READ : Ephesians 2:12-18
Then, as now, alienation-whether between individuals, social classes, or entire peoples was a tremendous problem. Then, as now, there’s only one real solution to this problem: Jesus Christ and the reconciliation he brings.
What the world really needs to see is a model of peace, a real-world example of people from various backgrounds and races who have been reconciled to one another and are living together in harmony and loving one another across all their differences. Which is exactly why God established the church. It is intended to be the community of peace and love in a world full of hatred and hostility.
THE PROBLEM OF ALIENATION
The second chapter of the book of Ephesians speaks to an issue that has a very contemporary ring to it, namely, the fact and problem of human divisions. It seems that this isn’t a problem that originated in the twentieth century. We know a lot about ethnic hostilities, tribal and religious wars, and deep-seated fears and deep-rooted hatred between people from different races or groups. Our world is full of those things – just read the headlines. Today it’s Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Sudan; tomorrow, who knows? Nations are ripping apart, fanatics are murdering in the name of religion, innocent people are dying every day; and all because of the hostility that grabs hold of the human heart and won’t let go. But it was no different in the world of the New Testament. Then, as now, alienation – whether between individuals, social classes, or entire peoples – was a tremendous problem; then, as now, there is only one real solution to this problem – Jesus Christ and the reconciliation he brings.
According to the Bible, our human quarrels and conflicts have a deeper cause. It isn’t just ignorance or lack of education or not knowing enough about those who differ from us. No, our most basic problem – the primary alienation that lies beneath all the visible ones – is our estrangement from God. The gospel of salvation by grace through faith is intended to solve just that problem. As the apostle Paul explains in Ephesians 2, we begin life as people who are spiritually dead (v.1), who follow the powers and ways of this world (v.2) and who live only to satisfy the desires of our own sinful natures (v.3). Because of this we are cut off from God and living without hope in the world (v.12). By nature, says the Bible, everyone everywhere is “far away” from God (v.13). But God changes everything when he saves us. Listen to this from Ephesians 2:
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The gospel changes everything. It brings us life and prepares us for glory (v.5-6). It brings us close to God when we were far away (v.18). It restores us to his family (v.19). Now all of those wonderful consequences could be termed the “vertical” results of the gospel because they are the ways in which our relationship with God is changed by Christ’s cross and our faith in him. But that is not the only relationship which is restored through and in Jesus Christ.
THE BROKEN-DOWN WALL
Just as the alienation produced by human sin is double, in that it separates us both from God and from our fellow human beings, so the reconciliation that Christ accomplishes for us is also two-fold. Christ both restores our fellowship with God, and also makes it possible for us to love and accept other people. As Scripture tells it, God created the human race to be one family. But mankind’s rebellion against him shattered that original unity, and the dividedness of the human family was most clearly demonstrated in the biblical world by the hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Israel had originally been chosen by God and set apart to be the instrument of salvation for all peoples of the world. She had been “blessed to be a blessing”; as Genesis says. She was, in Isaiah’s words, “a light to the nations.” But Israel had forgotten its vocation and had come to take its privileged position as the people of God for granted, despising the goyim, the gentiles, all the peoples who did not know God.
This intense animosity and separation in the human family was physically symbolized in New Testament times by a wall that surrounded the Temple in Jerusalem. The “dividing wall” separated the inner Temple courtyard and buildings from the outer courts, the so-called Courts of the Gentiles, which were the closest any non-Jew was allowed to get to the sacred house of worship. At regular intervals along the wall signs were posted, declaring that the penalty for any gentile who crossed this barrier was death. The Temple was for Jews only; no gentile was fit to worship there or to approach the presence of God, or so they believed.
Paul alludes to this Temple wall in a key passage from Ephesians 2:
. . . remember [he says writing to the gentile believers in Ephesus] that you were at that time without Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 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. 15 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, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Here the apostle Paul affirms in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ has solved the problem of the alienation within the human family. He has broken down “the dividing wall of hostility” between groups and races and religions. The whole emphasis in this section of Ephesians is on the unity that comes to people in and through faith in Jesus Christ. No divisions, no separations, whether of race or class, or sex, or nationality, can be tolerated in the Christian church. No hostility or prejudice or animosity should ever mar the attitudes of Christians. How can we entertain such things if we have been made one in him? Listen again to what Paul says. “You gentiles,” he writes these converts in Ephesus, have been “brought near” (v.13), not just to God but also to your Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ has made the two into “one new humanity,” having destroyed the hostility and established peace (v.14-15). So everyone everywhere is reconciled to God by the same means (namely, faith in Christ and specifically because of his death on the cross, (v. 16), and all have access to the Father through the same Holy Spirit (v.18).
BECOME WHAT YOU ARE
In the light of this truth about, let’s call them “the horizontal results of the gospel,” how should we view our many divisions today? And now I’m not just thinking about out there in the world. Some of those problems are probably beyond us. I’m talking about the body of Christ. What about the divisions in our churches? Such things are nothing less than a failure to accept the truth of the gospel and to apply its results to our lives. Shouldn’t this bother us more than it does? John Stott, the great biblical expositor and Christian leader, has titled his commentary on the book of Ephesians God’s New Society. So we are, and so we must become in practice as well as in proclamation. The whole world is waiting to see the reconciling power of the gospel of Christ lived out in a visible way in local communities where love is the rule and all barriers are transcended. Where the church is doing that, the gospel is being fulfilled.
So much of New Testament teaching could be boiled down to one basic principle: “Become what you are.” In other words, the challenge for us as Christians is to understand who we are as a new creation in Jesus Christ. It’s to grasp the vision of God’s new society, the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual Body of Christ. Think of what it means to be part of this new humanity, this new society that God has created through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And then understanding all this, we need to live these things out in the flesh and blood of family, community and church. Our greatest need is to realize the truth of the gospel, that is, to make it real, to think it through clearly in our minds, and then make it real in our experience, and practice it in full view of our world.