“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). What are the strongest alienations between people groups that you have personally witnessed? Black versus white in the southern United States, the Serbian-Albanian conflict of the entire twentieth century, Arab-Jewish hostilities that have plagued the Middle East, the long-standing tensions between the Japanese and Chinese — these are all examples of societal ruptures that have seemed to be irreconcilable.
Such was the division between Gentiles and Jews in Paul’s day. He had witnessed and personally known prejudice in his heart that seemed rooted in the very DNA of his culture. The Jews taught that the Gentiles were unclean. It was not lawful for a Jew to aid a Gentile woman in giving birth, for that would bring another heathen into the world. Even touching a Gentile was taboo. When Peter entered the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, he told the crowd gathered there: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation” (Acts 10:28). That was why Paul marveled at Gentiles and Jews sitting together in worship of Jesus the Christ. He personally saw individuals from both groups who had perpetually hated each other eating in friendship at the same table.
Paul reminded the Gentiles of the church at Ephesus that God’s grace draws men and women from great distances to His kingdom. “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:12–13). These Gentiles had not grown up with the promises of God from the Old Testament. They had not been raised with the monotheistic worship of the temple and the expectation of a Messiah. They were strangers to the covenant Lord of Israel.
I have a friend who never attended church until he was in college. He became a Christian through a campus ministry. He later spoke to me about the first time he entered a Christian worship service. He had never heard the hymns “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me.” He said: “My language, morals, attitudes, and background were not Christian. When I went to church for the first time as a follower of Jesus, I felt out of place. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t belong with these people.’” Paul would say of him, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
Paul reminded the Jews of the church at Ephesus that God’s grace draws to Himself men and women who have been raised in close proximity to His kingdom. “He came and preached peace . . . to those who were near” (2: 17). These people had been raised from childhood in the midst of God’s people, knew the Word of God, and lived in hope of the Messiah. They were near, but they were nonetheless sinners in need of the gospel.
God was creating one race out of two, or one people out of many diverse races and cultures. Do we really believe that? We keep on trying to bring the prejudices and divisions created by the world into the church. Bishop John Reed drove a school bus in Australia filled with white and aboriginal boys. Their biases were seen daily as the two races constantly fought with each other. One afternoon, an exasperated Reed pulled the bus to the side of the road. He asked the white boys, “What color are you?” They answered, “We are white.” He said: “No, you are not. You are green. All boys who ride my bus are green.” He asked the aborigines, “What color are you?” They answered, “We are black.” He said, “No you are not. You are green. All boys who ride my bus are green.” As he drove away, there was silence, until he heard a boy announce, “All right, light green sit on the left, dark green on the right.” That vignette is all too true of what we see in our churches. Jesus brings a gospel unity out of prejudicial diversities, and the old nature within us continually tries to erect the old walls of intolerance.
The walls of alienation built and fortified every day in the world are destroyed by Christ. Are you a feminist? Leave it outside. That wall has been destroyed by Christ. Are you a male chauvinist? Leave it outside. That wall has been destroyed by Christ. Do you discriminate based on race? Leave it outside. That wall has been destroyed by Christ. Do you draw social or economic distinctions? Leave them outside. Those walls have been destroyed by the gospel.
Christian sisters and brothers, just think what a testimony that was to the reality and power of the gospel in the ancient world — Jews and Gentiles living in harmony. That same powerful witness is taking place when blacks and whites, Serbs and Albanians, Arabs and Jews, Japanese and Chinese gather as one underneath the cross of Christ.
Just as the war with God brought war between men, peace with God brought peace between men. You cannot be at peace with God and at war with His other children who have been redeemed by the blood of His Son.