Big Idea: Jesus has leveled the playing field for all people to enter the Church
Intro: Morning friends and visitors. I’m Pastor Matt Johnson and today we continue our study of Ephesians. Last week Paul explained that all of us – are saved – by faith alone in Jesus. This means salvation is PERSONAL and INDIVIDUALISTIC. You yourself need to make a decision. But today, Paul begins to explain that once you do believe in Jesus – Christianity is actually COMMUNAL and CORPORATE. We are saved as individuals to belong to a community called the church.
Well a Bishop in the early church called CYPRIAN once said (Slide 1). He also wrote in a letter; (ENTER). Now many of us think; “I don’t need the church! I just need Jesus.” But Cyprian is saying the Christian church is the gospels fruit. We have been saved for church membership. But for many of us church remains a PROBLEM – because we have difficulties in relationship. We struggle with our own insecurities. We struggle to belong.
In 1992 – the Olympic Committee – allowed professional basketball players from the US to compete in the Olympics for the very first time. Prior to this only amateur basketball players could go to the Olympics. But in 1992 professional players were included. So soon afterwards SPORTS ILLUSTRATED started to speculate who would be included in what they called “the Dream Team.” (Slide 3) The name then stuck. And the Dream Team included such NBA greats as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Scottie Pippen. Everyone on the Dream team was a superstar. In a pre-Olympics warm up match against Cuba – the Dream Team won 136-57. When they finally went to the Olympics they beat every team they played by an average of 44 points. What made people grumpy was some days the Dream Team was turning up to the games without any sleep. They’d been out all night partying in Barcelona and they would still blitz their opposition on the court. The dream team made everyone else FEEL and LOOK like amateurs.
Now how do you think all the OTHER TEAMS felt as they went on to the court against the Dream team? Who likes it when you do your very best and you still look pathetic? (PAUSE)No. We hates this we do. In such circumstances INSECURITIES and RESENTMENT begin’s to grow.
Now I tell you this story – because all the way up to the coming of Jesus the Jews were always the A-Team and the Gentiles were always B-Team. Indeed, the 11 Apostles, plus Paul, were like the Jewish Dream team when it came to Christianity. The Jews were the religious professionals and the Gentiles were the rank amateurs. Indeed, for much of the history of Judaism – this idea had been reinforced by the Jews. The Jews made it clear they were God’s chosen people and everyone else didn’t make the grade. All this meant that Jews had PRIDE and PREJUDICE issues towards the Gentiles AND the Gentiles had anger, resentment and insecurity issues towards the Jews…
So todays passage is about EQUALITY in the church specifically between Jews and Gentiles. But at another level this passage is also saying there is no B-Team in the Christian church. Whoever you are there is no B-Team in God’s church.
Point 1: In the Old Covenant Gentiles were B-Team, Jews were A-Team
Show: Eph.2:11-12 (READ)
Explain: Well please note that Paul is specifically addressing GENTILES. Paul says “you who are Gentiles by birth…” Now a Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish. If your parents are not Jewish – then you are a Gentile. If you are English, or Aboriginal, or American or African or Asian – then odds are you are a Gentile. In the Bible everyone who is not Jewish is lumped into a category called Gentile. But being Jewish is more than just ancestry. The Jews were chosen by God to be His Old Covenant people. And God gave the Jews 1) the Law, and 2) the Promised Land and 3) the promise of a future Messiah – which shaped their identity.
Now in the Old Covenant the mark that you were Jewish was CIRCUMCISION. Jewish men were all circumcised on the eighth day. Now I’m hoping you all know what I mean by circumcision OR do I need to show you a photo? (PAUSE) I’m just kidding I wouldn’t show you a photo. I’m sure that wouldn’t be kosher (or would it?)
Anyway, what Paul is saying is that formerly (in the Old Covenant) the whole world was divided into two groups – A) Jews and B) Gentiles or A) circumcised and B) uncircumcised. And as Gentiles – Paul wants us to remember that we were B-team, not dream team. Look at verse 12 (READ). Paul lists 5 things that we lacked as Gentiles. (Slide 4). NOW THIS IS TRUE. From the earliest days of Judaism – God promised the Jews that he would one day send a MESSIAH or CHRIST – who would save the world. But as Gentiles we had no knowledge of this Christ because we did not have the Jewish Scriptures. So we were separate from Christ. Second the Jews were CITIZENS OF GOD’S KINGDOM and received certain blessings. But again, as Gentiles we were excluded from God’s kingdom unless we became Jewish and got circumcised. Third, the Jews also had wonderful COVENANT PROMISES from God about redemption (Isa.53:5-6), and a new temple (Ezek.40-48), about a wonderful Messiah (Isa.9:6-7) and even a new creation where the wolf would lie down with the lamb (Isa.11:6f).
But as Gentiles we had no knowledge of these covenant promises. This means we were also WITHOUT HOPE. In a world full of sin and violence and death – we were hopeless. The hope of the Jews was that God would one day send a perfect King who would save the world and resurrect God’s people. But as Gentiles we had no knowledge of this. So we were without hope AND without God in this world.
THE TRUE GOD, the Creator God had only revealed Himself to the Jews. Sure, other peoples had a general idea that God existed. Everyone knows God exists because the world itself shows signs of INTELLIGENT DESIGN. But Gentiles didn’t know what God was LIKE, what he WANTED or even how to WORSHIP Him. The only people who had this special knowledge of God was the Jews. So under the Old Covenant it was true to say that when it came to God the Jews were the A-Team and the Gentiles were rank amateurs.
Now God’s plan was to use A) THE JEWS to share God’s truth and God’s blessings with B) the Gentiles. But sadly, more often than not – the Jews kept God’s truth to themselves and looked down their noses at everyone else as a bunch of ignoramuses. They were the chosen people and everyone else was pond scum. Now perhaps that is going a bit far. We know that some Jews (like Boaz) did fulfill their God given purpose and they shared God’s blessings with Gentiles like Ruth. But by and large – I think it is fair to say – that the Jews were not faithful to their calling. Now I’m not being anti-semitic. I’m just saying that like the rest of us – they were sinners. So the very thing God told them to do – they regularly failed to do. Like us, they were regularly disobedient.
Illustrate: But here’s the PROBLEM. No one likes being B-Team. If we’re going to play basketball we want to imagine ourselves on the Dream Team with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, not just the Sydney Kings. But worst still – is when the playing field is so stacked against you – you are excluded, just because of the color of your skin, or because your nose isn’t the right shape or because you eat pork.
This then creates real resentment. Why should the Jews get this preferential treatment? It’s not fair. In the words of Gollum; “We hates them we do. Filthy hobitses.” And perhaps, right there a certain ANTI-SEMITISM was born. Gentiles resented the Jews special privileges…
Apply: Now Paul is telling us Gentiles to remember that in the Old Covenant we were B-team. But why? Why put the boot in. He says; you were SEPARATE. You were EXCLUDED. You were WITHOUT HOPE and WITHOUT GOD.” Gee thanks Paul. Thanks for the reminder. Why would Paul want us to remember this? (PAUSE). I can’t be sure. But I do know that sometimes we only overcome our insecurities, by first acknowledging they exist. Yes, Gentiles had an insecurity…
Remember, in the early church – all the apostles were Jews. Many of the church leaders would also have been Jewish Christians. The natural church leaders would have been the people who knew the Scriptures best (and by and large) that would have been Jewish people who grew up with the Old Testament. What’s more, the Christian church was born at a time – when Jews treating Gentiles like second class citizens was par for the course. THAT WAS NORMAL. So in the early church – how do you think the Gentile Christians felt running into the predominantly Jewish church? Do you think they felt secure OR were they expecting to be out dribbled, out bounced and totally slam-dunked by the dream team? (PAUSE) In 50AD the Jewish apostles decided at the Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15) that Gentile Christians could be full and equal members in the church. But did the Gentile Christians recognize themselves as full members? Paul seems to be addressing a perceived problem that is only present in Gentile Christians…
Point 2: In the New Covenant the A-Team & the B-Team are Equals
Show: Eph.2:13-18 (READ)
Explain: Like last week we have another big BUT in verse 13. Paul says the blood of Jesus has now changed everything. The blood of Jesus is the most precious thing in the Bible because it paid for our sins. This is what other parts of the Bible say (Slide 4; Lev.17:11; Heb.9:22). Now ATONEMENT is about being at-one with God. (ENTER) When you see the word atone divide it into two words at-one. Atone = at one with God. When we sin we are NOT at-one with God. When we sin, God gets angry with us. And when we sin, we get scared of God’s punishment. So we are not at one. But Jesus’ blood shed at the cross pays for our sin. As Jesus diedon the cross he accepted GOD THE FATHER’S ANGER at our sin, upon himself, so that we can be spared. Jesus took the punishment for us. And as we understand that Jesus has paid for our sins we are no longer scared of God. So Jesus’ blood makes us at one with God.
Jesus blood also brings forgiveness. When we forgive someone we actually SWALLOWthe hurt they have inflicted upon us – deep in ourself. When someone hurts us – we want revenge. We want pay back. But when we forgive someone – INSTEAD of putting the hurt they have caused us back on to them (in retribution), we instead choose to swallow that hurt in ourself. Now you will know how HARD it is TO FORGIVE – when someone has really hurt you. Forgiving them almost breaks something inside you. And this is what God also did at the cross. As Jesus cried out Father forgive them for they know not what they do – God the Father and God the Son – were swallowing deep in themselves – all the hurt and offense our sin has caused them. Indeed, swallowing the hurt was so difficult that it broke something in the Father-Son relationship.
But Jesus and God the Father were willing to do all this because they love us and they want us to come back into relationship with them. And as we respond to JESUS in faith and repentance and love we are actually forgiven and we become at-one with God…
So Jesus’ blood fixes our VERTICAL RELATIONSHIP with God. But Jesus’ blood also begins to fix the HORIZONTAL RELATIONSHIP between A-Team and B-Team. The Jews thought they were better than the Gentiles. But Jesus died on the cross for both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews needed Jesus’ blood to save them, just as much as the Gentiles needed Jesus’ blood to save them. So Jesus’ blood says that there is no A-Team or B-Team. We are all just sinners kneeling at the cross asking God to forgive us. THIS IS TRUE – not just A) of Jews and Gentiles, but B) of doctors and ice addicts; C) business women and prostitutes; D) wealthy and the poor. We are all just sinners – kneeling before the cross – asking God for forgiveness.
But Jesus blood did something else as well. If you look at verse 15 you’ll see that it says “abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations….” ABOLISHING. THE LAW here is referring to the Mosaic Law – the 613 Jewish laws found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses told the Jews they would be blessed if they kept these laws. They would be blessed if they OBEYED and cursed if they DISOBEYED. But Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic law for us. So our standing with God is no longer determined by our obedience or disobedience to the Mosaic law. No. Jesus taught that our standing with God is solely determined by whether we have faith in him or not. A) If you live with Jesus as your Saviour and Lord – you are blessed. B) If Jesus is not your Saviour and Lord – then you are still under God’s curse. What really determines our relationship with God is not Moses law, but Jesus Christ. Look at verse 18 (READ).
Apply: What this is saying is that Jews and Gentiles are now equals. DOCTORS and drug addicts, PREMIERS and prostitutes all have equal access to God through faith in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. Jews have access to God as Jews through faith in Jesus AND Gentiles have access to God as Gentiles through faith in Jesus. What now saves us is faith in Jesus and his words.
That means Gentiles don’t need to become Jews and obey all the Mosaic commands to be Christians. No. We live by faith in Jesus and his words in the New Testament. But that doesn’t mean Jews have to give up the Mosaic commands because that is their identity. They too live by faith in Jesus (not Moses) but that doesn’t mean they stop being Jewish. So Gentiles don’t need to become Jews to be Christians AND Jews don’t need to become Gentiles in order to be Christians. (We might also add that black Aboriginals and Africans don’t need to become like white people to be Christian, and poor people don’t need to become like rich middle-class people to be Christian). The important thing to remember is verse 18 – for through him (Jesus) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. THIS MEANS – when it comes to God (and relationship with God) Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor are all equal, even though we are still different…
Point 3: In the New Covenant A-Team & B-Team are Equal, but Different
Show: Eph.2:19-22 (READ)
Explain: Notice Paul says in verse 19 – you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens. In other words, whatever insecurities, grievances or unforgiveness you may still harbor – get over it. For some reason Paul (at this point in history) believes the Gentiles need to hear this and be reminded of this. Maybe the Gentiles still had a CHIP on their shoulder. Maybethey still had all sorts of INSECURITIES because they weren’t the dream team. But Paul is like – get over it. Get over it. The fact, that Paul can still address us as Gentile Christians means that we are not exactly the same as Jewish Christians. This is a word from God specifically to Gentile Christians that we were meant to process…
Sadly, I think the Gentile Christian church did not hear these words. So as Gentile Christians gained the ascendancy in the early church – we started treating Jewish Christians like the B-Team. We Gentiles turned the tables and we claimed that we were morally superior because we accepted Jesus, whereas the Jews killed their own Messiah. (I can give you countless examples where Gentile church leaders said exactly that in the early church and during the Reformation). So B-Team became A-Team and A-Team became B-Team. But Paul wants us to know that A-Team and B-Team are equals, even while they remain distinct groups.
Notice in verse 19 – Paul talks to us as Gentile Christians and says we are fellow citizens with God’s people. There is still some distinction. The Gentile Christians are fellow citizens. The Jewish Christians are part of God’s original people. FELLOW CITIZEN literally means a citizen who lives with or alongside other citizens. Not replaces them. Nor is the same as them. But a distinct group. Equal, but different. Now down in verse 22 you’ll see that it says “And in him (Jesus) you too are being BUILT TOGETHER to become God’s dwelling…” The built together is the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians coming together in the church. We are being built TOGETHER because we are still two distinct groups. Just as there is A) equality and distinction between men and women in God’s church, so there remains B) equality and distinction between Jews and Gentiles in God’s church.
Apply: But as we all stand together on the foundation of the APOSTLES who wrote the New Testament and the PROPHETS who wrote the Old Testament – with Jesus as the chief cornerstone – our very existence testifies to the power of the gospel. In our world differences usually divide. Satan uses differences between men and women, Jews and Gentiles, blacks and whites, rich and poor to create fear, resentment and prejudice. That is why the world is so divided. In a context of sin differences create insecurities and prejudices. And the only way our world knows how to fix this is to blur the distinctions.
But Jesus (and the message of the cross) provides us with such personal security that it brings people together without having to blur all distinctions. We are different and that is ok. God made men and women different. God made Jews and Gentiles different. But in our differences we are all equals – standing at the foot of the cross, asking God for forgiveness.
And this is where Christian community really becomes THE CHURCH that God planned before the creation of the world. When we know how to live together – celebrating both our equality and differences in Jesus, we start to become like God Himself – who is three DIFFERENT, but EQUAL persons in one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be equal to others – you don’t need to be the same as others. You just need to be you – guided by the apostles and prophets – and focussed on Jesus Christ – the chief cornerstone who holds us all together in love.