Summary: Through the cross we have peace--peace with God, ourselves, and most significantly with each other. The cross of Christ breaks through the barriers we erect between ourselves and makes us members of God's family.
Name calling, character assassination, innuendos, lying and deception—it sounds like presidential politics in the United States. This is not what I am referring to, however. I’m talking about the first official fight in the early Christian Church. It was a knock-down, dragged out battle. All of it done, of course, in the name of Jesus.
Paul writes in the midst of the struggle. His words shed light on what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection, and who we are as his followers and disciples.
JEWS VS GENTILES
Modern day Christians occasionally view the early Christian Church as sinless movement that only became a corrupt institution over the passage of time. This is not the case. From the very beginning, the Christian Church has experienced conflict.
For centuries, the Jews understood themselves to be God’s chosen people. There was a social dividing wall between the Jews and everyone else who were called gentiles. Jews did not associate with gentiles. If a Jew came into contact with a gentile he or she was ritually unclean and separated from the worshipping community. Gentiles were considered enemies of God and objects of God’s wrath.
Then came Jesus and everything changed. The Jewish Christians had difficulty believing that salvation could ever come to the gentiles. They then reasoned that the gentiles may have a chance if they first became Jews and then became Christians.
Paul and the gentile Christians disagreed. They stressed that all of humankind is saved by faith and not by works of the law. The first church council, which took place in Jerusalem, was called to settle this problem. Even though the council agreed with Paul and the gentiles, Jewish Christians, who were called the circumcision party, continued the fight behind the scenes.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul proclaims that we are all equal because of the cross of Christ, and he celebrates this good news.
The cross of Christ both places us on level ground and unifies us. To the Ephesians Paul writes that there is not Jew or gentile. Paul expands it in other letters and writes that there is neither Jew nor Greek, master or slave, man or woman. We are all one in Christ. The cross also unifies us in that we are all loved by God, saved by grace, and members of God’s family. We are people of one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
Our unity in the cross is the glue that holds us together. It doesn’t erase our differences, but it does make us one. We are challenged to emphasize the things that we have in common rather than the differences that separate us.
Christians have struggled to live in this reality from the first days of the church. We are challenged to live in this reality today. There is no issue today that doesn’t have Christians on either side of it. Christians are republicans and democrats, they are pro-choice and pro-life, they are both for the war and against it, and they are ant-gay or supportive of gay rights. We are very different people, yet still loved by God, saved by grace, and members of God’s family. We are challenged to acknowledge our differences while celebrating our unity.