Walls

This week we’re exploring how the Gospel is for everyone. If you haven’t read Trevor’s post this week, I highly suggest you do. It’s great stuff.

The temple in Jerusalem was arranged spatially, much like concentric circles.

At the center was the Holy of Holies, the room that held the Ark of the Covenant an where God was said to dwell. Expanding outward were the Court of Priests and the Court of the Jews. Then a double wall separating the inner areas from the outer courtyard, sometimes called the Court of the Gentiles.

On that outer wall sat a sign saying that any Gentile who passed the wall into the inner courts would be killed. So yeah, really subtle.

You can imagine all that could be inferred from such a setup: God was at the center and you had to travel farther in to get close to him. There were categories everyone fit into, and those categories decided how close you could get to God. Most of these categories were not about attitude or even your actions, but about things outside of your control like ethnicity or gender (that’s right, women had their own separate court).

Some even came to believe that they had a monopoly on the Divine.

These conclusions were not strange in their time. In fact, they dovetailed nicely with what most people believed about gods, people and the way they interacted together.

So when Paul comes along in Ephesians 2 talking about unity and peace (continuing the message of Jesus, obviously), it’s a radical new vision for the world. And he uses the temple as an example:

“But you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles not one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” — Ephesians 2:13-14

That wasn’t a metaphorical wall for his audience. They knew that wall. Some of them had seen it and read the sign. It was physical and real and let some people in and left others out.

141105-berlin-wall-love-inline_5e5dc8a6a30dbb749f89cbbf0369ed2aMost of that seems archaic to us, right? We don’t have physical walls like that anymore. Of course it was not long ago in our own history that things like Apartheid or “colored only” drinking fountains (it makes my skin crawl just to type that) or gender-related glass ceilings in corporations were very real and just as hostile.

And then racial tensions erupt in a place like Baltimore and we realize that we still have walls.

We are still very good at categorizing and dividing one another.

Which is why Jesus is just as revolutionary today as he was 2000 years ago. He didn’t spend his time hanging out at the temple. He was on the outskirts touching lepers and women with bleeding issues and eating at the homes of tax collectors and talking to Samaritan women.

And then he is crucified on a cross on an abandoned hill. The pinnacle of the story — of God’s saving action in the universe — happens not in the temple, but on the outskirts of town where everyone can see. Where everyone has access.

And in that moment, according to Paul, he tore down that dividing wall between people. Yes, the one in the temple. But also every other one we like to build between ourselves an others.

So now there is no longer Jew or Greek, slaves or free men, men or women in this new reality. There is no black, white, red or brown. There is no poor or rich. There is only us. What Jesus spent his ministry showing one by one, he did for all in his death. His story is for everyone.

No one — not even Christians — can have a monopoly on God and what he is doing in the world.

Not that we ignore our differences. But now we celebrate them as part of God’s wondrous diversity rather than bricks to build walls between us. Because while Jesus was rescuing us from so many things — sin, death, pain, sorrow — he was also saving us from uniformity and sameness. Because now in our rich differences we all have the same access to the Divine.

The walls have been brought down. We are all one through the power of Christ.

The Gospel is indeed for all.

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