Peacemaker / Reconciler

It was a perfect autumn day weather-wise back in October of 2014 within the Lycus Valley of the former Territory of Phrygia in southwest Turkey. After leaving our tour bus we began climbing a steep hill with no steps. After about fifteen minutes we found ourselves standing on the top of the barren acropolis containing the remains that once was Colossae. Two photos of Colossae, one showing the acropolis, can be found here: The other shows some huge rock-like slabs that formerly formed the walls of some enclosures. To the west, at a distance of about 100 miles is the Aegean Sea and what was formerly a major seaport, the cosmopolitan city of Ephesus.

It is fascinating to recall that while under house arrest, most likely chained to a Roman soldier, the Apostle Paul wrote at least four letters, two about the same time, which went to the same location namely, Colossae. One was addressed to an individual, Philemon, who is believed to be a wealthy landowner. The second was to an assembly of believers in that location. The latter Epistle seems to suggest that Paul had never visited this city, since it only speaks of him having ‘heard’ of the Colossians’ faith, Col. 1. 4. His knowledge undoubtedly came about through a fellow prisoner named ‘Epaphras’, Philem. 23. It is widely held that Epaphras was a convert of Paul during the latter’s three years of ministry in Ephesus, Acts 20. 31. Most likely, Epaphras not only established an assembly of believers in Colossae, but in two other towns also located in the Lycus Valley, namely, Hierapolis and Laodicea. Colossians chapter 4 verse 13 reads, ‘For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis’. Paul mentioned in his letter to Philemon his hope to visit Colossae upon being freed from prison, Philem. 22. However, most Bible scholars seem to agree that there is no evidence that Paul ever visited that location.

It is intriguing that in both of these letters Paul raised the subject of reconciliation. Perhaps, it is the most important spiritual activity in which a believer can be engaged - and it usually comes with a cost to the one who initiates it. Like no other time in world history, the crying need in our cities, states or provinces, countries, and the entire world is for peace and harmony to exist between disputing factions of mankind. I would suggest to you that the United States is presently divided almost as badly or worse than it was when Abraham Lincoln took office when the issue of slavery tore the nation apart.

Paul drafted a tender and touching letter to Philemon. He wrote on behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave who had wronged Philemon. The details of the offence are not stated, although it is speculated that Onesimus had fled after stealing money. Sometime after going absent without leave, Onesimus came into contact with Paul. He may actually have been arrested and imprisoned alongside Paul.

Alternatively, he may have previously heard Paul’s name (as his owner was a Christian) and so travelled to him for help. After meeting Paul, Onesimus became a Christian. A feeling of affection grew between them; Paul would have been pleased to keep Onesimus with him. However, he considered it more prudent to send Onesimus back to Philemon with an accompanying letter, in the hope of effecting reconciliation between them as they were now Christian brothers. Paul stated in his letter, verse 18, that if Onesimus owed anything, Philemon should charge this to Paul’s account, even though it would be a genuine sacrifice for Paul to reimburse Philemon in this manner. The preservation of this letter suggests that Paul’s request was granted. What a great illustration of human reconciliation!

Incidentally, the costliest example of human reconciliation mentioned in the scriptures is that of Joseph forgiving his ten older brothers. They hated him and took the opportunity to rid themselves and their father of him by selling him. He ended up in Egypt where he spent upwards of eleven years in prison before being elevated to the second in command behind Pharoah.

To the greatest degree possible, the God of heaven has committed Himself to provide supernatural assistance, on a number of occasions throughout history, to God-fearing mankind in order to achieve overall peace. For example, ‘[Jehovah] will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword will not go through your land’, Lev. 26. 6. The Apostle Paul wrote the following in a letter to the church at Colossae. We read, ‘For it pleased the Father that in Him [Jesus Christ] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven’, Col. 1. 19, 20.

Reconciliation presupposes the existence of a former state of harmony and friendship. Such a state originally existed involving Adam and Eve with God; their oneness was expressed and enjoyed. Sadly, this couple put an end to this treasured relationship by their sin.

Though the Creator God is ‘angry with the wicked every day’, Ps. 7. 11, yet He is never unwilling to accomplish reconciliation. But man, whose carnal mind is enmity with God, is naturally averse to this reconciliation. Colossians chapter 1 verse 20 indicates that our Lord took the initiative to reconcile all things to Himself. Jesus’ atoning work is full and broad. He made peace through ‘the blood of His cross’. This ranks as the most costly and painful instrumentality that the world has ever witnessed in order to bring about the restoration of fellowship.

Psalm 22 describes the four sets of enemies that were present at the cross - Jewish religious leaders, the Jewish commoners, Roman soldiers, and evil spirits (as represented by the bulls of Bashan). They repeatedly and viciously cast invectives against our suffering Lord and seemed not in the least emotionally moved by the sight of His physical anguish. We note that God did not ‘meet us halfway’. Our Lord comes to us all the way, and invites us to accept the pardon that He Himself has made possible for us. He laid the foundation for it; He did everything needed to mend the relationship - it was the ultimate sacrifice!

Colossians chapter 1 verses 21 to 23 describes how the greatness of Jesus’ work on the cross personally touched the lives of the Colossians. ‘And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight’. Using the phrase ‘the body of His flesh’, although seemingly superfluous, indicates that Paul wanted to emphasize that this happened to a real man on a real cross. ‘Blameless and above reproach in His sight’ is the result of God’s work of reconciliation. Taken together, these words show that in Jesus we are pure and cannot even be justly accused of impurity. Note that a breach of that friendship was overcome by a reconciliation of man to God, and not vice versa. Sin made us enemies; the cross has brought peace. Sin created a gulf between us and God; the cross has bridged it.

During a period of twenty-five years, my wife and I worked on behalf of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship in hosting in our home various groups of international college students. Initially, we gave a driving tour of the city where they would be studying. Subsequently, we brought them to our house for dinner and fellowship. During these years, only two Islamic graduate students accepted our invitation - L from Indonesia, the country with the most Islamic followers, and F from Iran. A presentation of the gospel was made after dinner. It was not certain in our minds whether or not we had presented the gospel clearly enough to these two girls. My wife, Joanne, recalls questioning F regarding her faith. She replied that she was not a Christian. Several years had passed when, surprisingly, we heard from her. It was in the form of an interesting picture postcard from Iran since she had returned there. This postcard was quite graphic. There was no writing on it. It showed only a deep and wide chasm and a cross lying on its side bridging the separation. It indicated to us that F had understood the message of the gospel and perhaps had received the Lord by faith.

Finally, Romans chapter 5 verse 10 states, ‘For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life’. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father where He daily lives to make intercession for us His people, and to provide assurance that the reconciliation He obtained by His death benefits us into eternity.

Editor’s note

All quotations in this article are taken from the NKJ version of the Bible.


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