11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
There are two kinds of hostility highlighted in this passage- horizontal hostility and vertical hostility.
Horizontally, there is hostility between Jew and Gentile. In the biblical worldview as you all know- this is the major categorical distinction when it comes to people. There are Jews and there are gentiles. God's chosen people and everybody else. Its not just that there was a distinction however, there was hostility between them. You can see this in verse 11- at one time you Gentiles, called the "uncircumcision"- this is not a friendly term. It was a marker that you were outside of God's people. Paul goes on in verse 12 to say that Gentiles were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. And in verse 14 he refers to a dividing wall of hostility. Some commentators believe this refers to the wall that separated the court of the Gentiles from the inner courts of the temple. Others believe it refers to the law of commandments expressed in ordinances as Paul goes on to talk about. Either understanding points us to a separation caused by their relationship with God. Jews were given the law, the covenant promises of God and called to be God's Holy people and display him to the world. However, it is plain from Gen. 12 that the intention in God creating this holy and distinct people is not hostility with the nations- but blessing for the nations! He blesses Abraham so that all nations would be blessed. His intention was not ethnocentrism and racism, but that the world would see the holy God of Israel, repent and come to worship him. But, as we saw from our confession of sin, sinful hearts act out sinfully, as Jonah is actually angry that God saves the people from Ninevah. God, I didn't want to go because I knew that you were so merciful and you would cause those people to repent. Real hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
But Paul does not simply talk about horizontal hostility, but he goes on to talk about the hostility that the gentiles experience vertically with God. He says in verse 12 that they were "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." No hope. Without God. Vertical Hostility with the Holy God of the universe. What has caused this? Paul has already addressed this in vs. 1 of this chapter- "and you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you walked"- their sin causes this kind of hostility with a holy and righteous God.
But Paul doesn't just point out the vertical hostility of the gentiles. He calls the Jews, the circumcision, and then remarks in vs. 11 that this is made by hands. This is a crucial point. Paul shows here- that circumcision alone didn’t make one right with God. It was made with hands. He is highlighting that there is actually profound unity between Jews and Gentiles. Both are in hostility with God because of sin. John Piper in his book Bloodlines says that there is a need for “the conviction that all human beings, including me and you, are corrupt, depraved, guilty, and condemned. We are all under the just sentence of hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And the racial diversity of hell will be as great as it is in heaven, but there will be no harmony there. The ethnic diversity of hell is a crucial doctrine. Paul put it like this: “there will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (Romans 2:9). God is no respecter of persons in salvation or in damnation.”
This means that we are all on the titanic of history together sinking fast.
Friends, this passage does not leave us there- but offers us good news, sweet relief. And it has profound implications for what our reconciliation and peace with others will look like.
In vs. 13-18 Paul says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself in 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. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirt to the Father.”
Here Paul talks about a vertical reconciliation with God and a horizontal reconciliation with others. These are not two separate realities but one great reality accomplished at one time, in one way, by one person— Jesus. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He, Jesus, He himself is our peace. He has broken down the dividing wall in his flesh, and through the cross, he has killed the hostility. The division and hostility that exists between a holy God and a sinful people can only be reconciled in one way. And the division and hostility that exists between different groups of sinful people can only be reconciled in the same way: The Cross of Jesus Christ. This is the great purpose of God in redeeming the world to himself. A holy God who hates sin but loves to show mercy to sinners. How can this be reconciled? By coming to earth in the person of his son Jesus in the flesh, and then to go to a roman cross and take on the punishment that we deserved for our sin so that God’s justice is satisfied, and his mercy displayed. Only that will kill hostility between God and man— only by killing Jesus.
At the very same time, he has, by his blood shed on the cross broken down every potential barrier of hostility and division between people— in order to create one new man! One new people! One glorious community of people united in peace together by the blood of Jesus. Jesus has fulfilled all the law— moral, ceremonially, and civil and in doing so he has abolished the ceremonial and civil laws that divided people and created hostility that could not be overcome. Jesus has now overcome this.
And if he has done so in this monumental way with the deepest divide— Jew and Gentile, what does that mean for our divides? You see the only way horizontal unity and peace can be achieved is to have the hostility killed. The only way for the external hostility to be killed, and the internal hostility to be killed is the killing of Jesus. His blood can purify the foulest racist and replace that hostility with love. Only by being united in this one new man— the church of Jesus Christ, can this happen. Only by seeing that we have access to God in the same one way— Jesus. To quote Piper again: “The cross of Christ is a great leveler of human beings, not only because it shows that we are all desperate sinners, and not just because it can only be received by faith, but also because it is such a full and effective ransom for the elect that no child of God dare ever think that we made any contribution to the purchase. Even our new birth and faith were secured by the blood of Jesus. No color, no ethnicity, no intelligence, no skill, no human wealth or power can add anything to the all-sufficient, all- effective sacrifice of Christ. The redeemed of every race and ethnicity are one in our utter dependence on his effective blood and righteousness.”
Paul will not let us in this passage separate vertical reconciliation with God and horizontal reconciliation with his people across racial and cultural lines. This is where the passage ends— because of what Christ has done on the cross, if we are reconciled to God vertically, we are now reconciled to each other horizontally. Verse 19 says that we are Fellow citizens and members of the household of God. And in 20- we are Being built up together into the temple of God. The very dwelling place of God.
If humanity is alike in being lost and sitting upon the sinking Titanic of history together, than there is but one way out. One life boat out of history’s demise— Jesus Christ. And that boat is for all who are in Christ Jesus. There is no special helicopter sent to rescue just you so that you don’t have to get on the crowded boat with all the other people. No. If you want one kind of reconciliation (vertical with God or Horizontal with others) you must take both, because the price paid for one purchases the other as well.
The question for all of you is will you be reconciled to God vertically and to one another horizontally?
This is an adaptation of a sermon that I gave on May 8th during the worship service of a meeting of the Central Indiana Presbytery.