No matter how hard you try, it is simply impossible to harmonize some rival groups. For certain numbers, there is just no common denominator.
In New Testament times, there were two rival “gangs”of people. For a resident of Israel, there were the Jews (aka good guys), and the Gentiles (everyone else). Conversely, for a Greek resident of a city like Ephesus, there were the Greeks (nobles) and then Barbarians (everyone else – including the Jews.) In this divided petri dish of a world, segregation, discrimination, and elitist pride grew like gangrene.
A Jewish family whose son or daughter married a Gentile would hold a symbolic funeral (not a wedding feast) on the day of their child’s cross- cultural wedding. Similarly, the Greeks felt like God only spoke “their language,” and summarily dismissed the Jews as uncouth and odd.
Some of this division was cemented in the minds of people by the Old Testament itself, which described the Jewish people as unique in their relationship to God. According to the Hebrew Scripture, if anyone was to have a relationship with God, they would need to become a Jew. While no one can change their ethnicity, a non-Jewish person would need to act as much like a Jew as they could — including adopting Jewish dietary codes, circumcision, and participation in the sacrificial system. Since most Gentiles would not adopt these strict customs, it was a totally foreign concept to Jewish people that non-Jews would ever have a seat at God’s table.
However, it was always God’s intention to not just relate to one family (the Jews) but all families (the Gentile nations.) It was God’s plan from the start to establish a relationship with the Jewish people in order to create a conduit through which to pour His blessing to the world (Genesis 12:1-ff.). This divine plan to bless the world was fully consummated in Jesus. When Jesus came to this earth and died on the cross, He did not die just for the Jewish people . . . He died for the sins of the entire world as well! Indeed, Jesus plan was for His disciples to go into the world and make followers of Him out of ALL nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
When Jesus died on the cross, He not only made it possible for people to reconciled to God, He made it possible for people to be reconciled to EACH OTHER (Ephesians 2:11-22). In Christ, different groups can have harmony. Our sinfulness and Jesus’ righteousness become the common denominator necessary to create unity in the church between Jews AND Gentiles, Montagues AND Capulets, Jets AND Sharks, Longhorns AND Sooners. Anyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ becomes a part of one new “person” – the Church.
Any survey of history shows that people have an incredible aptitude for discriminating against one another. Sometimes this discrimination is based on race or ethnicity. Sometimes it is based on economics or education. Sometimes it is based on religious affiliation or family background. Whatever the criteria, people always want to divide and conquer. However, in the church it is not supposed to be this way.
Jesus died on the cross to reconcile people to God, but He also makes it possible for various groups of disparate parts to find an unexpected peace.
As E.K. Simpson said of Ephesians 2:11-22, “What a fellowship rivets our gaze in the communion of saints! Where shall we find its like? Gathered from east and west, from patriarchs of the prior and laggards of the last times, from the courts of kings and the cabins of beggars, from babes- in- arms and centenarians, right honourables and ragamuffins, from the ranks of the learned and the ignorant, the pharisee and the publican, the sharp- witted and the feeble- minded, the respectable and the criminal classes – what a divine power must be put forth to mould all these incongruous elements into one consentient [united in opinion] whole, stamped with one regenerate likeness for evermore, the radiant image of the ‘Alpha and Omega,’ God’s Yokefellow and theirs, coequally David’s Son and David’s Lord!”
The Church is an amazing entity. In Christ – we all have hope. Let us all lean into the unity Christ purchased for us in the Church He created.
Over the next month at Wildwood, we will be walking through a short 4 part series on the Church (beginning this Sunday, April 28). In this series we will see:
- April 28: The Creation of the Church (Ephesians 2:11-22)
- May 5: The Mystery of the Church (Ephesians 3:1-13)
- May 19: The Community of the Church
- May 26: The Leadership of the Church
Hope you can make plans to join us on one of these four Sundays this spring in our 9:45 or 11:00 service!