The Bible presents Jesus’ death on an old rugged cross as the crown jewel of God’s salvation and the climax of his revelation. As a precious diamond unveils numerous spectrums of beautiful light when turned slowly in the sun, Jesus’ sacrifice unveils multiple layers of truth about God’s salvation when we study the pages of the New Testament.
True, Jesus died so that any person can be forgiven of every sin and spend all eternity in the very Presence of Almighty God. His voluntary sacrifice is sufficient to save anyone who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead and confesses that Jesus is Lord.
But the Bible presents other important facets of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ sacrifice revealed God’s love, demonstrated God’s righteousness, established God’s law, liberated creation from death and decay, satisfied God’s anger, defeated Satan, and more.
The Bible also tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. “He is our peace, who made the two groups one, who destroyed the dividing wall of hostility by his body” on the cross (Ephesians 2:14).
The Temple in Jerusalem was surrounded by courts, divided from each other by walls. Only the Jewish priests were allowed to enter the innermost court immediately surrounding the Temple. Only Jewish men could enter the court outside that inner court. Jewish women could only come as far as the next court.
All non-Jewish men and women, Gentiles, were restricted to the large outer court that surrounded the Jewish areas. Signs on the dividing wall were posted, threatening Gentiles with death if they tried to enter the Jewish courts nearer the Temple.
Soon after Jesus died on a Roman cross just outside of Jerusalem, mighty Roman armies led by Titus surrounded the city in order to crush a revolt. When the fighting was finished the Temple and all of its walls and courts were completely destroyed.
But a dividing wall still existed in the hearts of many early followers of Jesus. Jewish Christians did not want to worship with Gentile believers. They insisted that the Gentiles must change and become like them before they would accept them into their fellowship.
The sometimes bitter division between Jewish and Gentile Christians is a subject that occurs often in the New Testament. But after much arguing, praying, and soul-searching, the Early Church realized that established cultural divisions in their world had no place in the Church.
In Christianity “there is not Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female,” for all Christians are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Jesus’ death destroyed the dividing wall of hostility that existed between different groups in the ancient world, even the acrimonious division between Jew and Gentile.
Jesus had already been preparing his followers for the day when cultural barriers would be removed in the Church. For instance, he took the time to speak with a Samaritan woman. Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean half-breeds and did everything they could to avoid contact with them.
When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman, commonly called the Woman at the Well, his disciples were stunned into silence. They were accustomed to treating some people as hopelessly unclean. And not only was she a Samaritan, she was a woman, definitely a second-class member of humanity in the first century.
But the cross of Christ broke through the ancient barriers built and reinforced by the hostility of sinful men and women, including racial barriers. Racism is not only a sin against people, it is an insult to God, the Maker of all races, and a denial of the power of Christ’s cross, the Savior of all nations.
John’s vision of heaven, which we call the Book of Revelation, tells us that Christ spent his precious blood on Calvary in order to purchase a people for God “from every tribe, language, people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Jesus’ cross is not too weak to save us from our sin and reconcile us to God. Neither is the cross of Christ too weak to tear down the walls of hostility and reconcile us to one another, young and old, rich and poor, men and women, black and white.
It is true: many different groups exist within Christianity. Differences in doctrine, worship styles, schedules, and other matters make it easier for us to worship and serve our Lord in various local churches. Nevertheless, to use race as a dividing line between Christian and Christian is to deny the power of the cross.
Jesus died to provide victory over sin for his followers. Christians still struggle with sin, but Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees success, so the battle is worth fighting.
Jesus died to remove the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. The first-century church struggled with desegregating themselves, but Jesus’ death and resurrection guaranteed them success, so the battle was worth fighting.
Jesus died to remove all the dividing walls of hostility, including the one between white and black. Believers struggle with desegregated worship, but Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees success, so the battle is worth fighting.
Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, January 2013