In April I shared some thoughts I originally addressed to our Jews for Jesus leadership council. Those thoughts included loving God, loving people and loving God’s gospel mission. We are continuing to process these simple but crucial mandates.
Our love for God compels us to love others and to want them to be reconciled, first to God and then to one another. Yet reconciliation with God is a thoroughly supernatural event. It can only occur through the transformation of the new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Praise God for the new birth! Short of experiencing it yourself, seeing others come alive to God is absolutely the most thrilling event one can witness. Once you see it, you are never the same.
In a sense, evangelists get to be spiritual obstetricians. Sometimes we see new birth after much “labor” (many visits and prayers), but other times we “happen” to be in the right place at the right time!
For example, we were elated by the following missionary report by Amy Moore as she was wrapping up this year’s Passover tour: “Sandy* and Rick* are a Jewish couple who came to a Christ in the Passover presentation I did two years ago in South Dakota. Tonight they came to my meeting with their son, and I found out that since I last saw them, they both prayed to receive Jesus as their Messiah! And that night I got to pray with their son, Seth,* to do the same! Seth is in a doctoral program at University of Chicago and knows some of my friends, so I’m going to try to get him connected. Pray for Seth as he learns what it means to follow Yeshua!”
To be a part of an entire family’s reconciliation with God is a powerful event like none other!
Isn’t it amazing that God wants to use ordinary people like you and me to help people find peace with God? Paul says, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).
We know the miracle of being reconciled to God cost Jesus His very life. And here’s the thing—it’s bound to be costly for us to be committed to this “word of reconciliation.”
The Scriptures encourage us to wrestle with an interesting paradox. We are commanded to have our feet shod “with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), all the while remembering our Messiah’s words, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
…reconciliation with God sometimes leaves us estranged from others, even those we love dearly.
It is hard but true that reconciliation with God sometimes leaves us estranged from others, even those we love dearly. As you read “Bits from the Branches,” you see that this cost weighs heavily on the minds of people we meet with.
Our founder Moishe Rosen spoke about when he first came to Christ. He felt that if he could only show his father from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he would believe. After hearing Scripture upon Scripture, Mr. Rosen finally reached out and closed the Bible, telling his son, “This book has come between you and me.”
When Moishe asked if there was anything he could do to show his father that he loved and respected him, the answer was, “If you should see me walking down the street, do me the favor of crossing to the other side so I don’t have to.”
Are we willing to count the cost, to experience the disapprobation of others in order to offer them the opportunity to hear and believe and be reconciled to God? To really love someone is to risk their displeasure, if there is even a chance they might hear and believe.
But what about the reconciliation that’s needed between followers of Jesus? Few seem willing to pay the price to be reconciled with their own brothers and sisters in Christ, despite the price that Jesus was willing to pay for us to be reconciled to God. For all the squabbles that occur among us, those who don’t know the Lord might find it hard to understand what Christians mean when we say that we are saved by grace. Of some, it might well be asked, “Where did grace disappear to after it saved you?”
Naturally we are more comfortable expending energy on people who agree with us than we are seeking reconciliation with those we’ve offended or who have offended us. But what kind of reconciliation includes only those who share our views on one thing or another? We might find cheap ways to gain an uneasy appearance of peace rather than experience genuine reconciliation with others. In this, we become imitators, not of Jesus, but of the world.
Consider the toxic climate of this current election cycle. The discourse is so often simply the drawing of battle lines and casting of aspersions, rather than presenting a real way forward. People say whatever they feel they need to say to win/keep their opponent from winning, giving little hope of creating or perpetuating anything other than the dysfunctional status quo.
This is where Jesus is so radically different. Instead of seeking the support of those who are (at least outwardly) God-fearing, He actually suffers and dies for the very people who spit on Him and treat Him like nothing. In so doing, He doesn’t become less, but makes it possible for them to become more. The true power of reconciliation shines brightest when people who are so obviously lost turn to Him and receive His grace.
Even so, it is between those who have disagreed most strongly that the power of reconciliation becomes most evident.
It’s good to hang out with other believers who encourage and affirm our faith… but it’s also important to care for those who do not share our love for God. Do we find ourselves repelled by those whose sin identifies them as the very people Jesus would have chosen to share a meal with—much to the Pharisees’ chagrin?
Do you know that even today, some scorn Christianity because we are required to forgive our enemies? They just don’t realize that apart from Jesus, we are all enemies of God! The forgiveness we offer is no greater than the forgiveness we have received. That is the secret of forgiveness—remembering how the debt of our own sin was nailed to the cross. That is what brings us as His ambassadors to places like Berlin, where Jewish people have been killed simply for being Jews. (See our Berlin feature in the pdf version of this newsletter.)
If we are committed to seeing people really flourish, to seeing the true power of the gospel at work in our lives and the lives of others, we can expect it will mean a Christ-like sacrifice that leads to real transformation. It won’t be easy, but it will always be worth it.
*not their real names