The church was never meant to be self-centered. It was never meant to be an elite club of people who seldom venture out.
It’s been more than 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A recent article in U.S. News and World Report captured well the reactions of two women who were directly affected.¹ Angelika Bondick, now 63, described actually missing the wall. It had simply been a given. She said, “I grew up with it, and didn’t question it.”
Eighty-one-year-old Dagmar Simdorn had a different reaction. “You just stood there with an open mouth and your hand in front of it. . . . The feeling was as if you were soaring, really,” she said, tearing up. “You felt like you were floating.”
Untold sums of money have gone into the great walls of the world, not to mention the countless lives that have been sacrificed in their shadows. Now many of these walls serve only as tourist attractions.
Walls were a symbol of strength and protection in biblical times. A city without walls was considered weak and vulnerable. Well-constructed walls did a great job of keeping the enemy out, but walls also did a good job of keeping people in. Without even realizing it, citizens could become prisoners in their own city.
History books are full of stories of sieges and people being trapped within the walls of their own city. One of the longest recorded sieges happened to the city of Candia, the capital of Crete. In the seventeenth century, Venice was a major power in the Mediterranean, but its power was on the decline as the Ottoman Empire grew in strength. Unfortunate military events led to the siege of Candia.
The siege began in 1648 when the water supply was cut off and sea lanes were disrupted. Numerous battles occurred over the years, but the residents of Candia refused to give up. Finally, 21 years later in 1669, the city of Candia surrendered. Residents were allowed to leave with whatever they could carry.²
Imagine being trapped within your own walls for 21 years. Is it possible for us to be trapped within our own walls today? We have to admit that too many of God’s people have erected their own human-made walls to protect themselves from the enemy. These walls are not physical, but spiritual. They aren’t built with hammer and nails or brick and mortar. These walls are built out of ideas, traditions, prejudices, and fears.
The apostle Paul wrote: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Eph. 2:14). What was this “middle wall of separation”? Paul makes it very clear that it represented the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles.
The Israel Museum in Jerusalem exhibits a partial slab of limestone discovered in 1936 near the site of the second temple. It dates to just before the time of Jesus. The full Greek engraving says:³
No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put blame for the death, which will ensue.
What must have gone through Jesus’ mind as He walked by this sign, knowing that His death, which would indeed follow, would atone for the guilt of both native and foreigner, Jew and Gentile?
Ellen White wrote the following about those in Jesus’ time: “But the people of Israel lost sight of their high privileges as God’s representatives. They forgot God and failed to fulfill their holy mission. . . . The restrictions that God had placed upon their association with idolaters as a means of preventing them from conforming to the practices of the heathen, they used to build up a wall of separation between themselves and all other nations.”⁴
LESSONS FROM THE TEARDOWN
Jesus was tearing down this wall to make sure no one was without access to His salvation. Paul makes this clear. “For through Him we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).
Walls do three devastating things: they limit, isolate, and insulate.
1. Walls limit vision. You can’t easily see over a wall. There’s a wall called “We’ve never seen it done like that before” or “That’s not how we do it.” When walls limit our vision, we tend to say, “If I can’t see it, I won’t believe it.” Walls also limit expression. There’s a wall that keeps us bound by traditions and traditional thinking. Walls can limit creativity and growth.
2. Walls isolate. They keep people out. When we want to be alone, we put up a wall. Even in a crowd of people, we put up invisible walls to protect ourselves. The problem is that these walls isolate us from the very people we should be getting close to.
3. Walls insulate. Isolation keeps people out, but insulation also keeps people in. The church was never meant to be self-centered. It was never meant to be an elite club of people who seldom venture out. The church is to be the gate of heaven. We must not allow anything to block the entrance to God’s kingdom.
In case there’s any doubt, Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men” (Matt. 23:13). In another place, Jesus reiterates this concept: “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Finally, let’s remember that God said, “Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Whoever desires! Anything that restricts “whoever” from getting to Jesus is a wall that must be torn down. We dare not build a wall where Jesus has placed an open door.
Note what Ellen White wrote: “During His earthly ministry Christ began to break down the partition wall between Jew and Gentile, and to preach salvation to all mankind. Though He was a Jew, He mingled freely with the Samaritans, setting at nought the Pharisaic customs of the Jews with regard to this despised people. He slept under their roofs, ate at their tables, and taught in their streets.”⁵
Let’s pray that God will show us the walls that need to be torn down. Let’s pray for faith and power through God’s grace to break down these walls in order to be effective witnesses as we follow the example of Jesus.
⁴Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 14.
⁵ Ibid., p. 19.