Growing in Peace
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:11-12 (Holman) So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
“Gentiles” refers to all non-Jews. We can hardly conceive the marvel which swept the Jewish world as they saw their own Scriptures being taken by their own kin to other people groups. We cannot imagine how close-minded Jews were against Gentiles. Jewish contempt for Gentiles was equaled by Gentile hatred for Jews. The animosity was mutual. Plus, Gentiles also hated one another. The Greeks called all others barbarian, and the haughty arrogance of imperialistic Romans is legendary.
Eph. 2:13-17 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
We Gentiles were “far away” from God, but have been “brought near” by the shed blood of Christ. The root cause of our estrangement from God was sin, and Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for sins Jewish, sins Gentile, sins worldwide.
Since His blood vanquished sin, the great separator, Jesus is the great uniter, restoring our friendship with the Father we lost in the Fall, and dealing with the root of our alienation from each other. Salvation is a package deal. In making us right with Himself, Jesus also makes us right with others. He deals simultaneously with the vertical, making us alive to God (2:5), and the horizontal, making “both groups one.”
Sin triggers human conflict. Evil carries in itself the impossibility of peace. By its very nature sin is selfishness, which divides and disrupts.
When we act selfishly, we inevitably infringe on what someone else wants or needs. As we have our own way, we unavoidably invade someone else’s territory.
Jesus defeated sin, the terrible thing in us that causes our social troubles. He thus “is our peace” in human relationships, joining together what is separated. He embodies peace in His own Person. Jesus is our peace-maker and our peace-matter.
He did not come buy peace, set an example, and leave us on our own to enact the results of His efforts. He made peace possible at first, has to come start the peace, and has to abide with us to maintain the peace. He has to be present for the peace He bought at Calvary to work. Jesus is the peace itself. If He leaves, peace fails.
Jesus unites people by bringing them to Himself first. He did not originally send Jews to Gentiles, or Gentiles to Jews. He began by bringing both to Himself.
The best way to bring together two parties at odds is through someone they both love. Jesus does this. A common love for Him lets people love one another.
This was portrayed in Paul himself. It would have been impossible to imagine Saul of Tarsus going as a missionary to Gentiles before his Damascus Road experience. God had to draw Paul unto Himself and fill him with Christ’s love before he was willing to go to the uncircumcised. Paul went to the Gentiles by way of Jesus.
Peace between groups is ultimately achieved not by “us” going to “them,” or by “them” coming to “us,” but by both parties coming to Jesus. He is the meeting place between divergent groups. The way to have true, lasting peace is to take away that which prevents it. Sin is the preventer, and only Jesus deals effectively with sin.
I was blessed to be raised in a home where prejudice was rarely, if ever, displayed. Demeaning words and jokes were forbidden in our household, a rule of conduct I tried to maintain in my house. The reason our family felt this way is rooted in my dad’s boyhood poverty. One of thirteen children, he usually lived in four-room shacks. They were so poor that just before the thirteenth child was born they moved out of their house into the barn. The cows had better quarters than the Marshalls did. Being this low on the social ladder, Dad found it hard to look down on others.
What was true of Dad socially needs to be true of us spiritually. When we see us as we really are, we will deem us so low that we cannot look down on anyone else.
Our only hope is Jesus, who alone was able to lift us out of the miry pit. As we look around we see others different from us who experienced the same lifting.
Jesus raised them also from a pit. In reaching for the same cross, we touch each other, joining hands and hearts, knitting our lives together in praise to Jesus.
Jesus has not made Jews into Gentiles, or Gentiles into Jews. He made of the two a new entity that supersedes the old distinctions. Saved Jews and saved Gentiles are Christ-followers. Neither is lord over the other. Jews no longer have preference, nor are Gentiles to come in and take over. Gentiles were not meant to enter the faith as conquering intruders, but as brothers and sisters who stand side by side with Jewish believers. God makes us one community, one group, one entity, one family.
The social barrier separating Jews and Gentiles was perfectly symbolized by an actual dividing wall of stone and mortar in Herod’s temple that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the inner Jewish courts. This temple wall, bigoted animosity carved in stone, was “the dividing wall of hostility” embodied and made tangible.
This five-feet-tall, beautifully wrought, marble wall stood on a level area from which stairs ascended to the Jewish courts, and stairs descended to the Gentile court. The Jewish courts were twenty-two feet above the Gentile court. Jews were “up,” Gentiles “down.” The wall and stairs were intended to maintain this status quo.
Along the wall, at regular intervals, inscriptions written in Greek and Latin warned Gentiles to proceed no further. These writings are known as the infamous Death Inscriptions. Archaeologists have found two of them. They were blunt and to the point. “No foreigner may enter within the barrier around the Holy Place. Anyone caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” With its stairways and Death Inscriptions, there stood the wall, an incarnation of “the dividing wall of hostility”–cold, stark, cruel, an impasse, a physical picture of a social stalemate and standoff, a marble symbol of a spiritual predicament, a statement in stone.
Paul knew this barrier well. It was fresh in his mind. When writing this letter, he was in a Roman jail due to an arrest in Jerusalem prompted by this very wall. As Paul was writing Ephesians, the temple wall and its Death Inscriptions were still in place, but Paul knew Jesus had rendered their significance null and void.
By tearing the veil at Jesus’ death, God had nullified all other barriers in the temple. Paul could see in his mind’s eye the wall flattened, and its Death Inscriptions buried in rubble. He envisioned us Gentiles joyfully ascending the stairs, stepping across debris, and side by side with Jews from the inner courts drawing nigh to God.
Jesus destroyed “the dividing wall of hostility.” He broke down the animosity the temple’s marble wall symbolized. He beat down the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles into two rooms. He built up relationships by tearing down the hate-barrier.
Let walls fall; have people on opposite sides cross the rubble and embrace one another at the foot of the cross. Is one of us thinking, “I dislike Indians (or Orientals or blacks or Jews or Mormons or Muslims)”? Who appointed us judge and god?
Who asked our opinion? When did any of us who have been bought with a price gain the right to express such a view? A Christian should never say anything Jesus would not say. What right have we to speak such things with lips which are supposed to be Jesus’ lips. Would the gentle Nazarene ever say such a thing? Never!
We must learn to love people who are different from us. Drown prejudice, flush it out, and replace it with acceptance of all people as individuals who have been created in God’s image, and who were so valuable to God that He let His Son die for them. We must lay down our ugly lives, and take up Jesus’ beautiful life.
The Church is entrusted with the only message that brings peace. It is tragic if we pray for peace, yet are delinquent in spreading the Gospel which alone produces unity. We are blood-guilty when evangelism and missions are not our top priority.