In 1987, President Reagan challenged the Russian leader: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity … Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Walls are rarely good things. They are usually marked with signs saying: “Keep out!”
Such a sign was discovered in 1871. It marked the boundary of the temple in Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it in AD 70; it warned non-Jews that they could not enter.
Let no foreigner enter within the partition and enclosure surrounding the temple. Whoever is arrested will himself be responsible for his death which will follow.
Quite a few words to say, “Keep out!”
In the book of Acts, Jewish opponents of Paul charged that his gentile friends had violated this boundary (see Acts 21:27-28). They had not of course, but no wonder Paul found the demolishing of every wall separating Jews and Gentile to be central to the mission of God (Eph 2.11-21).
While Paul probably has this temple boundary in mind, the real wall is whatever divides God’s people from one another. In this case, the biggest divide among the ancient Christians would have been this Jewish-Gentile divide. So, if God has removed the biggest wall imaginable to a first century Christian, what does that say about any of our lesser divides?
Jesus, according to Paul, tore the wall down. Outsiders—formerly known as those without Christ, aliens to God’s people, and strangers to God’s promises, people with no hope and no God—are now invited to join God’s people. Jesus in giving his life paved the way for outsiders to become insiders. What Jesus did on the cross now creates equal access to God. So now the outsiders are no longer strangers or aliens, but full citizens of God’s kingdom, members of God’s household.
Moreover, there is no longer the recognition of two groups but one group who are joined together to form one new temple. It is fitting then that this text should end with an image of a single temple, don’t you think?
Formerly the insiders denied admittance to those who were outsider. Now, together, hand-in-hand, the two have come together to form a holy temple where God lives.
So if God through Jesus can remove the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, what should we do to the lesser walls we sometimes construct in the life of the church between ins and outs, rich and poor, African-American and Caucasian, males and females, young and old, and so forth?
And the church said, “Tear down this wall!”