Storeroom Sermons of David Chadwell

Insights From Ephesians (Part 5)

I hope you have had at least one of those moments when you "see" something you never saw before. What you "see" is not new.  It has always been there for you to "see." Yet, for some reason (or a number of reasons), you never noticed it before.  Once you "see" it, it is so obvious that you are forced to evaluate yourself. "Why didn't I see that a long time ago? It is not new! It has always been there! How could I have not noticed it until now?"

Much of the time this "seeing" has to do with learning.  Maybe a person's focus was so given to something else that the "something else" is all he or she saw--he or she was so focused on one thing that he or she failed to see anything else.

Often this "seeing" is inconvenient. Once he or she "sees" the obvious, he or she can no longer ignore it. This "new to me" information demands that the person must do some additional evaluation of a matter that was already "settled" in the person's thinking or view. Reevaluation is downright inconvenient!

Use today's text as an illustration.

Before Jesus' ministry, the Jewish people had God, God's purposes, God's objectives, and God's ways figured out and settled for generations. There was not anything to learn. They just needed to evaluate all that happened by what they knew from past generations. They basically knew what kind of Messiah (Christ) God would send. They knew the basic nature of the kingdom God would establish. They knew the kind of rule God would institute. They knew they were God's people, and God cared about them more than God cared about other people. The key to doing God's will was convincing all other people to become a part of them as a proselyte. If everyone became just like them, everything would be okay.

Then Jesus began his ministry among the Jewish people. He was not what they expected as a Messiah. He spoke of a kingdom that was downright strange to them. He spoke of God's rule in ways they found weird. He indicated that God was interested in people who were not "rules-keeping Jews." He indicated they were not God's objective, but a God-intended vehicle to God's objective.

Thus many, especially the prominent ones, did what they were supposed to do. They evaluated Jesus. In their opinion Jesus just did not measure up to their expectations. So many of them rejected Jesus.

Thus began one of the major problems in the first-century congregations. Jewish Christians has a hard time understanding how gentile Christians could be saved without circumcision, following the law God revealed through Moses, and adopting Jewish ways of doing things. The most written about conflict (in scripture) among Christians in first-century congregations was this: how can Jewish Christians and gentile Christians possibly be one in Jesus Christ?

Listen carefully to our reading (or read with me) and see if you hear that problem in Ephesians 2:11-22: Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

  1. There are several things in this reading you should note.
    1. First, gentile Christians (which most of us are now) were in a really difficult situation spiritually before they became Christians.
      1. They were not a part of the Jewish nation.
      2. God had no covenant (agreement) with them.
      3. God made no direct promises to them.
      4. They had nothing to serve as a basis of hope in God.
      5. They were strictly on their own, and that was a horrible situation to be in.
    2. Second, the situation radically changed when God sent Jesus to become the Christ through the sacrifice of his blood.
      1. Through Christ, God brought even the gentiles near to Himself.
      2. Through Christ, gentiles had as much right to come to God as did Jewish people.
      3. Through Christ, God made (please take note of the past tense) Jews who would accept Jesus Christ and gentiles who would accept Jesus Christ one.
        1. Through Christ, God made a peace between both groups.
        2. Through Christ, God destroyed any advantage Jewish people had through their past relationship with God.
        3. Through Christ, God made both Jews in Christ and gentiles in Christ one body of Christ's.
        4. Through Christ, God reconciled both groups.
      4. The key for both Jewish Christians and gentile Christians was the same key--Jesus Christ.
        1. Understanding what God did through Jesus Christ allows Jewish Christians to be at peace in God and allows gentile Christians (no matter who they were or what their background was) to be at peace in God.
        2. Jesus Christ was the access to God for both groups.
      5. What does all that mean?
        1. It means any non-Jew who lived in idolatry in the past was a stranger and alien to God.
        2. However, with what God did in Jesus Christ, gentiles in Christ can be citizens in God's kingdom and a part of God's family.
        3. It meant that gentile Christians had the Jewish apostles and Jewish prophets as their faith foundation and Jesus Christ as their faith cornerstone in the same way Jewish Christians did.
        4. It meant God no longer lived in temples constructed by people.
          1. Not the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
          2. Not idolatrous temples.
        5. Why? Because God now lived in the people who belonged to Him.
          1. People who belonged to Him--whether Jewish Christians or gentile Christians--were formed by God into His new temple.
          2. God's new temple is formed out of people who belong to Him, not out of stones and construction materials.
          3. In the new kingdom, God lives in people instead of in places.
          4. God's people--wherever they are and whatever they are doing--are to be God's temple, God's presence (see 1 Peter 1:5-10 as Peter used the same concept).

  2. There are several indicators that suggest there could be radical transitions in the way "we do church" in the future.
    1. There already has been far more transition than most of us realize.
      1. At the end of World War II, the Church of Christ was basically a rural church.
        1. The majority of its members were poor people living on family farms.
        2. The church building was usually located on some land someone gave from his farm for the purpose of having a building.
        3. There was no air conditioning, primitive heating (by today's standards), graveled parking lots that were small, and few adult class rooms.
        4. There was no printed material to study, few people with college degrees, few full time preachers, no libraries, no education wings, few classrooms for children, few education programs, and no plans to improve or add to those things.
      2. A preacher who had been to college was looked upon with suspicion.
      3. There were all kinds of divisions that had happened, were happening, or would soon happen.
        1. Should you do anything another church was doing?
        2. What was your conviction on the millenium?
        3. What translation of the Bible could a person use?
        4. Was it scriptural to serve communion at the beginning of service?
        5. Should congregations cooperate in any enterprise or endeavor?
        6. Should you use only one cup in communion?
        7. Was how long you preached and how many scriptures you used a matter of faithfulness?
        8. Could women wear pants?
        9. Could women come to church without a hat?
        10. Could women cut their hair?
        11. Could men grow beards? Get tattoos? Wear "long hair?"
        12. Could you buy groceries from a store that sold beer or eat in a restaurant that served alcoholic beverages?
        13. These were just some of the questions vigorously debated--we always have been a people who sharply defended our positions.
      4. Today we are mostly an urban church with rural roots--family farms have disappeared, and we continue to struggle as we address urban needs and realities.
      5. Today most of us prefer well trained preachers, we want better facilities, we want education programs, we want libraries, we have to have paved parking lots, and we plan creature comforts to be a part of any expansion we do.
      6. Things will change in the future.
        1. For the past 30 years we have been able to economically afford expansions, programs, and buildings--what happens when we cannot afford such things? How will that change what we do and how we do it?
        2. (This is not at all the suggestion that we "hoard" what we have in a useless attempt to address the uncertainties of the future!)
        3. For years we converted people with at least an understanding of Christian basics.
          1. Not so now or in the future!
          2. An increasing number of converts will come from either no spiritual background or a background in a non-Christian religion.
          3. Increasingly, our congregations will be composed of people with needs and challenges that we have not dealt with in the past.
          4. Increasingly, members will struggle with views that are new to us who have been a part of congregations for three generations.
      7. Politically, people who were viewed as Christians occupied a position of "favored status" in the past.
        1. That is changing fast!
        2. How will we react when we deal with opposition instead of encouragement?
As increased needs and challenges become our new reality, passages such as the one we focused on today will become more relevant to us. We will increasingly understand that unity is a gift God gave us in the death of Jesus which we seek to preserve, not a status we seek to achieve through human accomplishment. Just as God in Christ made gentile Christians and Jewish Christians one, God can and will make us one. Not because we all conform--we never will!! Not because we all agree on one lifestyle--we never will! It will exist because of what God did for us in Jesus' blood.

First-century Christians needed to understand that when Paul wrote. Christians still need to understand that.

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