One of the intriguing things about living in America is witnessing the stark political divide between liberals and conservatives. I’ve noticed it even more lately flipping between CNN and Fox News’ coverage of the pandemic. It’s almost as if the American Civil War never ended, only people are being a little more… civil about it nowadays. But the hostility we see here isn’t unique to America, which is why what God did two thousand years ago is a remarkable thing. Fifteen hundred years before that, during the time of the exodus, God formally separated Jew and Gentile by rescuing the Hebrews from Egypt and making them His people. He gave them a Law which further differentiated them from the other nations and for centuries the Jewish people lived separate lives.
But through it all God had a plan, hidden away in the Old Testament, something called in the New Testament the mystery of the gospel. Paul refers to it in our reading from Colossians 1 – “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints” (v.26). That mystery is that God, all along, intended to bring the Gentiles into the hope of Israel – “how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v.27). This call of the Gentiles became the catalyst for many of the books of the New Testament. It was a calamitous time when Jew and Gentile were now called to become one body in Christ. The Jews tended towards being conservative, wanting to conserve their traditions and the Law given by God, and many of them felt threatened by the liberal Gentile community.
What brought them together was the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Earlier in the chapter Paul writes, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (v.19-20). It was for reconciliation and peace, terms synonymous for the bringing together in one body those who were natural enemies, that Christ died. Paul continues, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (v.21-22). The alienation and hostility between Jew and Gentile were solved by the blood of Christ.
But how? How did the death of Christ reconcile Jew and Gentile, and bring us all as one body reconciled to God? The initial answer to that question is seen in something rather ironic. Prior to his death, Jesus did bring together those who had been enemies. When the chief priests brought Jesus to Pilate we’re told “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other.” (Luke 23:12). And it wasn’t just those two men who were joined together at the time of Christ’s death: “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27). Here were Jew and Gentile working together to put Jesus to death.
What does that tell us? Jew and Gentile were equally culpable for Christ’s death. That’s where both conservatism and liberalism lead – sin. Paul outlines it in Romans where he illustrates the fact that “both Jews and Greeks are under sin” (Rom. 3:9). Jew and Gentile are on the same playing level, in the same boat. Ultimately, they are no different and it’s the realization of this fact, and their shared conviction of sinfulness, that enables Christ to bring them together.
The lessons for us are massive. Some of us are more conservative, others liberal in our thinking. It’s a fact of life that this will happen, and the tendency is for factions to form, like we have in America. Some of us want to conserve Christadelphian tradition, others want to be more progressive. It can cause alienation and hostility and we have to realize we can end up no better than those who joined forces to put Christ to death. When we come to Christ and reflect on his crucifixion at the hands of both Jew and Gentile it’s something that should humble us and make us realize, however right- or left- wing we are, we’re really no different from each other. We all need Christ. And we need each other. There was a reason God kept Jew and Gentile separate for one and a half thousand years. On display in the first century was a giant object lesson teaching us about the power and importance of reconciliation. When we become extreme in our Jewish-ness or Gentile-ness we’re no better than Pilate, Herod or the chief priests. We need each other to balance one another out. Jews need to be shaped by Gentiles, and Gentiles by Jews. So, when we consider one another, and slip into the natural tendency to alienate ourselves from those we think are too conservative or too liberal, remember Christ died for them too, and we need each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Simi Hills, CA