The Way of Reconciliation: How Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

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Jesus is relentless in his examination of anger: its roots, its ugliness, the damage it does, and the guilt we incur because of it. Along the way he continually underlines the fact of judgment.

We might be tempted to see “the judgment of God” as something arbitrary or cruel, but the truth is that because morality flows from the nature of the Creator God, judgment is woven into the fabric of our existence. That which does not align with God’s nature WILL come under judgment, not because God is petty, but because that is the way the universe operates. When we live in anger and contempt we will come under judgment within ourselves, among our peers, and finally before God himself.

Judgment is an end point. It involves accusation, exploration, and finally condemnation or acquittal. It brings consequences and labels one “guilty” or “innocent.”

Ultimately, judgment is good. Ask anyone in a country where justice is not practiced and the poor (for example) cannot get redress for wrongs done against them. In fact, Scripture testifies that the whole world cries out for God to come and “judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His faithfulness” (Psalm 96:13).

If you have ever been in a situation where you needed justice to be done for you, you understand how deep a need this actually is.

And yet, Jesus teaches us, there’s a better way. Judgment is good. But reconciliation is better.

The Way of Reconciliation

In Matthew 5:23-26, Jesus concludes his discussion of anger and judgment by urging us to get ourselves out of the “judgment loop” completely:

So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

As much as we all desire judgment on our own behalf, we human beings live in a catch-22: we are sinners too, just like the person who has sinned against us, and so when we haul another into court we find ourselves facing charges too. Jesus recognizes this, but rather than urging us to pursue justice at all costs and take our own consequences bravely, he urges us to another course of action.


First go and be reconciled, he says. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary. Don’t take it before a judge at all. Instead, recognize your wrongdoing and go to the one you’ve wronged. Apologize. Ask forgiveness. Humble yourself. Make things right where you can. Mend what’s broken to the best of your ability.

Get out of the judgment loop before you ever get before the Judge.

Be Reconciled to God

If we understand who Jesus, the God-man, truly is, we can see the startling truth of God’s own course of action. God has a long list of grievances against mankind. Judgment day will in fact come, when we all stand before the throne, and those who have never gotten out of the judgment loop will find they are hauled up on charges from which they cannot escape.

But before we ever reach that day, God comes to us in the person of Jesus and offers to reconcile.

This is all backwards, of course. It’s supposed to be the wrongdoer who goes to the offended party in humility and apology, seeking to settle, not the other way round. But this is the grace of God: while we were yet sinners, he loved us — so much so that he urges us to step out of the catch-22, to seek forgiveness, to be washed clean, to be restored in a relationship of peace and favor with the One we have wronged.

Some years later the apostle Paul wrote of apostolic missionary work:

Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the ministry of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

God’s love for us is so great that in the person of Jesus, he urges us to be reconciled with him now: to accept his forgiveness, be released from eternal consequences, be restored instead of put away.

And then he urges us to turn our eyes to one another and do the same: to share his heart for reconciliation, put aside our right to be vindicated and paid back, and embrace restoration with others instead.

The Cosmic Monkey Wrench

Satan, who is called “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10) and is said to accuse mankind like a court prosecutor day and night, thought he’d won by introducing sin into the world. He pitted God and humanity against one another, and since humanity would always be guilty, our ultimate fate could only ever be in a courtroom, hearing the gavel come down.

But Satan didn’t reckon with the power of forgiveness and the whole new pathway it opens up.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not quite the same thing. I can forgive another without ever being reconciled to them; reconciliation takes two people, and it will not always be realized. Jesus offers forgiveness to all, but many refuse to be reconciled to him.

Even so, forgiveness is a giant monkey wrench in Satan’s careful machinations: it wrecks everything he has attempted to do. When we go one further and actually reconcile with one another, bringing peace and wholeness where brokenness and ruin existed before, the satanic plan is forever ruined. We have returned to the garden, with God and with one another, and we need no longer fear the courtroom.

The Heart that Hurries

We do not live in a perfect world, and I know from experience that reconciliation is not often simple. Sometimes our efforts to reconcile with others will be turned down. But Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5 reveals the Father’s heart: if you find yourself in worship at the altar, offering your gift to God, and there remember that you have wronged someone and are not yet reconciled to them, leave the gift right there. Hurry and be reconciled. Close the gap as quickly as possible. Don’t delay restoration any longer than you absolutely have to.

God will not be offended that you left him hanging. Rather, he’ll smile on your heart, because it’s his heart. Even as he sat teaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s life was an invitation to be reconciled. He left heaven in a hurry to be reconciled to us.

(This is Part 46 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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