Who Am I 5) I Am Reconciled

I Am Reconciled

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

 

It’s so easy to build walls between yourself and other people. They say something hurtful and immediately a wall goes up. Sometimes those walls can take years to build, where every little disappointment or frustration becomes another brick in the wall. And sometimes these walls are reflected in society, and you end up with walls like the one that divides northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland, or the wall that divides the West bank from the rest of Israel, or the wall that used to divide West Germany from East Germany. Sometimes those walls are between ethnic groups, like apartheid, or between genders, or social classes, or something else. And so often people find their sense of identity depending on what side of the wall they are on. I’m a victim, or I’m white, or black, or I’m a man, or a woman, or I’m rick, or poor; or I’m Dutch, or South African, or Australian. And these walls can even be spiritual in nature. For example in the Temple in Jesus’ day there were a series of walls. The first wall was found inside the temple itself and it separated the holy place from the holy of holies, the place where the high-priest could enter only once a year. The second wall was the outside of the temple, a wall that only priests could pass. The third wall separated the men from the women, and then you had to go down a series of steps until you reached the final wall that separated Gentiles from Jews. They actually had signs on that wall saying that if a Gentile crossed that wall they would be killed. The very layout of the Temple was defined by walls between the spiritual and secular, men and women, and Jews and Gentiles. But then Jesus comes along and breaks down those walls. The goal of this sermon is that you will be able to define yourself not by the walls that used to separate us from others, but by the fact that in Christ you have been reconciled. By the end of this sermon my prayer is that you will be able to say ‘I am reconciled!’

 

1) What you once were (v11-12)

And Paul starts by reminding the Christians in Ephesus what they once were. He says, ‘11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph 2:11-12)’ Paul says that they were 6 things.

a) Gentiles (uncircumcised)

Firstly, they were Gentiles by birth. The church in Ephesus was predominantly Gentile, like we are. As far as I know we don’t have any Jews in our church, we are all Gentile. Back in Paul’s day what defined a Gentile was the fact that they were uncircumcised. In fact, that became a bit of a label, they were derogatorily called ‘uncircumcised’ by the Jews. It was how they described the wall between those who belonged to God’s people and those who didn’t. But you’ll notice that Paul adds that this circumcision was ‘done in the body by the hands of men,’ suggesting that there was another type of circumcision which was a spiritual one performed by the hand of God. The point however is that Paul is talking to Gentiles like us. And he goes on to describe their spiritual condition as Gentiles.

b) Separated from Christ (Christless)

He says, they were separated from Christ. What brings our greatest joy is the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35-39). But at one time these Christians in Ephesus didn’t know that joy, they were separated from Christ, they weren’t in Christ, they didn’t know Jesus, they didn’t know the hope of the Gospel, they didn’t have that life giving relationship with Jesus. And for many of us that was true for us as well, we didn’t know Jesus. Maybe that’s true for you even now, you don’t know Jesus, you don’t have a saving faith in him, you are still separated from Christ. For us Christians, this is the worse situation to be in. Without Christ there is no salvation, no hope, no future.

c) Alienated from citizenship in Israel (stateless)

Next Paul says, they were alienated from citizenship in Israel. Paul’s point is that they didn’t belong to God’s people. They were citizens of Ephesus, some of them maybe even citizens of Rome, like we are citizens of Australia, but they didn’t belong to God’s people, the people that God had chosen and cared for and blessed.

d) Strangers to the covenants of the promise (friendless)

Next Paul says that they were strangers to the covenants of the promise. Paul talks about ‘covenants’ plural, because of the many times that God reaffirmed his covenant with his people, that he would be their God, and they would be his people. Unfortunately the Gentiles were not included in that covenant relationship with God. While God called the Israelites his friends, the Gentiles were strangers, they didn’t have that special relationship with God.

e) Without hope (hopeless)

It’s not surprising that Paul points out that they were without hope. They didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t belong to God’s people, they were strangers to God’s promise of relationship with himself. And without those things they had no hope for the future. They didn’t have access to God in this life and they wouldn’t have access to him in the life to come. As Christians our hope comes from, the fact that we know God’s promises, and that in Christ God is faithful to his promises. We know that even when everything seems to be going wrong, God will make it all right

f) Without God (godless)

Finally, Paul says they were without God. They may have argued the point, they had lots of gods, but they didn’t have the one true God, they didn’t have a relationship with the one God that mattered, the One that could save them from their sin, the One that could save them from a godless eternity.

Paul paints the gloomy reality of being a Gentile. As one commentator puts it, ‘they were Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and godless.’ And that’s what many of us were as well. And maybe some of you here this morning still are.

 

2) What Jesus has done

The Good News is that while that is what we may have been, that’s not how we must remain. After looking at what we were, Paul takes a look at what Jesus has done. Jesus makes all the difference. And Paul says that Jesus has done two huge things.

a) Reconciled Gentiles and Jews (v13-15)

Firstly, he has reconciled Gentiles and Jews. Verse 13, ‘13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)’ Paul began the previously section with the word ‘formerly.’ Before they were Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and godless, but now in Christ Jesus all that’s changed. And he talks about that change in 5 ways.

i) Brought near

He starts by saying that those who were once so far away from God, and his promises, and his people have been brought near. We often use this idea of being far and near to describe our relationship with people. We talk about being close to someone, or feeling distant. And that’s what Paul is describing here. Gentiles were distant from God, they didn’t belong to God’s people and they were strangers to the covenant, but they have been brought near, they now belong to God’s people, they now belong to God’s covenant community. Jesus brings people far from God near to God.

ii) Made peace

Secondly, Jesus has made peace between Jew and Gentile. Verse 14, ‘14 For he himself is our peace… (Eph 2:14a)’ The wall between Jew and Gentile caused not only separation but outright conflict. And throughout history we have tried to deal with the walls that divide us but with limited success. But where politics and law and religions fail, Jesus succeeds. That’s why the Bible refers to him as ‘the Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6)’ Jesus came to make peace between Jew and Gentile.

iii) Made two one

Thirdly, Jesus has made two separate people into one people. Paul writes that Jesus , ‘14 …has made the two one… (Eph 2:14b)’ Notice that Paul didn’t say that he has brought them together – this is not 1+1=2, rather this is 1+1=1. Jesus has taken Gentiles and Jews and made them into something else. Paul says elsewhere, ‘28 There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)’ As Christians we are one.

iv) Destroyed the barrier

Next, Jesus has destroyed the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Paul writes how Jesus, ‘14 …has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. (Eph 2:14c)’ The barrier between Jews and Gentiles has been removed. That would have been quite confronting for Jews. That fourth wall in the temple shouldn’t be there, the Gentiles should no longer be kept from approaching God. Jesus has removed that wall. But that wall was only a symbol of a deeper hostility between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews referred to Gentiles as ‘dogs’ and ‘unclean’ and to eat with them or even enter their homes meant defilement. And the Gentiles didn’t think much better of the Jews, they referred to them as the enemies of humanity. That hostility eventually led to the Jewish wars and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70AD. And yet here in Ephesus Jews and Gentiles were not only eating together they were worshipping together. How was that possible? The answer is Jesus. Jesus had destroyed the barrier, that dividing wall of hostility.

v) Abolished the law

And he had done that by abolishing the law. Paul writes, that Jesus had made peace, he had made the two one, he had destroyed the barrier, ‘15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. (Eph 2:15a)’ The law which Jesus has abolished is not the moral law, how God wants his people to live, rather it is the ceremonial law, the many regulations that separated the Jewish people from other nations. Those regulations had been fulfilled in Christ’s death on the cross. No longer did God’s people need to sacrifice offerings, because ‘27 …[Jesus] sacrificed for our sins once for all when he offered himself. (Heb 7:27b)’ And no longer do God’s people need to be circumcised because ‘11 In [Christ] you [have been] circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature... (Col 2:11a)’ The laws that separated Jew from Gentile have been abolished.

Paul finishes by saying that ‘15 …[Jesus’] purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace. (Eph 2:15b)’ Jesus’ purpose was to create in himself one new people. It’s no longer Gentile, or Jew, it’s now Christian. We are no longer defined by which side of the wall we used to live, we are now defined by the fact that we belong to Jesus. And all this has been achieved ‘through the blood of Christ.’ In a sense Jesus’ blood has not only washed away our sins, it has washed away our old titles and replaced them with a new one. Like we are no longer sinner, but now in Christ we’re saints, so we’re no longer Jews, or Gentiles, now we’re Christians. Our new status as Christians takes precedence over everything else. That’s why we refer to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. In Jesus we have been reconciled to one another, we belong to each other.

b) Reconciled both with God (v16-18)

So Jew and Gentile are reconciled in Christ, but even more amazingly, sinners and God are reconciled in Christ. Jesus has reconciled us both, Jew and Gentile, with God. Paul says, ‘16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God… (Eph 2:16a)’ According to Paul Jesus has reconciled Jew and Gentile into one new people, what he calls ‘one body,’ so that he might reconcile this new people to God.

i) Jesus reconciles us with God through the cross

And Jesus reconciles us with God through the cross. Paul writes that it is, ‘16 …through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Eph 2:16b)’ Before he talked about the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, but now he’s talking about the hostility between God and humanity. Now you may not feel like you’re hostile towards God, the offender normally doesn’t, but the offender feels it. In our relationship with God, he’s the offended party. We’ve sinned against him, we’ve rejected him, we’ve rebelled against him. We’ve built a wall of hostility between ourselves and God, spiritually we are living our lives apart from God. The Bible says that we live as enemies of God. So how is this broken relationship ever going to be reconciled? What God does is he comes into our broken sinful world, in the person of Jesus Christ. God crosses the wall. And Jesus kills the hostility between us and God by dying in our place on the cross. In Jesus the sin that once stood as a barrier between us and God has been removed. And Jesus brings peace to what was once a hostile relationship.

ii) Jesus preaches peace

And that’s the heart of the Gospel. Paul says that Jesus preached peace between us and God. Verse 17, ‘17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Eph 2:17)’ Notice that Jesus preached peace to those who were distant from God, the Gentiles, as well as those who were close to God, the Jews. The truth is that it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, what matters is ‘Do you have peace with God?’ The Jews were only near to God because of his covenant promises to them, the fact that God had chosen them to be his people, but unless they put their faith in Jesus Christ for their peace with God they were doomed as much as the worst heathens. The Gospel is that it’s only through faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins that we find peace with God.

iii) Jesus gives us access to God

It’s only through Jesus that we have access to God. Verse 18, 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Eph 2:18)’ It is only through the shedding of Jesus’ blood and the sacrifice of his body on the cross that people who were once alienated from God now have access to God. Later Paul writes, ‘12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Eph 3:12)’ It’s only our connection with Jesus, the fact that we are ‘in him,’ and it’s only through faith in him, that we have access to God, that we can approach God with freedom and confidence. Only Jesus can break down the wall of sin between us and God. Only Jesus can make peace between us and God. Only Jesus can give us access to God. And it all is possible only because of the cross. You will never be reconciled with God apart from Jesus Christ. So I implore you, put your faith in Jesus, trust his death on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, be reconciled to God.

 

3) What we have become (v19-22)

So us Gentiles were once Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and godless, but Jesus changed all that, he reconciled us with one another, and he reconciled us with God. So I want to finish by looking at what we have become in Christ. Paul writes, because of what Jesus has done, ‘19 …you are no longer foreigners and aliens… (Eph 2:19a)’

a) Citizens of God’s Kingdom

Instead Paul says we are citizens of God’s kingdom. Instead of being foreigners and aliens we are ‘19 … fellow citizens with God’s people… (Eph 2:19b)’ Once we were excluded from citizenship with Israel, but in Christ and because of his work on the cross we become fellow citizens of God’s people. There’s no such thing as first or second-class Christianity, as if real Christians were Jews and Gentile Christians are somehow less. Or in our case it’s only the dutchies who can say gersaluk are real Christians, which probably rules me out because I probably didn’t say it right! If Christ is your king, then you belong to God’s kingdom.

b) Members of God’s Family

Secondly, Paul says that if you are in Christ then you are members of God’s family. Paul talks about us being ‘19 …members of God’s household. (Eph 2:19c)’ It doesn’t matter who you were, or what you’ve done, once you get adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ, then you belong to God’s family. It means you are loved by your heavenly Father with the same love that he has for all his children. It means you receive the same inheritance as all his children, eternal life. God doesn’t play favourites, he doesn’t have some children that are more special than the rest. If you belong to Jesus then you belong to his body the Church. The church is your new spiritual family. Look around, these are your brothers and sisters, this is your family! I hope you like each other, because we’re stuck with each other for eternity.

c) God’s Temple

Thirdly, now that we are in Christ we are God’s temple. Paul talks about how we are, ‘21 …a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph 2:21)’ And the whole point of a temple is that it is the place where God lives. And God no longer lives in the Temple in Jerusalem, not that he ever really did, but the point is that God now lives in us. Paul talks about how we ‘22 …are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:22)’ God lives in us through the Holy Spirit. But Paul also says that this temple of which we are a part, is ‘20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Eph 2:20)’ Firstly, the apostles and prophets, the witness of the New Testament as well as the Old, is all about Jesus Christ. The foundation is the Bibles witness to Jesus. Our faith is built on the foundation of Scripture, which says ‘11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 3:11)’ In fact, Jesus is the chief cornerstone, which makes the foundation secure. Without Jesus whatever we build in this life will eventually fall down. Jesus gives our lives stability, he defines what our lives will look like, and he is the one who causes us to grow and become the sort of church that he desires. Paul’s point is that once you did life without God, but now you’re doing life with God. Once you were separate from God, he was distant, but now in Christ God dwells in you by his Spirit. Once you weren’t allowed to enter the Temple of God, but now in Christ you are the temple of God.

 

Westside, it doesn’t matter who or what you once were. Maybe like the Gentiles in Paul’s day you were doing life without Christ, you were separated from God’s people, excluded form God’s promises, with hope and without God. But the Good News is that Jesus has not only reconciled you with God’s people, he has also reconciled you with God. You are no longer foreigners or aliens, instead you belong to God’s Kingdom, you belong to God’s family, you are God’s temple, the place where he lives by his Spirit. This morning I hope that you can say, ‘I am no longer separated form God’s people, but through Christ I have been reconciled, I belong to God’s new family, the church.’ And even more importantly, that you can say ‘I am no longer without God, but in Christ I am reconciled with him, and he lives in me. Amen.

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