Summary: Walls separate us from each other and God but Jesus shows us how to break down those walls and build something better.
Why do we build walls? Walls in a home provide a barrier to keep out the elements, to ensure privacy, and to hang pictures. Why do we build walls? Fear! For protection. As a defense against hostile forces.
The Great Wall of China was built to keep out the invading hordes of Genghis Khan and other powerful enemies. This amazing defensive palisade stretches for 6700 kilometers over the Chinese frontier. It has stood for over 2000 years and is a symbol of a peoples’ desire to be safe.
Hadrian’s Wall in Great Britain was built for a similar reason: to keep the wild tribes of the north from threatening civilized Roman settlements in the south. It was built in the second century and ran 73 miles long through the English countryside.
In more recent history we will recall the infamous Berlin Wall and its notorious purpose of keeping people in. Those who had visited the wall before its destruction in 1989 said that they could feel the built-in suspicion and mutual distrust, the hatred and hostility, and the outright defiance represented by that wall. East German guards would watch with keen eyes both sides of the wall making certain that no one came in or out. Many people were killed trying to escape East Germany. And where their bodies fell, West Germans would erect crosses as a reminder and open defiance of the East German guards.
Do you remember how the world rejoiced when the Berlin Wall was dismantled by exultant Germans in 1989? What a time that was. West Germans were reunited with East Germans to become one Germany after 45 years of painful division. But when the wall came down, I believe the Germans discovered an invisible wall that was even more difficult to tear down.
There were two cultures at odds: one of an oppressed people, the other free-thinking and prosperous. East Germans may have felt like 2nd class citizens, charity cases for the West, while the West may have felt resentment at having to support their poor brothers. It was a new kind of hostility still experienced today.
Why do we build walls? All of us have invisible walls that are difficult to deconstruct. If we are honest about who we are we have to admit that we do not allow others to see our true selves. For some people we build higher walls, such as belligerent family members, while for others we keep a waist high fence. We are afraid people will see too much of us and thus have nothing to do with us. Or, we are afraid we will lose something if we allow others to influence us or change us. So we throw up a wall. We have many walls.
Jesus came to destroy walls. His mission was to remove the barriers that keep us from knowing God, knowing each other, and ultimately living in true relationship. In this part of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes how Christ breaks down walls and brings people together.
1. Walls That Separate Us
A great wall separated the early church into two categories: Jew and Gentile. Apparently for Ephesus this division was the reality. There were in fact two types of division, social and spiritual.
a) Social Division. We read in v. 11 that Gentiles were called a derogatory name by the Jews, the “uncircumcised.” For Jews, circumcision was a badge of honor, a mark of distinction: “We are God’s people and you are not.” There are two kinds of people to Jews: those who are Jews and those who are not. The Jews of Jesus day would often pray two things: “Thank you Lord that I am not a Gentile” and “Thank you Lord that I was not born a woman.”(There’s a wall for ya)
Jewish literature from that time indicated that Jews believed God created Gentiles for the sole purpose of fueling the fires of hell. It was unlawful for a Jew to help a Gentile woman give birth for that is simply helping another Gentile into the world.
Can you imagine the hostility that would ensue when you bring these two groups together in one church? There’s a lot of deep-seated animosity to get over. It may also explain, though in no way justify, why there is so much anti-Semitism in the world.
Let’s not kid ourselves – this is true of every ethnic group. There is always suspicion of other groups and a fear that outsiders will take away what we hold dear. Mennonites historically have had walls built to prevent outside influence. We have even been scared of other Mennonites (ie. MBs).
b) Spiritual Division. An even deeper division existed between Jews and Gentiles before the Gospel came. This was a spiritual division based on genuine ignorance: