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When We Were Enemies

Our world’s a mess. Just about anywhere you look there is conflict and strife. The news is filled with the butchery that’s going on in the Middle East. There are wars all across Africa. Russia and Europe are facing off over Ukraine. India and Pakistan are fighting over who owns Kashmir. Even in places where people aren’t actively killing each other, nations like China and North Korea threaten violence against their neighbors.

The year 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Most of us know people who fought in World War II or in the Korean conflict. If we haven’t been personally affected by the wars in places like Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, the Gulf, Afghanistan or Iraq we know people who are.

It shouldn’t surprise us that our world is torn by strife. Jesus said it would be this way. He told His disciples, ““When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”” (Luke 21:9-11 NIV)

All we have to do is reflect on history, or look around us, to see that what Jesus said is true.
But why is it this way? James asks the important question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” He goes on to answer it: “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3 NIV)

As James says, selfishness and greed are major causes of war. Somebody wants something someone else has and decides to take it by force.

However, there is another cause of strife and conflict. Both Peter and Jude write about people who reject authority (2 Peter 2:10, Jude 8). When enough people rebel against the authority over them, it leads to revolution or civil war. Our own country was born out of rebellion against the British Crown. A century later we fought by far the bloodiest war in our history because a significant number of people chose to reject the authority of the central government. Those in the South called it the “Second Revolution”. Their opponents in the North called it “The Rebellion”.

These tendencies toward selfishness, greed and rebellion against authority have been with us right from the beginning. Why else did Adam and Eve eat the fruit God told them not to eat? Unfortunately, the same tendencies are still at work within us. There is something within us which wants to push the boundaries. We chafe at restrictions. We like the thrill of getting away with something we weren’t supposed to do.

The odd thing is that even though we can make excuses for ourselves and justify why it is alright for us to take what we want or to defy authority, we don’t like it when someone challenges our authority or defies the boundaries we have set. For example, we get upset when our children deliberately break one of our household rules. You know something? God feels the same way when we rebel against His authority. He regards rebellion just as vile as witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23)

When our children reject our authority and go their own way, it causes alienation and strife between us and them.

When the citizens of a country reject the authority of their government it causes alienation and strife.

When we reject or defy the authority of God it causes alienation and separation between us and Him. As Isaiah writes, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1-2 NIV)

But though our rebellion against God’s authority separated us from Him, His reaction was very different from ours when someone defies us. When our children rebel, we want to punish them. When citizens rebel, the government tries to coerce obedience through force of arms. When we rebelled against God, He gave us Jesus. We’re all familiar with John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)

The Apostle Paul expands the thought, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:8-11 NIV)

Jesus paid the price for our rebellion. He took our penalty on Himself. God treated Him as a rebellious enemy so we might be reconciled. It is because of what Jesus did for us that we remember Him each week. We eat the bread to remind us of Christ’s broken body – when it should have been us that was broken. We drink the juice to remind us of Christ’s blood – shed for us in place of ours.

Today as we eat and drink let’s give thanks that Christ reconciled us to God in spite of our rebellion and selfishness.

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