Tearing Down Walls
Tearing Down Walls
Today I have three questions that I want us to answer.
- What is the meaning of walls?
- Why does Christ tear down walls?
- How does Christ tear down walls?
First, what is the meaning of walls? I am not asking what is a wall ? I mean I know what a wall is. I see them all the time, sometimes I am not paying attention I run into them. Once I even gave myself a concussion hitting my head on the doorframe of my parent’s car as I attempted to get into the car. I didn’t get mad at the doorframe. I mean the wall or frame of a car is meant to protect us from accidents. It isn’t the car’s fault that I am clumsy. I am not asking what walls are I am asking what do walls represent to us in our lives and in the Bible?
It needs to be said that walls are not always seen as bad in the Bible. The most prominent case of this is the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a prophet who lived in Exile in the Persian Empire, one of the many Empires that had conquered Israel during its existence. Nehemiah was a stranger in a strange land. He had been born in the Persian Empire. He had never seen his homeland. But he heard about the plight of his people. He heard about how the walls of Jerusalem had been burned and the gates destroyed and he could not remain silent. In the ancient world walls were essential to the life of a city. Walls were a way of protecting your city from roaming armies. The gates of the city were often places of commerce, culture, and meeting. So what Nehemiah is saying is that his nation had been stripped bear and his culture laid to waste. And it just so happened that Nehemiah was the cupbearer to King Artaxeres. He tested the King’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. Not the safest job in the world but it gave him access to the King. And through the Grace of God the King allowed Nehemiah to return to his homeland and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
What do walls mean to us? They symbolize security. We build walls because we want to feel secure. We build walls because unfortunately we can’t always trust people. Even in our interpersonal relationships trust is the foundation of relationships. We have a desire for relationship. We have a desire to be connected. We can’t help it. It is just how God wired us. But we are also afraid of that drive because we know through experience that sometimes we can be betrayed and sometimes we betray others. We establish emotional walls and boundaries in our own lives. John Townsend in his book Beyond Boundaries explains why we need emotional boundaries, what happens when those boundaries are broken, and how we can restore trust. Trust is essential to love. Trust is essential to life. In the Hebrew the word for trust is Barach. It translates into being carefree. So when the Psalmist says I trust in the Lord he is saying I know the Lord is for me and not against me. I know the Lord has my back.
Townsend says there are two types of trust. Functional trust and relational trust. In functional trust a person does what they say they will do. You can trust if your husband says they will pick up the dry cleaning at a certain time. Relational trust is deeper. In relational trust you can be vulnerable with a person. If you reveal a mistake or a weakness to a person they do not shame you or belittle you but restore you with a Spirit of gentleness as Paul says in Galatians 6. The fact that our trust is broken is inevitable. We are flawed and the passage of time will reveal our flaws to those we love. But functional trust can be restored more easily. Relational trust is much harder to restore. A person who is a bully, vindictive, and shames you is simply not a person who can be trusted no matter how functionally trustworthy they may be. Townsend tells us that there are two types of emotional walls or boundaries that we set up. A protective boundary is something temporary and practical. It is designed to guard our heart from danger and trouble. A defining boundary is something more permanent. It is our character, our values, it is essentially knowing who we are and not allowing people to manipulate or abuse us into changing something essential about ourselves. I would argue that the wall that Nehemiah wanted to set up was a protective boundary. It was what a city needed at the time. God’s people were called to be Holy, they were called to be separate, and many at the time thought that meant a physical separation. So now we must ask why is Jesus tearing down this wall in the book of Ephesians while God is building a wall in the book of Nehemiah. What is the difference?
First, we must understand what wall Paul is talking about when he refers “the dividing wall” or “middle wall” as the term is more literally translated. Paul is referring to the Temple of Jerusalem, particularly the one that was built by King Herod, which was one of the most expensive and ornate temples ever built in that city. The temple was divided by a series of walls. Gentiles or non Jewish people would be allowed only in the outer courts. And only the High Priest would be allowed into the inner court where the presence of the Lord was thought to dwell, and only on specific day of the year, known as the day of atonement. The meter and a half high wall separated the Gentiles from the presence of God. Signs were written on the wall in Greek and Latin that said “trespassers will be executed.” (John Stott, 71). It is this wall that Paul says Christ has torn down and proclaimed peace. He has replaced a temple made of stone with a living temple, his body, the church. The temple, in Paul’s mind, is not a building, it is the people who confess Christ, and those people can build a building to worship in if they wish. Paul spoke of this wall being broken down spiritually about a decade before the Romans would destroy Herod’s Temple physically, fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus had made in his lifetime about the destruction of the temple. So why did the Lord build a wall in one case, the case of Nehemiah, and tear down a wall in another case, the case of the dividing wall in the Temple? Townsend’s language helped me see an answer to this question. Nehemiah set out to establish a protective wall, he still wanted to pursue justice. He still wanted Israel to be a light to the world. But by the time of Jesus that protective physical wall had morphed into a defining boundary. The wall in the temple was a statement that God’s promises were not for the rest of the nations, circumcision of the flesh transformed from a sign of God’s promise, into the promise itself. The Jewish people through years of conflict and insecurity had lost the essential mission of God in the world to spread the Gospel. To tell the nations of the salvation of the one true God, to be a blessing to all nations as God had promised to Abraham. Israel had come first not so that Israel could put Israel first but so that Israel could welcome in the other nations into God’s promises. They had moved their defining boundary in a way that sacrificed their integrity and the integrity of the faith. Thus, Paul tells us, Christ needed to tear the wall down. When walls become defining cutting off our values rather than protective they need to be torn down. Because they are not protecting us they are imprisoning us.
How then does Christ break down defining walls that keep us from God and each other? He does so by reconciling us to God and to each other. The Word reconcile means to transfer from one state to another. It means to see eye to eye, close enough that your eyelashes touch. It means to see things from another’s perspective and God’s perspective. How does Christ do this? He does this in three ways.
- He teaches us about leadership
- He teaches us about character
- He makes a sacrifice to end the silence
First, he teaches us about leadership. When I came to Calvin Presbyterian Church I introduced a book to our Elders that I wished I had read before I became a minister. It is called The Way Of The Shepherd. The author’s premise is that the Biblical example of a leader is the Shepherd and by learning how ancient shepherds cared for their flocks and applying those lessons to any organization we lead we can honor God and maybe even have success if that be God’s Will. The book has had a profound effect on many of your Elders, more than I expected it would. Some of the titles of the Chapters include, “Know the Condition of your flock,” “Discover the shape of your flock,” “ help your flock identify with you,” “Make your pasture a safe place”, “the staff of direction,” and the “rod of correction.” Indeed, you as my flock need to feel safe in my care. Both functionally and relationally you need to trust me and I hope I am earning that trust. You see a shepherd would often go before his sheep to seek out new pasture. And he would use the staff of direction to guide his sheep to new pasture because if the shepherd does not guide the sheep to new pasture, if he does not guide them beyond their boundaries to where they are not comfortable, the sheep will starve to death. And I know you all need to feel safe around me. And that means I need to be willing to use the rod of correction, which was basically a club made out of a root, that shepherds would use to beat back predators and even sheep sometimes. Because the thing you realize about wolves in sheep’s clothing when you are a shepherd is that wolves don’t dress as sheep to kill sheep, they dress as sheep to kill the shepherd, because then they know that the sheep will scatter. Gradually I learned to use the rod. In the course of my ministry I have had to make hard decisions to protect my flock and challenge my flock. Knowing the costs of leadership has changed my perspective on the role of the military and the use of military force. Naturally I am a pacifist, that is just my nature, and thus that is what I focus on in the Bible, scriptures that portray Jesus in a way that appeals to me. We all do that. We need to stop making Jesus into our own image and allow ourselves to be shaped into his image. It is true that the rod is a necessary part of this life. Paul says in Romans that the ruler has the right to bear the sword in the name of preserving peace and order. And yet if we are to take scriptures about obeying authority super literally then the very foundation of our nation which was founded out of a revolution is illegitimate. If it is always a sin to resist authority than certainly George Washington was going against the will of God. How do we exercise power and authority in a Godly manner in whatever spear of life we find ourselves in? We exercise power rightly by being shaped by the character of Christ.
Christ reconciles us by first teaching us about leadership and the proper use of power. Then he teaches us that character is more important than our ideology and what we want to do with power. In my last church I spent nearly two years preaching through the entire book of Matthew. I would go chapter by chapter, sometimes verse by verse. And from all of that I learned that people can find scriptures to justify a wide view of political positions but we ignore what Jesus teaches about character at our own peril. We know this is true in our romantic relationships though we don’t like to admit it.
For example, recently as many of you know my sister got married. It was a super fun wedding. We even had dogs involved in the wedding. Caitlin’s maid of honor carried Caitlin’s shih tzu down the isle. And my brother in law’s black mutt slept on my sister’s train during the wedding. And my family held the other Shih Tzu’s during the service. We all had a lot of fun. During dinner I stood up and said some good things about my brother in law, I will be honest, it did take me a little while to come around to liking dare I say loving him. Afterwards, my sister’s maid of honor was like, “Will you are such a good guy, you are such a good guy, you are such a good guy.” Now it is a wedding we had all had a little to drink. But this wasn’t the first time she had said something to me like that. And as she is saying these things to me I am a little befuddled because her boyfriend, who is an army ranger was sitting next to her. Now I talked to him, he seemed to be a good guy, but I was thinking, “yeah you say I am a good guy but you are not dating a guy like me.” It may come as a surprise to you but I am not exactly the army ranger sort of type. And to be frank one of the reasons I was so skeptical about my brother in law is that my sister’s past boyfriends didn’t really impress me. And throughout my life and ministry I have seen women I admire with men who I frankly don’t. I have seen women with men who I can tell lack character. Men who are jerks and even men who are abusive. Going to my sister’s wedding caused me to reflect on my own failed relationships and to ask, “what gives God?” Why do I see women I care about selling themselves short? And why am I selling myself short?
I have come to see that in relationships you need the confidence to know what you want, what your core defining boundaries are, and the humility to be radically honest with yourself about your faults and the faults of others. For the fact of the matter is many of us have no idea what our deeper values are, what we truly care about, and many of us will put on rose colored glasses, perhaps because we think a woman is attractive or because a man makes us feel a certain way at first. We are desperate for that emotional connection and thus we are looking for an emotional payoff. Townsend says that when we go into a relationship looking for a payoff, what we can get out of the other person, then the ends justify the means and we can overlook essential character flaws. We look at the other with rose colored glasses because we want to meet that deep desire to connect. Townsend says we can overlook serious character flaws like Deception, Emotional unavailability, Control, Manipulation, Excuses, Blame, A victim stance, Irresponsibility, Distrust , Condemnation, Self-Absorption, and narcissism often because we care more about the emotional payoff than the person’s character. Often we will claim innocence, that we just didn’t see it coming. But to make better choices in the future we need to be honest with ourselves. To quote Townsend, ““Sometimes people will say things like, “it was out of the blue. He was nice to me, and then he turned on me.” In their experience, a switch was pulled and day became night, with no warning. The person feels jolted and worked over and sometimes goes into a state of shock. The reality, however, is character issues are never sudden. They take time to develop and are long standing patterns. There is no switch. The patterns were there all along, but your desire for the relationship blinded you.” Certainly, people can be damaged because of trauma. Many of you no doubt know the ravages of PTSD. And sometimes we need to protect ourselves even though the one we love isn’t fully responsible for their actions. But the thing about character flaws is that they are not as dramatic as PTSD but they are always there and easier to ignore. When we behave like this, when we seek the payoff without character, inevitably trust is broken. Generally, what happens when our trust is broken is first we feel helpless. Then we demonize the other. Then we take on an aura of moral superiority. Now we may truly be in the right in a situation but generally moral superiority gets in the way of relationships and makes reconciliation impossible because no one wants to be around a person who is always looking down on them. In other words a jerk hurts us and in response we become jerks ourselves. That’s what I think happened in my life. I felt hurt and rejected by women. So I became a jerk caring too much about my own opinion and not enough about the needs of others. The Lord had to break down my confidence and teach me how to love people. And now he is restoring my confidence. We say the ends justify the means in our personal lives, in our businesses, and in our politics, but Jesus teaches us that is not so. He asks us what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul ? Character flaws if unaddressed undermine our leadership in every sphere of our lives, it doesn’t matter how much you like or dislike a particular person, business, church, or political administration. I believe Jesus taught that character is destiny. Character is more basic than our ideology or politics. It is even more basic than our religious beliefs. Character is the foundation upon which our relationships, faith, ideology, and politics plays out. We best remember that.
To tear down walls Jesus teaches us about leadership, he teaches us about character, and finally he makes a sacrifice that ends the silence. To quote our passage today we have been brought close by the blood of Christ. The wall has been broken by the riches of his mercy. And this is not of our doing. We should not be prideful of our salvation because we have nothing to do with it. Instead we should be humbled. Christians should be known for their gentleness not their abrasiveness. For their integrity in using power and respecting others, not like the rest of the world that only uses power to beat down those they disagree with and get their own way. True love, true healing, true redemption, will always require sacrifice. I have become increasingly aware of this as I have gotten to know military families in our preschool. During my time here I have gotten to know a mother in the preschool. Both her and her husband are in the military. Recently she went on an eight month deployment leaving behind her child.
I was so moved by this woman’s story I got her a gift on behalf of the church. About once a week I will open the door for the preschool parents to greet them and catch up with them. Before this woman left I gave her the gift and expressed my deep and profound awe at her sacrifice. Till the day I die I will always remember what she said to me, “we do it gladly.”
Sacrifice breaks the silence in our lives. It bridges the gap in our relationships, Christ’s sacrifice bridged the gap between us and God he tore down the dividing wall with its ordinances and commandments which were a perversion of the values the Lord had set out for His people. There is always a cost to reconciliation. Trust betrayed is not easy to regain. But a world without trust, without faith, without hope, without love, a world dominated by mistrust, bitterness, and fear, is not a world worth living in. To love is to risk. To risk being betrayed, to risk being broken, to risk being burdened with the plight of others. To love is to sacrifice. Dare we sacrifice gladly? Dare we tear down walls?