Coming Home

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 2:11-22

The world’s most pressing need is for peace and reconciliation. Reconciliation between warring factions, between ethnic groups, between religion, between neighbor and neighbor, between God and humanity.

Listen to these words from Ephesians 2 about coming together and coming home:

Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens 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 once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 2: 12-18

What a glorious gospel this is, that brings together sinful people with a holy God and brings together warring groups in one body! Paul says here: First “remember how far away you once were.” Second, realize what God has done in Jesus to bring you home. Third, receive Jesus as your peace maker. And finally, be reconciled to one another.

All right, first, remember. Remember how far away you once were. Paul is writing to the Gentiles here. You know what Gentiles are: everyone who is not Jewish. It’s like the way the ancient Greeks described humanity. They saw two groups: the Greeks and the Barbarians.

I live in Michigan among Dutch people whose roots were in the Netherlands. In fact, our town is named Holland. Folks there have this saying, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.” For them there are the Dutch people and the non-Dutch ones. So when it’s a division between Jews and Gentiles, it’s probably true that most of us are on the Gentile side.

So Paul is writing to us here and now, calling us to remember what we were like before the gospel came to us. It’s a sobering, grim picture. Without Christ we had no one to reveal the Father’s heart to us, no one to be our Savior from sin and death, no risen One, no Lord with us all the days. We were without Christ.

Further, we were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. We didn’t belong to the Israelite community. We weren’t welcome at their worship. In fact, at the temple in Jerusalem, we could only enter the outer court. Between that and the worship area above, there was a wall that blocked us out. A sign on the wall reminded us that if we entered, we would be responsible for our own death. We were definitely on the outside looking in.

We were also strangers, says Paul, to the covenants of promise. God had made a covenant with Israel in which we were not included. He had made promises to them that didn’t seem to apply to us. In God’s covenant, God’s will and testament, our names were not even mentioned: no inheritance. We were not part of the family. You know what it’s like to be a stranger in a new school, a new community, a new culture, a new nation. It doesn’t feel comfortable, does it?

“And then,” he continues, “we were without hope.” Israel’s hope was in these great promises of God about a coming Savior, about a day of the Lord, a life to come. We didn’t know about all that. As far as we knew, death ended everything. Let’s “eat, drink and be merry,” we thought, “for tomorrow we die.”

The last is the saddest of all. We were without God in the world. We might have worshiped many so-called “gods,” but we didn’t know the real one, the true and living God. We didn’t have him as our portion and our joy.

Now maybe we wonder, “Why should I remember all that?” Why? So that we’ll be thankful for and celebrate what’s been done for us. It’s like remembering our sins at the Lord’s Table. It’s not that we aren’t forgiven – it’s so we’ll be humble and grateful always.

Sometimes it’s hard to recall what a country was like before the gospel came to it. That’s true in the U.S.A., where I live, true also in Uganda. I was talking to a man there not long ago, telling a man named Patrick about another Patrick, the one who evangelized what now is Ireland back in the sixth century. When he came to that area, the people there were still practicing human sacrifice – killing other people in their rituals of worship! Patrick didn’t attack that head-on, but he brought the good news of Christ to them. They learned how the one sacrifice of Christ’s death was enough to make all of us right with God. Human sacrifices were not needed. The Irish remember this man fondly as St. Patrick. And it’s probably good for them to remember what they were like before he came.

REALIZE WHAT GOD HAS DONE IN CHRIST TO BRING YOU HOME

Then realize what God has done in Christ to bring you home.

Here comes another wonderful “But.” We saw earlier in the chapter “But God who is rich in mercy.” And now it’s “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Now, you see, everything has changed. It’s Christ who has made the difference. He came for the strangers, the outcasts, the lost sheep. It’s Christ who brought us near, and especially his blood, his sacrifice, his death that drew us back, that brought us home. Through Jesus’ dying, we have been reconciled to God (v. 16).

Do you know that lovely word reconciled? A father and a son are estranged. Two friends have had a quarrel. Spouses have been alienated from each other. A sister or brother are no longer speaking. I remember a case where a man hadn’t spoken to his sister for 15 years because of a disagreement about an inheritance. The Lord touched that man’s heart and brought about a reconciliation. And that’s when such hostilities are ended – when distance is bridged and when people once estranged are brought together again.

Well, we have been far away from God, alienated from him, rebels, runaways. But now in Christ we are reconciled, brought back into a right, loving, trusting relationship with him.

But something is different here. Usually in human reconciliation it’s the guilty party who must make the first step. But God’s way is that he, the offended one, he the Lord against whom we have sinned, is the one who reaches out to bring about a wonderful reconciling. So now we are actually members of God’s people! Now we’re children in his family, at home and at peace with him. It’s a beautiful picture.

RECEIVE JESUS AS YOUR PEACE-MAKER

Receive Jesus as your peace-maker. That’s the third word.

God has brought the reconciliation. Jesus has died to reconcile us, to bear our sins away, to be our mediator and our Savior. And we’re welcomed back.

But that doesn’t make the homecoming complete. We need to respond. We need to receive the reconciliation. We need to take the offered friendship that Jesus died to bring. We need to lay down our arms, as it were, and surrender. We need to get off that runaway train and turn our steps toward home.

Jesus, we read, is our peace. He is our peace-maker. He has made peace by the blood of his cross. And now, risen from the dead, he comes to us and proclaims peace to the far-off ones and to the near.

It’s like the U.S. government dealing with draft dodgers who had left the country, unwilling to serve in a war. The government later proclaims amnesty (pardon). “It’s okay, guys. All is forgiven. You’ll never be accused and condemned for what you did. You can come home now!”

But those men who have left the country still need to hear that message, to believe it’s true, and start for home!

That’s what we need to do – hear the good news, believe it, and receive Jesus as our peace-maker. That’s when the party starts. That’s when we’re really home again, home for good. Have you done that? There’s no time like now. And then, that makes possible another kind of peace. We who are reconciled to God can now be drawn together with each other. We have peace with God and we can make peace with people.

BE RECONCILED WITH ONE ANOTHER

So the final word is: “Be reconciled with one another.” You see, the death of Jesus did something about our hostilities too. This world is full of divisions. Just think about them. The Israelis and the Palestinians in Israel, the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosovo, the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi. And many, many other ethnic and tribal conflicts, in almost every country on earth.

People build walls to separate themselves from others. We talked about the Temple. I’ve been near Buckingham Palace and seen its forbidding walls. I’ve seen walls in Mexico, topped with ground glass and spikes. We all remember the Berlin Wall. Think about the bitter divisions and hatreds within communities, even within families. Many seem to go on for generations, even centuries. Walls, barriers, blockades!

Jesus died to do something about those. He took the people on both sides of the walls and made them into one, breaking down the barriers. He took all of us down with him into death so that he could raise us up as a new, united people, killing all our hatreds with his cross.

He wanted to break down all the barriers, heal all the divisions, and he did. There’s no hostility, no separation that can’t be slain by Jesus death and transformed by his Spirit. He has done everything needful.

But here again we need to respond. We need to move across those barriers. Remember how Jesus himself did that – how he seemed to single out all the people who were despised and outcast and side with them, how in a culture where women were disregarded as distinctly inferior he treated them as people of dignity, how he touched the lepers that everyone else avoided, how he lifted up the despised Samaritan to be the hero of his greatest parable, how he went to the homes of publicans and sinners. Now, in the power of the Spirit, we too need to be barrier breakers and peace makers.

Maybe there are some barriers today in your family, among your friends and neighbors, among people with whom you work. Perhaps it is with those from other nations. Friends, as believers in Jesus, as those who have been brought home by his dying for us, we can’t let those walls stay up.

It will take courage. It will take patience. It will take a willingness to forgive. But it can happen. Let’s have it start with us, in our families, in our settings. Let’s not deny Jesus and the power of his cross by letting those walls stand. In the name of the Lord, let’s break them down.

And listen, if something needs to be made right, a quarrel ended, a relationship restored, don’t put it off. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, while it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27). If something needs to happen in a relationship, if there’s a bridge that you need to build, do it now. Don’t let that barrier stay there. Do all you can to break it down. Do it for Jesus’ sake. That’s part of what he died for.