Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated 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 once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
The title of this message is “From Bloodlines to Bloodline”. It is has a double meaning. And both meanings are a longing and a prayer. The first meaning is the long and the prayer that God would take all of us from our various racial and ethnic bloodlines and lead us to the one bloodline of Jesus Christ — a bloodline born at the cross where he shed his blood to form one new people, one new bloodline, from every people and tongue and tribe and nation.
The second meaning of the title, “From Bloodlines to Bloodline,” is a reference to the book I wrote called Bloodlines: Race Cross and the Christian, and the prayer is that God would use that book to lead people from Bloodlines, the book, to the one bloodline of Jesus Christ, where the racial and ethnic suspicions and dislike and disrespect and hostilities are overpowered by the unifying blood of Jesus.
The Divided Wall Destroyed
One of the biblical texts that most clearly and forcefully describes the movement from the bloodlines of ethnic separation to the unifying bloodline of Christ is Ephesians 2:11–16. So let me make sure that we all see the biblical foundation for this way of thinking, and for this Christ-exalting vision of oneness and harmony among alienated and hostile ethnic groups. And then we will relate what we have seen to our situation.
The situation Paul is addressing in these verses is the centuries-long divide between ethnic Jews and all the other ethnic groups of the Near East called Gentiles. God himself had chosen Israel from all the peoples of the world (Genesis 12:1–3). He had focused almost all of his special, saving, self-revealing work on this Jewish people for two thousand years (from Abraham to Christ). He allowed the nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16). And yet he had told Abraham, the Father of the Jews, that through him and his offspring, “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
The dividing line between the era of bloody separation and the era of blood-bought reconciliation is the cross of Christ, and in this text that line is drawn between verses 12 and 13.
In verse 12 Paul says to the Gentiles — the ethnic peoples outside Israel — “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ [the Messiah], alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” That’s what it meant to be on the outside of the covenant people.
Christ Came to Overcome
Then we cross the dividing line between the two eras — from separation to reconciliation. Verse 13: “But now [since Jesus Christ has come and died for sinners] in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is where I get the idea of many bloodlines moving toward the one bloodline, the bloodline of Christ. Many nations, many ethnic groups, many bloodlines were separated and alienated from Israel and from the covenant and Christ and the promises. But then God did something to change that. He sent Jesus Christ into the world.
And how did Christ overcome the separation and alienation and hostility (that so often goes with separation and suspicion and pride)? Paul says he did it (end of verse 13) “by the blood of Christ.” How? How did Christ’s dying on the cross overcome this separation and alienation between Jews and the all other ethnic groups? He explains how in verses 15 and 16:
. . . by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in 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 killing the hostility.
A Different Foundation
What Paul is saying this this: As long as the Old Testament Law — specifically “the law [understood as] commandments expressed in ordinances” (verse 15) — was the foundation of how people are reconciled to God, the Gentiles would always be on the outside, and the Jews themselves would be alienated from God, because even for them by the works of the law no flesh will be justified (Romans 3:20).
So Paul says, Christ died to put reconciliation with God and people on a different foundation, namely, himself and his own blood. Verse 15: “He abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” And what did he put in their place as a way to be reconciled to God and to each other? Verse 16: “He reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross.”
The cross is the key. When Christ died, he covered the sins of Jew and Gentile — for all who would believe on him (Ephesians 2:8). He provided a righteousness for Jew and Gentile — for all who would believe on him. And he did this by making himself their substitute: his punishment was theirs; his righteousness is theirs — both coming to completion on the cross.
One Way to God for All Peoples
The blood of Jesus is the only way that we sinners can come to God. And therefore the blood of Jesus is the way that God has designed for all ethnic groups to come to each other in peace — namely, in coming to God in Christ together. The blood of Jesus — shed for the forgiveness of our sins — is the only way any human from any ethnic group can be reconciled to God. And therefore the blood of Jesus is the way God has designed for every ethnic group to be reconciled to others — that is, reconciled to God together.
In this way Christ removes the hostility between men by removing the hostility between God and men. God’s wrath is removed because Christ bore our punishment. Now God is our Father. And his family now consists of people from every ethnic group who come to God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
So my conclusion is, from this and numerous other texts, that God is calling all people to move from the alienated bloodlines of race and ethnicity in to the one bloodline of Jesus Christ.
Why I Wrote the Book
After sixteen years of preaching on Martin Luther King weekend about Christ and the crisis of ethnic strife, I finally pulled all my thoughts together in a book that came out last fall called Bloodlines. I mention it because I want you — especially you who are part of my family here at Bethlehem — to read it. I want you to know my story — with all its sin and redemption. I want you to feel hopeful and well-grounded in your commitment to live for Christ-exalting racial and ethnic diversity and harmony.
I want you to have resources in your hands so that you can spread the truth that Jesus Christ died for the sake of Christ-exalting racial diversity and harmony in the church, and through the church in the world. And I want you to realize that racial and ethnic dislike and disrespect and hostility have always been, and are now part of this fallen world. But should never be part of Christ’s people.
Historically and in the present day the horrors of racial and ethnic hatred are indescribable. All over the world, through all of history, the slaughter of human life because of ethnic, tribal, and racial animosities is beyond imagination. If you could imagine it — in vivid color all at once — you would not be able to bear it.
Horrors Still Exist
From the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915 (with over a million deaths), to the holocaust in Germany, to the Soviet Gulag, to the massacres in Rwanda in 1994, to the Japanese slaughter of six million Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese — the litany of ethnic hatred goes on and on into our present day.
Last October Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Asian American Marine serving in Afghanistan apparently killed himself after weeks of ugly racial slurs from his other American comrades. Please don’t be naïve and think that the civil rights movement in America ended racism. Laws don’t change hearts.
Changing Landscape in America
We are dealing with an issue that is vastly greater than the racial situation in our own country. And that is changing fast.
- Minorities make up roughly one-third of the US population. That 30% is expected to pass 50% by the year 2042. By 2023 — 11 years from now — minorities will comprise more than half of all children in the United States.
- The Hispanic population is projected to triple, from 46 million to 132 million by 2050. Hispanics will probably move from 15 percent of the total population to 30 percent.
- The black population is projected to increase from 41 million (14 percent of the population) 65 million (15 percent) in 2050.
John Mayer’s City View Report 2008 gives these remarkable facts our own town:
- The Twin Cities’ Hispanic population more than doubled from 1990 to 2000. We were the eighth fastest growing Hispanic city in the United States during the 1990s.
- The light rail system in the Twin Cities sells tickets in four languages: English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali.
- The Phillips/Ventura neighborhood [where I live] in South Minneapolis has become the most diverse single neighborhood in America with one-hundred-plus languages spoken there.
- In 2004, Minnesota ranked third in the nation for the most new refugees. Only California and Florida have more.
- The Twin Cities has the largest Hmong, Oromo (Ethiopian), Liberian, Karen (Burmese), Anuak (Ethiopian/Sudanese), and Somali populations in the US and is home to the second largest Tibetan population.
How do you feel about all this? Does it feel threatening or exciting? Do you feel possessive of culture and place? Or do you feel like God is at work with amazing kingdom possibilities? Do you feel resentful that the old earthly stabilities are being shaken up? Where is your stability?
O how I long for Bethlehem to be a people who love Christ-exalting diversity! And who love it not because diversity is the politically correct Christian virtue, but because the one we love most, Jesus Christ, shed his blood to ransom people from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). We love Christ-exalting diversity not because it is a cool social issue, but because it is a costly blood issue. We love Christ-exalting ethnic diversity because we love the gospel.
Obstacles to the Pursuit of Racial Harmony
As God has worked in my heart over the years toward making me an agent of harmony and hope among races, one of the things he has shown me is that not only are there obstacles to interracial and interethnic love and honor and care, but there are obstacles to the pursuit of it, not just the experience of it. It’s one thing to get to the point where you can freely and authentically love people of other ethnic groups and feel a natural, joyful, free affinity and fellowship with them. And its another thing to get to the point where you seek to advance that cause, and draw others into it — and stay at it.
There are forces at work to wreck efforts at racial and ethnic harmony. And what I have found is that one of the reasons pastors and leaders and laypeople don’t give themselves to this very much is that you get hurt if you do.
So I wrote chapter six of Bloodlines mainly with this in mind. What I try to do there in twenty pages, and here in just a few minutes, is apply the gospel to some of these obstacles that you run into if you give yourself not just to the personal enjoyment of Christ-exalting racial diversity but also to the pursuit of it — the effort to advance it and bring others into it.
I mentioned nine destructive forces that wreck efforts at ethnic-diversity and harmony, and that the gospel is designed by God to overcome:
- Feelings of inferiority and self-doubt
Each of these undermines perseverance in the pursuit of Christ-exalting ethnic diversity and harmony. Christ alone, through the gospel of Christ-crucified and risen, can give you the staying power to press on through great obstacles toward the advancement of Christ-exalting racial diversity. He died for this. And so his death holds the key to pressing on for this.
He hates Christ-exalting racial harmony. He is a liar and murderer and relationship ruiner. And he is stronger than you are.
But the gospel is stronger still. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). How did he do that? By bearing our sin in his body so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). When Jesus died, “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). He has stripped Satan of his most deadly weapon: the accusation that our sins are not forgiven.
In the power of the gospel we can move forward in the cause of Christ-exalting diversity. Satan is a defeated foe.
Guilt is a huge player in the way blacks and whites in America relate to each other. It’s deadly when we deny it’s there. It’s deadly when we wallow in it. It’s deadly when we exploit it. There is no deliverance and no relief and no healing in any of those ways of dealing with guilt.
Denial drives it below the surface where it creates endless illusions and self-justifications. Wallowing in it produces phony humility and obsequiousness and moral cowardice. Exploiting it gives a false sense of power that turns out to be only the weapon of weakness. If guilt is not dealt with more deeply, there will be no way forward.
And that is why Christ died. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Guilt is gone.
Who can begin to calculate the effect of white and black from all persuasions and all parties suddenly delivered from the crushing burden of guilt? No more denial. No more wallowing. No more exploiting. What an unimaginable transformation would come. It is incalculable what the personal and relational dynamics would be in all our racial relations if we were set free with overflowing joy and gratitude that our guilt (mine and yours) had been taken away.
God hates pride. “The Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up — and it shall be brought low. . . . And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:12, 17).
Pride may try to look cool in order to intimidate others. Or it may be meek and retiring for fear of offending others. It can look strong, and it can look weak. In either case, it is consumed with self and what a select group of others think of our self.
Racial tensions are rife with pride — the pride of white supremacy, the pride of black power, the pride of intellectual analysis, the pride of anti-intellectual scorn, the pride of loud verbal attack, and the pride of despising silence, the pride that feels secure, and the pride that masks fear. Where pride holds sway, there is no hope for the kind of listening and patience and understanding and openness to correction that mature relationships require.
The gospel of Jesus breaks the power of pride. It reveals the magnitude and the ugliness and the deadliness of it, even as it provides deliverance from it. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is devastating to pride. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). He saves us by grace alone so that we would boast in him alone.
Pride is shattered.
The cross of Christ is the key to killing pride and living in humility. Imagine what race relations and racial controversies would look like if the participants were all dead to pride and deeply humble before God and each other.
None Is Stronger Than the Gospel
And if we had time we could show how the gospel is the power to overcome the obstacle of
- Hopelessness — “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
- Feelings of inferiority and self-doubt — “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God” (1 John 3:1).
- Greed — “I count everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
- Hate — “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
- Fear — “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).
- Apathy — “Christ gave himself for us . . . to purify for himself a people . . . who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
These are the great obstacles that undermine the persevering pursuit of Christ-exalting racial diversity. And none of them is stronger than the gospel of Jesus Christ. So love the gospel, love Jesus, and love the Christ-exalting ethnic diversity and harmony. Christ died for this — to take us from our bloodlines to his bloodline.