THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

“God … reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”.

2 Cor 5:18 NIV

As a Christian believer, you receive a multitude of blessings from God. Some of them are material. Some are personal. And others are what we might call spiritual blessings. You may have become recently – or years ago – reconciled to God. That is perhaps the greatest spiritual gift you can receive. Only it isn’t something you can cherish, hug to yourself and brag about – “Look how lucky I am. God has reconciled me to himself. Aren’t you envious?” God will not let you wallow in self-glorification like that. The very sentence in which Paul states the gospel action of God he completes by adding – “and has given us the ministry of reconciliation”.

Why were Paul and his companions in Corinth – and returned there time and again? It was because, along with the blessing of reconciliation, God had laid on them a serious calling to offer that same reconciliation to the people of Corinth – to those in Ephesus, Athens, Rome, and elsewhere. Many people in those cities misunderstood what Paul and his companions were about. Anybody who had not yet come to accept the offer of reconciliation couldn’t possibly grasp what the apostolic ministry was all about. The ministry of reconciliation was about persuading people to “Get right with God”. To this end Paul and his assistants toiled and traveled, preached and prayed, cared and coaxed, taught and tutored people, bringing them to Christ, seeking the forgiveness of their sins, and encouraging them to become ministers of the gospel themselves.

Seek whatever role you will play in this ministry of reconciliation. Get whatever training may help you. And keep the church on the straight and narrow path of this ministry.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep us focussed on the ministry of reconciliation.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, it is Sunday again and I rejoice at the prospect of joining with fellow believers in worshipping you. Let services of worship everywhere be filled with a sense of your glory. Let people expect to encounter Christ and to experience his grace at work in their lives. May they decide to serve their fellow human beings. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Genesis 1:1–5

RECONCILIATION WITH GOD

“God … reconciled us to himself through Christ”.

2 Cor 5:18 NIV

Non-reconciliation is one of the worst things in the world. Some children become estranged from their parents. Some marriage partners become alienated from each other. Siblings grow apart and blame each other for the growing rift. In many such instances neither party feels motivated to heal the broken relationship. Feelings fester. Both parties suffer from carrying resentments, anger and the desire for revenge. The years increase the animosity. Both parties harbour ill feelings and become more prone to bad relationships with other people apart from those from whom they are estranged.

Paul’s claim is that we are all estranged from God – by our selfishness, pride, greed, proneness to slander, lust and hatred. But God yearns to reconcile us to himself. The alienation is what he calls sin. And it is this alienation that causes us to commit sins. Sin is more than the sum total of sinful acts. It is a state of “non-reconciliation with God”. But so great is God’s love for us – despite all the mess our messed-up lives have caused – that he was prepared to act in order to bring us back to himself. The supreme act by which he opened the door for us to “come home” was the Cross of Jesus. God appeals to us there at Calvary as at no other place and at no other time. When he prayed “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34 NIV) whilst on the Cross, he was praying for all who needed reconciliation with God the Father.

Think of it today. Admit your alienation from God and ask him to forgive you for going your own way. Be reconciled to him and know peace with God, now.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, welcome me in love and forgiveness.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord I pray for those people who are handicapped by the loss of a leg (or both legs). Give them courage to face and live in the world and to make a useful contribution to society. Give people around them understanding and the desire to treat such people with dignity and respect. I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 11:1–19

ALL ABOUT RECONCILIATION

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ”.

2 Cor 5:18 NIV

Reconciliation on the human level is a rare but beautiful event. “When Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for the presidency one of his arch-enemies was a man called Stanton. For some reason Stanton hated Lincoln and went to great lengths to degrade him publicly. He even made rude remarks about Lincoln’s physical appearance. In spite of Stanton’s efforts Lincoln was elected President of the United States. Then he had to choose his cabinet which would consist of persons who would be his most intimate associates in implementing his programme. He started choosing people here and there for the various secretaryships. Eventually he had to appoint his secretary of war, a very important portfolio. He chose Stanton. There was an immediate uproar in the inner circle. Friends were warning Lincoln, “Mr President, you are making a mistake. Do you know what Stanton has been saying about you? He is your enemy and will make trouble for you, Mr President?” Lincoln’s answer was simple. “Yes, I know Mr Stanton. I am aware of all the bad things he has said about me. But after looking over the nation, I find he is the best man for the job”. Some years later Lincoln was assassinated. Among the many tributes to his life was the statement from Stanton. Standing near Lincoln’s dead body he said, “Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men who ever lived. He now belongs to the ages”. Through the power of love, Lincoln had changed Stanton from being an enemy into a friend” (M.L. King, Strength to Love, p53).

Paul saw the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as God’s action to reconcile human sinners to himself.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for reconciling me to yourself through Christ.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for the patients in psychiatric hospitals. Grant that they may be given excellent medical care and oversight by qualified psychiatrists. Help their families to remember them at all times and to extend such care to them as they are able. Prompt society in general to understand and support them. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 10:34–42

ALL THIS IS FROM GOD

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God”.

2 Cor 5:17, 18 NIV

Some Christian believers have a story to tell. They have been converted from a life of blatant sinfulness and have found Christ. Occasionally they tell a lurid story – and tend to embellish the parts that tell of their bad ways and experiences. Then they have met Christ and have been changed. Now they do this, they do that, and the change is a miracle. Usually such stories are genuine but in the telling of them the listeners are left, sometimes, with the impression that these people are now spiritual geniuses. Their hearers quietly say “Wow”. If in the telling of the story the people “tell a story” that makes the listeners ascribe glory to them, then questions need to be asked .

Here Paul makes it quite clear that such miracles of grace are wrought by God. They should not focus on the recipient of the grace and the subject of the miracle should, in telling his or her story, be careful to ascribe all glory to the God who has wrought the miracle. It is all too easy – and fatal – to create a spiritual “sparkle” around the heroes of these testimonies. Such miracles of grace are wonderful providing they clearly express gratitude to God and emphasize his role in it all. Even in these circumstances it is all too easy for pride to creep in and take over.

The whole Bible is the story of the God who makes things new. He does it in creation, in the resurrection of Christ, in the healing miracles of Christ and in the conversion of people previously held in sin.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to give all glory to you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray for elderly people in homes for the aged. Grant that those who manage such homes will have deep compassion for the residents in their care. Surround the residents with a pleasant environment that will enhance their dignity. Encourage the families of the residents to visit and care for their relations. I ask it in the name of Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 10:16–33

IT’S ALL NEW!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”

2 Cor 5:17 NIV

If you have ever bought a brand new car you will have had the exciting experience of changing something old and worn out for something spanking brand new. It’s a wonderful feeling. The interior smells new. There are no rattles. The thing is clean outside and in. It sparkles! And you can play with the new features that weren’t there before. It makes you want to drive anywhere and everywhere. One man was so carried away with his new car that he drove it out of the dealer’s and drove off. An hour or so later he suddenly realized he had left his family back in the dealer’s and had to go all the way back to fetch them!

And a person can be made new, if they are “in Christ Jesus”. Paul says such a person is a new creation. Creation is one of the themes in the Bible – not just the physical universe. At the end there is the picture of the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven”. God specialises in making new things – including new people.

“The old” means the former nature of a person, weak, self-centred, prone to sin and failure, riddled with guilt, regrets, the memory of mistakes and botch-ups, hatred, prejudice, and warped ideas. Most probably the old person has resentments and unforgiven relationship problems. Then Christ comes in and everything is different. There is freedom from guilt, reconciliation with God and with people. There is the desire to please God and obey Christ. There are new interests, hope and a deepened faith. It is a new creation.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for making me a new person.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for the issue of gender-based violence in my country. Prompt the media to publicise the full extent of the problem. Make the education of both genders encourage people to grow up with a healthy respect for each other. Promote the work of those organizations that campaign against the violence. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 10:1–15

HUMAN AND CHRISTIAN STANDARDS

“No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so”.

2 Cor 5:16 GNB

We grow up with various ideas about what is good and bad and more especially we make assessments and judgments about people. We tend to respect and envy people who are successful and rich. And we accord a lot of respect to those people who seem to be important people. Some people come to know that they are important and have high standards and tastes. They are inclined to become snobs. But we look with something approaching contempt towards those we think are “at the bottom of the pile”.

Paul is saying that coming to know Christ means we look differently. The criteria become, “Does he know Christ? Is he filled with love?” “The human estimate of people was abolished at the Cross. Race, nationality, birth, money, position, intellectual gifts, social status – all these standards disappear in the light of Calvary. The one basic fact about us all is that we are sinners whom nevertheless God loves. In the light of the Cross Paul saw through the superficial things which often conceal our real selves.

And now all false ideas about Christ were gone. Gone were the prejudices that busied themselves about his lowly birth, his humble social position, his association with doubtful characters, his disregard of the law, his appeal to the ignorant and oppressed. These all disappeared when the scales fell from Paul’s eyes and he saw “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6 NIV), (J. Reid, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 10. P337).

Make sure you abandon superficial human assessments and look at people with the eyes of Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to have the mind of Christ.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for the human race. Promote its welfare. Raise up competent leaders in all countries. Increase its wealth and redistribute it so that all people benefit. Eradicate poverty. Increase learning. Encourage the co-operation of all states with each other and so improve the common good. Let all people worship you. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 9:14–26

ONLY FOR HIM

“He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but only for him who died and was raised to life for their sake”.

2 Cor 5:15 GNB

“In a famous chapel in a European village there hangs a much-celebrated picture of Christ on his cross. It seems that the artist had known himself redeemed by Christ from a life of sin and folly, so that when he came to paint a likeness of his Lord, his soul was filled with tenderest love and he painted love into every lineament. At the base of the picture he wrote these words, ‘All this I did for thee; What hast thou done for me?” One summer afternoon in the early eighteenth century, there strolled into the church a young German nobleman, Nicolas Ludwig, Count of Zinzendorf. Loitering along the aisle, he suddenly noticed the painting and became fascinated by it. He saw love in the pierced hands, love in the bleeding brow, love in the wounded side. Slowly he scanned the couplet, ‘All this I did for thee, what hast thou done for me?’ and a new revelation began to dawn upon him. All afternoon he gazed at that picture, and as the rays of the setting sun slanted through the windows, there fell on the bowed form of Count Zinzendorf, weeping and sobbing his dedication to the Christ whose love had not only saved his soul, but conquered his heart. The Cross had challenged him. It sent him out from that chapel to do his mighty life-work which circled the earth with a fraternity of redeemed men and women” (L. Griffith, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, p69). He had died to sin and come alive to Christ. From then on, he lived for Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to live only for you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, thank you for the nature you have given to surround us and to serve us. Thank you for the twitter of birds in the early morning, the rustle of leaves throughout the day, the twinkle of stars at night, the beautiful colours of flowers, the glory of a magnificent sunset and the crash of waves on the seashore. Thank you, Lord. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 9:2–13

THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE DEATH OF CHRIST

“We are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died”.

2 Cor 5:14 NIV

“The universal scope of Christ’s love and Christ’s death is seen not only in the words ‘one died for all’ but also in the enigmatic corollary ‘therefore all died’. We can understand that ‘one died for all’, but what do the words ‘therefore all died’ mean? The ‘all’ in both parts of the sentence is clearly to emphasize the universal, inclusive nature of Christ’s death; none is excluded from the sphere of God’s saving purposes in Christ. Paul ministered to ‘all’ because Christ loved all and died for all. Christ’s death for ‘all’, however, was for the definite purpose ‘that those’ to whom Paul spoke and who were still alive ‘should no longer live for themselves but for’ Christ. Christ’s death, in other words, was intended to

procure their ‘death’ – their ‘death’, that is, to self-centred living. The words ‘therefore all died’ state the universal scope of his saving death, but also give expression to the strong purpose that the death of Jesus should procure death to self. Such an understanding counteracts what Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’, purely passive, unmoved reaction to the death of Jesus for sinners. It is interesting to see how the words ‘that those who live should no longer live for themselves’ are balanced by ‘but for him who died for them and was raised again’. The one who receives reconciliation with God through the death of Christ now says ‘No’ to self and ‘Yes’ to Christ. There is no place for cheap grace here” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p110).

Examine yourself and see to what extent you are dead to yourself and live for Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to die to myself and live for you.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, on this holy day bless all who will lead others to new depths in their spiritual lives. Make worshippers everywhere keen to know you better and serve you more willingly. Help leaders themselves to grow in grace and spirituality. Help all Christian believers to increase in holiness and to follow Jesus more closely. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 8:23 – 9:1

ONE DIED FOR ALL

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died”.

2 Cor 5:14 NIV

What did a man dying on a cross in Israel have to do with the people in far-away Corinth which was in Greece? It was all related to the apostle Paul’s own inner experience. “How did Paul know that he was the object of Christ’s love? It was, he says, ‘because one died for all’. Formerly as a Pharisee and a zealot, the crucified Jesus and his followers had been the object of Paul’s hatred. His words ‘we are convinced’ indicate that a point was reached when he reversed his opinions. So far from viewing Christ as an object of hate because of his accursed heretic’s death on a tree, Paul concluded instead that he, Paul was the object of Christ’s love. Christ had actually died for him. In his crucifixion, Paul now understood, Christ had ‘died for all’, including Paul. Why did Paul change his mind? Clearly it was the Damascus Road event, in which the despised crucified one, now enveloped in glory, spoke to the prostrate Paul. Since glory could come only from God, the glorified Jesus clearly had the stamp of divine approval. The one crucified upon the tree was indeed accursed, but, as Paul now knew, it was because he bore the curse of sin in the place of all people. There is no power so great, no motivation as strong, as the knowledge that someone loves me. Paul’s understanding that Jesus, in his death, loved ‘him’, was now the controlling force in the apostle’s life” (P. Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, p109) .

Let it be the controlling force in your life too.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your love be the directing force in my whole life.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help all people who are fearful of life on planet earth. Teach them the faith of the ages and magnify their conception of yourself. Show them that humanity, whilst skilled in many ways, is limited in others. Help them to rejoice in the many advances made and make them hope in yourself and in the world’s progress. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 8:18–22

COMPELLING LOVE

“Christ’s love compels us”.

2 Cor 5:14 NIV

Henry Drummond called the love of God, “The Greatest thing in the World”. Again and again down the last two thousand years millions have endorsed that thought. What happened at Calvary was an act of barbaric cruelty and violence. Many and varied words have been used to describe what happened. And millions of people have been captivated, healed and empowered by the manifestation of love that was enshrined there. People’s lives have been changed by that love. Awful, lost, warped, evil, devil-possessed, and violent people have found themselves gripped by the love of Christ they found there and have glimpsed the depth of degradation in their poisoned lives as they have gazed at the dying Christ. And love – matchless, powerful, amazing, soul-saving love – has poured into their hearts and changed their direction for ever .

Paul the apostle was a murderer until he met Christ on the road to Damascus. In contemplating Christ, he met his maker and his master. And he was compelled to leave his murderous mission and tread the roads of Asia Minor and eastern Europe to tell people of that “greatest thing in all the world”, the love of Christ. So powerful was the impact of that love on Paul’s heart, soul and mind that he was driven to cities like Corinth, Athens, Rome, Philippi and Ephesus to persuade people to believe in the Saviour who had given his life for them.

It still compels saints, schoolteachers, doctors, dentists, plumbers, painters, actors and authors, housewives and hairdressers, farmers and firemen to stop, to abandon their old lives and live new ones, transformed, inspired, and renewed, driven and directed by the love that flowed on Calvary.

FOR REFLECTION

“Nay, but I yield, I yield! I can hold out no more,
I sink, by dying love compelled, and own thee conqueror”

C. Wesley .

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help me to overcome my fears. So many things confront me with the awareness of my smallness, my weaknesses, and my failings. Point me always to your greatness, your glory and your love, and help me to see beyond the seemingly impossible problems that confront the world and myself. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Matthew 8:1–17