Now, look at the process of peace. How does it happen? It comes in three stages, Paul says. Three things must happen before you have unity. But this is something that only Christ can do, and this is the way he does it:
First, by “breaking down the wall of hostility that kept them apart, [the hostility must end before anything else can be done] . . . brought an end to the commandments and demands found in Moses’ Teachings so that he could take Jewish and non-Jewish people and create one new humanity in himself” That is how he breaks down the wall, as we will see in a moment. Second, “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,” Third, “might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.”
Paul is talking about ending the vast conflict between the Jews and Gentiles of his day. He says the first thing Jesus did was to break down the “middle wall of partition,” the “dividing wall of hostility.” Paul is referring to a feature of the temple in Jerusalem. Remember, he was a Jew and raised there. He understood the temple and had been there many times.
That wall, about 3′ or 4′ high, ran through the court of the temple, dividing it into two sections, separating the court of the Gentiles, where the Gentiles were permitted to come, from the inner court, where only Jews were allowed. There was a sign which warned anyone who wasn’t a Jew that if they dared to venture into this inner court, they did so on pain of death.
In fact, in 1871, archaeologists, digging around the temple site in Jerusalem, actually uncovered the very stone marked with this warning. These were the actual words, translated from both the Hebrew and the Greek:
“No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure. Any one who is caught trespassing will bear personal responsibility for his ensuing death”
So, the wall became symbolic of this division. Actually, the temple itself was not destroyed until A.D. 70, several years after Paul had written this letter. But Paul was saying that Jesus Christ demolished the hostility the wall represented. At best, the Jews treated the Gentiles with aloofness; at worst, they despised and hated them. There was enormous hostility between these two peoples. And this animosity came from both sides of the divide. I remember how this was played out for Paul and Barnabas when they entered Galatia.
Barnabas and Paul were visiting a synagogue in Antioch and were asked to give a message. Paul stood up and began a brief summary of the Gospel, by saying, “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, listen! The message about this salvation has been sent to us . . .” (Acts 13:26).
Now, isn’t that interesting? He addressed three types of people you might find in any Diaspora synagogue of the first century. In his book, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, D. Thomas Lancaster showed us who these folks were:
First, he mentioned, “Brothers.” These were fellow Jews. What I mean is that they were born as physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through a Jewish mother. What many don’t understand is that today, for instance, “Jewishness” is determined by maternal descent. Scholars are uncertain whether or not this was true in Paul’s day, but it probably was. But the term “Jew,” originally referred to someone who was a descendant from the tribe of Judah. But by the time of Paul’s day (and has continued to our modern day), this was not true. The term “Jew,” applied to someone with legal standing in the Hebrew community. For instance, Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin, but he referred to himself as Jewish. So by addressing, “Brothers,” he was speaking to fellow Jews.
Ah, but then he addressed the “Sons of the family of Abraham.” He wasn’t repeating himself, he was speaking to Proselytes. Proselytes were non-Jews (in other words, they were not born of a Jewish mother), but rather, made a formal conversion to Judaism, thus became legally Jewish.
According to Torah, they were no longer regarded as Gentiles, but through the rituals of circumcision and immersion (and sacrifice when possible), they had taken on the religious and legal status of Isra’el. The Jewish community referred to them as “sons and daughters of Abraham.”
You learn about this conversion process in Genesis 17, where a Gentile who denounces any idols he may worship, and underwent circumcision, became a member of Abraham’s household. In the days of the apostles, the biblical “strangers who dwell among you” was understood by the Jewish world to refer to the formal, legal proselyte to Judaism.
Then the third type of listener he addressed, was the God-fearing Gentile. These were non-Jews who were attracted to Judaism. They worshiped in the synagogue with Jewish people and proselytes but had never undergone the rituals of conversion. As a friend of mine, Rabbi Mark Kinzer, said, these were Jew “wannabes.” lol
They weren’t pagans, by any means, but were not Jews, either. While the synagogue community may have tolerated them and even appreciated their financial contributions to the community (like the centurions in Luke 7 and Acts 10), they never considered them to be Jewish. Nor did they enjoy the rights and privileges of the Jewish people.
When Paul shared his message, he was referring to all three groups. I’ll tell you what, the congregation loved his message and asked Paul and Barnabas to come back the following Sabbath.
“As they were going out the people kept on asking them to say all this again on the following Sabbath. After the meeting of the synagogue broke up many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas who spoke personally to them and urged them to put their trust in the grace of God” (Acts 13:42-43)
However, the next Sabbath, things didn’t go as well. Acts 13:44 says, “almost the entire population of the city assembled to hear the message of God!” Wow! Apparently, the God-fearing Gentiles (Group Three) were so excited they went home and invited everyone they could think of: family members, relatives, neighbors, people they met on the street, to attend. I mean, this was good news! Hot dog, it was a revival! That’s good, isn’t it? Can you imagine leaving your church service and being so excited you tell everyone you know, “Man, you have to come with me, next week! This is something cool!”
Now, let’s bring this home, a little. One week the sermon is so good, the new preacher in town is so charismatic and gifted, folks run out and drag their friends and families to the next week’s service! “Folks, hold onto your butts, this dude is the ‘cat’s meow!’ You gotta hear him!”
Unfortunately, you have a bunch of old fudge muffins who sit with their arms folded and are mad because these ragamuffins are coming into our church! They are incensed because they have to share their seat, but even share it with a-a-a-commoner. On his blog, “The Back Bench,” Aaron Johnston wrote,
The animal kingdom is full of aggressively territorial creatures: wolves, lions, mountain goats, bulls. When these guys mark their territory, they mean it. If you step in their space, they’ll knock you down.
Then they’ll eat you. Bones and all.
But they’re Care Bears compared to the Thisismy pewsir, the scientific name given to a recently discovered and incredibly territorial species.
Perhaps you’ve seen this creature before. The male typically wears a conservative suit and tie, while the female adorns herself in either a dress or a long skirt and blouse.
Their natural habitat is a well-lit, man-made structure known as a chapel. Its walls and decor are rather plain, but its long padded seats — commonly called pews — are highly sought-after nesting places.
That’s because the Thisismy pewsir is very particular about his choice of pew. Only one will do, the one he flocks to every Sunday. It is his pew. He owns it. Anyone sitting in his pew is invading his property and therefore subject to his wrath.
That wrath is manifest by a light tap on the shoulder, an insincere smile, and the words, “You’re sitting in my seat.”
The victim of this assault (i.e. prey) is usually the innocent and harmless creature known as Ward visitoris. Perhaps he’s here on business. Or perhaps his family is considering moving to the area.
Either way, the Ward visitoris has made a grave mistake. He sat in an owned pew. He wrongfully assumed that the seats in the chapel were available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
How silly of him.
Yep! The large crowd of Gentiles didn’t sit well with the Jewish community! From an Evangelical-Christian point of view, a packed-out, standing-room-only revival meeting sounds great! But from a Jewish perspective, a Gentile majority in the synagogue is a serious faux pas. It threatened the integrity of the community’s identity. The mainstream culture is always chipping away at Jewish monotheism and Torah observance. A Gentile presence would certainly accelerate the tendency toward assimilation.
Besides, it was annoying because the Jews were, after all, the chosen people! It was their synagogue. Crowding practically every Gentile in the city into the synagogue created both a practical nuisance (“Hey, that guy’s sitting in my seat!”) and a theological problem (“If everyone is God’s Chosen People, then being chosen isn’t so special, anymore!”).
Luke explains it this way, “They became very jealous. They used insulting language to contradict whatever Paul said” (Acts 13:45). Hmm, they were filled with jealousy? They weren’t jealous because Paul and Barney were good at raising a big crowd, like that. Because the synagogue wasn’t there to raise a bunch of money or bring in big crowds. Nor were they “evangelical,” trying to get a bunch of people to join up. They weren’t even jealous that the two had become so popular. That’s not it.
They were jealous that the message of the gospel was compromising the uniqueness of Jewish identity! Evidently, the Gospel message was throwing the doors of Judaism wide open to the Gentile world. And in a sense . . . they were correct! The religion that began as a fairly exclusive club was suddenly declared open to the public, no table reservations needed!
It wasn’t the Gospel message that stirred the ire of the Jewish community. No, the Jewish people of Galatia listened eagerly and wanted to hear more about it. The message of the Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection, and the justification and salvation available through Him, sounded good to their ears! They weren’t offended by the cross. They were upset because the Gentiles began to crowd into the synagogue. To the Galatian Jewish community, the offense of the cross was that Gentiles were included!
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list: Mail List)
I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.