The Wordly Image – Ephesians 2:11-22

PLEASE NOTE: these are the notes I use to preach from, if you would like to hear them in context, please watch our YouTube video.

-Conclusion of our series, let’s take a minute and think back to everything we’ve studied

-Every human is created in the image of God: from conception to natural death. Nothing you can or will do changes that reality. Because God is the Creator, He has determined how our bodies best work and function, so if you want to flourish as a human, obey God as He has commanded us to live in His Word and world.

-The fact that we’re created in His image has 3 primary implications: relational, functional, and structural. We are called into a relationship that entails a role that we are uniquely designed to do.

-This idea of being created in the image of God has unfortunately been sidelined in many evangelical circles leading to us being unable to speak into some very important issues of our day. Things like: gender discussions, sexuality, racial reconciliation, rest, work, the list could go on to pretty much everything we do since we’re humans!

-It’s hard not to look at how unifying sports are in the USA as an example of what the church is supposed to look like. 

-I love basketball, have almost my whole life. First word was “ball” My poor wife didn’t know what she was getting into – on our honeymoon I made her adjust our whole schedule around when the Golden State Warriors were playing (no joke!) We were in Hawaii, so most often games were during dinner, which meant I was googling whether or not the restaurant we were looking at had TVs.

-Something happens when you’re with a bunch of people who are cheering for the same team (we lived in CO when the Broncos won the Superbowl – the whole state went crazy!) But then you even start to look for fellow fans out in “normal” life. People you wouldn’t normally associate with are packed in knees to shoulders yelling, screaming, and cheering together. But generally, the comradery doesn’t go beyond the game. In the church, it’s mean to be a place where we’re all up in each others business 24/7. 

-The question before us today is: how do we ensure we’re reflecting the correct image together? AKA what team are you on?

READ/PRAY (pg. 568)

-Begins with “therefore” continuation of Paul’s previous argument. First 10 verses talk about the uniqueness of God saving us by grace through faith. There’s nothing we can do to add or take away from that, and now we get to walk in the reality of the resurrection. Emphasizes the restoration of the vertical relationship between us and God. God has provided a way for us to have a reconciled relationship with Him: by grace through faith. But this leads him to the horizontal implications of this:

  1. Remember What You Were (11-12)

-“Remember” we saw this idea back in Rom. 1 a couple weeks ago. One of the ways unrighteousness is made visible is in the world is through not giving thanks to God (Rom. 1:21). 

-One of the markers of a Christian is someone who regularly remembers and gives thanks to God. Whatever circumstances we’re in, God is still good.

-In this case, Paul is encouraging the believers to remember what they were.

-Ephesians was written to a church with different ethnicities in it. Remember from last week, we saw in Acts 15 that this was a big issue in the early church! How can they get along and be unified?

-Unification comes by remembering what everyone once was!

-He specifically addressed the “Gentiles” in this text, but then notice the descriptions of the Gentiles: “in the flesh.” Happens twice!

-Does an external, physical change save you? If you remember to last week the answer is NO! Paul is saying the only difference between the 2 groups is a physical distinction, which doesn’t matter when it comes to salvation.

-These Gentiles (only in the flesh) were referred to in a derogatory way “the uncircumcision” (the haves and the have nots, just leave it at that!) It’s true that there are only 2 ways to live, but circumcision isn’t the marker, it’s faith! Paul doubles down on the fleshliness of this: “by hands.” Not something God does!

12 – another call to remember! 

-“At that time” past tense, not a present reality. At one time, in the past:

-Separated, alienated, and strangers, Which meant: no hope and no God. What sad place to be! 

-Paul goes on a tear here listing all the terrible things that come from that. They were separated from Christ, aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise. Another way of saying all of those is the Gentiles were the “others.” BUT they chose to be there! This is a little different than the ethnic divides we often see in the world!

-Because they chose to be “others” they had no hope. There was nothing to look forward to, nothing to give them comfort in the midst of struggle. The reason they had no hope is because they were without God.

-Before we continue, I need to ask if this is any of you. Are you hopeless and without God? Are you separated from Christ? You don’t have to stay there! And it begins with:

  • Remember What Jesus Does (13-17)

-Paul loves comparing with “But” The best word in the English language for us is “but”

-In the first section of Eph. 2 Paul does something similar to here where he reminds us that we were once dead. BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ! Similarly here, he’s contrasting the ways of the world, the ways we once lived (past tense) with our current state (present tense)

-If you’re in Christ, those who were once far off (othered) are now brought near.

-If you’ve ever seen Sesame Street, Grover: near, far.

-Jesus’ sacrificial death provides the only way for us to be brought near to God. And we’re not only brough near:

-Jesus’ death provides peace. 

-Text says “He Himself IS our peace.” Peace throughout the Bible is more than just the absence of conflict. When so many people use peace today it’s far too narrow in it’s application. I’ve seen social media posts saying to pray for peace in Ukraine! I totally agree, but true lasting peace isn’t just the absence of war: it’s everything being rightly ordered. Relationships, cities, homes, the earth. Biblical peace is something we hope and pray for, but we recognize that this side of heaven true peace will never happen.

-This connects back to the OT Aaronic blessing in Num. 6 “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” God has given us peace, but it took the sacrifice of His one and only Son. That’s how God blesses us! Not monetarily, not physically, but He brings us near. 

-This near-ness, this peace, lack of “othering” means these 2 completely different groups of people are now 1 new group. This happened because Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility. A couple ways this applies: 

-First is what is described in vs. 15, the OT commandments. We know Jesus says He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). A better way of translating that Greek word is: nullifying. The OT served as the point of distinction from every surrounding ethnicity. Meant to be obedient so they would shine as lights into the world and image God to others. They didn’t always do that well! Wanted to be like everyone else. It’s hard being the outlier! 

-The second implication Paul is talking about here is referring to a literal wall that separated the Gentile section from the Jewish section at the temple. The divide was so sharp, that Gentiles weren’t even allowed past that wall.

-Peter talks about this in Acts 10:28 “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.” It was illegal under Jewish law to “associate or visit.” 

-How do you think that affected the most sacred space for them, the temple? They have excavated some of the signs that hung on that dividing wall: “No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.” That’s the ultimate “no trespassing” sign! Paul delt with the same problem, a riot is started in Acts 21 because they assumed he’d brought an Ephesian into the temple. Jesus dealt with the exact same thing! 

-Most people use the cleansing of the temple as an example for us to be angry today, but what Jesus was really upset about was the way the Jews were “othering” Gentiles.

-This article: “In Mark 11:15–19, Jesus returns to the temple to cleanse it the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Part of the corrupt situation he finds involves race-based systematized injustice. While the religious leaders protected the peace of the inner courts where Jews prayed and worshiped the Lord, they brazenly turned the court of the Gentiles into a noisy smelly livestock exchange and marketplace because of racialized bitterness. Jesus smells the ethnocentrism and the injustice, and it infuriates him.

Everything about the temple was intended to point to the coming Christ. And Jesus knows this ethnocentrism is a complete misrepresentation, a repudiation of the saving purposes of the God who would make his Christ to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49). In his zeal, Jesus completely dismantles the livestock exchange, refuses to let anybody pass through, and so restores the court for the Gentiles to pray. Then he exposits Isaiah 56:7: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?”

-All of that weight, history, understanding contained in that 1 phrase: dividing wall of hostility. And think about it: what ways do you see Christians today trying to enact walls to keep others out? We don’t put up literal walls, but we do have a tendency to create a list of rules or expectations we have for people, don’t we? Wear certain kinds of clothes, live in a certain part of town, make enough money, follow a specific code of conduct. In what ways are we adding to the simplicity of the gospel message? Because when Jesus comes, he gets rid of all that! He removes the cultural stipulations from Judaism and creates a new way of peace and reconciliation. This isn’t saying those things don’t matter, they do, but keep them in perspective! Allow the Holy Spirit to work in people!

-I think this even gets to one of the prevalent issues in our world today: deconstruction. 

-Because of the ways we’ve so enmeshed our faith and our culture (in conservative Evangelicalism) those who start to question some of the cultural pieces end up throwing out the faith with the culture. Instead of deconstructing, we need to disenculturate – separate the cultural trappings from the true essence of the biblical message. Doesn’t mean we go squishy on truth! But we need to understand that which is truly true. Dynamics of Spiritual Life pgs 186-7.

-Another reason for this movement is because the church hasn’t been willing to stand in the gap and address difficult topics like race. Many Christians were so enmeshed in their culture they weren’t able to separate that which was Christian from that which was American.

-Another component to the deconstruction phenomenon is the supposed individuality of it, yet everyone who deconstructs is following the same path/trajectory. “claiming to become wise.” Paul even addresses that idea! By nullifying the OT ways, Jesus creates a brand-new corporate identity. We, as individuals, are nothing, but once we are in Christ, we’re unstoppable! Not even the gates of hell can prevail against the church! But the church also assumes that we need each other! And most of the time, the first step toward deconstruction is abandoning the church. 

-Church: look at this carefully: the culmination of us BEING/BECOMING the church is peace (15). That is the only way true, lasting peace is going to come to earth. Look how vs, 16 goes on to talk about this:

-Peace comes about by reconciliation, but notice that BOTH parties need to be reconciled. This isn’t a one sided issue. Both groups are sinners, and when sinners gather together sin is going to happen. 

-This is something we saw last week with George Yancey’s approach to “Mutual accountability approach.” We need to address the depraved human nature in all of us.

-This peace also only comes about THROUGH a bloody, hostile act: the cross. Jesus bore the weight, burden, and struggle for every sin, but unless we believe in the comprehensiveness of that payment, hostility will continue to happen. Jesus said that: wars, rumors of wars. Life is hostile this side of Eden and before eternity. But it doesn’t need to be.

17 When Jesus came, he preached the exact same message to both parties: Jews and Greeks, those who were far off and those who were near. They both needed a Savior! The Jews from their good works, the Gentiles to do good works! But the message is exactly the same: peace can happen, but only through faith in Jesus. It doesn’t matter how close or how far you are: it takes faith! Then once you have faith, you need to:

  • Remember What You Are (18-22)

-THROUGH Him. Who is the Him? Jesus! It is quite literally through Him, through His body placed on a tree where His blood was poured out for you and me. Through his death, burial, resurrection, and consequent victory over sin and death we both (those who are near and those who are far) have access in the same Spirit to the Father.

-Everyone can now become a son or daughter of the Most High God! It is through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to cry out “Abba! Father!” and boldly come into His presence without fear or shame.

-Paul uses the rest of this section to mixing metaphors to describe the status of those who are now a part of the Church.

-Fellow citizens, members of the household of God, a structure built on the apostles, prophets, and Jesus, a holy temple, a dwelling place for God. All those descriptions are true of us right now. In Eph. 2:6 Paul says we are RIGHT NOW “seated in the heavenly places.” All these descriptions are meant to be true of the church TODAY! Obviously, it won’t be perfected until Jesus returns, but that doesn’t stop us from working toward this end! What does all this mean, and what does it have to do with the racial/ethnic divides in our world today?

-First, we need to seriously recapture what it means to be the church.

-Has happened since the church was founded: people like to badmouth the church. I get it! The church has done some horrific things in the past! We looked at some of the ways the church in the USA has pushed for segregation, or marginalization of women, or any number of things. BUT the church is what Jesus literally died for. No other human entity, group, or organization can claim that.

-The church is a supernatural idea. Look again at the descriptions. We MUST fight for unity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

-Not a social club, not a place where likeminded people gather together

-We need to get uncomfortable here, be stretched, challenged, pushed, encouraged

-“Called out ones” this isn’t an addition to our otherwise busy weeks, this is meant to center our lives, to transform our lives, to make us new.

-Be a part of the “red church”

-Tony Merida: “a group of people, from every tribe and tongue, that has been redeemed by the torn-apart Christ, who spilled His red blood that we may be reconciled to God and to one another! “

-We do this by intentionally going to every ethnicity: invite them over, spend time with them, share stories with each other.

-We need to pick up the mantle and preach peace to those who are near and far.

-Disenculturate from the places where it’s too American, and then we have the freedom to re-enculturate the gospel message in any context we’re in! Paul can say I have become all things to all people: we can go to every ethnicity!

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