Summary: So many people today live "without hope and without God" (Eph. 2:12), yet we build up walls that divide us from sharing the gospel with them. Christ tears down these walls and builds up the true church in its place.
[I started the sermon at the altar rail that goes across the entire width of the front of the sanctuary.]
Imagine, for a moment, that when you walked into church this morning that you received a big surprise. Imagine that in the past week, a wall had been erected, right about where the altar rail is, all the way from the floor to the ceiling.
A wall had been erected to separate you from the communion table, denying you a place at the communion meal.
A wall had been erected to separate you from the Bible up on the altar, making sure that only properly educated scholars would be given access to God’s Word, but not you.
A wall had been erected to separate you from the cross at the front of the sanctuary, hiding from you the reminder that Christ died on the cross and then rose to new life again after three days, hiding the fact that Christ wants to share this new life with you.
A wall had been erected to separate you from the candles on the altar, our symbol of God’s light in our midst, leaving you on the outside of the wall in darkness.
A wall had been erected to separate you from the piano and the organ, silencing the music and leaving you without the powerful praise of God that music brings us.
A wall had been erected to separate you from the sermon, making sure you couldn’t hear the good news proclaimed – God continues to heal the sick, mend the broken, reconcile the strangers, save the lost, forgive the sinner, and bring new life into the midst of the death of this world.
A wall had been erected.
A wall much like the wall that was in Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. See, this wall was in the Jewish temple, separating the most important part of the temple – the Court of the Israelites – from the Court of the Gentiles. So everyone in the world who wasn’t Jewish, the Gentiles, were separated from the temple by a wall. And on this wall were signs in both Greek and Latin warning that Gentiles were to go no further into the temple, under penalty of death! The wall separated those with “rightful” access to God’s house of worship and those who were separated from worshipping God.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I believe Paul may have had this very wall in mind when he writes: “Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ – a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
Here, Paul is talking about the same two groups – the Jews and the Gentiles – the circumcision and the uncircumcision. And Paul says, remember when you were strangers, remember when walls kept you separated, remember when those walls meant you were left on the outside, left without hope and without God in the world. The Greek word used here for ‘without God’ is atheos – where we get our word atheist from. People who lived without God in their world were essentially atheists.
But verse 13 goes on to proclaim, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Christ has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility that separated Jews and Gentiles from one another and from God.
But we humans love building up walls, don’t we?
[Illustration about the Berlin Wall was used at this point in the sermon.]
But hear these words:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:13-14)
We can build up all the dividing walls we want, but Christ breaks them down. And with the walls broken down, we can see the result that Christ brings – Christ creates one new humanity from two divided groups. Christ isn’t going to make all the Jews into Gentiles or all the Gentiles into Jews. Instead, Christ creates *in himself* a new people – the people of the church. So Christ gives to the church unity – not unity through uniformity by making us all exactly the same, because later in Ephesians we hear about the distinct gifts of the Holy Spirit that make us different from one another – but unity that comes because all Christians are centered on the one Christ: “for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.”