This week, we come to the heart of our faith, the confidence we can have in our salvation. Included in the liturgy, is a statement of reconciliation which God brought about by the incarnation of Jesus:
May God our Father,
who by our Lord Jesus Christ
has reconciled the world to himself
and forgives the sins of all who truly repent
But what do we mean by reconciliation, and how has it been achieved? The dictionary says that reconciliation is about the “restoration of family relations” but why and how have they been broken? Paul, writing in the book of Romans, expresses it thus:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of GodRom 3.23
The starting point is the failing of all human beings to live according to God’s laws – as seen in the actions of Adam and by every generation that has lived since. We are not unique in surveying the world around us and bemoaning the failings of our leaders and society to promote upright Godly living, truth, justice and responsible stewardship of the environment. The writings in the Old Testament demonstrate how generation after generation have turned away from God – and we are no different!
The short-term provision for the Jewish nation was the sacrifice – an innocent animal had to be killed in order to appease God’s wrath. We live in an age when retribution for failure is not so commonly practised as in former times, and it is more difficult to understand how such actions could satisfy the requirements of a Holy God. In any case this sacrificial system was imperfect, and it became clear that God desired purity of living, not sacrifices. David himself expressed this clearly in the penitential Psalm 51, when he laid bare his soul after his adultery with Bathsheba:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.Ps. 51. 16,17
Another permanent means of reconciliation was needed. Although it is difficult for us to understand, there was only one way in which this could be achieved, by the death of a sinless human being. We are reminded of the familiar prophetic words in the book of Isaiah:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Is. 53. 5,6
You will recall that, in the Acts of the Apostles, these were the verses that the Ethiopian eunuch had just been reading, when the evangelist Philip met up with him in the desert. Philip was able to explain that they referred directly to the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. His words of explanation were effective, and the man responded by seeking baptism. Paul continues:
…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.Rom. 3. 24-25
There are many theological responses to the nature of the atonement – the means by which God was able, through his only son Jesus’ death to deal with the consequences of sin. However, the Bible clearly provides a basis for confidence that his sacrificial death on the cross was the only action needed for us to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father.
Next week we will ask the question – how certain can I be that all my own failings have been forgiven, and that I have secured a place in the Kingdom of Heaven?