When Jesus came to Earth, he got his hands dirty. He came to build something new, and to make it work he had to break some things down. And thanks to HGTV and their unrelenting stream of home renovation programming, we all know the first step in any remodeling project: Demolition.
Jesus is all about demolition. He takes the barriers that we are so good at putting up, and knocks them all down.
During Jesus’ lifetime, there was a famous stone barrier inside the Jerusalem temple complex. It separated the massive outer courts from the inner temple where the worship and sacrifices took place.
This wall in the temple separated the Jews from the Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). If you were a Jew, you could go past the barrier into the temple proper. You could get close to God.
If you were a Gentile, however, you could not go past the barrier. In fact, when you approached the wall you would have noticed warning signs indicating that you would be immediately killed if you dared to go past it. Archaeologists have actually discovered some of these ancient warning signs.
If you were a Gentile, you were separated from the Jews and kept away from God’s presence. Division and distance were physically manifested in stone, and propped up in the temple for thousands of people to see on a daily basis.
But then Jesus came along with his divine bulldozer and smashed right through the wall. Paul alluded to this demolition in Ephesians 2:13-14:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… (NIV)
Jews and Gentiles could now worship God together in the Church. The wall no longer had any power to divide. But some barriers are not made of brick and mortar. They are made of something more durable: social customs.
In the world of the New Testament, the primary social division was between slaves and free. Slaves were considered less than human. Ancient Greek writers described slaves as tools that could talk. Slaves had no legal rights whatsoever, and lived their lives under the absolute authority of their masters.
There was no greater social rift in the New Testament world than the division between slave and free. Through the power of the Gospel, however, both slave and free came to Christ by the thousands all over the Mediterranean world. Formerly separated by seemingly impassable social barriers, they began to live out Christian community together.
Well, they tried to.
How was that supposed to work? The social barriers in Roman society didn’t just evaporate within the Church. It’s no surprise that early-Church leaders like Paul had to speak into this issue:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV).
Can you imagine how radical Paul’s words would have sounded to a first-century reader?
When Jesus came to earth and preached the Gospel, he took a sledgehammer to social, ethnic, gender, and religious boundaries. And he didn’t destroy these divisions for no reason. Jesus wanted to build something incredible in their place: his Church. Paul describes this beautifully in Ephesians 2:19-22:
...You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)
What boundaries do you allow between you and others in the Church? What barriers have you built up between you and God? What obstacles have you placed between someone else and God?
Jesus has already smashed those walls, and opened up a space where you can be close to him and anyone else who calls him Lord.