Walls Torn Down (Eph. 2:11-22)
Walls Torn Down (Eph. 2:11-22)
From 1961 to 1989, the Berlin wall separated West and East Berlin, and, greater still, West and East Germany. Now this discord of Germany came long before the building of the wall at the conclusion of World War 2/ East Germany had a strong communist influence from the Soviet Union while West Germany had was being rebuilt as a capitalist democracy under the aid of the other 3 Allies: France, Great Britain, and the United States. In 1948, a blockade was established to starve western allies out of Berlin. After the blockade ended in 1949, around 3 million refugees emigrated from West to East Germany.
When the wall was built in 1961, East Germany leaders claimed it was to “keep fascists from undermining their socialists state,” but really it was to prevent more emigration from happening and to save face. The Berlin Wall became a symbol of the cold war for nearly 3 decades. It separated a nation, it separated family members from other family members. The Berlin Wall was a boundary as well as a reminder of physical and emotional separation and disunification.
Do you have walls up in your life? Perhaps there’s an individual that you feel at odds with. Maybe they’ve wronged you. Maybe you’ve wronged them? Maybe you just don’t care for that person or they just don’t care about you. Are you feuding with someone over a number of things that have compounded upon themselves over time?
We live with separation and hostility perhaps daily. You couldn’t turn on a screen over the last two months without seeing this divided wall of hostility over who to elect or not elect. People with different backgrounds and differences of opinion handling different situations in different ways. And too often, differences create further hostility. Whether it’s political stance, attitude, likes and dislikes, which team you are a fan of, you name it, walls of hostility can build form between people, can even form between two Christians.
Tonight, we continue to look through Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. This letter is one of hope and of direction. It’s also a letter of reconciliation. Chapter 1, Paul addresses the blessings that we have in Christ. In chapter 2 (part 1), Paul shares the hope that we now have in Christ Jesus. We were once dead in sinful works, now we are alive to walk in good works. Now, in verse 11, more hope is offered, and it’s offered on two different levels. This message of hope is extended to all, even to us. But specifically, this message of hope is offered to the large number of Gentile Christians in Ephesus.
People were either Jews or Gentiles. As Jews, Israelites, were God’s chosen people, Gentiles, even still in the first century, on the other side of the cross, were thought to be inferior. The term “Gentile” itself even carried a negative connotation. They were outsiders, strangers, aliens to the nation of God. For that reason, by most Jews, they were not looked upon as God’s people. As far as the relationship between Jews and Gentiles, unlike the Western and Eastern Germans, they were never one people. They had been separated from the beginning. Some Gentiles believed in God and did their best to serve him (Take Cornelius in Acts 10, for example) Some possibly married in (ex. Ruth, Rahab). Some proselytized under the old law. But for non-Israelites, it was extremely difficult to be considered part of God’s people. difficult. And even under the new covenant, they were still often viewed as second rate outsiders.
How would you feel as a Gentile Christian? An outsider, looked down upon because of your background? For deeper understanding of how Gentile Christians felt at the time, let’s read verse 11. “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands” This phrase “the uncircumcision” was a term of bias and disgust. Michelle, being from northern Indiana, while at Freed-Hardeman was often referred to as a “yankee.” This was not a term of endearment. It was as if to say “You don’t belong in these parts.” Speaking of people who say things like “these parts,” for many of us southerners who come North, we might be referred to as “rednecks.” Just because we sing Are you washed in the blood “Are you warshed in the blood” doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings!” But in all seriousness, though terms like “yankee” or “redneck” are more jokingly slanderous, we do know of slurs that are sadly still used today to speak derogatorily to others. This is more similar to the connotation associated with the identification of “the uncircumcision.” This would have been spoken mockingly and with disgust in the voice and face of the one speaking it. This is in the present tense, so, even still, the Gentiles are being referred to as “the uncircumcision.” This is not a scar, it’s a wound that is still fresh. They are different. They are seen as separate. And, at one time (being the key words in verse 11) they were.
Verses 12 shows all of the ways they were separate. (1) They were separated from Christ. This is addressed at the beginning of the chapter. This is how they once walked, following the course of the world, living in the passions of the flesh and desires of the body and mind. Because of sin, they were separated from God. In a sense, the Gentiles had a wall of sin that came between them and God. To be fair, that’s for all mankind, not just the Jews. Perhaps they weren’t so different after all?
(2) Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and therefore (3) strangers to the covenants of promise. They were separated from Israel, not God’s people. They were strangers. They weren’t from “around these parts.” They were aliens. Foreign. But even greater, to be separated from Israel meant separated from God and His promises. As Paul writes in Romans 9:4-5 “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” These were great privileges given to the people of Israel, and many Israelites saw that as exclusive to them. And so separation from Israel was almost always separation from God as well. And so the Gentiles also (4) Had no hope and (5) were without God (goes along with #1 and #4). Separated. I can imagine that hearing the moniker “the uncircumcised” was a reminder of that separation. Perhaps it even sparked doubt as to whether or not they were truly part of God’s people.
But Jesus changes this separation! Though Romans 9 addresses the blessings of Israel, Romans 10:12 says that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call him.”
Likewise, Peter proclaims in Acts 2:39 that “the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The Gentiles were separated, they were those who were far off. But Jesus brought them close to His side. It’s no coincidence then that the Holy Spirit that inspired Peter to use in Acts 2 also inspired Paul here in Eph. 2:13 to say, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off (Gentiles) have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
This is the message to the Gentiles: You are no longer separated! Just as earlier in chapter 2, there is the reminder that they are no longer dead in their trespasses, but made alive in Jesus Christ, now there is a word of encouragement that they aren’t what others say they are. They are not inferior members of the body of Christ, they are simply members of the body of Christ, just as much as they Jews.
Look again to the 5 ways that the Gentiles were isolated.
Separated from christ
alienated from the Israel
strangers to covenant promises
(along with 4) without God
III. The Dividing Wall
To summarize, there were two degrees of separation: separation from God and separation from others. Due to sin, men were all separated by God. Due to background, the Gentiles were separated from others.
So, let’s talk more about this “dividing wall of hostility.” (Have slide showing temple) As you can see in this diagram of the temple in Jerusalem there was a literal physical divide. Just inside the gate, there was the court of the Gentiles. After that, there was a wall where only Jews were allowed to go beyond. Gentiles were literally outsiders. Paul certainly has this in mind when he says (v.14), “ For he himself (Jesus) is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Hostility was most definitely present between the Jews and Gentiles. As a matter of fact, by the entrances to the inner courtyards, there would be inscriptions in both Greek and Latin. On the screen (have it on powerpoint) is an inscription that can be found in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. This is a Greek inscription that was at one time placed as a warning for Gentiles. Translated, it says, “Foreigners must not enter inside the balustrade or into the forecourt around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” Clear enough for you?! Pretty hostile, isn’t it?
I recall once being on a flight that was separated: coach and first class. I, of course, was in coach. This was a flight that lasted a few hours, so there were a couple of times that I had to get up to use the restroom. Well, the restroom at the back was occupied both times, so I went to the bathroom in the front “behind the literal and social curtain.” I recall that, after the second time, the flight attendant came over the speakers and said, quite passive aggressively I might add, “Passengers, please be aware that the lavatory at the front of the aircraft is for first class passengers only. All other passengers, please us the facilities in the back of the plane.” Now, I can’t be sure, but it is possible that the secret Air marshal on the plane was notified of my insubordination, and called to keep watch on me. I was not allowed beyond the curtain, even in an emergency.
Now, more seriously, prior to and during the Civil Rights movement, many signs such as these (on the powerpoint screen) were posted. Whether a bathroom, water fountain, restaurant, or, like in this case, a waiting room, non-whites were not allowed to be in certain areas or use certain facilities. As posted here, to do so would invite police prosecution, or worse. For example, here (another powerpoint picture) is a picture of a man by the name of Samuel Younge, Jr., who, at the age of 21 was shot and killed in Tuskegee, Alabama for trying to use a whites-only restroom. That is hostility that comes from separation and prejudice, not unlike the separation and prejudice shown from the Jews to the Gentiles.
But Jesus changed that! As Jesus’s flesh was torn, the metaphorical wall of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles would be torn down. There are no tiers of Christians, all would be one. As verse 15 says, he’d divided the hostility between man “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.” These two groups are now one! One head and one body.
Likewise, when Jesus died, the temple veil that separated man from God was literally and metaphorically torn in two, The “dividing wall of hostility,” that is sin, was torn down. Paul says in verse 16, that by abolishing the Law he “reconciles us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Any differences that Jews and Gentiles have, they are insignificant because of the equal measure of peace and love he extends to all of mankind through His blood on the cross. (V.17-18) “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Isaiah (Isa.57:19) had proclaimed that he heard God say "Peace, peace to the far, and to the near.” Now, this had become reality. Because of Jesus we have blessings (chapter 1), we have hope (chapter 2) and now in the second half of chapter 2, we have unity. See all the times “one” is used? He has made us one (v.14), one new man (v.15), one body (v.16), one Spirit (v.18). And feud or dilemma, distance or separation, any wall has been demolished because of the unifying work of Christ Jesus on the cross.
Look back to those 5 separations one last time
Separated from Christ? No longer. There’s peace to those who are far off and near.
Alienated from Israel? No more. There is one nation, one man, one body.
Strangers to the covenants of promise? He’s abolished the Law and given peace to all.And v.19 says we are “no longer strangers and aliens with the saints.
& 5. No hope & without God? We now have access to the Father through One Spirit. and we are (as v. 19 continues to say, “members of the household of God…”
(V.20-22) Breaking down a wall, building up a house (Point 4?) (v.20-22)
We are his household, his church. Any wall of hostility between believers can be broken down, and the household of God will stand in it’s place on the foundation of the inspired teachings of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone (v.20).
Want a modern application? Look around! We are all different with different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes. We may have differences of opinions of how things should be done. We have generational differences that, due to when and how we were brought up, might have us disagreeing on differ things and how to handle them. Maybe there is someone here that, due to awkwardness and seemingly lack of common interest, a wall of separation is between you. Or greater still, maybe there is an individual in this room tonight that you have had a strong disagreement with. Maybe you simply have not liked this person, or they don’t like you. Maybe you’ve rubbed each other the wrong way one time to many. Even amongst Christians, that happens. We may all be Christians, but we are also all human, and we can do things to aggravate each other. We can hurt each other and be hurt by each other. This can create walls of hostility, feelings that well up into overwhelming grief and disunity.
If you relate or have related at all to what I’m saying, read this passage again! I’m not saying this to invalidate your feelings. Quite the contrary. If you’re hurt or angry, then you are hurt or angry! But if Jesus on the cross can tear down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, who could not have been more divided, and create one new family from the two, how much more can he tear down the walls we have set up, and unify us in spite of our feuds and disagreements.
In reconciling people to Him, He establishes this new household to be “joined together” and grow into this new “holy temple.” There’s no inner or outer court. There’s no veil. No wall. There is only his church, one body, with many members that are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Well known is president Reagan’s speech in 1987 in which he called for freedom and security, liberty and peace to work together. He then boldly urged Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to display a physical sign of peace and freedom urging him, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Even members of Reagan’s administration advised against Reagan’s bold demand, thinking it would further create tension between East and West Berlin. Though many debate the effectiveness of Reagan’s speech at the time, particularly regarding the response of communist rulers, the speech nevertheless is looked on retrospectively as sentiments that guided post- Cold War relations.
The wall, of course, began being demolished in 1989 and, in October of 1990, Germany was reunified, having no more physical, or other, wall dividing these two people.
So let’s work together. If there are feuds among you, do your part to squash it. If you have differences, use those differences to work together, not against each other. We are not meant to tear each other down, but to build each other up. Look for ways to do that.
God has reconciled us to Him through His son. And through Jesus, he also has broken down the wall of hostility, making a new man in the place of two, making peace to those who are in His body.
If there are walls in your life today, whether between you and God or you and others, give it to God today. He’s the one who can bring those walls down and build something wonderful in it’s place. Let him do that tonight.
Take Home Message: God, through Jesus, has broken down every wall of hostility and brought us together with Him and with His body.
Breaking down a wall, building up a house (Point 4?) (v.20-22)