Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the doctrine of reconciliation. I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but as I have read several key passages throughout Scripture pertaining to this doctrine, I have attempted to piece it all together as I see it. I think this doctrine is very important for every believer to understand. Because, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 we have all been tasked with the “ministry of reconciliation”. That is, telling others about what Christ accomplished on the cross, namely reconciling the world unto God.
Reconciliation means, “having made peace between two conflicting parties; ending an estrangement”. Reconciliation requires two or more parties at which enmity or conflict exists between them. In 1978, in what is known as the Camp David Accords, then President Jimmy Carter was instrumental in negotiating a peace agreement between the countries of Israel and Egypt. And, in 1979 leaders from these two countries signed the peace treaty known as The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, effectually ending years of conflict between these two countries. The two countries were thus reconciled.
There is another conflict between two parties far greater than what Israel and Egypt once encountered. This conflict, or separation, occurred between man and God. It first started thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden in which sin first entered into the world as a result of man’s disobedience towards God. In other words, man was the offending party and therefore death began its reign. This separation and estrangement continued on for thousands of years. To be clear God never separated himself from man. Instead, man separated himself from God. But, God took the initiative towards reconciliation.
Beginning with Abraham, God set out on a plan towards reconciliation which culminated in one single and momentous day on some obscure hill in Jerusalem. Upon this hill known as Golgotha is where God’s one and only Son was crucified and died on a cross, becoming the sacrificial offering for all of man’s sins. Essentially erasing all of man's sins and making a clean slate. This satisfied what was needed to not only atone for all of man’s sins, but reconciled all men to God. In other words, God did His part in taking the necessary step involved in bringing back together what was a broken relationship.
However, there are two parties involved, and since God has already done His part in reconciling man to Himself, now man must respond in kind by reconciling himself to God. This can only be accomplished by accepting God’s free gift of salvation, God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Any man who accepts this gift becomes fully reconciled to God resulting in a redeemed and eternal life as originally intended when God created Adam in the Garden of Eden. However, if a person chooses to reject Christ, he is not fully reconciled to God and will continue to spend all of eternity separated from God, both here on earth now and life thereafter.
"If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours—between man and God, between man and himself, and between man and man." (E. Stanley Jones)
Today is 12/12/12. Kind of a cool date that we won't see again for another 100 years. Is this a significant day of interest? Well, from God's perspective every day is a significant day. Every day has meaning and purpose. He has designed each day for His will to be done in people's lives as He strengthens those who are in Christ, and seeks to reconcile new relationships with those who know Him not. So yes, today is indeed a significant day. But, with all the mayhem and hoopla over the end-time euphoria and with many looking to the Mayan calendar to signify the end of the world as we know it, what does God's word, the Bible, say specifically about the number 12 and last days?
First, a disclaimer. The Bible is not some magical tome that one can tap into to determine specific dates and times for future events. The Bible does indeed describe events that will occur at the end of times. But, it does not give specific dates and times. In fact, Jesus himself states, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36). So, let us dismiss any claim that the Bible sets any date and time for the end of the world to occur. Nor, is there any "reading between the lines" using numerology to determine hidden secrets and mysteries. This is something often practiced by both pagans and gnostics alike, but is not something recommended for Christians to partake of (Deuteronomy 18:10-14, Acts 19:18-20).
So, when we look closer into Scripture, what is the significance of the number 12? And, how does this relate to us today and tomorrow at the end of times?
We know there were twelve tribes of Israel (Genesis 49). Jacob, the grandson of Abraham fathered twelve sons eventually becoming the names of each of the tribes of Israel. Their names are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Isachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Each of these sons, along with their respective tribes, played a significant role in God's historical plan leading to reconciliation and salvation through Christ. For example, it was from the tribe of Judah that Jesus came. It was Joseph who played a role in what would become the Hebrew's exodus from Egypt. And, it was from the tribe of Levi that the Levitical priesthood was established. All of these events pointing to a future High Priest and Lamb... our King Jesus.There were twelve judges who judged and led Israel spanning a 300-year timeframe. God used these judges and the events that transpired under their reign to rebuke, discipline, and to restore peace with the Israelites. Some of the significant judges include: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Jephthah, and Samson. The theme played out all throughout the Book of Judges is this: the people are unfaithful to God and he therefore delivers them into the hands of their enemies; the people then repent and entreat God for mercy, which he sends in the form of a judge; the judge delivers the Israelites from oppression, but after a while they fall into unfaithfulness again and the cycle is repeated. This too points us to Jesus, a great Judge who we will all stand before someday, a day where He will judge both the living and the dead (John 5:27, 2 Tiimothy 4:1).
Twelve is the age that Jesus first presents himself to the public. He is found "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47). And, it was also at this age that Jesus refers to God as his Father. His divine sonship, and his obedience to his heavenly Father’s will, take precedence over his ties to his family. (Luke 2:49). This is a significant claim and evidence that Jesus did indeed claim to be the Son of God.
There were also twelve disciples/apostles.
It was through these twelve that Christ taught His grace, truth, and demonstrated His love and mercy available to all people. These twelve would be instrumental in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, teaching and making disciples throughout Israel and beyond it's borders to "the ends of the earth". Some of these disciples would go on to author books of the New Testament, and most of these disciples would suffer martyrdom at the hands of those who sought to suppress the spread of the Gospel.
The Book of Revelation says that 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel (144,000) will be marked with a seal for protection against God's wrath in the last days (Revelation 7:3-8). It will be during this tumultuous time that the earth will be transformed from calamity and evil will be weeded out, eventually leading to a New Jerusalem and a new earth where Christ will someday reign with peace.Speaking of the New Jerusalem, the Bible says the city will be fortified with high walls "with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites" (Revelation 21:12). Furthermore, this new and wondrous city will have twelve stones as it's foundation "on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb"
(Revelation 21: 14). The greatest buildings, castles, structures, monuments, and wonders of both the ancient and modern world pale in comparison to what we will someday see in Christ's kingdom on earth. Until then, in the words of Mercy Me, "I can only imagine".
So, rather than 12/12/12 becoming a date causing great anxiety, concern, and doom-and-gloom. It instead can be a time to cause us to pause for a moment. A moment to allow us to reflect, rejoice and marvel at God's great plan that He has orchestrated for you and me. World events that have transpired and will yet to occur all pointing us to a Savior, a great King, that has saved us and reconciled us to a loving God. I look forward to that day when I bow down in humble adoration before our lovely King Jesus who will sit upon the throne in a New Jerusalem. Not reigning by violence, bloodshed, oppression, and greed. But ruling by His grace, peace, and majesty. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
Works. We are not saved by them. We are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). But, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are replete with examples and commands to love and serve others through our deeds and actions. It is not enough to only have faith in Christ to be a Christian in the truest sense. To be a Christian, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, yes. But, there should be something tangible to show for this. This outward showing of our faith is what the Bible often refers to as “fruit” (Matthew 7, John 15). And, this fruit is most demonstrated in the way we interact with the world and those around us.
The way I see it, as especially evident throughout the Gospels, is that there are two ways that we can be a great example of sharing and showing the love, the grace, and the truth of Jesus Christ. It is through both word and deed. And, there is no better example to look to than Jesus himself.
Almost always, Jesus showed His love to others by having compassion upon them. He healed the blind, the deaf, the lame, lepers, and paralytic. He dined with sinners and saved adulterers. He had compassion upon a bleeding woman, and wept with Mary and Martha. He brought back to life a young man named Lazarus. And, He healed a little girl with a high fever. He fed thousands of people with bread and fish, and cast demons out of many who were possessed. He looked to a widow for a lesson on faith. He loved those who were outcasts from society, including a Samaritan woman at the well and a prostitute who poured perfume on His feet. And, even while Jesus was dying He showed mercy for a criminal who was being crucified on a cross. This not to mention the greatest act of love the world has ever known… Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice for all of mankind in order that we may be forgiven, saved, and reconciled to God. He did all of these things through His deeds and actions.
Not only did Jesus show these acts and deeds of love by example, but He also shared with His disciples a story expressing the urgency and necessity for us to serve and love others.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:35-40)
Another way in which we serve and love others is through word. Or, simply put, telling others about the Good News of Jesus Christ. We tell them about Jesus not out of obligation, but because we genuinely care enough about them to tell them about Jesus and why He came and died for us. To tell them that there is indeed hope, there is more than what this world has to offer, that there is an abundant life much greater than this. And, it is found in a life surrendered to Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ last words before ascending to Heaven to be with the Father were these:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20)
We make disciples of people by sharing our faith, telling them about Jesus, and teaching them the importance of living in obedience to Christ. Yes, Jesus showed love to people by acts of kindness and compassion. But, He also proclaimed truth. Sometimes with such great passion that people were awestruck. So too, we should be eager to tell others about Christ.
So, what do we do with all of this? Do we quit our jobs, sell our homes, give everything away, say goodbye to our friends and family, and move to Africa to become a missionary? Well, quite frankly, for some of you that may be YES. We must all remain open to how God will lead us to be a salt and light to this world. If that means giving up everything here, to go over there, in order that they may see and hear about Jesus, then so be it. We are ALL called to serve others and tell them about Jesus. There is no thinking about it or waiting for a special calling from God. He has already called all of us. Nor, is missionary work reserved for those “special holy” people. It’s for everyone.
For some of you life changing service may simply mean to be much more involved at your church. It may mean that you devote more time to serve your community. It may mean that it’s time to share your faith with that coworker that sits in the cubicle right next to you at the office. For others, it may mean to prayerfully consider going on a short term mission’s trip to Mexico next summer. For others, it may mean to adopt a child from Compassion International or get involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters. For some of you it may mean showing a random act of kindness by raking your neighbor’s leaves or volunteering at a local nursing home. Maybe it’s time to be involved in a prison ministry or soup kitchen to feed the homeless. Maybe you adopt an orphan from Romania or get involved with a social justice project rescuing little girls from sex trafficking in Cambodia. Maybe you take up the cause of the unborn by counseling pregnant women who are considering abortion. Maybe you consider getting involved with Meals on Wheels and deliver food twice a week to those who are confined to their homes. Perhaps you volunteer at a Children’s Hospital or help out at the Special Olympics each year.
And, last but not least, maybe it’s time… time to prayerfully consider moving to another country where people have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Hard places like China, Indonesia, or Pakistan, where MILLIONS of people have never heard the name of Jesus. I adjure you to consider these things and ask God not when, but where He wants you to serve now.
In America, when someone chooses to follow Jesus, not much is at stake in the way of danger or persecution. For this, I have been very fortunate and thankful to live in a country with such religious freedom as this. However, in places like Albania where we currently live, when someone chooses to make this same choice they must also give serious consideration to the cost. They know this is not some spontaneous decision to be made based on some emotional plea or moving speech made by an evangelist. They know they may very well be ostracized and teased by others in their community for their new faith in Jesus. And, in some cases they may be disowned or shunned by their own family members.
Two weeks ago, four young men made a public profession of their belief in Jesus Christ. I peered into the eyes of one of these young men that I have recently been discipling as he thought through what it means to become a Christian. And, for a fleeting moment I believe I sensed some fear and apprehension in him as he truly considered the cost. This week, one other young man has surrendered his life to Christ. Covered in tattoos wearing a mohawk, he comes from the "rougher side of town" where drugs and gangs are the norm. He is proud to be a new resident in the kingdom of God and knows what this may entail as he goes back each day to face his friends. Considering the cost.
One of the young men who has been coming to our Bible study who is not a believer... yet, comes from a Muslim home. He tells me his parents are Muslim and he is having to be careful to come to our gatherings. Considering the cost. Another young man who recently professed a belief in Christ has been proudly displaying his necklace with a cross on it to show everyone that he is a new Christian. Last week, a man approached him and angrily ripped the necklace off of his neck saying he didn't "want to see that shit around here!". Considering the cost. And, one other young man who is also a Muslim has been consistently attending our gatherings for numerous months. He tells us he believes that Jesus existed, is real, but is not certain He is the Son of God. Nevertheless, he is drawn to our gatherings each week to hear more about this man we call Jesus. Considering the cost.
I am laying witness to what I believe is a great move of God here in our little obscure neighborhood in east Tirane. I am humbled by the young men that God has placed into my life; both those who are new believers in Christ, and those who are earnestly seeking the Truth. I have seen with my own eyes the transforming power of God in these men's lives. And, even though I am supposed to be the teacher who is bringing a message of hope to them, they are in fact teaching me many things. Namely, what it means to truly consider the cost to become a disciple of Christ. I firmly believe these young men will someday become the core of what will become a new church in our community, and who will one day be a great light upon this dark neighborhood. A light where people will see the never ending love, grace, and hope found only in Jesus Christ.
* If you think about it, will you please pray for: Rildi, Erjon, Ledio, Indrit, and Ilir. These are the young men that have recently considered the cost and surrendered their lives to Christ. But, please also pray for Sabi and Masarjo who are both Muslim and are being drawn to Christ, but still have questions and are uncertain at this time.