|THE UNITY OF GRACE
Series: A Letter of Grace and Life - Part Four
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 8, 2020
We are continuing in our study of Paul’s letter to the church of... Ephesus. Which is “a letter of… grace and life.”
Chapters 1 to 3 focusing on grace coming from God - which we desperately need. And chapters 4 to 6 focusing on life - what it means for us to live out what God has so graciously done for us.
So if you are able, please stand with me before God and His word and join with me as we read together beginning at Ephesians 2 - starting at verse 11:
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—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.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, Who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Cultural Trivia Pop Quiz that will date too many of us. How many of you remember this ad?
I'd like to teach the world to sing,
In perfect harmony.
I’d like to buy the world a Coke,
And keep it company.
1971 - hugely successful ad jingle. People singing about living in harmony. Tapped into the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Remember that? Harmony and understanding. Our longing to come together.
How many of you recognize this guy? Humpty Dumpty. Let’s say the rhyme together:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses
And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!
Question: What more resembles the world we live in: The Age of Aquarius or Humpty Dumpty?
The world we live in is fallen. Definitely cracked - fragmented. Despite whatever all the king’s horses and all the king’s men have tried to do - politically - militarily - economically - environmentally - sociologically - psychologically - whatever... there is no way Humpty is getting put back together again.
And doesn’t it seem like the more progress we make at fixing what divides us we only discover new ways to separate?
We get this because we live it.
We only have to look as close as our own hearts to know that whatever we’re trying to do to accomplish peace within us or between us - in our marriages or where we work or our schools - even here at Creekside - wherever we live our lives - our striving to come together often comes up frustratingly short.
It is way too easy to live - feeling isolated and alone - even in the places we would least expect and more deeply desire to be known and accepted and at peace.
Only God can heal our divisions - whether that’s between races or nations or parents and children or husband and wives - or even here at Creekside. Only God can heal what divides us. What isolates us from each other and Him.
Paul begins by describing The Great Divide. (2:11,12)
Verse 11: Therefore - which refers back to what we’ve been looking at the last three Sundays - because God has been so over the top in blessing us - even in His grace and mercy and love - saving us - putting us into a relationship with Him - and using us according to His great purposes - giving our lives purpose and meaning and hope.
Therefore - because of everything God has graciously done for you - 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—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.
Let’s unpack that.
First: Paul writes that the Gentiles were physically alienated from the Jews.
God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and Ishmael and Isaac - that all of Abraham’s descendants would be circumcised - the great outward physical symbol of God’s special - covenant - relationship with His chosen people.
God’s desire was to set aside Abraham’s descendants that Israel would be a shining example to the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.
Then to bless all the nations through Israel. That Israel would be the birth nation of the Messiah. That Israel would be used by God to draw all nations - even Gentiles like us - to Himself.
Isaiah 49:6: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
- we know that instead of being the channel of God’s
blessing to the nations - Israel - God’s chosen people
- became self-righteous - smug in their covenant
relationship with God - arrogant towards other
a Jewish perspective the world was divided into two
and everyone else.
“Alienated” meaning that every Jew knew that the Gentiles were not Jews. “They ain’t our people.”
The word translated “alienated” in Greek has the idea of being purposefully shut out - door slammed in our face - rejection.
Circumcision was used by the Jews as symbolic of that division - that alienation.
To the Jew - uncircumcised meant being sexually immoral - religiously ignorant - unclean - detestable - unchosen.
Being called “uncircumcision” by what is called the “circumcision” really is derogatory - racist - hate speech.
Paul uses the physical reality - circumcised and uncircumcised - to describe the divide that was being lived out - physically - by the Jews.
For example - Jews didn’t socialize with Gentiles. They avoided any contact with them.
If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl or a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy - the family had a funeral.
If a Gentile woman was giving birth no self-respecting Jew would help her since she was bringing another Gentile into the world.
The arrogance of one nation that continually reminded everyone else that they - the Gentiles - were hopelessly separated from the promises and covenant relationship with God.
Second - Paul writes that the Gentiles were spiritually separated from Christ.
“separated” translates the idea of being apart from - not connected to - Christ. What the physical alienation points to is the deeper reality of our spiritual separation from Christ.
God had made certain promises to Abraham and Jacob and Moses and David - made promises to His people. Every Jew knew that if they’d sinned - if an animal was brought before God - and sacrificed in just the right way - that God had promised to forgive that sin.
Every Jew knew that God had provided a priesthood to intercede for His people and prophets to instruct His people in how to live rightly before Him.
Meaning that God’s people weren’t alone in the world. God Himself was with them in presence and relationship.
Every Jew knew that no matter how bad things got one day God was going to send the Messiah. That God would restore His people. Every Jew lived by that hope.
The Gentiles - who were not Israel - and being constantly reminded by the Jews that they were not Israel - the Gentile had none of that.
In contrast to the “covenants of promise” - that Paul writes about in verse 12 - Paul describes the Gentile condition as “having no hope and without God in the world.”
What do the Gentiles have? Themselves and a bunch of pagan irritable made-up gods that look and act like us. Or today our own whit, wisdom, and Wikipedia.
A number of First Century Gentile tombs have the epitaph, “No Hope.” The philosophy of the day was despair - meaningless existence - no real purpose to life - emptiness.
Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”
That was the hopeless cynicism of the day.
Even of today. Truth is what works for me. Because I got nothing else.
Paul writes that - before we came to Jesus - before we knew God’s grace poured out on our lives - we were like that. Separated from God. On our own. With no hope and no future.
Pulling all that division together: The Jews - rather than being a channel of God’s blessing - even caring about the condition of the Gentiles around them - rather than being the people used by God to heal the division between man and God - the Jews physically illustrated what was the spiritual division between the Gentiles and God.
Verses 13 to 18 focus on God’s Answer to what divides us.
Verse 13: But now - game changing new reality - But now in Christ Jesus you - Gentiles - who once were far off - divided from God - His promises and His people - you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For He Himself -Jesus - is our peace, Who has made us both - Jew and Gentile - uncircumcised and circumcised - Who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in the ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two - God’s people as one people instead of Jews and Gentles being two separate peoples - so making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body - meaning the Church - one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Verse 17: And He - Jesus - came and preached peace to you - Gentiles - who were far off and peace to those who were near - the Jews - For through Him we both - Jew and Gentile - have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
First - in Jesus, God has taken out the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles.
Herod’s temple - the temple that Paul would have worshipped at - Herod’s temple was built on an elevated platform that was divided into different sections or courtyards. The focal point was - of course - the Temple with the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies - the very presence of God.
The goal was to get as farther in to the Temple - to the very presence of God.
The goal is to… get farther in - to God. And the holier you were - the more right with God - the farther in you could go. Hang on to that.
Once per year - the High Priest - on the Day of Atonement - after special preparations - on the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies.
And - one step farther away from God - only certain priests were able to enter the Holy Place - to do ministry there on behalf of God’s people.
Then moving farther away from the Holy Holies and the Holy Place - farther away from the presence of God - one step farther away was the Court of priests with the altar. Which was only where priests performing rituals on behalf of God’s people - only where priests could go.
Then moving farther away was the Court of Israel otherwise known as the Court of Men. Only men could get this far in.
Then farther away was the Court of Women. Which is as far as the women could go. I’m just telling you what was.
Then even farther away - outside the Temple enclosure - and separated from the Temple structure was the Court of the Gentiles.
To make sure that an uncircumcised Gentile never approached the temple and defiled it - the Jews built a dividing wall made out of stone about 3 to 4 feet tall - dividing where the Gentiles could go from where the Jews could freely go.
Then the Jews hung up signs warning Gentiles to stay away.
We know that because in 1871 archaeologists found the sign - which said in both Hebrew and Greek: “No man of another race is to proceed within the partition and enclosing wall about the sanctuary. Any one arrested there will have himself to blame for the penalty of death which will be imposed as a consequence.”
Pass the wall and die.
Paul - coming back from his third missionary journey - came back to Jerusalem with Trophimus - a man from the church in Ephesus. When Paul went to the temple - a rumor went around that Paul had taken Trophimus - taken this Gentile from Ephesus past the dividing wall. And just that rumor caused a riot and almost got Paul killed. (Acts 21:27-36)
How significant to the Jews was the division between Jew and Gentile? Life and death significant.
Mindset being: The Temple and access to God is only for the Jews not Gentiles.
Meaning that a Gentile could come to the Temple - look at it from outside - buy cheap souvenirs - post cards - “T” shirts - whatever - but a Gentile could never ever approach the Temple. The wall was a physical barrier - emphasizing a spiritual division - keeping Gentiles like us - from God’s presence and promises - from being what it meant to be God’s people.
That’s what Paul’s writing about here in verse 14 - this barrier of the dividing wall. Symbolic of the very core of enmity - hatred - division - between Jew and Gentile - Gentile and Jew.
The goal is to get... as far in a possible. To get to God.
Which for us Gentiles means not only rejection by God’s people - but endless and hopeless physical and spiritual separation from God.
Then Paul writes about the Law of commandments contained in ordinances. Rules and regulations of the Old Covenant - the same Torah that God intended to bring people deeper in relationship with Him - the Jews wielded as a weapon - using it to exclude the Gentiles from coming to God.
The Jew could easily say, “We have the Law of Moses. You don’t. We have the Temple with its sacrifices. You don’t. We live as God’s people. You can’t.”
The Jews - hanging on to their spiritual hypocrisy because they were keeping the Law - doing this and not doing that - despising the uncircumcised Gentiles. The Gentiles hating the hypocritical Jews - for their self-righteous arrogance.
Which is a long way from the age of Aquarius.
God’s answer was to nail all that to the cross with Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood. In Christ, we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Jesus - on the cross - makes obsolete the outward rituals of the Law - the ordinances and the commandments - and structures and walls and rituals - that the Jews were hanging on to. That all just becomes empty ritual.
Hugely real time symbolic of that - as Jesus dies in the place of all of us - Jew and Gentile - separated from God by our sin - God Himself tears the dividing curtain - that hung between the courtyards and the Holy of Holies - God Himself rips apart that curtain and opens the way into His presence for all of us. God physically showing us His healing of what spiritually divides us.
What Jesus did on the cross was to make clear that both Jew and Gentile - far off - really close - or somewhere in between - it doesn’t matter - all of us together - equally - are sinners - equally are desperate for God’s forgiveness and spiritual rebirth. Which God - by His grace - supplies to us in Christ Jesus.
Second - God’s answer - through Christ’s work on the cross - God has created one people - one body - meaning the Church.
God deals with the vertical relationship - peace with God. So that our horizontal relationship - us - can also be one of peace.
Because of Christ there’s no more dividing wall between us and God and between us and… us.
God takes one of these and one of these - puts them together - and creates something completely astoundingly new - the oneness of the Church. One plus one equals... one.
Who makes us one? God.
How God does that - Paul describes beginning in verses 16 and 17. That the hostility - our sin that divides us from God and each other - has been reconciled - dealt with by God. Killed on the cross with Jesus. So that - because of Jesus - we now together have peace with God.
So Paul can write in verse 18 that it is through Him - Jesus - through Jesus’ work on the cross that that oneness is opened up to us - that the Holy Spirit enables - bringing us both - Jew and Gentile - together as one and giving us unrestricted access to God the Father.
Let’s slow down and explore that.
Paul writes in Galatians 3:28 - familiar verse: 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.
Becoming one in Jesus doesn’t mean that we suddenly stop being individually who we are. Ethnically. Economically. Externally and internally. Each of us is uniquely and purposely created in the image of God. God has a purpose for each of us.
Maybe this experience has been yours. Wherever I’ve gone in this world - or just around the U.S. or even right here in Merced. But whatever continent - whatever country - wherever - and met with followers of Jesus - there’s a oneness that transcends background - race - nationality - culture - economic strata - whatever potential differences.
There’s oneness because we’re the same church. That’s a work of God. Different mothers but the same Father.
We proclaim one Gospel - share one faith - one purpose - one calling. We serve the same Lord - the same Spirit - the same Father - one God sovereign over each one of us.
God creates that amazing reality unparalleled in human history. There may be cheap imitations. But only one church made one by God.
Even here at Creekside. We are a mixed bag of… people.
But our oneness as the Church - as Creekside - is the creative work of the Triune God. Which is astounding to process.
Which takes being Creekside to a whole new level of relationship and commitment to each other. Doesn’t it?
Who demolishes the wall that separates us from God and each other? God. Who makes us one? God.
Which is about… God. Not us. As soon as we make any of that about us the barriers start going up - division happens - hostility kills peace.
It would be core level life changing if we really got this.
The reality of what God has done means that we need to be passionately committed to pressing into God together. To seeking Him together. To being yielded to Him together. To following Him together. Into becoming what He has already - by His grace - made us to be in Christ.
We need to be all in passionate committed to helping each other - here and those out there - towards God.
Going on - verses 19-22 focus on God’s purpose.
Verse 19: So then - as a result of what God by His grace has done - you - Gentiles - are no longer strangers and aliens - separated from God and being God’s people - but you are fellow citizens with the saints - full citizens of God’s kingdom with the same the rights and privileges and standing before God - and are of God’s household - we’re part of God’s family - all of us - Jews - Gentiles - male - female - whatever - we’re all part of the same family - fellow heirs of the riches of God’s household.
Verse 20: built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone - all of what God has been opening up to His people from the Adam on down to fulfillment in Jesus - all of that is ours. Spiritually - our heritage is the same as Israel’s.
Verse 21: in Whom the whole structure - all of what God is building - being joined together, grows into a... what? a holy temple in the Lord,
Verse 22: in Him - Jesus - you also - you Gentiles - you also are being built together into a dwelling for God by the Spirit.
God - by His grace - by the working of the Holy Spirit - God makes us Gentiles to be integral - crucial - to what God is building. Which is a... holy temple.
Paul writes to the Corinthians - a church that had divisions - Paul reminds them: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? ...For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16,17b)
The purpose of a temple is what? Place of worship? Place of service? Place where man meets God? All that helps to achieve one purpose. Which is to draw attention to the deity within.
A temple without a god is just an expensive building with a lot of fancy decorations.
The Temple in Jerusalem - with the goal of getting farther in - is all about God and God’s people connecting with God.
Which ultimately is about God - Who dwells there and by His presence makes that building to be a holy temple. And God - Who by His grace - Who enables and calls us to come to Him. Into His presence for His glory and His glory alone.
Pulling that together - God’s purpose.
In the midst of the humpty dumpy divided and polarized by sin world we live in - in stark contrast is the Body of Christ - drawn into relationship with God by God and being built up together by the work of the Holy Spirit.
A people that God Himself inhabits to bring glory to Himself. To testify to the nations of His grace and mercy and love and what He will do in our lives if we will open ourselves up to Him - individually - and as the Body of Christ - the Church.
Processing all that…
There are a lot of reasons why people walk away from a congregation or a marriage or some other relationship. When that walking away is about us and not how God desires for us to be committed to each other.
It’s seemingly the easiest thing in the world to walk away when things go wrong. Or we our feathers get ruffled. Or maybe God is using someone around here or a situation to chew on us and open us up to some real change in our lives - towards Him. And that just hits too close to where we don’t want to go.
Whatever the reason. It’s way too easy for us to walk away or create barriers instead of being passionate about helping each other towards God.
- churches are known for being toxic places of
hypocrisy and division.
Jesus tore down the greatest barrier in creation - tearing down the wall separating us from God. In doing that He brought us together before Him.
And since we’ve got the same Lord - the same Spirit - the same Father - we need to come together - to be passionately committed to each other - to bring each other before the throne of His grace and seek Him together.
Or, if our struggle is with someone or a situation outside Creekside we have the have the opportunity to bring that person or situation before God.
God - by His grace - God hasn’t torn down the wall so that we can rebuild it up again. But He’s giving us an opportunity to be passionate about helping others towards God.
In a Humpty Dumpty world crying out for harmony and peace people need to see what God can create in us when we allow Him to create what He desires to create in us and through us. To God alone be the glory.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.