In the first-century Herodian temple where the Jews worshiped, there was a series of courts separated by gated walls. Each court moved progressively closer to the Holy of Holies. The first gate was the gate of the Gentiles, and you could walk around in that court if you were a God-fearing Gentile.
If you were a Jewish woman who was ceremonially clean according to Jewish law, you could enter the next gate and go into an inner court. Beyond that lay the gate to the innermost court, where only Jewish men who were ceremonially clean could go without fear of death.
Several years ago, archaeologists found an inscription in the wall of the outermost court, the court of the Gentiles. It read, “Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.”
That’s some pretty hostile language.
But hostility is exactly what existed between Jew and Gentile for centuries. Paul references this hostility using the imagery of the temple courts in Ephesians 3:13-16:
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 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, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Though this passage describes how the work of Christ has done away with the hostility between Jew and Gentile, I believe there is vital application here for modern Christians. We have our own race-related walls of hostility to deal with. White American Christians have to change the language of that sign chiseled on the temple wall to feel how it should impact us today.
So imagine this chiseled on that wall:
“Black man, climb this wall and you’ll have only yourself to blame for your death.”
“Latino man, climb this wall and you’ll have only yourself to blame for your death.”
“Asian man, climb this wall and you’ll have only yourself to blame for your death.”
When Paul says to the worshipers at the Herodian temple that Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility by His blood, he’s saying, “This racial segregation nonsense is over. It’s done by the blood of Christ.” In Christ, God has taken what was two and made it one. He has made “one new man” where once there were two (Eph. 2:14-15).
The Greek word in this text for new is the Greek word kainos. Properly defined, kainos means “of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of.” It doesn’t imply a new version of what was old but rather something brand new. God has taken what was many and has created what is one. From many people, He has made for Himself one new people.
As a church, we must strive to live out this reality by not only becoming more diverse in our attendance but by becoming more diverse in our relationships. If we only look more colorful in weekend worship attendance but we don’t look more colorful in our everyday relationships, that’s not a win. What an epic fail if our weekend services have all of these different colors but our friendships stay homogenized. We’ve won nothing. The wall of hostility has been broken down because God has created a new man. Racist nonsense should die among the people of God.
But it’s going to be hard work. Anglos, you’re going to have to find other ethnicities to grow in friendship with. This must be fought for, must be worked toward, and it won’t be easy. Also, if you are African-American, Latino or Asian, know that many Anglos are going to say dumb stuff, but please don’t push away from the table. Be patient with us. Help us.
If you’re not Anglo, it may be tempting to look around a church that is predominantly Caucasian and think, “Wow, these just aren’t my people.” No, brother or sister, we are your people, and we need your help. We need to be guided, we need to be confronted, we need to be lovingly rebuked, and we need to be encouraged. Help us make sure that wall of hostility stays torn down.
When we fight for deep relationships with those we are tempted to view as racially divided from us, humility results on both sides. We learn to value differences and to recognize how much we have in common as children of the same God. And we cease trying to rebuild walls that have been crushed to dust by the peacemaking work of Christ, by which many are made one.