One of my most vivid memories from visiting Bethlehem in 2009 took place right outside of the city. The Israelis have a law that Israeli citizens may not enter Bethlehem. Though it’s right in the middle of Israel, Bethlehem is actually a Palestinian territory, not part of the nation of Israel.
You may be well aware of the terrible hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. For safety reason, Israelis are prevented from entering into Palestinian territories.
For that reason, not even our bus driver or tour guide could pass into Bethlehem. Both Israeli men had to vacate the bus. A Palestinian driver and Palestinian tour guide then boarded the bus. They were the ones who toured us through Bethlehem. Afterward, the Palestinian driver and guide exited, and the Israeli driver and guide resumed their leadership of our group.
As we were preparing to drive into Bethlehem, I still remember sitting in my seat as a young man walked up and down the aisles with a bazooka (at least, that’s what it looked like to me). If the young man was 18 years old, it was barely. He was checking to make sure none of looked suspicious or were carrying anything dangerous. Next time you’re going through TSA at the airport, just think: It could be worse!
Through the experience of entering Bethlehem, I could feel the tensions between people groups.
The tensions we see in our lives may look a little different, but at the root, it’s the same. We’re all sinful people, and we can get on the wrong side of each other.
It happens with people groups. People of one skin color despise people of another skin color. People who live in one part of the world fear people who live in a different part of the world. People can be hostile to each other based on differences in religious beliefs, political opinions, or ideologies.
Then there are the hostilities that aren’t on such a large scale but are more personal. Holiday gatherings often force interactions among family members who don’t get along. Even in the same household, husbands and wives can engage in a cold war daily.
Consider these words from Ephesians 2:14-16: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
We tend to hold one another to the letter of the law. We base our feelings on what others have done or not done. God has established a different way in Christ. In God’s new system, we regard one another based on what Jesus has done. He has reconciled all people to God and to one another through the cross.
When we regard one another based on Christ’s actions, not based on human actions, we operate out of forgiveness. Jesus has forgiven us of everything. It is His intent to “kill the hostility” that exists between people groups and between individuals.
Pray for peace for the most hostile places in the world, like Israel and Palestine … or racially tense neighborhoods … or conflicted churches … or workplaces where ugliness exists between co-workers. The cross is where forgiveness was won, and it’s where forgiveness is dispensed to be lived out.
If you missed yesterday’s post introducing the theme of Bethlehem, click here.
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