Week Commencing 15th April 2018   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermons on Ephesians 2:11-22

Week 3: A NEW HUMANITY

In many ways, Ephesians is a blueprint for God’s church, or as one minister called it, “the gospel of the church”. Paul, who authored the letter, wants believers to be grounded and united in Christ’s work on the cross, a sacrifice which calls for a radical response in our life together. Two major themes emerge from the letter: 1. Christ has reconciled all creation to himself and to God, and 2. Christ has united people from all nations to himself and to one another as his church. These two truths show us how deeply God cares about how we relate to Him and to those who are different from us throughout the world.

DAY 1: Read Ephesians 2:11-15

The renowned British theologian John Stott said, “nobody can emerge from a study of Ephesians with a privatized gospel”. What did he mean? The answer is in verses 11-15, where Paul not only reminds us of how alien Gentiles were to the Israelites, but how powerful Christ’s reconciling work on the cross actually is. It’s difficult for us to grasp how much contempt Jews felt toward Gentiles, calling them “dogs” and “far off” because of their cultural and “unclean” religious differences. In fact, the Jews believed Gentiles were a hopeless and godless (v. 12) people, and for hundreds of years, they held a cruel hostility toward one another.

Paul would know. As a strict Jew himself, he hated Christians, those who had the audacity to believe that God’s covenant of salvation might now actually extend to everyone! So when Christ’s astounding love captured his heart (Acts 9) Paul saw an entirely new way for the church.

But make no mistake: unity would be costly. A deep dividing wall between the two people groups existed and would require great sacrifice to bridge them (v 14). Stott says this wall is both literal and metaphorical: “Of this double alienation, the ‘dividing wall of hostility’ was a standing symbol, a notable feature of the magnificent temple built in Jerusalem by Herod the Great.” The temple included inner and outer courts separated by a huge stone barricade. Warning notices on the wall forbade Gentiles from entry, punishable by death! So when Christ abolished this wall through his blood on the cross, he was offering a radical invitation that all people were welcome in his house. In what ways could we invite ‘outsiders’ into our church family?

DAY 2: Read Ephesians 2:16-18

A shared love for Jesus can bring people from all backgrounds together. It’s a wonderful gift and vision. But too often our contemporary reality tells a different story, where barriers of ethnicity, nationalism, class and gender divide people and contribute to tense, sometimes dangerous, injustices. These verses, however, teach us that no matter where we’re from or what we’ve experienced, Jesus came and preached, “peace to all who were far way and peace to those who were near.” He offers us peace with God because He dared to take on the reconciling work of bringing unholy, sinful souls—like us—to Himself through the cross so that we can enjoy fellowship with him and one another.

Paul knew that Christ’s purpose was to reconcile us to God and to one another and that a whole new humanity was indeed possible for all of us who believe. Christ’s grace changes everything: in our hearts and our actions, how we live and how we relate to others. As the Rev’d Timothy Keller said, “the Spirit of God, the life of God, coming into our lives as believers creates a tie stronger than any other that can exist between human beings; it transcends the deepest differences that can exist between human beings, differences of family, race, culture, and class; therefore, we say the church has a unity and a fellowship, a solidarity the world has been seeking between human beings for years—in vain.” Pause to pray that the Christian church in our country (and beyond) might offer a new vision to the world of love and unity.

DAY 3: Read Ephesians 2:19-22

Christ’s reconciling invitation through the cross and his resurrection ensures our place with him. We belong to his family. We are, “no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of his household.” Thankfully, our Christian heritage is full of inspiring examples of how God’s people—once foreigners from Him—became a “holy temple” in the Lord together, built on Christ Jesus himself. Christians stayed behind to care for their neighbours during the plagues of the Middle Ages; Christians founded hospitals and schools for the poor; Christians created literacy programs and helped abolish slavery. Former slave trader John Newton experienced a whole new life when he was forgiven, giving us the lyrics to the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” And Christians organized even to fight against the atrocities of Adolph Hitler in World War II—though many, such as Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were arrested and executed because of their stand for Christ’s vision of unity and reconciliation.

Throughout history and still today, followers of Christ have offered their gifts in mission agencies, business, education, government or the arts. They’ve taken seriously their role as “Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:11-21), building their visions and work on the cornerstone of Christ Jesus himself, offering their collective contributions to God’s mission. Their ultimate citizenship, they know, is of God’s kingdom, not of this earth. “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (v 22). How can we reflect his grace and love while pursuing his justice so that the Sunshine Coast is glad we’re here?

DAY 4: Read Acts 10

God’s primary purpose for the church is that we will know him and make him known together. But that doesn’t mean we are instantly free of our own prejudices and biases. The story in Acts 10 of the Apostle Peter, a Christian leader in the church, reveals how difficult it can be to let go of ugly practices. Though Peter intimately knew Christ’s forgiveness (see John 21), he nonetheless held on to his cultural identity and Jewish biases toward Gentiles. It wasn’t until God sent him to the Gentile Cornelius that Peter was transformed: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace, through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all.” There is no place for racism or any ‘ism’ in the church! Christ our Redeemer has preached peace and abolished the wall of hostility. The most powerful witness we can have is our unity in HIM as a new humanity, reconciling others to him.

References:
ESV Study Bible notes; “Through The Bible Through The Year”, John Stott.
“Christ for our House: Ephesians 2:14-22”, Timothy J. Keller,
“Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary“, Frances Foulkes.