Imagine this morning that we were two congregations divided. Not because of some issue but by virtue of what color eyes we had. The color of your eyes would determine everything. It would determine where you would sit. The east section would be for green eyed people. The west section over here would be for brown eyes. And of course, those with blue eyes would have to stay outside the building. And during lunch afterwards the green eyed people would get to go first and the blue-eyed people would have to clean up afterwards. And of course only green-eyed people could be the leaders. We would be a terribly and artificially divided gathering with the divisions based on something that is there but not very important.
Sadly such divisions still exist today within the church of Christ. In many places in our nation, there are strong tensions between races. We have seen it again recently in the violence in our nation’s streets. And these divisions spill over into the church. Christians refuse to associate with certain other Christians because of external differences, often those based on politics, race or ethnic background. What does the Bible say about this? Ephesians 2:11-22 says it is not what we are on the outside that is really important but who is inside of us.
I. The problem of division between Jews and Gentiles was certainly not a new one.
There had always been a lot of tension between these peoples. But at this point the tensions were intensely strong. Part of a Jewish male's prayer was: “Thank you God for not creating me a Gentile nor a woman.” The Jews believed that the only reason God had created Gentiles was to fuel the fires of hell. And this attitude was carried over and made official in the religious realm.
When Paul refers to the dividing wall in verse 14, he is likely referring to a wall in the temple in Jerusalem that enforced the division between people. Picture if you will this building as representing the temple area and you were standing in the parking lot of the temple. Where the sidewalk begins would be a 5 foot high stone wall with a sign that said, “No foreigner may enter within this enclosure around the temple.” At the door, you would find another sign: “Jewish males only beyond this point.” But once inside there would be another sign posted on door to the sanctuary: “Priests only are allowed in the sanctuary.” Finally, up in front would be a curtain behind which would be the Holy of Holies which only the High Priest could enter and the only once a year.
Paul likely had in mind this first barrier that kept the Gentiles out. This five foot high wall hindered Gentiles from worshiping God. It was not just an attitude of prejudice; it was enforced policy.
However, such exclusions are not what God had originally intended. God had chosen Abraham to be the father of his chosen, special people but God chose Israel so that they could be a blessing to the rest of the world including the Gentiles. But now with Christ's death, it was in God's plan to bring Jews and Gentiles together into the church of Christ. Paul says that the two have become one. The problem is that the oneness that God had planned from the beginning and which Paul talks about Christ having achieved was far from a reality.
Why are people like porcupines? Why do Christians today seem so intent on being so divided against one another? How does the solution that Jesus Christ brings become more and more of a reality today?
II. The solution was found in the cross of Christ.
Paul, in verse 14, says that Christ destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. This does not mean that Jesus literally knocked down that stone wall in the Temple. However, Jesus did destroy a very significant wall when he died. When Jesus died that curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. This curtain in the temple was now ripped apart so that all could come into the Holy of holies.
This meant that now everyone could come to God. This not only opened up the outside door for the Gentiles. This did not only mean that all the priests could enter the Holy of Holies. Jesus' death meant anyone could come to God if they believe in Jesus.
Paul says that Jesus did this by “setting aside the law.” What does that mean? The Old Testament law separated the Jews from the rest of the world. Jews don't eat certain things, but the Gentiles may. The Jews sacrifice; the Gentiles don't. This is how you live with God and it is for Jews only. But now Jesus has abolished this division by fulfilling the law in his flesh. Jesus came and said, “All the sacrificing, all the special days you have been observing have been pointing to me. Now I am the sacrifice in my flesh.” And his sacrifice was not just for Jews but was for all who believe in him. Verse 15 says he did this by sacrificing his body and blood on the cross.
Jesus' death broke down all barriers between those who believe in him. That does not mean that we all agree on the details; however, let's make sure that we focus on the right thing that unites us. I’ve told this story before, but it seems very apt once again especially given our current racial and political climate. There once was a granddaughter who told her grandmother that she and her three playmates all attended different churches. Then she added, “It really doesn’t matter if we go to different churches, does it Grandma -- just as long as we're all Republicans?” Being a certain color or being Republican or Democrat is not what unites us. It is Jesus who unites us and gives us his peace.
III. The result of that broken wall is indeed peace.
Jesus comes and proclaims peace with God to all who are far and who are near. We can be assured that if we believe in Jesus Christ, God will forgive our sins. And when God forgives us, we can be in God’s presence and not be condemned. Now we can have peace with God because Jesus has brought peace.
And now there is peace between people, or as Paul says, there is one new humanity out of the two. There used to be two groups of people in the world: Jews and Gentiles. Now there are three groups: Jews, Gentiles and Christians of all races. That is why Paul can say that in Christ there are no longer Jews or Greeks, male or female. What identifies us is not what we look like or who our parents are or the color of our skin or a political party, but that we belong to Christ
The cross of Christ brings believers together in spite of their differences. That is not to say that in Christ all become identical. There still are males and females; there still are different races and cultures. There still are Republicans and Democrats and Independents. The differences are not erased but now our identity is in Christ; we are Christians!
IV. And that means that there should be peace today in Christ's church.
We begin this peace right here among us right here in Nashville, Tennessee. Look around you this morning; what do you see? You see different people from different backgrounds. There are different racial, ethnic, church, social and economic backgrounds. But we have something that unites us together: our Lord Jesus Christ! What unites us is our common faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. The differences are there, but they shouldn't really matter.
When we work together in spite of our differences, it makes a powerful statement. We need each other in our differences so that the body of Christ may work together and be strong. Together as people of different backgrounds, we can work together in the church.
Such a peace is wonderful but it is something that requires ongoing work and effort. It is much easier to be with people who are just like you. It is easier to be with people who share your cultural and political views and your values. In our divisive cultural climate today, it is so easy to group with those who are identical to you.
And even more than just staying with people who are like you, it is becoming more and more acceptable to disparage those who don’t share your views. If someone doesn’t agree with your outlook on some issues, not only do you disagree, you tell them that they are morally wrong! Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we should not have strong opinions and positions on important issues and values. However, we must remember that what unites us is Jesus Christ and our common faith in Him.
Christ did not come so that we can erect taller and thicker walls between God’s people. Christ came and died so that his people could become one. Christ came to bring peace and reconciliation among those who believe in him.
And the fact that Christ has broken down the walls is not just a message for our own churches; it is a message we are to proclaim to the world around us. We are to be the voice of Christ and proclaim “peace” to the world around us. How? As I have said before, but I am convinced as much as ever that I believe that we can have a very special role to play in this community. We can be an example of things that should unite people rather than divide them. Moreover, in our actions and attitudes in our daily contacts we can convey the message of peace.
Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus' death brings us God's grace and forgiveness. Let's praise God for his power in bringing his church together. Will we be willing to be used by God to continue to break down the dividing walls around us?