The Book of Ephesians Series
“One Body to God through the Cross”
This morning we are continuing in our series in the book of Ephesians. Today we will continue the second chapter of Ephesians as we consider that we are one body to God through the cross of Christ. As you read the first two chapters of Ephesians it seems that the Holy Spirit is inspiring the Apostle Paul to challenge us to know who we are in Christ. In chapter one we saw that we are elected by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed by the Spirit. Last week we began looking at chapter two where we discovered that we are saved by grace through faith. I want you to see that the first two chapters of the book of Ephesians are truly a stairway into a heavenly perspective of who we are in Christ. Brothers and sisters, we are chosen, redeemed, sealed, and save.
This morning we come the Ephesians chapter two verses eleven through twenty-two where we discover that we are one body to God through the cross. We are chosen, redeemed, sealed, save, and one body to God through the cross. My prayer this morning is that the Lord would take us from our various racial and ethnic bloodlines and lead us to the one bloodline of Jesus Christ. I pray that Spirit of the living God would destroy our racial and ethnic suspicions and dislikes and disrespect and hostilities and that we would be overwhelmed by the unifying blood of Jesus Christ.
Here now the Word of God.
11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having
no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And 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 our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Eph.2.11-22)
I think it would be beneficial for us to review the historical background of the city of Ephesus and the ministry of the Apostle Paul before we get into today’s text.
The City of Ephesus was situated at the mouth of a bay in the Mediterranean Sea, that made Ephesus was the most favorable seaport in the province of Asia. Under the Romans, Ephesus thrived, reaching the pinnacle of its greatness during the first and second century. At the time of Paul, Ephesus was probably the fourth largest city in the world, with a population estimated at 300,000. Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia.
Ephesus had roads that ran throughout the city that were over 100 feet wide, a theater that seated 50,000 people, baths, gymnasiums, and impressive buildings.
But Ephesus’ claim to fame was that it was the home of the Temple of Diana (more accurately known as the Temple of Artemis) that is ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Temple attracted visitors from all over the world year-round. It was the scene of an annual festival in honor of the goddess during the month of March–April where great throngs of people would attend. The religious ceremonies included athletic, dramatic, and musical contests. Worship during the ceremonies was characterized by sensuous orgies where multitudes of female temple slaves or “priestesses” were dedicated to service in the temple that included ritual or cultic prostitution. Many silversmiths and artisans conducted lucrative businesses by the forging and sale of images of the goddess year-round. (Acts 19:23ff) All of these components made the city of Ephesus a political, economic, cultural, and religious capital of the Asia.
The Ministry of the Apostle Paul in Ephesus
In the midst of this pagan culture was a large Jewish population. During Paul’s first visit to Ephesus, he ministered exclusively to the Jews (Acts 18.19) but during his second visit he expanded his ministry to both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 20.21; Acts 19.10, 17) As he had done in other cities, Paul would enter the synagogue and reason with the Jews from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 17.2-3; 18.19) The Jewish religion during the Diaspora had become highly formalistic focusing on many the rules and regulations of the ceremonial law with respect to fasts, feasts, foods, offerings, circumcision, etc. The great error committed by the Jews was that they placed emphasis on the obedience of tradition and ordinances and by doing so “made void the Word of God for the sake of tradition.” (Mt.15.3, 6) Instead of rightfully seeing the ceremonial law as the means used by God pointing to Christ, the Jews adopted a theology that emphasized the keeping of traditions as the means to maintain status with God.
These strict stipulations by the Jews and the worldly observances by the Gentiles caused a huge chasm of cultural division in the city of Ephesus between the rule keeping Jews and the pagan practicing Greeks. The Jewish rule keeping righteousness had led the Jews to have a strong prejudice against the Gentiles. To the Jews the Gentiles were “dogs,” considered to be “unclean,” and any close connection with Gentiles meant “defilement.” (Jn.18.28) And of course, the Gentiles treated the Jews similarly considering the Jews as “enemies of the human race,” a people “filled with hostile disposition toward everybody.”
Amid this culturally divided city entered the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul ministered the gospel to the Ephesians it was extremely important that these new converts understood that even though they came from different bloodlines they were now one body to God through the cross. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was truly ministering the gospel to two separated cultures, the pagan culture of the Greeks and the ritualistic culture of the Jews, which he highlights in verses 11 and 12.
Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (2.11-12)
Circumcision had become the outward sign for Jewish orthodoxy. Circumcision was seen as the sign of cleanliness towards God and society. Even the early church had to fight against the false doctrine that circumcision and observance to the Law of Moses was the proof of one’s salvation. (Acts 15.1-5) And in the mind of the Jew, Gentiles were to be consider “uncircumcision” and unclean.
Gentiles had not been raised with an understanding or expectation of the coming Messiah. Therefore, for generations they had been separate from Christ. For centuries Gentiles had been excluded from the commonwealth of Israel meaning that they had not enjoyed the rich blessings that God had shown to Israel. Therefore, they had been strangers to the covenants of promise in that they were never taught the unfolding of God’s promise to bring forth the Messiah. Basically, the Gentiles had no hope and were without God in the world.
The Jews were the “so called ‘Circumcision.’” Even though the Lord had instituted circumcision as the covenant sign of the Old Testament, the Jews had made it into an ordinance performed by human hands. These Jews were trusting in an ordinance performed by human hands instead of seeking the Spirit of God to perform the true spiritual circumcision of the heart. (Rom.2.28-29) They had been born into the commonwealth of Israel and taught the covenants of promise but had substituted all these blessings of God for precepts and traditions of men. (Mk.7.5-9)
Both so-called Circumcision and Uncircumcision
The fact is both the Jews, and the Gentiles of Ephesus were far away from the gospel. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (2.13) As the Apostle Paul preached and ministered the gospel to the so-called circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles the Spirit broke through their pious pretentions and pagan practices and brought them near by the blood of Christ. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Gal.5.6) Both groups needed to be reconciled to God. The Jews for their pious self-righteousness and the Gentiles for their self-indulgence.
For He Himself (Jesus Christ) is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (2.14-16)
Jesus Christ is our Peace
Paul calls the division between the Jews and the Gentiles a “barrier of the dividing wall” and the tension that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles as “enmity,” which consists of hatred and extreme hostility. But Christ Jesus is the peacemaker for both groups. Christ through His work of redemption on the cross broke down the barrier of the dividing wall and put to death the enmity so to make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.
One Body to God Through the Cross
How did Christ make the two into one new man? He reconciled them both in one body to God through the cross. (2.16) The perfect sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross was the only thing that could established peace between us and God the Father. This One is our peace! (Micah 5.5) The perfect sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross reconciled and restored our relationship with God. This is our vertical relationship with God but what about the horizonal relationship with others, especially those from other racial or ethnic groups. What Paul is explaining is that the gospel doesn’t just reconcile my relationship with God it also should reconcile my relationship with those from other backgrounds, race, or ethnicity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. (2.17-18) Christ came to preach the gospel to both the Gentiles who were far away and to the Jews who were near. The fact is that through Christ’s work on the cross we all have access in one Spirit to the Father. So, if we both enjoy the same gospel and the same access to the Father, then why would we discriminate between ourselves because of our nationality or the color of our skin? During this past year we have seen an extreme amount of racial tension and conflict in our country. This type of tension and conflict should not be part of the American culture and ought not to exist in the Church of Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, Christ has broken down the dividing wall and reconciled all of us into one body to God through the cross. So then, we are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizens with the saints, we are God’s household. We are all members of God’s family! (Eph.2.19-22) The Lord is assembling a great multitude, which no one can count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples, and tongues that will one day gather before the throne and before the Lamb as one family. Therefore, we are all spiritual siblings. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, as the Lord tarries we should be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Rom.12.10-13) These are the family characteristics of God’s family.
The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we must participate.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) Brothers and sisters, we are fellow citizens of one nation, the kingdom of God. (2.19) We are members of one household, the family of God. (2.19) We are fitted together in one holy temple built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (2.21-22) Therefore, we must engage and continue to engage in the “one family reality” in the church by showing tangible expression of acceptance and affection to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Christian brotherhood is . . . a reality created by God in Christ in which we must participate.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) “In which we must participate.” How can we participate in Christian brotherhood? First, invite the Holy Spirit to search your heart for personal prejudices and judgmental attitudes towards other groups, nationalities, or types. Second, invite people from different ethnic backgrounds into your life. Third, invite people from different ethnic backgrounds to our church. Forth, welcome newcomers every week at worship. Don’t just hang around “your people.” Make it a weekly aim to welcome someone you don’t know. Christ Covenant is one small part of the body of Christ. If we don’t participate in Christian brotherhood in here, how do we expect to participate in Christian brotherhood out there?