The Gospel destroys the barriers that divide us
Ephesians 2:11-22 New International Version (NIV) Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ 11 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, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 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.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I am convinced of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring real and powerful change to a person’s outlook, their life, and their impact on the society at large.
I believe that a person, when transformed by the beauty of the gospel, will be more generous, more gracious, a better citizen and will have a positive influence on the society that he/she find themselves in, than those who do not have the gospel in their lives.
Now, one way that the gospel helps us become better is it gives us a power to become integrated with people who are unlike us, and therefore is a tool to overcoming racial, economic and cultural realities that so often divide us.
Paul speaks about this in this passage; where he is addressing a problem that was a reality wherever the gospel was preached; and that was of the issue of integrating the gentiles with the Jews.
In fact, the first time we see this happening is right after the birth of the church in Jerusalem in Acts, we see a mighty act of God save thousands of people and affect a city that daily people were being saved, and the very next chapter we see the issues of racism bearing its head, where the Greek believers are overlooked by Jewish believers.
Paul address this again to this church in Ephesus, however, calls for unity not by overcoming their hate, or appealing to the better nature, but by drawing their attention to the gospel and who saved them.
So, let’s dive into the passage, Paul starts off by reminding the Ephesus church of their past, and in that past...
1. We are all Separated
Paul reminds the church who they are, Gentiles by birth, He calls them to see that they are not Jews in disguise they are Gentiles. Not only that but they were also separated from God and being the people of God. So, they are not only gentiles they are sinners.
Now how does that help us, well, in fact, it gives us a good footing to start our healing and to see how it is the gospel that enables us to destroy the barriers that divide us.
You see, church, racial segregation, class segregation, cultural segregation, is the natural state of man without God.
It was Nelson Mandela who said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
Now not to knock the statement it is beautiful in its sentiment, but what I see in the world is man in his nature does this, he hates, if you go to any culture or any continent upon this small planet you will see people segregating themselves into classes, races, and cultures. Does that mean it is natural so we must let it be, absolutely not, in fact our current awakening to the evil of this pattern is a grace, but man in his nature is bent towards this prejudicial reality; it happens all over the world!
You see the Bible teaches us that we are sinful by nature and so these things that are so harmful and destructive are the things that come naturally to us; it is who we are in our natural state. Which goes against the belief out there that people are born innocent and good, and learn hate and bad behaviour. The problem with this belief is it never addresses the reality that all of us live with; there are things we do that we don’t want to; that we know are bad, that hurt others and ourselves, yet we do them anyway. The bible gives us an answer we are born sinners, and we need healing from that reality!
In Paul’s day, in this church, it was the segregation of being born a Jew or not i.e. racism. It wasn’t their only problem, but was a dangerous reality that threatened the peace of the church, and was going to cause great destruction as racism always does!
You see in the Ephesian church those who as Paul says, circumcised by hands of men, in other words, Jewish believers looked down on those who were not, they treated them as second-class people.
Paul, calls the church to reject the racial realities, not by ignoring them, but by calling them to be united in what truly matters; to be united in Christ. In fact he reminds the Gentiles of who they are, calling them to not deny who they are! So in this our unity does not lie in us all becoming the same, it lies in my second point;
2. We are unified in Christ
In verse 14 Paul says “He himself is our peace who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,.”
It is Christ and the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the hope of destroying that which divides us; for it is only in Christ that we can overcome that which naturally causes us to segregate ourselves and look down on others. Why?
Well firstly, because Christ deals with us; Paul reminds the church who they were; sinners, gentiles, lost, outside of God, and then says that they are welcome in by Christ! This is an incredibly uniting reality, because everyone is in the same boat here, In Romans 3:23 it says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Now we must not miss the importance of what Paul is emphasising! He is saying the point of our invitation is not our inherent goodness, or the fact that we are special, or even our nationality, our invitation to be welcomed is based purely on Christ! On His goodness!
This destroys our tendency to racial or economic or even cultural superiority; because in the Gospel, we are seen as the least, and sinners, as outside, and the one who is truly above, Jesus Christ, gave up everything and took upon Himself our sin, our alienation, our separation so that we can be welcomed. Therefore, I cannot look down on others, lest I look down on – or even deny – what Christ has done for me!
Added to this because the gospel shows us that we are all sinners, therefore, we are all by nature unworthy, and it is Christ, and Christ alone that has brought us all in, how can I then look down upon others as unworthy! I now see others as better than myself, for my worth is not found in myself, but in Christ.
So, when we say that is it Christ that unites us, we mean that it is His grace, causes a humility within us that causes us to see the beauty in others. Not only that but because it shows us our sin, it causes us to endure that in others which we find offensive; just as Christ’s love endured our offense!
It is the gospel’s very nature to bring us face to face with our true self, to see that we are the sick, the weak, the other that needs love, so that in turn through the reckless love of God, we can go to others with that “seeking-nothing-in-return” kind of love.
And it is there, in grace, that we can start to heal, it is there that we can truly come together. Because it is there that we can give forgiveness and it is there that we can humbly ask for forgiveness, it is there that we see others as they really are, sinners in need of grace! And it is only in Christ that we can give it, because freely we have been forgiven, and therefore freely we can forgive.
Now I am not saying this is going to be an easy, everyone holding hands, kind of reality; it is going to be messy, we are going to get hurt in the process, and we are going to hurt, but the healing doesn’t come from us, it is found in the grace and love of God through Jesus Christ!
The church is not this perfect community where everyone gets along, it is a wide grouping of people, who are diverse, who rub each other up the wrong way, so that we can through each other’s forgiveness experience grace and grow in grace ourselves. And that is really the application for tonight…
3. We are being built together
In verse 20 Paul says , 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord
It is God, through Christ, who is building us together. I love the way that Paul puts it here, because he states that firstly; a.) Christ is the cornerstone
Signifying that Christ is what everything is based upon; a cornerstone was a peculiar stone that held the whole building together, if the cornerstone was built badly the whole building was in danger, every stone in the building was lined up to this stone.
And so, it is with us, our whole existence here, does not come from our ability, but who we are built upon Christ and the gospel. We love, not because it is easy, but because Christ loved us when we were unlovable. We serve each other, not because it is rewarding, but because Christ although King over all creation served us, even when we were his enemies.
Everything we do here, must have Christ and the cross, as centre and goal. That is how we will have the grace to overcome when someone (even in this community) hurts us or offends us. That is how we will destroy that which separates us, not by our own effort, but by reflecting His!
Next we see b.) Scripture is our foundation Paul says, Christ is the corner-stone, but the Apostles and the prophets are the foundation; essentially, he is saying Scripture, the whole of Scripture is our foundation.
It is the Bible and the Bible alone that gives us direction and purpose, the directs our emotions and our actions. Therefore, it is upon Scripture and the demands and directions of Scripture that we build this community.
Because… c.) We are the temple
When we get that He is what we are built on and His Word is our foundation then we see that we together are a part of the same life giving reality. Each of us are the temple. In Peter, he states that we are living Stones (1 Peter 2:5), now think about the image, living stones, built together.
What would happen if I took one stone out of this church? The whole wall would be weaker, in other words, build upon Christ, guided by the Spirit through the Word you are needed here, no-one is more important, than anyone else, I like you are just another stone.
And so, you need to build yourself into this community so much so that you are missed if you are not here! It will be here, in this messy, grace needing, grace giving community that we will show the world that through the cross, the things that separate us are destroyed, because He is what defines us, he is more important, and in Him we find our true identity and reality; and in all this the gospel decimates all that divides us.