Last Sunday morning we heard the alarm, rolled out of bed, showered, dressed, and made our way to the building. At 9 AM we gathered for classes. We smiled at each other, laughed and talked together, and studied the Bible.
That same day, July 17, was Gavin Long’s 29th birthday. The former Marine sergeant celebrated the occasion by committing murder. It was 9 AM. Baton Rouge police officers were called for help. Six of them were shot. Three of them died.
In Seagoville we were sitting comfortably in our air-conditioned classrooms. In Baton Rouge police officers were bleeding to death on the streets. Why are police officers getting bullets in the head and finding shards of glass in their restaurant food?
For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Jesus “has made us both one.” Both? What is Paul talking about? As the paragraph begins he draws attention to two distinct groups: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision” (Eph. 2:11).
These two groups (the Gentiles and the Jews) had no use for each other. Twice (in vs. 14, 16) Paul uses the word “hostility [enmity].” The intensity of this mutual antagonism is perceived in various New Testament episodes.
Jesus is visiting his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He has the gall to suggest that God loves Gentiles. The leper Naaman was a Gentile. The Lord cleansed him. The widow of Zarephath was a Gentile. The Lord provided for her. The Nazarenes were furious: “And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong” (Luke 4:29).
A silversmith named Demetrius stirred up a riot in Ephesus. Paul’s preaching was turning people away from paganism. It was hurting business. People weren’t buying goddess souvenirs. A vast throng gathered in the amphitheater. The Jews in the city tried to put forward a spokesman to explain that not all Jews sympathized with this Christian thing: “But when they recognized that [Alexander] was a Jew, for about two hours they all with one voice cried out, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34). The Ephesians were saying, “We’re not going to listen to some Jew! We’ll drown out your voice before you ever open your rotten mouth.”
Ironically, “the law of commandments and ordinances” (Eph. 2:15) itself served as “the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). How could that be? Why was God’s law delivered at Sinai a dividing line between Jews and Gentiles? Remember that the Law of Moses was given at the inauguration of a special covenant with the Hebrews: “And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exod. 24:8).
This covenant wasn’t made with the Gentiles, the nations. The Gentiles understood this—and felt alienated. The Jews understood this—and felt contempt. The Gentiles were dogs.
The U.S. has a painful history of racial tensions. Africans were stolen by slave dealers or sold into slavery by rival African tribesmen. Slaves were brought in squalid ships to the shores of “the land of the free.” Many died en route. The survivors were forced to work on plantations. Their names were changed. Their women were molested. Their children were sold and separated from their parents. Learning to read was a punishable offense. And cruel slave owners were accountable to no one. The suffering experienced by plantation slaves is nauseating.
God is not the author of racial enmity. Notice what the Lord says to Israel at Sinai: “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5-6). God expected the people of Israel to be a holy nation of priests, to proclaim God’s righteousness to the world.
The people of Israel failed miserably to honor this great trust. For extended periods they themselves snuffed out the light and stumbled in the darkness of idolatry. And even in periods of national faithfulness, the Hebrews were generally content to keep the light under the bucket.
And so Jesus did what the law could not do. Jesus did what the Jews would not do: “For he is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). “Our” refers to Gentiles and Jews: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). And how did Christ make this peace? Jesus “has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances” (vs. 14-15). And when did he tear the barrier down?
On August 13, 1961, the Communist regime in East Germany began construction of the infamous Berlin Wall. The ugly concrete and wire fence was 12 feet high and stretched for miles. Its length was guarded by 302 watchtowers. Any East German attempting an escape was shot. “The wall of shame” (as one Berlin mayor called it) separated neighbors, friends, and family for 28 years. Finally, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall began to come down.
At Passover in AD 30, Jesus tore down a far more substantial wall, a wall of the heart. In Berlin people on both sides of the barrier longed to be together. But Jesus demolished a barrier that people had no interest in losing: “And [that he] might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end” (Eph. 2:16).
Touched by the cross, people are never again the same. Have you ever wondered at the unity so evident in the church? I know. The disunity among believers gets more attention. We are distressed by denominational division in the larger church-going community and by congregational splits in our own brotherhood.
But perhaps division has distracted us from noticing the power of the Lord’s cross work. The death of Jesus has brought people together: “For he is our peace, who has made us both one. […] That he might create in himself one new man in place of the two. […] And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:14-16).
The unity made possible by the cross is both real and practical. That unity means shared worship. The Jerusalem temple was a house of worship for the Jews. The temple complex had a court for the Gentiles, but Greeks went beyond their restricted area on penalty of death. The apostle Paul was falsely accused by a mob of bringing the Ephesian Trophimus into the sacred precinct. “Men of Israel, help!” the mob shouted. “This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he has defiled this holy place” (Acts 21:28). And they tried to kill him. Not many years before, Paul would have shared the sentiments of his attackers.
But listen to what Paul says about the church: “In whom [Christ Jesus] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22). The noun translated “temple” is naos (the inner sanctuary). The church of Jesus Christ joins people together in the intimate fellowship of shared worship—Jews and Gentiles, blacks, whites, and browns, the rich and the destitute.
The unity made possible by the cross also means shared life: “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:18-19). For Jewish people of Paul’s day, sharing meals and other social activities with Gentiles was unthinkable. Remember how squeamish Peter felt when the Lord sent him to the home of Cornelius? Peter said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or visit any one of another nation” (Acts 10:28). However, in Christ we all have the same “Father” (Eph. 2:18) and belong to the same “household” (v. 19). With all true believers everywhere, we are family. Blacks, browns, and whites sit at the same table and share food. Our children share the same cabins at Bible camp. In some cases our children or grandchildren intermarry.
The U.S. has a painful history of racial tensions. The U.S. has an inspiring history of racial healing too. In 1861, our country fought the Civil War—free states and slaves states engaging in a bloody conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. At its conclusion former slaves were legally free. A century later nonviolent protesters won the civil rights now taken for granted in 2016. Browns, blacks, and whites live peaceably together in the same neighborhoods. We eat in the same restaurants. We use the same bathrooms and drink from the same water fountains. Our children go to the same schools and play on the same teams. We share the same work spaces.
In 2008, Americans elected the first black president. Mr. Obama was seen by the majority of voters as a symbol of hope and change. People were eager to put racial strife in the past and promote an even greater peace.
Just eight years later, in 2016, Black Lives Matter protests are being staged all across the country. Fanatics in the group are clamoring for the death of police officers. Pigs in a blanket. Fry them like bacon. Innocent people are dead. How did this happen?
A number of reasons suggest themselves. There’s money and power in racial agitation. If there were no more fires, firemen would be out of a job. If no one ever broke the law, judges, lawyers, policemen, and correctional officers would be unemployed. And if racial tensions came to an end, racial agitators would be completely marginalized.
Obviously, since men and women are sinners, no society will ever be truly free of all racial prejudice or misconduct. But if race relations are fairly good and improving, then the best way to stir up strife is to lie. If you endlessly repeat the same lies, those lies become the truth cherished by unthinking or uninformed people. Our police officers have been the victims of this wicked tactic.
Let me give you two examples. The name Trayvon Martin continually pops up in the discussion of white police brutality targeting black men. But George Zimmerman wasn’t a policeman. And he wasn’t white. Zimmerman has a white German father and a Latina mother from Peru, a woman with African heritage. If Zimmerman is white, then so is President Obama. Both men have one white parent.
And then there’s the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, the birthplace of the BLM movement. Brown is depicted by agitators as an unarmed child shot in the back. “My hands are up! Don’t shoot!” Michael Brown was 18–old enough to vote, serve in the military, and be tried as an adult for crimes. He was six-five and weighed 289 pounds. He robbed a convenience store. He died trying to wrestle the policeman’s gun away from him. That’s not my opinion. That’s the conclusion of the Barack Obama and Eric Holder Department of Justice.
We could easily expose the lies told about other specific cases. But we won’t. Let me instead share some hard facts:
In 2015, the police killed about 250 black people in the entire U.S. That same year about 500 people were murdered in Chicago alone. Most of the victims were black. Most of the murderers were black too.
A black police officer is 3.3 times more likely to use deadly force at a crime scene than a white officer.
A police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black criminal than he is to kill an unarmed black person.
Another reason for the assault on police is the desire for anarchy. Lawlessness. The other night I saw a panel discussion of BLM on TV. One activist was demanding the abolition of the police department. Her suggested alternative was to set up community policing. Now let’s think about that. You abolish the police department. Then you round up untrained people to respond to driving violations, car accidents, fires, burglaries, robberies, terrorist attacks, rapes, and murders? How long would it take for those untrained community policers to behave in racially inappropriate ways?
The scariest thing about anarchy is that it has no bounds. Suppose that BLM succeeds in intimidating the police. Who’s next? Police officers’ families? Judges? Political leaders unsympathetic to the cause? How long before you find yourself in the anarchists’ bull’s eye?
Martin Niemoller, a preacher who supported Hitler and was later imprisoned by the Nazis, expressed these famous words: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The main reason for the assault on our police is the nation’s abandonment of God. As a nation we are forgetting the cross and what it means. We are forgetting that Jesus is our peace. We are forgetting about forgiveness and grace.
The woman on the TV panel demanding the abolition of the police department gave me the chills. Her loathing and contempt for the police are palpable. Her tone dripping with hate, she reviled the police for saying that they were afraid to do their job. This misguided woman has dehumanized police officers. They don’t have feelings and needs. When they die they don’t bleed. Their families don’t cry or deserve any sympathy if they do. You can only think that way if you are heartless and godless.
In this message my main objective is to encourage our young people to think. So let me draw your attention to Abel and Janelle. They have a beautiful marriage and a wonderful son. They have big hearts and a big house. They have repeatedly welcomed the teenagers into their home. They feed you and love on you. And they don’t care the least bit what color your skin is. And you know that.
On July 7 Micah Johnson murdered five Dallas police officers. That night Abel turned on the TV and saw his sister Briana, a Dallas police officer, with a drawn gun. Abel’s heart was in his throat. Would his dear sister be shot? Does she deserve to be murdered by an assassin?
Every police officer is somebody’s dad or mom, son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister. Avenging perceived injustice by targeting innocent people is wicked beyond description.
We don’t need hate groups. We don’t need the KKK. We don’t need BLM. We need Jesus. We need the cross. We need the church. We need to love each other.