Updated: Aug 15, 2019
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We've gotten really good at building walls. We build walls to serve all kinds of purposes. We build walls for protection. We build walls for privacy. We build walls for political purposes. The concept of "walls" has been around for centuries.
Construction of the Great Wall of China was begun some say as early as the 7th century in order to protect and consolidate territories of Chinese states and empires against various nomadic groups.
Hadrian's Wall, also called the Roman Wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 during the reign of Hadrian. I visited Rome a few years ago and found Vatican City nestled behind a system of walls and security systems.
The first barrier fence was built around the White House by Thomas Jefferson around 1801, then just a picket fence, but now a seven foot six inch high barrier equipped with anti-climb and intrusion detection components.
It's been said, "A better fence can provide time, and time is crucial to any protective mission." In his poem, Mending Fences, Robert Frost (1914) says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
We have gotten really good at building physical walls. But, we build personal walls around ourselves as well. We erect these personal boundaries to keep people out of our private lives and to protect ourselves from those trying to look in.
For the Apostle Paul, the dividing wall of alienation was never so blatant as the division between Jew and Gentile. To the Jew, the Gentile was a heathen, the lowest of the lowest class of creation. To the Gentile, the Jews were arrogant and prideful people who boasted to be God's chosen nation standing behind temple rituals, protected by God's laws, rules, and sacrificial regulations.
Dividing walls of hostility had been erected. Paul having written Ephesians from Rome may have had in mind his most recent visit to Jerusalem where he delivered the offering of the Gentile churches to the Jewish Christians. Paul had brought with him Trophimus, a Gentile. They entered the temple enclosure and a riot ensued. Paul was taken into custody, transported to Caesarea and eventually transported to Rome as a prisoner of the state (see Acts twenty-one, verses twenty-seven through thirty-six).
The division between Jew and Gentile worked itself out in a monumental visible architectural symbol of alienation in the divisions and the separate areas of the Herodian Temple. There was an inner court, the court of the priest, then the court of Israel. Separate from that was the court of the women. All three of these courts were on the same level. Outside the court of the women going five steps to a level space, surrounded by a five-foot barricade that went totally around the temple, was another level space and fourteen more steps that descended into the court of the Gentiles. This dividing wall that separated Jew from Gentile was marked at intervals with an inscription:
No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.
But, there was an even greater barrier in the temple complex. It was not outside the temple enclosure. This barrier was at the heart of the temple complex itself. A curtain separated the holy place, which any regularly assigned priest could go, from the most holy place, the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest could go. The high priest could only enter behind that curtain after offering sacrifice for himself and his family and then he could only go in one time a year and only once in a lifetime. In Solomon's temple, that most holy place housed the ark of the covenant, the ultimate symbol of God's presence. The entire system of dividing walls of separation was intended to visually portray the alienation that exists between God and man, between man and man.
A dividing wall separates people from a holy God. The cause of this alienation is sin. Sin separates from God. Sin separates us from one another. What is the solution to this division? Building more walls? May it never be! The Apostle Paul says, "But now in Christ you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13).
At the moment of Christ's death, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the outer court had been torn in two from top to bottom. Christ's death removed the barrier between man and God - reconciliation has occurred. Our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, has entered into that most holy place on behalf of those he has come to save. The result is both Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, have access to the Father by one Spirit 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 2:14).
We can't initiate reconciliation. We have no hope and no peace without it. God sent his son on our behalf to bear the full punishment of our sin. He came 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 with God and enabling us to have peace with one another. Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, has reconciled us with God and gives us a ministry of reconciliation to one another.
The greatest barrier of all has fallen and crumbled under the weight of what Christ has done. For those who are in Christ, there are no dividing walls.