14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:14-18 NIV)
The Apostle Paul continues with his theme of reconciliation and unity in Christ. In Paul’s day, people divided themselves up in every way imaginable – by race, gender, social standing, religious affiliation, Greek vs. barbarian (non-Greek speaking), economic standing, political power, slave vs. free, and myriad other ways so they could make themselves look better than someone else.
Hmmmmm… sound familiar?
Paul addresses the proverbial “elephant in the room” in the early church – the biggest division they face – that of Jew vs. Gentile. God had originally designated the Jews to be His example to the world, and to invite the rest of the world to come to the God of the Jews, the One True God.
But instead of using their faith as a springboard to tell others about God, the Jews used their faith as a divisive separator from the rest of the world. And the split between Jew and everyone else became bigger and bigger, growing to mountainous proportions. And that same split was still evident in the local church / synagogue, so Paul was addressing the issue.
In verse 14, Paul reminds us that Jesus is the peacemaker. He does so not by force, with a gun or sword or power, but by love. Paul says that Christ destroyed the barrier between Jew and Gentile, and united the two groups as one. How did Jesus accomplish this? Through His death, burial, and resurrection, He fulfilled the demands of God’s Law and allowed us access to God, through His righteousness.
Paul’s point? We are all one in Christ – all other designations are man-made and of no significance. Listen to Paul’s words to the Colossian church, telling them this same thing:
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11 NIV)
In verse 16, Paul reminds us that Jesus’ purpose was to reconcile both Jew and Gentile to God. Paul says that Jesus put to death their hostility on the cross. While we may not get along with the people in the world around us, our bigger issue is our separation from God, through our sin. And that is what Christ removed at the cross.
In verses 17 and 18, Paul reminds us of Christ’s ministry – to preach peace to both Jew and Gentile, and offer access for all to God Himself. Christ does not demand uniformity of outer label or practice; instead, He offers unity of heart and reconciliation to God through His death on the cross. All other labels we try to attach to ourselves or force on others quickly fade in comparison to our reconciliation with God through Jesus.
Now that news is something to celebrate and share!