Ephesians 2:11-22 – Sermon Manuscript

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.

-What is your earliest memory? Memories are a fascinating thing, aren’t they? Some moments we can remember as clear as if we were there each time we bring it to mind, others are just completely gone until you find a picture or an old friend reminds you of a shared experience. Maybe like me, you’ve been carelessly walking through a mall when a smell hits you, and brings back a flood of memories! When I moved back here, the first time we took our kids to MOA when I caught a whif of Cinnabon! I hadn’t eaten or smelled that delicious concoction since I left MN, but it brought back all the times I’d gone there with friends growing up, and the worst part is now that I have the money to buy it, I know I shouldn’t!

-Memories are significant in all of our lives, there can be negative memories we have that get triggered regularly, or positive memories that get triggered by other things, almost like riding a bike! No matter how long it’s been, they can come back.

-God has also given us collective memories that we’re supposed to call to mind on a regular basis, this is why it’s so important for us to gather together on the Lord’s day, this is why something like NCC is so important: God has designed our minds to remember certain things. I’ve started describing the purpose of our gathering as: remember and remind. Remember who God is and what He’s done, and then intentionally remind each other to live in light of that truth.

READ/PRAY

  1. Remember What You Were (11-12)

-“Therefore” connects us back to last week. That was a whole 7 days ago, so what did we study last week? Before Christ, we were dead, but God, who is rich in mercy, brought us to life and prepared good works for all of us to walk in. Because of this new life that is given by God, Paul begins by encouraging the Gentile readers to look back.

-Need to talk about an issue that I hadn’t made much mention of before: the different ethnicities Paul addresses in Ephesus, and the ethnocentrism that has been a problem since the Fall. 

-It’s important to remember Paul’s history in regards to ethnicities: he was a Jew. And not just any Jew, Acts 22:3 summarizes his life: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.” In Phil. 3 he refers to himself as blameless according to the law, he was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted anyone who was a follower of Jesus.

-Paul demonstrated the way the Jewish people had been trained to think: there was Jew, and then then there was everyone else. And unless you were a Jew you were useless. (you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much) One Jewish author actually wrote that Gentiles were created to keep the fires of hell burning. Just to be fair, everyone else also looked down on the Jews as weirdos, so it was a mutual hatred! 

-But the crazy thing about this new faith called “The Way” or “Christianity” is it was meant to transcend all ethnic and cultural boundaries, and transform everyone from the inside out. But how difficult is it to overcome historical tension that goes back generations? We struggle with tensions that go back a week! So how do you think people from different ethnic backgrounds (who had been taught to hate each other their whole lives) would feel when they walk into church on Sunday and sitting next to them is that person? How would they be able to sit together, much less actively love each other? It’s only through a radical, life altering transformation. Thankfully, as we saw last week, that transformation has taken place! Dead people can’t get along, if you’ve seen any zombie movie you’ve seen that! But now, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, these 2 diverse groups can begin to get along.

-“Remember” doesn’t Paul contradict this in Phil. 3:13?

-Remember last week: we are sinners by nature and by choice, all of us need to be saved from our sin, whether you’re trying to be the best person you can, or you’re stuck in a cycle of addiction and sin that you can’t escape. God’s grace and mercy are still for you. We all need to remember what Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:11, after running through a list of sins “and such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” Even in our remembering, we recognize that we’re no longer that way! 

-“You Gentiles, in the flesh” flesh is repeated again.

-The differences are only skin deep. Circumcision was meant to be the sign of the covenant since the time of Father Abraham. Every law-abiding Jew was circumcised (even Paul). On the flip side, the Gentiles mocked the Jews for the practice of circumcision, so it was a contentious issue! But how effective is an external surgery at dealing with the problem of sin?

-This is a temptation for all of us! We all want to find something that will allow us to be measured righteous without having to die to ourselves. If only it was as easy as cleaning up our lives! It takes a death, and then daily dying again and again to our own made up standards so that we can actually follow Christ.

-Paul is not afraid here to call out what they’re adding to the faith when he says “by hands.” Remember, circumcision was the sign that someone was in right standing before God (righteous) but by using that phrase, he’s equating circumcision to idolatry. How would Jews feel about an accusation of idolatry? 

-We’re all tempted to do the same thing today: add external things to our faith on a regular basis, oftentimes without even realizing it! Music, clothes, schooling, books (Harry Potter), political party. We, as humans, are really good at creating ways that we’re supposed to follow God. Then we ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree with every detail of trappings we’ve added to the faith, which ironically enough is meant to be the marker of those who aren’t following after God.

-Once again, please pay attention to what I’m NOT saying: not saying there aren’t things we should divide over, but we need to be careful what it is that we’re putting up as markers of true orthodoxy, and what is an application point from true theology. (more in that in tomorrow’s Sermon Scraps!)

“Separated, alienated, strangers, no hope, without God”

-These are the markers of someone who isn’t in God, not meant to be dividers of those who are in Christ. 

-No hope is an interesting thing to contemplate. Paul talks about this in 1 Thess. 4:13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” One of the primary markers of Christians is that we are a hope filled people. The world may fall down around us, but we still have hope, not in ourselves, not in the world, but we have hope in God! This hope is based on what Paul goes on to talk about:

  • Remember What Jesus Does (13-18)

-BUT NOW- once again, Paul starts with the bad news before talking about the shift that come: “IN Christ Jesus” all the blessings that we have come about ONLY because we’re in Christ. Blessings, children, seated with Him, now the emphasis is on relational distance that has now been amended.

“Far off” vs. “brought near” 

-Muppets made the best illustration of this with Grover

-For those who are not in Christ, we’re eternally separated from God, a chasm that we cannot cross. Think of the first time you saw the ocean (assuming you’ve seen it) I remember feeling completely overwhelmed at the distance between me and the next chunk of land “if I get sucked out, I’m not getting back” That distance pails in comparison to the eternal gulf separating us from God. There’s no way to bridge that by our own efforts, it only comes about because Jesus bought us with his blood. We saw this in Eph. 1:7 “In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”

-This idea of how we can be near to God is one of the major themes throughout Scripture. Talk with Micah – one way of putting the Bible together is the way we can be near God. Think of how Matthew structures his book, begins with Immanuel (God with us) last phrase of the great commission: behold I am with you always, to the end of the age. Genesis begins with God dwelling with His people, Revelation ends saying “The dwelling place of God is with man” this separation that we have today will no longer exist!

-He is our peace, because He is now alive in us (Gal. 2:20) Peace is the theme of this section, notice the end of vs. 15 repeats the peace idea, with 3 things this peace accomplishes: made us one, broken down the dividing wall, and abolishing the law of commandments.

-Made us one, beginning and end (14a16b). The things that we once used to divide are no longer allowed to divide those of us who are in Christ. Same as we saw at the beginning of this section, we’re no longer allowed to divide however we want, we need to divide where God divides: in Christ or not.

-Second: broken down the dividing wall. Some debate about what Paul means by this, as he goes on to talk about the means by which he has done this is “by abolishing the law of commandments” The law was what served as the distinction between the two groups, Jews obeyed, Gentiles didn’t! 

-But there was also a literal dividing wall in the temple where Gentiles were only allowed to a certain point before a sign would say “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.” How do you think this would train the Jews to treat the Gentiles? But Paul goes even further:

-“abolishing the law of commandments” Abolishing has a wide range of interpretive options: “make powerless” “use up” “to be released from” one translation went with “nullify” When Jesus came, he came to fulfill the law. He obeyed everything God had commanded perfectly, because no one else could. One of the primary reasons God gave the law was to reveal how unable we are to achieve the level of holiness He expects. And then when Jesus came he double down: it’s no longer a matter of mere external obedience, now it’s internal obedience, so even your thought life is required to be holy. 

-And those standards are the same across ethnic lines:

-“One new man” 

-Think of all the genocidal fights that have happened throughout history, that try to create different people. As we read through the OT we see Israel against the Canaanites, NT Romans vs. Jews, Sunni vs Shiite, Germans vs Jews, Russians vs Ukrainians, blacks vs whites. The normal state of human affairs is conflict! Most of us have lived in this weird time of not much conflict, but that is not the norm. However, true and lasting peace, without hostility can only come about because of the cross.

-“preached peace”

-Same message to both! Both those who were/are “near” and “far” need the same message from God: peace is possible! But not through the ways humans want to pursue peace. It’s not through a complete turnover of society, it’s not about pursuing power, it only comes about by pursuing God. This idea is something Paul is picking up from:

Isa. 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.””

-Salvation creates a level playing field for all of us: same spirit, same Father, we’re now a family. Family doesn’t always get along, but you can’t escape them! 

-Think of your extended family! Every family I know has someone that’s the weird one/odd ball doesn’t really fit in with everyone else, but you can’t change the fact that the same blood flows in your veins, same for those “in Christ!”

-Scene from ‘Remember the Titans’ “Alice, are you blind? Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.” There’s no longer any room for comparison, or belittling others, we’re now a part of the same family, which is where Paul goes next.

  • Remember What You Now Are (19-22)

-What you were, but no longer! Apart from Christ, we are strangers and aliens to God, then once we’re in Christ we move to being strangers and aliens to the world! We no longer have the same identity markers or judge using worldly standards, because God’s standards are radically different. Yet at the same time, we have some things to learn from this, because 

-How was Israel to treat a stranger and alien? Sabbath was commanded for everyone, including the alien. One note, not alien like outer space, alien as in not a citizen. Even Lev. And Deut. Talk regularly about how God’s people are to treat aliens and sojourners. For example, they’re commanded to not harvest their field all the way to the edge, they’re commanded to leave grapes that fall when you’re harvesting for the poor and the sojourner. Similarly for us today, how should we treat the stranger and the alien, those different from us?

-I was reminded this week of one of my favorite books: The Rise of Christianity because the author died over the summer. Stark was a sociologist, and in the book studied the early church through a sociological lens, concluding that the reason the early church spread was their care for the poor and marginalized. Friends, we should be known for those who care for everyone, but especially the poor and marginalized (poor materially, spiritually, emotionally). This has been the marker of the church since Jesus commissioned us! It’s no coincidence that so many hospitals used to be named after saints (until they all got bought out), because Christians took care seriously! Even the word “hospital” was taken from “hospitality” that Christians showed to aliens and strangers. 

-This is a high bar, but the best part is we don’t need to do it alone, nor are we the first generation to be wrestling with these ideas. Look what we’re built on. We aren’t the foundation! Christianity in the big scheme of human history, doesn’t depend on us, because even if we were wiped out today, God has people following Him faithfully across the globe.

-There is a tendency to get myopic and overly fixated on right here and now instead of remembering our past and the reasons for our hope. This forces us to ask the question: where are you building the foundation of your life on? Because if you’re in Christ, He’s the cornerstone, and literally nothing can shake that foundation, not even hell itself! 

-We also need to note that it is: “being joined together” it’s not done, and it won’t be until Christ comes back. That means that as long as we have breath in our lungs on this side of eternity, we need to continue pursuing peace with God, and preaching peace to those who are near and those who are far.

-By doing this, God’s people grow into a “holy temple”, AKA the place where God’s presence dwells. This is the craziest part of salvation! God is no longer mediated through a law or an intricate sacrificial system, He now lives in those of us who are believers. The reality that God’s dwelling place is with humans is already happening, but we are often completely oblivious to it. Why don’t we often believe enough to pray “your kingdom come and your will be done,” and instead try to pursue these things through purely human efforts? It will never work! Instead, we need to die to those worldly ways, submit ourselves to God’s work in us through His Spirit, and become one new people. 

-Friends: what do you remember? We remember who we were before God saved us, we need to remember what Jesus did and does, and finally remember and remind each other each week how God has transformed us and made us a new people.

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