He Brought Us Near
Dr. Doug Posey
Hope gets wrapped up in so many forms at Christmastime. I always think of the kid on Santa’s lap (objections to Santa aside) nervously requesting that list and hoping for those things under the tree. But, if memory serves, Christmas gifts just don’t cut it when it comes to a truly fulfilling form of hope. Even if the anticipated gift is there, the post-Christmas let-down leaves one hungering for a deeper kind of hope. And as we mature, we naturally long for a hope that “does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). Many in the Roman Empire hungered for such fulfillment about 2,000 years ago.
Those who entered Solomon’s Temple just before Christ arrived would have been familiar with the fact that a sign was prominently hung on the dividing wall in the court of the Gentiles, separating it from the place reserved for the Jews. The sign displayed a simple-but-unequivocal warning that they would be killed if they walked out of the court of the Gentiles into that area which was exclusively set side for the Jews. The physical proximity may have been close, but the chasm between Jew and Gentile was vast.
The group that descended from Abraham assumed they were close to God due to their history with the patriarchs. God delivered the Law through their prophets and often directly into the hands of their forefathers. The other group, the Gentiles, with their pagan roots and idolatry, would have considered themselves distant at best from the God of the Hebrews since they shared nearly nothing in common and were, as Paul put it, “Strangers to the covenants of promise and without God in this world” (Ephesians 2:12). One group believed themselves to be close to Yahweh; the other, far away. Little did they know, they were both utterly hopeless. But then, it was Christmas.
So, before the arrival of Jesus, the world could be divided into just two major categories: Jew and Gentile, yet they all fit into the one big bucket of hopelessness. Now that Christ has come, we again see the world divided into two factions of humanity: those with hope and those without it. Paul made a statement in 1 Thessalonians that gives us a hint as to these two designations. In the fourth chapter, he shares information intended to help them avoid grieving like, “the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This points to a clear inference that there are the believers who are to grieve in a certain way because they are people of hope and the rest of the world—the unbelievers—will naturally grieve differently, because they are people without hope. Just two kinds of people in the world: believers who have hope and unbelievers who have no hope.
The same dichotomy between those with and without hope exists today. However, there is another subsection to be considered specifically within the hopeless group. It is those who think they have hope and those who know they are hopeless. Those who think they have hope, simply have misguided hope. They falsely believe that something, perhaps science, materialism, human intellect, politics, or religion, or some combination thereof, is going to provide salvation for humankind. Problems that plague people and threaten our very existence on this planet can be solved through human endeavor and/or through the intervention of divine entities other than the true God of the Bible.
The ones who are without Christ, without hope, knowing they are hopeless, unfortunately for them, are right. As long as they remain apart from Christ, there is no other hope. Sadly, we see in our culture an “acting out” upon this hopelessness in extremely unhealthy ways that is heightened during the holidays. Likely, it has to do with the fact that those things to which so many others look for hope—good and bad—are on display and the hopeless are just reminded of their hopelessness.
But, there’s good news! Christmas changed everything! Just as it seemed impossible to make one group out of the Jew and the Gentile, just as it seemed inconceivable to breach that dividing wall, the baby born in a manger 2,000 years ago brings all categories of the hopeless together into one family of hope. After painting a picture of the division between Jew and Gentile in His letter to the Ephesians, Paul declared,
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:13-14).
It is as though the Father looked at the world as it was and despite our sin, He loved us enough to say those two words, “But now…” Yes, we were in rebellion, enemies of God, hopeless and lost in our sin, “But now…” Two disparate groups, far from each other and from God, “But now,” brought near through the hope born that first Christmas.
“…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” —ROMANS 5:5-6