The Redemption of Esau (Genesis 33:1-20)

In the beginning, Moses tells us, when God created Adam, he put him in a garden in the land of Eden. And Moses made it clear, from the special language he used, that the garden was actually a temple, a sacred place where God could live in peace with his people. And Adam was actually a priest — the first human High Priest over God’s temple.

And Adam had two basic jobs as God’s priest:

First, he was supposed to work the temple. That is, he was supposed to help make the garden function as a place of worship.

Second, he was supposed to protect the temple. He was supposed to make sure that no unclean creatures or influences from the wilderness outside broke in and defiled the garden.

And the idea was that Adam and his wife were going to gradually expand the garden until all of the wilderness outside had been brought into proper order, until all the wild animals and the wild plants were domesticated. The idea was to turn the entire earth into a temple where all people and plants and animals were able to live and worship together in the presence of their Creator for all eternity.

But when Adam reached out and took what did not yet belong to him, he destroyed all this. Right away he discovered that his relationship with his wife was broken. Soon after that he discovered that his relationship with God was broken. And soon after that he discovered that his relationship with the rest of creation was broken.

And what this means is that mankind was made for worship. But because of Adam’s sin, we were driven out of the garden-temple, into the wilderness, and we have been struggling to worship ever since.

And what keeps us from being able to return to true worship is our broken relationships with God, with one another, and with creation.

And the story of Jacob’s life has been a vivid picture of what this looks like. Just like Adam, Jacob reached out and took what did not yet belong to him: he deceived his father and robbed his brother. And quite obviously this broke his relationships with his father and with his brother. And just like Adam, Jacob was driven out of the land — the garden — that God had called his family to work and protect.

The only thing that was not completely broken was Jacob’s relationship with God. Jacob had proven to be faithless; but God proved himself to be faithful, all the way through Jacob’s 20 years in exile: God walked with Jacob down into the valley of slavery and death, and then led him back up the other side into life and freedom.

And last week we saw Jacob finally arrive back at the border of God’s land. The guardian angels of the gate met him; God himself came down and wrestled with him, wounded him, and transformed him. And the last time we saw Jacob, he was limping through the gates of God’s country with the sun rising behind him.

So Jacob is home, after 20 years away!

He is back in the land that God has called his family to work and protect. He is back in the garden-temple of God’s presence.

And the place is a mess!

If Adam had done his job properly, the original garden of Eden in the east would surely have grown as far as the land of Canaan, and redeemed that country from the wilderness, and turned it into a garden of beautiful ecological order, full of people who knew how to properly care for plants and animals, a land full of true worship.

But Adam failed. And as a result the land of Canaan is still a wilderness. It is a land full of plants, animals, people, and worship — but competely disordered.

So it is Jacob’s job, as the latest High Priest — descended from Adam, descended from Abraham, descended from Isaac — it is Jacob’s job to start the process of cleaning out God’s land and bringing it into proper order for worship.

Now, obviously this is a huge job! It will take many generations, it will take a whole nation of priests all working together, and Jacob knows this. But still, he has to start somewhere!

Where is he supposed to start?

Well, Jacob has been transformed, declared holy by God himself. Which means that his broken relationship with God is now restored. And that is the most essential first step of the process. As High Priest, Jacob can now enter safely into God’s land and start getting the place ready for worship.

So now, what is the most essential second step?

Jacob needs to fix his broken relationship with his brother.

His job as the latest High Priest is to start cleaning up God’s land — and he needs to start by cleaning up his relationships with those he has sinned against.

And we already know Jacob is eager to do this: last week we saw how he sent a fortune in atoning sacrifices into the land ahead of himself. Those sacrifices are Jacob’s way of saying, “I am sorry, brother. I have wronged you. I want to pay you back somehow. Will you please forgive me?”

And so now, as Jacob limps into the land to rejoin his family, he looks up, and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. [2] He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear.

But — and this is where we see that Jacob truly has been transformed! — [3] he himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

[4] But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

So this is where we see that Esau also has been transformed.

The last time we saw Esau, he was an angry, violent kind of man who did not care at all about God’s plan to redeem the land of Canaan. He gave away his right to lead God’s family in exchange for a bowl of dal. He married two local women who were not worshipers of the true God, and then — when he realized that this had upset his father — he tried to fix it by marrying his cousin…except that he ended up marrying into the side of the family that had rejected God’s plan.

Well, we do not know the details; Moses did not tell us Esau’s story; but it is clear that God has also been wrestling with Esau for the last 20 years, getting him ready for this moment.

[5] Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.

Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

[6] Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. [7] Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.

And Moses wants us to notice a bit of an irony in these moments:

If you remember, back in Chapter 27, when Isaac blessed Jacob, part of that blessing was, “May nations serve you, and peoples bow down you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bown down to you.”

And if you also recall, at that time Isaac thought he was blessing Esau. Isaac’s intention was for Jacob to bow down to Esau. Instead, Isaac’s blessing guaranteed that one day Esau would bow down to Jacob.

But here, Isaac’s original intention is fulfilled: Jacob and his entire family bows down to Esau, and calls him Lord. Interesting, no?

Then [8] Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

And Jacob says, “To find favor in your eyes, my lord.”

In other words: “Brother, I know I have wronged you. Allow me to pay you back, make things right.”

[9] But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

[10] “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me.

“If you really have forgiven me, please prove it by accepting my sacrifice!”

And then Jacob goes on to say this very strange thing: “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”

What does this mean?

Well, if you remember, just a few minutes before this moment, when the sun was rising, and Jacob was realizing that he had actually been wrestling with God himself, he had named this place Peniel, which means Face of God, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

Last night, when Jacob was deep in the valley, trying to count the cost of actually crossing the river and entering the land, he knew that there were two barriers in his way: first, his broken relationship with God; second, his broken relationship with his brother. He knew that if he tried to enter the land without fixing both of these problems, he would die.

God fixed the first problem: he declared Jacob holy, so that Jacob could see his face without dying.

And now Esau has fixed the second problem: he has declared Jacob forgiven, so that Jacob can see his face without dying.

This is why Jacob says, “Seeing your face is like seeing God’s face! The fact that I am standing face to face with you now and I am still alive is just an amazing work of God’s grace and yours!”

So [11] please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.”

And do you see what has just happened here?

When Jacob sent these gifts ahead of himself, they were atoning sacrifices. They were an offer to make things right, a plea for forgiveness.

But now that Esau has forgiven Jacob — for free! — now Jacob wants to give these gifts to Esau even more. But now they are no longer sacrifices of atonement, now Jacob is offering these animals as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

[12] Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”

It turns out that these 400 men Esau brought with him were not an army, but an escort. Just like God, who sent angels out to meet Jacob and bring him safely the rest of the way, so also Esau has sent his men out to meet Jacob and bring him safely home.

[13] But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die.”

Remember, Jacob has just completed a very grueling speed run from his uncle’s house in the east. His people and his animals are worn out: they need several days or perhaps even several weeks of rest.

[14] “So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

[15] Esau said, “Well, okay, then let me leave some of my men with you, for protection.”

But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”

[16] So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir.

[17] Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.

And people have noticed, of course, that Esau’s home in the land of Seir is several days south of Peniel. But Sukkoth is actually one day north of Peniel. So Jacob has just told his brother, “You go on ahead, I will catch up to you later,” and then he travelled in the exact opposite direction.

Which leads us to think some strange thoughts about Jacob, doesn’t it?

Did he just deceive his brother again?

No. Jacob did just what he said he was going to do: he gave his people and his animals rest. He sent out his scouts to look for the very best grazing land in the area, and they came back and told him that there was good land just to the north. So he moved there and settled down for a few weeks, and built some temporary barns to shelter his animals and give them a chance to regain their strength.

Then, no doubt, he did travel south and spend some time with his brother. But Moses is not interested in that journey — that is a side story, it is not really relevant to the larger story.

Because — as I mentioned briefly last week — the land of Seir is not actually inside the land of Canaan. It is on the other side of the Jordan River, in the eastern wilderness. It is fine for Jacob to visit his brother there, of course. But Jacob’s main job, as the newest High Priest from the line of Adam, is to cross the Jordan River and start to work cleaning out God’s land, making it holy again, getting it ready for worship.

So Moses skips that whole part of the story where Jacob went down and hung out with his brother for a while, and he jumps forward to the part where Jacob actually starts work:

[18] After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. [19] For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. [20] There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.

And this is a deeply symbolic moment. Because this is not the first time we have heard of this place called Shechem.

Way back in Chapter 12, when Abraham first arrived in this land, the first place he stopped was at the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. To the people of Canaan that great tree was a sacred tree, that place called Shechem was a place dedicated to the false worship of false gods. And so, we are told, Abraham build an altar there to the Lord: the first thing Abraham did when he arrived, was claim that sacred place for his God.

Now, just like his grandfather Abraham, Jacob has arrived at the great tree of Moreh.

And now, for the first time, we are told that there is a city nearby. And archaeologists tell us that this city of Shechem was a major gateway into the land of Canaan. It served as a major crossroads betwen the north-south and east-west highways, and it controlled more than ten roads that led up from the Jordan River. So this place called Shechem was not just a major center of false worship, it was also a major center of political and economic power.

And so, just like his grandfather Abraham, Jacob has also chosen to purchase property just outside one of the strongest points in the land. And just like his grandfather Abraham, Jacob has set up an altar there. And — just so there is no confusion for the local people about what he is doing — he has named his altar El Elohe Israel, which means “El is the God of Israel”. In other words: “This — all this — now belongs to my God!”

Jacob has accepted his calling as High Priest of God’s land. Now that his relationship with God and with his brother is restored, he is free to start the process of working the land and preparing it for worship. Just like Adam, Jacob is starting small, with just one tiny point of holiness in the midst of a great spiritual wilderness: this plot of ground where his family is camped, the place where this altar now stands. But from this small centerpoint, Jacob is going to begin the great task of reaching out to the surrounding nations and sharing the blessings of God. And he has decided to start with the city of Shechem.

But we are going to get to that part next week.

In the meantime, as we do every week, we have come to the point of the sermon where we ask, “What does this mean?” We already know that Moses is a shepherd, a pastor, so he must be trying to teach his people something through this episode.

What is he trying to teach them?

Well, last week we definitely noticed that the story of Jacob’s escape from his uncle’s house strongly resembles the history of Israel’s escape from Egypt. Jacob’s journey down into slavery and back up into freedom has matched up, point by point, with Israel’s experience.

And so we understand that, by writing down this history, Moses is trying to encourage his people to continue in faithfulness to the God who is faithful to them. By showing his people how God worked to redeem the man called Israel, Moses is showing how God is at work now to redeem the nation called Israel. And by showing his people what Jacob did after God brought him safely into the land, Moses is showing his people what they are called to do after God brings them safely into the land.

So what did Jacob do?

First, he fixed his relationship with God. Or, rather, God fixed his relationship. That way he could enter the land safely.

Second, he fixed his relationship with Esau, with his family.

Third, he began the process of preparing God’s land for worship — which he did by setting up an altar and starting to worship!

So, by extension then, what should Israel do?

Well, first, they need their relationship with God fixed. They need to be made holy before they enter the land.

Second, they need to fix their relationships with each other.

Then, third, the people of Israel need to set up an altar and worship together, giving thanks to God — as a community — for bringing them safely home.

And, by the way, Moses did not just imply that this is what his people should do when they enter the land: he actually said it explicity, in great detail, in his Book that we call Deuteronomy.

In Deuteronomy, near the end of the book, Moses gives his people explicit instructions about what they are supposed to do after they enter the land:

The first thing he tells them is to collect 10% of the land’s harvest and bring it to the priests as an act of thanksgiving. And then, Moses says, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. And he says, Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

This is meant to be the first great act of reconciliation and forgiveness that the people are to perform. This is supposed to be the beginning of bringing justice into God’s land, the beginning of true, healthy community life.

And the second thing Moses tells them is this: after the people cross the Jordan River, they are supposed to travel to a very particular set of mountains called Ebal and Gerizim! And there they are suppose to build an altar. And Moses says, sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God!

Now, why am I so excited about this?

Because the city of Shechem stands at the eastern end of the valley that runs between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. So, just as Abraham built an altar in this valley when he first entered the land, just as Jacob built an altar in this valley when he first entered the land, so also the people of Israel are commanded to build an altar in this valley when they first enter the land: laying claim to the eastern gateway of God’s garden-country, and beginning the long process of leading the nations back to the path of true worship.

And the people of Israel did do what Moses commanded. The details are all there in the Book of Joshua, which comes right after the Book of Deuteronomy. I will not go into the details of it all now, but I will tell you that the journey ends with the people of Israel building an altar and worshiping in the valley of Shechem, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.

And, we are told, during their worship, Joshua read God’s Law and preached to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who lived among them.

So what we are seeing here is that Moses intended Jacob’s history to be a model for Israel to follow. God does not leave his people guessing about who he is and what he wants from them. He tells them directly: “I am the God who has redeemed you from slavery and made you holy! And in return all I want is for you to live in worshiping community with one another and with me. And I want you to work with me to lead every nation into true worship!”

And God does not just tell his people these things, he also shows them, again and again, what these things are supposed to look like in real life.

Which leads us to the place where we say, “Okay. Then what is this episode meant to teach us? What is this supposed to look like in our real lives?”

Well, on a very big, literary level we already know that the story of Jacob’s homecoming is a preview of Israel’s homecoming. But if you have been with us for the last few weeks, then you also know that Jacob’s life is also a preview of Jesus’ life.

Last week, especially, we saw how Jacob’s night of wrestling with God was perfectly fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We saw how, through Jesus’ faithfulness to his Father’s plan, every baptized believer has been raised up out of the darkness, made holy, and carried across the river into God’s presence, into God’s temple.

So last week we discovered that Jesus has already completed the most essential first step of our journey back to true worship: Jesus has fixed our relationship with our Father.

And so now that we are here, in God’ country, what is the most essential second step?

We need to fix our broken relationships with one another.

See: mankind was made for worship. We were made to lead worship, to teach the creation around us how to worship, so that every plant, every animal, can know and love God according to its ability. But in order to accomplish the task of leading creation into worship, first we must start with the people around us: beginning with those who are closest, and then those who are further away. Before we can bring order to the earth, we need to bring order to our relationships.

This episode of Jacob’s life shows us that, when God really redeems someone and raises them to new life, one of the first things they want to do is seek forgiveness from those they have wronged.

And this episode also teaches us that seeking forgiveness from others is a necessary part of worship. There is no true worship without community, and there is no true community without confession and forgiveness. It is not enough to simply have our sins forgiven by God; we also need to have our sins forgiven by people we have sinned against. As we are drawn back into the garden of Eden, we are not simply returning to community with God, we also returning to community with one another.

As we have seen, the history of Israel shows us this same step by step process.

So what we are learning here is that there is an unbreakable link between reconciliation with God and reconciliation with people. We are learning that both of these things together are necessary steps on our journey back to true worship.

In fact, there is an even stronger and more uncomfortable way to say this: if we claim to be forgiven by God but we absolutely refuse to seek the forgiveness of people we have sinned against…then most likely we have not been forgiven by God. If we claim to be a Christian, but we absolutely refuse to try to live in true community with other Christians…then most likely we are not a Christian, and our worship is not true worship.

I think the Apostle John said it most clearly — and uncomfortably — in the New Testament: “Anyone who does not does not love their brother and sister is not God’s child. Whoever does not love does not know God.”

So the Old Testament and the New Testament both teach the same thing: if we have no desire to confess our sins and try to make things right with those we have hurt, then the Holy Spirit does not actually live within us, and we do not know God at all. We might know a lot about God, we might even have some very deep emotional worship experiences — but none of that actually matters. This is why Jesus gave us this very stern warning:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on Judgement Day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Only the one who does the will of our Father in heaven will enter Christ’s kingdom and truly worship.

And what is the will of our Father in heaven? That we should love one another.

It is as simple as that.


But scary. Right?

Because if you are anything like me, when you hear all this you start to think, “Oh. So…am I loving my brothers and sisters enough? And…if I am not loving them enough, does this mean I’m not really a Christian? Maybe I had better work harder at this!”

And then, perhaps, after working harder for a while, I give up because: some people are just really hard to love! Especially Christians! Nothing drives you crazier than your own brothers and sisters! — am I right?

But seriously, though: if my salvation depends upon my willingness to love others, and if true love for others means making things right with those I have wronged and asking them for forgiveness — then how can I be saved?

Because — look: I am not able to do what God wants, for at least two reasons:

First, even if I was willing to make things right with those I have wronged, really I know this is impossible. Many of the sins I have committed against other people are not the kinds of sins that can be paid back.

Second: even if I am able to pay my victims back for what I have done…still they might not choose to forgive me. Which means that we will not be reconciled. And if I cannot be reconciled with them, how can I love them? And if I cannot love them, does this mean that I am not in fact reconciled with God?

We all know, in the deepest parts of who we are, that we cannot atone for our sins, and that we do not deserve to be forgiven by those we have wronged.

And as a result, most people in this world live lives of quiet desperation and isolation. We go to worship in our various temples and mosques and chapels. We nod and smile. We do all these religious things, trying to convince ourselves and everyone else that we really are good people, when all the while we are living in fear and secrecy. And those secret sins are devouring the spirits of all mankind.

So: what are we supposed to do about this? What is our solution?

Well, as we have already noticed, this episode of Jacob’s life is supposed to help us know more about who God is and what he wants from us. And so far we have focused on what God wants from us: he wants us to live in a community of restored relationships. Without this, there is no true worship.

That is clear.

But — as we have just experienced — if we focus too narrowly on what God wants from us, we will quickly fall into doubt and despair — because we simply cannot accomplish what God wants.

So now, in our search for a solution to our despair, it is time for us to go back and remember, again, who God is. We go back and remember that, by writing down this history, Moses is trying to encourage God’ people to continue in faithfulness to the God who is faithful to them. By showing us how God worked to redeem Jacob’s relationship with Esau, Moses is showing us how God is at work now to redeem our relationships with one another.

For instance: Jacob does send a very large atoning sacrifice ahead of himself. He tries to make things right. And that is good! — that is what true repentance looks like.

But did you notice? His sacrifice was actually rejected: it did not save him! Jacob could not actually pay back the birthright and the blessing he had stolen, and so Esau refused to let Jacob pay him back.

So if Jacob’s repentance and sacrifice did not actually save him, how was he saved?

Through the work of God alone. We don’t know how it happened, but God changed Esau’s heart so that he was transformed from a murderer to a forgiver. Esau did eventually accept Jacob’s sacrifices — but only when they had been transformed from a payment into a simple gift, given out of love and gratitude.

So who is God in this episode? He is Jacob’s redeemer. He is the one who does what Jacob was powerless to do. It is God who made Jacob holy so that he could enter the land. And now we find that it is God who fixed Jacob’s relationship with Esau so that Jacob could enter into true worship.

And that is great for Jacob, of course. But what does it have to do with us?


We have already discovered that Jesus has completed step one for us: he has restored our relationship with our Father so we can enter safely into his presence. But he has also completed step two for us! Just as he did for Jacob 4000 years ago, Jesus has also fixed our relationships with one another so that we can continue the task of leading the nations into true worship.

How did Jesus do this?

Well, the Book of Acts in the New Testament tells us that as soon as Jesus had completed the essential first step of restoring his disciples’ relationship with God, Jesus moved right on to the essential second step: he restored his disciples’ relationships with one another. Fifty days after he had been crucified, Jesus poured out God’s Holy Spirit upon his disciples, and — just like Joshua once did — they preached to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the foreigners who were there in Jerusalem: all of them speaking dozens of different languages from dozens of different nations.

And what was the effect of this preaching? Many thousands of people repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. They were made holy, carried across the river into God’s new land, into God’s new, global, international nation called the Church.

And what was the result of this baptism? Community and worship. We are told that, immediately after being baptized, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has restored our relationships with one another. He began with those who were closest to him — the Jewish people — and then he moved on to those who were far away: the rest of the nations of the world. And that is why we are here now!

Okay. So what we’re learning is that Jesus not only restored our relationship with God, he also restored our relationship with one another by pouring out his Holy Spirit upon all of God’s children.

But really, seriously speaking, what practical effect does this have on our lives?

Because the truth is many of us still struggle to experience this reality. We struggle to be willing to make things right because we know we cannot actually fix what we have broken. And we struggle to ask for forgiveness because we strongly suspect that the other person will not forgive.

So how is Jesus’ work of restoration and reconciliation supposed to make a difference in our lives?

Well, let’s work our way through these fears and see how:

First: we are afraid to try to make things right because we know there is actually no real way for us to make things right.

And that fear makes sense, because that is simply the nature of reality: once you take a bite out of the fruit, there is no way to put the bite back, even if you spit it out right away. We cannot restore the fruit.

But this also means that this is actually not our problem to solve. If God wants to really restore what we have broken, he will have to do it himself. And the bible promises us that, if we have been baptized into Christ, then Christ will restore all things himself!

So that is Good News!

Second: we are afraid to ask for forgiveness because we know there is actually no real reason why the other person should forgive us.

And that also makes sense, because that is simply the nature of reality: it is impossible for us to truly fix what we have broken in their lives, therefore we do not deserve their forgiveness.

But, once again, this also means that this is not actually our problem to solve. If Jesus wants them to forgive us, he will have to make it happen himself.

But what if Jesus decides that he does not want them to forgive us?

Well, that is painful when it happens. And it does happen. But the bible promises us that, if we have been baptized into Christ, then Christ himself has forgiven us, even if one of our brothers or sisters refuses to.

That is also Good News!

So, now, back to our question: how is Jesus’ work of restoration and reconciliation supposed to make a difference in our lives?

This is how it works: as we reflect on these realities — that Jesus has already forgiven us completely, and that he will someday fix completely what we have broken — as we keep on preaching these realities to one another, we will begin to find our fears melting away. We will begin to find the courage to go and confess our sins to those we have hurt, to go and offer to try to make things right, to go and ask for forgiveness.

So if you are sitting there thinking, “Uh oh, it sounds like I am not loving my brothers and sisters properly. I am afraid to confess and repent and try to make things right. I am afraid to ask for forgiveness. Does this mean I am not really a Christian?” —

Not necessarily. It could be that you are just a young Christian. It could be that Jesus is just beginning his work of chipping away at your pride and fear and unbelief.

So if that is you, and you are eager to help Jesus speed up the process, then this is what you should do: keep worshiping with us here. We take great care to preach the realities of the Gospel every week. We try to bathe in them, surround ourselves with them, speak them to one another on Sundays and every day, because we know that filling our lives with these realities will transform us over time. So join us, join our community, and be transformed with us.

Now, if you are sitting here thinking, “Uh oh, I’ve been a baptized Christian for many years already and I am still struggling to be honest about certain things, I am still struggling to admit when I am wrong and ask people for forgiveness! Does this mean I am not really a Christian?”

Again: not necessarily. It could be that you are simply an immature Christian. And if this is true of you, then what this means is that — even though you have been a baptized Christian for a long time — you have not been bathing yourself in the realities of the Gospel. Either you have not been faithfully attending a church, you have not been living in Christian community…or you have been faithful to a church that is not preaching the whole Gospel. It could be that you have been living in a Christian community that only focuses on what God wants from you, instead of also telling you who God really is.

If this is you, then this is what you should do: start worshiping with us here. We take great care every week to tell one another as clearly as possible who God really is. That way, when we find out what he does want from us, our work ceases to be a fearful sacrifice of atonement, and begins to be a sacrifice of thanksgiving and joy and love.

In conclusion: friends, we are a nation of priests, and we have a job to do. We are called to build altars, to form church communities — to build holy points of worship in the midst of a global spiritual wilderness. And then we are called to lead the nations around us into worship. One day this world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea!

— but this great work starts here, among us, in our relationships. Our worshiping community, our love for God and for one another, is the power that will finally transform this earth into the temple it was always intended to be.

So: let us love one another! Let us confess our sins to one another. Let us do our best to take responsibility for what we have done wrong. Let us ask one another for forgiveness. And let us forgive one another as God’s Spirit gives us the courage.


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