Sermon September 6, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1459

September 6, 2020 Ephesians 2.11-22

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“But Now in Christ”

 

11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

 

"Never [has] there been such extensive and such convincing evidence of the poverty and inadequacy of human means…for furthering the welfare of humanity;” (that is, human beings alone cannot provide for themselves)

“never have there been such challenges to Christians to undertake deeds requiring Divine cooperation;” (we need God)

“An alarming weakness among Christians is that we are producing Christian activities faster than we are producing Christian experience and Christian faith;

that the discipline of our souls and the deepening of our acquaintance with God are not proving sufficiently thorough to enable us to meet the unprecedented expansion of opportunity and responsibility of our generation."

(That is, the church is failing to grow closer to God which thus enables the church to reach out to the world.)

John Mott wrote those words, which sound like they could have been written yesterday, but he wrote them in 1915 in an introduction to Harry Emerson Fosdick's book, The Meaning of Prayer.

 

If I were to sum up those words I would say: never has there been such a need for a deepening of our relationship with God. Every generation has had reason to make that claim, in 1915 or 2020 and every other year before and to come. Ours is no different, for that is our goal in life, being rightly related to God. Oswald Chambers uses that phrase often in his famous devotion book, My Upmost for His Highest, to be rightly related to God. First that means related as Savior and saved. We receive Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and death. Second that means related as Lord and disciple. We commit ourselves to follow Jesus in every way of life. Never has there been a greater opportunity and need for the church and each believer to deepen our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We know the means by which that deepening might occur: prayer, worship, fellowship, study, service, and things like these.

 

  • Remember Where You Came From (11-12)

 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians -- who were, as he reminds them, Gentiles by birth. These were people Paul knew. He knew their history and he knows their faith. In the passage for today, he spoke of four conditions.

First, he tells them to remember who they were as Gentiles – they were cut off from God, without hope, not a part of the Jewish covenant. Those who are without Christ are without hope. Paul suggests that they not forget that. Memory is a strong element of our lives. The Scriptures tell us time and time again that Israel was called to remember who they were. Christians in the New Testament are told to remember to whom they belong. In the sacraments, our memories of symbol and story and meaning are recalled.

Much of what we remember in our families comes from the stories we tell, some good and some not so good. Our family stories help to shape who we are and who we might become. We often hear someone who is going away from home for some reason, “Don’t forget where you came from.” In one sense that is reminding us that our stories are important to our identity. Part of that is to protect us from letting other stories begin to define us. Sometimes those stories are false, but sometimes those stories, when Bible stories, help to reshape us for good things.

One of the important aspects of the Bible is that people told their stories and eventually those stories were written down and those stories have become our sacred stories. None of my or your family stories will ever be sacred like the Bible, but our family stories are the stories that have shaped our lives and the longer we are giving ourselves over to the stories of the Bible, the more they will reshape us. Certainly there are times when family stories and biblical stories intersect and simply affirm that the family story held a solid biblical meaning.

Paul invites the Ephesians to remember their stories: “remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh”… “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ.” All of us would be well served to record our family stories! Sometimes our memories fail us, but sometimes a word is spoken and we remember things we thought we had long forgotten. We hear a song or see a movie and all kinds of memories return. Paul says: "remember who you were." For some of us that may conjure up images of our families, for others it may be a memory of who we were before we came to know Jesus. And many of you remember the faith of your youth, growing up in the church as a child with a childlike faith. Our memories help us to see where we have come from and help us to determine where we are going. These memories help to shape who we are and even help to shape the household of God.

 

  • But Now in Christ (13-18)

 

Second, Paul tells the Ephesians their present condition, which is also our present condition. "But now in Christ,” you were once this way, don't forget how you were, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” And then Paul continues to tell how this has been made possible in Jesus.

I still remember being far off. I can remember being a teenager without God, without hope, without a life. I thought I had hope and life, but not really. In many ways, I am thankful for those memories because they help me appreciate what Paul is saying, "But now in Christ Jesus you...have been brought near." Yet one does not need to have been without Jesus to have memories of being far off. Even those who have grown up in the church tell me often about their experience and memory of being in the church but not really knowing Jesus Christ in a personal way. By birth the Ephesians did not know, but often we do not know because of our sin, our unwillingness to remember, or our unwillingness to humble ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

At one point in Paul's speech, verse 18, he says that through Christ, “both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We have access to God! Christ is our mediator. The Spirit also intercedes on our behalf. Never has there been a greater need for that access than today. We have access to the Father, we have the credentials because we are in Christ, we have memories of faith, we have everything we need to address God. As I spoke earlier, our access is through prayer, worship, fellowship, study, service, and things like these.

We know that prayer is powerful. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. We speak of prayer as us talking to God and God talking to us. But we often forget about the power of this access to God. We often forget what prayer has meant in the past, in scripture, in our lives, in the church. If we remembered, perhaps we would not forget to pray. Perhaps we would discipline ourselves such that prayer became second nature to us. Now, all who are in Christ have this access to God.

The Scriptures also give us access to God for it is God’s Word to us. It is the living Word that is God-breathed, active, sharper than a two edged sword. What a blessing to have this Word at our fingertips and even more so, written on our hearts.

We have access through the act of worship and in all the details of worship like thanksgiving, praise, singing, affirming faith, that is, everything we do here. Fellowship and study and many other activities of what it means to be in Christ all bring us nearer to God.

Remember back in Ephesians 1 I made a big deal out of the two words, But God? Paul was showing that God has made us alive with Christ. Here he uses the same language to demonstrate that our past can be transformed into a holy existence, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is how God has made us alive, no longer dead in sin, but alive to God through the blood of Jesus when He gave His life on the cross.

 

  • A Common Citizenship (19)

 

The third theme Paul lifts up is a common citizenship. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”

 

Paul shares the same thought in Philippians 3 about our citizenship in heaven…

18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

 

We are part of the family or household of God. The stories of our families are now intertwined with the stories of the family of God and those stories of the family of God are either affirming our family stories or redeeming them! What I mean by that is that the blood of Christ has washed clean all our stories that fell short of God’s glory. God has cleansed our stories and washed the sin out that once may have shaped our existence. Our citizenship is in heaven now. Everything is made new.

 

  • A Holy Temple (19-22)

 

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

 

The household of God is seen biblically in a couple of ways, one as we are corporately the body of Christ, but also Paul speaks of each of us as a holy temple wherein God’s Spirit abides. Paul probably is recognizing the church as the body of Christ here in Ephesians...being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone. I think of things like Acts 2.42 where we get some of the building blocks… “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They practiced the disciplines of study, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and prayers.

One of the ways, I believe, we are built up as the church and as individual believers is to position ourselves to be swept up in God’s ways and presence. We put ourselves in the wind of God by hoisting the sails of study, fellowship, sacrament, prayer, and so forth. By doing so we grow stronger in Christ and thus a stronger witness to Christ. We become, with Christ, the holy temple in the Lord.

Take for example a word that Paul repeats in this passage, peace. The world and our nation is in need of peace right now (and always). Look again at verses 14-17

 

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

 

Four times Paul speaks of peace and you know he is talking about that peace that only Jesus can give…

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14.27).

 

The peace the world promises is a false promise, fake news. Only Jesus gives true genuine peace. And this peace is not only a witness to the world, but also a guard for our hearts and minds.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.7).

 

The church becomes an agent of peace because Jesus is our peace. One of the ways we do this is to pray for peace! Lord, put an end to the chaos and bring peace. Lord, put an end to the virus and bring peace. As the temple of God, the church lives in blessed peace like no one else can. We are the non-anxious presence in the midst of the chaos because we have peace in Christ. The only hope for the world is to come to this Savior for peace and become adopted into the household of God.

Paul’s message in Ephesians was to remind the people who they were, and the scriptures remind us as well, so that part of our task together is to remind one another who we were, that is, where we have come from – to be reminded of who we are now in Christ, and who we can continue to become as the household of God and a people at peace. Remember who you were, who you are in Christ, and who you can become as the household of God. We can all together as God’s church become an agent of peace in our world by living in the peace that only Jesus gives. But now in Christ, we have peace. Amen.

 
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