One of the things I loved about living in Europe was being surrounded by so many old, historic structures. It was exciting to visit church buildings and castles that were 5 times older than our country! The only downside to this was that you’d sometimes catch a whiff of the smell of damp antiquity. But even that generally just made me nostalgic.
Each year our mission team would attend a Christian retreat held in Rothenburg, Germany, one of the best preserved medieval cities in all of Europe. Most of the buildings in the town were built in the 11, 12, and 1300’s, and though modernized on the inside, the outside of them look much like they did 700 years ago. Complete with cobblestone streets, walking into the old town feels like you are walking into history, if not the set of a Disney princess adventure. Surrounding the city is a massive wall with huge towers, which has only been compromised on a couple of occasions, most recently when Allied bombs destroyed part of the wall and city at the end of World War II. Thankfully, the German army surrendered before more damage was done. After the war, the citizens of Rothenburg solicited the world for help in rebuilding their damaged wall. The world responded, and with donations pouring in from as far as Japan and the United States, the wall was repaired and tourists can now enjoy the charms of this quaint burgh.
Though not crucial today, walls were essential for the defense and protection of ancient cities. So it was no unimportant task that Nehemiah set out to accomplish in the 5th century BC when he and several other Jewish leaders began the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. But as crucial as walls were to the towns of antiquity, they could also be damaging when they unnecessarily kept people separated and isolated from one another. Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 2 that the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in Galatians 3, Paul tells us that though as diverse as Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, and female, we can be fully united in the Messiah Jesus by being clothed with Christ through baptism.
Unfortunately, even in Christ, we sometimes lapse back into wall building. We set up artificial barriers and fail to embrace one another’s God given diversity. In a misguided quest for uniformity, we sometimes destroy our Christ formed and Spirit fueled unity. How often are people put off and denied entrance into the body of Christ by the walls we build?
Thankfully we are headed for a city whose walls have 12 gates, open 24/7. In his vision, John saw the following. “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Revelation 21:22-26) In the meantime, as we seek that city of the renewed creation, let us do our best to at least pry open gates, if not to tear down walls! – Shay