Text; Ephesians 2:11-18
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela lies in hospital on life support. While he does so, his family are feuding over his legacy and his money.
In Egypt, just one year after that country’s first democratic elections, its prime minister is in detention. The country is in turmoil, its population sharply divided between supporters of the ex-prime minister and those who forced him from office.
In Syria, more than 90,000 people have died in 2 years of conflict.
Tensions between North and South Korea, India and Pakistan, Shia and Sunni Muslims, continue to run high.
Serbs and Croats. Ask Novac Djokovic why he is so calm on a tennis court, he will tell you of his upbringing in Belgrade when as a 12-year-old the city was subjected to nightly bombing.
What about all the ‘little’ conflicts and alienations? Own family. Baby mother. If you’ve ever experienced bullying at school, conflict at work, feuding within your family, hostility between your neighbours, felt like an outsider, then you know something of the pain of hostility and alienation.
Who can bridge these troubled waters? ‘Rarely, rarely, comest thou, spirit of reconciliation’.
1-10 – from death to life, goes back to 1:19f
11-18 – from alienation to reconciliation, goes back to 1:10
1. You were alienated
Jewish/Gentile division. A pious Jew would thank God every morning that he was not born a Gentile. If a Jewish boy fell in love with a Gentile girls and they became engaged, his parents would make plans, not for a wedding ceremony, but for a funeral. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. The feeling was mutual: Gentiles argued that Jews had been made to fuel the fires of hell.
Physical symbol – dividing wall. Not ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’, but, ‘trespassers will be executed.’
Acts 21:27-31 records an incident three years earlier. Paul had had nearly been lynched by an angry Jewish mob who thought he had taken a Gentile – an Ephesian names Trophimus – with him into the temple.
V12 – fivefold description of the effects of this alienation.
(a) Separate from Christ – without a Messiah. Whereas the Jews clung to the hope of a better day, the day when Messiah would reign, the Gentiles had no such hope.
(b) Excluded from citizenship in Israel – having no place amongst God’s chosen people.
(c) Foreigners (strangers) to the covenants of promise – The essence of the covenant was, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Ex 6:7). The promise to Abraham, Gen. 15:7–21; 17:1–21.
(d) Without hope. The ancient Greeks had an essentially cyclical view of history. If anything, they looked back, to a golden age, but had little to look forward to.
(e) Without God in the world – The Gentiles were not, of course, without their gods. Some Greeks still worship their ancient gods today. But they were without knowledge or experience of the one true God. The same can be said of multitudes today who have a religion, or who have a ‘spirituality’, but know not ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Without Israel’s Messiah, without Israel’s community, without Israel’s promises, without Israel’s hope, without Israel’s God. Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, Godless.
A double alienation. Alienated from the people of God, alienated from God himself.
2. You have been reconciled
V13 – ‘But now’, cf. V4, ‘But…God’.
(a) By Christ the barrier has been removed, v14. The dividing wall. In order for Jews and Gentiles to be reconciled, this wall had to be destroyed, and this Jesus did on the cross. When he died, the veil in the temple was literally torn in two, and the wall of separation (figuratively) was torn down.
(b) In Christ one new humanity has been created, v15. Bible arithmetic. Not assimilation, or replacement. Chrysostom: one silver statue and one copper statue and from them make one gold statue.
(c) Through the cross of Christ hostility has been destroyed, v16. ‘abolishing in his flesh the law’ (cf Col 2:14). Rom 7:12 – ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.’ It demands have been satisfied. Its debt has been paid. Its curse has been removed. As far as the law is concerned, ‘I have been crucified with Christ,’ Gal 2:20.
(d) By Christ peace has been proclaimed, v17. Jesus Christ “is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). He “made peace” (Eph. 2:15), and he “preached peace” (Eph. 2:17).
(e) Through the blood of Christ strangers are brought near. Bracket vv13, 18. Brought near to one another, by being brought near to God. Spokes in a wheel, tuning fork. Access to a king, to a father.
(a) God loves reconciliation, and so should we. As God’s renewed people we can model a spirit of reconciliation, both inside and outside the church. This can begin with very simple things. More careful about what we say about others behind their backs. More willing to act as intermediaries when two friends or colleagues fall out. More ready to forgive and forget rather than to harbour a grudge (Clara Barton). Eph 4:32, ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’
(b) God is now reconciling all things to himself, and we can be a part of that. We look out on a world racked with the pain of hostility and alienation. God’s plan is not simply for improvement, but for transformation. God is working his purpose out, 1:10, ‘to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.’ By God’s grace we can not only to believe in that plan, but also be part of its fulfilment.
On God’s side, the entire resources of the trinity have been mobilised to this end, v18. As for us, God has entrusted to us the gospel – ‘the word of reconciliation’, and the ministry of the gospel – ‘the ministry of reconciliation.’