by Jim Black
Focus: Jesus has brought peace; destroying the walls between us and making his people ONE in him.
Function: To encourage a church with the message of reconciliation in Jesus, vertically (with God) and horizontally (with fellow mankind.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
That’s the way Robert Frost began his famous poem, “Mending Wall.” It’s a wonderful poem full of humor and (I think) a sense of sadness. Its about two neighbors who go through the same ritual each spring, meeting at the wall to repair it-to refill the gaps that fallen stones have left and repair the damage done by hunters whose pursuit of their game has left the wall in disrepair. The neighbors have apparently done this for many years, yet it strikes the narrator in the poem to question just why it is they have the wall in the first place.
“And on a day we meet to walk the line
and set the wall between us once again
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
we have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers tough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall , . ..
They don’t have cows anymore that might stray onto the other’s property! Just trees. So why is the wall there? Hasn’t the time come that its purpose no longer exists? Yet, it remains . . . why? Because its always been there?
The truth is: its human nature to construct walls, isn’t it? In our neighborhoods, we build our houses and then hold up inside of them rarely venturing out to get to know our neighbors. . . . I mean really get to know them. In society in general, we construct walls. There are the walls which 140 years (this month) after the end of slavery in America still divides black and white. There are walls which divide gender- men and women; there are walls of social status- the divide of affluent and the poor. Walls are all around us! And for many- perhaps they help us feel comfortable, protected, unchallenged. I’m convinced that’s how it was for 1st century Gentiles- to whom Paul is writing his letter of Ephesians to! We see in this text that was just read this divide between Jew & Gentile!
Ephesians is about the church. Paul is writing it to the church at Ephesus to be circulated among other area churches to show them how to be the church! He will concentrate later on- on some of the moral implications of being in Christ. He has emphasized the blessings that are found in Christ, the power that is found in Christ; & he has reminded these Christians from whence they came- “you were dead in your sin.” But ALL of THIS has been to show the church how to be the church! God is about building His church! But, as any good construction worker can tell you, before you can build . . . some things have to go!
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)– 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (NIV)
I. Paul starts out this passage by saying, “Remember the WALL!”
Remember Paul is talking to Gentiles, here. . . (like us) “Uncircumcised” was a typical & disrespectful term used by the Jews (“The Chosen”) to describe the Gentiles. They were heathens . . . clearly NOT the people of God! It would be hard to adequately describe for you in today’s terms the disdain that Jews had for Gentiles (& vice versa- no doubt). As wide as the divide has been between whites & blacks in America- I don’t think that quite does it justice. As bitter the divide right now between some fundamentalist Moslems and Christians – that’s not the same thing either! The divide was racial- but extended far beyond race. It was political- but extended far beyond politics. It was religious- but extended far beyond religion. Other ancient Jewish writings refer to Gentiles as “fuel for the fires of hell.”
In the temple in the 1st century there was a literal dividing wall which separated the important part of the temple, the Court of the Israelites, with the Court of the Gentiles. Signs were posted in Latin and Greek warning Gentiles not to go any farther into the temple precincts under penalty of death! Archaeological and other evidence has found such signs! This was a serious divide! Imagine how difficult it must have been for either group to extend the other the right hand of fellowship!
But remember, Paul is talking to Gentile CHRISTIANS! They were Gentiles ‘by birth’ (lit. ‘By flesh’) but they were now Christians and now a part of the church at Ephesus. Paul tells them to remember when they were separated from God! Remember when that wall had separated them from God! Separation from Christ/ God is the very definition of spiritual death! They were excluded from citizenship among God’s chosen people; ‘foreigners’/ strangers to the covenant / the promise of God. They were without HOPE because they were without God! Why does Paul want them to remember?
Because one needs to remember ‘how bad it was before Christ’ before one can appreciate ‘how sweet it is in Christ.’ ??? There was this bitter wall which had separated them (not just from the Jews) but from God!
In 1949, following the defeat of Nazi Germany in WW II and the re-organization of Europe, the nation of Germany was divided into East & West. In the East a communist government was set up under the influence of the Soviet Union. In the West a free, democratic government was set up and benefitted greatly from the Marshall Plan & the economics of free enterprise. Life became much better in the West for German citizens. The city of Berlin became a crucible where these divided philosophies would literally divide the city. Fearful of losing many of its citizens, East Germany closed the border between the two states in 1952. But that didn’t keep an estimated 2.5 million East Germans from fleeing to West Germany between 1949 -1961. So, in 1961 the East German government built the Berlin Wall and strictly enforcing such defections. The wall stood for almost 30 years as a very real and symbolic divide between the East & the West.
I still remember a speech given by President Reagan in 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate- a section of the Berlin Wall in West Berlin. At the height of the Cold War, the President used the opportunity to encourage freedom and a new peace. As he spoke about the wall behind him which separated West Berlin from East Berlin for decades, I still remember his words, “Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall!” I can’t help in hearing those words, from recalling images we saw just a few short years later when the wall was quite literally torn down. In November of 1987, the East German government held a press conference and lifted travel restrictions between the two Germanys. And Germans (both from the East & the West) scaled the wall and danced in celebration! Perhaps some of you traveled to Germany in the late eighties and have a piece of that wall? Today nothing of it remains in a united Germany and a whole Berlin. The wall is just gone, a thing of the past. The most frequently asked question in Berlin today is: “Where’s the wall?”
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (NIV)
II. Paul’s emphasis: Christ, himself, is our Peace! Christ has torn down that wall that had divided for so long! We typically think of ‘Peace’ as the absence of war; especially in our time when that peace is threatened and the issue of war is a real possibility. Especially now when I think of ‘peace’ my mind conjures up images of those who are protesting the possible war in Iraq and images of those in the 60’s who created their own sub-culture and came to be known as ‘peacenicks’. That’s NOT the kind of peace that Paul is talking about here! Peace is not JUST the absence of hostility . . . it is much more! It has its roots in the Old Testament concept of “shalom”, a fundamental Jewish concept even today. Shalom is a much more comprehensive term for salvation and life with God. It means wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity . . . In other words: Shalom is the way things SHOULD be; the ideal!
Christ has restored the ideal by destroying the wall and bringing Jew & Gentile together! Notice, the two are made one in Him! “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace.” The Gentiles who had been so far away from God- separated by so much- have been brought near! Israel, too, who had been awaiting this coming Messiah, but had failed him miserably in their keeping of the law . . reconciliation happens thru the blood of Christ . . i.e. what God has done in Christ. For Paul, all of this happens IN CHRIST! We were walled away from God and Christ tore down that wall!
Notice the fullness of the Godhead in vs. 18- what happens as a result of this reconciliation. For thru him [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. With the barriers gone, we ALL (Jew, Gentile, male, female, black, white, etc.) have full access to Father . . .because we share the one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)
III. “Welcome to the Great House of God!”
As we said, in order to build, one must tear down first. Now, with the wall torn down, God has built his church; the house of God.
Notice who is in this house. “You . . . are fellow citizens with God’s people (lit. ‘holy people’) and members of God’s household.” In other words, we’re FAMILY! An amazing thing happened when Christ removed that barrier between us and Himself! He also tore down the barriers that we build between ourselves and other people! His church is to be a place where all people can come and share together . . . equally!
Gal 3:28-29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (NIV)
The ground at the cross is level! This ‘peace’; the restored relationship; is both Vertical & Horizontal! Between me and God; between you and me! Too many people believe that religion is only what a person does when they are alone with God. They forget that the vertical relationship with God expresses itself in the horizontal relationships with people. Christianity is to be lived out in community with other Christians! The text did NOT say, “He is my peace,” but rather “He is our peace.”
This house seems to be on pretty solid footing “..built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Here I don’t believe Paul has in mind the O.T. prophets, but the numerous evangelists, teachers & preachers like himself who have traveled preaching this message of reconciliation to anyone who would listen!
2 Cor 5:17-20 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (NIV)
The message: Reconciliation- “The Wall has come down!” The messengers: the ambassadors like Paul to whom this message had been committed.
But the Cornerstone is Jesus Christ, himself! He is the most important stone in THIS building! Cornerstones in ancient buildings were the primary load-bearing stones that determined how solid the building was going to be. It set the plumb-line (so to speak) for the rest of the building. One cornerstone unearthed in Palestine was found to weigh 570 tons! God’s church would be built upon the ROCK: Jesus Christ, himself! He is to set the standard for the church, not the world. He is to set the agenda for the church, not the world. In fact, the Christian community has no other reason to exist other than Christ himself.
What does this message have to say to us? The only thing Paul tells us to DO in this text is remember.
If this is God’s Word to His church, what does this have to say to the walls either implicit or explicit that we erect? Among Christians, what walls exist among us? Are there still walls which divide the affluent & the poor? The black & the white? What about less obvious walls like between the old & the young; or the long-timer members vs. the new comers? Are we doing everything we can to be welcoming of EVERYBODY? Does everybody find a comfortable place within our family? Who are we walling in or out . . . even unintentionally & unknowingly?
If this is God’s Word to His church, what does this have to say about our foundation? Who or What is this church founded upon? What is our cornerstone? Is it Jesus Christ or ourselves? Our own works or abilities? If tomorrow the very foundations of this congregation were shaken to the very core and everything changed . . . if all of a sudden the government told us that it would be illegal to worship our God and our building was burned down in front of us . . . if our church leaders were arrested and hauled off to prison . . . what would be left? Could this church survive being shaken to the very core? I know that it would if it is built upon the chief cornerstone: Jesus Christ! But if its just built upon men, -even elders or preachers- or programs, or traditions- what would happen?
This text is a call for the church to be the CHURCH!
. . . to be family! . . . to be a place of reconciliation!
. . . to be a place where the walls are let down and open & honest, real relationships are formed!
. . . to be a place where Jesus is central & at the heart & core of everything we do!
And it’s a call for US to be the type of Christians that can form a church such as this!
The invitation of Jesus is offered to you this morning. Its an invitation that is ALWAYS open! Its an invitation for anyone who has a need for the prayers of this church to let those be known so that we can pray for you. Especially if you don’t know Jesus.
Have you had the dividing wall between you and God broken down? Have you committed your life to Jesus Christ who SO wants to destroy that wall for you? Have you turned from the sins of your past, named Him as the Lord of your life and committed your life to Him by being baptized into Christ? If not, let us encourage you to do so this morning!