In his detailed description of salvation and our part we play in the grand scheme of God’s plan for the ages, Paul takes moment here to reflect a little bit on Jews and Gentiles.
Unless you’re Jewish by birth, today’s passage—like Romans chapter 11—should cause gratitude to well up in your heart. True, most Jews throughout history were probably only circumcised “in the flesh,” not in the heart, but it was equally true that during that history the vast majority of people who were right with God were Jewish, with just a trickle of Gentiles. If you’re a Gentile and redeemed by Christ, then you need to understand that you were an “unnatural” branch which was grafted into God’s “tree.”
According to MacArthur, we Gentiles were alienated from God in at least five ways: 1) We were separate from Christ, “having no Savior and Deliverer and without divine purpose or destiny.” 2) We were excluded from citizenship in Israel, “God's chosen people, the Jews, [who] were a nation whose supreme King and Lord was God Himself, and from whose unique blessing and protection they benefited.” 3) We were foreigners to the covenant of the promise, “not able to partake of God's divine covenants in which He promised to give His people a land, a priesthood, a people, a nation, a kingdom, and a King—and to those who believe in Him, eternal life and heaven.” 4) We had no hope “because [we] had been given no divine promise." 5) We were without God in the world, “While Gentiles had many gods, they did not recognize the true God because they did not want Him (see Ro 1:18-26).”
Yes, Jews were going to the same Hell we were, but they started out with advantages we could never dream of. They were relatively “near” the truth (vs. 18), while we were relatively “far” from any inkling of knowledge of the true God. They had the Law, the clearest expression of God’s will and standards which mankind has ever received. They had the prophets who predicted the coming Messiah. And they had the sacrifices which pointed towards the Lamb of God.
But now. . . (there’s a favorite word of mine, “but”) we “who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Now there is no division between Jew and Gentile as far as salvation is concerned. Jesus (or Yeshua, as they call him) has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier between us, the dividing wall of hostility. He did this by setting aside in his body the O.T. laws, feasts, and sacrifices. Out of these two groups he’s made one Body and reconciled all of us through himself to God the Father. And through him we have access, 24-7, to God the Father through one Spirit. In the Messiah, all of us are being built upon this one foundation to be one holy temple in the Lord.
But we need to be perfectly clear here: This reconciliation is based on Jesus Christ (whether we call him Yeshua Ha-Mashiach is immaterial to me). It’s not based on good will or even our mutual regard for what’s known as the Old Testament as God’s word, as important as that is. I have nothing but good feelings and wishes towards Jewish people like Dennis Prager and Michael Medved who share common values and social concerns with me. When it comes to standing up for the sanctity of human life and marriage for example, we can stand shoulder to shoulder. And I think I’ve made it clear that I feel nothing but gratitude towards Jewish people in general and wish them nothing but good things. But we can’t pretend that we’re reconciled together before God. Until they believe in Yeshua, we’re not.
Now I’d like to take this passage from its immediate Pauline application of Jewish and Gentile reconciliation to a more ancillary (from the passage) application which more directly affects us today. In Christ, all racial groups are united, or at least they should be. Please don’t think I’m only talking about White-Black relations. People of all different backgrounds have trouble relating to people of other backgrounds, and I’m convinced that if we all had exactly the same skin pigmentation, we’d find some other goofy excuse to discriminate against each other and kill each other. Looking at pictures of Hutus and Tutsis, I wouldn’t be able to tell which is which. But that certainly didn’t keep them from killing each other. Blacks have racial tension with Asians, Latinos have racial tension with Blacks, and some Asians look down upon Asians from other nations or different societies.
To use a phrase from James’s letter, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” If Gentiles and Jews can be reconciled with each other through the Messiah, then how much more can any other group be reconciled with anyone else? The Bible never teaches “The universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man” or any such nonsense, but in Christ we are one. We’re all sinners equally in need of his grace, and we’re all saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by anything we do. Every true believer is my sibling in Christ, and as such there’s absolutely not the slightest scintilla of an excuse for racial prejudice or any other barrier between me and anyone else who’s been bought by the blood of Jesus. None. Of course, racism against even nonbelievers is a denial of the truth that we’re all created in God’s image, but it’s even less acceptable against other believers.
I’d like to end today’s posting on the positive flip-side of the last paragraph. I’ve worshiped side-by-side with people of all different racial and ethnic and economic backgrounds, which is exactly as it should be. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s nothing less than a preview of Heaven, and it certainly feels like it.
Lord Jesus, it’s wonderful to be part of the “Coat of Many Colors” which your Father has given to you. May the day come swiftly when every part of your Body sees every other part as, well, part of your Body. Please, let it come soon.