“We Have Now Received Reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11)

Good Friday, Tenebrae Vespers
April 22, 2011

“We Have Now Received Reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11)

Our text this evening is the same as it was earlier today, a portion of Romans 5. At noon, under the theme “Christ Died for the Ungodly,” we focused on these verses: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Now tonight we continue on from that point: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

“We Have Now Received Reconciliation”: That is our theme for tonight. Tonight we want to consider the results, the benefits, of Christ dying for the ungodly. What is the changed situation now between God and us, because of what Christ has done?

There are many ways we could express that. The one we’ve been using a lot throughout this series on Romans–because Paul uses it a lot–is the language of “justification.” Justification, that is, the fact that God pronounces us not guilty, righteous, for Christ’s sake. Justification is a legal metaphor. It’s like we’re on trial in God’s court room, the law books are brought out, the charges against us are read, the evidence is brought forward, and the verdict is that we are guilty according to the law. Guilty as charged, and the sentence is death. However, here comes Christ Jesus, the righteous one, the only one who has kept God’s law of love as it should be kept, and he offers himself as our substitute. He takes our sentence upon himself, suffers death under God’s judgment in our place. And because he is the holy Son of God, his sacrificial death is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world, yours and mine included. In turn, Christ’s righteousness is credited to us. And so God is indeed being a just judge–no soft slacker–when he acquits us sinners, justifies us and declares us righteous, and welcomes us into his kingdom. God’s law, his justice, has been upheld; it has not been brushed aside. That, in a nutshell, is justification, and it is the dominant image here in the Book of Romans.

But it is not the only image. There are other ways to talk about what God has done in Christ, and the one that Paul moves to here in Romans 5 is that of “reconciliation.” “We have now received reconciliation,” Paul writes. If justification is a legal metaphor, reconciliation would be more along the lines of a personal relationship. Two parties have been estranged from one another, there has been a separation, a gap, and now something has happened such that they are brought back together. That’s what a reconciliation is.

I suppose we’re most familiar with the language of reconciliation in terms of a marriage. Husband and wife have been living apart, separated, anger simmering perhaps, but somehow they’ve worked things out, and now they have come back together.

Now the difference between that kind of reconciliation and the reconciliation between God and us is that, when God reconciles us to himself, it’s not like both parties were at fault to some extent and both parties had to give a little bit. No way. The fault was entirely on our side, and it was God exclusively who acted to bring about the reconciliation. We were the enemies of God, hostile toward him, and God is the one who does the reconciling.

Let’s take another family situation to show this. A disloyal son has run off from home, perhaps taken a chunk of the family fortune with him, run off to parts unknown, disgraced the family, squandered his money, making a mess of his life–hey, this sounds familiar! Jesus told a parable just like this, “The Prodigal Son.” There we saw a great example of a reconciliation. But remember how that worked. What happened to effect the reconciliation? It wasn’t the son’s plan, which was to work off his guilt by laboring as a hired hand. No, it was the father, the waiting father, who welcomed his wayward son back with open arms and even threw a feast for him. That is God’s kind of reconciliation, when he welcomes back sinners as sons.

But it does not come without a cost. The cost is borne by Christ. “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,” our text says. The death of God’s Son Jesus Christ, the death that this Good Friday is all about. The death of Christ is what effects the reconciliation. Christ makes peace in his own body on the cross. Hanging between heaven and earth, Christ is our mediator. We sinners were enemies of God, and Christ is the great peacemaker. He is our peace, he makes the reconciliation.

Now the peace that Christ makes is not just the absence of a negative. It is the presence of a positive. Peace is more than the absence of war, the cessation of hostilities. Peace is a positive wholeness, a new and good situation existing between God and us. God is smiling down upon us. He is favorably disposed toward us for Christ’s sake.

So it’s not just what we’ve been saved from. It’s what we’ve been saved for. We have been saved from God’s wrath, yes. We are no longer God’s enemies. Christ’s death took care of that. But much more, more than that, Christ’s life, his rising again, means that we have been saved for life–for a whole new life, eternal life, a qualitatively different kind of life, in which we know God and are at home with him. Reconciled, that’s the word.

God through Christ has reconciled us to himself. Fully. There is no simmering discontent lingering under the surface. No, everything is back together as it should be. God is not holding any grudges against you, ready to smack you down. That’s not how it is. Rather, God is glad to have you back in the family. There’s a feast going on, a joyous, happy feast that will last forever.

And so we rejoice. Yes, even in a Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers. The shadows are deepening here tonight, as we recall the ghastly price it took to effect our reconciliation, namely, the bloody death of God’s Son Jesus Christ, on that Friday when darkness fell over the land and it looked like the whole thing was over. The women wept when Jesus was taken down to be buried. But weeping turns to joy when we realize all that Christ accomplished by his death and that death was not the last word. Not by a long shot.

The death of Christ is really our ticket to life. It’s safe to come home. There is no more wrath to be poured out. Welcome home, son, daughter! Your Father is reconciled to you. No more estrangement. You’re at home now. You’re at home for good.

Published in: on April 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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