Pentecost 9c

Preached: July 25, 2010

Christ Reconciled You to Present You As Holy
Colossians 1:21-23

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings Jesus, our Savior, into our hearts is Colossians 1

And as for you, who were once alienated and enemies by your attitude in all your wicked works -- he has now reconciled you in the body of his flesh through his death to present you as holy, spotless, and unaccused before him, if indeed you continue to remain in faith established and firm, not being moved away from the Gospel's hope -- that Gospel which you have heard, which has been preached to all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A. How severe our alienation was!

What's the difference between the Hutu and the Tutsi? They are both Central African ethnic groups. Their physical appearance is similar. They both speak the same languages and share the same culture. The religion of both groups is overwhelming Christian, predominately Roman Catholic. They frequently intermarry.

Yet all their similarities did not stop bloodshed and war between them, culminating in the Rwanda Genocide. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days starting April 6, 1994

Although the killing stopped over a decade and half ago, the reconciliation is far from complete. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has convicted 29 accused persons with more trials to come. Only the highest leaders and worst offenders end up before this court. The vast majority of the tens of thousands of accused go before the gacaca courts, a system of community justice. In these courts the victims and community have their say and the accused either confesses to gain a lesser punishment or tries to defend himself. But these gacaca courts have not achieved the reconciliation that they had aimed for.

Such is the story among people who can be so much alike and yet so hostile toward each other. And we're no different when you consider our own national history: two wars against England, our mother country; the Civil War with brother against brother; two world wars against Germany, the nationality from which more Americans trace their ancestry than from any other.

If such hostility can exist between those who are so similar, how much more so between those who are vastly different! But that, dear friends, is exactly what the situation was between us and God. We were completely alien, totally other than God. He is good; we were evil. He is light; we were darkness. He is love; we were hateful. He is life; we were death. He is giving; we were selfish. He is holy; we were sinners.

The Apostle Paul reminds us of that condition. He writes, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21 NIV). From the inside out we were the opposite of God. Our mind, heart, soul, will, attitude, disposition, inner being opposed God. We strove to make our own version of a god and to set up our own standard of right and wrong. We sought to create our own happiness and establish our own security. We claimed to be our own masters, free to do as we saw fit, crediting ourselves for success and blaming even God for any disappointments.

That inborn natural self still wants to influence us against God. When we hear God's law tell us to be perfect, to love our enemies, to place God first, our inborn self tempts us to think: “That's not fair. It won't work. I dont' agree with that”. Such thoughts and feelings prove how alienated from God we were.

And so also, no matter how beneficial or good our actions appeared to be in the eyes of others, all our acts were wicked in God's sight. Our entire behavior was evil. For our inner being, our mind and soul, was hostile toward God. Like water flowing from a contaminated well, all our actions that flowed from our heart and mind were polluted. They brought us death and hell.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior” (Colossians 1:21 NIV). How severe our alienation was!

B. How costly his sacrifice!

How could there be any kind of reconciliation? Reconciliation is so difficult even when people are similar. Look at the Hutu and the Tutsi, or consider the North and the South in our own Civil War. It takes years. Often a generation or more has to pass on. And the reconciliation that might come is more of a forgetfulness that restores relations rather than real reconciliation. So how could such an enemy as we were against God ever be reconciled to God, who does not pass on, who does not forget?

Our attempts at building peace with God never come close to reconciliation. In the end, looking to our attempts alienates us farther away from him, since it blinds us to what he has done.

And what has our God done for you, dear friend? “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” (Colossians 1:22 NIV). What we could not accomplish, our God, Jesus Christ accomplished for us. He reconciled you in his body of flesh through his death. Yes, you, who were so alienated from God, so distant, you, who were his enemies hostile toward him in your mind and actions -- yes, you are the ones whom he has reconciled.

How costly this reconciliation was! As we look at the Rwanda Genocide, how could the price of life in prison or the death penalty, or anything those courts mete out bring full justice and reconciliation? It may help as a step in the right direction, but it does not bring back the dead. It does not restore what's been destroyed. Yes, justice must be satisfied to have real reconciliation, but both justice and reconciliation full short in this world.

What good news that the price Jesus paid does never falls short. He fully satisfied justice. He worked real reconciliation. He gave his own body, his flesh and blood, into death. The Innocent willingly sacrificed himself for the guilty. The God-man was punished in the place of sinful humanity. The Righteous One became our sin to give us his right record.

That's how justice has been satisfied. Jesus was found guilty of our sin. He suffered the rightful punishment of death in our place. Therefore, reconciliation has been accomplished. For he died in your place “to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22 NIV). With Jesus' right record, we will stand before God no longer as aliens and enemies stained in the filth of our sin. We stand reconciled, clothed with Jesus. So just as Jesus is holy, so also are we through faith in him. Just as Jesus is without blemish or defect, so also are we through faith in him. Just as Jesus is free from accusation, so also are we through faith in him. Neither Satan nor your conscience can accuse you before God any longer, for faith points to Jesus and says, “He sacrificed his body and flesh for me on the cross. His death pays for all my sins. I am reconciled”

And the heavenly Father welcomes you as his own dear child, fully reconciled as if you had never sinned.. For in his sight you are are holy, without blemish, free from accusation. For when he looks at you, whose faith is in Jesus, he sees Jesus, his own dear Son. What reconciliation! Christ reconciled you to present you as holy. That's the theme to take heart.

C. How vital to stand firm on the Gospel!

Christ reconciled you to present you as holy. Now we certainly don't want to loss this. We don't want to return to being alienated and enemies of God. So the Apostle Paul urges us to keep our faith firmly established on the foundation of the Gospel, the Good News of what Jesus has done for us to save us from sin and death.

“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” (Colossians 1:22, 23 NIV).

In great hope faith eagerly anticipates standing before God in his courtroom as Jesus presents us. For your faith knows that Jesus' body hung on the cross to die for you. Your faith knows that Jesus' body rose from the dead so that he himself can and will present you. Your faith trusts that as you stand in God's courtroom you have already been judged based on what Jesus has done for you. And since his record is holy, without blemish, free from accusation, so also is yours. This, dear friends, is the great hope the Gospel brings to you and to me, who believe.

So don't be led astray by other so-called gospels out there. Don't neglect the one, true Gospel, the one thing that needful, as Jesus brought home to Martha in Luke 10 today. Stand firm.

But how do you know this Gospel? Paul explains, “This is the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:23 NIV). You've learned it from faithfully parents, pastors and teachers. You've experienced the joy of the peace and reconciliation it brings to your heart. Stand firm on it.

But how do you know that you were not deceived by your parents or pastors about this Gospel? Paul continues, “This is the gospel . . . that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23 NIV). It was not just your parents or a pastor in Hancock that taught this message. Rather throughout the world and throughout history, this Gospel of Jesus, our Reconciler, has gone out to all creation. Stand firm on it

But of all the different messages that float around the world, how do you know that this Gospel, which you believe, is the true Gospel? Paul concludes, “This is the gospel . . . of which, I, Paul, have become a servant” (Colossians 1:23 NIV). Compare what you have learned and believed with what stands written in the Holy Scripture. For the Apostle Paul still serves the Gospel today through the words the Holy Spirit led him to write. Through him and the other apostles and prophets, we have the very word of God, the Bible. Through this word the Holy Spirit has taught you the Gospel and worked faith in your hearts, faith that confesses: “Christ has reconciled me to present me as holy.” How vital for you to keep standing firm on the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313