For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
–Eph 2:14-18 (NIV, emphasis added)
When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.) The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut.
–Acts 21:27-30 (emphasis added)
He’d been to the wall before. It had been awhile, but he had been there. Before he had hardly noticed it. Walked right by, right through the Court of the Gentiles, past the Court of Women, and into the inner courts. It always felt like coming home—the temple there in Jerusalem. And the wall that kept others out, made it all the more comfortable, spacious, roomy for him. He had a standing invitation to come on by anytime, an invitation carved into his flesh at God’s command. Paul didn’t see the wall, only the open gate at its center
But now the wall towers before him, dizzying and disorienting. It just doesn’t make sense. He has preached for years now that this very wall, and everything it represents—preference, privilege, exclusion—had been torn down. That at the cross of Jesus Christ something happened. Unfettered immigration happened. Racial reconciliation happened. Peace happened.
Peace was there hanging on the cross. Peace was made in the forming of a unified body. Peace was preached to those outside the wall and those inside, until the two were mixed together, mortared and placed side by side in new walls designed not to keep others out, but to house all, even God, once and for all.
That’s what he’s preached to friends like Trophimus. Who now stands at his side, equally confused, as the two read the very real sign there on that very real wall, that Gentiles like him still cannot enter, lest they be killed … really.
It’s one thing to preach peace. But to make it. To be it. Well, those are different things entirely. And this wall, still standing before Paul and his friend, confirms that.
The wall …
Those words are eerily familiar today. In effect, the wall is being relocated but still stands. Travel bans, racial disunity, profiling, religious preference, and a real, physical wall—that someone will pay for—taking shape along America’s southern border.
In a way, the crisis for the modern Christian is the same Paul faced. Central to our faith story is the destruction of a nationalistic, racial, and religious wall. To lean into the kingdom of heaven, with all of its “now and not yet” is to live as though such earthly walls no longer exist.
But therein lies the crisis. Disregard of earthly walls can have consequences not so easily disregarded. What is the Christian to do? What is the minister to do, who spends a great deal of time preaching peace, but hasn’t a clue what making or being peace looks like.
Let’s ask Paul.
How could Paul be so confident in what Jesus had done and is doing when the wall still stood? He talks about it like it’s simple. “The two one,” he says. “No longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens … joined together … built together … brought near through the blood.” He tells Gentile churches for years about a new world in which they are not excluded, and then arrives with Trophimus in Jerusalem to find that this world still very happily excludes.
I wonder what Trophimus did. Acts 21 doesn’t tell us. I wonder if he knew that the world hadn’t quite caught up to God’s world. That he was a realist. And knew he wouldn’t be going into the temple well before they even started the trip. Maybe he just shrugged his shoulders when they arrived.
Or maybe he actually believed Paul. Believed that not only had God destroyed the wall of hostility between himself and God’s forever people, but that God was involved in an even bigger unity project than that. Bringing all things in heaven and on earth together, testifying through the united body of Christ to the powers on high, reminding them to whom they belong. It was fancy rhetoric … but maybe he believed it. Up until they arrived at the still very real wall. Maybe there his brow furrows, as he looks at disappointment to his minister. “But you said … that Jesus said … ‘Peace’”?
I’m sure Paul was unsure about what to do next.
But because he believed in what Christ has already done, he decided to live as though it was true. He grabbed Trophimus by the arm, and according to the accusations made at his arrest—the two walked into the inner courts. Jew and Gentile side by side. The two made one.
It is hard to be a minister. Not the preaching; that’s easy. It’s the living as though what you’ve preached is true that gets hard.
In this world, with all its walls, ministry won’t be getting any easier. But then again, it never has been.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.