Ephesians 2:11 – 22
“He has made the two groups one…”
The country that we know today as Malawi, gained its independence from Britain in 1964. And as we’ve seen in much more recent times, this kind of national upheaval easily leads to violence. So, not surprisingly, Malawi’s journey to independence wasn’t an entirely peaceful transition, and the authorities were rightly concerned at the risk of violence between the indigenous population, and the Europeans who had settled there since the days of the famous Dr David Livingstone.
Of course, in the early 60s, it was pretty hard to find out what was going on, on the side of the country, so a British reconnaissance plane was dispatched from the capital, to fly over one particular remote area where the local population and Europeans were living in quite close quarters;, A combination that it was thought, would quite likely lead to violence. As the plane approached, it seemed that the worst fears of violence were confirmed, there were no signs of life at all. It looked like the 2 ethnic groups had more or less wiped each other out.
But as they flew over the town, which was called Livingstonia, after Dr Livingstone, I presume, they could see large stones painted white, and laid out in the centre of town, spelling out some characters. It looked like a Bible reference, but there was no Bible on the plane, for them to check, so when they got back to the capital, the crew dug out a Bible and looked up the letters they had seen spelled out from the air, Ephesians 2:14
For he himself, that is Jesus, he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
That’s the message that those in Livingstonia wanted to communicate to their country’s leaders. What does it take, to bring that kind of unity?
A unity that exceeds expectations and surprises all who witness it?
Well, that’s what we want to find out, in Ephesians chapter 2.
God’s great plan is to bring unity to all things under Christ
These verses, I imagine, we know much less about, than the earlier verses we looked at last week. And yet we can see pretty clearly, that this section is a key building block in the Apostle Paul’s overall theme of his letter to the Christians in Ephesus.
Paul’s goal in his letter is to explain and unpack God’s great purposes for his creation. And those purposes are stated most clearly, in chapter 1 verses 9 and 10. They’re printed on your outline.
he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—, to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth, under Christ
That is God’s great plan for life, the universe, and everything;
Unity to all things, under Christ.
If you’ve ever wondered, “What on earth is God doing in the world?
What is God on about?”
Here’s your answer, Ephesians 1:10, unity to all things, under Christ.
This part of chapter 2, shows us how God drives those great purposes forward.
Some of you will remember maths classes in school. One of the few bits of maths class that I remember, is that one thing to get the right answer, especially since that wasn’t an altogether frequent experience for me!
But you also had to show your working! How did you get to that point?
Well if Ephesians 1:10 is the answer to the question, “What is God doing in the world?”, then this section, 2:11 – 22, is where God shows his working,
He shows how he gets to that end point.
How does God bring unity to all things?
But there’s a problem (v 11 – 12)
But there’s a problem.
God’s great plan is unity, everything together under Jesus,
But like last week, when we saw that before and after comparison, with God’s gracious action in Christ standing in the middle, When the Ephesians cast their minds back to their life before they heard and believed the good news of Jesus, the very opposite of this was true.
They were the very opposite of united,
And looking the very opposite of being under Jesus.
There’s a false problem – you were uncircumcised
Take a look at verse 11 with me, Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12, remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,
When I was a kid I had a joke book filled with jokes like:
When is a boy not a boy?
When he turns into a store!
And when is a door not a door?
When it is ajar, a jar! Get it!
Come and see me for more, later!
Here, though, we could ask, “When is a problem not a problem?”
See, the big problem that religious people thought that Paul’s readers had, was not really a problem at all.
You probably know, all Jewish males were circumcised. It was seen as a physical, outward sign of being one of God’s people.
To someone like Paul, earnestly religious, anyone who wasn’t circumcised had a problem; Their lack of circumcision was a sign of being cut off from God.
But notice Paul’s air quotes! You know what air quotes are, don’t you? (QUOTES) “I don’t really mean what I’m saying, I’m just repeating what someone else says.”
Clayton says the sermon will be “short” today.
Well, when the person who’s reading Paul’s letter out to the Ephesians churches gets to this bit, they need to put down the scroll so they can do air quotes.
you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”
Clearly Paul doesn’t think that those are actually labels that matter!
Clearly Paul thinks that the circumcision of the Jews, the circumcision that they saw as the great divider between those who were God’s people and those who were not, he thinks it’s religiously insignificant,
Clearly Paul doesn’t think that the “problem”, of not being circumcised matters. It is, after all, simply something done in the body by human hands
God didn’t create the nation of Israel, so that they could have nothing to do with other nations, or look down on them as uncircumcised.
God created the nation of Israel so that he could speak through them, to the other nations.
When it comes to your standing before God, being uncircumcised wasn’t the real problem.
In fact when it comes to your standing before God, any human act, or lack of, isn’t the real problem.
I rattle these things off, Sunday after Sunday, and sometimes I wonder if I sound like a broken record. A record, for those of you who are under 25, is what an iPod used to be called.
But the reason I keep saying this stuff, is because I think that while we know it, we forget it, or we convince ourselves that the opposite is true.
But friends, nothing done in the body by human hands, can contribute to your right standing before God,
Your human efforts and activities cannot get you into a right relationship with God,
Nor will the works of your hands or your body keep you in right relationship with God.
Coming to church,
Putting your name on a roster,
Praying for your non-Christin friends,
Giving money to support gospel ministry,
None of those things can get you into God’s good books.
Not, taking communion, not, getting baptised.
There’s a real problem – you were far from God
No, the real problem is that the Ephesians were far from God.
And Paul lists 5 different ways in which their alienation from God manifested itself. Look with me at verse 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.
See, it’s not that there was no difference, between Jew and Gentile. There were real and significant differences. God had called Israel and made promises to them, in a way that he hadn’t done to any other nation.
It’s easy for us, almost all of whom, I think, would be Gentiles, it’s easy for us to say “there was no real difference.”
But Paul lists 5 ways in which the Ephesians were separated from God.
So 5 different ways in which the Ephesians separation from God could be seen. There’s a bit of overlap between them, so we’ll pause on some longer than others.
Let’s have a quick look.
1 – Separate from Christ
First of all Paul says, you were separate from Christ
Now, we might think, “hang on, weren’t the Jews also separate from Christ?” They generally didn’t recognise him when he came. Which is true.
But the Christ or the Messiah, the same word in 2 ancient languages, the Christ was God’s promised king of Israel, the one who would bring to completion, these purposes of God that we’re thinking so much about.
The Gentiles were separate from Christ, in that they didn’t even know to expect that one day God’s king would come.
Everything that God had done in the Old Testament, was done to prepare for the coming of Christ, and yet those outside Israel had no anticipation at all, of God’s coming king.
2 – Excluded from Citizenship
Because more broadly, the Gentiles were, by definition, excluded from citizenship in Israel.
Citizenship, we tend to think of, in terms of the right to vote, or free travel across borders.
To speak of exclusion from citizenship in Israel is much less about those kinds of things, and much more about being outside God’s sphere of activity.
Of course, it’s not that God didn’t care about the Gentiles,
But all the things God did among Israel;,
The amazing miracles,
God telling people his name, Yahweh,
The Gentiles weren’t there when God was doing those things to reveal his purposes among the people of Israel.
Interestingly, the word translated excluded, is used elsewhere in this letter, and elsewhere in Paul’s writings to speak of being excluded or alienated, because of sin. It has a passive sense, something like “having been excluded.”
It may well be that Paul’s got his eye on the Garden of Eden, when sin entered the world, and he’s saying that’s the moment when you were excluded.
It was never meant to be like this, but sin entered the world, and so God began to work on his great plan to restore everything, and that plan began with one group, the nation that God chose;, Israel.
3 – Foreigners to the promise
Of course part of being on the outside of the work of God among the people of Israel, meant being foreigners to the covenants of the promise,
Here, the promise is a probably a reference to the promise of the Christ, God’s king.
This was a promise that God had made to Israel within the context of relationship covenant.
But because of Israel’s failure to live up to God’s intention for them, those outside, the Gentiles, who were supposed to be able to look in and see,
See what it what it’s to live under God’s rule,
See what it’s like to wait for God’s king to come,
They didn’t get their glimpse of relationship, and covenant.
God chose Israel,
Entered into covenant relationship with them,
Made his promises to them, not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of all nations
One of the promises was about blessing to all nations, through Israel.
But Paul’s readers had known nothing of that, until they heard the good news of Jesus, the fulfilment of God’s Old Testament covenant and promises.
4 – Without hope
Drawing things to a climax, Paul says to be separated from God, is to be without hope.
The Gentiles didn’t hope for the Christ,
They didn’t hope for the blessing that God had promised.
To be separated from God is to have no hope.
And you might think, “yeah, but, the people I know even today, who are far from God, they don’t feel hope-less”, but we only need to scratch the surface to see how true this is.
If I know nothing of God’s plans and purposes,
The value that God places on me,
If I think I’m just an accidental co-location of atoms,
A random combination of chemicals,
And any thought, or reflection, or anticipation that I have is merely a momentary electronic pulse in my brain, insignificant in space and time that stretches for aeons and aeons, infinitely, to nothing in any direction,
Then yes, to be far from God, is to be, without hope.
5 – Without hope
Ultimately Paul concludes, his Gentile readers were without God.
Principally, without knowledge of God.
The Gentiles lived in the same world as the Jews,
But they didn’t have knowledge of the God who makes himself known,
They didn’t have the revelation from God that makes sense of the world.
You know when you watch a foreign movie without subtitles, you generally can’t pick up all that much of what’s going on.
Turn on the subtitles,
Turn on God’s revelation of himself, and all of sudden we’re equipped to understand, and make sense of, and take our intended position in the world.
Clearly, the problem for the Ephesians, was not their lack of circumcision,
Whether they were in church regularly or not,
Whether they gave 10% of their income to the work of their church, or just whatever they had in their pocket,
Clearly the problem of getting into a right relationship with God, is that without God’s gracious action in drawing someone to himself, human beings are far from God,
And look at the cost of what it took, for those who were far away to be brought near, verse 13,
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
To reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to God, to bring near, those who once were far away, cost Jesus his life.
Let us not be under any illusions as to the seriousness of sin.
It’s sin that puts us far from God,
Look at the cost, of being brought near.
The next time you are tempted to think that your sin is insignificant,
Or that sin doesn’t matter,
Read again what it takes for you to be brought near.
Nothing less, than the death of God’s king.
Jesus destroyed the barrier separating Jew and Gentile(v 14 – 15a)
But notice, and maybe this is a surprise, God’s intention at the cross was not just to reconcile people to himself, but to reconcile people to each other
Pick it up with me from verse 14, For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.
This is the announcement that those believers in Malawi made with their white painted stones. Of course they were extrapolating it to white and black, European and African,
Paul meant originally that Jesus brought peace between Jews and Gentiles,
Not by just commanding peace “You’re no longer enemies!”, like a parent with squabbling children, “You will get along!”,
It wasn’t even by bringing each one, compromise by compromise to the negotiating table,
No, Jesus made peace by taking away the very thing that caused division.
He has has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law
Paul’s saying The Old Testament law was a barrier, between Israel and the rest of the world.
Now we think, “hang on, didn’t God give the law? And if God gave the law, how can it be considered a barrier, or something that needed to be broken down?”
Well God brought the ancient nation of Israel into existence. I’m sure you know this, but let me say, this has got nothing to do with the modern state of Israel, that didn’t come into existence until 1948.
We’re talking her about the ancient nation of Israel which God brought them into existence, and he gave them the Old Testament law,
the pattern of what it should look like to live under God’s kingly rule.
God didn’t give the law, with what does Paul say, with its commands and regulations, God didn’t give the law, in order to create hostility between Jews and Gentiles.
He gave the law with its commands and regulations, in order that Israel, might witness to the watching world, to all the other nations, what it was like to live under the kingly rule of God.
He gave the law to Israel, in order that those who were far off, might be given reason to consider who God is, and therefore be brought near.
God gave the law with its commands and regulations, in the hope that the people of Israel might testify to and demonstrate the salvation they had experienced by God’s hand, and that the nations around, might come to learn of the great salvation God offers.
But of course, that’s not what people did with the law, is it?
The Jews read into their position of privilege, a statement of superiority that God had never intended.
And as a result, the Jews hated the Gentiles,
And the Gentiles, in return, despised the Jews.
There were, naturally, individual exceptions, but read any of the ancient historians, and you’ll see the animosity, between the Jews and their Gentile neighbours.
Into that context, Paul says, Jesus set aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.
In his death, Jesus made the Old Testament law, with its commands and regulations, have no effect.
Jesus didn’t abolish the law itself, he says that in Matthew chapter 5, but he put to death the hostility between Jew and Gentile, that arose because of the Law.
He put to death the law’s function, as the source of the divide between those who were considered God’s covenant people, and those who could only look in from the outside.
We have to look elsewhere for the picture of how Jesus, in his words fulfils the law, and that’s beyond our scope today,
But here we see that Jesus destroyed the Jewish perception of the law as a measuring stick that marked them out as special.
In is death, Jesus dismantled the Gentile perception, that the law was a rigid code that existed to keep them far from God.
Jesus undermined the theory that the law was a means by which you could get to God if you were good enough. Of course, only if you were a Jew, and were good enough.
Jesus abolishes the Law of Moses as the defining statement about God, and his relating to people,
And through his life, and particularly his death, Jesus says that way of relating to God,
Through sacrifice after sacrifice,
Through all those regulations and commands, the practices that were only accessible to Jews,
That is gone Jesus says.
And therefore, the barrier between Jew and Gentile is also gone.
Jesus created a new humanity (15 – 18)
I think one of the most common questions I get asked, as I speak with people who are interested in finding out more about Christianity, is “Why did Jesus die?” And in fact it’s one of the questions we address in the series of Why books, that a number here are using as they catch up with friends who want to investigate the Christian faith.
Maybe you’re new with us today,
You’re trying to figure out Christianity,
Maybe this is your question. “Why did Jesus die?”
And the answer we normally give is,
So we can be forgiven,
To take away our sins,
Or put it in the language of verse 13, to bring people who were far away from God, near to God.
And that’s all true, no doubt about it,
But Paul gives a slightly different answer to that question here doesn’t he? Not so much a different answer, perhaps we could call it a fuller answer.
Instead of answering the question with just the part of the answer that directly relates to me, Paul gives the answer that helps us see the bigger picture of Gods’ plans and purposes.
Look at verse 15 with me, Christ’s purpose, was to create in himself, one new humanity, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross
Why did Jesus die?
To create a new humanity.
The first readers of this letter, predominantly Gentiles, who once were far away, have now been brought near.
And for us, predominantly Gentiles I’m sure, the same applies, if we trust that Jesus took the punishment for our rebellion against God, then we too, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
But notice, we don’t become Jews.
Rather, through Jesus death in our place, he creates in himself, one new humanity.
I had to buy some new socks recently. My wife Kathy was complaining about the state of my old ones.
When I go and buy socks, I try and get just exactly the same type as my old ones, just a couple of new pairs.
When Paul speaks of a new humanity in verse 15, he doesn’t mean just the same as the old humanity, just the next one in the series. He uses the word that means a whole new kind of humanity.
It’s the opposite of me buying socks.
It’s more like when Apple brought out the iPhone. It was a new phone. But it was a new phone that was a completely different kind of phone to anything that had come before.
In his death,
In removing the law,
The way of relating to God that said you had to be a Jew,
In throwing the gates open to anyone who would come to God in repentance and faith,
Jesus creates iPhone humanity, a completely new kind of humanity,
Who don’t relate to God on the basis of the law,
But who relate to God only on the basis of his grace, which is ours through faith in Jesus.
The purpose of Jesus’ death, was to create a new humanity.
As I said, those other explanations that we give for Jesus’ death are not wrong,
They’re perhaps a more personal way of answering the question. But I do think it’s important that in answering the question personally, we don’t become individualistic, and so fail to see the work of Christ as impacting anything other than, my relationship with God.
God’s plan becomes reality – a taste of all things united under Christ (v 19 – 22)
And so finally we see, that God’s great plan, has become reality. At least in part,
We don’t see the finished product of unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ, we still look forward to that, but we see the beginnings of it.
Now, because of Jesus, humanity, whether Jews or Gentiles, can relate rightly to each other, and rightly to God.
Listen to the picture of unity that Paul describes from verse 19, Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
It’s almost like Paul realises that no single metaphor on its own can adequately carry the momentous news, of humanity united under Christ.
He started with body language up in verse 16, describing Jews and Gentiles as one body,
Then in verse 19 he uses political language;, not foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens
Then he goes into family language, members of his household,
And then he switches into a construction metaphor, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Here is unity, under Christ. The first taste, of what we know is coming.
Unity is a word that we hear used a lot among churches today.
We know that Jesus prayed for unity among believers,
But what does this united people of God look like?
Well, notice, this is unity, centred on Jesus.
Do you feel Paul’s emphasis as you read it? With Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
What do you think is the key element to our unity?
If all God wanted was unity, we could just go back to the Tower of Bable, couldn’t we? Genesis 11? Humanity was united.
No, this unity has Christ as its cornerstone, Christ as the basis for unity, which must mean, not just an acknowledgment that Jesus existed, but a unity based on the foundation of the apostles and prophets
The apostles and the prophets were those who brought Gods’ Word about Jesus to his people.
They were witnesses, and messengers of God’s self-revelation in Christ, and to have them as your foundation, means to be built on their definitive normative message, and to remain in that.
This very verse tells us, then, the shape of the church, for all ages.
Not, what style of music should be sung in church,
Or even what kind of governance a local church should have, but the heart and the message of the church throughout all history is established here.
A church built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets
If you move off your foundation, you’re in trouble aren’t you?
And if your foundation is wrong, you’re in trouble!
When we built our house, everyone seemed to feel the need to share their home building horror stories with us!
The worst one I heard, was where the builders poured the foundation, in the wrong place. In fact laid the foundation, one metre over the boundary onto the neighbour’s property!
If your foundation is wrong, everything is wrong.
Those who would have us move on, from the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Those who would seek to modernise Christianity, by leaving behind this foundation, which cuts across our culture, in so many ways, doesn’t it, they cannot have unity, with those who are built on Christ.
The catholic bishop of Dublin suggested this week that the church needs to change its teaching, to line up with what the community wants.
Those who are built on Christ can have no unity with that kind of approach.
It is in Christ, verse 21, that the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Start with the wrong foundation,
Move off the foundation,
Branch off from your Cornerstone, and this building cannot rise.
God’s great plan, is for unity, under Christ,
Centred on Christ,
Built on Christ.
What a great picture the church, the body of Christ can be, for God’s ultimate purpose.
That story about Malawi is a great one, I often wondered if it was really true.
Things that happened in remote parts of East Africa in the early 60s are a little hard to verify!
But I was intrigued by the story, and so I was reading a bit about Malawi, and started looking at different parts of the country in Google Maps, looking at the satellite photos of the towns and villages, imagining what these tiny remote villages must have been like back in 1964.
I typed in “Livingstonia, Malawi”, and the photo taken by a satellite just a year or so ago came up.
Livingstonia is a tiny, tiny town. Just a handful of houses.
But as I looked down, as it were, from outer space, I could not believe my eyes.
There, plain as day, were the white painted stones, spelling out “Ephesians 2:14”
I couldn’t believe it!
I’ve since learned those white painted stone are among Malawi’s most treasured monuments of the journey to independence.
And not surprisingly!
They give us a tiny taste, a future glimpse of what it will look like, when all humanity,
Everything on heaven and earth,
Is united under Christ.