep.”  Peter couldn’t respond to the way Jesus asked him, because Jesus asked, “Do you truly love me?” [Agapeo] and Peter’s reply was “You know I love you.” [Phileo].  The difference in the two Greek words represents the difference between a self-abandoning, selfless love, and a deep friendship.   But notice that Jesus takes Peter from where he is, to where He knows Peter could be.

Romans 5:6-8 says that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us“.  II Cor 5:16-21 sums it up: ” … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… not counting men’s sins against them.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God…

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

  • Abandon your disbelief, and turn to Christ, trusting Him completely.  [The Amplified Bible explains believe as– trust in, cling to, rely on. John 3:16]
  • Abandon your hate and forgive others the way Christ has forgiven you– without strings attached. [Matthew 6:9, 18:21-35]
  • Abandon your grudges and hurt feelings, and respond with God’s love from hearts full of gratitude for the immense amount of forgiveness he has poured out on you.  [Colossians 3:12-17]
  • Abandon feelings of revenge and manipulation, and set aside your own agendas and plans to sacrificially serve.   [Ephesians 4:30-5:2]

Look at the contrast between Judas and Peter– both had disappointed Jesus, both had failed in following through on their commitment to Him.  One went out and committed suicide because he couldn’t face it; the other wept and came for forgiveness.

II Peter 3:9 says,  “He is not slow…but patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Will you allow God to reconcile you to Himself? For more information, go here.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

What does it mean to Forgive?

The need to forgive is necessary and difficult.

Today’ feature is PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH

Jesus said as he hung on the cross “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”  That line became the model for the early church, as exemplified by Stephen, who just before he died by stoning said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” [Acts7: 60]  And the modern martyrs have by and large taken the same position.  But the stories of persecution are all “out there someplace” — beyond the ken of our experience, for the most part.

The need to forgive, however, is as necessary and sometimes as difficult for us as for them.  Some people have confused forgiveness with forgetting, and carry a load of ‘false’ guilt.  Others have draped the call to forgive around the shoulders of wounded and hurt people like a mantle of shame, and they are bent over with the load.  Still others who are guilty of doing the injury throw a Molotov Cocktail of “You have to forgive me!” at the very one they have injured.  They try to run away from the truth of their action and burn the bridges of reconciliation behind them….

When we’ve been hurt, we want them to know how badly they have hurt us.  We want them to be sorry and ask forgiveness of us.  We want to get revenge (‘don’t get mad, get even” is often the adage). We want to be vindicated and justified.  We want everybody to know “What I’ve Been Through!” However, true forgiveness is letting go of the ‘Wants’. But our greatest need is traced to pain.  The deep, grievous theft of the soul, the tearing of the heart, with wounds that fester and do not heal.  To try to forgive without addressing the reality of pain is useless.  It’s like a ‘Band-Aid’ on a severed arm.   And when I demand they forgive me, when they’ve been deeply hurt, it becomes my escape, a quick legalistic get-away from the pain I’ve inflicted.  I’ve beaten the tool of Grace into a weapon with which to silence and destroy, and all in the name of God’s righteous requirement to forgive.

In Matthew 6:14,15 Jesus said, “If you forgive…your heavenly Father will forgive … If you do not forgive men their sins your Father will not forgive your sins.”

We were created to have deep meaningful relationships.  But sin came in. We’ve been deeply disappointed in relationships and so we often responded by becoming demanding and self-protective (“I’m never going to let anyone hurt me like that again!”) But that hinders Love.

Notice that the call to forgive does not require the re-victimization of the vulnerable, (we’ll touch that later) but rather the Love of God frees us to face profound disappointment and the pain in broken relationships.  And accepting and appropriating God’s Love frees others from being what we need them to be to us.

Accepting disappointment frees us to love.  Allowing God to be our most meaningful relationship frees us to love ourselves and love others.

But don’t rush past the pain.  Mourning the losses gives us permission for wounds to heal.  Accepting the incredible disappointment destroys the idea that life has to be fair.  Allowing ourselves to be profoundly sad is the way to true healing.

Forgiveness is an act freely chosen.  Jesus exemplified it at the Last Passover with his disciples.  He had passed around the first cup.  And then when they had washed their hands he went on the wash their feet — and that included Judas’, whom Jesus knew had already sold him to the religious leader for 30 pieces of silver.   And the first words from the cross were “Father forgive them…”            Forgiveness frees you from the need to have “them” repent. It’s independent of any response from the ones who have hurt us.  But it is a process.  So it’s OK to grieve!            Forgiveness does not open the way for re-victimization.  However, when you are no longer defenseless, you can determine the way and the terms by which to relate.  Forgiving gives you control and the liberty to keep lines open in relationships.

  • Forgiveness isn’t forgetting — The cross reminds us that the full price had to be paid.
  • Forgiveness isn’t earned — Christ died while we were yet sinners.
  • Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other’s even knowing about it, or requesting it.
  • Forgiveness is a privilege, not a right.  It is a tender mercy.

And when I accept forgiveness I take the first step toward possible reconciliation.

“...God … gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them…We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” [II Cor. 5:18-21]

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us fix our eyes on Jesus! Consider him… so that you do not grow weary and lose heart” [Heb12: 1-3]

Part of the outline taken from Ti Eller’s article in The Canadian Baptist, Nov. 1994.

©1999 D H Friesen