For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.-Ephesians 2:14-18
I absolutely love this time of the year when we reflect, remember, and celebrate Christ’s death on the cross for our sin, his burial, and resurrection. To think on God’s love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, is such a beautiful reality. To know that Jesus would go to such horrific lengths to demonstrate that love, despite the fact we are unworthy of it, is indeed awe-inspiring.
But lately I’ve been under conviction that we (I) often stop here. We stop at what this means for us personally. We stop at the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection reconciles us to God. And yet, that is not all it means, accomplished, or makes possible…
Here’s what is puzzling: despite the fact Christ suffered and went through searing pain so we might have peace with God, we struggle with loving our enemies, showing mercy to the ungrateful, extending grace and forgiveness to the unworthy, and enduring pain to work for peace in our relationships with each other instead of just walking away.
Christ did this for us, so why then do we struggle with this towards one another?
In the Scripture passage quoted above from Ephesians chapter two, we find that more was happening at the cross than just our relationship with God being reconciled. Peace with God means there is now a way to have peace with one another.
The cross doesn’t just extend from earth to heaven. It also extends and stretches out from one side to the other.
The cross is meant to soften our hardened hearts not only to God, but also to each other. The cross is meant to reconcile us not only to God, but also work to bring about peace with one another. The cross is meant to not only overcome our hostility towards God, but also our prejudice and hostility towards one another. The cross not only provides a way for our sins to be forgiven; it enables us to forgive one another. The cross not only opens a way for us to approach God; it breaks down all that divides us in our relationships with each other.
In Ephesians chapter two, Paul writes about the big relational “divide” in his day; Jews verse Gentiles. The cross is the solution. The cross unites and brings all to common ground, despite any and all differences. The cross roots out all prejudice, hostility and division. The cross in reconciling us to God, reconciles us to each other.
The message of the cross is one of peace. Not just peace with God, but peace with one another. What would this look like though to practically be worked out in our relationships? What does this mean in regard to not just those who agree with us, but those we disagree with? With those we consider our “enemies?” With those we have hostility, anger, unforgiveness or bitterness in our hearts towards?
Let’s get real practical. Everyday, people walk away from relationships, churches, marriages, etc because they have been hurt, offended, feel like they have been wronged or slighted. But is this the way of the cross? I am not casting any stones because I am realizing my own guilt in this in a new way. My biggest regrets are not just in regard to broken relationship with God, but broken relationships with others.
Ryan Lokkesmoe, in a new book called Paul and His Team, has a powerful chapter titled, Relentless about Reconciliation. The title alone is convicting. I know I have been relentless in proving I was right when others have wronged me; but I have not been “relentless about reconciling.” Therefore, how much have I truly grasped the Gospel?
He goes on in fact to say, we have to understand the lengths to which God went to reconcile with us. We have to allow that to burrow down into our hearts. If we do, we will be compelled to seek peace with others, because we understand how far God went to reconcile with us. We will no longer be comfortable allowing broken relationships to waste away. (pg156)
Ouch…we will no longer be comfortable allowing broken relationships to waste away.
So, this is where the rubber meets the road. Are you, or I, allowing any broken relationships to waste away? Is there a broken relationship where we need to set our pride aside and despite the pain work towards reconciliation? Is there anyone to whom we need to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness? Is there anyone with whom we are harboring unforgiveness, anger or bitterness towards?
This is what I am seeing I often miss about the cross. I like knowing I am forgiven, but am I too willing to forgive? I like knowing that despite being unworthy, Christ shows me undeserved grace, but am I willing to extend that grace to those in my life not “worthy” of it? I like knowing there is mercy for my sin, but am I willing to show mercy when others sin against me? I find it moving to know the length to which Christ went that I might have peace with him, but what length am I willing to go to to work towards peace with others? I find it moving to think of all He endured for me that I might be reconciled to Him, but what pain am I willing to endure to reconcile with others?
Have I really grasped the meaning, power and application of the cross…or am I missing an important reality of what the cross really means? Am I really following Jesus and walking in his way; the way of the cross, or still living in and bound by my own selfishness and pride?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.-Matthew 16:24