Jews and Arabs unite in Messiah

“I pray … that all of them will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me … May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-23).

Most English bookstores in Jerusalem offer a hefty volume entitled, “The Jewish/Arab conflict – a beginner’s guide.” Current events are adding chapters to this history faster than anyone can read.
Yet, two days after Palestinian gunmen killed 12 Jews in Hebron, the Jewish and Arab members of Kehila haMaschiach (Christ Church), Jerusalem, break bread together and embrace after their regular Shabbat service.

This – like many other examples of unity across the ethnic and racial lines of highly polarised societies – attests to a hope which lies beyond the temporal supremacy of one group over another, partisan or sectarian interests and the outcome of any political process.

“For our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

It is the outcome of a mature faith in which every affiliation, loyalty or allegiance other than to the resurrected Messiah is put aside, and in which our only identity is in him.

It is in this spirit that the apostle Paul can proclaim: “If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3: 4-8).

The humility that enables us to repent so fully of everything we might be, or might think we are, comes only from a full and true understanding of our own unworthiness, the cost to God of our redemption and the power of the resurrection manifesting in us as an altogether “new creation.” That once we were dead in our sins and transgressions and without hope in this world, and – not because of anything we may have done – but because of his mercy, the God of Heaven stretched out his mighty Arm to save us from it all.
The same humility that enables us to be free from any allegiance outside of Christ (“whoever loves his . . . more than me, cannot be my disciple”), also enables us to accept every other person who is joined with us into the body of Christ as being equally loved by our Heavenly Father, equally redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and equally entitled to all the inheritance promised to us in Messiah.

Out of this also is born a love for all of unsaved humanity – the ability to love the hateful ones, to bless the cursing ones, to pray for the despising ones – knowing that I too was once a sinner, trapped in my own vendettas and insecurities; blinded by hatred and prejudice with murder, envy, selfishness, adulteries and all manner of corruption in my own heart. Knowing also that the grace which set me free can do the same for anyone.

In Jaffa (south of Tel Aviv) I became friendly with some Muslim youths who later took me into their confidence and showed me some graphics on their cell phones – a short sequence of images showing the familiar events involving two airplanes and the imminent collapse of the twin towers, followed by a picture of Osama bin Ladin.

A few days later a Jewish family welcomed these youths into their apartment and told them how God intended for all nations to be blessed through Abraham, his love for all humanity, and of the way of reconciliation to God – for Jew and Arab alike – through Messiah. They accepted copies of John’s gospel, and left with words to this effect: “the love you have been telling us about – that God has for us, and that you have for us – we know it is true, because we could feel it here.”

I remember once handing out gospel tracts in a bar, and the angry response of an African man when we had nothing to give him in the language he preferred. I stood quietly as he accused me of racism, of being a patronising European, of insulting and offending him. The Holy Spirit prompted me to respond very gently that the message I had offered him contains the way to eternal life and that – if he accepted it – he and I would be in the same place forever. If it were true that I hated him, I would not want this to happen. He embraced me, took the tract and turned away with tears.

How great will be the power of a true unity – established in spirit and in truth – and how great the testimony of a love that can make brothers and sisters out of enemies. “May we be one, Lord!”