If Jesus came to his people while we were his enemies, we have little grounds to argue that we can’t be around God’s people because they have hurt us. They hurt Jesus far more and yet he came to be with his people, they dealt with him more severely and yet he served them and loved them to the end.
One of the emphases of Christmas is the reminder that Jesus coming into the world meant that God had come to dwell with man. Isaiah 7:14 , predicting the birth of Jesus, says “the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.” Matthew, quoting this verse and not wanting us to be without understanding, adds “which is translated ‘God is with us.’” John, in the opening of his gospel, tells us “The Word [Jesus Christ] became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Matthew’s emphasis in his gospel is often on the fulfilment of scripture. Writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, he wants us to see that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and, in doing so, points to the scriptures that predicted his coming and shows how Jesus fulfils them. John also wants us to see that Jesus is the Messiah, but is particularly concerned with the deity of Christ (cf. John 20:31 ). He, therefore, has a particular focus on how Jesus is God incarnate. But both Matthew and John point to the fact that Jesus coming means God is truly with us both in fulfilment of scripture and pointing to Jesus’ divinity. Reading these passages again at Christmas time, we are reminded that God came to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ, to fix the broken relationship between God and man and address the chasm between us caused by our sin.
My purpose here isn’t to dwell on that amazing fact. Rather, I wanted to think about one consequence of this. Namely, if Jesus came to be with God’s people, we can hardly refuse to be with God’s people ourselves.
One of the good things that Western Christianity has emphasised is the need for personal conversion. Rather than simply assuming because of our family, culture or country that we are Christian by default, the Western church has been very clear that unless a man is born again he will not inherit the kingdom of God. Scripture, and happily the church in West, has (at least in recent centuries) been very clear on this. Personal conversion matters.
That clear-sightedness concerning personal conversion has largely come from our cultural individualism. We are (happily) primed to see the need for personal conversion because our culture is tuned towards individualism. Whatever the faults of our individualistic Western culture may be, it has at least made it helpfully quite obvious to us that God saves individuals. Particular Redemption means that Jesus died for specific people, knows who are his and therefore the elect will come to faith and conversion is evidently personal.
One of the less happy by-products of our cultural individualism is that, whilst we do tend to see the necessity for personal conversion, we then struggle to see the necessity of corporate Christianity. All things of the Christian life are tailored around me, my desires, my needs and whatever I think serves my walk with Jesus. Church becomes less about communal worship and the service of others and more about me and my personal relationship with God.