Dividing Lines

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backwards and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”  (Genesis 9:18-27)

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) – 12 remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 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 access to the Father by one Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:11-18)
If we ever needed proof that even the best of men are only men at best, then it is Noah. We were told in Genesis 6:9 that he was the most righteous man of his generation, but not long after he came out of his lockdown in the Ark, he got drunk and passed out naked. He was angry with his son for gazing at his naked body but he was not exactly faultless in the family rift that ensued. Clearly, even the best of us still have sins lurking in our hearts.

It therefore shouldn’t surprise us that people have twisted these verses of Scripture to justify their sinfulness. The Devil quotes Scripture out of context to justify his actions in Luke 4:10-11, and so can we. Since Japheth was the ancestor of the Europeans and Ham was the ancestor of the Africans, many nineteenth-century Christians used these verses to justify the colonisation of Africa, white-minority rule and even the transatlantic slave trade. It’s no use telling the descendants of those who were colonised or enslaved that it all happened a long time ago and that it’s simply time to forgive and forget. Forgiveness becomes easier when there is acknowledgement on both sides that real injustices were committed in the past and that real repentance is required. Racial reconciliation begins to happen when we confess that the dividing wall of hostility between races isn’t just imagined. It is real.

That’s why the Gospel is the good news that our world so desperately needs to hear right now. It is the only message that can go right to the heart of the human problem because it is the only message that deals with the problem of the human heart. The Apostle Paul talks openly in Ephesians 2 about the rift between the Jews and the non-Jews in the first-century Roman Empire, claiming that the ‘dividing wall of hostility’ between them is broken down in Jesus Christ. Racism is a form of pride (my tribe is better than your tribe!) so it springs from a sinful heart that rebels against the Lord as our Master. As soon as we confess our sin to the Lord, we become reconciled, not just God, but also to one another. It is impossible to look down on anybody else while you are on your knees at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Even now, he is creating a new humanity out of the divided nations of the world, as people who are far away from one another in their hearts draw closer to God and, consequently, draw closer to one another.
1)   Why do you think it is easier for us to think about the way in which the Gospel reconciles us to God (Ephesians 2:1-10) than about the way in which the Gospel reconciles us to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22)?

2)   How do you react when people suggest that you might need to repent of some of the sins that your nation committed against other nations in the past? If you feel unsure about your need to do this, it might help to read Daniel 9:4-6 and 9:20.

3)   Praise God, the moment that Daniel began to confess his nation’s sins to the Lord, his prayer was answered. The Lord lifted the curse which he had spoken over Daniel’s nation and replaced it with a blessing. What sins do you think the Lord is calling you to confess on behalf of your own nation today?
Father God, I thank you that, by reconciling me to yourself, you have reconciled me to all my Christian brothers and sisters too. I get excited that your Gospel holds the answer to our increasingly divided world. Help me to play my own part in the new humanity that you have created in Jesus. Forgive my nation for its sins, and may the diversity of Everyday Church proclaim the Gospel to the divided world around it that needs to hear this Good News. Amen.
If you have time, consider carrying on your conversation with God using one of our helpful Prayer Pathways.
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