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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Peace-making God
Text:Ephesians 2:11-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-11-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 66:1,2                                                                                

Ps 85:1,3

Reading – Ephesians 2

Ps 133:1,2

Sermon – Ephesians 2:11-22

Hy 19:1,3,4

Hy 52:1,2,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, our world is a place of unrest and conflict, full of animosity. In politics, it’s the Right vs. the Left, or it’s women vs. men. There’s conflict too, among the nations: Russia vs. the West; Muslim nations against Israel—and conflict among religions, where people of different faiths sometimes take turns persecuting each other.

There can be a lot of conflict closer to home too—even in the home. A husband and wife who can’t stand each other. Parents and children who are often yelling. Families bitterly divided because of past misdeeds and old arguments. It can feel like war sometimes.         

But if there’s one thing that God loves to do, it is to make peace. God restores the bond between sinners and himself, and He also restores harmony between people. In fact, you could say that this is the whole gospel of salvation: it’s a message of peace. Scripture calls it God’s message of reconciliation, which is the bringing back together of two sides who had been at war, the restoring of what had been broken and divided.

God is a peace-maker. And in our text, the Holy Spirit shows what a profound and far-reaching peace God creates. For when God sent his Son into this world, He wasn’t just looking to save individual sinners, me and you and the person beside you. No, God’s purpose is far wider, for He wants to create an entirely new nation and kingdom, people who are at peace with him, and people who are at peace with each other. This is our theme from Ephesians 2:11-22,

            God creates a new people through Christ:

                        1) bringing near those who were far away

                        2) making peace on earth and with heaven

                        3) building a holy temple for the Lord

 

1) bringing near those who were far away: The congregation of Ephesus was a blend of Jews and Gentiles—but it seems to have been mostly Gentiles. These were people who weren’t physical descendants of Abraham, and who hadn’t grown up with the Scriptures. Instead, they’d wasted years worshiping false gods and living in immorality. Paul considered himself the “apostle to the Gentiles,” so he focused on reaching out to these men and women who didn’t know the true God. And by God’s grace, some came to faith.

Paul begins by reminding them where they came from: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh…” (v 11). Let’s pause at this command. When you get to the second half of Ephesians, you hear many imperatives or commands—from chapter 4 to chapter 6 there’s something like forty of them. By contrast, in the first half there is only this one command in verse 11: Remember! So we know it’s important: Remember!

It doesn’t mean that the Ephesians had forgotten their Gentile roots, but they did need to bring it to mind and ponder it. For all of us, there’s a value in remembering what you’ve been saved from, pondering what might’ve been had God not intervened in your life. It’s a reason for humility, and gratitude, and compassion. Remember that God made you his own! Remember your special status as God’s child, your undeserved place in his kingdom.

 The Ephesians had to remember that they used to be “called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands” (v 11). Paul echoes here one of the classic insults made against non-Jews: they were the “uncircumcised.” It was a term of immense contempt because the Gentiles didn’t have the mark of God’s covenant. For the Jews, circumcision was the central marker of their relationship with the LORD; for them it became a source of security and pride. If you had it, you were in—if you didn’t have it, you were out, you were all but worthless.

And as we’ll see a bit later, this barrier between Jews and Gentiles was unmovable and absolute. Just visiting the home of a non-Jew made you unclean, let alone eating a meal with them, to say nothing of intermarrying. They were dogs, the lowest of God’s creatures.

We get a hint of what Paul thinks of this attitude when he refers to “the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands.” He’s saying that the Jews had it all wrong, like Paul himself once had it wrong. The outward mark, the one you can get in the flesh using a knife, isn’t real circumcision. It’s the heart which matters most—like with baptism today, the outward sign needs to be matched with an inward faith and an obedient life. Through the Spirit, the Gentiles actually had the true circumcision.

But back to what the Gentile believers used to be: “At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (v 12). Paul uses five phrases to describe what the Gentiles used to be, how lacking they were. You could sum it up by saying they were Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and godless.

First, they were Christless, “without Christ.” The people of Israel always lived with the expectation that Christ, the Messiah, was coming. They knew that one day salvation would arrive with him, because God had promised it. But imagine never knowing about Christ. The Gentiles never had a reason to believe that there’d be a better day: Christless.

Second, “stateless.” As Paul puts it, they were “aliens to the commonwealth of Israel.” It’s not that Gentiles didn’t have a country of their own—they lived in places like Egypt and Greece and Italy—but they were never part of God’s country. Israel was God’s commonwealth and kingdom, which made it a place of great blessing. The occasional Gentile was allowed to become part of Israel, but this was rare, and it was hard. For the most part, the Gentiles were on the outside, looking in.

Third, they were “friendless,” or “strangers from the covenants of promise.” Because they weren’t part of Israel, they didn’t know the intimacy of God’s covenant. The LORD had established a holy friendship with Abraham and his children, a relationship of love and loyalty, but the Gentiles knew nothing of this amazing grace.

They were “hopeless,” too. In the Bible, hope is the firm confidence that God is going to do something. Things might be bad now, but we have hope! Though the Israelites had many difficult times—often through their own fault—there was always the prospect that things would get better, for God had promised mercy. The Gentiles, however, had no hope. They lived in a closed universe, no vision for the future, no assurance of life beyond.

Finally, they were “godless,” or “without God in the world.” Literally, Paul says that they were “atheists.” Not that they didn’t believe in a god—they had many gods, just not the one true God. And they tried to live “in the world” without him, tried to navigate life’s troubles and conflicts without the sure knowledge of God to guide them. But where will you end up? If you don’t know God, you die.

This was the spiritual quagmire of the Gentiles: Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and godless. There was no way out of it. But praise God for a marvellous change! The first half of this chapter is a like a dramatic “Before and After,” a transformation from death to life. We see it again here, starting with one of the most beautiful New Testament phrases: “But now…”

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v 13). Sinners used to be far away and separated from God, but we’ve been brought near. This is a powerful image, because there’s a lot of comfort and meaning in being physically close to someone.

A simple example: If you’ve had an especially heated argument with your husband or wife, you can feel far from them. You’re still in the same room, but with the tension thick in the air, it can seem like you’re miles apart, even on different planets. But when there’s a proper restoration, suddenly the distance vanishes. In love you approach each other and come near—being close again shows that things have been put right.

We were once estranged from God because of sin, remote in our misery and deserving of his wrath. But God has brought us near. Through “the blood of Christ,” the relationship is healed and we can enjoy all the privileges of being God’s people. No longer his enemies, but his friends and even his children.

This is what the Holy Spirit wants us to consider. Think again of the solitary command that we find in these first three chapters—remember. This is so important for us to do. As we’ve said before, few of us grew up outside the faith. We’re certainly not strangers to the covenant. Yet this is an essential activity for each of us, to bring to mind what the LORD has done, to remember how God has saved us.

This is hard, because most of us prefer doing to thinking. We just don’t have the time to remember, to pause and reflect, because we’re compelled by our agenda and our “to do” list to keep moving. But there’s great spiritual gain in remembering. Take time to remember where you’d be without God’s grace: hopeless, lifeless, pointless. What kind of life would you have if you didn’t know the true God, and you didn’t know Christ? Take time to remember the Lord’s kindness toward you in his Son. Remember his great works of salvation. Remember his covenant promises. And then let this make you a more humble person, more grateful, more compassionate, and more peaceable.

 

2) making peace on earth and with heaven: Paul has more to say about what’s changed for the Gentiles. They’ve been brought near to God through Christ (v 13), and this is so because “He himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (v 14). 

For thousands of years, there were all kinds of things that separated Jews from Gentiles: circumcision was an obvious one, but there was also food, and the law, and ritual and sacrifice. Paul speaks about these differences as a wall, “the middle wall of separation.” Like walls so often do, this one kept people apart, and it kept people out.

So what was the wall? Paul might be picturing a physical wall at the temple in Jerusalem. Recall that the temple was surrounded by a number of courtyards. Furthest away from the temple was the court of the Gentiles; then there was the court of the women; then the court of the men; then the court where the priests did their ministering; and finally, the temple itself.

Each courtyard was separated from the next with a wall, and between the Gentile court and the court of the women there were posted warning signs, prohibiting any foreigner from going further lest they suffer death. Archaeologists have uncovered a copy of this sign, and it reads, “Let no one of any other nations come within the fence and barrier around the Holy Place. Whoever is caught doing so will be responsible for his own death.” Keep out! Quite literally, there was a wall of separation.

And then more generally, the law was a barrier. The Jews spoke of the law as a fence because it was meant to keep people from trespassing God’s will. But it did more, because all those detailed regulations created a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Without a temple and a priesthood, the Gentiles would never be able to follow the sacred rituals. Once again, the law kept the Gentiles out.

Part of this separation was by God’s design. But still today, people are good at making walls to keep others out. Maybe we don’t say much—silence is our wall—or we don’t love much, or we hide behind a false front, or we make a lot of rules. Those can be walls. And we make walls for different reasons: we want to protect ourselves from attack, or hide ourselves from scrutiny, or define ourselves.

Walls have their place, of course. Yet so often, walls get in the way. They keep us from seeing the people who need our help. They close us off from receiving help. They stop us from healing relationships that need to be healed, and they can get in the way of living at peace. But that is what Christ came to do: He “broke down the middle wall of separation.” For countless sinners there was no more being excluded, no more life without hope.

What used to separate Jews from Gentiles is no more, and through Christ’s blood He allows all people to draw near. We can’t overstate what a change this was: Christ abolished one of the most profound and age-old divisions among humans, and He brought them together. Compare it to restoring peace among people who’ve tried to kill each other for centuries. Think of the worst genocides that have taken place over the years, like among tribes in Rwanda, or among Muslims and Christians in Yugoslavia. Imagine such an intense and violent hatred, but Christ making them one. Through faith in himself He unites people from every tribe and nation, no matter the barriers, no matter the differences.

Says Paul: “He himself is our peace, who has made both one” (v 14). Notice how he describes Christ: He didn’t just bring peace, but He is our peace. When we come to faith in Christ, we meet God, and in Christ we also meet other people. In Christ we realize there’s no longer a reason for hatred or resentment.

How did He do it? Christ “abolished in his flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (v 15). He took away the law as a source of Jewish pride and hostility, fulfilling it through his life and death. Instead of enmity among peoples, He makes them one in himself, creating “one new man from the two” (v 15).

He makes peace between people—and beloved, reflect on the application that this has for us, how Christ gives us every reason for peace and for unity. He surely understands that there can be things that separate people on earth, barriers of division even among people in the church. We mentioned some earlier, how in marriage there can be a bitter disharmony because of failings and disagreements. Between parents and children too, there can feel like there’s a lot of unrest and a lack of love. Family relations, or relationships in the church, can be challenged by differences of opinion and sins once committed. At times these things can seem like walls too thick and too old to be torn down.

But remember how Christ brought together Jew and Gentile—the deepest human divide there ever was, and He healed it: “made one new man from the two.” He broke down the wall of separation and made peace! If that’s possible, then anything is possible. Those who know Christ, and who share Christ, should be one in Christ. For each of us faces the same spiritual need, and each can receive salvation through Christ. So the Holy Spirit insists that God’s people be united. For example, in chapter 4 He says, “Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirt in the bond of peace” (v 3). Try to preserve it, to build it, to strengthen it.

That’s a calling for us. Are we doing what leads to peace? Are we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit? It can mean picking up the phone and talking about what happened. It can mean reaching out with kindness to that person who’s estranged from us. It can mean forgiving and moving on. It’s easy to hide behind walls built by history, or by pride, or by misunderstanding. But so many of these walls only preserve conflict. But our God loves to make peace, and He wants us to make peace too; like Jesus once said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).

Paul has been focusing on how Christ creates peace on earth. In verse 16 he shifts to the peace we can have with heaven, how Christ “reconciles them both to God in one body through the cross.” There’s that word “reconcile,” the bringing together of friends who had been separated. We used to be alienated from God, but Christ is the great Reconciler. He made peace “through the cross,” because when He was killed, the enmity was killed. He paid the price for sin and allows us to come back to God.

After his death on the cross, Christ “came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (v 17). When He was on earth, Christ certainly preached a lot to the people of Israel, and once his saving work was done, He continued this preaching through his apostles. They went out and preached to “all nations,” those near and those far. Notice again the content of what Christ preaches: peace! This is the message that the world needs: you can have peace with God through faith in Christ.           

Verse 18 is a powerful summary of this gospel: “For through him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” The word “access” is so rich. It describes someone who introduces another person into a special place. For example, when a visitor wanted to come into the presence of the king, and the introducer gave access, he’d stand at the door and say, “Your Majesty, So-and-so from the land of Someplace is here to see you.” And he’d be allowed to go through. Through Christ, we have access. By faith we can enter and boldly come before God’s throne in prayer and worship. That’s our incredible privilege: access to the living God. 

 

3) building a holy temple for the Lord: Earlier we said that God isn’t just concerned with individual believers, me and you and the person beside you. No, God is creating an entirely new people, a holy nation, and He wants us to be part of it. As Paul says to the Ephesians, “Now you are fellow citizens with the saints” (v 19). No longer homeless, not on a temporary visa, but they fully belong to God’s kingdom—part of God’s nation along with all people who believe.

All who believe are fellow citizens “and members of the household of God” (v 19). Paul switches to an even more intimate term. God is not only King, but He’s Father, and He includes us in his family, his household. For someone in the first century, belonging to a person’s household wasn’t just a matter of convenience—a place to sleep and get a feed. To be part of a household meant having protection, security, a sense of belonging. God has brought us into his own household and called us his own. And if we’re in his household, that makes us all brothers and sisters. We have a bond, a blessed unity in Christ.

Every household needs a foundation, and that’s what we have, for we’re “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (v 20). What God has revealed to us through the New Testament prophets and apostles is our stability. There is so much confusion and deception in this world—people don’t even know what’s true anymore. But from the Scriptures we can know what is true, reliable, and good.

More than just having stability, we have a unity and a purpose through our chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Like the first and greatest stone laid in a building, He binds us together. Christ is the key to our life, and the reason that we can stick together.

In him “the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (v 21). If Christ is the cornerstone, that makes all of us building blocks of the Lord. We’re stacked together, united in him, “living stones” (1 Pet 2:5). And notice again the idea of unity: we’re being “fitted together,” joined as one. In the church, not every building block is the same—there’s a range of abilities and characters and backgrounds. But when you use your gifts and abilities, God can fit us together in Christ! So be connected to each other, connected in love and prayer and service.

And as the Spirit puts us together, we form “a holy temple.” The Old Testament temple was the meeting place of the LORD and his people. The Ephesians knew about temples too—in their city they had the temple of Artemis, the largest in the ancient world. But where is the temple of the Lord today? It’s not a building, it’s the people. Believers are God’s dwelling-place on earth, the church is the place He shows his presence and power.

What a great marvel! Gentiles who once came to the temple but were shut out by the dividing wall, have become God’s temple. Jews and Gentiles and all who believe are fitted together for the Lord. God’s temple is still under construction, even today. Paul says that in Christ “you are being built” (v 22). Because we’re still growing. We haven’t reached perfection in our knowledge or holiness or unity. We’re not complete, and until we are, we’ve got work to do: the work of “being built.”

So that’s our calling as temple of the Lord: Be built on Christ your Cornerstone. Be filled with his Spirit. Be joined to your fellow living stones: be joined in unity, joined in love—be joined in peace.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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