Praise God, Brought Near!
Ephesians 2:13, But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
I stood among the peoples and suddenly felt small, looked past, pushed, and wholly out of place, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). The feeling surprised; I had recently journeyed to Jerusalem with AmyJo to experience the Holy Land, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to be refreshed and renewed in my faith. Frankly, I expected a genuine welcoming to visit the places sacred to our faith. Yet, as I stood alongside the Western Wall of the temple, touching the stones that towered some 60’ above me, wandering among the worshippers and wailers too, I felt out of place. And anything but welcomed.
Christians are a scant minority in much of the Old City. Still a vibrant and functioning city, within the walls are “quarters” housing resident Jews, Muslims, Armenians, and a small group of Christians too. Inside the city where the chosen people of God gathered through the millennials, edgy faith wars are waged today. Muslims are at the Jews; Jews are at the Muslims; everyone is at the Christians. The place is uncomfortable; it is confrontational and ‘pushy’; frankly, it is hostile (Eph. 2:14,16).
I paused one evening as I touched the Western Wall of the temple. The temple, of course, housed God in the days of the OT. God lived in the temple; those living near His dwelling-place and having access to Him were His people and covenant holders of the promise. Israel was near; Gentiles, like me, were far away. Gentiles were without hope and without God. (Eph. 2:12). Such beliefs remain among the Orthodox even today.
An overwhelming sense of sadness enveloped me as I bumped among the worshippers still seeking the Messiah. People all around, straining to be close to God, conjuring up just the right emotion, walking backwards away from the wall to “not turn their backs upon God”, crying out for the Messiah, and yet wholly missing Him. I committed afresh to pray for those yet called. May their time be close at hand.
Despite the stark reality, the trip propelled my faith to higher heights. Certainly, it is wondrous to touch the 2,000-year-old stones from God’s temple, to stand upon the Mount of Olives, to sit within the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent His final hours, to view the place where it is said our resurrected Lord departed for Heaven. AmyJo and I shall always remember being together in those places.
But those sacred places merely provide the backdrop to Jesus’ earthly ministry, a ministry that called those far away, like me, to Himself by the gift of grace from a Father who loves me. Being there and seeing it, well, I know that it is indeed a most precious gift to be called, beloved, and kept. I marvel anew that He has brought me – a sinner – near. I was far off and now I am near. It is beyond my understanding.
May we all marvel afresh at the gift of grace given to us though our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and may we continue also in prayer for those everywhere without such hope, in Jerusalem and Louisville too.
He is worthy.
Pastor Jeff Akin