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Introduction: This mini-series of Reconciliation & Transformation is part of ‘fishing the world’ to turn the church outward to engage in social transformation. I’m teaching on this because of the growing racism and polarization in our nation. Plus, the Church ought to be the reconciler and healer in society. I shared my story of crossing the divides in SA under Apartheid to seek reconciliation with brothers and sisters in Soweto. Then we had two weeks of story telling from people representing the major race groups in SA. Our stories of racial consciousness and hurt only find redemption and meaning to the extent they become part of and are interpreted by God’s Greater Story of Reconciliation and Transformation – else we may become imprisoned by anger and hatred.
Reconciliation is to ‘make peace’ (restore Shalom) by removing the cause of alienation and division, thus making the two one again (Matt 5:9). And transformation is a change of heart, attitude and behaviour, by God’s Spirit and our responses to his work in us.
So, here is the sweeping storyline of God’s work acted out in human His-Story:
God’s Seven Act Drama of Reconciliation & Transformation.
Act One: CREATION – God’s Garden of Delight
In the beginning God created all things ‘good’. He then created humanity (Adam & Eve) in his image and likeness (‘very good’) to rule under God over creation through Shalom. Shalom is more than peace: it’s God’s order, wellbeing, harmony & abundance, through right relationship with God, ourselves, each other and creation. The Garden of Eden (‘Delight’) was a replica of heaven on earth: Adam & Eve were ONE with God, each other and creation, in an exquisite eternal dance of delight, love and community.
Act Two: HUMANITY – The Rebellious Fall
God said to Adam & Eve, “eat from all the trees, except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – if you eat from it you will surely die.” But they rebelled against God and his rule, trusting Satan’s pride-full temptation to become like God and know good and evil. They ate from the tree. The Dance died. Shalom was shattered. ‘Death’ is ‘to separate’. Consequently, they (all humanity) experienced a fourfold separation or exile (Gen 3):
- From God (spiritual death)
- From their true self (psychological death)
- From each other (social death)
- From creation (ecological death)
BUT GOD came… and always comes to seek reconciliation in the judgement of death. In Gen 3:21 God introduced substitutionary death (blood sacrifice) of innocent animals to remove the cause of alienation and cover their sin. However, humanity lost The Garden of God’s Manifest Presence and Rule (Shalom), exiled into the desert of the world.
Act Three: RESTART – Noah, Babel and The Nations
Adam’s sinful offspring killed and did evil (Cain killed Abel). So much so that God judged them through the flood (death) and started over again with Noah’s righteous family, on a ‘new earth’ – the dove with an olive branch and the rainbow symbolise peace-making. But the one united nation from Noah, speaking the same language, rebelled with pride. Wanting to be God they built a tower into the heavens. God judged them by separating and scattering them via ‘confusion of tongues’ (Babel), exiled from his ruling presence to the ends of the earth. He assigned spiritual & earthly powers (rulers) over each language group to uphold the boundaries/barriers between the nations/cultures. See Deut 4:19, 32:8-9, Acts 17:26, Ps 82; Ezek 28, Isaiah 14, Daniel 10, Eph 6:12… there’s a progressive corruption of ‘the powers’/ ‘the gods’, all seeking self-worship (to be God), using the diversity and barriers as dividing walls, causing hostility and war. ‘Divide and rule’!
Act Four: ISRAEL – God’s Instrument of Reconciliation
Gen 11 is the Babel scattering into exile of the nations. But God immediately comes and sets about the work of reconciling these nations (Gen 12:1f). He calls Abram (his ‘seed’) as a new nation, God’s nation under his rule of Shalom, to reconcile and bless all the nations of the earth. Israel’s call and destiny was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6), to bring God to the nations and the nations to God: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6; 42:5-7). BUT the instrument of reconciliation failed, repeatedly sinning like Adam, like his offspring, like the nations. God judged and exiled Israel from his ruling presence, into the desert of pagan/evil rule. BUT God comes to his people in the prophets, promising he will end it all when he repents and restores Israel in ‘The Day of YHWH’, when he comes as King in his Messiah. Then he will give Kingdom reconciliation & transformation, for Jews AND all Gentile nations. Where Israel failed, God’s messianic ‘Suffering Servant’ will succeed as the substitutionary sacrifice (Is 52:13f-53:1-12). The prophetic vision of THE END (Act 7) is God as King in a Shalom-Kingdom, a new covenant, a new reconciled people (Jew & Gentile), in a renewed earth where his will is done as it is heaven.
Act Seven: THE END – Shalom!
John’s Revelation shows us The End: Messiah ruling his Shalom-Kingdom with his reconciled people ruling over a renewed creation, where all sin, death and evil, is fully and finally defeated and exiled forever in all its forms. It’s literally heaven on earth (see Rev 5:8-10, 7:9-17, chapters 21 & 22). “With your blood you purchased people from every tribe, nation and language, and have made them a kingdom of priests, and they will reign on the earth forever and ever” ALL of God’s rich diversity united as one in worship before his throne, doing his perfect will. BUT… THAT future, THAT End, broke into history 2000 years ago in Jesus, God’s Suffering Servant (Act 5).
Act Five: JESUS – God’s Reconciler
The young rabbi from Nazareth did for Israel and humanity what they could not do for themselves. As Paul said, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Messiah… he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness” (2 Cor 5:19-21). I.e. God came in Jesus as the Servant-King who suffered our sin and death, removing the cause of alienation from God, ourselves, one another, and creation, reconciling us at all levels of reality. In his life & ministry Jesus reconciled the opposites of society in his Kingdom community. In his death & resurrection he judged, defeated and disarmed ‘the powers’, destroyed the barriers, all dividing walls of hostility, reconciling and uniting Jews and Gentiles into ‘one new humanity’… “Jesus himself is our peace (Shalom)… making peace (restoring Shalom) through the cross…” (Col 2:15, Eph 2:14-16)
Act Six: HOLY SPIRIT – Through The Church
THIS reconciling work of Jesus is made real and personal by the gift & power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost (see Acts 2) was the reversal of the judgement of Babel: where tongues divided and scattered people into nations, God now gives tongues to gather & reconcile people across all divides/barriers, uniting them into one new humanity, GOD’S new Kingdom-nation, JESUS’ Church (1 Cor 10:32, The Church is a third/new ‘race’). God’s Spirit reconciles people of all languages, ages, classes, genders, etc, through the one broken body of Christ on the cross, into the one living Body of Christ the Church. We are God’s Reconciled & Reconciling Community, his prototype of heaven on earth, his means of reconciliation and transformation in the world. Do we realise, as followers of Jesus, we’re on the world stage playing our particular part in Act 6, participating in the fulfil-ment of GOD’S Great Drama of His-Story, to bring the curtain down, then up for The End?