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.
One of the first things I learnt about this congregation is that our ancestors have come from very different places and different ethnic groups. We are different. I bring this up partly because the word here for Gentile is ethne which is where we get the word ethnic from, meaning nations. We’ve got Prussian descent, Silesian, other German, English, Scottish, Irish, and that’s just me, (Dutch, Swedish, Ethiopia, Nigerian, I know there are different ethnicities in those two, but I don’t really know the areas [Dubbo]). And now here we are in Australia, another nation. We are of the nations and Paul is talking here to you and me. At one time you nations were separate from Christ and without God (verse 11). In Peter’s first letter God tells us, once you were not a people, now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy and now you have (2:10). Now despite our different heritages, we are all united in faith and are part of St Mark’s/John’s Lutheran congregation. We are one.
Paul here is writing specifically about separation between God’s covenant people of Israel and the new non-Jew converts to the way of Jesus. This separation was far greater than the difference and hostility between the European settlers and the Aboriginal people, big though that was. The difference between Jew and Gentile was hope, true peace and God Himself. The Jews had it and everyone else didn’t. The Jews had grown up as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the children of the promise (Romans 9:6-13). They were the one ethnic group, the only nation that God had chosen and guided, even formed Himself. He was their God and their God alone for around 2000yrs. He spoke His promises to them, He provided land and salvation from their enemies, His presence and Spirit dwelt with them. He was their God and they were His people and they were different.
But God in His infinite grace has not kept it that way. This is what Paul is assuring the gentiles of Ephesus of, and reminding the Jews of Ephesus as well. As both were joined to Christ in baptism, both are now people of God’s promises and Christ has dissolved the barriers between them. Once they were separate, now they are one in Christ. Certainly there were differences between the cultures and appearance of Jews, non-Jews and other non-Jews, we can still see that today, but in Christ we are all one. And Jesus Himself prays for us that we would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:11).
And now comes the question. Between you and me is there a barrier, are you uncomfortable around me, do you dislike me, not understand me, or perhaps something else? What about each other? As members of God’s family, do we see each other as our own brothers and sisters? If not, what is separating us, why might we avoid each other? In a similar way to the Jews and Gentiles, we are separated from each other by sin, the sinful acts of the other person, or our own. Perhaps we don’t forgive a fellow Christian, or we think we’re better than them, a better Christian, a better age, better life circumstance, or maybe we even dislike them and act upon our displeasure. Sin is the enemy, not each other, and it is sin that separates us here in this world.
Sin is what separates us from God as well, our rejection of His way and our arrogance in saying our way is better. And sin has been defeated by Jesus Christ. God has promised you peace, deep and lasting peace for eternity with Him. We have been promised this our Baptism into Christ. And He has died to sin, so in Him sin has no power and peace reigns. He has destroyed the dividing walls between people of all nations, there is no longer Jew nor Greek for you are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). Now there is peace between us Christians, but much more significantly, peace between us and God. In Christ we have become a new humanity of peace, reconciled together to God through the cross, by which Christ has put to death all hostility between us. We now live in peace with each other and with God, that everlasting peace that only God can provide.
May that peace which passes all our human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Graham Joseph