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"From Hostile Aliens to Communal Citizens: the Miracle of Reconciliation through the Cross"

Oct.14, 2018 Eph. 2:11-22 (3:6,12)


The Apostle Paul, writing to the non-Jews in the church at Ephesus, said - Eph 2:12 “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise…” To be a foreigner can be an intimidating thing. Me, I grew up as a local boy in nearby Perth County, born in Exeter, so to do a little research for today's sermon I just spent a week in Germany! Just kidding - I was holidaying with my daughter and family, so I won't be claiming mileage… But some of the experiences make one conscious what it’s like to be cut off from certain privileges in a strange country.

               I wanted to treat Allison and my two granddaughters to lunch out at a café after we visited Langenburg Castle. I had a limited amount of cash and hoped to use my credit card. However, not speaking German, I was reduced to pitifully holding up my credit card and looking at the server helplessly. His shake of the head communicated what I needed to know. Likewise when it did come time to pay, I was thankful he made a point of turning the calculator towards me so I could see the digits!

               Being a foreigner effectively walls us off in some respects. (The graphic on the screen shows the wall around Schloss Langenburg -- stone probably at least 20 feet high. You’re not getting in here any easy way!

               The God-fearing Gentiles to whom Paul wrote were probably conscious of another wall -- that which separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Women in the temple in Jerusalem. The historian Josephus made mention of this wall; it forbade Gentiles from approaching any closer to the Holy Place, upon pain of death. This was serious business! They were kept “far away” (v13).

               Jews and Gentiles were at odds on the basis of two categories – ethnicity (or race - they were not born as descendants of Jacob) - and religion, they ate pork and other unclean foods, and did not observe all the religious rituals set forth in the Law of Moses and expanded upon by rabbis through the years. Jews would have dressed differently as well. So the divisions were very apparent, and had been reinforced down through the years.

               As people today, we are very proficient at creating ways by which to identify ourselves as “different” from others, to create an identity. I was quite keen to wear my Canadian Foodgrains Bank hat in Germany to identify myself as a Canadian. That’s the barrier of nationalism. When Yvonne & I first visited Germany in 1981 to meet the staff at Christian Blind Mission headquarters in Bensheim, we were surprised that our boss did not want her picture taken along with her office staff, and that the executives and other workers did not all eat together. That's the barrier of class.

               I was asking Allison how to say “goodbye” in German. She suggested “ciao”, although went on to explain a more proper way would be to say “tschüss” -- as would be said in her husband Philipp's home area a few hours north. Folks around there look down on the dialect used around Schwabish Hall; in fact the woman who taught woman “ciao” apologized for teaching her the Schwabish variant! So we have the barrier of regionalism. In Canada, we have our regional snobberies, too.

             Once we create these barriers by which we identify ourselves, we can use them (if not careful) to be judgmental toward others and look down upon them. In Germany, children start to school at age 3 (which seems too early to me!) and parents who choose not to send them become pressured to cooperate with the rest of society. It’s also considered very important to keep your children thoroughly dressed - over here we would think nothing of having an inch or two of skin showing between the sock and shorts or pantleg, but there it's a no-no. When a parent is made to feel they’re not being a good parent because their children isn’t covered head to foot, it’s a humbling thing.

             It’s a scary thing to be on the wrong side of the law, to be cut off, alienated. Paul continues in v12, “at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Our sins have cut us off from God. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Sin makes us liable to God’s judgment, it’s a barrier, a wall, meaning we cannot approach the Holly One.

             Last Monday afternoon I attended with Allison's family the birthday party of Evelyn’s 3-year-old friend Sadie. Sadie’s mother was telling me about a recent experience her mother had: resident in Pennsylvania, she had neglected to notice her passport was expiring in a month, so when she went to enter England she was told she could not enter the EU to visit her daughter and family. She was made to wait in a cubicle a very long time, being questioned, having her passport taken from her, having her phone and even her social media accounts searched. Finally a friend in Ireland intervened and was able to help her get back home to the States. But in the meantime you feel very lost, helpless, alienated and alone. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law! Sin strips us of any right to enter God’s Kingdom.


However God has made possible a way for us to bridge the divide -- both our alienation from Him, AND our hostility and animosity to others who are unlike us. The picture on the screen is the Kochertal Bridge, or bridge over the Kocher river valley, carrying the A6 expressway. I saw this bridge numerous times because it’s quite close to where Allison lives - Philipp drives underneath it to work every day. It’s the tallest in Germany, 182 m or over 500 feet.

             To bring us to God required a very BLOODY bridge. Eph.2:13f “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” Jesus is our peace, both toward God and toward our enemies. How were we brought near? “By the blood of Christ.” He bridges the gap by His death as a sinless perfect sacrifice taking our place. Rom 3:23 “all have sinned and fall short” but v24 goes on, “Being justified as a gift by His grace THROUGH the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” Eph 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

               Have you ever used the “bridge” diagram to explain the Good News of Jesus to a friend? Pretty basic and it’s been around a few years, but it still works and is easy to sketch on a napkin in a restaurant. Draw two cliffs with a chasm in between - humans on one side, God on the other, sin in between separating us (the “fallen short”) of Romans 3:23. And Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.” Man’s works are short stepladders that fail to reach over to God: things like religion, good works, performance, anything that’s solely our own effort. Eph 2:9, we’re saved “not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast”. Then draw Jesus as the bridge spanning the gap between the two cliffs, with a verse like John 3:16 (God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that we should not perish but have everlasting life”) or Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

               Wonder of wonders, Jesus makes it possible for us sinners to be reconciled, put right with, God. No longer aliens, no longer foreigners, no longer cut off from divine grace and consigned to eternity punished and without God! 2:13 you “have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” 2:18 “For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” 3:12 “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Can somebody say, Hallelujah?!

               It works ONLY because Christ works for us, on our behalf. Our faith, our believing, is what inserts us into the reality of Christ crucified. 2:13 now “in Christ Jesus”, 2:14 “He Himself is our peace”, 2:18 “through Him we both have access”, 2:21 “In Him the whole building is joined together”, 2:22 “in Him” you are built together, 3:6 “through the gospel” Gentiles share in the promise “in Christ Jesus”, 3:12 “In Him and THROUGH FAITH in Him” we may approach God.

               Your identity, if you are truly a Christian, is bound up in Christ: you died to your old self, now He lives in you and is giving you a fresh start, a new name, a new identity. Jews found their identity in keeping the law: Pharisees gauged themselves each day against the 613 commandments they had by tradition distilled from the law of Moses. But 2:15, Christ set “aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” We do NOT get our identity - our sense of worth or being valued - from our performance, from what we DO! In other religions it may be “do, do, do,” but in Christ, it is DONE!

               Look closely at 3:20,22 - what's our new frame of reference, locating us, giving us identity? We're no longer foreigners but fellow citizens, members of God's household (NLT members “of God's family”) “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (READ ON!) “with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone”.

               Commentator Robertson notes the cornerstone is “the primary foundation-stone at the angle of the structure by which the architect fixed a standard for the bearings of the walls and cross-walls throughout.” Get it? Every stone in the whole structure is where it is in reference to that one unique distinctive cornerstone -- it alone tells them where they should be, what exact role they take. Your identity has to come from Christ, not your own innate deserving or earning through performance. It's sheer GIFT.

             What’s our identity based on? Being the wannabe-Geek that I am, while grocery shopping the first day in Germany I bought a new SIM card for my phone promising 1.5 GB of data for 4 weeks for about $14. That way I could also keep in touch with Allison through WhatsApp while out at playgrounds or errands with the girls. I got home and found there was a bonus upgrade to 10 GB of data! (Not a bad deal by the way - here in Canada on SpeakOut I pay $10/mo for 1/100th that much data! But, I digress…) Yet there was a catch. To activate the SIM card, German regulations required me to establish my identity. Either by going to the post office (which would be a hassle as there wasn't one nearby), OR online through an app called PostIdent. Being the Geeky type, I chose the app. A real live official at Deutsche Post named Gloria video-chatted with me split-screen. She took a photo of my face and then of my passport, including all its particulars - where issued, expiry, and so on. Very patiently in English, too! Then I was good to go and start surfing to my heart's content.

             The point of this lengthy sidebar? MY IDENTITY IS ESTABLISHED BY SOMETHING OUTSIDE MYSELF. The nice German official couldn't simply take my word for it: she needed the authority provided by the federal government. Likewise, as Christians, citizens of a heavenly Kingdom, our identity comes to us in reference to Jesus Himself, the chief cornerstone, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), with Whom I have been crucified.


I've already referred to us BELONGING to God's household or family in 2:19 as a result of the cross’ work of reconciliation. Galatians 6:10 refers to “those who belong to the family of believers” or “the household of faith”. Huron Chapel, can we get along as a family of faith, despite our differences? If not, what's that suggest about us truly embracing the forgiveness and grace God has for us?

             The apostles use the analogy of stones being built together into a harmoniously designed, unified BUILDING. Eph 3:21f “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Here Paul is emphasizing the PLURALITY, many blocks being laid together to become a unified structure. This is much more than bricks and mortar! “A dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” - how special is that?! Remember in the Old Testament God's Shekinah glory coming down upon the Tabernacle of Moses, then the Temple of Solomon - that's the picture here: the Church is to be the walking moving Temple of God, in our community, an organization to which others are led to WANT to come to make contact with God Himself, because they sense HIM among us. Are we together “wafting the aroma” of Jesus? Or do we smell “off”? (like the milk I left in the fridge for a week before I went on my trip!)

               1Peter 2:5 “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” To be priests suggests the Church doesn't exist for itself: we don't just come to worship for our own edification -- worship is meant to make us better in priestly service to OTHERS, so we can offer sacrifices on THEIR behalf, pronounce God's blessing and healing and Shalom-making to them. What about it? How have you touched others’ lives with the blessing of Jesus this past week?

               Belonging – Building – Another aspect wrought by Christ's reconciliation is BROADCASTING. What? You didn't know there was broadcasting happening back in the apostles’ day? Not the cell-tower or tv-network sort, but transmission in the ethereal realms nonetheless. Look closely at 3:10 - “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” The WHAT? “Rulers and authorities in the - where??!” Our twentieth-century ears have trouble hearing this. But to those acquainted with the Gnostic spiritualities that were being promoted in the first century, they would have understood Paul was referring to the Gnostic “aeons” that inhabited varies regions of the atmosphere. He's asserting Christ's supremacy over ANY lesser spiritual beings or teachings or philosophies of how to climb a heavenly ladder on one's own steam.

               There are LOTS of alternative spiritualities being broadcast today! Church, are you firm enough in your own faith -- are you grounded so firmly with your identity in Christ that you are prepared to spot and respond to these deceptive too-short ladders? Even the slickest talk-show host or most popular self-help guru? There's only one BRIDGE!

               If you haven't signed up for a midweek small-group yet, might you consider that as one way to help equip your arsenal? Or get together with a friend or two and start reading the Bible together, comparing notes amongst yourselves and with the help of a good commentary or two. The Holy Spirit indwelling Christ's people will help teach you.


Summing up then, to give you the big-picture high-altitude overview (as I write this, I'm literally 11km in the air over Forestville QC traveling 700 km/hr in a 747!)... What does this passage reveal are God's objectives in the reconciliation the cross of Jesus makes possible?

             The God-gap is overcome: He makes it possible for us to “approach God with freedom and confidence” (3:12), to “have access to the Father” (2:18).

             The Gentile-gap is overcome: we are reconciled or “un-hostiled” to each other. 2:15f He created “in Himself one new humanity out of the two”, He “put to death their hostility”. My daughter has married someone of the nationality that was firing live ammunition at my father during WWII! I accept him as a brother in Christ, a fellow member with me of God's family.

           The inner-gap is filled: God's Spirit comes to dwell inside us individually through faith in Christ, AND knits us together in fellowship with other believers. Our daughter Emily was experiencing something like that this past week as she cooperated and worshipped with other believers in Sierra Leone. Racial differences needn't get in the way of celebrating Jesus and passing out micro-loans to give people the tools to better their lot.

           The Glory-gap is overcome: God's honor is upheld, NLT 3:10 through the Church (that's YOU!) God displays “his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Satan is set back. His minions are diminished. Unseen beings and forces are reminded yet again that their defeat is certain and God is easy ahead of all their evil scheming!

Let's pray.