(A five minute read)
I wrote last week that I see 2021 as the Year of Reconciliation. This comes in part because of the message in John 20:21, where Jesus says, ‘As My Father has sent Me, even so I send you.’ He then breathes on his disciples and says, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of anyone, they are retained.’
There’s a lot to examine and discuss in this little scene, and that will be a continuing topic of the writing here in 2021.
Reconciliation, that is, bringing together two parties who have been estranged from one another, leads to peace.
We talked about the 14th century English cleric John Wycliffe, who was branded a heretic for translating the Latin Vulgate bible into English. Wycliffe believed knowing the Gospel was sufficient for Christian conduct. He bristled against additional rules and traditions the church had invented to ‘govern men’s conduct.’
Wycliffe’s English translation reconciled the people of his nation back to the Gospel after generations of separation.
The apostle Paul used the phrase ‘ministry of reconciliation’ in his second letter to the Corinthian church. God, he said, ‘has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them,’ 1
He goes on to say that as we grow in Christ’s likeness, we are to do the same.
Like any good martyr, John Wycliffe is remembered for the things he did to tick off the people in power. He was excommunicated post mortem, which seems like a ridiculous thing. Sort of like sending a hate letter to someone whose address you’ve lost. Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing of an eternal nature (to uplift Shakespeare).2
Some historical context helps
Wycliffe’s world was one where the church had power over all of western civilization – even over kings. The Black Death had ravaged Europe – killing perhaps 200 million people. The church was powerless to stop it, which caused many people to begin questioning the church’s power. People hungered to know the Gospel for themselves.
Wycliffe was declared a heretic and the church threatened anyone who read the Scriptures in English. It burned those translations, when found. Like the destruction of Wycliffe’s body, these were small fires that lasted a short time. But the tinder for a fire of revival was placed and the wood was made ready as a result.
The forbidden fruit is always attractive. Church leaders forgot that truth from their own Bible.
Now, Some Biblical Context
Paul’s idea of reconciliation may come from the part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches about anger, and how corrosive it is. He says if ‘you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you’ leave the gift and go make up.3 Reconciliation must come before acceptable worship is possible.
If I understand Jesus as a God of relationships (as opposed to rule-following) then this business of unresolved conflict is mortally grave because it leaves me separated from God.
I must practice reconciliation immediately and completely. Otherwise, I carry the baggage of unresolved conflict, which causes long-term harm to my relationships.
In his ‘Studies in the Sermon on the Mount’, Oswald Chambers teaches that when I properly approach God in worship, Holy Spirit will remind me of any outstanding grievance I have. Chambers says it’s my duty to listen, listen well, and respond immediately and in full, with no reservations. As he put it: ‘Watch the thing that makes you snort morally….unless you are willing to yield your right to yourself…you need not pray any more’. 4
My self-righteousness (where I decide I won’t apologize because I was right and you were wrong) crowds out Jesus’ righteousness. It leaves my heart cold and unforgiving. Chambers refers to it as giving up my right to myself. That’s what I was supposed to have done when I gave my life to Christ, so I’ve no right to take it back.
I confess to doing this way too often.
So, Now What?
We have veered well away from the story of John Wycliffe, but his example was only a point of departure, after all. More important is that we’ve begun exploring the long history of God’s plan to reconcile this broken world and its people to Himself.
I’m glad you are here on this road with me.
1. 2 Corinthians 5:18
2. The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 5, Scene V
‘She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
3. Matthew 5:23-24
4. Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, pp 32-33. Discovery House Publishers, © 1995, Oswald Chambers Association Limited. (Used with permission)