Christ: God's Peace Maker

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Colossians 1:19-23

If you’ve been struggling with feelings of discouragement, alienation, or loneliness; if you feel like you’re at war with God, I have good news for you today!

Recently a friend showed me a brochure containing some startling religious advice. It described an unusual planetary conjunction which was supposed to occur at a specific time on a certain date and invited everyone to join together in meditating during this phenomenon. “We suggest envisioning white light in unison as a way to bring ourselves into resonance at the moment the astrological star pattern becomes exact,” the organizers wrote, adding that everyone should change their understanding “from one in which we fear that our species might be a cancer on the planet to one in which we recognize ourselves as the living earth’s emergent self-reflexive consciousness.” They ended with the hopeful thought that “perhaps through the power of intentional synergy we may help . . . potentiate global healing.”

I’m not sure what all that means; in fact, I don’t think most of it means anything, but I do agree with these folks about one thing. There is a problem in the world. Something has gone wrong. It does seem as if a cancer is eating away at everything. The world we live in is so filled with brokenness: broken promises, broken relationships, broken homes and dreams, broken people, a broken earth. We need help! Somebody should do something.

Theologian Neil Plantinga’s very fine book about sin is called Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be. Isn’t that exactly right? The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. We all know that. We just don’t know what to do about it. And we don’t know what to do because we don’t really know what’s wrong. The problem isn’t astrological; as Shakespeare’s Cassius remarked, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves . . .” (Julius Caesar, Act I, scene ii). Somehow I don’t think that if we could all just get together when the planets are favorably aligned and simultaneously imagine a bright white light shining on the world that this is going to heal all the brokenness and restore peace and harmony to the earth and its people.

Thankfully that idea is not our only alternative. Here is quite a different response to our problem, from Colossians 1:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

(Col. 1:19-23, niv)

THE HOPE HELD OUT IN THE GOSPEL

What we have in these words is a precise summary of the gospel, the basic Christian message. There’s a lot of confusion these days about what the Bible actually teaches and what Christians should believe. Much of this confusion, sad to say, is caused by Christians themselves – or at least people who claim to be Christians, but whose views on the character of God, on the person and work of Christ, on human sin and salvation, differ greatly from biblical ones. People like that were affecting the church in Colossae too in the first century; things haven’t changed all that much.

The New Testament makes it perfectly clear what the authentic gospel is. The heart of the Christian message does not consist of moral exhortation or commandments for righteous living. The gospel, as someone has well said, is good news, not good advice. Nor is the heart of the Christian message a simple recitation of facts or events; it’s not merely the announcement that God came into the world in Jesus or even that Christ died and rose again from the dead. No. The heart of the Christian message is the teaching of those pivotal acts of Christ plus their meaning. The gospel is news about not only what has happened but what God has done through what has happened. The gospel equals event plus interpretation of event; in particular the climactic event of Christ’s death on the cross and its meaning for salvation.

“For God was pleased . . . through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood shed on the cross” (vv. 19-20). “This is the gospel,” writes Paul, “that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven and of which I, Paul, have become a servant” (v. 23) which is to say: It’s the only gospel there is. There is no other Christian message that is truly authentic. That is why Paul told another early church that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, should come proclaiming to them a different gospel they should be eternally condemned (Gal. 1:9).

MAKING PEACE

The good news right at the center of the gospel is news about reconciliation. Reconciliation is the work of bringing people back together and making peace. Peace only needs to be made between parties who have quarreled with one another, so the need for reconciliation implies that there’s been separation or estrangement. In the reconciliation which the New Testament describes, the parties involved are first of all God and humans. The quarrel is between us and God before it is a quarrel between us and our neighbors. All the other brokenness in our world and our lives originates first from our ruptured relationship with God.

All of us are born into a state of warfare against God, like children born and raised in a family that has been feuding with another clan for generations. We have a natural hostility toward him. We are naturally at odds with him. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (v. 21).

But that’s not the whole problem. There are two parties to every quarrel, and if we need to be reconciled to God, God also needs to be reconciled to us. Our evil behavior has aroused God’s wrath, which has been defined as “his steady unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ). The problem is not simply that we have rebelled and turned away from God. The problem is that God’s holiness cannot tolerate our sinful rebellion. We have become offensive to God. God’s justice must be vindicated. But in spite of our offenses, God still loves us and wants to save us. There’s no reason why he should, for each one of us has done more than enough wrong to forfeit any claim to God’s love. And yet he does. So the real problem with reconciliation is not just getting us to accept God, but enabling God to accept us without violating his integrity. What really must happen for God to make peace with us is that God’s mercy and justice must, so to speak, be reconciled to each other.

THROUGH THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS

The only way this can happen is through the cross, where Christ died as our substitute in payment for our sin. Here is the supreme good news of the gospel: God has reconciled all things to himself by making peace through the blood of Christ’s cross. Notice that God is the subject of that sentence. He is the initiator; reconciliation is his work from beginning to end. Peace is not made because we buy God’s favor with our sacrifices, or because Jesus buys it with his sacrifice. God is and always has been intolerant of sin but gracious to sinners. It is because of this that he undertakes the work of peace-making. The cross didn’t enable God to love us; he has always loved us. The cross enabled God to forgive us without compromising his justice. Christ’s death didn’t cause God’s love; it resulted from God’s love. God the Father is our reconciler, working through the agency of Christ his Son, God’s great Peace Maker.

This is the gospel Christians have always believed and taught. It’s also the stumbling block that causes people to reject Christianity. When Mohandas Gandhi was a young man living in South Africa, he found himself attracted to the person of Jesus Christ. He was at the same time put off by the behavior of many professing Christians, but the decisive element that led to his rejection of Christianity was the cross.

I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept.

(Gandhi, Autobiography)

But that is exactly what Christians do accept! “[God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation” (v. 22). It is the cross by which we are transformed from God’s enemies into God’s children, changed in God’s sight from sinners into spotless and guilt-free sons and daughters.

And not just us. The death of Christ is the means by which God has reconciled all things to himself, “whether things on earth or things in heaven by making peace through his blood shed on the cross” (v. 20). The potential effect of Jesus’ sacrifice is universal. Just as all things were created by him, and all things are held together in him, so all things will be reconciled to God through him.

One crucial implication of this truth is that outside of Christ there can be no peace with God. No one can possibly be brought into harmony with God except through the work of Christ. But if all things will be reconciled to God through Christ, does this also mean that all people will ultimately be saved? Is God’s work of reconciliation in Christ so great and powerful that it includes everyone, whether they believe in Christ or not, whether they even want to be reconciled to God or not?

It does not. For as Paul goes on to say to the Colossians, “God saves you provided that you continue . . . steadfast in the faithwithout shifting from the hope promised by the gospel” (v. 23 nrsv). You may have full electrical power in your house, but a light still won’t work until you have plugged it into the circuit. In the same way, even though Christ has fully provided all that is necessary for salvation, you cannot be saved until your life has been connected to him through faith.

Many still don’t understand how critically important it is to trust personally in Christ’s death for salvation. When it comes to finding forgiveness and making peace with God, each of us must turn away from self-reliance to Christ-reliance. Listen to the testimony of one who did that. These words were written almost 200 years ago by an English minister:

I have been unlearning what before I had been studying with so much care – how to recommend myself by human merit to divine favour. But when the Lord in mercy took me [as his pupil], he inverted this order of teaching. I was then led to see more of his ways, and to think less of my own. And from that hour of matriculation in his school to the present, I have been learning to get daily out of love with myself, and in love with Christ.

(Robert Hawker, A Poor Man’s Morning and Evening Devotions)

Make this your study too, to get daily out of love with yourself and in love with Christ, and you will know a peace that is beyond description.