Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary Petty] This is Berlin, Germany. Behind me is the Reichstag, one of the most iconic buildings in the entire country.
After World War II, Berlin was a divided city, occupied by the four great Allied powers: Great Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. The Reichstag was in ruins, pockmarked by the bullets and bombs of the World War.
Now, if you would have stood here in 1948, just three years after the war, you would have been in a city under siege. The Russian army surrounded Berlin cutting them off from the rest of the world. And if you would have been standing here, you would have heard the almost constant droning of cargo planes flying overhead to deliver food and essential supplies to the besieged citizens.
Allied planes flew hundreds of thousands of times in and out of Berlin in what became known as the Berlin Airlift. The Soviets eventually backed down and the road was once again opened to allow access into the city.
For the Communists, the problem still remained. Interaction between the people living in the sections of the city now called East and West Berlin was unacceptable.
In 1961, the people of Berlin faced a forced division as the East German government constructed the infamous Berlin Wall. A wall designed to separate the people of Berlin. A wall designed to separate friends and families. This wall reminds me of another wall.
In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus about a wall. He wrote that Christ “has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2:14).
What is this wall that Paul was writing about?
Understanding how Christ tore down the “wall of separation” is a vital aspect of the gospel. We’re going to talk about walls, wall people build and one wall in particular that was torn down by God.
Join us in this special edition of Beyond Today from Berlin, Germany, as we discuss “Tearing Down the Walls that Divide Us.”
This is a very busy street in what used to be East Berlin. This is the Berlin Wall. If you look at it now, it doesn’t seem like much. At one time, it stretched nearly 96 miles separating the people from East and West Berlin. Now it’s colored with bright colors, a place of tourists. But there was a time when people died to get over this wall to what was on the other side.
History is filled with stories of people who built walls to keep out an enemy. The Great Wall of China was constructed over the course of centuries to protect China from invaders who lived in central Asia. The Roman emperor Hadrian built a wall all the way across Britain to protect the Romans from barbaric tribes.
This wall wasn’t built to keep people out, but to keep people in.
Its purpose was to keep people from leaving Communist-controlled East Berlin. It became a symbol of the separation between communism and the democracies of the West.
In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech in West Berlin to bolster the morale of the citizens of this divided city. The president expressed these famous words:
> All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
Years later U.S. President Ronald Reagan challenged the Russian General Secretary in another famous speech calling out, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
In 1989, people began to literally tear down the Berlin Wall. Almost a year later, Germany was reunited as one country.
One of the reasons the Communists built this wall was because so many Germans from the East were immigrating to the West to escape the harsh realities of Communism. The result was that by the late 1950’s East Germany faced a lack of doctors, engineers, teachers and skilled workers. The Communist government had to do something to stop the loss of so many vital people.
So in 1961, they began to construct the wall. Neighborhoods were cut in half. Parishioners were forbidden to cross the wall to attend churches where they had attended for generations. It was difficult for families and friends to even visit each other.
There were several crossing points where people, with the proper permits, could travel between the two parts of the divided city. One was the most famous crossing for the Americans was known as “Checkpoint Charlie.”
When the wall was constructed, it was immediately apparent that building this barrier didn’t stop people from wanting to escape East Berlin to a better life West. They jumped over the barbed wire, leaped from apartment windows into the western sector, dug tunnels, floated across in a hot air balloon, or zipped along on aerial wires strung between buildings. One daring young man stole an armored personnel carrier and drove it through the wall in a hail of bullets.
Although thousands of East Germans escaped, hundreds of others were captured or killed by the border guards. Communist propaganda couldn’t alleviate the despair of the people living in East Berlin. All they had to do was look across the wall into West Berlin to see the prosperity and freedom enjoyed by their countrymen. The people of East Berlin felt cut off from the blessings enjoyed by their brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall.
Let’s talk about another wall that separated people. It’s a wall mentioned in the Bible. At the time of Jesus, there stood in Jerusalem, Herod’s magnificent temple. It was to Herod’s temple that people came from all over the world to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the God of Israel.
In the outer courtyard of the temple was a wall separating the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Israel. This wall was designed to keep non-Jews from entering the section of the temple that was reserved for Jews only. Along the wall was placed stone plaques inscribed with “No stranger is to enter within the balustrade, round the temple and enclosure. Whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue.”
It was a death penalty for any non-Jew to cross the wall.
The apostle Paul was criticized by both those who practiced Judaism and by some Christians because he taught that gentiles who worshipped the God of Israel and accepted Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, didn’t have to become full participants in Judaism to have a relationship with God.
It is important to understand that Paul’s teaching about non-Jews didn’t mean that he gave up his Jewish heritage. Maintaining his own loyalty to Judaism led Paul to an incident that took place at the separation wall in the temple.
In the book of Acts, we have an account of how the apostle—this was late in his life—traveled to Jerusalem to participate in a temple ritual. Now Paul had with him some companions and he was falsely accused of bringing gentiles into the Court of Israel. Some Jews were so disturbed by this that they violently dragged Paul out of the temple and were going to kill him. Some soldiers from a nearby Roman garrison arrived just in time to take Paul into custody and save him from being stoned.
The wall in the temple separated Jew from non-Jew. Now it didn’t mean that non-Jews couldn’t worship God, but it did mean that in the eyes of devout Jews, gentiles were not totally accepted as equals in their relationship to God.
With this in mind, let’s look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the non-Jewish Christians in Ephesus:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you 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” (Ephesians 2:11-13).
Now what is Paul actually saying to these non-Jewish Christians?
He mentioned circumcision because that was a mark God placed on the men of Israel as a sign that they were His people. Early in the history of the Christian Church, it was decided that non-Jews didn’t have to be physically circumcised to be participants in the New Covenant.
It is important that we remember that Paul is writing to non-Jewish Christians in Ephesus, who before they became Christians had been pagans. He explained to them that while they were pagans they had been cut off from God’s covenants; “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12)
Israel—the physical descendants of Abraham—were chosen by God to be a special people, a nation of priests dedicated to His service. Most of the Old Testament is the history of these people. God made a special covenant with them on Mount Sinai and gave them the Ten Commandments. He also promised, through prophets throughout the ages, that He would in the future make a New Covenant with them.
Part of the New Covenant was a promise that a descendant of Abraham, through Israel, and specifically through the tribe of Judah, would come into the world as the prophesied Messiah or Christ. This Messiah would not only come to bring peace between God and Israel, but He would come to bring peace to all humanity.
The prophecies of Isaiah contain many references to the Servant of God who “will bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:1)…and “bring light to the Gentiles…[and] salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Isaiah was inspired to write that the Messiah would “stand as a banner to the people, for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10).
When Jesus came the first time, He partly fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah—prophesies that promise all people access to God through the Messiah. Now to fulfill these prophecies, Jesus would need to tear down a wall and construct a new temple.
In Ephesians, Paul told the non-Jewish Christians that when they were pagans, they had been separated from the God of Israel and the covenants He had made with the descendants of Abraham.
Now let’s read what he then wrote to them, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation…” (Ephesians 2:13-14).
The greatest symbol of the separation between Jew and non-Jew was the “wall of separation” in Herod’s temple. Because Jesus is the prophesied Messiah, He came to fulfill the promises God made in Isaiah. Jesus Christ is to “stand as a banner to the people, for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10) and to bring “salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
Everyone—no matter what nationality, race or ethnic background—who responds to God’s call and follows Jesus as the Christ, has the opportunity to be one of His special people.
Paul continued, “…having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity…” (Ephesians 2:15-16).
Paul wrote that it is God’s intention to bring Jews and non-Jews together, into one body, or one church, and to destroy the enmity that is between them.
Now, there has been controversy over the years about what Paul meant by “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15). Many Christians have concluded that by this statement, Paul abolished the Ten Commandments.
Was it Paul’s intention to abolish the Ten Commandments given by God? In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17).
So, what is at the heart of the issue Paul is writing about?
It is the enmity between Jews and non-Jews. The non-Jews Paul is addressing remember, people in Ephesus, are Christians who follow the God of the Bible and believe that Jesus is the Christ.
“You shall not have any other gods before Me…” “You shall not commit murder…” “You shall not commit adultery…” “You shall not steal…” (Exodus 20:3; Exodus 20:13-15). These moral laws of God which are given in the Ten Commandments don’t separate anyone who is a true follower of God.
“…the law of commandments contained in ordinances” doesn’t refer to the Ten Commandments, but to all of the restrictions and ceremonies that separated Jews from gentiles including circumcision, ceremonial laws, the Jewish oral law and traditions, all symbolized by the temple’s “middle wall of separation.”
What was happening in Ephesus was a common problem in the early Christian church. On one hand, there was an issue with some Jewish Christians who felt superior to non-Jews, and attempted to enforce circumcision and other requirements on them. On the other hand, there was an issue of non-Jews who were envious or resented what they saw as sort of Jewish privilege.
Paul taught that Jews and non-Jews who accepted Jesus as the Christ became “one body.” He then made these remarkable statements:
“Now, therefore, you, “—Remember he is talking to non-Jewish Christians—“…are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” Non-Jewish Christians are no longer strangers and foreigners to the covenants and promises God gave to Israel. This is the wonderful truth Paul is explaining.
Now he continued, “…having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Paul shows that under the New Covenant, followers of the Jewish Messiah, form a new people drawn from every nationality, race and ethnic group. These people are being constructed as the new spiritual temple of God, without hatred, without prejudice.
This doesn’t mean that God has abandoned the promises He made to Israel. It does mean that the biblical prophesies to include all peoples into the family of God are beginning to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Herod’s temple, with its wall of separation, was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Yet, a temple of God still exists today, not made of stone and mortar, but of people. People called together to receive God’s Spirit and become the dwelling place of God.
We’ve seen that the “middle wall of separation” has been torn down in the new spiritual temple of God. Reality is that we still live in a world where walls, sometimes literal walls like the Berlin Wall, still separate us. In other ways, we are divided by religion, politics, national interests. Families and friends construct emotional walls that can last a lifetime. No matter what we do, we don’t have the power or abilities to tear down all the walls that divide us.
Earlier in the program, I read from some Messianic prophecies about how the Christ will “bring light to the Gentiles…[and] salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6), and “stand as a banner to the people, for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10).
When Jesus came to earth the first time, He died for our sins. Sin is the actions, thoughts and emotions that truly divide us, not only from each other but from God.
This message is a call for you to turn to God and ask Him to tear down the wall that separates you from your Creator. Read the Bible to uncover the truth of how God wants to break down the barrier between you and Him.
The Bible clearly shows that Christ is returning. At that time the prophecies from Isaiah will be completed and the walls that separate us from God and from each other will be finally torn down.
We’ve been doing this program about the wall separation and we’re using the Berlin Wall as a perfect example. And I know for me, personally, going to the Berlin Wall, seeing it, touching it, was a remarkable experience. What was it like for you, Darris?
[Darris McNeely] It was again, you go to Berlin today, you see the fragments of the wall, a few sections still intact. I had been there when the wall was operative, several years ago. And, you could see at that time the bleakness of East Berlin. And, that represented this division between two peoples who were the same German peoples. To see Berlin today now, a united city, a united Germany, is a much, much better situation but they’ve kept those walls and it’s a reminder of how quickly divisions can come up between people, but it was much better to see it this way.
[Steve Myers] I think one of the things that’s pretty amazing about it, is it certainly is a reminder of how quickly some of these things can come about. Even at the end of the war, though there were divisions, it seems that once that Cold War began, the walls went up. And, we have a tendency to think that it’s not going to happen again, but it certainly shows the way that mankind is and how quickly and willingly we’re ready to build walls and take sides, and do the things that really divide us.
[Gary] We’ve used the Berlin Wall just as an example, sort of an allegory of the wall of separation that was in the Jewish temple, and the apostle Paul says that Christ came to tear down that wall. And, that is a very important part of the Gospel.
[Darris] Oh, absolutely. Paul wrote about the fact there was no distinction between Jew and gentile which was a major issue in that time. Those were obviously two different ethnicities. What’s interesting about the Berlin Wall is that it was a wall that separated people of the same ethnicity, same language, same culture. And again, the real lesson there is that yes, different races, different languages, different ethnicities will divide, but at the heart of division is a spirit—it’s a spiritual problem regardless of who you are. And, when a spirit of evil comes in that separates people’s hearts, then that’s a big problem, and the only solution to that is the gospel. It is the truth of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and that’s what cleanses the heart and that’s the essence of the message that Paul was talking about.
[Steve] It works on so many different levels. That, what it’s like in my relationship with God? Is there a wall? Is there a barrier there? And through God’s calling, He’s opened up that wall so that I have access to Him. And I better take advantage of that. And I think standing at the wall, looking at the circumstances there, it also causes you to ask, “well, do I build walls in my personal life as well? Do I shut out others or do I tear those walls down in my personal relationships as well?” So I think those are important concepts that we all have to consider.
[Gary] I couldn’t help but think about as we’ve done this program, when Jesus Christ returns, all the walls that separate people—walls of religion, walls of nationality, walls of race that separate peoples—what’s He going to have to do to tear down all those walls to create God’s Kingdom on this earth?
[Darris] Remove the source of those walls and that comes down to the spirit of Satan; a spirit of evil, the god of this world that works in the hearts of men. Without that being finally removed, that’s a big lesson that you see from all that we have observed with the wars that have ravaged Europe, the religious wars, the political wars. Ultimately, you have got to remove the source of hatred and evil and that is the removal of Satan from the influence over mankind.
[Steve] And even mankind himself. We have this nature within us, that it opposes God. It opposes His way. That tends to build walls. And I think it’s also a reminder that in order for that to accomplish, to be accomplished, Jesus Christ has to return and the right kind of government has to be established. And so, He is going to establish God’s government on this earth and that will be a borderless society, in that sense, that He will establish God’s way and those walls have to come down.
[Gary] That’s why we end every one of our Beyond Today programs by asking people to pray, “Your Kingdom come.”
The Berlin Wall is one of many walls designed to separate people. Because of violence, fear, and our inability to deal with conflicts, we have been building walls of separation for all of human history. Not only do we build literal walls—like this one here in Berlin—but emotional and mental walls that separate us from our families, our loved ones and our neighbors.
Christ came to tear down a wall. He is returning to tear down even more walls. When Christ returns to set up God’s Kingdom on earth, there will no longer be walls created by different religions, different national interests, racial divides, or separation by social class or wealth. The biblical prophecies say that Christ will bring peace and prosperity through one world government and one world religion where all people will worship the one true God.
This is humanity’s only hope for the future. A time when walls like this will have no purpose—will not exist.
For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
> Jesus Christ promised that He would return to establish God’s Kingdom on this earth. When He does, He will tear down the walls that divide us.
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» Hi, I’m Steve Myers. I’m the pastor here at the United Church of God Cincinnati-East congregation. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. I’d like to welcome you to come and join us on this great spiritual journey. We’re committed to growing in our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ as well as fellowshipping with each other.
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