Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity – Nov 22, 2020
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Children’s lesson: Sharon
Reading: Eph 2:14-22
Our scripture reading this morning is from the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 14-22. Would you please stand for the reading of God’s holy Word? Hear the word of the Lord:
“14 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones 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.” (ESV)
May the Lord add his blessing to His holy Word.
SLIDE 3-Title slide
- We are looking together at this remarkable letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church on the west coast of Asia Minor, present day Turkey, finding it is filled with teaching that speaks directly into our lives today.
- Last week, we looked at vv.11-13 of chapter two, in which Paul makes the case that, though the Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers had a bunch of strikes against us when it comes to having an intimate relationship with God, God’s Son dramatically altered their situation by coming to earth, taking on human flesh, living a righteous life and dying a sacrificial death. As Paul puts it in v. 13: “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
- In vv.14-22, Paul will continue this line of reasoning, helping us to better understand the salvation he has made available to us in Jesus. We’re going to find some extraordinarily important nuggets of truth that can change the way we look at our salvation. Let’s start with prayer, then we’ll begin.
- SLIDE 4
“14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”
- Jesus is our peace (cf. Micah 5:5). As the unique God-Man, Jesus embodies two natures, one fully divine, representing God the Father to humanity; the other fully human: representing humanity to the Father, wedded in a single subject, the person of JC. Within his very self, then, Jesus is the reconciliation—the bringing together—of God nature and human nature. He is our peace. Peter: share in the divine nature.
- Paul said Jesus has broken down the “dividing wall of hostility”. What’s that? In a word: torah. In English, “the law”: the body of legislation that God gave to Israel to regulate their behavior under the terms of the Mosaic covenant, which we considered briefly last week.
- Remember what God was doing in that particular covenant. In Genesis 11, the nations rebelled against God and build a Ziggurat in Babylon, a massive temple compound with a stairway to heaven. God intervened, scattering the people and disinheriting the nations for a time so he could raise up a nation of people who would be faithful to him and through whom he could bring the messiah so that he could later circle back and repossess all humanity. So in Gen 12 he turns his attention to Abraham and Sarah, making a covenant with them, and slowly builds a nation from them.
- Fast-forward about 600 years. The family of Abraham and Sarah have grown into a nation of perhaps a couple million people. God rescues them from forced labor in Egypt and brings them to their own land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Along the way, he makes a covenant with the nation to ensure that they will preserve his teachings, traditions and ethical standards in the midst of these other hostile nations that are serving other elohim, lesser spiritual beings.
- How is God going to insure they don’t mix with these other people groups and become contaminated and compromised spiritually and morally? He makes a bunch of laws regulating virtually every aspect of lives, making it virtually impossible for them and other nationalities to live together. Collectively these 613 laws are known at torah, or “Law of Moses”. They covered every part of life including:
- moral/ethical standards
- ritual laws pertaining to things like circumcision, tithing and Sabbath keeping
- Festival ordinances governing their three major religious feasts
- Cultic regulations, regulating the use of animal sacrifices to absorb ritual impurities, thus making it possible for Israel was to relate to a holy God and share his sacred space
- There was a hygiene code, prescribing washings, disposal of human wastes and the treatment of various skin conditions
- There were general laws regulating things as diverse as business transactions, agricultural methods, clothing, warfare and marriage
- And there were strict dietary guidelines, describing exactly which foods the Israelites could and could not eat.
- Every area of life was tightly controlled by torah. It was extremely limiting. Which is exactly the point. By keeping torah, the Israelites would avoid getting all mixed up with the Amorites, Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and other nations who worshipped lesser spiritual beings, offered human sacrifices, and lived morally debauched lives.
- The Jews knew this was the intent of torah. Listen to how one 2nd century BC Jew put it: Arnold, p.160.
- Sadly, the nation as a whole didn’t keep torah. There were notable exceptions, but many of the people intermarried with the surrounding nations, worshipped their gods and adopted their moral practices over and over again. They were unfaithful to God and they broke the covenant.
- But then, in the fullness of time, the Father sends his Son, Jesus, to earth. Jesus is the true Israelite, the seed of Abraham, and he lives his 30 or so years in perfect obedience to the Father, fulfilling the entire torah. Having fulfilled it, he then can set it aside. Now there is now no wall of division between Israel and the nations.
- So, Jesus removed the barrier. How did he do it? SLIDE 5 Verses 15 and 16 tell us:
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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
- “by abolishing the law of commandments.” “Abolish” is katargeo – to deprive of force or power; make of no effect; render ineffective or useless. This is what Jesus did to torah.
- How did he do it? As we just discussed: by fulfilling its demands. And this cleared the way for him to then institute a New Covenant with Israel, only this one would not be restricted to the physical descendents of Abraham but would include all of humanity: everyone who places their faith in him and thus show themselves to be the spiritual descendents of Abraham.
- Now, this new covenant had be predicted several hundred years before Jesus’ birth by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Ez 36:27 says that one of the distinguishing features of this new covenant is that it is not just going to tell people how to live. It will give them the actual ability to live that way. How? Incredibly, God will put his own Spirit in each covenant member to serve as proof that they are part of the covenant and to empower them to do God’s will and live righteous lives.
- This was unheard of. Since humanity’s fall into sin, every human had been subject to certain irresistible forces that tended to drag them down, away from God. Now, we’re told, God is going to put inside us the Spirit of God as a counterweight to those instinctual desires we all feel to call our own shots, be our own moral authority and live independent of God. We will still experience that tug to think and act in ways contrary to God’s will, because we will still have those old attitudes and behaviors encoded in the neural structures of our brains.
- But here’s the difference. Formerly—before we were put into relationship with Jesus—we were powerless to resist those habituated ways of thinking and acting. Paul described a this when he said in Romans, Chap. 7: “I don’t understand myself: I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I want to do”. Paul said that he and we used to be slaves to those old predilections.
- But now, Paul says, in this new covenant relationship, the Son puts his Spirit in us—that same Spirit of power, righteousness, love, obedience that lived in Jesus—so we have a quantitatively superior power than to resist temptation. And this empowers us to actually live like Jesus. This is what Paul meant in Rom 8:2 when he said: “the law of the Spirit of Life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Just as the laws of aerodynamics set a massive airplane free from the law of gravity so it can fly through air, so God gives us the unnatural ability to now say no to things we used to say yes to and yes to things we were unable to say no to.
- And to whom does Jesus give his Spirit in the new covenant? To Jews only? No, to Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised, men and women, young and old: all of us, without distinction, have received his Holy Spirit. If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ as your savior, God has put his Holy Spirit in you. This is the point Paul is making in this passage.
- His goal? He tells us: it was to make “one anthropon kainon one new man out of the two.” He didn’t come to make Gentiles into Jews or Jews into Gentiles. He came to take two very different cultural expressions of humanity and, by means of the merger of them together and with himself, to create an entirely new humanity: Humanity 2.0, if you will.
- Maybe an example would help. SLIDE 6 Think of the fertilization of an egg. You have two gametes—an ovum and a sperm. They are distinctly different: they’re both reproductive cells but are vastly different structurally and functionally. But when they combine, immediately they become something entirely different from what they were previously. SLIDE 7 They are no longer sperm and ovum, they are a zygote which represents a higher form of life than simple differentiated reproductive cells. Paul tells us here in v.15 that, in Christ, Gentiles and Jews have lost their individual cultural identities to become an anthropon kainon, a new humanity bonded permanently to Christ and permeated with God’s Spirit, living in constant communion with God.
- He then writes: SLIDE 8
17 And he (Christ) came and preached peace to you who were far off (Gentiles) and peace to those who were near (Jews). 18 For through him (Jesus) we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
- The word “access” is a wonderful term, prosa’goge – brought face-to-face. One scholar writes: the word describes “that relationship with God whereby we are acceptable to him and have assurance that he is favorably disposed towards us.” We’re acceptable: nothing is left undone to live in face to face relationship with this holy God. And he is favorably disposed toward us. What he said to Jesus at his baptism he repeats to us: you are my beloved, my child, in whom I find great delight.
- There are two additional things we want to note in v.18. First, notice the explicit reference to the holy Trinity: v.18 – through him (Son); in one Spirit (HS); to the Father (God the Father). We’ve seen Paul repeatedly make these Trinitarian references throughout this letter, just as they occur throughout the NT.
- For those of you who don’t know, the doctrine of the holy Trinity is the biblical teaching that, though there is one and only one God, this one God is not a solitary monad living in relational isolation; but rather three personal modes of being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, sharing a single essence, but represent three unique expressions of that essence. Difficult to wrap our brains around. Tuesday night study….(Ex: thermodynamic triple-point: gas, liquid, solid but still two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom)
- The second thing to note are the prepositions Paul uses to describe our relationship to each of the three persons of the holy Trinity: We have access:
- “to the Father” – he is the object of access; the One we approach
- “through Jesus” – he is the mechanism of access; without him, no access
- “in the Spirit” – he is the means of access, the way of connection
- Here’s an illustration that help: Suppose I want to access Amazon, how do I do it? I need a mechanism to provide that access: my phone, without it or something very like it, I can’t gain the access I desire; But I also need a mode of access, namely the internet, a means of connecting me, through my mechanism to my intended object, Amazon. You see the parallel: Jesus, like my phone, makes access to the Father possible. Without him, there is no access. He is the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through him (John 14:7). But I also need the Holy Spirit to connect me to the Father, just as a broadband network connects me to Amazon)
- Paul concludes SLIDE 9 this passage vv. 19-22:
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones 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.”
- In verses 20-22, Paul employs this construction metaphor to highlight God’s role in designing an organic building or temple to live in. This is a reference to us, the Church of Jesus Christ. The language hints at the individual roles we each play as stones or bricks in the building of this sacred space. We all have an important part to play. There’s much more I’d love to say about this, but I’m going to wait until we discuss chapter four when Paul returns to this metaphor.
- What I’d like to draw your attention to is the language of verse 19: “you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.”
- Some of you will recognize this language from our previous talks. When the bible uses the terms “holy ones” or “saints” it generally has in mind not just human beings who have been ritually qualified to share sacred space with God, but a mind-boggling array of heavenly beings who also occupy that sacred space, with whom we will live together harmoniously in the world to come. The term is hagioi in Gk. (trans. qedoshim in Hebrew), and it’s descriptive of the whole host of heaven: cherubim, seraphim, watchers, archangels, angels, dominions, authorities and powers. Similarly, the phrase “members of the household of God” is not limited to human believers but the entirety of the divine household, which, in the ANE, would refer to all members of a particular royal dynastic family.
- Keep this in mind as you think about the world to come. We are going to be blown away when we stand before God in heaven at the astonishing variety of creatures God has made as expressions of his artistic genius and his relational generosity. Take some time this week to read Revelation 4 and 5, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and begin to get better acquainted with your fellow creatures and future housemates in Paradise.
- Here’s the take away. SLIDE 10 In his lavish love, the Father created us in the image of his Son, Jesus, to join his celestial family on a restored, beautified earth. We temporarily threw a wrench into those plans when we tried to do life on our own. But this didn’t change God’s heart toward us. He loves us with such a fierce, unquenchable love, that he moved heaven and earth to rescue us…
Communion, Benediction and Dismissal