Ephesians 2:11-13 “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
The spectre of religious fundamentalism haunts the modern world. Hindu fundamentalism threatens the Christian and the Muslim alike in India. Islamic fundamentalism is at war with the Christian faith and with democracies everywhere. Jewish fundamentalism militantly opposes the spread of Christianity in Israel. I read this week’s press releases and met any number of instances of religious persecution. On May 2 this month a Pakistan Christian called Javed Anjum from Quetta died in the Allied Hospital in Faisalabad after being tortured for five days by Islamic fundamentalists. During the torture they continually asked him to accept Islam. In the Membuke Church in Indonesia on March 30 the pastor Freddy Wuisan was shot dead. Between 1999 and 2001 anti-Christian violence in the area around Poso in Indonesia claimed some 2000 lives. The attacks have been carried out by a local Islamic group called ‘Mujahideen Kompak.’ In Aran, Israel, a month ago, several hundred Haredim, (ultra-Orthodox Jews) demonstrated in front of a house where a Christian widow and her children live. Placards urged them to leave the town. There are fifteen Christian families in this Negev town and all have been harassed by fundamentalist Jews. On March 25 a criminal court in north-west Turkey postponed trial hearings against some men accused of severely injuring a 32 year old Christian, Yakup Cindille, for distributing Bibles and doing ‘missionary propaganda.’ His injuries are life-threatening; he was in a coma for two months. His pastor stated that other members of the Bursa Protestant Church have also been attacked and threatened. Turkey is now in the European Community with Great Britain. These are a few instances of hundreds of attacks of religious fundamentalists which have taken place this year. Mankind’s religions are its worst crimes. All this would be most familiar to the first century church.
While we evangelical Christians are dubbed ‘fundamentalists’ in fact we are very different. Of course we have our own great convictions and evangelistic zeal, but all across the so-called ‘Bible belt of fundamentalists’ in the southern states of the USA mosques and temples have been built. The same is true for Ulster which can be called Europe’s ‘Bible belt’. Hindus and Muslims and Jews may spread their faith and seek to convert their Christian neighbours. They are protected by the law in these activities. If a so-called Christian fundamentalist bombs an abortion clinic and kills a doctor then he is condemned by Christians. We don’t even plead that he might not suffer capital punishment for such a murder.
What distinguishes religious fundamentalists from our own convictions? It is not that they claim, “We are right and other people are wrong.” Nor are they unique in their feelings of superiority in what they believe over others. Humanists, Darwinists and atheists say that sort of thing all the time. Religious fundamentalism is characterised by a number of features:
i] It backs its exclusivism with threats and persecution. Anyone who leaves their ranks by being converted to another religion is considered a traitor, a renegade, or a blasphemer, and it is considered legitimate to kill them. This very year this has happened to people in Pakistan and Egypt and throughout the Middle East. Wives and children try to escape from their homes and find a refuge once their families discover that they have begun to worship Jesus Christ.
ii] Religious fundamentalism is also characterised by its theonomic claims. In other words, it does not see a distinction between church and state. It criminalises and punishes with sanctions behaviour that is immoral rather than criminal, and it uses the law of the land to impose its religion on the citizens of a nation.
iii] It links its religion with a race. It states that if you are a real Arab then you must be a Muslim, not a Christian, or it says that you cannot be a Christian Israeli you must be a Jewish Israeli. Or if you are an Indian then their fundamentalist men consider it a great betrayal of India to be any religion other than Hindu.
In the light of this it is so interesting to look at the New Testament writings. There we see how the Christian church was threatened by Jewish religious fundamentalism.
1. THE EARLY CHURCH FACED CONSIDERABLE HOSTILITY.
The church was opposed for two reasons.
i] Many of the first followers of Jesus Christ were former Jews, and their conversion to worship the condemned and crucified Jesus of Nazareth resulted in fierce persecution. That is what moved men to murder by stoning the converted Jew Stephen. They killed and imprisoned other Christian converts. They attempted to kill Paul on a number of occasions. Remember that these Jewish persecutors were not Old Testament Christians like Simeon and Anna or John the Baptist were. These Jewish fundamentalists were a people who had forgotten the grace of God. They hated the claim that Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. The Jewish Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin had found their own Messiah guilty of blasphemy and sentenced him to death. Then they sought to strangle the infant church in its crib. They wanted no one to spread the claim that the Nazarene was the Christ the Son of the living God.
ii] The second reason they disdained the early church was the ethnic and racial reason, the pride of being God’s chosen people. As the early church spread it became overwhelmingly Gentile and yet it had the effrontery – in Jewish eyes – of taking the Old Testament Scriptures and claiming that many of its prophecies were being fulfilled in their congregations and in their own existence and growth. These Jews despised and even detested the heathen as ‘dogs.’ Imagine dogs stealing promises your God had made just to you, such as the fact that he had chosen and loved you with a covenant love that would never let you go. Imagine viscous godless dogs, mongrels and curs who scavenged for food, standing up and claiming that the Creator had been talking about them all along. Jewish fundamentalists hated this. Some of them taught that Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. They looked at the evil Gentile world described by Paul in Romans chapter one as proof of the righteousness of their utter contempt for such barbarians. These fundamentalist Jews of 2,000 years ago actually taught that it wasn’t lawful for them to help a Gentile mother at childbirth because that would be helping to bring another dog into the world. The barrier between Jewish fundamentalist and Gentile was immensely high. If a Jewish daughter or son married a Gentile the family held a funeral service. They never recognised their own children again. The children were in effect dead.
Even the Gentiles who became converts to Judaism, who kept the Ten Commandments and believed everything that was written in the law and the prophets, were never allowed to forget that they were second class Jehovahists. When they came to Jerusalem to the feasts they were restricted to a walled courtyard called the ‘Court of the Gentiles’ which ran around the Temple. From there they could look at the distant building and three courtyards between themselves and the Temple. The first was where women might enter and that courtyard had a wall around it; go no further! Then there was another inner circle where the men had their courtyard with a wall about five feet high around that; go no further! Then another inner court again was found where the priests alone entered. Then there was the Temple itself which was further divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. No worshipper ever entered the Temple. So Gentile converts were right on the fringes and forbidden to go any nearer because they were not Israelites. There were warning signs erected at the gateways to the next courtyard. The signs said, “Trespassers will be executed.” Josephus says that these warning notices were written in Greek and Latin. In fact in the year 1871 one of these ancient notices was discovered. It is now in a museum in Istanbul. The following words are carved into the white limestone: “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure around the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” In an incident recorded in Acts 21 the apostle Paul is almost lynched when the Jews suspect that he had smuggled a Gentile from Ephesus named Trophimus into an inner court of the Temple. So Jewish religion in its very architecture emphasised the distance between men and God.
You would imagine that these Jews would be very close to the early church because both declared the Old Testament Scriptures were the Word of God. Certainly the New Testament preachers used the Scriptures to speak to Jews in their synagogues, but there was no closeness because of these barriers. The first, that in Jewish eyes some of these Christians were renegade converts from Judaism who now worshipped Jehovah Jesus as the Son of God, and secondly, the Jews ethnically looked down on them as mere Gentile dogs. So, the Christians in Ephesus knew Jewish rejection because they were Gentiles, and hatred because they worshipped Jesus of Nazareth as God and Christ, stealing God’s promises to Israel and claiming that those promises referred to themselves.
2. THE NON-JEW ONCE LACKED GREAT PRIVILEGES WHICH THE JEW HAD.
God had set his love on one chosen people during the Old Testament era. “You only have I known of all the nations in the world,” he said to the Jews. That was the plan of God, to begin with one people in one geographical area of the world, there on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, in a land about the same size as our principality of Wales. These twelve tribes of Israel were a holy nation, in other words, they were set apart by God, and they had wonderful privileges of God speaking to them, guiding and defending them, meeting their needs, while the rest of the world during those centuries was lying in darkness. Paul mentions three of the Old Testament privileges which the Ephesian Gentiles lacked.
i] The Jews alone were given the covenant sign of circumcision.
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcision’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)” (v.11). There was an outward sign on the folk of this nation alone, and it said, “These people should have had an inward work of God done in their hearts.” Paul tells the Romans, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” (Roms. 2:28&29). In Old Testament times we Gentiles didn’t have that regenerating work of God in our hearts. We didn’t have the fruit of the new birth in our lives, the joy of knowing Jehovah. None of us Gentiles anywhere was writing and singing the glorious biblical psalms – what literature in the world has anything like the 150 psalms? – only the sweet singers of Israel, because their hearts had indeed been circumcised as the sign on their bodies declared. Loads of nations practise all kinds of circumcision even today, for example, in Kenya that rite is what has characterised the majority Luo tribe for centuries. Rites of passage are signalised today by circumcision, just as Paul writes here, that they are “done in the body by the hands of men,” but in Israel alone was this a sign of a divine and inward operation, a new heart. No one has a new heart by anything men can do to you, only by the special work of God. We are born into the family of God not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, but by God’s great inner work. Circumcision was a continual challenge to a man to be sure he got a new heart.
ii] The Jews alone had citizenship in the promised land of Israel.
“excluded from citizenship in Israel” (v.12). Here was the sphere in which God operated, in a land which flowed with milk and honey whenever the people obeyed Jehovah’s law. What a great place to live where the people were acknowledged, and provided for, and protected by the living God: his own commonwealth. It is wonderful to have a true sense of belonging, to know you are in the place that God wants you to be. In the Old Testament time all true Israel had that conviction. All the world over today there are people disillusioned with ‘the system’, critical of ‘the technocracy’, and hostile to ‘the establishment.’ They describe themselves as ‘alienated’; they feel that they don’t belong. Many of them live in prosperous, mighty USA. Others live in the rich countries of the European Community. Never in human history have so many people been so rich. They have everything, but many feel they have nothing and the real reason for this is that they are excluded from the kingdom of God. That is man’s chief end, to enter the kingdom of God, and unless a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God, said the Lord Jesus.
iii] The Jews alone had the covenants of the promise.
“foreigners to the covenants of the promise” (v.12). We Gentiles were alienated from God’s covenant promise during the Old Testament period. What promise is Paul referring to? He means the great promise God made to Abraham, “I will be your God and I will bless you.” There was a great offer of redemption made to Abraham and his descendants. That offer wasn’t made to the Gentiles. We were utter strangers to it; we had no entitlement to it. We Welsh people were then under the influence of the druids, I guess a sort of New Age group, and whatever the druids believed, and nobody will ever know, there was certainly no grace and no divine covenant love to be found there. Abraham’s line alone received the covenant mercies of God. The rest of mankind were strangers to it unless Israel herself reached out to a Rahab, and a Ruth, and a Naaman and to the people of Nineveh, but Israel was often paralysed in spiritual bankruptcy, utterly moribund but for the awakening voice of God’s lonely prophets. The world, then, remained in darkness because of Israel’s disobedience to its missionary mandate. So that was the plight of the Gentile world when Paul wrote this letter, lacking in covenant mercies, and signs, and any sense of belonging, a world of impoverished strangers. Gentiles could not assume that because they were human beings that automatically the Lord was their God; “I’m a forgiven man and I have all the blessings of this world and the world to come.” No! The covenants of the promise were made to the line of Abraham. They belonged to a particular people, and the Gentiles had not been that people until the Son of God came and sent his apostles into all the world.
3. TODAY BOTH JEW AND GENTILE LACK THE GREATEST PRIVILEGES.
Paul is contemplating the condition of these Gentiles and he has begun to evaluate it first, as we have seen, in comparison with the Jewish privileges. But their deprivation as men and women is far more serious. They can forget about the superiority of the Jews, consider these glories that are absent from their lives:
i] Separated from Jesus Christ himself.
“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ” (v.12). Many of these people in Ephesus hadn’t even heard of Jesus Christ, and as Paul evaluates their lives he reckons that that is their greatest loss. They had wealth and intelligence and natural gifts but such things were not so important to him, it was their estrangement from Christ that mattered. This was an absolutely primary concern in his eyes. There were all sorts of distinctions in ability and ethnicity in multicultural Ephesus, in the languages they spoke, and even, I suppose, variations in degradation and depravity which all divided people, but the ruling distinction as far as the apostle was concerned was this, their separation from Christ. From another point of view this is another instance of the sublime arrogance of the New Testament, because it has this commitment to the absoluteness of Jesus Christ, and it is prepared to measure and evaluate individuals and nations and groups and cultures and civilisations precisely according to their relationship with the Christian Saviour.
There are those who have never heard of the Lord Jesus Christ. They have no one to tell them what is right and wrong, who is my neighbour, what is the good life, who is God, what lies after death, what must I do to inherit eternal life. They have no Sermon on the Mount, no New Testament and no invitations of mercy or offers of the gift of eternal life. They have no atonement, and no Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They have no Good Shepherd to love and protect them. They live their entire lives separate from him, and whose responsibility is that? Have we no desire at all to reach them? Those who live lives of sin and impurity will go to God’s judgment to answer for that sin, and yet many will arrive there with a guilt that is modified by the fact that they had never heard the offer of salvation in Christ. They have never listened to an exposition of the glories of the Lord Jesus. Men have never pled with them; people have never besought them to accept the reconciliation.
Now I would think it is very, very rarely that people come into this congregation who have never heard of Jesus Christ, and that that is not the state of any of you today. In fact many of you possess accurate biblical knowledge, and understand the system of truth found in the Bible. You know about the Lord Jesus. You believe that he was and that he is, and that he died for sin and rose from the dead and that he is coming again. You have some historical faith and yet you are still separate from Christ. You have never bowed to this Christ. You have never yielded to him. You have never moved out of the realm of the religious and the intellectual into the doxological and the emotional and affectionate and practical. You have not come to love him. You have not come to long for him. You have no desire for him. You have not been captivated by him. You have not put your trust in him. You have not committed your souls to him. You are separate from Christ.
Now, while I could be in another kind of gathering where I would plead with all my soul for the rights of the intellect, and for theology yet I would plead here for emotion, and plead for the heart, and plead for commitment. I would plead for submission, and for trust and for repentance, and for a broken and contrite heart, because if you carry on with a mere understanding of Jesus Christ you are still separate from him, and you are a lost woman or man. If there be a God he must be my all in all. He must be my chief end. He must be my fundamental and most passionate commitment. It must be that for him I am to live my entire life. There is only one place that Christ wants and that is the human heart, and that he dwell in your heart by faith, and if this day we think we can be Christians with a moderate commitment to Jesus Christ, and a limited surrender of ourselves to the lordship of Christ, then we have to face the solemn possibility that that kind of attitude will leave us separated from Christ. So that is the first deprivation, to be without Christ.
ii] They were without hope (v.12).
In many ways again this is something absolutely fundamental. I think that we Christians very often misunderstand our world. We look at the outward and there seems to be only jollification. There appears to be all the fun and pleasure, and I only wish we could look at the tremendous picture of mankind as God sees it. These men who don’t have Christ, who beg on our streets, who sell Big Issue, people whom you’ll find in the pubs each night, as well as the night clubs and discos and bingo halls. What kind of people are they? They are people without hope, and so often we don’t see that. Occasionally we see the veil lifted, maybe at a funeral service, of their hopelessness, or in their pleading with doctors to give them some drugs that will lift their depression. You notice they will not talk of their unhappiness; they speak only of ‘depression.’ Notice them in a room alone and the impossibility of their remaining there without any music or sound. We live in the midst of a people in despair. They are men in an iron cage. How many of them are here in this audience today? People with a past, and people with a present. They can look back nostalgically; there were some things that were good. But can they look forward with hope?
You take that poor 20th century which we all remember. You go right back a hundred years and it began in a blaze of optimism. Men had Darwin’s famous theory of evolution, of inevitable progress, and that was the attitude everywhere. The whole cosmos was moving forward, and everything was improving. In 1917 Einstein’s theory of relativity seemed proved, but it was misunderstood by the nations as proving relativism, that is, that science has shown that there were no longer any absolute values. That suited people because it encouraged them to do what was right in their own eyes with no outward constraints. The Bloomsbury Set of the upper classes began to glory in permissiveness and then it seeped through all of society. It promised then as it still does a future of ‘freedom.’
The very words, “The 20th Century” had a ring about them. Education and socialism and the distribution of wealth would transform the nation. Yet, where has evolution and politics and the destruction of absolute values got us? What have we evolved to? We are back where we started, but now we live in a nation permeated with despair. The hope was that there would be no more wars, and then along came 1914, and then 1939, two world wars within 25 years, and then came the cold war followed by a hundred other wars. Non-stop war. Man was to evolve out of such brutality, and yet this week we have pictures of torture in Iran, American and British torturers, and such unspeakable events as the beheading of a young American on video. The jack boot is still stamping on the face of humanity, with the threat of more terrible destruction ahead. Where do we stand today? Let me remind you of the great words of Sir Edward Gray in 1914 at the start of World War I as he looked at the map of Europe on one historic night? He said, “The lights are going out all over Europe, and we won’t see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Consider again the literature that’s published in our day with any content whatsoever. It is a literature of despair, because men have no hope. You meet it in that brave chapter in Ecclesiastes when that man of God looks at the world from the viewpoint of its godlessness he sums it up like this, “All is vanity.” He has witnessed men searching for the key of life, that which will open up life and give it meaning and enable them to see it as a whole, but there is no key under the sun. Life has lost the key to itself. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” If you want the key you must go to the Locksmith who made the key. God alone holds the key to all unknown and he won’t give it to you. He alone can unlock it. Since then you cannot get the key you must fall before the divine Locksmith, the God of the Bible, and beseech him to open the door. You must cast yourself on him. Jesus is saying to you, “I am the life, and I am the door, and I am the lock, and I am the key.”
Many prefer to cast themselves rather on wine, women and song, but there is no deliverance in immediate pleasures. We are soon craving for more and more. Neither is there hope in education-on which so many a century ago set such store-a university education! That is not the opinion of people today. There is not any hope of fulfilment coming to mankind from religion, from sterile Islam and superstitious Hinduism and introspective Buddhism. Look at the state of the nations over which those religions hold sway. What of the political process? Do the various claims of socialism and nationalism and capitalism make your heart leap with expectation? Where are the leaders we would march behind to the barricades? In this little town we have elections for politicians a couple of times every year. We elect the town council, and we elect the county council, and we elect the Welsh Assembly members for Cardiff, and we elect the Ceredigion Member of Parliament to Westminster, London, and we elect the West Wales member of the European Parliament in Brussels. All those politicians are supported by an army of bureaucrats who seem to have more power than the politicians. Do all such men at those various levels engender hope that a brave new world is going to be built by their efforts? That was the expectation a hundred years ago as men with increasing boldness criticised the church and the gospel for their ‘irrelevance’ and promoted the political quest as the key to future peace and justice. Today there is no such spirit of political confidence in any nation. The number of people bothering to vote in any and every election is in steady decline. Again, a hundred years ago technology was promoted as the hope of solving mankind’s problems. Today it has become a monster out of control, and we’re all in mortal dread of it. I say, we are living in a civilisation where people have nothing in which to put their hope. There is a memorable line in one of Ibsen’s plays, “The Doll’s House,” where a woman who had experienced everything in life finally says, “I’ve never been happy. I’ve just had fun.” Of how many is that true?
You say, “But beyond? Has this world any hope beyond this life? Has it hope in death – our inevitable grave?” None! I read these words of Nicol Williamson, that notable actor, in an interview which he gave, “Knowing I’m going to die makes me terribly angry; angry and panic-stricken to the point of swearing.” Before this world lie two alternatives, there is the possibility of annihilation, of extinction, or there is the other possibility and that is an encounter with the sin-hating God whom they have ignored throughout their lives. You take the man without Christ today, and in his brighter moments, I say, in his more optimistic thinking, he is hoping that he will cease to exist, that he will enter nothingness, that he will be extinguished as the flame of a candle is blown out and it just ceases to be. Man without Christ actually hopes for non-existence. That is what he wants to believe lies before him. That is what he desires, that his life has no more significance than a dog’s life and death has no more meaning than that.
Look at the end of the famous icons, Dean, and Monroe, and Presley, and Lennon. How tragic their ends. You look at greater men, the intellectuals, all those people who have walked the corridors of power. How do their days end? You take Ronald Reagan, one of the conspicuous American presidents, with his energy and charm and his achievements for world peace, and yet it came to a shuddering halt. He is still alive but he recollects nothing at all of his past; he knows no one, not even his own wife. I think of one of our own family doctors, a kind and able man, and yet today he has no memory of his entire life. I say to you, should you terminate my own existence this day, and you draw the line under it and you say, “That is it,” then I will say to you without hesitation, “It’s been a futility and an absurdity.” If in this life only we have hope in Christ then we are of all men most miserable. So men and women are without Christ, and they are without hope.
iii] They are without God in the world (v.12).
It is atheistic, yet it has its God. It has the God who made it. It has the God of whose being it is aware, a God whom it has never adored, a God whose help it has scorned and spurned, and that is the calamity. The heavens declare the glory of God. In all God’s works there are the fingerprints and the footprints of their Creator. The creation demonstrates the power and divinity of God. This revelation impinges upon every human being, no matter where he is the fact of God’s greatness and might is clear to him. Man’s mind is so constituted by God that it cannot but see God’s power and goodness and glory in creation. So you have these two great facts, that the universe is exegetical of the glory of God, and the mind of man must see this. Each man has an innate knowledge of God. He infers from his environment and from his conscience that God is. Every man is aware of his unqualified dependence upon God, and his accountability and responsibility to God the Creator. No amount of degradation can remove this from man’s mind. He knows the judgment of God that those who commit sins are worthy of death.
So in our evangelism there enters at no point a need to prove the eternal power and glory of God. That is not the burden of our evangelism. Our presuppositions as we approach men is that they know these great fundamental truths about the living God. We never find for one single moment in the Word of God anyone trying to prove that God exists, even when Paul is talking to the philosophers in Athens he presupposes that God is.
What, then, is the response of men to all this? They determine to live their lives without God. They spend their lives clamping down on their knowledge of God, looking elsewhere, refusing to respond to it. In other words there is a truth that people see, that God is great and glorious, and that truth clamours for a certain response. That fact is urging them to bend the knee and to worship the Creator. It demands a response because it is a plain truth and a beseeching truth. It calls for human response. It is not “take it or leave it” truth. It is not truth in the abstract. It is not dispassionate truth. But what do men do? They suppress it. They ignore it. They keep the lid on this tremendous moral and spiritual pressure. They are refusing to acknowledge and they will not bow the knee. The determine that they will live their lives without God.
Why do they do this? They will allege so often that they have not yet seen the necessary evidence, and that it is in the interests of academic integrity. They have not been convinced, they tell us. No, says Paul, they are choosing to live without God, because the moment they confess that God is then at that very moment the things they live for are going to be destroyed, because the truth about the living God is a disturbing truth and a revolutionary truth. The moment they bow and confess, “God is,” then all their values and priorities are going to be reversed. There are so many things they have to let go. They will have to choose between self and God. They will have to come to a decision between sin and righteousness. God comes with absolutely tremendous demands, to rule in sovereign control over their lives, and that is why most men prefer to live without God.
Now if this is true for people who only have the light of nature, who have not heard one single word of the gospel of God, and are unfamiliar with his grace, and pity, and forgiveness, and compassion; I say, if this is true for those who have never heard of the incarnate God, seeking and saving through Jesus Christ, that pagans are suppressing the truth they know, then what of those who continually sit under gospel ministry, who are the children of Christian parents, who have known of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who are themselves suppressing their consciences when they tell them to bow and receive and obey? Isn’t this true for some of you who have known of the livingness of Jesus and yet choose to live without the Son of God?
This, then, is the New Testament picture of human deprivation. It is not financial and educational deprivation, but rather that the natural man is without Christ, lives without hope, and spends his days without God.
4. DELIVERANCE COMES THROUGH CHRIST JESUS ALONE.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (v.13). What a revolution has occurred in the lives of these people in Ephesus. We can see that a chronological revolution has happened between what they are now in Christ Jesus and what they once were. A spatial revolution has occurred between where they once lived far away from God and now when they are near to him. Enormous gains have come into the lives of these people. They were once deprived of the living God and now they have him, and all this has occurred through Christ Jesus. He has brought them near to God.
You remember the picture in the book of Exodus of God coming down to Mount Sinai and revealing his law to Moses. The mountain top thundered; it was covered with a cloud of glory and the people were filled with awe. They were kept away from the mountain by marshalls. Stakes were driven in the ground all around the base of the mountain. They were demarcation posts and these stewards guarded the line that marked the border of the holy mount. “Keep back! Keep back!” the two million people were told. “Get right back from the mountain because God has come down. Stop! Moses alone may go to receive the law from him.” They were the chosen people but they were sinners, and they couldn’t come into the holy presence of God.
Think again of the barriers in God’s house in Jerusalem. I have spoken to you about the courts and the walls around them and the warnings prohibiting going any further. First that of the Gentile converts; they had their courtyard, but could go no further. Then the women had theirs, but no nearer could they go. Then the men and they had their place, but no nearer, and then the priests had a place, but no nearer. The Levites and the priests on a rota could enter the Temple itself, but there was no welcoming chair or bench to sit on within its walls. They stood and served. They replaced the oil in the lamps, and put fresh shewbread on a table, and they offered sweet sacrifices on a small alter, and then they left. Then on the Day of Atonement, just one day in the year, the High Priest had divine permission to enter through the veil into the holiest of all, to stand before God’s throne, under the seraphim, with the blood of atonement for his sins and the sins of the people, and then after that one solitary hour in a whole year out he came! If this were true for the Old Testament people of God, that even they were kept far away from God, of how much more was it true of those Gentiles who behaved in so unrighteous and ungodly a fashion as Paul describes to us in Romans chapter one? They were without God and without hope in the world.
But the grace of God has done a remarkable thing. It has brought us near to God. See a New Testament congregation and they all draw nigh to God through Jesus Christ, old and young, men and women, rich and poor, slaves and their owners, all come into the holy presence of God boldly and all cry, “Abba Father.” None has a more favoured access than another. All are welcome to come to him where his great smiling face greets them all. That is the essence of New Testament worship, we are close to God and we know his welcome.
How is this possible? Are we more deserving? No, this has been merited for us by Jesus Christ. We have been brought near through the blood of Christ (v.13), Paul says that the Son of God did something utterly glorious on the cross of Calvary. He took our estrangement, the vast distance our sin had driven us from God and he compressed it to a span in his own body. Christ took the cause of the estrangement, our guilt, and compressed that to a dense heavy atom of pure evil and he carried that estrangement and that wickedness into the presence of God and remained there, in the naked flame of the holiness of God, hanging under the judgment of a sin-hating God remaining there under the divine abandonment until a full redemption for us had been made. The complete price for the wages of our sin was there paid by God alone. The anger of God towards everything that is defiling and tawdry and violent and cruel and devilish was there focused on the Lamb of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ. His blood has cleansed away all our defilement, and has appeased the God who hates all wickedness.
Our God is reconciled to us, through Christ, so that we are not aliens any longer, no more do we live without him. We can with confidence go to his throne and know his fatherly love. We are no longer strangers but sons of the King. Of whom is this true? For all who by faith have put their hand on the head of the Lamb of God and found mercy through Christ. Do not stay out in the cold. Come near to God through Jesus, just as you are, come to him. For God made Christ to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
16th May 2004 GEOFF THOMAS