Don't Divide What Christ United
November 27, 2016 | Randy Smith
Don't Divide What Christ UnitedEphesians 2:11-22
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
I was walking in San Francisco along the Golden Gate Bridge when I saw a man about to jump off. I tried to dissuade him from committing suicide and told him simply that God loved him. A tear came to his eye. I then asked him, "Are you a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, or what?"
He said, "I'm a Christian." I said, "Me, too, small world… Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too, what denomination?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too, Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Well, me too, Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Well, that's amazing! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?" He said, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist." I said, "Remarkable! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "A miracle! Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "DIE HERETIC!" and pushed him over the rail.
Ask any pastor. People can appear unified and selfless, but the moment the carpet color is changed or the air conditioner doesn't work they're looking for a new church! And if that's how people feel about inanimate objects, you can imagine what they think about each other - when we are all by nature when we walk in the flesh opinionated, self-righteous, bigoted, temperamental sinners.
We all know - with the Bible to testify from the beginning of the church age - factions, bitterness and unmended relationships are unfortunately commonplace among Christ's church. Despite the fact that we have the same Lord, same playbook, same vision and same destination, division in the church is a reality and it comes with a high cost of emotional pain toward each other and a weakened testimony to the world.
Our objective today will be to contemplate how God can take diverse individuals who still sin from different backgrounds, genders, cultures, and ages and unite them peacefully into one spiritual body, empowered to live at peace with one another. And that is close to a miracle!
So how does this happen and why must it happen? Lord willing, we'll answer those questions this morning.
1. The Problem of Enmity
Let's dive into the text and begin with our first point, "The Problem of Enmity." The issue Paul addresses in the latter half of Ephesians 2 was the hostility between the Jew and the Gentile (all non-Jews). In the 21st century we tend to underestimate what was going on in the first century.
William Barclay wrote: "The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that He made. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl or Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that boy or girl was carried out. Such marital contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death."
We also know from the accounts in the Scriptures the Jews contempt for the Gentiles. They would expect Jewish nationalistic regulations from a Gentile in order for them to become a convert to God. They would literally shake the dust off their feet upon their return to Israel if they were forced to pass through Gentile territory. There was no doubt that a deep-seated hatred existed between these two parties.
How did God feel about this? Did He intend to only offer salvation to the Jews? Absolutely not! From the beginning, God purposed to call Abraham so that he would be a blessing to the nations. Israel was called, as a custodian of the truth, to be a light of God's testimony to the rest of the world. But they failed. They twisted their spiritual privilege into personal favoritism. Instead of reaching out, they erected barriers and increased the discord that existed between themselves and all the non-Jews.
But then came Jesus. He accomplished what Israel failed to accomplish. He established peace between the nations and salvation for the Gentiles. But how would He accomplish such a feat? The mere thought would have been baffling and repulsive to the Jewish mind.
Now, there's no doubt that salvation is from the Jews. Jesus said that in John 4. However, it is not in their nationalistic pride that salvation is found, but rather through the divine revelation they received from God. Even Paul said in Romans 9 that to Israel belongs the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service and the promises. There is no doubt that God blessed the nation Israel over and above all the nations of the land. For thousands of years, Israel knew the one and only living God through personal revelation while the other nations were left to their depravity and folly with dumb and worthless idols.
But the times were changing. In writing to these Ephesian Gentiles Paul said in chapter 3, verses 4-6, "And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ , which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body , and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."
Let's unfold all this as we begin with our text in Ephesians 2. Look at verse 11, "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."
The apostle is asking the Ephesians (clearly Gentiles) to look back and remember when the Jews mocked them and only viewed them based on a physical distinction. Paul wants them to remember the five ways they were cut off from God mentioned in verse 12 that follows. They were separate from Christ. They were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. They were strangers to the covenant of promise. They had no hope. And they were without God in the world. In other words, Gentiles, you were Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless! What an awful predicament for the Gentiles! But that was then.
2. The Product of Peace
Remarkably, now in the second point, we learn that all their disadvantages had changed and the Gentiles share the same blessings of salvation as the Jews.
Verse 19, "So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens." By God's grace the Gentiles had been brought near with divine privileges and rights. Far from being strangers, the Gentiles are now (vs. 19) "fellow citizens." Their citizenship is in heaven. They participate in God's Kingdom where there are no distinctions, aliens or second-class citizens. They are now (vs. 19) members "of God's household." This is even more intimate! More than simply being in the kingdom, they are members of God's family! In God's family, God equally accepts all as His children in love without partiality or rank.
The Gentiles are now (verse 21) God's "Holy Temple." Though the Ephesians once sought God in the pagan temple of Artemis and the Jews in Herod's temple, both places were empty of the one and only living God. Now, God in the Spirit makes His earthly sanctuary in the church (verse 22) where He takes up permanent residence in His members. God is no longer tied to holy buildings, but people now declared to be holy in Christ. Built upon the cornerstone of Jesus and the foundation of the New Testament apostles and prophets, the Gentiles are now living stones alongside the Jews as members of God's holy temple.
Remarkable! Nations at enmity for centuries both brought together as fellow citizens into God's household and God's Temple in complete harmony without distinction. Yet the question remains - How can this be?
3. The Process of Christ
Let me take you to the third and final point, "The Process of Christ." Let's back up to verse 13, "But now in Christ Jesus."
This reminds me of the, "But God" earlier in 2:4. Look there with me. After realizing that man is dead in his trespasses and sins (verse 1), deluded by the world and Satan (verse 2) and deserving of God's wrath (verse 3), Paul turns this hopeless predicament into a joyous chorus of praise. Verse 4, "But God…being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ" (Eph. 2:4-5)!
Our separation from God was so serious that it took the sacrifice of His beloved Son at Calvary to accomplish our redemption. When Christ died on that cross, the barrier wall between God and us was destroyed; the veil that separated us in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and enabled us to be clothed with His righteousness. Division between us and God was mended.
Notice also the emphasis on the death of Christ in our verses this morning. Verse 13, "The blood of Christ." Verse 15, "By abolishing in His flesh." And verse 16, "And might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross." Just as our alienation from God was mended by the death of Christ (mentioned at the beginning of the chapter), our alienation from each other is likewise mended by the death of Christ (mentioned at the end of the chapter). Verse 13, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ."
Someone once said we are all brought to the same level at the foot of the cross. The cross pours contempt on our pride and screams to us that reconciliation with God was entirely the work of Jesus. Our boast can only be in Him. The cross screams to us that God justifies all his children with the same infinite love. If He loves them the same, so should we. The cross screams to us that we are all adopted into the same spiritual family in the same way with the same privileges. The cross screams to us that the sins of disunity such as discord, hatred, bitterness, strife, divisiveness, malice, jealousy, envy, disgust, indifference, unforgiveness have all been shattered by the cross and are therefore unacceptable amongst God's redeemed. The cross teaches us that the grace that saves us results in grace that transforms us to live more like Jesus Christ, the "Prince of Peace" Himself. And the cross teaches us to join Paul in his never-ending refrain of boasting only in the cross (Gal. 6:14). And with our eyes on the cross, we strike a deathblow to our pride which fuels our divisions.
Look at verse 14. "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall." Jew and Gentile, once vicious enemies, now peacefully reconciled into one body. The dividing wall of hostility has been removed for those who love Jesus.
When Jesus died on the cross the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn in two. Fellowship with God vertically was achieved.
But what about the horizontal walls in the Temple that separated us from each other? Interestingly, three literal dividing walls all on the same level surrounded the temple in Israel. Inside was the court of priests. Surrounding that was the court of Jewish men. Next to the temple was the court of Jewish women. Then descending 5 steps to a walled platform, around that wall came another wall 14 steps later. Beyond that dividing wall was the area referred to as the outer court of the Gentiles. On that 1.5-meter barricade were warning signs written in Greek and Latin which forbid any foreigner to go further under a pain of death.
We all know those temple walls were destroyed when the temple itself was demolished in A.D. 70. But at the time of Paul's writing to the Ephesians, these physical walls were still standing. Yet Paul knew those walls were ultimately destroyed in A.D. 30 at Calvary when Christ obliterated all disunity and all dividing walls at the cross. Fellowship horizontally achieved with each other!
Because of the cross a new humanity has evolved. We now experience a community where no person who comes to Christ will be excluded and no person who is included will be spiritually distinct in essence from any other. For the apostle himself said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
So again, in the church we experience a community vertically at peace with God and horizontally at peace with each other. For the wall that separated us from God and the wall that separated us from each other has been abolished at the cross.
Back then it was Jew - Gentile. When is the prominent dividing wall we erect today?
I remember in Bible College when a professor who lived in a southern state told us how defended blacks and their participation in a white church. He received death threats! Is this still happening today? Do we still divide by ethnicity what Christ has united? Just last week a visiting black man gently asked one of our ushers if he would be welcome here.
Black - White? Educated - Uneducated? Rich - Poor? Male - Female? Seasoned Christian - New Believer? Do we divide over preferences, convictions, interest, age or skin color? Do we divide over unresolved conflict, jealousy or bitterness? Is there a spirit in us of elitism that views ourselves better than anyone in the church?
The story is told of a man all alone on a deserted island. When he was discovered those who rescued him asked of the three huts he had built. "The one in the center is my house. The one on the right is where I go to church. And the one of the left is where I used to go to church."
Look at what God has done for us. No wonder God hates it when His people divide. Based on what we learned today, we should not be surprised that right alongside in the Bible the so-called "big sins" like adultery and murder are the relational sins like disunity, divisiveness, partiality and favoritism. We should not be surprised that Paul in his letter to the Philippians publicly called out fellow Christians, Euodia and Syntyche, to live in harmony with each other (Phil. 4:2).
It all comes down to what Paul said earlier in this epistle and what we have been covering on the topic of grace. Do we really understand grace? Do we really understand that all we have with God was not deserved, but an unmerited favor of God's love and mercy toward His enemies fully at Christ's expense on the cross? Can we love and accept those who might not deserve our love in the way that Christ chose to love and accept us? Do we allow ourselves to really be gripped with God's grace so that we might though His heart and His power love others that are different than us just as He does? Do we understand how much God wants His family to be unified? Do we view people the same way He views people - not looking at the shallowness of externals, but rather looking at the heart? This attitude boasts in the cross!
If Christ fully abolished the walls of disunity who are we to assemble them all over again? May love permeate our church and our homes.