The greatest desire for refugees, for those seeking asylum or for those who are not able to return to their homeland, is to be accepted into a new community, a new family, where they can rebuild their lives and have some sense of hope, friendship and identity. One of the signs that they’ve found this is to receive citizenship in their new country. It’s the paperwork associated with their citizenship that is perhaps their most cherished possession. However, once they get settled into a new home in a new country, the reality hits home that division, alienation and hostility still runs rampant.
In the bible, the living God is sometimes pictured as something close to a homeless asylum seeker looking for residence on earth, motivated to build for himself a new, holy house where he will dwell and invite others to dwell in peace. A place where he opens wide the doors to show people who he is, to show people how they can find hope, truth, life, love and unity that transcends the shallow labels of this world. To build a house on earth where everyone is invited to come to peek inside to see what life is like for the people who know this God.
Where in the world is this temple? In every nation throughout the world. It’s the church! The church is made up of people who celebrate the reality that God stepped into history, in the person of his Son, to do everything necessary for the creation of one new humanity. Jesus didn’t simply bring peace – he is peace incarnate. He himself is our peace.
He came to break down the dividing wall of hostility. At the cross, Jesus took away every reason for us to boast and to find our identity in anything else besides him. For you, it may not be the old testament regulations, but it may be your socio-economic class. It may be your tribe. It may be your cultural or political biases. It may be your selfish ambitions or personal preferences that are always putting up a wall. But at the cross, Jesus abolished your pride in these.
How did he do that? He took all your pride and hostility upon himself. God’s hostility was poured out on Jesus in your place – and died with him! This was the message of peace that Jesus came with for those who were near and far.
That’s why relationships that were formally hostile and divided can be brought together by the gospel. Because now we’re a people who say, “I have given God so many reasons to be hostile towards me (Think of your sin and idolatries and pride!), to stay away from me, to alienate me. Instead, he loved me! Instead, he forgave me! He says, “Ryan, you’re no longer a stranger or an alien who is far from me. Now, tell me again Ryan, who is it who deserves your hostility? What reason do you have for a dividing wall? There’s no reason and no place for it because you are in Christ!”
In Christ there is peace with God and with one another and the place where this is to be vividly expressed is in the visible, local church. This is the place where sinners, saved by grace, are now pressed into citizenship together in the same community. God has pressed us into the same family. The same household. God is pleased to dwell with us here.
We’re his living stones who are pressed together, being built up as his dwelling place. We’re the new humanity, the new human race. We’re characterized not by alienation but by reconciliation; not by hostility but by unity and peace – because our hostility was killed at the cross and the cross turns us into people who admit our history, who admit that by nature, we’re a people who erect barriers. We’re a people who looks down on other races, or tribes or nations. By nature, we’re a people who can be very insecure, or jealous or bitter, or angry and divisive. We were gossips. We were people who were most happy when surrounded by people of the same political views. We were a people who would make you feel really accepted as long as your style, your preferences, your outlook on things is the same as ours. Those were the shallow labels that used to make or break our community life. But no more!
Now, we repent. We weep over our failures. We don’t excuse or condone them, but God has had mercy on us. His Spirit is transforming us into His holy temple.
Now, all the things that we might be tempted to label ourselves with, whether it’s the label of being rich or poor, a success or a failure, pure or perverted, wounded or a wounder, black or white or brown, a republican or democrat, a Presbyterian or Baptist or non-denominational, an east-sider or west-sider, mature or immature – take all those labels that you used to define yourself by, that used to be a dividing wall and in it’s place, put this one label over them all: A son, loved by God. A daughter, loved by God. A child, cleansed by the blood of Christ.
Our identity is in him. Our identity is no longer determined by race, face or place; by our family or our past failures. Yes, we have failures. Yes we have a racial identity. Yes we are part of a socio-economic class. However, those labels don’t define you if you are a Christian. We are a people who have been reconciled with God and reconciled with our brothers and sisters in the church, pressed together with each other as the living stones who are being built up as God’s holy temple.
Of all the people in the world, we have the resources and the motivation to put hostility to death and to love all people from every place. Let’s be the church.