The Wall of Separation Broken Down
September 7, 2008 / No. 3427
Dear radio friends,
Today we are going to consider a number of verses out of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 2:11-15 we read: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.”
This particular chapter of Ephesians speaks of grace, that is, of the unmerited favor of God toward His people. The Ephesian church is reminded of the work of grace in a number of different ways. In the first few verses this church is reminded that the personal salvation that each of God’s children receive is of grace. You who, in times past, had your conversation in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh; you who were, by nature, children of wrath; you who were dead in sins and trespasses, God made alive. They were Gentiles, after all. And that label “Gentile” had come to refer not only to the Greeks and the Romans, but to all of the pagan nations outside of the nation of Israel. You were Gentiles. And now this is true of you: God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace ye are saved! So they are reminded of God’s grace.
In the next few verses this church is reminded of God’s grace in another way: the works of faith they performed now, as believers, were not something that merited in God’s sight. God did not look on these saints for their works’ sake, as if they were now a holy people on account of their works. We are not saved by works. We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8, 9), “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” The Ephesians, therefore, could not boast in their works either. Just as they could not boast in their faith, neither could they boast in their works.
Now, in the verses that we are going to consider today, Paul administers the ax to all human pride. Here is one more thing to remember about ourselves, and remember it well. In time past, we were the Uncircumcision, that is, we were without Christ, without God, strangers from the church and the covenant. We were without hope, plain and simple. There was no salvation to the Gentiles, no salvation outside of the nation of Israel. But God, in His grace, changed that. He has made us into one man with the Old Testament church, and He has done that once again in the blood of Jesus Christ. Remember that, church of Christ, Paul says. Such was the word of the gospel to believers then and now. We are what we are, and where we are, by the grace of God and nothing else. This word we are going to learn as we consider the grafting in of the Gentile believers.
Now, it is obvious from the few verses that we consider that the Gentile believers in time past were not a part of God’s kingdom and church. In verses 11 and 12 we find that the Gentiles were, at that time, without Christ. In verse 13 we read that they were sometimes far off. In verse 14 we read of a middle wall of partition between them and the nation of Israel. The simple fact that Paul is stressing here in these verses is, therefore, that God had built a wall of separation between the nation of Israel, the church of the Old Testament, and the other nations of the world. As far back already as Noah, we find the separation between national Israel and the Gentile nations prophesied. God’s blessing that was pronounced by means of Noah was upon Shem and his generations. God would be the God of Shem, we are told in Genesis 9:26 —not of Ham, and not, at that time, of Japheth either. That was realized when God established His covenant in Genesis 17 with Abraham and his children, all of whom came out of the line of Shem. This line of the covenant and church was narrowed even further when God told Abraham that in Isaac his seed was going to be called. In other words, the other children of Abraham, which he had with Hagar (Ishmael) and with Keturah, would not be included in the line of His church.
Then slowly, through several generations, all of that proved true. God narrowed the line of His covenant to the generation of Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob. We well know, of course, that the twelve sons of Jacob were the heads of the tribes that became known as the commonwealth or kingdom of Israel. After God had delivered the children of Jacob, or the children of Israel, from the bondage of Egypt, God formed this new nation into a kingdom at Mount Sinai. It became a theocracy, that is, a nation under God. At Mount Sinai, Israel was given her law, the Torah, which contained all the commandments. She was organized into the twelve tribes. The priests, the Levites, were appointed for service in the temple. The tabernacle was built, and her official worship as a nation began. Elders were even appointed at that time to rule. So at Sinai, God made Israel into a commonwealth, or a kingdom. And the rest is history. Israel was given by God the land of Canaan as an inheritance. God set up David as the great king. And in this way the nation of Israel developed into the greatest commonwealth or kingdom on earth.
The truth is, in the Old Testament, God did not save any other people than the people of Israel. Now, that does not mean that everyone in the nation of Israel was saved. God saved only His elect in the nation of Israel. But this did not change the fact that those whom God had chosen to save, with only a few exceptions—there were exceptions in the Old Testament—but those whom God had chosen to save were always born within the nation of Israel. And that went on for well over a thousand years. During that long period of time God chose His people out of that nation.
That means, of course, that at that time these Gentile believers in Ephesus, in their generations, were not a part of God’s church. Notice verse 12 of the passage that we read, “At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” These people were strangers from the covenant promise. How horrible. They were estranged from the covenant and all of the promises that God had given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were strangers from the covenant God had established with David and his royal seed. In other words, they were not a part of the friendship and fellowship that God had established with the seed of Abraham in the Old Testament.
And because these Gentile peoples were alienated from the covenant promise, they were without Christ. Our text obviously proves that God’s people in the Old Testament were viewed by God to be in Christ as well. Believers in Israel, God’s true Israel, were saved then in Christ. They were saved through the faith that pointed them ahead to the coming of the Messiah, to the coming of Christ. Those, therefore, who were not included in the commonwealth of Israel or the covenants of promise were cut off from Christ. They were cut off altogether from salvation.
And that is why they were without hope. They had no spiritual desire or longing for the coming of Jesus Christ. They did not look for His advent like the children of Israel did. And all of this added up to one thing: they were without God in the world. What a horrible plight—to be without God! Their eyes were blinded; their hearts were darkened. They stumbled about in their unbelief. They did not know God, nor did they even care to know God. They followed after the heathen idols of their own flesh. They heaped to themselves gods after their own desires. They were not given to know God Himself as the great and glorious God of heaven and earth.
So there was this huge spiritual wall that existed between the nation of Israel and the Gentile nations of the world. That wall divided them into two camps. On the one side was God, Christ, and salvation. On the other side there was no hope, only sin and despair. And that wall was rock-solid! That is to say, man could not break it down. That is true because God had appointed it. God set that wall up. It was divinely ordained. God did not choose to save the Gentiles in the Old Testament. He chose to save His people only out of the natural seed of Jacob. That is it. And what made that wall so solid was the law of commandments contained in ordinances. In verse 15 we read of that: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.”
Now what is referred to here, when this verse speaks of the law of commandments contained in ordinances, is the Torah—the Old Testament law that God gave to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. It was there that God organized Israel into a kingdom under law. And He did this by giving the nation of Israel all kinds of commandments. He gave them civil commandments that governed their life as a nation; He gave them ceremonial commandments that governed their worship; and He gave them moral commandments, that is, the Ten Commandments, that governed their life in general. And all these commandments made up the Torah, the one law of God. That is why our text speaks of the law of commandments. God’s law consisted of many types of commandments.
But the particular type of commandments that Paul has in mind that separated the nation of Israel from all other nations were the ceremonial laws in particular. We say that because these particular laws consisted in all kinds of ordinances, that is, all kinds of ceremonies. The moral law, the law of the Ten Commandments, did not. But this was especially true of the ceremonial laws. These commandments, with their ceremonies, were a wall that separated the nation of Israel from the Gentiles in the Old Testament. This law of commandments contained in ordinances formed a barrier between the nations and Israel. And that barrier, we are told in verse 15, was a wall of enmity. That is, hatred existed between Israel and the unbelieving heathen nations of the world. Israel was not allowed to form any league with these nations. Israel existed in safety alone as a nation. And the only time national Israel did make league with these nations was when she walked in unbelief. True Israel still hated the enemies of God. And these enemies of God hated Israel, too. There was a solid, unmovable wall that existed for hundreds and hundreds of years between the kingdom of Israel under her law of commandments and the Gentiles who were without Christ.
But here is the amazing and gracious Word of the gospel to the Ephesian believers, verses 13 and 14: “Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Wow! Christ has broken down this wall that for years had divided the nations of the world from true Israel. Christ has now smashed this wall and demolished it. There is not one stone left on another. He completely removes that wall. The way that kept us from being a part of God’s church in the Old Testament is now open to you and me. We are no longer barred by God from His fellowship or from His church. We are no longer without God in this world. We may and we do confess that this God is our God. He will be our Guide even unto death. We have blessed hope. We wait for and long for the second coming of Jesus Christ. And we look forward to a place in heaven with all of God’s saints.
Believers today are a part because Christ has removed the enmity that kept us separated from the church of the old dispensation. The unbelief that hardened us in our sin at that time in our generations has now been taken away by Christ. And we are given eyes to see and hearts to understand that what the saints of old had we now have. It is true, salvation was theirs then. But now God’s people from out of all nations of this world, together with them, have become recipients of salvation. God’s people out of all nations belong to the commonwealth of Israel. The church of today also can be called true Israel. Look at verse 19 of Ephesians 2: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” We are fellow citizens in that commonwealth or kingdom of Israel.
Is this an earthly nation, an earthly kingdom or commonwealth? Not at all. It is a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God and of Christ. We belong to the nation of true Israel, the elect of God, chosen by God from the foundations of the world, gathered from the nations of this world. The body of Christ in this world is now true Israel.
That then is what Christ has accomplished for us.
But there is one question remaining: How did Christ accomplish this? How did He break down that wall? What was the hammer that smashed to ruins the law of commandments contained in ordinances?
Christ’s blood. Verse 13: “Ye who were sometimes afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Christ abolished, in His flesh, the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, by shedding His blood to save God’s people chosen from out of all nations. You see, all the ordinances of the Old Testament laws that governed the nation of Israel before Christ came were meant, by God, simply to point His people to Christ. We could go through all kinds of examples of this, including circumcision itself—a bloody ordinance that pointed to the shed blood of Christ that would indeed cleanse His people from sin. The sacrifices pointed to Him. The priesthood pointed to Him. The tabernacle, later the Temple—its furniture, all the ordinances and ceremonies of the tabernacle and the temple—pointed to Christ.
Well, through Christ’s death (His shed blood), through His resurrection, all these commandments contained in ceremonies Christ fulfilled. And in doing so, all the outward ceremonies of the law passed away. They no longer divided between the nation of Israel and the Gentiles, that is, the nations of this world. The Gentiles did not have to keep all of these ceremonies to be a part of the church anymore. And for that reason, there was no more division. God does not require of you and me today to worship as did the Old Testament saints. And yet, we are of the same household of faith with them.
But there is one more way that the blood of Christ broke down that wall. Salvation. We who were dead in sins and trespasses God has now saved by His grace, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Salvation itself is no longer to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. We have, by Christ’s blood, been reconciled to God.
You understand how humbling that should be? In our generations that have gone before us, we were nothing, nothing at all. We were excluded from heaven, we were excluded from God’s blessed presence. We do not deserve to be where we are today. Only by God’s grace have we been grafted into the church of Jesus Christ. Only by grace have we been given the gift of faith so that we can understand the joy of belonging to the church. Think of what God has done for you and me, His people! We who were alienated from God, on account of our sin and unbelief, Christ has brought to God. He has paid the price for our sins. He has made us righteous before God. Now we are no longer children of wrath, we are the people of God. God has done that! God has accomplished that freely for us in the blood of Christ. And God continues to do that today, too, in the hearts and lives of others.
Here is the result of this wonderful work of Christ, at the end of verse 15: He has made “in himself of twain one new man.” Two peoples—Jews and Gentiles—a wall that divided them for a thousand years. These two were divided by faith and unbelief. God now has made them into one new man. We have become one body. We are the organism of the church together—Jewish believers and believers from all nations—interacting harmoniously as one body, one new man.
No, the church today is not different from the church of old. It is now that the same church takes on a new appearance. It is renewed, it is restored in Christ. And it is identified together with Christ. In fact, the new man we are become is Christ! He is our head; we are His members.
And it is because of this that there is peace, peace between the races of men. We have always been divided. In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no Dutch or English, no African or European or Asian. So long as there is unbelief, there is division. There is no peace for the nations. But for those who believe, we are all one body together with our Lord Jesus Christ. All those who believe live in peace with one another. What a glorious gospel!
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee that Thou hast made us, together with the Old Testament church, one new man in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thou hast determined in Thy grace, and in Thy grace alone, to incorporate and ingraft into Thy church us, who in our generations were lost. We thank Thee for that blessed gift. We thank Thee for what Jesus Christ has done for us. Now may we together, in this world, out of all nations, confess our love for Thee and confess our Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. In His name we pray, Amen.