Summary: When we look at others as God does, we won't be so quick to throw up barriers.
I want to speak to you about walls this morning. Can you think of any famous walls? How about the wall that is so large it can be seen from space? That’s the Great Wall of China. It’s actually a series of walls built, rebuilt, and maintained between 685 BC and 1644 AD. With all of its branches, the Great Wall stretches for 8,850 kilometers, twice the distance between Vancouver and Ottawa!
Another famous, but much shorter wall is the Berlin Wall. It started out as a barbwire fence in 1961, but eventually morphed into a concrete wall patrolled by soldiers. Its purpose was to stop East Berliners from escaping to the West. About 100 people died trying to get past that wall in its 28 years of existence.
There’s another infamous wall that you may never have heard of. It was called the Soreg. This wall surrounded the temple of Jesus’ day and its purpose was to keep out anyone who was not Jewish. Imagine building a wall around our church and saying that only Canadians, or only people from St. Albert, or only those with an annual income over $50,000 may enter. I would hope you would run me out of this church if I ever suggested building such a wall! And yet could it be that we put up invisible walls like that all the time? Could our prejudices hinder us from interacting with others in a loving, Christ-like manner? Have walls of bitterness, for example, cut off family ties, and hurt relationships within this congregation? It’s not just the Great Wall of China that can be seen from the heavens, so can these walls we’ve put up. Today the Holy Spirit wants to help us tear down those walls. He’ll do that by giving us a God’s-eye view of others as we continue our study of the New Testament book of Ephesians.
There seemed to have been an invisible wall between the Jewish and non-Jewish, or Gentile believers in Ephesus. This was not so surprising because for centuries the Jewish people had been conditioned to think that as God’s chosen people, they were better than everyone else. The Jews were indeed God’s chosen people, but they had not been chosen because they were better than everyone else. Last week we heard Paul declare that at one time everyone, including the Jews, was dead in sin and objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). But God did choose to reveal his grace early and often to the Jewish people. And through them that message was to go out to the world. If a mother asks one of her children to announce to the other kids that it’s time to eat, that child better not just sit down at the table, fork and knife in hand while his siblings are clueless of the dinner invitation.
But sadly, over the years, the Jews had begun to act like such a self-centred child. They didn’t think the Gentiles were worth inviting to the banquet of God’s salvation. That’s because they misunderstood the purpose of the various laws that God had given to his Old Testament people, like how they were not supposed to intermarry with people of other nations. God forbad that intermarriage because he knew how quickly the Israelites would adopt the pagan religions of their brides and grooms! Paul spoke about those pagan religions when he said to the Gentiles, “…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” (Ephesians 2:12).
What Paul writes is important for us to grasp because there are many today who insist that one religion is just as good as the next. You even will hear some who call themselves Christians say that the Jews and Muslims worship the same God as Christians do. But that’s not what Paul taught here in Ephesians. He says that if you are without Christ, then you are without God, and you are without the hope of salvation. Paul explains why that is when he wrote: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:13, 14a).
There was once an invisible wall of sin between God and people. Think of how sin interrupted the perfect relationship Adam and Eve once enjoyed with God. They used walk and talk with him. But after they sinned they hid from him. Ironically it should have been God who hid from Adam and Eve—like you would hide from your dog if it has become rabid. At least God should have folded his arms in disgust and in righteous judgment. Instead what did he do? He went looking for his wayward children with open arms. He then opened his arms wide again in the person of his Son, Jesus. Just picture that scene on Mt. Calvary. When the Roman soldiers grabbed hold of Jesus to nail him to the cross, Jesus could have frowned, folded his arms, and said something like: “Make my day!” Instead he opened his arms to them, willingly letting himself be crucified. Why? Because it was only through the shedding of his sinless blood, that the wall of sin which existed between God and us could be dissolved, like water eating away at a paper wall a child has built into his sandcastle. No other religion offers such a savior.