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Ephesians (2010)

Reconciliation

Ephesians 2:11-22

Lesson audio

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands-- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:11-22 NASB)

The Gap Before Christ

The Jewish View

If you should happen to encounter a very Orthodox Jew today, you might encounter some of this attitude. I met such a person in an elevator when I was going to college; it was quite an eye opening experience. The common Jewish view of this time would include these aspects:

·         Jews did not associate with Gentiles. Just to be near one was uncomfortable; it was forbidden to go into their house. Touching one made you unclean. I suspect the closest analog we can get today is if you know someone who works at a sewage plant; you certainly hope they clean up before they come over for dinner.

·         The Gentiles were intrinsically unclean. There was no possibility what ever of them meeting the requirements of the ceremonial law. As they were, in general, uncircumcised it would be impossible for them to meet those requirements – without major surgery.

·         The Jews were the only people God had ever blessed, or ever would bless. As my acquaintance in the elevator put it, Gentiles are fit for nothing more than fodder for the fires of hell.

As you can see, this put substantial barriers between the Gentiles and the Jews.

The Gentile View

Suppose for a moment you were a Gentile of this time, and you wish to change your status. There were formidable barriers to your doing so.

·         To begin with, there was a physical barrier. If you were female, it would be impossible for you to join unless your husband did also. For males, the physical barrier was obvious: circumcision. Do remember that at this time there are no anesthetics. Healing took a couple of weeks. And the rest of your neighbors would think you were a kinky sex maniac.

·         There is also the social barrier: you give up all the friends you have (who are now unclean) and start to make new friends among the Jews. Worse, all those things you thought were good deeds are now so much rubbish. For example, your deity might have required you to give to the poor. Jew and Gentile would recognize this as a good deed, but because you were Jewish at the time it didn't count. You started all over again, in a sense.

·         There is also a knowledge barrier. Think of it this way: all your life you have been raised worship various deities. You have memorized rituals, you have read books of wisdom, you may even be a practiced philosopher. All that knowledge must be thrown away, and replaced by a new lifetime of learning based on the Old Testament. You cannot study the Old Testament by your self; you must have a Rabbi to teach you. You go from being knowledgeable to ignorant and stupid.

God's View

It's interesting to take this dichotomy from the point of view of God himself. To begin with, the Gentile is an alien. Think about the aliens in our society; perhaps the ones who stand on a street corner and wait for someone to offer them a day's work. The laws of our nation, right or wrong your choice, make it so that they have little opportunity. From God's point of view at this time, the Gentile has no opportunity — he must become a Jew first.

More than that, God has made no promises to the Gentile. Consider the promises made to the Jews; they are quite extraordinary. It is quite clear that God seems to take special care of the Jews. As for the Gentiles, there is no information (other than what is available from nature and reason) and no promise.

Most of all, there is no hope. No matter what you do as a Gentile at this time, you have no hope of pleasing God. What he will do with you after death, he alone knows — but he sure didn't share the information with you.

Transition

Just the Right Time

One of the things the early church fathers taught, which is neglected today, is that the coming of Christ was at the most opportune moment in history. God, in their view, had arranged matters of history so that Christ's coming would be at the perfect moment. Here's why they thought so:

·         The Roman Empire has reached its full extent, for the most part. It is stable, it is blessed with a good road system, its government is uniform and relatively just. It is the incubator of Christianity. From a physical point of view, this is the best the ancient world would have to offer.

·         Unlike many previous empires, the Romans held to a very strong sense of right and wrong. One of the reasons they justify themselves in conquering people was that they would bring Roman justice, which was fair and impartial for the most part, to such peoples. They would see themselves as improving the lot of those they conquered. That sense of right and wrong, however, also brought with it the idea of sin and guilt. There is a big difference between doing something the chieftain doesn't like, and violating the known law. Sin and guilt are well-known concepts to everyone in the Roman Empire. This makes the work of the Holy Spirit much easier. Or perhaps you would like to look at it this way: that was the work of the Holy Spirit.

·         Very soon after the writing of the New Testament, there came a series of emperors known as the "good emperors." It was a time of peace and justice; a time of economic prosperity — the perfect time to spread a religion whose evangelism depends upon logical argument. This may seem strange to the modern Christian, who is accustomed to emotional evangelistic rallies. But if you'll recall Paul's discourse on Mars Hill, you have an idea of what it took to spread Christianity. Our ancient forebears knew quite well the value of apologetics.

Christ Is Our Peace

This phrase, that Christ is our peace, sometimes puzzles Christians. Let's take it through the steps logically: first, is peace just the absence of conflict? I submit that it is not; it is the resolution of the conflict. What is the source of our conduct with God, if not sin? Indeed, the root of the matter is that we are made from the flesh and God is not. From the garden of Eden we have had this problem. Christ is the resolution of this problem in two ways:

·         First, and I hope this is obvious to you, by his sacrifice on the cross he has removed the cause of our conflict with God — namely, our sin. There is much to be said about this, but I suspect you know most of it.

·         Interestingly, he also resolves this conflict by who he is: fully God and fully man. Because he is fully man, is now shown to be possible that man can be without sin. There is hope! And because he is fully God, there is hope that man can be like God. God the father cannot move towards us, but we can move towards him if we take the path of Christ.

The Nature of Reconciliation

Reconciliation requires the removal of sin in our lives. Christ does this: past, present and future.

·         In the past tense, Christ has already accomplished this with what he has done at the cross. He has paid our debt; it's gone. The credit and collection agency has nothing more to quibble about.

·         In the present tense, he removes sin by forgiving us completely when we repent.

·         In the future tense, Christ prevents sin as we live our life in him. If you live a life filled with the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to expect that sin is much less of a problem to you.

Christ is Lord over all of time; he is Lord of all things. The only real question is whether or not we will accept this reconciliation and become what he wants us to become.

Temple

A Place to Meet God — "Where His Name Is"

It's a curious thing about human beings: the idea of a God who is everywhere and nowhere, immanent in all things, is a difficult one for us. From the very beginning of God's contact with human beings, he has taken advantage of the concept of a sacred place. It might be the mountain on which he met Abraham; the mountain on which he gave the Ten Commandments to Moses; or later the Temple of Solomon. It seems we need a place; we live in space and time, and so we do.

We also seem to need some form of visual contact with God; somebody has to "draw us a picture." If you think about it, those people who tell you that they can worship God just as well in nature could say, "nature is a place." Yet you know that the people who say this don't worship God very much. Teddy Roosevelt was once given this excuse; when his friend told him that he could worship just as well in nature, Teddy replied: "Yes — but you won't." We seem to need a geographical reference which says, "God is there."

There is more to it than that; it seems we need a "Mars Hill" as well. Some people come to the evangelist rally and walked down the aisle with tears in their eyes. That's the most visible form of conversion; we see large numbers of people doing it, and conclude this must be how evangelism is supposed to work. Most people did not come to Christ this way. Most came because someone invited them to church, a place where they could inquire about this God without having to embarrass themselves in public. It appears we need a Temple at which to meet the Almighty.

Construction by Sacrifice

A Temple, like its modern equivalent a Cathedral, differs from an ordinary church building in the way in which it is planned and constructed. At this writing, our church is planning to move to a new site in about two years. The site is not intended to be a Cathedral, but a church building, and therefore reasonable measures of economy are expected. No one wants to see gold plated columns on the front of the sanctuary. But a Temple is a building which is constructed devotionally; it therefore has three characteristics which are contrary to the ordinary church building:

·         First, its features often seem to have no practical purpose. The great example of this is Solomon's Temple; many tons of gold were used in its construction. Most of that gold was used to line the inner walls, in particular the Holy of Holies — which was seen once a year by the high priest. This is extravagant use of gold. That makes it an act of devotion.

·         Unlike the church building, the Temple is very costly to those who construct it. Solomon could've just varnished the interior walls. But the building is dedicated to the glory of God, and varnished just wouldn't do.

·         Perhaps most important of all, those who build the Temple could have done less. You remember the story of the widows mite? She had two coins; she could have put in just one.

That's how it is with the Temple which is the church. Some of its features seem to have no practical purpose — for example, why are all these people praising God? Doesn't God already know how great he is? What's the use?

It also seems to be quite expensive. You can join some excellent organizations — for example, the Kiwanis club — at a much lower price. Christ, it seems, expect your total lifelong commitment. Everything else in this world expects you to give less than all you have; Christ asks that you give all that you are. Why? The church is dedicated to the glory of God.

As all of us know, the typical Christian is quite capable of giving less than what Christ demands. The saint turns everything over to God.

Constructed

Paul gives us an abbreviated construction diagram for this church. If you follow the blueprints correctly, you get what the designer intended. So let's look at the blueprints.

·         Christ is the cornerstone. Anything in the church which is not tied back to Christ, dependent on Christ, and honoring Christ is not part of the building. This has a lot to say about the church in politics, for example.

·         The foundation is built of the apostles and prophets — whose record we find in the Scriptures. If the Bible does not play a key role and underlie all of the thinking of the church, then we are building the building over the edge of the foundation.

·         As the King James version puts it, we are "fitly framed together." Our relationships with one another, particularly as they relate to the role of the church in the world, are extremely important. They must be based on Christ, informed by the apostles and the prophets — and lovingly constructed by us.

·         What makes all this work is simply this: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The church is the body of Christ; one human body has one spirit.

Whenever the church takes a wrong turning, running off in what appears to be a wonderful new direction, it is the cornerstone of Christ and the foundation of the apostles which, again and again, have turned her back to be the Temple of Christ.

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