- Overcomer Literature Trust
THE DEATH OF THE LORD - RECONCILING.
By G.Campbell Morgan.
“Once you were alienated from God . . . But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death” (Col. 1 v21-22).
The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus completely altered His disciples’ understanding of Him. By reading the Gospel stories and then the story contained in the Acts we see that the attitude of these men toward their Master was entirely changed. It was not that they did not love Him and believe in Him before the Cross, but they did not understand Him. A new understanding of His Lordship came to them as a result of His Resurrection. This also resulted in a new understanding of the Cross. It had appeared to them as supreme tragedy by which all their hopes were put out and all their expectations disappointed. Now the Cross became the supreme victory, the very way of life which they preached. Before the Cross, they had called Him Lord, Master, Teacher but only in the sense of Teacher, Exemplar, Leader, after the Resurrection the title Lord meant infinitely more, for as its light flashed upon the Cross they came to know Christ as they had never known Him before.
Let us consider the death of the Lord - and we use the word “Lord” in the more wonderful sense in which they used it after Pentecost, when they looked back to the Cross through the fact of the Resurrection, in the light of the Spirit. His was a reconciling death when He is seen as Lord in the full meaning of the title.
In the earlier part of Colossians 1 we find the Person to whom Paul refers. An actual Person within human understanding, as the phrase “the body of His flesh” indicates. In v13 we read, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves". In v3 we find these words, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, He who was at once David's Son and David’s Lord, is now spoken of by Paul in all the full and gracious dignity of title, name and office, as “the Lord Jesus Christ”. It is of this Person that Paul affirms, “But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body”.
Between these outstanding verses are statements which reveal what Paul meant by the Lordship of Christ. His relation to God is expressed in the words, “He is the Image of the invisible God”. His relation to creation in the words, “For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers, or rulers, or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together". His relation to the Church in the words, “He is the Head of the Body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy".
That is the ultimate teaching of the New Testament concerning the Lordship of Christ. First, He is Lord by the right of His relationship to the Father. He is the image, the representation, the unveiling of the invisible God, Who has no revelation save through Jesus. The declaration is not that He became the image of God, but that He is the image of God and always will be. To use human tenses, He was the Image of God long before time began, before creation came into being, He will be the Image of God in all the ages yet to come and He is the One through whom God is always revealed to created beings. Whether they be principalities or powers in the heavenly places, or things of time and sense, whoever they may be and whenever they may exist, God is revealed to them through this Person, His Son. That one fact sets Him at once in the place of Lordship over creation; He is indeed “KING of kings, and LORD of lords”.
He is Lord also by virtue of His relationship to creation. All created things exist through the act of this Person. The One who was called Jesus was infinitely more than a man of His own age. He was the Word through whom creation came into being and He is the One who upholds all things by the Word of His power, all things hold together in Him.
Finally, He is Lord by the mystery of His relationship to the Church, He is the Head of the Church. The two expressions which Paul uses here concerning this Person in His relation to the first creation and to His Church are full of meaning. When he speaks of the relation of Christ to the first creation he refers to Him as “the Firstborn of all creation”. When he speaks of His relation to the Church he describes Him as “the First-born from the dead”, a far more remarkable thing. “The Firstborn over all creation” suggests that all created things came in the power of His life. He commanded and it was done. “The Firstborn from among the dead” suggests a renewed life, won out of the mystery of death.
In Romans Paul declares, “regarding His Son, who as to His human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord”. This consciousness of the Lordship of Christ resulted from Resurrection and Pentecost. This Lord Jesus Christ is the image of God, the revelation of God. He is the originating Creator and the sustaining might in the universe. He is the One who came back out of the experience of death with a new light upon His brow and new life in His gift. He is the Lord of all and is declared to be so with power by the Resurrection.
Let us examine the word ‘reconciled’. The Greek word signifies an exchange - a change in relationship, the bringing into fellowship of things which have been in opposition. In our text we have a strengthened form of the word, which means to fully change, and therefore suggests complete reconciliation. Both that and the word commonly used suggest a change back to an original intention. Reconciliation is a return to true position and relationship.
Wherever this word is used in the New Testament in regard to our relationship to God it indicates a change in us, not in God. “We were reconciled to God”, “God who has reconciled us to Himself”, “Be reconciled to God”, “To reconcile all things to Himself", “You . . . He has reconciled . . . to present you . . . before Him”. While that grouping of Scriptures is incomplete it does help us to see that the reconciliation of God and us is not God’s reconciliation to us but our reconciliation to God. An understanding of this fact will throw much light upon the death of Christ through which our reconciliation has been made possible. It is not that through the death of Christ God may be turned back to us, it is that through the death of Christ we may be turned back to God. This is very important. God has never turned His face away from us. Sometimes in moments of anguish men have spoken of themselves as ‘God-forsaken’, but it is not true. God has never turned His back upon us, it is we who have turned our backs on God. What is needed is not God’s reconciliation to us but our reconciliation to God, and that is impossible while we are still living in sin.
God’s mightiest work, His greatest concern, is that we should be reconciled to Him.
The reconciliation of God was the result of His own action as revealed in Christ and needed no persuasion. Our reconciliation must be by persuasion. Yet there can be no reconciliation of holiness to guilt, to sin, to wrong, save by the way of the Cross, save by the way of that for which the Cross stands, and which the Cross reveals.
It is the passion of His heart, the deep love of His nature, which makes Him the sworn enemy of sin and will never allow Him to sign a truce with it in individual life, in society, in the nation, in the world, or in the universe. Theologians have told us that love is one of the attributes of God, but love is the sum total of His attributes. It is because of love that God never turned His back upon us, but that love is the sternest foe of sin.
Love is nevertheless mightier than sin. It suffers and upon the basis of that suffering is able to forgive, and in no other way. Love gathered into its own consciousness all the issue and outcome of our rebellion, and the only thing which love can never forgive by the way of its suffering is refusal to be forgiven by love through suffering. The only sin which is unpardonable is the sin of rejecting the testimony of love in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. If I will not receive forgiveness based upon righteousness, which is the outcome of the suffering of love, the very love and suffering of God Himself, then God Himself, for love of His universe, cannot receive me into fellowship with Himself. These are the essential facts. It is by the way of Calvary that we have learnt these truths. In the mystery of the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ there was worked out that infinite and eternal truth.
Do not for a single moment imagine that by the dying of a Man upon the Cross God was persuaded to change His attitude toward us. That which we see in the Cross did not begin at the point of the material Cross, the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. In the moment in which mankind sinned against God, God gathered into His own heart of love the issue of that sin, and it is not by the death of a Man but by the mystery of the passion of God that He is able to keep His face turned in love toward wandering mankind and welcome us as we turn back to Him. Had there been no passion in His heart, no love, no suffering of Deity, no one could ever have returned to Him. Had He been none other than holy and righteous and had there been no emotion, no tenderness, then He might have vindicated His holiness by the annihilation of the race. To know what God is we must listen to some of the verses of the Old Testament. Go back to the beginning of beginnings and hear the voice in the dark, “Adam, where are you?" Dr. Henry Weston said, ‘That is not the call of a policeman, it is the wail of a Father over a lost child’. Hosea, out of his own heart’s sorrow, expressed the feeling of God’s heart concerning the wanderers, “How shall I give you up?” That is God’s attitude toward all sinning mankind. He has gathered up into His own Being, not by mechanical effort, but by the very necessity of His nature, all the suffering which issues from sin.
“You . . . hath He” - the Image of God, the Creator of worlds, the Head of His Church - “reconciled in the body of His flesh through death”. Not that He reconciled God to us, for He was God Himself, but that through His death He has made possible the reception to Himself of sinning mankind, and that through that death He makes His great appeal to mankind in his rebellion, calling him to turn back to God.
Why is the man who slavishly fears God afraid? Go back to the early Genesis story. At the end of the day the man is hiding. Why did he hide? Had God changed? No. Man hid because he had changed - he had sinned. That is why mankind is afraid of God. It is because of sin. They are afraid of God and the fear keeps them at a distance from Him, and the fear is born first of all of actual sin and then of the consciousness of an inability to please Him.
God answers that fear in the Cross. He declares by that Cross that sin is carried away. He affirms by that Cross that, though mankind is afraid of Him, He loves them with such love as never can be expressed or measured in human words. He announces by that Cross, that at infinite cost, by the mystery of the passion which knows no human measurement, He gives pardon and new life.
Then there is nothing for me to do other than to look into the face of Jesus, Who is Lord and say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me”. A theory of Atonement? Never, but the great fact of Atonement. Explanation of the Cross? Never, but the great healing love that wins through suffering and will receive us just as we are, if we will turn our eyes to Him, and will blot out all our sin and make us all He would have us to be.
From: “The Bible and the Cross”.
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