As the Afghan crisis continues to unfold I notice that both Turkey and Greece have built walls to stop Afghan refugees from crossing into their countries. The UK doesn’t need a wall but as it is we’ve agreed to take 20000 refugees but only 5000 this year. My neighbour is disgusted, he says we have enough problems looking after our people without taking in more refugees.
The walls interest me because they’re not the first walls of separation. Donald Trump made a big play of building a wall to keep out Mexicans. A wall was built in Berlin, Germany to separate East and West. In the UK a wall was built in Hadrian’s name to “separate Romans from the barbarians” to the north. The Great Wall of China was built over centuries by Chinese emperors to protect their territory and we consider it one of the wonders of the world. Another wall exists to separate the Jews in Israel from Palestinians in the West Bank. Here’s an amazing statistic. There are currently 55 walls separating countries one from another. The idea of world peace is a long way off if left to us. Thankfully it is Jesus on his return who will bring world peace.
The letter to the church of God in Ephesus was written to Gentiles or non-Jews. Paul who wrote the letter said, “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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (1)
In the Jewish temple of Jesus’ time, there actually was a wall separating Jews and Gentiles. Paul used that idea to talk about a much worse wall, an invisible wall of hostility called prejudice. The Jews were God’s chosen people who should have been humbled by such a blessing but it made them proud and superior. To them, Gentiles were lesser people. Gentiles, separated from Israel, were considered to be without hope and without God in the world. Such an attitude from the Jews was exemplified in the well-known story of the Good Samaritan, chosen to highlight the common view that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Maybe not, but in the story, the Jews failed their own man while the enemy Samaritan went above and beyond to help him.
Jesus destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. It wasn’t a physical wall so he couldn’t attack it with a hammer. To remove this barrier he had to die. He had to bear our sins and draw us to him where old prejudices die and we unite in Christ. It’s not just a Jew and Gentile matter, even though that covers the whole of humanity. Paul takes the idea much further. In a letter to the Galatians, he said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (2) In Christ there can be no prejudice or bigotry. He has ushered in a world that can exist without oppression, racism or sexism. The Christian church has the potential to show a better way to a world that just wants to build walls between people.
None of this is possible unless another barrier is first removed. It’s Paul who once again writes to a church, this time in Colossae. He says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.” (3) Our sins have separated us from God and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, God has already done something. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (4) God in Christ has given us a way of having the barrier between us and God removed. It’s simply a matter of accepting that Jesus died for us and choosing to live for him. It’s not difficult, is it?
- Ephesians 2:12-16
- Galatians 3:28
- Colossians 1:21
- Colossians 1:22