A year or so ago, we were in our living room at night watching TV, and we heard a loud crashing sound out front. I went to the front porch, opened the door, and saw a car had skidded off the road, right through our mailbox, across our front lawn, tearing up two tire-streaks of grass, taking out a bush and eventually bumping into the corner of our neighbor’s house. It was late, and we suspect he might have fallen asleep at the wheel, though we don’t know for sure. I say “bumped” into the neighbor’s house, because as the vehicle hit all our stuff, by the time it reached the neighbor’s house, it had slowed down enough to just nudge the corner of the house, thankfully causing almost no damage to the house or his car. Our yard, though, was a mess.
Maybe you’ve encountered a mess. Maybe you’re in a mess. Financial. Health. Work. Family. It seems to me that most of the messes in our lives are relational. What is needed to heal a mess of a broken relationship is reconciliation.
The word “reconcile” means: “to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken.” (Louw & Nida)
The same scholar who provided that definition suggests that there is a process to reconciliation: “[It starts with] disruption of friendly relations because of a presumed or real provocation. [Then reconciliation begins with one party choosing an] overt behavior designed to remove hostility, [leading to] restoration of original friendly relations.”
Something bad has happened, and reconciliation is the process whereby the separated parties make things right.
In Colossians 1:20-23, which we have been studying this week starting here, the writer, Paul, tells us that God brought reconciliation between us and him. What is the bad thing that happened between Creator and Created? Between God and us? Clearly it wasn’t something bad on God’s side of the relationship, right? Nope. God is perfect love. So that means something bad happened on our side of the relationship.
We have a word for that something bad. Sin. We humans choose to sin. Sin is a willful act in which we do one of two things: 1. Sin of Commission, when we commit a sin, which is when we do what God does not want us to do. Or 2. Sin of Omission, when we omit doing the right thing, which is when we do not do what God wants us to do. It is not as if God has a bunch of random stuff that he wants us to do. God’s will and God’s way flows from who he is, perfect love. Sin is when we choose to do something that is out of line with God’s perfect love, or to omit something that is in line with God’s perfect love.
Sin is also described in the Bible, including in this very passage, as evil power. Look back to verse 16, and those four words, thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. As I mentioned last week, Biblical scholars believe that when he mentions those first two, thrones and powers, Paul is potentially referring to forces of evil. To sum it up, sin is both the use of human free will to choose what is out of alignment with God’s perfect love, and sin is the forces of evil, the enemies of God.
Because of sin, we need reconciliation with God. Going back to the process of reconciliation, reconciliation starts with an act, a reaching out in love, from at least one of the parties. It is an act designed to remove the hostility, thus making space for friendly relations to be restored.
Typically, we consider it the responsibility of the one who committed the original hostile act to express their remorse and reach out asking for forgiveness, right?
Remember the guy who drove through our lawn? As I walked over to his car that night, he was already out and looking around at the damage. I made sure he was OK, and he was, apologizing profusely for the mess he caused in our yard. That was the first act of reconciliation: his apology. We exchanged info, which was the second act of reconciliation, showing his intention to make things right. Then he drove off. The next day he and his parents got in touch with us, and in the ensuing days they not only paid to replace the mailbox and post, they also installed them, both upgrades from our old ones! It was another act of reconciliation. We let the bush go because we had intended to dig the row of bushes out anyway, and we knew the grass would grow back. In other words, the mess was cleaned up by acts of reconciliation.
In that situation, reconciliation worked like it is supposed to work. One person messes up, there is brokenness, and that person reconciles by confessing their sin, making things right. In fact, this is so often the case in our world that when there is a brokenness, it is assumed by all involved that the first person who reaches out is the guilty party.
Why would the not-guilty party that have to reach out? Why would the not-guilty party have to do anything to make the relationship right? That would be strange, right? They were hurt, they were treated badly, and we would never expect them to be the one to reach out to the offender? In fact, in many situations, we counsel the hurt party not to do that because we don’t want them to get hurt again, and we don’t want them to give any indication that they did anything wrong. We definitely encourage them to forgive, to work on healing the relationship, but they are wise to be cautious. Sometimes boundaries are needed and healthy.
Yet consider how God handles the brokenness with us. He is perfect love, so it is clearly we who are the guilty ones between us and him. Yet it is God who reaches out to reconcile with us! Furthermore, it’s not just some simple, “Shake hands…all better now?” No, no, no. The reaching out that God does is so amazing that it requires Jesus, first of all, to become one of us, and second of all, to live a perfect life, and third of all, to die an unjust death, and fourth of all, to defeat sin, death and the devil by rising to new life. All so that we can experience new life ourselves and be reconciled to him.
This is what Paul means when he continues in verse 21 saying that God did this, “to make you all stand holy, without blemish, without accusation, in his sight.”
Think about what God did! Think about the incalculable gift of reconciliation that he has given us. All in spite of the fact that it was we who sinned against him! That’s how deeply God loves us. That’s how deeply he wants to be close to us. And that’s how much he wants everyone to be reconciled to him. Where once we were enemies and strangers with God, he has made it possible for us to stand holy before him. We can be in a place of right relationship with God.
I don’t know about you, but I admit that I don’t think about the truth of reconciliation enough. It’s one of many reasons why gathering with other Christians is so needed. We are people who need regular consistent reminders of this truth, that God has reached out in love to reconcile us to him. This truth can and should have the result of re-orienting our lives. It’s a game-changer!