By Ross Engel –
In Berlin, Germany in 1987, former President Ronald Reagan emphatically declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” I was seven years old when that speech was given. I knew very little of the world, and even less about communism or the Cold War. What I did know was that, according to Rocky IV, Communism was bad and Russia was where the “bad guys” were. Darn you, Ivan Drago! Thanks to my Uncle, who had been stationed near “Checkpoint Charlie,” I also knew that the Berlin Wall divided Germany into two sections: free Germany and communist Germany. When the wall fell in 1989, I, along with the rest of America, cheered.
Walls serve a purpose. On a national scale, they set up and determine borders. They can protect citizens. They separate one nation from another nation. In the case of the prison system, they keep dangerous lawbreakers away from the rest of the population. And on a personal level, the walls of my house keep people from looking into my home while I’m eating my dinner.
As practical as walls might be, walls ultimately are a result of sin.
Before sin entered the picture, there was no need to erect boundaries between people. In the sinless world of Genesis 2:25, the man and his wife stood naked before one another and had no shame. There was no distrust; there was no need to shroud oneself from another person. In the peaceful Garden of Eden, all creation was at peace with one another. There was no need for division, no need to hide; there was nothing that creation needed protection from. A wall of any sort would have been foolish!
Once sin came into the picture, all of that changed.
After sin’s entrance into the world, the first action was to create barriers. Adam and Eve constructed fig leaves to cover themselves from one another. Suddenly, there was shame. Suddenly, there was a reason to protect oneself from another person. In a poor attempt to create a barricade between them and God, they hid in the bushes.
Their hedge of protection was no match for the Omniscient, Almighty God. He found them and spoke to them. In His speaking, He declared Words of Law to them and to the deceptive serpent. “Cursed are you above all the livestock.” “I will multiply your pain in childbirth.” “Cursed is the ground because of you.” “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But God didn’t just speak Words of Law to His creation. He also offered to them a promise. He gives them the Gospel: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” – Genesis 3:15.
God promises a Savior. He promises that the Savior Offspring of the woman would undo the curse and trample Satan under His feet. He promises Jesus, who would claim victory over sin, death, the devil, and the grave. But while creation waited for this promise to be fulfilled, God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden. He sets His own wall in place—a cherubim with a flaming sword to barricade the way to the Tree of Life.
From the moment sin entered the world, barriers became necessary. We set them up between each other for all sorts of reasons, some good and some bad. God, out of His grace and mercy, sets up a barrier between sinful humanity and the Tree of Life. While this barrier may seem harsh and unloving, it is actually done out of love for the fallen creation so that humanity would not reach out and eat of this Tree of Life and live forever in a sin-filled world. The barrier between God and man would be seen again at Mt. Sinai where the Israelites camped and were told to stay away from the mountain lest God’s holiness consume them. The tabernacle and temple were constructed to include a curtain veil to wall off the holiest of holy places from the people, lest they be consumed again by the presence of God’s holiness.
But this wall between God and man would not stand forever.
God remembered His promise and sent His Son Jesus into the world. Born of a woman, born under the Law, Jesus came to redeem all creation. He came to fulfill God’s promise made to Adam and Eve, all the way back in the Garden of Eden. He came to destroy the curse!
In His sinless life, Jesus fulfilled the Law of God perfectly. In His Baptism, He soaked up the sins of the entire world. In His perfect death on the cross, He shouldered every single sin that has plagued and will plague His creation, our own included.
And when He had accomplished this task, the wall was torn down.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.
– Matthew 27:50-51
The temple curtain was there to serve as a wall, separating perfect God from His imperfect people. But Jesus’ death brought down that wall. In taking on our flesh, fulfilling the Law of God, and dying for the sins of all creation, Jesus’ sacrificial death has created a path for every repentant sinner to approach God and live. It is just as the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2
“Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
In Christ, the barrier between God and man is gone. In its place, we are now being built into the house of the Lord, and God does indeed dwell in our midst. We long for the day when we will see this reality with our eyes and not just by faith. For on that day, every wall will be torn down and all creation will dwell in peace.