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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Peace With Humanity
Text:Ephesians 2:11-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-06-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ephesians 2:1-18

Text: Ephesians 2:11-16

 

PEACE WITH HUMANITY

  1. The Chiastic Problem

  2. The Chiastic Solution

 

  1. Psalm 65: 1, 4, 6

  2. Psalm 53: 1, 2, 5

  3. Hymn 22: 2

  4. Psalm 87: 1, 2

  5. Hymn 3: 1, 2

  6. Psalm 87: 3, 4, 5

 

Words to Listen For: Pandora’s, fire, bowl, 4.5, billions

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. How is racism NOT solved?  How CAN it be solved?

  2. How is Paul’s greeting anti-racist?

  3. What were the 3 disadvantages of being a Gentile?

  4. What was the dividing wall of hostility?

  5. How is our new identity like a car?

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


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

RACISM.

What comes to mind when you hear the word RACISM?

Maybe you think back to the days of slavery, when Africans were sold by their own countrymen to the Americans, to the British, to the Dutch, to anyone who would buy them, seeing these people as mere possessions.  This was racism.  This was EVIL.

Or maybe you think about the days of segregation.  When people who looked different were treated differently.  They were seen as people, but were lesser people.  This was racism.  This was EVIL.

In North American society today, great strides have been made against racism, but, just as with any other sin, it has not been completely eradicated.

And recently, 2 years ago, in a misguided attempt to end racism, thousands and hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Canada and in the United States, proclaiming the very true phrase: Black Lives Matter, allying themselves with a very corrupt institution.  To combat the inflated and falsified view of racism, stores were looted, cities were burned, lives were lost.

And what did it change?  Nothing.  Institutions, which cannot be racist, are the same.

People who can be racist were somehow not convinced that they were wrong by the acts of terrorism and violence, and remain the same, with evil bigotry and hatred in their heart.

And so, when cooler heads prevail, we think - EDUCATION.  Education is how we can teach the next generation to show love to everyone.  Let us remind each other that we are all humans.  Let us remind each other that we are all the same.

But here’s the thing…without a very important piece of the puzzle…we AREN’T the same.  There are good people and there are bad people.  There are educated people and uneducated people.  There are law-abiding citizens and there are criminals.  And do not misinterpret what I’m saying here - none of these differences are divided along racial lines.  There is not one race that is made up of criminals and another race that always follows the law.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s racist.

But the argument that “we’re all the same” when we’re not…that won’t solve the evils of racism either.

So.  What are we then to do?

How can we truly accomplish:

PEACE WITH HUMANITY.  This morning we will see

  1. The Chiastic Problem and

  2. The Chiastic Solution

 

The Chiastic Problem

Last week, we were introduced to the concept of a chiasm.  A form of Hebrew poetry, represented by A-B-B-A.  This, the Apostle Paul uses here in Ephesians to describe the related problems of peace with God and peace with humanity.  This is how we can look at the same text this week as we looked at last week, and still have a different, yet intimately-related sermon.

Now, if you don’t LIKE chiasms, if you’re CONFUSED by chiasms, that’s fine, it’s not the main point this week, it wasn’t the main point last week.  Simply put - Ephesians 2 is about two things, and Paul is so passionate about them both, that he writes it out in poetry.  It is like Paul’s heart is breaking open, and this is what spills out.

It shows that these two things are Paul’s greatest priorities, and that they are intimately linked.  You can’t have one without the other.

And we would do well to remember this:

  • No peace with God → No peace with man.

  • No peace with man → No peace with God.

    • If you don’t love your brother whom you HAVE seen, how will you love God who you HAVEN’T seen?

Last week we examined our peace with God, and at that time, I said that this was the more important peace between the two.  And this is true in two ways.

Our peace with God is more important because the greatest tragedy to have ever come upon this earth is the Fall into Sin.  That huge rift opening up between us and God, separating us from Him, for this life, and the life to come.  From this rift, like the opening of Pandora’s box, come spewing out all the other horrific and evil sins, sins like racism.

And that brings us to the other reason as to why peace with God is the more important peace - just as the PROBLEM of racism started with that rift between us and God, the SOLUTION to racism comes from the healing of that rift.  Peace between humans is built upon peace with God.

Peace with God is the heart of the gospel, and peace between people is one of the first OUTPOURINGS of that heart.

And we can see that this is very important to the Apostle Paul.  It is, in fact, found in the very beginning of the letter.

As Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, in that opening greeting - the one we hear every Sunday morning - Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ - there is, among the theological implications that we looked at a few weeks ago, a bringing together of the different racial groups in the Ephesian church.  Embodied in this greeting is a message of condemnation of the racism that was running rampant in the early church.

And this is not an exaggeration here.  Racism was running rampant.

We think of this as a problem that began with the slave trade in the 16th century, but it has existed in every culture since the beginning.  And so, though we should be frustrated and mournful that it existed in the early church, we shouldn’t be surprised.

If you’re skeptical, let me give you a few examples of what racism looked like in the first century

The Greeks had an intense hatred for all non-Greeks, calling them barbarians.  This word comes from them - they said that if someone wasn’t speaking Greek, their language just sounded like BAR-BAR-BAR-BAR.  If someone wasn’t a part of Greek culture, they had no culture at all.  They were sub-human.

The Romans conquered the world to bring their culture everywhere else.  You would submit, you would become Roman, though of course, not with the rights and privileges of Roman born Romans, you would integrate or you would be slaughtered.

The Israelites had an intense hatred for all non-Israelites, calling them Gentile dogs.  If a Jewish girl would marry a Gentile boy, not only would the Jewish parents refuse to go to the wedding, but at the same time as the wedding would be happening, they would hold a funeral to signify that their daughter was now dead to them.

This is what life was like when Paul wrote this letter.  And Paul is eager to be counter-cultural, even against his own culture, the Israelite culture.  Because for Paul, everything else was seen as rubbish, compared with knowing Christ.  And so he writes powerfully to combat this evil trend.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Grace to you - this was a common greeting among the Gentiles.  Paul, though he is Jewish as can be, a Pharisee of Pharisees, of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, Paul, as the Apostle to the Gentiles is greeting the Gentiles specially.  Grace to you - Hello Gentiles!

Grace to you and PEACE- this was the common greeting among the Jews - Shalom.  Paul, though he is the Apostle to the Gentiles, he has not forgotten his own people and greets them as well.  Peace to you - Hello Jews!

And then, in our text, there are these two parallel messages of peace.  The foundational peace that we examined together last week, and what we are now examining, building on that foundation. 

The Apostle Paul is on fire for the Gentiles.  He is so excited to see God’s plan at work.  As an avid studier of the Old Testament, Paul was eager to see how all of this worked out.  Passages would be leaping to mind such as Psalm 87, which we will sing after the sermon - 

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;

    behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush —

    “This one was born there,” they say.

 

And of Zion it shall be said,

    “This one and that one were born in her”;

    for the Most High himself will establish her.

The Lord records as he registers the peoples,

    “This one was born there.” 

Gentiles…nations that were once ENEMIES of Israel would be brought in.  HOW??

Well, THIS is how.  It has been revealed, the secret of the ages.  THROUGH JESUS CHRIST the Gentiles belong!

Paul is over the moon about salvation extending to all people - as we should be as well.

SALVATION IS HERE - Man reconciled to God - this is basic and foundational

And now…SALVATION IS FOR EVERYONE!

But first the problem.  We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

______________

Now, Paul does not do what our modern society expects us to do to combat racism and say

“REALLY, if we think about it, those who are underprivileged are BETTER than all of us.  We are worse because we were privileged, and they are better because they used to be hated.”

No!  This is not the solution - either logically or theologically.  What this does, is to STILL separate by race.  And this is something that the the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ adamantly REFUSES TO DO, and so, as His church, we should adamantly refuse to do this as well.

Paul does not pretend that the Gentiles are better than the Jews, but acknowledges that, in a lot of ways, there is a real disadvantage for them!

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.

Separated from Christ - true for all of humanity

    Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise - Ah.  Here we find a problem unique to the Gentiles.

This is the problem - all of humanity was separated from God due to sin, and the Gentiles were then further separated…separated from the only thing that would help - God reaching out with the blessing of covenant.

Now, it’s all too easy to point the finger at God and say "It’s not fair that God only chose Israel!”  EVERYONE was lost, why did He choose to save ONLY SOME?

But it wasn’t always this way.  For what do we see when we look at Scripture?

In the beginning, there were Adam and Eve - recipients of the first covenant.  Our first parents, not of the HEBREW RACE, but simply of the HUMAN RACE.

Adam and Eve had rejected God and turned to their own way.

    BUT GOD pursued them and made a way for the relationship to continue.  A covenant with the HUMAN RACE.

The entire world rejected God and the wickedness on the earth had become so great that God decided to destroy them with a flood.

    BUT GOD also saved a remnant - Noah and his family.  A covenant with the HUMAN RACE.

The descendants of Noah were told to fill the earth and spread abroad, but they rejected God’s instruction and built the tower of Babel as an example of their power and independence.  As an act of rebellion against God, shaking their fist at Him.

BUT GOD did what was good and confused their languages and forcibly spread them throughout the earth.

And finally, the Hebrew race was chosen, in Abram.  He was no better than anyone else, Abram lived with pagan parents, in a pagan household, in a pagan country in a pagan world.  But God chose him.  A covenant finally with the HEBREW RACE.

But even then, God promised that ALL the nations would be blessed through Abram and his race.  His people.

Do you see?  Again and again God sought to bring people together.  Again and again, He extended His loving hand to all of humanity through covenant.  But again and again, He was rejected.

And so, we cannot put the blame on God for this.  It rests squarely on our own shoulders.

The Gentiles were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.  What does this mean exactly?  What were they alienated from?

They were alienated from God’s land, from God’s law, and from God’s love.

Land, law, and love.

The Gentiles occupied the land outside of Israel.  Now, the physical land itself does not matter anymore.  God’s covenant people live across all 7 continents.  But at that time, under the old covenant, this was something very serious.

In the Old Covenant, so many of the blessings of God were physical blessings for the land.  Deuteronomy 28 details these blessings, including:

  • Blessed shall be the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle

  • Blessed shall be your basket and kneading bowl

  • Blessed shall be your barn 

  • God will give rain to your land in its season

The Promised Land was described as a land flowing with milk and honey - a poetical reference to the abundance of plant and animal life, just teeming in the hills and valleys.

When the spies explored the land, they brought back a cluster of grapes on a pole, likely due to both the size of the grapes, and the sheer number of them in the one cluster.

The land of Israel WAS a fertile land, blessed by God.  And the Gentiles were not to be part of it.

The Gentiles also lost out on the blessings of the Law.

Now, we do not appreciate the law for what it is, partially because our society is based on Christian principles.  For most of the history of Canada, most of the history of the United States, our countries have been considered CHRISTIAN COUNTRIES.  Countries founded on Christian principles.

And so these principles are foundational in the minds of every Canadian, every American.  And the same goes for European countries too.

Principles such as - murder is wrong, adultery is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong.  Even principles such as a day of rest.  It was during my lifetime that stores began opening on Sunday.  And even now, many stores have reduced hours on the Sunday.  There is a day of worship, a day of rest, built in to our society.

But the Gentiles had none of that.  You take a look at the other law codes of the day.  There are some with a passing resemblance to God’s law, but on the whole, societies were lost. They were lost to sin, they did not know how to orient and order their lives.  Morality wasn’t founded on anything real, and people were lost.  People were hopeless.

This was true when the law was given on Mt. Sinai, but truer yet when Christ came into the world.

Historians tell us that in the first century, there was a cloud of hopelessness that pervaded everything.  People felt let down by their gods.

One scholar even characterizes this age as the age of suicide.  This is what happens when you have no foundation.  When you have no concept of your place in the world, when you have no concept of right and wrong, no concept of truth.

And I have news for you - we are back in this place again.  There is no truth.  Men can be women, babies can be seen as just tissue, lies, when they are proven false serve as a pointer to a “greater truth.”

WHAT GARBAGE.

HOW DESTRUCTIVE THIS IS.

And the stats back this up.  We are once again entering an age of suicide and hopelessness.  An age where there is no truth is an age where there is no hope.

So many people are lost in this world, and we have to bring them in!  We have to remind ourselves, and then tell them that they are welcome with us.  They are welcome here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

The Gentiles were without the land, the law, and finally, without the LOVE of God.

And the love of God was shown primarily through His presence.  As we heard last week, God’s presence was protected.  God was separated.  He was separated in the Holy of Holies.

In order to get into the Holy of Holies you had to be

  • An Israelite

  • From the House of Aaron

  • The High Priest

One nation from among all nations

One tribe from among 12 tribes

One person from among thousands of priests.

There was separation for the Israelite…but even more for the Gentile.  A Gentile could never get anywhere close.

  • A Gentile would not have seen the glory cloud descending.
  • A Gentile would not have the blessings proclaimed over him.
  • A Gentile would not be prayed for or have his sins atoned for by the High Priest.
  • A Gentile couldn’t get anywhere near, and a Gentile would never experienced the love of God for His chosen people.

 

THIS is the problem.  And it’s a big one.  But there is a solution that is so much bigger, so much greater, that it completely overwhelms and overshadows the problem.  Let’s look at that together in our second point.  The solution.

Verse 13 - But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

BUT NOW.  This is the “But God” of our text.  This is the signal that there is hope once more.  Hope has been restored in the hopelessness of the situation.

For both Jew and Gentile THERE IS HOPE.  There was something that changed.  Something drastically changed to make the New Covenant different.  To make the New Covenant greater.

And what changed was JESUS CHRIST.

Through Jesus Christ, that VERTICAL relationship - between humanity and God - was restored, and through Jesus Christ, that HORIZONTAL relationship - between Jew and Gentile - was restored.

Verse 14 - For He Himself is our peace, who had made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Last week, we looked at the dividing wall as the curtain in the temple, separating the presence of God from humanity.  And this is one of its meanings here.  But it is not the ONLY meaning.

That particular dividing wall - the curtain - was torn down at the moment of Jesus’ death, but there was another dividing wall that stayed up for another 40 years or so, until Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans.

This dividing wall was a literal wall, 4.5 feet tall.  It went all the way around the temple, and it separated the Jews from the Gentiles.  The Gentiles who wanted to worship God could approach, but they had to stay at a distance.  They were not yet brought near.

There was this wall, and on the wall, there were signs.  Basically like “keep out” signs, or “beware of dog” signs.  But these signs were “beware of God” signs.  These signs were “death” signs.

The Jewish people had gotten it so twisted in their minds at this point in history.  All throughout the Old Testament, they were told that they were to be a light to the Gentiles.

It was prophesied, all throughout the Psalms, all throughout the prophets, that there would be a day when the Gentiles would be welcomed in.

God’s chosen people were to welcome the Gentiles into the family of God through their holy walk of life.  But neither one of these things happened.  The Israelites did not live particularly holy lives, and the Gentiles were not welcomed in, but excluded.

And this is perfectly shown in this wall.  In these DEATH SIGNS.

This is what was written:

     No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the

     sanctuary and the enclosure.  Anyone who is caught doing so will

     have himself to blame for his ensuing death.

Welcome to God.  Welcome to the church.  You’ll DIE.

We know this, archaeologists have uncovered two such signs and they are in museums.  You can see them if you go to Israel or to Turkey.

This wall was in Paul’s mind when he wrote these words.

For He Himself is our peace who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh, the dividing wall of hostility.

He has made us both one.

He has created, in Himself, one new man in the place of the two, so making peace.

I said it last week, I’ll say it again - the cross is the leveller of the playing field.

It is at the cross where things like race…where thing like gender…where things like knowledge and skill and education and age…it is there, at the foot of the cross, where these things all fall away and they DO NOT MATTER.

Elsewhere Paul says There is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, you are all one in Jesus Christ.  Amazing.  A DRASTIC change.

He created in Himself one new man in the place of the two

This is not new in terms of REFRESHED.

This is not new in terms of polished or refurbished.

Think of it in terms of a car.

  • This is not a car that someone’s elderly mother took once a week to the grocery store for 5 years - “LIKE NEW.”  No.  It’s not that.
  • This isn’t a car that was driven off the lot and returned the next day
  • This isn’t even a car that the dealership filled up with gas.

That odometer is at 0. Not 10, not 1, but 0.

We are BRAND NEW.  This is something never-before-seen, what Jesus Christ made in Himself.

And the word for it?

CHRISTIAN.  Literally “little Christ.”

Because of the death of Christ, little Christs came to be.  Hundreds of thousands, millions and billions of little Christ’s running around, doing what He did - loving the unlovable, giving comfort to the hopeless, giving a home to the homeless, giving food to the hungry, and sharing the good news of God’s kingdom wherever we go.

This is your new identity.  Whatever you were before does not matter.  Not one bit.

Let me put it another way:  Any label other than “CHRISTIAN” has become obsolete.  Every other label has become useless when it comes to our identity before God.

This is what the cross tells us.  Christ Jesus died for this to be your NEW identity.  Brand new, never-before-seen, an identity that overrides everything else that came before it.  This is what we are told.  This is the gospel.

But what do WE do?  We divide ourselves!

What does God do?  Does He ask about your past?  Does He ask about your race?  Your colour?  Your gender?

  • He didn’t for Abraham!
  • He didn’t do it for Ruth!
  • He didn’t for the Apostle Paul!
  • He didn’t for John Newton - a man who was literally a slave-trader
  • He didn’t ask about my past, or disqualify me from ministry because of my past sins and rebellion.

There is only one thing that God asks - “Do you trust in me?”  “Have you thrown every other qualifier about yourself at the foot of the cross?”  “Do you realize that I’ve stripped off your filthy rags of sin and your past to put on you the robe of Christ’s righteousness?”

Yes?  Then you’re welcomed in.  YOU BELONG WITH US.

WE divide ourselves by age, by gender, by class, by vaccination status.

Stop.  Please stop doing this.

Oh, I can’t talk with these people…they’re different from me.

Oh, I could never eat a meal with women - I’m a man.

I could never have a conversation with a senior - I’m a teenager.

BUT YOU ARE BOTH CHRISTIANS!  THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT YOU IS YOUR FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.

As I look out at this congregation, I see so many differences.  There are people here with PHDs.  At least one that I know of…and there are people here who didn’t finish grade 12.

There are nurses and accountants and landscapers and teachers and lawyers here…where else but THE CHURCH could we find such a group of people united over one purpose?

If not for the gospel, and the fact that Jesus Christ has brought us all together…I probably wouldn’t ever appear in the same room with many of you.  Not because I don’t like you, but because we would have nothing in common with each other.  What would we say?

But God has given us the greatest thing in common - hope in the place of hopelessness.  Healing in the place of brokenness.

He has broken down these barriers that used to be there between us…by making them no longer matter!  He has united us, each with the other.  This is the work of the cross.

Everything else just begins to fade away because of the glory of the gospel.

I once was blind…but now I see!

I once was lost…but now am found!

I once was far off…but now I am welcomed in!

This is what the gospel has done

  • It has made insiders of outsiders

  • It has made family of foreigners

  • It has made unity of division

This is the only cure for our hatred of God.

This is the only cure for our hatred of our fellow man.

The cross of Jesus Christ proclaims peace, it proclaims equality, it proclaims identity, worth, and welcome.  No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, you are welcome here, and more importantly, you are welcome before God’s throne, in the Heavenly Zion.

AMEN.




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

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