Included and reconciled in Christ. (Ephesians 2.11-22)
Pastor Terry Inman
Fremont is getting a lot of national recognition for its ethnic and religious diversity. More than half of our population is foreign born. But what’s more significant is that our community is known for its relative lack of racial tension. Fremont prides its self on diverse people living in peace.
Ephesus was the same size city. It was also near the coast. It was an Asian commercial center. Because of its location it was also multi-cultural. The majority population was Greek but there were also many Jews.
The Jews rightly thought of themselves as a chosen race. By virtue of their ethnicity they considered themselves closer to God. They were an oppressed minority in a pagan population ruled by Rome. They felt excluded from the civic privileges of other citizens.
Even though the Greek’s were the dominant culture they felt the religious exclusion of their Jewish neighbors who worked had to keep their ethnicity and religious identity pure.
Many of you in this congregation have experienced some of these feelings of racial or religious exclusion. In the fifties I spent a few early childhood years in the mountain interior of Japan. My Father was a missionary. My brother and I were the only white kids in down. We were not only of a different race but a totally different religion.
Because we were a novelty we did attract crowds of people every we went. My Father used that to his advantage to preach the good news of Jesus Christ where it had never been heard before. In a very short time there were hundreds attending bible studies and Sunday school.
Today my message is titled “Re-United”. We will talk about how Jesus Christ brings reconciliation and unification to those feeling alienation.
Paul was a devout Jewish law professor but also born and raised a Roman citizen in a Greek culture. He was uniquely called to take the gospel first to his own people the Jews but also to be an apostle to the Gentiles. God knew exactly who to pick for this radical ministry of reconciliation.
I believe my early childhood experiences helped prepare me for my Pastoral assignment here in this multi-cultural community. I learned about how toxic religious and racial prejudice can be at a very early age.
My Father had just returned from Japan. He was a very popular itinerate evangelist. We would go from church to church sharing our missionary stories and training people in evangelism. He called it personal soul winning. No one was a stranger to my dad. He was raised in the mid-west in a culture of Caucasian farmers but he was totally color-blind when it came to people. He loved everyone!
I will never forget the experience we had in at a large church in Little Rock Arkansas. Dad always took the Pastor out for some on the job training in personal evangelism before he began his seminars in the local church.
On this occasion they stopped at to fill up with gas. The service attendant, which we no longer have, filled the car with gas, washed the windows and checked the oil while dad engaged him in conversation.
The attendant was black. If you know anything about Little Rock in the fifties, it was unfortunately segregated. This man was so taken up with my father’s interest in him that he accidently let the gas tank run over.
As he was apologizing and wiping off the 55 Desoto Dad said, “Its no problem, actually it just reminds me that Jesus said, He would fill us to overflowing with His Spirit. Sir do you know Jesus?” A few minutes later he was praying with him to make Jesus his Lord and savior.
In the mean time the Pastor was getting a bit impatient in the car. When Dad got back in he said what were you talking to that guy about? Dad said I introduced him to Jesus and invited him to our meeting tonight.
The pastor said oh you shouldn’t have done that blacks are not welcome in our church. My father said, “then I am not welcome in your church ether”. He canceled the meeting and left town and left an impression!
I have never experienced that kind of exclusion. I have been in some places were I felt what the apostle describes here in the first few verses of today’s passage in Ephesians 2.11-22.
Let’s call it alienation. He is writing to this multi-ethnic church of followers of Jesus that are attempting to merge Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.
After you have been a Christian for a while if you’re not careful it’s easy to forget where you came from and begin to exclude people that don’t fit your culture. So Paul first reminds these second generation Gentiles who they were and where they came from.
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—
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. Ephesians 2.11-12 (NIV)
Talk about alienation! They were separate from Christ. They had no expectation of a Messiah. They were excluded from citizenship with God’s people. They were foreigners. They had no entitlements to the covenants of God’s community. Today they would be called undocumented aliens.
They were without hope and without God! You can’t get more estranged than that! Paul isn’t putting anybody down he is simply stating the facts.
Jesus was Jewish but His mission was to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to God by dying for all. Every race has it rites and rituals that distinguish them. For the Jews the right of circumcision was an interesting metaphor for holy separation. It was the removal of foreskin from the male organ.
“The un-circumcised” actually the “foreskins” was a contemptuous racial nickname for Gentiles. Our symbols of identity can also be marks of exclusion. Nobody wants to be a, “un” anything. Like “un-saved”!
God gave the Israelis this distinctive practice for both medicinal and identificational purposes. As God’s special people they were to be separate or “cut away” from the world in order to be light to the gentiles.
Unfortunately this became a symbol of segregation and discrimination. Paul was a previously an exceptionally pious Jew, observing all the law.
But His experience with Christ changed his outlook on this religious ritual.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Gal.5.6
Jesus came to change alienation to reconciliation. He had a peace plan!
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. Ephesians 2.13-15 (NIV)
Last week Paul said, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. That three letter word “but” makes all the difference.
We were all alienated from God and each other “but now in Christ” another term Paul uses a lot we who were “far apart” are brought near.
What changes alienation to reconciliation is not human negotiation it is the blood of Jesus. We are brought near to God and each other. We are no longer “separate from Christ” (v.12) but are now “in Christ”. It doesn’t get any closer than that.
If you buy a ticket to a ball game you want to know how close you can get to the action. You also want to know how much it’s going to cost. There is a price to peace. His blood has bought us and brought us near!
Paul mentioned this in the first chapter and one of the benefits of being in Christ. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Ephesians 1.7 (NIV)
Jesus death knocked down the racial and religious barriers. Paul refers to the “dividing wall” in the temple that only allowed male Jews to enter.
There was a separate area for women and Gentiles. When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple protecting the holy of holies was ripped. Jesus opened His temple to all of us. We are His Temple. The temple is no longer an exclusive building. We have an “all access” pass in Jesus Christ!
The message translation of (Heb. 10.19) says, “So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.”
Paul continues with the purpose for this incredible peace plan. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2.15-16
The cross puts us all in “first class” there are no second class Christians. He is our peace. He reconciles us to God and each other. He makes us one, not by upgrading the status of Gentiles to that of Jews but creating a whole new identity. No matter what ethnicity followers of Jesus are one!
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2.17-18 (NIV)
This is just the opposite of racial or religious segregation it is total integration “in Christ”. All labels are gone all fences are down! It doesn’t matter anymore who you are or how close to God you were or weren’t.
Jesus preached “good news” to outsiders and insiders. We are all in, we are all one we are “in Him”! That leads to the final point. Jesus brings reconciliation to alienation so we can experience the spirit’s unification.
Now we think of unification as some kind let’s all just get along thing but Paul is drafting a new architectural design for God’s new temple.
There are no more man-made rituals and religions that separate and discriminate. There are no more walls and holy halls it’s all an open house!
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians2.19-20 (NIV)
The Gentile Christian’s previously had their pagan religion with its temple to the mythical goddess. The Jews had their temple with special divisions. The Jews were circumcised the Gentiles were not. The Jews had the law the Gentiles did not. The Jews were special the Gentiles not so special.
These religious structures that alienated people from God and each other were demolished on the cross. We are now included in the house Jesus built. It was founded on the predictions of the prophets. It was initiated by the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus is the cornerstone that holds us all together and keeps us growing.
In him the whole building is joined togetherand rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2.21-22 (NIV)
Several years ago when I was pastoring in Nebraska I led a construction team to build a church in El Salvador. I didn’t know a thing about laying block. But that was our job. I learned that once you get the corner stone in the right place everything else comes together.
In this new church in Ephesus the Jewish followers of Jesus were joined to one side of “the cornerstone” and the Gentile followers of Jesus were joined to the other. They were “built together” in Christ.
Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18.20 (NIV) We are all being built together!
You may think that’s great I get it. I don’t have racial or religious prejudice. But there’s a lot more here. Jesus breaks down all walls. Jesus removes alienation. He offers reconciliation with God and each other.
Maybe you love God but there is a relationship that’s strained right now.
There are some walls up. You can’t seem to tear them down. Jesus can. He is our peace. He can heal all hostility.
Maybe you don’t have peace with God right now. You feel separated or alienated from him. You may feel like your failures have created some distance. He wants those walls to come down. He wants you near!
He want’s you to be welcome and comfortable in His house. He sent Jesus to pay the price for your peace. You and God our Father can be re-united, totally included and reconciled “in Christ”!