Wall, borders, customs, gerrymandering, the wall…all these conjure up images of keeping people out, protecting those on this side from those on that side. Political and legal talk might lead us to think in terms of issues rather than people, who are the real subjects here. In Paul’s day, the Jews protected themselves and their temple from the pollution of the Gentiles. A low wall in the temple, called a “soreg” divided them; one inscription says “No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have himself to blame for the ensuing death.” (1) The Jews had no peace. In “The Line Becomes a River,” Francisco Cantu help us to see the immigration battle more clearly, as he relates his experiences as a border patrol agent, through his interactions with real people on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Walls and borders do not bring peace, only the illusion of it, in the same way that finances, politics, and legal decisions do. Yet, we continue to build walls, trying to defend our ideals and draw lines in our lives to protect our hearts and emotions from injury. We associate with certain people and avoid others; we go to certain shopping centers, restaurants, and gyms at specific times to be comfortable and convenient. We are not at peace because our efforts to live in cocoons is not what God intends for us. The good news is that Christians are not spiritually divided, internally or externally; we are not broken or alienated as believers in Christ. So why do we insist on acting as if we are?
“In a society haunted by fragmentation, hi-tech distractedness, and the loneliness of individualism, where hearts—even Christian hearts—are empty theaters of longing, we crave divine peace. The increasing emptiness people feel amid prosperity eloquently exposes the importance of this missing peace. But where do we find it?… In Christ, God has already made us his beloved children, gracing us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm. Among such blessings is peace that surpasses understanding. We therefore no longer approach God from a place of privation, unsure of whether he wishes to allay our distress. We recognize, rather, that he has already provided limitless resources of peace as integral to our identity in Christ.” (2)
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-14) Jesus Christ is our peace; he has destroyed the hostility we once had with God to unite us to him. He has broken down the wall. Christians need not accept animosity as the world does and or fear to comingle with others because we have fellowship with Christ, who is infinitely different from us. Our sin divided us from God when we were far off, like refugees, but now he has brought us near. Like those who were thrown out of their homelands, wandering, not knowing where they might end up, we were lost, without a real home and desperate for acceptance. Christ alone was able to bring us through the dividing wall of our hostility to him, by his blood-soaked work of peace on the cross. His is not a temporary peace, like that of pain medication that must be retaken, but permanent, eternal well-being—true shalom.
Paul goes on in Ephesians to explain what Christ specifically did for and in us, “…by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…” (2:15) We are no longer controlled by God’s ceremonial law, held accountable to it, and having to be law-keepers for our security. Jesus Christ abolished the ceremonial law by his final propitiatory sacrifice and fulfilled God’s moral commandments. They no longer determine our position with him when we have been justified by faith in him. He has made us new, unconflicted creatures who love the gospel and want to obey God, the author of peace. Instead of the law burdening and wearying us, stirring up our sin, it is our reminder of God’s love and blessings. Instead of the “Jewish” law being something that separates the Jews from the rest of God’s creatures, it is that which all believers want to fulfill, loving God and our neighbors. Jesus has “reconcile[d] us [all] to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:16) Paul wrote that Christs reconciled “both” the Jews and Gentiles, but it serves us to see this symbolically as the union of all people from every tribe and nation in Christ. No one in our communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, or organizations are excluded by religion or nationality from the free gift of grace in Christ. No immigrant, politician, lawyer, refugee, rabbi, imam, salesperson, fetish priest, customs agent, child, or patient is outside of the gospel’s reach. So why are we so protective, as if we own the gift, denying it’s distribution by denying prayer and witnessing for everyone? Why have we withdrawn impenitently into protective, convenient cocoons without a thought for those unlike ourselves? Is this God’s peace? If you live in a suburb as I do, we should consider how remarkably similar the people in our church body are to each other. Our church is reaching out to those in our community who are different from us, not satisfied in our homogeneity, which doesn’t reflect kingdom reality today. Those who live in urban centers have an advantage with more diverse congregations, where Christ’s victorious destruction of the dividing wall may be evident physically, linguistically, and culturally. Believers rejoice in our love for God, worshipping together, unrestricted by our diversity—here is a taste of heavenly shalom.
Paul continues, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17-18). Instead of preaching the law with its impossible demands, Jesus proclaimed gospel peace, which is extended now through his Spirit to the elect. The triune God works together for our peace, through forgiveness, for his glory. “He takes them as it were by the hand, and leads them into the presence of his Father, and presents their petitions for them, on whose account they have both audience and acceptance with God…” by one Spirit”…a spirit of adoption, to enable and encourage souls to go to God as a father; and as a spirit of supplication, to teach both how to pray, and for what, as they should; and as a free spirit to give them liberty to speak their minds freely, and pour out their souls to God; and as a spirit of faith to engage them to pray in faith, and with holy boldness, confidence, and importunity…and is a peculiar privilege that belongs to the children of God; and who have great honour bestowed upon them, to have access to God at any time, as their Father, through Christ the Mediator, and under the influence, and by the direction and assistance of the Holy Spirit…” (3)
Do you get caught up in arguments or debates about who did what to whom, in the realm of politics, entertainment, or even religion? Would it not be better to seek a biblical world view? How much does legalism drive you to be task-oriented, checking off items on your list rather than let the gospel guide you, through the people God has put in your life? Do you have peace, knowing that the Holy Spirit helps you to pray, providing the peace the world cannot offer? Do you enjoy worshipping with your church family, studying and fellowshipping with them, or do you withdraw, not valuing them as you could and should? I want to encourage you, as I have been encouraged now to embrace the peace of Christ by turning away from the world’s hostilities. We who study God’s Word will never exhaust its power to change us, which gives us hope. Long ago God’s people were exiled because of their hostility toward him, demonstrated through idolatry. But He spoke to them through the prophets, who faithfully recorded his words. “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:4-5) Our Shepherd has broken down the wall of hostility for eternal peace and security.
(1) “The middle wall of partition” at: https://biblethingsinbibleways.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/the-middle-wall-of-partition-misunderstandings-regarding-eph-214-16/
(2) “3 Overlooked Gifts of the Reformation,” by Chris Castaldo (3/7/17) at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-overlooked-gifts-of-the-reformation/
(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ephesians 2:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ephesians-2.html
July 3, 2019