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Dec 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 30, 22014 – Ephesians 2:11-22

A Bridge Where Once A Barrier

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who were called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands–remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:11-12

Intro: Everywhere Paul went in Greece and Asia Minor he planted churches

And every church he planted was racially mixed — Jews and Gentiles
– at that time, there was strong racial prejudice on both sides
• this produced an uncomfortable tension in churches
◦ a tension that was ethnic, cultural and religious
• in some churches it was a more serious problem than in others
– Paul had to teach the members of these early churches a new way of seeing the “other”
• fortunately, Christian spirituality already had a resolve
• one that trains believers to discern appearance from reality

In this section of Ephesians, Paul presents his spiritual in three movements:
v. 11, Remember (where and who you were)
v. 13, But now (consider what Christ has done)
v. 19, So then (realize where and who you are)

Vv. 11-12, “Remember” who you were

Paul immediately locates the source of their tension, identifying it with three words: “in the flesh”
– to define people this way is to follow lines of natural or physical distinctions — by DNA, so to speak
• the reference to Gentiles as “Uncircumcision” was to see them from the Jewish point of view
• as when David described Goliath as, “this uncircumcised Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:26)
– but Paul implies this is a superficial difference because it is made by “human hands”
• circumcision doesn’t get to heart of the real differences between people (cf. Ro. 2:28-29)

What did it mean for us, back in the past (“formerly”) that we were not Jewish?
– God had chosen one people to whom he revealed himself
• he gave them rituals for atonement and also the explanation of the reasons, purposes and functions of those rituals
◦ he taught them how to approach him in worship, how to live with each other, and so on
• and God continued to speak to Israel through his prophets
– there are spiritual ramifications to being born outside of all of that and of not belonging to Israel
• I’ve broken Paul’s list down to six items, although I know the last three should be combined:

  1. Separate from Christ – Jesus came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 15:24)
  2. Excluded from the commonwealth of Israel
    • we would say, “We were foreigners and not citizens”
    • imagine visiting a country where you had no rights
    ◦ no legal representation, no insurance, no voice
    ◦ that is where we, as Gentiles, were in regard to Israel’s life in God
  3. Strangers to the covenant of promise
    • God made several covenants (with Noah, Abraham, etc.)
    • but the wonderful promise of God’s covenant with Israel was, “I will be your God and you will be My people”
  4. Having no hope – beyond myself or this life
  5. Without God – perhaps ignorant of him or hostile to him
  6. In the world – at times a harsh and lonely place

Vv. 13-18, “But now” Jesus has changed our status

But now in Christ Jesus, you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:13-18

There’s a lot here–including, possibly, a first century Christian hymn–, but the most important line comes first:
“in Christ Jesus”
– according to Paul, there was no formula to becoming a Christian
• it is not something made by human hands
• it is not the result of doing but an entering into a state of being
– Jesus is at the heart of this whole process
• as for us, it is personal
• in him, we have been brought near
◦ “by the blood of Christ” – to us may sound primitive and crude
◦ but it is a reminder that the path Jesus walked to bring us near to God entailed suffering and death

Verses 14-18 are poetic (in cadence as well as content)
– vv. 14-15 form a chiasm (themes from the chiasm are repeated in verses 16-17)

Verse 14
I. PEACE — He is our peace
II. UNION — who made both one
III. REMOVE OBSTACLE — and broke down the barrier
Verse 15
III. REMOVE OBSTACLE — abolishing in His flesh the enmity
II. UNION — He might make the two into one new man
I. PEACE — establishing peace

– it’s a song about Jesus and the peace he achieves for us,
joining those who were far away with those who were near
• He is our peace
• he established peace
• he preached peace (v. 17)

The wall that separated Jews and Gentiles has come down
– we discern specific “zones” in the Old Testament
• like the precincts in the sacred tent: the outer court, the holy place, and the holiest of holy places
◦ this is similar to the boundaries at Mt. Sinai — only Moses could ascend to the summit, etc.
• the fences and curtains served to create distance — boundaries resulted in the exclusion of some people
– Jesus broke down the wall and in doing so, turned two groups into one group
• but not in a way such as we might expect — certainly not as the first Christians assumed he would
◦ the apostles in Jerusalem thought that to make the two one, the Gentiles would convert to Judaism
• instead he created something new, neither Jewish or Gentile, bur “Christian”
◦ God’s new people – the new humankind (v. 18)
– Jesus did this  by “His blood,” in “His flesh,” and “through the cross”
• remember, the tension between Gentile and Jew in verse 11 was located “in the flesh”
◦ so it was in his flesh that Jesus finally resolved the tension

Vv. 19-22, “So then,” we are something new

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, and in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom yoj are also being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

No longer strangers and aliens
– we are not only fellow citizens, but we belong to God’s household (adopted children as in 1:5)
• this new spiritual community is built on the apostles and prophets
◦ constructing a building requires many sub-contractors
• but it is Christ Jesus Himself that holds it together
– we have been give a place in the family
• a place of belonging
• and the building that is formed by the union of our lives is “a dwelling of God”

One of the tragedies of church history is that every generation attempts to rebuild wall Jesus tore down
– we’re supposed to welcome others
• we’ve developed logical reasons for excluding people who are not like us “in the flesh”
• if they come near our places of worship, they are made to feel like strangers

– Christian spirituality turns us fully toward God
• God then turns us toward other people
◦ our spirituality is not a withdrawal into a private interior life
• our spiritual journey is always a shared experience
◦ sometimes we walk with only one other person and other times we travel in a large caravan
◦ God uses others to perfect us, and he uses us to perfect others

Conc: Like the Ephesians, we look at other people and naturally see difference

Paul has explained that we are only looking at the flesh — the exterior (cf. John 7:24)
• looking at people this way, we won’t see how they are like us in Christ or how we fit together
• we won’t see God’s new humanity
– in one way, the trick is to see in the stranger our brother or sister
• in another way, the trick is to see Jesus in others

Barbara Taylor observed, “I am not sure it is possible to see the face of God in other people if you cannot see the faces they already have.”
So she suggests we take a good look at cashier the next time we are moving through the check stand
“Here is someone who exists even when she is not ringing up your groceries . . . She has a home she returns to when she hangs up her apron . . ., a bed where she occasionally lies awake at night wrestling with her own demons and angels.”

We walk together — alongside each other and people we do not know
– some of the people we pass by in a day are dying to be noticed and some feel utterly hopeless
• all of them need someone who will listen
• all of them are looking for where they belong

When I tell Jesus, “I am sorry, Lord, but I cannot get along with this stubborn person!”
– his response is, “Well, Chuck, that is not going to work, because it is not creative”
• he reminds me that together we are making a new life for me to live
• although he does most of the work, I still have my responsibilities

Let’s prepare something to share with others when we cross paths
– a smile, a listening ear, a dollar bill (if you have it), a kind and simple act
• let’s prepare ourselves by remembering that Jesus spilled his blood to tear down the walls
• as a result, there is no longer any “we”/”they” division

There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free man,
there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28


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