What God Has Joined Together Back to all sermons

Date: February 13, 2015

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: Book of Ephesians

Scripture: Ephesians 2:11–3:13

Tags: unity, reconciliation, the Law, barriers

Synopsis: In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul makes some astounding statements about Christian unity; its foundation and its importance in God’s grand design. In this message, entitled “What God Has Joined Together” we explore God’s grand design and why Christian unity matters to God. Paul’s basic premise is so radical that he goes on in 3:1-13 to claim divine authority for his statements. As God reconciles us to himself, barriers between Christ’s followers also tumble – or at least they should.

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For generations, the barrier had existed; a barrier so deeply ingrained as to seem insurmountable. Joseph was a Jew and a devout one. He prayed at the prescribed times. He regularly went to the synagogue to worship. He kept the various dietary laws found in the Old Testament to the best of his ability. He faithfully observed Shabbat. By profession, Joseph was a merchant shop-keeper like his father and his father’s father. His shop was reasonably prosperous. Across the street from Joseph’s shop there was another shop owned by a man named Lucinius. As Joseph thought of his neighbor, his lip curled with disdain; A Greek and a Gentile, uncircumcised, a “heathen”, eating filthy pork and working on the Sabbath.

Meanwhile in his shop across the street, Lucinius had thoughts of his own. What a narrow-minded, egotistical, bigoted man Joseph was! And his customs; the foolish clothing, the ridiculous diet. Of course there was one thing that he appreciated about Joseph. Joseph closed his shop every week on the Sabbath. It gave Lucinius one whole day a week when his was the only shop open on their little street. It was his most profitable day! But what a strange religion and what strange laws the Jew’s God seemed to insist on.
And so they lived; so near geographically and yet so far apart. In all the years they had lived as neighbors, not once had they been in one another’s home. Not once had they shared a meal together.

This would have been a relatively typical scenario for many people in Ephesus and the surrounding region when Paul wrote the letter we are studying. But then something radical began to happen. Men like Joseph were discovering that Jesus, the promised Messiah had indeed come. And men like Lucinius were hearing about this Jesus as One who loved the Gentiles and offered them salvation as well. Suddenly men like Joseph and Lucinius were meeting each other at the door of the house where the followers of Jesus were gathering together for worship. And as they stared at each other across generations of suspicion, prejudice and hostility, the church of Jesus Christ stood at a tipping point of crisis.

Now I want you to hold in your mind that picture of Joseph and Lucinius meeting at the door, but I want you to put it on the shelf for a moment. We will come back to it.

I want to now tell you about the outstanding architectural feature of the ancient city of Ephesus. The central feature of the city was a magnificent temple dedicated to the worship of the goddess Diana. Diana was believed to be the most powerful deity in the region. She was worshiped as the mother of life. Statues show her with row after row of breasts, a symbol of fertility. Her temple in Ephesus was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was destroyed several times during its history, but it was always rebuilt, more magnificent than before, with towering columns and beautiful statuary. It was a place of pilgrimage, a place of unbelievable wealth and beauty. Do you have a picture of that magnificent temple in your mind?

So, what do these two word pictures have to do with one another? How are they related? I am glad you asked that question. But I am not going to answer it – yet. But I will.

I want to go back briefly to our passage from last time. In the final verse (Ephesians 2:10), we found this statement: We are his workmanship. We are God’s handiwork, his showpiece, a testimony to his mercy, his love and his grace, as he takes people who were dead in sin, in bondage to the devil and subjects of God’s wrath, and transforms them by his power. He saved us by his grace, making us alive with Christ and raising us up with Christ and seating us with Christ in the heavenly realm.

While this reality is true of each of us individually, we found the real focus of Paul’s teaching in the grammar of this phrase: We (plural) are his workmanship/masterpiece (singular). It is not just what God is doing in us individually, but it is what God is doing in us corporately as the Church of Jesus Christ that represents his true creative genius and ultimate act of self-expression.

So, what is God doing in us corporately? Well, he is saving us by his grace in order to display his grace. We saw it in Ephesians 2:7: so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

That is review from my last sermon. But what else is God doing in the church corporately? That is where Paul turns in the passage before us today. And this is where we stand and hold our breath as we observe Joseph and Lucinius at the door of the church’s meeting place, eyeing each other across the generations of mutual suspicion and alienation.

Because here is an essential truth of our Gospel message. In reconciling believers to God, Christ also reconciles them to each other. Both halves of this statement are necessary if we are to have a complete Gospel and a complete understanding of what God is doing in and through the Church.

First, Christ is reconciling believers to God.

Last time we looked at Paul’s description of our natural, spiritual condition in Ephesians 2:1-3; we were dead, enslaved and condemned. In verses 11-12, Paul elaborates on our natural condition, particularly as it affects our relationship to God and his plan and purpose for the ages.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Paul is addressing the “Luciniuses” in the congregation, the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Sarcastically called “the uncircumcised” and the “heathen” by the Jewish community, Paul does not shy away from the implications of their spiritual status. And when I refer to “their” spiritual status, I need to include us as well – all of us who were not born as Jews or physical descendants of Abraham. He elaborates on five things we were without.

First, we were “without Christ”. In this context, I do not believe Paul is referring to Christ as “Jesus Christ”, but rather simply as the technical use of “Christ” as “Messiah”. As Gentiles, we were without a Messiah or any expectation of a coming redeemer. This fits with the other things we were “without”. We were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel”; we were not members of the chosen race. We were “strangers to the covenants of promise”; this is a reference primarily to the Abrahamic covenant and God’s promises to bless the seed of Abraham. We had “no hope”. There was no prospect of a good future, either in this life or in the life to come. And finally, we were “without God in the world”.

Once again, like Ephesians 2:1-3, it is a bleak picture, isn’t it? But God changed all that. By grace, through faith, God saved us from our hopeless and helpless condition.

Verse 13 tells us: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Reading selectively from verse 16 we find this: and might reconcile us…to God…through the cross.

And in verse 18, also reading selectively, we read this: For through him we…have access in one Spirit to the Father.

This is what God does for us, by grace through faith. He saves us, and reconciles us to himself by the blood of Christ, through the cross, and by the one Spirit, he grants us access, a free and open invitation to approach the Father. It is a wonderful description of our salvation.

But it is not the only or even the main point of what Paul is teaching in this passage. It is his starting point, but he goes on to address all the Josephs and Luciniuses in the church at Ephesus.

In reconciling redeemed sinners to God, Christ reconciles them to each other.

This is the truth Paul wants to be sure that we don’t miss; a key ingredient and understanding of our Gospel and of our salvation. Let’s see how he states it.

In verses 14-15 we read: For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,

Remember, now, he is talking about the ancient divisions between Jews and Gentiles; those who were near and those who were far away from God. What has God done? Through Christ, he has “abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” This was radical stuff! God has set aside the Mosaic Law and all of its ceremonies and sacrifices and special days and old covenant observances as the way to approach God. He has abolished it and made it ineffective and obsolete. Christ and his “once for all” sacrifice on the cross is now the only way for Jew and Gentile to approach God. So the barrier that has separated Lucinius and Joseph for so long has been removed in Christ.

Let’s look again at those verses I quoted from selectively earlier, supplying the missing words.

From verse 16: and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. There it is. It is the emphasis that both Jew and Gentile have been reconciled to God in Christ. And in reconciling us to God, Christ has reconciled us to each other, placing us into one body, the church.

It’s the same in verse 18: For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

That is what Paul is emphasizing here. And he makes it even plainer in verse 19-20: So then you (Gentiles) are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.

This is the great truth of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is the truth that there are no second class citizens, no class distinctions, no “insiders” and “outsiders”. All who have placed faith in Jesus Christ and been reconciled to God by his blood, shed on the cross, are saints, fellow citizens and members of God’s family. We are the Church, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”
Now, Paul knew that what he was writing was controversial stuff; theological dynamite. The debate over the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the church and the place of the Law in salvation and sanctification was one that tore at the very fabric of the early church. Because he knew that what he was saying would raise questions and be challenged, he knew that he could not put it forward simply as a matter of human opinion or teaching. That is why he goes on in the first half of chapter 3 to authenticate his teaching.

We will not spend a long time on this passage. It is self-explanatory in its context. Remember, in the original manuscripts there were no chapter divisions – so this is closely tied to what we have just been studying. I will simply read it and make a few comments as we go along.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—

Remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. And this imprisonment was based primarily on the offense he had given the Jewish religious establishment by his insistence on reaching out to the Gentiles. You have only to reread the Book of Acts to realize this. The Jews were the ones that had him arrested and pursued his case legally all the way to Rome. So Paul is in prison for the very doctrine he has just been expounding – that God loves the Gentiles too!

2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.

Paul is here claiming his authority as an Apostle who has received direct revelation from God.

4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Let me pause here to add a few comments. The word “mystery” in New Testament language refers to a truth that could not be discovered by human intellect or investigation. It was something hidden until it was divinely revealed. In Paul’s case, he uses it to refer to something that was not revealed in the Old Testament but has now been made known in the New Testament to the Apostles.

So what was the mystery? We can make the case that there are numerous promises in the Old Testament that God planned to save the Gentiles. In fact, the calling upon the Jewish race was actually to make God’s glories known to the nations and to call the Gentiles to join them in worshiping the true God. But they always had to become Jewish proselytes to do it. The mystery that is now being made known is that it was no long necessary to become Jewish and be circumcised and keep the Old Covenant laws and ordinances to be saved, and that Gentiles who received the grace of God and were reconciled to God by the blood of Christ become fellow heirs, members of one body, the Church – a body in which there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Here we have again the reiteration of what Paul told us in Ephesians 2:10 and 2:7: That we (the Church) are God’s poem, his workmanship, his masterpiece, displaying his glory and making known, not only the grace of God, but also the manifold wisdom of God to the spiritual world – the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms for all the ages to come. This is God’s plan for the Church. It is a plan that includes both Jew and Gentile – without distinction; all who will receive the gift of God’s grace by faith will be included in the one Body.

11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

So – that is the eternal purpose or plan of God that he is carrying out through Christ. But what are the immediate implications for us now, in this time and place? Let’s go back to chapter 2. I want to start reading again in verse 19:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

It is an incredible image. The Church, joined together, growing into a holy temple; built together (from Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slave and free, black, white and brown and every other kind of human division and distinction) into God’s dwelling place.

Imagine God hovering over the great city of Ephesus. He is doing some house hunting. He is looking for a place to live, a place to call “home”.

Now picture the magnificent temple of Diana, with its towering pillars and marble porticos and flowing fountains. But God doesn’t linger there. He passes over it with hardly a second glance. He continues to move across the city. And then he pauses. He swoops low and hovers over a very ordinary house. And there at the door stand Joseph and Lucinius. As they stare at each other, the ancient hostilities and prejudices stir within them, doing battle with the new realities of their faith. And then the miracle happens and Joseph reaches out his hand and says simply, “Welcome, my brother!”

And as their hands grip, I can picture God placing a hand on each of their shoulders and saying: “This is where I live. This is my temple. This is my home.”

We live in a different world than did Joseph and Lucinius. The dividing wall in our world may not be between Jew and Gentile. But our world is still full of dividing walls filled with both ancient and new prejudices and hostilities and class and ethnic divisions.

For all of us, I believe this message is still of vital importance: In reconciling redeemed sinners to God, Christ reconciles them to each other.

In Christ, there is peace, because as believers redeemed by the blood of Christ, we all have access to the Father through the one Spirit. Salvation by grace means there is no class system in the church. We are all one, all saved by grace, with nothing to boast about, no reason to place ourselves above anyone else. And our relationships with one another are to be a reflection of that oneness in Christ.

And what an opportunity we have here at ECC as a church made up of people from so many different nations, so many different races and ethnic backgrounds, from many different cultures. Yet we are one in Christ, reconciled to God and to one another by the blood of Jesus Christ. May our love for one another truly reflect that oneness. So that God can announce to the watching universe – both those on earth and those in the heavenly realm – whether in the very shadow of the temple of Diana or in the shadow of the many beautiful mosques that dot our city – God can look at ECC and announce with pride: “These are my people. This is my temple. This is where I live.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 together.
  2. How does Paul describe the natural condition of the Gentiles in these verses? How does he contrast it to that of the Jews? (e.g. What did the Jews have that the Gentiles did not?)
  3. What has God done to reconcile Jews and Gentiles to himself?
  4. What are the implications of God’s reconciling work on the relationships between Jews and Gentiles in the church?
  5. How did the Old Testament Law create a barrier between people? What did God do to remove that barrier?
  6. By what authority was Paul able to make such controversial statements (read Ephesians 3:1-13 for reference)?
  7. What are some barriers that sometimes divide followers of Christ today? How should the reconciling work of Christ affect our attitude and response to such barriers?
  8. Why is Christian unity important to God? Are there any limits to it?