Building Up or Pulling Down?
Reading: Ephesians Ch.2v11-18.
In Ephesians Ch.2v1-10 we very soon, in our reading, come to understand that the passage is speaking of an “Amazing Dispositional Turn-A-Round” which can take place in human nature. We were dead and became alive, we were deluded and became wise, we were disobedient and became obedient, we were defiled and became clean, and we were doomed but became saved all because “God who is rich in mercy” took a part in providing what could make an amazing dispositional turn-a-round when we believed on his name.
Now though in Ephesians Ch.2v11-18 Paul is reminding us there is an “Amazing Dispensational Turn-A-Round” which must take place in human nature.
For people as technologically advanced as we are, we certainly haven't learned much morally. While we can put men on the moon, we can't seem to cause them to get along together. While we can safely hang millions of tones of material in space and trust it to stay up there we cannot take a walk in the park and trust others to be as dependable. Heart transplants are commonplace, but hearts of compassion are growing increasingly rare. Instead of tearing down the walls of hostility between us, we have been erecting them with care. Do we think these walls help us? We must, for we certainly spend a great deal of effort building and mending them.
Where many Christians are concerned Christ is little more than an idea, or at best an ideal--He is not a fact. Millions of professed believers talk as if He were real and act as if He were not. Our actual position is always to be discovered by the way we act, not by the way we talk.
A.W. Tozer in This World: Playground or Battleground? Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 2
The history of humankind is filled with the hostility of one person against another. Our text today deals with the hostility between Jew and Gentile. But one doesn't need to read a document written 2,000 years ago to be aware of racial and cultural hostility. All one has to do is pick up the daily newspaper. Recent events have underscored the stark realities that walls are still standing strong and high. It seems we have grown very adept at building walls of prejudice and hostility between ourselves and those we deem to be not like us. Wherever and whenever there is the “us and them” mentality, we see the walls start to go up. It’s something we battle against continually within the Church of Jesus Christ.
What are the walls you have erected between "you" and “them?” What are the walls of prejudice, which separate "you" from "others?" Do you want those walls torn down? If so, how can they be torn down? Disunity among God's own people has always been a special heartache to God. In His intercessory prayer for His disciples in John 17, Jesus prayed, on three occasions that they would be one (vv11, 21, 22) and again "that they may be perfected in unity" (v23). Did you know this is one prayer we can answer for Jesus! We have been given the unity of the Spirit at Salvation and that’s a fact, but Paul reminds us there must be an “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians Ch.3v4).
In his book "The Cross of Peace" Sir Philip Gibbs writes:
"The problem of fences has grown to be one of the most acute that the world must face. Today there are all sorts of zigzag and crises-crossing fences running through the races and peoples of the world. Modern progress has made the world a neighbourhood and God has given us the task of making it a brotherhood. In these days of dividing walls of race and class we must shake the earth anew with the message of Christ, in whom there is neither, bond or free, Jew nor Greek, Scythian nor Barbarian, but all are one in Christ Jesus." End Quote!
We are busy these days with all kinds of union and unification trying to get the saints to work together, but what is desperately needed is unity, and that only comes from heart fellowship with Jesus Christ. You see dear saint of God He is the bread of life, all the vitamins and calories our souls requires are in Christ. He is Alpha and Omega and all the letters in between. It will not happen with us administering our own medication. You simply make up your own rules as you go, be assured it will not work that way. The Bible says we are complete in Him! Christianity is not a cafeteria where you walk down the line deciding what you like and leave what you dislike. He has given his all for us, can we do anything other than take all he gave.
As John Wesley rode across Hounslow Heath late one night, singing a favorite hymn, he was startled by a fierce voice shouting, "Halt," while a firm hand seized the horse's bridle. Then the man demanded, "Your money or your life." Wesley obediently emptied his pockets of the few coins they contained and invited the robber to examine his saddlebags which were filled with books. Disappointed at the result, the robber was turning away when evangelist cried, "Stop! I have something more to give you." The robber, wondering at this strange call, turned back. Then Wesley, bending down toward him, said in solemn tones, "My friend, you may live to regret this sort of a life in which you are engaged. If you ever do, I beseech you to remember this, 'The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin."' The robber hurried silently away, and the man of God rode along, praying in his heart that the word spoken might be fixed in the robber's conscience. Years later, at the close of a Sunday evening service with the people streaming from the large building, many lingered around the doors to see the aged preacher, John Wesley. A stranger stepped forward and earnestly begged to speak with Mr. Wesley. What a surprise to find that this was the robber of Hounslow Heath, now a well-to-do tradesman in the city, but better still, a child of God! The words spoken that night long ago had been used of God in his conversion. Raising the hand of John Wesley to his lips, he affectionately kissed it and said in tones of deep emotion, "To you, dear sir, I owe it all." Wesley replied softly, "Nay, nay, my friend, not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ which cleanseth us from all sin."
James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 50.
1. An Invitation Through The Blood! v11-13:
a. Think About Our Natural State: v11-12:
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” Ephesians Ch.2v11-12).
Paul reminds them they had no Covenant Relationship with the God of Israel v11.
The hostility between Jew and Gentile is a well-documented fact. To the Jews, there were only two classes of people --- Jews and Gentiles. To be a Jew was to be one of God's chosen people. To be a Gentile was to be a heathen dog --- worth nothing. In fact, the Jews said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. The Jews looked with disdain and contempt at all Gentiles. And, it might be added, that the Gentiles didn't have the warm fuzzes for the Jews either. Both hated the other.
Paul calls this to mind when he says that the Gentiles in the flesh were called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision.” Actually, this was a kind of curse thrown at the Gentiles by the Jews. You will recall that circumcision was the sign and seal of the covenant God made with Israel. Every male would be circumcised when he was eight days old. This was a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. The Gentiles, of course, were not circumcised. So when the Jews called them “Uncircumcision” (literally foreskin), it was simply another way of saying that they were inferior. After all, God had accepted the Jews, and the Gentiles had not. This, in the minds of many, gave them a right to hate the Gentiles. And they could justify this hatred by pointing out many reasons for it. The Gentiles were truly God rejecters. In fact, Paul reminds them that they were in a hopeless condition. He describes this condition negatively in five ways.
Paul secondly reminds them they had no Commonwealth Relationship with the God of Israel v12. He says that you were at that time separate from Christ --- they were without Christ. He goes on to say they were excluded from a commonwealth of Israel --- they were without citizenship in God's kingdom. They were strangers to the covenants of promise) they were without covenants to assure their future. He concludes by saying that they were in the position of having no hope and without God in the world --- the Gentiles were without hope and without God. This was the Gentile situation. To the Jews they had rejected God, which indeed they had, and the Jews rejected them.
b. Think About Our New State! v13:
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who were sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ”.
Some people see education as the anchor of civilization, but it was the best educated nation on earth that gave birth to the Nazis. Some see health as an anchor for life, but much of the work in the world is being done by people who don't feel like doing it. Some see stability in wealth--it is their anchor. They may have an experience similar to that of the ship Marine Electric, which sank off the coast of Virginia early in 1983, costing the lives of thirty-one sailors. The reason was this: the ship's eight-ton anchor came loose and battered the hull of the ship until the ship went down. The vessel was destroyed by its own anchor. If wealth is your anchor, it may destroy you. Our hope in Christ is the only unfailing anchor for the soul.
Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
So near, so very near to God
Nearer I cannot be;
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He. (Gatesby Paget)
Such a powerful anchor and such a precious nearness is possible only through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus. The crucifixion of Christ was the ultimate expression of man’s hatred of God but God turned the cross work of Christ into the greatest manifestation of God’s love and kindness imaginable to human kind.
Once we were far off from God groping in the deepest of darkness to find our way but when we were yet a great way off, the Father saw us and had great compassion upon us. He ran and welcomed us into His family through His son Jesus Christ and now, praise God we are made near to God for every more.
2. A Unification Through The Body! v14-18:
a. There Is A Peace That Is Procured: v14-16:
“For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”.
Not only an invitation through the blood but now; he is speaking of unification through the body. That is the body into which we have been called, the Church of Jesus Christ. So a dividing wall of hostility had been erected. Paul speaks of this barrier of the dividing wall in verse 14. This wall of hostility found its expression in a physical wall surrounding the Temple. In Herod's Temple there was separating wall between the area in which a Jew was allowed and the area designated for the Gentiles. There were inscriptions placed along the wall, which warned the Gentiles to proceed no further. These inscriptions read in part, “Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” This dividing wall symbolized the hostility between Jew and Gentile. But just as Frost described in his poem, “Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down.” Actually, the “something” is “Someone.”
A man purchased a white mouse to use as food for his pet snake. He dropped the unsuspecting mouse into the snake's glass cage, where the snake was sleeping in a bed of sawdust. The tiny mouse had a serious problem on his hands. At any moment he could be swallowed alive. Obviously, the mouse needed to come up with a brilliant plan. What did the terrified creature do? He quickly set to work covering the snake with sawdust chips until it was completely buried. With that, the mouse apparently thought he had solved his problem. The solution however, came from outside. The man took pity on the silly little mouse and removed him from the cage. No matter how hard we try to cover or deny our sinful nature, it's fool's work. Sin will eventually awake from sleep and shake off its cover. Were it not for the saving grace of the Master's hand, sin would eat us alive.
Laura Chick: Denver, Colorado. Leadership: Vol. 9, no. 4.
Not only are barriers broken down but we discover a new bond is established. As already indicated the church is uniting body that welds us together. There are no divisions based on racial origins, religious backgrounds, class distinctions, national boundaries, or colour prejudices, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Perhaps we only see this truth faintly right now because of our human failings. But we need to understand this; there is an eternal truth which will stand for all to see, in the counsels of God the church will be finally seen as that “one new man” mentioned here by Paul in v15. I am aware that imperfect sightings of that truth can be identified today as we look across the world but Oh my, how we need to work at building this wonderful bond between believers which I am certain was our dear Lord’s desire, that we would be seen in this world as those who love one another.
b. There Is A Peace That Is Proclaimed: v17-18:
“And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; (Ephesians Ch.2v17).
All difference is gone now, the Gentiles were afar off; the Jews were near but both were equally lost. They were at war not only with each other but also with God. Then peace was proclaimed through the blood of Christ and all differences were removed. Listen to the Apostle Paul, “There is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans Ch.3v22-23).
The smug and surly older brother was just as lost and the younger prodigal. One was afar off, the other was near, but both were estranged from the father and needed to be reconciled. The differences in them were displayed in their outward expressions of pride, self-will and rebellion. They both had the same inner need of forgiveness and grace. The Gospel reduces us all to the one level.
Only through Christ can the walls of prejudice come down. Christ came to break down the walls that divide us. Through Christ's work those who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. When Christ came He made Himself the basis for peace. No longer are we to relate to God based on the Law of commandments contained in ordinances. He has abolished that by His death on the cross. Now both Jew and Gentile alike; can come to Him that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.
You see, there seems to be a tendency within us, probably inherited from Adam, not only to hide from God, but to hide from one another as well. There is a tendency to be suspicious of one another. There is a tendency to judge one another. There is a tendency to build walls to separate “us” from “them.” But Christ has come to bring us together in Him. And in Christ there is absolutely no reason why we can't come together. No reason except our disobedience to Him.
He has done away with arbitrary divisions. There is now no division based on race, nationality, age, education, sex, or culture. In Christ the barriers are down. But let me reiterate, only through Christ can the walls of prejudice come down. But in Him they do, and they must!
Are there things, which separate you from other believers in Christ? If there are, then perhaps it is true that you or they have not found a living relationship with Christ who is your peace. We can be sure that the, things which separate us as believers, have not been placed there by God. Good fences do not make good neighbours. The God of reconciliation has come to break down the walls, which, separate us. Frost remarks in his poem: “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know, what I was walling in or walling out.” You must be careful not to wall out the presence of Christ, and not to wall yourself in and find you have built your own prison of prejudice. Christ has come to set us free. Christ has come to make us one. Yet so many believers are in bondage!
A pastor was once asked to define "Faithful Attendance at Worship," and this was his reply: All that I ask is that we apply the same standards of faithfulness to our church activities that we would in other areas of our life. That doesn't seem too much to ask. The church, after all, is concerned about faithfulness. Consider these examples: If your car started one out of three times, would you consider it faithful? If the paperboy skipped Monday and Thursdays, would they be missed? If you didn't show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day now and then, would you excuse it and say, "Oh, well, it works most of the time." If your water heater greets you with cold-water one or two mornings a week while you were in the shower, would it be faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year's time, would your mortgage holder say, "Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn't bad"? If you miss worship and attend meetings only often enough to show you're interested but not often enough to get involved are you faithful?
James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 87.
All distance is gone now; “for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians Ch.2v18).
There are several things that can get in the way of pulling these walls down. The first is pride. There is no doubt that pride is at the root of so many sins. Pride is certainly at the root of prejudice. Some people are taught that they are intrinsically better than other people. Based on race or national origin, these categories change. This can not only be true of race or nationality, it can also be true of religious denomination. Whatever the category, when one group feels that they are better than another group, even a group within a group, you can be sure pride is at the root. Jesus came to break the back of pride. Pride is one fence that needs to be torn down.
Another problem, which, gets in the way is a feeling of inferiority. Some people have been beat up so much that they feel rejected. They not only feel rejected by other people, they feel rejected by God. It's easy to believe that since others do not like you that God does not like you. When a feeling of inferiority victimizes you, you feel like a failure and understand, in your thinking, why people and why God would reject you.
Other people's pride and prejudice feed these feelings of inferiority. But it is all a blatant lie. Jesus Christ accepts all who come to Him. There is no sin, no failure, no fault, which, can cause Him to reject you. When Jesus received the woman of Samaria, many were surprised that He would even talk to her. Many are still surprised at those whom Jesus chooses. If He has chosen you, you are not a second-class citizen.
A final hang-up is the problem of pressure. Sometimes we build the walls because of other people with whom we associate that are prejudice. The apostle Peter found this to be true in his own life. In Acts 10, God prepared him through a vision to go to a Gentile household in order to share Christ. God showed Peter through that vision that there was nothing unclean that God has made clean. Then He sent Peter to the household of Cornelius. There the Holy Spirit was poured out as He had been at Pentecost. Peter got the point, and rejoiced at God's activity in there midst. But later on, Paul had to rebuke Peter because Peter withdrew himself from fellowship with the Gentiles when some of his Jewish buddies came from Jerusalem. Even Peter was a victim of the pressure, which can be applied by others' opinions. So can we be.
Jesus has come to make peace. He has come to bring us together in Himself. Are there those with whom you need to make peace today? Are there attitudes you need to surrender today? Christ has come to set us free.
God still uses broken things: broken soil and broken clouds to produce grain; broken grain to produce bread; broken bread to fee the hungry. He wants our stubbornness broken into humble obedience.
There are no "inactive" church members. An old pastor whose congregation numbered one hundred was asked how many active members he had. "One hundred," he replied; "Fifty active for me and fifty active against me."
There is a great danger lurking in the church today: We are challenged but not changed; convicted, but not converted. We hear, but do not and thereby we deceive ourselves.
I say again, all distance is gone now, and all difference, we are brought into the nearer presence of our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. One day, When the Lord Jesus “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God” (Hebrews Ch.9v14). God reached down and rent the temple veil, he thus rendered Judaism obsolete and at the same time opened up the way for both Jews and Gentiles alike to enter His presence and all who do so are one in Christ Jesus the Lord. And it’s that oneness which builds up rather than pulls down.