Within These Walls

Mike Tiller  

Anyone who has built a retaining wall, or any other exterior wall, can tell you that it is a tedious, time consuming and often backbreaking experience. Countless hours can be spent in gathering the materials, building the structure, laying reinforcement and repairing imperfections. The same goes for tearing down a wall. Tearing down a wall requires great force to destroy what was designed to be difficult to destroy.

You see, a wall is study in contradiction. On the one hand, it is quite a simple device. You take bricks, concrete, or even packed earth and begin the process of layering it one on top of the other. You fortify it with stone or steel to make it even harder to destroy. You also place mortar in between the layers to hold it together. Yet such a simple structure can stand for multiple lifetimes.

A wall also has a contradictory purpose. It can be built to keep unwanted things outside of it, such as a flood wall meant to protect homes and businesses in areas near bodies of water. In this sense it is protective of its inhabitants. Yet a wall with only minor changes in design can be used to keep unwanted things inside of it, such as prisoners. In this sense, it is being used to protect everyone else from its inhabitants.   The Great Wall of China

Take, for instance, the Great Wall of China. Work started on this wall as far back as 770 B.C. when several Chinese states built smaller defensive walls to protect them from invaders. Eventually, many of these walls were joined together to create a gigantic series of walls that stretched for over 4100 miles. That⬠"!s long enough to stretch from Florida to the North Pole.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, construction of the wall consisted mostly of packed earth, stones and wood. They took simple materials found locally and built a massive fortification. To add to the protection of the wall, the Chinese created a sophisticated defense system of garrison towns, watch towers and beacons, each with a clearly specified mission. As such, the upkeep of the wall was continuous for centuries.

The purpose of this wall was, primarily, to protect the inhabitants of the newly unified China from the invasion of enemies from the north. This barrier against evil was significant not for its design, but for its scope. No other wall on Earth even comes close to the staggering size of the Great Wall. With a width of between 15 and 30 feet at its base and an average height of 25 feet, a 4100 mile long wall of these dimensions required countless tons of materials and endless hours of labor.

But with such a mighty barrier protecting them, the wall failed to protect its inhabitants from conquest. Both the Mongols and the Manchurians were able to successfully invade and subjugate the population. To this day, less than 30% of this great structure remains in good condition. Large sections of the wall lay in ruin and its usefulness has long been forgotten. It stands not only as a testament to historic Chinese power, but as a testament to futility.  

The Berlin Wall

On the night of August 13th, 1961, another wall was erected. This wall⬠"!s size was nowhere near the same scope as the Great Wall, but its significance was. It was called the Berlin Wall.

After World War 2 ended, the defeated Germany was divided up into four occupied zones overseen by the United States, France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The former capital city of Berlin lay right in the middle of the Soviet occupied zone. However, Berlin was also divided up into four sectors, overseen by military governors from each of the Allies.

Berlin became the most visible symbol of the Cold War in Europe. In the first 15 years after the war, the contrast between western and soviet ideology became apparent. When the contrasting lifestyle of the West became too much for the Soviets to stand, they attempted to blockade the city. When the allies responded with the Berlin Airlift, the Soviets began making preparations for a wall to permanently separate East and West Berlin.

The Berlin wall was built in 3 phases. The first phase was built in the early morning hours of August 13th, 1961. The border to West Berlin was closed and East German troops began putting up miles and miles of barbed wire. Overnight, families and friends became separated from each other and the Cold War had taken a drastic and ominous turn. Over the next few months the wall was improved and reinforced with concrete and square blocks. A second wall that improved upon the design of the first was built in 1962. In 1965 the third wall replaced the first two generations. It consisted of large concrete slabs between steel girders and concrete posts. And starting in 1975, the final wall replaced the 3rd generation. It was designed to be easy to build up and very difficult to overcome.

The purpose of this wall was clear to both sides. To the Soviets it was meant to keep the corruptive influence of the capitalist societies of the west from the occupants of East Berlin. But, more importantly it was designed to keep the populace of East Berlin from fleeing to the West. To the western Allies, the wall was seen as a prison and a desperate act by an evil empire. It became a tool of oppression and a barrier to charity and salvation.

The Soviets steadfastly protected and maintained the wall. To support the purpose of the wall, over 14,000 border guards were stationed along its length. They used metal fencing, anti-tank and anti-personnel ditches, surveillance points, and over 300 towers and 600 dogs to strengthen the wall. And the Berlin Wall stood for almost 30 years.

The Berlin Wall effectively came down on November 9th, 1989. I was halfway into my senior year of high school when I watched emotional footage of people tearing down the graffiti strewn wall. I remember pieces of the wall being sold as mementos. It was fitting that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the most visible herald of the fall of the Soviet Empire. But the damage done by the wall to those who lived in its shadow was slow to heal, if it ever did completely.  

The Walls of Jericho

The Bible tells the story of another significant wall. In the book of Joshua, the Israelites come up against the city of Jericho. Now the city of Jericho was built upon a large mound of earth surrounded by an embankment with a stone retaining wall at its base. On top of this 12-15 foot high retaining wall was another mudbrick wall that was 6 foot thick and about 25 feet tall. Also, at the crest of this embankment was another similarly sized wall whose base was about 45 feet above the ground level outside the retaining wall. So if you were standing in front of the retaining wall, it would appear to you that the wall was over 70 feet tall. Without a doubt, the wall was impossible for the Israelites to overcome on their own. The city and its several thousand occupants were prepared for a long siege. The harvest had just been taken and water was plentiful, so the city could easily have handled a siege of many months or possibly several years.

Yet, regardless of its mighty wall, the city of Jericho fell around the year 1400 B.C. The bible gives the account in the book of Joshua of God's destruction of the wall.  

Joshua 6:1-5,13-16 Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.  The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, "Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!.  

With that the impregnable walls of Jericho came crashing down as an example of the Lord⬠"!s power. The wall was an obstacle to the Jews that would have been impossible to overcome without the power of God. Also, this event was a sterling example of the faith in the Lord carried by Joshua and his people.  

Walls of the Heart

The last wall I want to discuss tonight is a wall that is no less significant than the previous examples, even if it is not remotely famous or well known. It is a wall that was first constructed in the mid 1980s in a small town in Texas. It is a wall of my own construction. It doesn't surround an enormous country, a large city or even a great mound of Earth. It was a small but equally powerful wall built around my heart. Like many infamous walls it kept me prisoner without my awareness. It was designed to protect me from the unwanted intrusion of a foreign ideology. And worst of all, I didn't want to escape from it.

You see, we all have a wall that we have constructed around us. This wall serves the same purpose as any other wall. It either keeps you prisoner from positive outside influences, or it protects you from the evil ones. It's not a matter of whether or not you have built a wall around you, but only a matter of how it's constructed.

If improperly constructed, your wall is a prison. This wall is built upon sin. It is fortified by many of the influences we take for granted every day. The teachings of evolution, excessive worldliness, selfishness and self-importance strengthen this wall. It is held together by a strong mortar composed of ignorance of God⬠"!s Word, fear of change, and harmful pride. This wall is well designed to keep the grace of God out, while making you a prisoner of sin.

But if properly constructed, your wall can be a barrier against these same evil influences. This wall is built upon faith in Jesus Christ. It is fortified by obedience to his will, prayer, service and sacrifice. It is held together by a mortar consisting of love of God and your neighbor, study of God's Word, humility, and regular attendance. This wall is perfectly designed to protect your eternal spirit, but like any wall it must be properly maintained to remain effective.

I am happy to say that, like the walls of Jericho, my prison wall that was so strongly built in the 1980s came crashing down due to the power of God and my faith in Him. My wall fell in December of 1999. It was replaced by a wall that is properly constructed and is continuously undergoing repair.

In a moment we will be extending the invitation. And I hope that if you have learned anything tonight, it is that history shows that any wall, no matter how great, can come crashing down by the power of God, or through careless neglect. The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Walls of Jericho: they all stand as a testament to what can and will happen when your own wall is not properly built and maintained. Spend time in personal examination. What kind of wall do you have? Is it strong enough? Do you maintain it well?