thumb licks [thanksgiving edition]

Building relationships before sharing Christ? Impossible!

Making most of turkey day: thanksgiving on missions.

Family Tensions and the holidays.

World population grows to 7-billion. Our world has changed since the pilgrims landed on the rock.

Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog. This Thanksgiving commit to give outside your family.

A PLAN for giving generously.

Big News: God reconciling the world to Himself.

Are you moderately or extravagantly grateful?

37 ways to love one another.

Tears of the Saints.

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 3]

What does it mean to reconcile a relationship? What are some of the greatest stories of reconciliation you have ever seen or heard? Elizabeth Barrett was involved in a childhood accident that caused her to be an invalid. She also had a tyrannical father that treated her with disrespect. When she became older she met Robert Browning. Elizabeth’s father disapproved of the relationship and request for marriage. So in 1846 they married in secret and sailed to Italy where they lived for the rest of their lives. Her parents disowned her, but she did not give up on trying to communicate and reconcile with her parents. Almost weekly she wrote her parents letters. Not once did they reply.

After 10 years of writing her parents Elizabeth received a large box in the mail. Inside the box she found all her letter; not one had been opened. Today Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s letters are among the most beautiful in classic literature. Had her parents only read a few of the forgiveness packed poems their relationship with Elizabeth might have been reconciled.

Jacob Steps Up Like a Man [Genesis 33:1-3]

Jacob is now a new man with a new name and new future of God’s blessings and faith. After wrestling with God he is now empowered to meet his brother. While he sees his brother coming with a posy of 400 men, Jacob puts his people in ranks. He put his servants on the frontline, Leah and her children in the middle, and Rachel and her children in the back of the pack. Rachel gets the safe spot because he loved her and Joseph.

Jacob does hide out in the rear to take cover; rather he steps up to the front line. He doesn’t know if he will be killed, but it is a rick he’s willing to take believing in the promises of God. He has faith in God’s protection enough to put himself in harm’s way for the first time in his life. As a sign of humility and apology he bows his body before his brother. What we see is a complete change in character for Jacob.

Jacob Reunites with his Brother Face-to-Face [33:4-11]

In one of the most forgiving moments in Scripture the prodigal brother comes home. Esau responds like a mature older brother, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” [Genesis 33:4] The reunion between Jacob and Esau comes after twenty long years of separation. It is a beautiful portrait of forgiveness. Esau runs to Jacob and lovingly embraces him in forgiveness and welcomes him home.

Jacob blessed his brother with generous gifts that he attributed to God’s provision. Esau did not need them because he too had become a wealthy man. Also, he releases any and all claims on his birthright. Jacob compares seeing Esau like seeing God [cf. Genesis 32:30] because both now and when he wrestled God Jacob is graciously spared. It is obvious that God had been working on the hearts of both men.

Esau offers his Protection [33:12-20]

Because of his many animals and young children Jacob was not able to go jump fast in making the journey all the way home. Esau offered to leave some men to protect Jacob’s household, but by faith he declined stating that God would indeed protect him. Jacob then worshiped God by building an altar at Shechem, which was the first place where his grandfather Abraham had been visited by God and built his own altar [cf. Genesis 12:6-7; 28:20-22; 31:5]. What a wonderful portrait of a transformed man now worshiping the God of Abraham and Isaac, but also now the God of Jacob.

Put yourself in Esau’s shoes for a moment. It is not often that we think about the situation from his perspective. What would you have done? Would you have been hesitant to reconcile your relationship with your brother? What should you do if you are hesitant to reconcile? Look to the example of Jesus Christ. He reconciles man to God and is our means and motivation to reconcile with one another [2 Corinthians 5:11-21]. Jesus is the Reconciler. And you might also consider:

1. Be honest about your motives. Make sure your desire is to please God and not get revenge [cf. Joseph and his brothers].

2. Be prayerful about the situation. Jesus said that you must pray for those who mistreat you [Luke 6:28; cf. Hebrews 4:16].

3. Be willing to admit how you have added to the problem [cf. Matthew 7:1-6].

4. Be mindful that God is sovereign over the situation [1 Corinthians 10:13].

Jacob’s Journey—from recluse to reconciliation [part 2]

Jacob’s journey is a lot like watching WWE [Royal Rumble]. Jacob’s life is a total man soap opera. We have already learned that Jacob—the trickster—gets tricked into working 20 years for his uncle [Laban] and tricked into marrying his two daughters. The elder sister [Lazy-eye Leah] is named cow and looks the part, while the younger sister [Red hot Rachel] is cute as a lamb. Sibling rivalry between the sisters lands Jacob with 12 children. Jacob’s home looks a quite redneck, but in the sin-spiraling drama God sovereignly keeps His promise to Jacob and calls him back to the Promised Land.

Jacob heads home and gives his brother a heads-up [Genesis 32:1-8]

After being away from mommy [Rebekah] and his ticked-off brother [Esau] for two decades Jacob decides it is time to pack up his family and journey home. On his way angels meet him at the border of the Promised Land. They are a sure sign of God’s protection and presence upon Jacob [cf. 28:15].

Jacob then realizes at his homecoming he will have to face his brother Esau whom twenty years early he had ripped of his birthright and father’s deathbed blessing. So Jacob sends messengers to Esau giving him a happy, “Hello, I’m coming home bro!” The message is simple: I am coming soon and I got gifts. Jacob was seeking peace and desired to bless Esau with gifts hoping make up for the blessings he stole from Esau. The messengers did their duty and returned to tell Jacob that Esau was coming with four hundred men who were either an entourage to welcome Jacob or an army to thump him. Thinking the worst, Jacob splits his people and animals into two groups hoping that at least one could flee and survive if attacked.

Jacob comes to God in faith [Genesis 32:9-21]

Jacob faith seems to be growing slowly since he first encountered God in a dream [28:10ff]. In a short prayer we learn a lot about his faith and his view of God.[1] First, he remembers God’s promises to his dad and grandpa. Second, he confesses his sin to God. Third, he thanks God for His faithfulness and steadfast love. Fourth, he acknowledges his fear and admits his utter dependence upon God for deliverance.

Jacob’s prayer teaches us a lot about prayer. If I were Jacob I would be pleading God for mercy with a mountain of requests, “God can’t you see I am about to die? Won’t you do something? You promised! Help!“ However, Jacob doesn’t freak out, rather he comes to God with prayers of worship and thanksgiving. How often do you come to God with praise and “thank you” for what you do have before you ask for what you do not have?

Before Jacob met his brother he packaged a very large gift for Esau, wrapped each with a shiny bow, and had them delivered one by one. It was like a parade minus the clowns and candy. He did all this with the hope of winning over his brother’s affection to wipe the slate of offense clean. There is a sense that the motive of Jacob’s heart is fear of what his brother will say and do. It is no less appropriate to pacify an offended brother than to appease an offended God.[2]

Jacob gets thrown down and in the ring with God [Genesis 32:22-32]

The same night, Jacob and his family cross over the border into the Promised Land. Once they crossed over safely Jacob was left alone without bodyguards or protection. A man comes to Jacob and whacks him. The man initiates a physical struggle, but Jacob’s strength is regarded and he would not give up until the man gave him a blessing.

At dawn [cf. Exodus 33:20; Numbers 12:8], the two men stopped wrestling and the man changed Jacob’s [meaning trickster] name to Israel [meaning wrestles with God and perseveres]. He transitions from a one who tricked to get ahead to a man of faith who trusted God to bless and protect him according to His covenant promises.

For a one hundred year old man it is fitting that the other man would strike Jacob on the hip and throw it out of joint. This wound would mark Jacob for the rest of his life with a limp. Everyone who saw Jacob limping around would know it was God that fought him and blessed him. Jacob’s journey with God climax that night, but he came out a God-worshiper. I would rather limp with my dignity than walk without it. And I would rather limp with a blessing than skip without one.

This could be one of the strangest stories in the Bible because it leaves us puzzled and asking, who is this unnamed man who wrestles with Jacob? The struggle is not elaborate, but it is certainly deliberate. The man’s identity is reveal—He is God [or pre-incarnate Christ, 32:28; cf. 16:7; Hosea 12:2-6]. Through the wrestling match Jacob grows in faith to the level that he becomes a servant of God and is ready to reenter the Promised Land as a new man with a new name. The point of Jacob’s journey is not that he was wrestling with Laban or Esau, but rather he was wrestling with God. A lot like you and me, don’t you think? There is a lot from Jacob’s journey that we can learn about God and how He interacts with you and me.

First, just like Jacob, we wrestle with God [vs. 24-26]. There are a lot of ways we can wrestle with God other than a physical fistfight. Like Jacob you have been warring and striving against God from birth. You might be wrestling with God’s calling upon your life (i.e. which school, what job, who to date/marry), with difficult truths and doctrines (i.e. God’s Sovereignty, human responsibility), with the difficulties or tragedies of life (i.e. death, health, family struggles), with personal struggles with sin (i.e. repentance, confession, freedom), and with your salvation. Jacob’s struggle began when he stepped into the border of the Promised Land. When you push the boundaries with God get ready for a wrestling match.

Second, just like Jacob, when God touches you, you are never the same again [vs. 25, 31]. Third, just like Jacob, God is still in the name changing business [v.28]. In the Old Testament, one’s name and one’s nature were synonymous. Jesus name was given to Him because he saved people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. Jesus changed Peters name, which changed the course of his life from fish to people [John 1:42]. Jesus promises all who follow Him a new name [Revelation 2:17; 3:12]. You need to have your ‘name changed’ and live out of the right one, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” [2 Corinthians 5:17] “Clothe yourself with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” [Ephesians 4:24] Which name are you living out of today?

Fourth, just like Jacob, God does not let self-serving, self-sufficient, independent people into the Promised Land [v.30]. Only they who depend on God in faith get to go and rest in Him. You can strive to get there by your own goodness or good deeds, but as Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able” [Luke 13:24] and “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:23-24]

[1] This is the first recorded prayer and only extended prayer in Genesis.

[2] The pericope of Proverbs 16:1-15 joins together pacifying God (16:6) and pacifying the king (16:14). Bruce Waltke, Genesis. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 2001. P. 444.

creations need for reconciliation with its Creator

I am the product of the normal dysfunctional American home, which means my parents divorced before I was able to speak, I was in and out of special education classes in school, needed specialized counseling, and struggled with parental authority until after college. I am grateful today for my family situation and how God used it all as a means to mature me into the man I am today. However, when I was younger, I was not so grateful. In fact, I was bitter, jealous, self-centered, and had ungodly expectations of my parents, especially my mother.

It was until the summer after college, I came under conviction for my sinful expectations and need for reconciliation with my mother. After years of church, 4-years of Bible College training for the ministry, and life of ministry awaiting ahead God convicted me through His Word and His Spirit, “Justin, if you are going to be a vehicle of reconciliation into the lives you are ministering and have not reconciled with your own mother, you are living a lie. I have reconciled your relationship with Me. How dare you are slapping Me in the face.” By the end of that summer I sat down with my Father seeking forgiveness, and my mother seeking reconciliation for my hidden expectations. And God reconciled.

First, God promises to conquer sin and remove it from His creation [Genesis 3:15]. In the beginning of the fall of mankind, God gives a glimmer of hope. This verse is known as the protevangelium, or the first proclamation of the gospel. In the seriousness of the situation, Adam’s sin, gives a sobering mention of a seed of salvation. Although centuries of conflict will follow this fall, a day would come when the seed of the women triumphed over sin. Eve’s daughter, Mary, gives birth to the promised seed. “He”, namely Jesus, the promised seed [Galatians 4:4], will one day crush the head of Satan [Galatians 3:16-19]. In a sense, as followers of Christ live under the gospel and become reconciled to God they are destroying the devil and his work [Romans 16:20].

Second, God works throughout history to reveal Himself and reconcile His creation to Himself. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 22, God progressively works out His redemptive plan. In Genesis, we will see His plan worked out through Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and later with Moses, David and the prophets. God is relentless and passionate about His redemptive purposes for the people of this planet. God remedies creations need through the Redeeming Seed. He is the climax of history and the saving activity of God. He conquered sin, death, and Satan.

Third, God uses sacrifice as the means for reconciliation. It is a sacrifice that clothed Adam and Eve [3:21]; a sacrifice where blood was spilt because of sin. God provided this sacrifice. God initiated reconciliation and provided its means. What the Lord Jesus Christ is called in 1 Corinthians 15:45 is the second Adam. That the first Adam failed, and that the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ succeeded.[1]

Interesting connection, in the Garden before Jesus’ death, remember who comes to the second Adam? The serpent. The serpent tempts Jesus as He did Adam with food. He also tempts Jesus with pride. He takes Him and shows Him all the kingdoms of the earth, and says, “You can rule and reign over all. You don’t need to go to the cross and suffer. All you need to do is bow down and worship me.”

The first Adam allowed the serpent to speak. Jesus steps in and speaks. The first Adam allowed the Word of God to be misquoted. Satan again, in his temptation of Jesus as Adam, misquotes Scripture and changes its meaning. But Hebrews 4:15 says that every moment that the serpent came to tempt Him, He was tempted in every way as you are, yet without sin. At every moment that the serpent came to Jesus, He emerged sinless, triumphant, and victorious.

And so the serpent devised one final plan. As he had caused the first Adam to kill himself via sin that led to his death, he knew that he could not get Jesus, the second Adam, to kill Himself, so he decided that he would simply kill Him. In Luke 22:3, we are told that Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ own 12 disciples. He possessed Judas Iscariot, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah in which a friend through a kiss for 30 pieces of silver would betray Jesus. Indeed, Jesus was betrayed. Jesus was handed over. And Jesus was ultimately murdered unjustly.

Colossians 2:13-15 says that though this appears as a victory for Satan and his minions, it was the greatest victory in the history of the world for the Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus did something extraordinary. He took sin upon Himself.[2] And Romans 5 says, “We’re either in the first Adam – dead, or in the second Adam – alive.“ Are you dead or alive? Which Adam do you follow? The Second Adam is your only hope of salvation and a forever. Follow Him.

[1] Cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 12.

[2] Struggle, affliction and suffering won the battle over the serpent. Cf. Isaiah 53:12; Luke 24:26, 46-47; Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 1:11.

cross-centered relationships

What is at the center of your of your life? Your center is what is your main thing, your top priority, and the thing you most passionate about. It is what defines you. Your center is clearly seen in what do you talk about or what is on your mind the most. Commonly it is a relationship, passion, career or cause. Have you seen your center change over the years?

What is the one thing God says must be our center? In 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul says that our first importance is the cross of Christ—the gospel. The cross is like a hub with spokes to a wheel. It affects everything you do—your passions, career, causes and relationships. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ and begin a relationship with the God of the universe that I realized my relationships with my parents, friends, and authorities could be different.

For those who do not know God the cross is silly and stupid. “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18] People hate the work of Christ because it runs so contradictory to the way people think and live. The cross is foolish because people do not make the connection from what Christ did on the cross to how it impacts their life. The cross is crucial to all our relationships. If you say you have a relationship with God, the proof of it is how you view your relationships. How does the cross impact my relationships: with my parents, friends, authorities, or dating partners?

1. The cross is the means to change my motives within relationships [2 Corinthians 5:14-15]. Jesus went to the cross not because he thought it was going to be fun or a vacation to the beach. It was hard, painful, and torturous. He could have backed down, but He didn’t. He was motivated by love and joyful obedience, even when people mocked Him and beat Him and bullied Him.

First, my relationships must be motivated by Christ’s love. This is often difficult because we are motivated by getting things from people. We are consumers. We view our relationships as people owing us attention, love, and respect [note Pharisees: John 12:43; Luke 7:47]. We say to our parents, “You owe me a nice room with privacy. You owe me new clothes for school and respect for my possessions.” We think our authorities and friends should treat us fairly and respectably. If you think people owe you it will frustrate you because you often do not get what you want.

My esteem does not come from self or others, but comes from Christ. I have Christ-esteem [v.15]. The question is not what do people owe me, but what do I owe them? “Owe no one anything, except love each other.” [Romans 13:3] “Walk in love as Christ loved you.” [Ephesians 5:2] “The love of Christ controls us.” [v.14] I owe others love because God commands me to love one another [Colossians 3:12-17]. If I am a genuine follower of Christ I am able to love others because He has loved me [1 John 3:7-21]. The cross is proof of His love [1 John 3:16]. The cross shows just how horrendous my sin is, but how immense is God’s love. The cross puts me on equal terms with everyone else. I am no better, and no worse.

Second, my relationships must be motivated by joyful obedience. I am willing to submit to others authority in my life because I see it has benefitted me to submit to God’s authority. God protects and provides. No longer do I need to live in the frustration of being a man pleaser, but in the joyfulness of becoming a God pleaser. My motivation as a follower of Christ is not what other people think about me, but is God pleased with me [2 Corinthians 5:9].

2. The cross is the means of dealing with conflict in relationships [2 Corinthians 5:16-19]. The cross challenges my attitude towards those I have something against [v.17; cf. Titus 3:1-11; Colossians 3:8-15]. Often when I have something against another person I want to control the situation by letting them feel my pain or know my hurt. However, God says that vengeance is not yours and when we take wrath into our hands we make a mess of the situation [Romans 12:19]. Only God can be God. So how does God desire us to deal with conflicts?

What if I have sinned against someone? What if I have blow it and messed up a relationship? As a new creation in Christ I seek reconciliation and forgiveness for your sin. What if they do not accept my forgiveness? You cannot control their response. You have done your part. Trust God to minister to them [v.18-19]. What if it is physically impossible to ask for their forgiveness because of death or distance? If death take your unforgiveness to God, but if not write a letter or call the person you have something against.

What if someone sinned against me? If someone has wronged you and you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness or rage seek their forgiveness for your sinful attitude. You can, “Forgive as Christ forgave you.” [Ephesians 4:32] because “Love covers a multitude of sins.” [1 Peter 4:8] Love is powerful.

What about those who don’t seem to deserve my love? Have you heard it said, “Hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me”? The Bible says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.” [1 Thessalonians 5:15] What does it say about you if God can forgive sins eternally, but you cannot forgive someone? The proper response is to confront in love pointing them to the cross. In the cross, there is no one undeserving of God’s love.

Some people are fire starter while others are fire extinguisher. Who are you? An attitude of humility, gentleness, and understanding can diffuse many arguments, tensions and disagreements. “If any man is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” [Galatians 6:1ff] “Let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:8-9]

3. The cross is the means to restore broken relationships [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. The cross makes our relationship right with God and gives us the ability to reconcile our earthly relationships because we are ambassadors of reconciliation [v.20]. The cross attacks the issues that hurt relationships. The cross attacks and defeats sin. The cross does not tear down a relationship with God it builds up. Teenagers are champs at knocking others down with their teasing and tearing words. This has no place in the life of a Christian, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” [Romans 14:19]

How has the cross impacted your relationships with God and others? The proof of your relationship with Heavenly Father is seen and heard in your earthly relationships.

Quick Q&A on Cross-Centered Communication in my Relationships:

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at home with my parents? What if my parents are on my case? What if we do not get along What if they have does something to you that scarred you really deep? Begin with the road towards reconciliation and obey joyfully as to the Lord [Ephesians 6:1-3]. As you honor your parents you are really honoring God.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like at school with my teachers or at work with my boss? Trust God who appoints all your authorities [Ephesians 6:1-9; Titus 3:1ff] Even if some are unfair or unreasonable God has placed them into their positions of authority. Remember your boss is ultimately God. The way you work can be a shining light for God’s glory.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like with my friends? If you see your friends sinning be willing to confront their sin [cf. Matthew 18:15-17]. This is what good friends do—they hold one another accountable. A loving friend does not sympathize with sin; rather they help their friends overcome sin. Also, humbly accept confrontation for your sin too.

Q: What does a cross-centered relationship look like in my future marriage or dating relationships? [More on this the next few weeks] Check out: 1 Peter 3:1-7, Ephesians 5:22ff, and 1 Corinthians 7.

reconciliation by the way of the cross

Hostilities and tensions between people are a serious part of this world. From the Middle East to mid-town America there are people who cannot get along even amidst peace talks. Will peace ever come? Can real peace be a part of our world? How can I be at peace with my overbearing family member, bullish co-worker, “frenemies,” or nagging church member who is consistently unfair or unreasonable?

Dealing with these deep-rooted tensions are not easy. God is well aware that we need to be at peace with one another. Peace usually does not happen through 1000-page peace talk agreements, becoming the next Dr. Phil family, grueling divorce settlements, or court ordered conflict resolution seminars. Permanent peace can only happen through the reconciling work of the cross of Christ.

Real Tensions & Religious Hostility [Ephesians 2:11-12]

When Paul writes to the Ephesians he is aware of the tensions between new Christians coming from Gentile and Jewish backgrounds. It was not easy for the new community of Christ to worship with one another. Jews and Gentiles came from radically different backgrounds, but through the cross they are can come together as one.

The tensions between Israel and the world have been happening ever since God chose them to be a His holy nation from among all the pagan and idolatrous nations of the world [Deuteronomy 14:2; Isaiah 43:1]. The Bible describes the special covenant relationship God has with the Hebrews, as His people [Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Romans 9:4-5] for His glory [Isaiah 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11]. Their circumcision marked physically their covenant relationship with God [cf. Genesis 17]. The Jews were given special access to God through their priesthood and possession of the Temple, which is where God dwelt [Exodus 29:42-43]. God designated the Hebrews as a divine picture displaying His glory to the world.

According to the Jews, the Gentiles were uncircumcised pagans who lived like wild, scavenging dogs.  Therefore, the Jews segregated themselves from Gentiles. Over time the Jews had a deep hatred towards the Gentiles for their irreligious practices and debase lifestyles. To the Jew, there was no debate, salvation was of the Jews.

On the flipside, the Gentiles viewed the Jews as weird because of their legal forms of clothing, behavior, and biased religious practices. They viewed the Jewish circumcision as mutilation of baby boys. They thought the Jews were unsociable because they refused any contact with Gentiles. Imagine what it would been like if you were a [spiritually] unclean Gentile having a Jew take a religious bath after touching or meeting with you, or calling you an “uncircumcised dog.” Not a way to win friends and influence people.

Now Paul, the author of Ephesians was a Jew, which is quite common of other characters in the New Testament. He lived by the Law and loved being a Hebrew [Philippians 3:5]. Before coming to Christ he was a Christian killer because it was offensive to think that another group of people would claim to be the people of God [Galatians 5:11]. It wasn’t until Paul met Jesus on the Road to Damascus that his eyes were opened to the reconciling work of Christ. He realized that without Christ—as a Jew or non-Christian—meant no eternal hope. Jesus, the Messiah, was a radical paradigm shift in the Jews understanding of God’s divine plan for humanity. All the promises that were given to Israel were now open to the rest of the world through Christ.

Your Spiritual Emancipation Proclamation [Ephesians 2:13-18]

“And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages…And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”[1]

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered all slaves to be freed. This began the long road to restoring peace and equality between all Americans. It took about 100 years before racial reconciliation took effect through the leadership of Martin Luther King in the early 1960’s. To this day these tensions are still real in our world.

In Ephesians 2:13-19, Paul writes about our Spiritual Emancipation Proclamation. Through these words, “But now in Christ,” [cf. 2:4] we are given seven distinct benefits of Christ’s peace: we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” [v.13], He “has made us one” [vs.14], He has “broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” [v.14], He “created one new man in the place of two” [v.15], He “reconciles us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility [between Jews and Gentiles]” [v.16], He “came and preached peace” [v.17], and through Him “we have access in One Spirit to the Father” [v.18]. Herein is documented our freedom, which was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Peace appears 4 times in this passage. The world’s idea of peace is often living in prosperity and happiness without the interference of harm or imposition of rights. However, the biblical idea of peace means to put together two things that have been broken. What is broken? Man’s relationship with God is broken. How is it made right? The cross of Christ reconciles mans relationship with God [vertically] and mans relationship with one another [horizontally]. To reconcile means to set up or restore a relationship of peace not existing before. It is the thought of a ravaged wife desiring to be reconciled to her husband who has left her; a worried mother longing to be reconciled to their prodigal; or a lost sinner needing to be reconciled to God. How huge it is to reconcile a sinner to a peaceful relationship with God.

In Christ, we have freedom and the gateway to become reconciled with God and man. Jesus unveils to all men—Jew and Gentile—on one eternal plan: in Christ, we have one Savior, one cross, one body, one new man, one Spirit and one Father [4:4-6; Galatians 3:18; Colossians 3:11]. Christ reconciled the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles, making it possible for any man to become right with God because “He is our peace.”

Israel was once the display of God’s glory, but now in Christ the church would be the display of His glory. Today it is common to believe there are two covenants—one for Jews and another for Christians—however, biblically there is only one New Covenant given to man in Christ. There are not two ways to God; rather there is only one way to God [cf. John 14:6]. As John Piper argues this may appear intolerant, disrespectful, undemocratic, unpluralistic, offensive or anti-Semitic,[2] rather it is biblical and Christ-centric. Jesus, the Messiah, has become the focal point of redemptive history, and both Jews and non-Christians need Jesus because He is their only peacemaker.

Together we are Building the New Temple of God—The Church [Ephesians 2:19-22]

Being one in Christ for both a Jew and Gentile Christian would have been a cultural and spiritual adjustment. Think about what it would have been like to be a Jew and hear that Christ abolished the Law of Moses or to be a Gentile and know that the Temple of God was no longer a physical structure. A Jew would ask, “Why did Jesus abolish the law?” The simple answer, is that there was no longer a need for the Law because Jesus has fulfilled the Law. The Law of Moses still has its uses, primarily in showing people their sinfulness and ultimately in providing the basis for the condemnation of Jews who do not believe in Christ [Luke 18:18-27; Romans 2:14-16].

The Jewish temple in Paul’s day was an enormous building. In fact, Herod the Great modified the Temple in Jerusalem to be an eye-catching structure. In Ephesus, there was another temple, the Temple of Diana, which was a magnificent structure that some say rivaled the Parthenon. For both the Jews and the Gentiles worship in a Temple was a vital and central part of their lives. However, those in Christ—the holy temple—within the church are now the gathering of people worshiping God. It important to realize YOU are the place God dwells? You reflect Christ.

It would have been a huge and humbling pill for a Jew to swallow to acknowledge a Gentile as being a part of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, let alone “citizen” of the same divine kingdom. Through Christ, Gentiles have been invited into God’s divine plan and believing Jews have been invited into the church of Christ.

The church at large is a beautiful picture of God’s reconciling work through the cross of Christ. The Church is the living organism, which displays the Glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Head and High Priest of the church interceding on behalf of its members. We all function as priest having access to God anytime and anyplace. We are the living stones of His Temple [1 Peter 2:5], being built up in Christ, who have Him as our chief cornerstone. Without Him the whole thing crumbles. Without Christ there is no foundation to build upon, no stones can fit together, nor can the building grow [vs.20-21].

Like was said in the beginning, dealing with these deep-rooted tensions and hostilities are not easy. God is well aware that we need to be at peace with one another. Permanent peace can only happen through the reconciling work of the cross of Christ. If God can reconcile Jews and Gentiles in Christ, what other relationships can God reconcile? Your overbearing family member, bullish co-worker, “frenemies,” or nagging church member who is consistently unfair or unreasonable.

[1] An excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation written by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

[2] John Piper, Israel and Us Reconciled in One Body. September 27, 1992.

[3] Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program. Moody Press, Chicago. 1972. 34.