Ephesians 2:14-18 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulation. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
There was an unforgettable event that took place on Mount Carmel in Israel which is recorded in the books of Kings where 850 prophets of Baal entered into a contest with one single prophet of Jehovah, Elijah. The purpose of the engagement was to discover which party was serving the mighty living God. Two altars were erected, one for each deity and in turn both gods were asked to send down fire from heaven and consume a sacrificial bull one of which had been placed on each altar. First of all the prophets of Baal called on the name of their god. They began with the first light of day and they prayed to Baal until noon, “Baal we cry to thee. Baal we cry to thee. Heed the sacrifice we offer. O hear and answer us. Hear us Baal, hear mighty god. Let thy flames fall and extirpate the foe.” That is a stirring chorus in Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.” So they shouted and shouted until they were hoarse, but there was no response; no one answered. Then they danced around the altar they had made. “At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (I Kings 18:27-29). It is the saddest picture of the barrenness and frustration of mere religion. It is a scene of chaos and heartache. There was no peace for the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel as they looked to the skies and cried to their god. They were also facing their own execution before the day was out as false prophets in Israel.
Over six hundred years later there were also priests and altars in Ephesus especially the cult of Diana in an enormous temple, and not far away from it a fledgling Christian church gathered. It had no massive building, nor an army of icon makers selling models of its deity through a network of tourist shops. It had no hordes of priestesses working the waterfront, but the church in Ephesus had this invaluable characteristic of peace. When the men and women who had spent their lives crying to their gods to hear and answer them entered the meetings of the Ephesian church this is the first thing that impressed them. There was a calm and contentment and joy about the people and the shape of their gatherings. Hear these great assurances of the apostle Paul in our text. He tells the Ephesians that Christ himself was their peace – with God, with one another and with themselves.
Let me illustrate this by a number of incidents past and present. There was once a Christian stonemason who fell to the ground from a considerable height. He was carried home fatally injured and a clergyman called to see him and he told him that he should make his peace with God. “Make my peace with God?” he said softly. “Why that was made almost 2,000 years ago when my great Lord paid all my debt on the accursed tree. Christ is my peace, and I am safe.” An esteemed friend of mine many years ago set up a wonderful trust which has printed and spread Christian literature all around the world. His wife never entered into the joy of his late conversion to Christ. After his death she instructed the letters ‘R.I.P.’, “Rest in Peace”, to be carved on his gravestone, but he needed no such sentiment, for years earlier, being justified by faith, he had come to know peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. That man had left all his estrangement from God with Jesus long ago. Christ himself is our peace. Does everyone here know that for themselves?
When the great preacher, Robert Hall, went to Cambridge the congregation was pervaded with Unitarianism, and after a month or so of his preaching the cross of Christ some of his deacons came to him in the vestry and complained, “This will never do,” they said. “Why not?” said Robert Hall. “That sermon was only fit for old women.” “Why only fit for old women?” he asked them. “Because they are tottering on the borders of the grave, and they want comfort, and therefore it suits them. It will not do for us,” they said. “You have given me my answer,” said Hall. “If it is good for old people on the borders of the grave then it is good for you too if you are in your right senses, because it is on the borders of a grave that we all stand.” All of us need to know as soon as possible in life that we have peace with God before we die.
The Lord has made a way of peace, and that way is by the blood of his Son Jesus Christ. By him we can enter the grave as peacefully as we enter our own beds. This is so. It is not a cunningly devised fable. Jesus Christ the Lamb of God has taken our guilt to an extraordinary place of judgment and there he has received its divine condemnation in his own body on the cross. God’s indignation with favoured rebel sinners who believe in his Son has now ended. All the wrath of a sin-hating God has been propitiated by the Son of God himself. Our peace with God has been accomplished by him. He himself is our peace, and so when our conscience accuses us of our sin, upward we look to the risen and ascended Christ who made an end to all our sin. Now we, and all the church of God which is in Christ Jesus, have peace with God and with one another.
In this part of the second chapter of Ephesians Paul is speaking of the hostility between Jew and Gentile which was rampant at that time. Even if Gentiles became Old Testament Christians and believed the Scriptures and put their hopes of forgiveness in what the sacrifices of the Temple stood for they still could not be on a par with their Jewish fellow-believers. I was reading more this week of the Jerusalem Temple and the various courts and walls that surrounded it, designed to keep different groups apart. The courtyard closest to the Temple was just for the priests, and then next to that, the court of Israel which was just for men, and the next enclosure was the court for the women. But what I learned this week was that those three courtyards for different groups of Jews were all on the same level, but when you left the court of women you walked down five steps to a level terrace, and then proceeded to pass through a gap in a wall which was five feet high. Then you walked down another fourteen steps to the courtyard where the Gentiles had their place. The Gentile believers could go no further than that. Between every Gentile and the house of God there was this sort of security cordon to keep them out. Way up there, the height of nineteen steps above their own courtyard was the first forbidden court which was exclusively for Jewish women. It was reached through a gap in a high wall, on which were notices threatening death if Gentiles should attempt to get further and nearer to God’s dwelling place. The little old lady from Nazareth could pass through that gap, but not the Roman centurion who had built a synagogue for the Jews. After that women’s court were two more courts before one came across the dwelling of God himself. “Keep away! Keep down there! That’s your place” the Gentiles were told. They could not even peer into the other courtyards.
But through Christ, the great barrier between Jew and Gentile, symbolised in those steps and walls and public warnings, has been destroyed for ever. The dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile was no more, and in fact in the year 70 those very walls and courts were all pulled down with the Temple itself, never to be rebuilt. A revolution in access to God has taken place and the message of reconciliation and peace has been let loose on the world. In Corinth the pastors, Apollos and Cephas and Paul, were Jewish, while the congregation was overwhelmingly Gentile. Yet Paul as he writes to them speaks of the privileges which ‘we’ and ‘us’ enjoy, Jew and Gentile alike, male and female alike, centurion and private soldier, old and young, rich and poor, slave and free man alike were now one in Christ Jesus. You see the great simplicity of Trinitarian religion in verse 18, “For through [Christ] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” That is the great achievement of the gospel. All alike are forgiven, have an audience with a loving Father as the sons and heirs of God, may break the one loaf, join in the love feasts, minister to one another and receive ministry from one another. If we went to the Ephesian congregation asking, “How and where is your peace with God achieved?” then Jew, Gentile, man and woman, slave and free would all reply, “By Jesus Christ; he is our peace. All God’s past mercies, all the enjoyment of God’s present mercies, and all our hope of mercies yet to come are ours through Jesus Christ alone.” The Jewish Christian reckoned all his traditions as dung for the excellency of knowing Jesus Christ as his Saviour. The Greek Christian turned away from his philosophers. The Roman Christian turned away from the glory and power that was Rome’s. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are one in him,” they would say. “There is no barrier between us. The dividing wall of hostility has been broken down.
That is what Paul spells out at the beginning of this paragraph in verse 14. “He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” His great conclusion is found in verse 18, “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Then in between those verses Paul proceeds to tell us three or four of Christ’s remarkable achievements that have made this peace with God possible for us. What is the first thing that our Saviour has done?
1. THOSE REGULATIONS WHICH HAD DIVIDED JEW AND GENTILE BELIEVERS HAVE BEEN ABOLISHED BY CHRIST.
“by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations” (v.15). Ultimately the barrier between these races, and the wall of hostility was not one made of stone. The barrier was really the Jewish commandments and regulations. Why am I banned from a seat in the House of Lords? Not because of a door and a policeman standing on duty but because there is a law which keeps that chamber for Lords and Ladies only. Why am I banned from standing in a pulpit in a mosque and addressing a congregation of Muslims? Because they have a law with its commandments and regulations which says that only those who believe in Mohammed as God’s final prophet may stand and speak there. So too the great barriers in the New Testament world were religious commandments and laws.
There was this host of regulations which prohibited the Gentiles freely enjoying intimate access to the Lord. But the Son of God came into the world to deal with this kind of apartheid, to abolish “in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations” (v.15), that is, that which made the Gentiles second class believers. Very early on in his ministry he announced that he had come not to destroy but to fulfil the law of God. Our Lord did not end the demands of God’s moral law, but all the ceremonies of the Old Testament were to be fulfilled in what he was going to do. The specific sacrificial system was actually one vast persistent divine teaching device that told the people that a blameless one must be sacrificed and its blood offered to Jehovah for confessing repentant sinners to have life and pardon. It made them look in hope to the coming of the promised one, the seed of the woman, God’s Messiah. So they were visible prophecies, pointing forward to his coming into the world as the Lamb of God. That was one of their major functions.
After Messiah had come there would be no more ceremonial laws, no more temple, no more altar, no more priests and Levites, no more high priest, no more sacrifices, no more 7th day Sabbath, no more fallow land every seventh year, no more the year of Jubilee every half century, no more feasts three times a year in Jerusalem, no more kings, no more judges, no more Pharisees and Sadducees, no more synagogues, no more a holy city and a holy nation. All those regulations were God’s way of instructing simply and starkly to a childlike people that they must be a different nation, set apart from the Gentiles all around. But now that the promised Messiah had come all such Jewish national regulations were no longer needed. They could never again be restored. The role of Israel in this one geographical area was over for ever. Now the gospel of Jesus Christ was going to be going into the world; from this time on the temple was going to be the people of God, your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit; the Old Testament Scriptures were to be understood in the light of the New Testament; circumcision was no longer required. Today both men and women need what circumcision spoke of, regeneration of the heart; the Sabbath was now replaced by the Lord’s Day; the regulations about not eating pork or lobster or crab have all completed their task. Simple lessons in hygiene and juvenile reminders about acting in a holy way in every part of life, even eating and drinking, had had their day and it was over. Now whatever you eat or drink you do it all to the glory of God and in the name of Jesus Christ. Now as you eat and drink you do it with concern for your brother. You don’t impose your dietary convictions on another believer. That is not the Christian way any longer.
Such laws with their commandments and regulations have all been abolished. Of course they had truly been given to Israel by God. It was crucial for the Jews under the Mosaic covenant to live like that. Confession of sin and sacrifice had to be made by them individually if those laws were broken, but their day is now done. A Jew used to go to the Tabernacle with his sacrifice and he confessed that he had sinned against these ceremonial laws and he made sacrifice for it. That will never be done by a Christian. The Gentile Christian will never confess that he has failed to keep the Saturday Sabbath. That is over, and the debt which Israel owed to the Lord for failing to keep those regulations has all been paid in the flesh of the Messiah. So offending Jews across the fourteen centuries since Moses’ time, who had pleaded for mercy for those sins through what their typical sacrifices stood for could be fully pardoned. They are now delivered from going back under those thousands of regulations governing every detail of their lives. There is a new covenant in the death of the Lamb of God. The regulations have all been abolished by Christ’s obedience to them even to the death of the cross.
2. CHRIST HAS MADE ONE NEW HUMANITY.
“His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” (v.15). One of the purposes of the coming of the Messiah – which the Christian pulpit often fails to emphasise – was to make a new mankind. All that vast company of people in the new heavens and the new earth has been brought there by Jesus Christ. Every one in that new mankind was joined to him and he drew them there. While it is true that Jesus fashioned and blessed them individually, he actually established and united them as one new man, not a hundred million individuals. John Wesley was right when he described Christianity as essentially a ‘social’ religion. Wesley added that if you insist on turning it into a ‘solitary’ religion you’d destroy it. It wouldn’t be Christianity any longer. What did he mean? If you think that Christianity is simply designed for your personal self-fulfilment and individual salvation, and then you could get on with your own life and doing your own thing then you are missing the point. The church as the whole people of God lies at the centre of God’s purposes. Every Christian is baptized by the Spirit into this one body. No Christian can or should exist outside of the church. Christ laid down his life in order to create in himself out of Jews and Gentiles one new man. I am part of that new man and his body. An amputated limb dies unless it is immediately attached again to the body. I am dependent and interdependent on the whole people of God, and they on me. If I think of myself as Mrs Cool and Detached Christian, or that I am Mr Lone Ranger Christian and that I can ride off into the sunset when I have some tiff with another church member then I haven’t begun to understand what God did to all believers when he made us the body of Christ. There can be no Christian isolationists without severe deprivation coming upon the church. What characterises this body of Jewish and Gentile Christians?
Let me say something first about the special combination of Jew and Gentile that goes to make up this one new man. This is Paul’s concern here. Let me illustrate the nature of the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the church by telling you of my daily walk in the 1940s from home near the station in Merthyr Tydfil to Abermorlais Junior school. I would leave home, cross the High Street passing Burton’s and Samuel’s and go along the Glebeland and then pass over an insignificant little river called the Morlais which flowed into Merthyr from Dowlais and Penydarren. At the school it joined the much bigger river Taff. The Morlais is a stream, while the Taff is a true river. Once the Morlais enters the Taff it is, of course, simply known as the Taff. The two don’t become the Taff/Morlais river. The stream is subsumed into the river. This is what always happens everywhere. As a smaller stream enters a river its identity is terminated.
Now the peculiar thing about what Paul is saying in these verses is what seems a vastly greater and wider river has joined with a far smaller one, but it is the smaller one that is giving its name to the river than now flows on. Do you understand my point? Here is the great Gentile river of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Africa, Asia, India and China. This river consists of 99 per cent of mankind. Then there is this tiny little stream of one family, the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God has chosen to make these two streams one new man through the Messiah Christ, and as this combined river moves on its way through history and spreads through the whole earth, this new man takes aboard all of Israel’s Holy Scriptures with their covenants and promises. In the Bibles in front of you there are Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures and Greek New Testament Scriptures and these are one God-breathed book for us. What was latent in the Old is patent in the New. We Welsh Gentiles find our identity in the covenants of promise that God made with Noah and with Abraham and with David. We Gentiles are by faith the children of Abraham. He is our father. The church world-wide is the new Israel of God. We worship here today as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. Those Old Testament titles now describe us. This is the blending of Jew and Gentile out of which a new humanity has been fashioned, and the whole world is being offered an alternative community to join in the body of Christ. This is the one new man Paul is writing of here, and he tells us that it is characterised by peace. The Christian Gentile and the Christian Jew, the Christian rich and the Christian poor are not at one another’s throats in the church.
Everywhere we look in the world there are walls between different people. They separate East from West, Arab from European, North from South, affluent from deprived. Broken homes, divided communities, gangs and ghettos abound. The Lord’s purpose in the church is for this one body to be a visible alternative society to all of that. It is to be a fellowship of peace within which the dividing walls have been broken down, and where men and women are not be judged ‘according to the flesh’, in other words, not by the colour of their skin, their IQ, the school they went to, the part of town they live in, their suntans, their accent, where they went on holiday. In this one new man you meet the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the intellectual and those who have learning difficulties. Its members welcome one another on the basis of spiritual realities, not human characteristics. Here the handicapped find an entrance, the easily tempted find strength, and the homosexual is helped to put his past behind him.
What kind of unity is this? It is a unity created in Christ. It embraces all who were given by the Father to the Son, and all who were in his flesh when he hung on the cross, and all to whom the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit to dwell. We are all one new man because we all have the same relationship with God. All God’s children are our brothers and sisters. We didn’t choose them. God chooses them. Our responsibility is only to love and acknowledge them. Part of the meaning of being a Christian is that the triune God has taken up residence in each of us. We have the life of God in our souls. The Christ in whom we died to sin now lives in us. Christ actually makes us all one by dwelling in each one of us. How can a Christian hate another human being in whom his very own God and Saviour lives? How can he rubbish him? How can he belittle him? “We are one new man,” he has to confess. This one man has the same instincts. He hungers and thirsts for righteousness. He desires the nourishing milk of God’s word. He craves fellowship with God. In his heart he makes music to the Lord. He has one set of ambitions and longings and hopes and hatreds.
All who are part of this new man are characterised by mutual love. We cannot love God, whom we have not seen, without also loving our brother, whom we have. This new man reflects the love of God, because before love ever existed in him it existed in God, in the love for the Father for the Son and of both for the Spirit. All who are in this one new man are to love one another like that. That is awesome enough, but more than that, the one new man is to love the world as God loved it when he gave his only begotten Son. The Jew in Christ is to love the Gentiles in the world, and the Gentile in Christ is to love the Jews in the world. In the new man, even when Christians are disappointing, even when they are hurtful, we are to love them in such a way that no sacrifice is too great, and no kindness is too extravagant.
The new man is to love like the Father and the Son and the Spirit love. Remember during Jesus’ life there were times when the Father spoke to him and encouraged him, “You are my beloved Son and I truly love you.” That is the model for the one new man for the way all who are in him should serve one another, and console one another, and encourage and stimulate one another to go on in the Christian life. How important, for example, it can sometimes be just to recognise one another: to say, “My brother!” or “My sister!” as the Father said, “My Son!”: to say, at least occasionally, “I am well pleased with you!” We should say it to individuals; we ministers should say it to those who look after the Young People, those who teach the Sunday School, to our fellow officers, to the women who work so hard in the church, to the missionaries we receive, to say to them, “We are well pleased with you.” This should be the characteristic of the one new man in Christ – peace and encouragement.
If we are one new man then we have fellowship with one another. We share everything. Can you imagine the lungs refusing to pass on oxygen to the blood stream? Or imagine the heart saying it wanted a break and it wasn’t going to beat for the next hour because all the rest of the body was taking it for granted! We share in the giving and receiving, and in the ministry of prayer, and in evangelism. We bear one another’s burdens because we are one man. We share in such a way as to ensure that no fellow Christian is in need. When we go to the Lord’s Supper we are told by Paul that then there is participation in the body of Christ and in the blood of Christ, but that is also true of our entire Christian lives. We are bound together by the fact that wherever we are all of us believers are sharing in the body and blood of Christ. We are experiencing together the blessings of the new covenant.
In the Christian church – remember I am talking about it as the one new man – there is something more than mere sharing. There is such an involvement with one another and such a depth of affection and sympathy, that “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (I Cor. 12:26). You are one new man, and the inflammation of one little part, say an appendix, makes the whole body sick. A man does not say, “My liver has cancer, but I myself am fine.” He says that he is unwell. If one part suffers, every part is touched by it. So if one Christian is not performing as he should in a congregation, all of us are weakened, because the church is a body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, and it can grow only as every single part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). We are being summoned to a degree of commitment, concern, involvement and intimacy far beyond what we usually find in churches today. The fact that Christ and the church are “one flesh” indicates not simply a close bond between him and each of the other members of his body but also a very close bond between the various members themselves. This one new man is one flesh, deeply involved in every part, and all must express this in their collective lifestyle. So Christ has made one new humanity of Jew and Gentile united in one new man out of the two and this fellowship is characterised by peace.
3. CHRIST HAS RECONCILED JEW AND GENTILE.
“in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (v.16). Christ has reconciled to God believing Jew and believing Gentile through the one work he did on the cross for both. They have both been reconciled to God. Reconciliation implies that once there was friendship, but then something happened resulting in estrangement and hostility. Go right back you see at one time both Jew and Gentile alike in the ark in the sons of Noah working together to feed the animals and keep the boat afloat and save humanity, but as the centuries progressed alienation replaced that harmony. The Jew hated the Gentile and the Gentile hated the Jew. In Ephesus on Athens Street Mrs Levi in number 7 totally ignored Mrs Theophilus in number 9. They never acknowledged one another’s existence. They needed to be reconciled to one another. Leon Morris has written something helpful about reconciliation. He says, “Quarrels and enmities are unfortunately part and parcel of life here and now. We are all familiar with them. But it is also part and parcel of life here and now that quarrels are not necessarily permanent. It is quite possible to become friends again after there has been a quarrel. It is worth looking into the process.
“Let us suppose that you have had a quarrel with a friend. In the heat of the moment strong words were spoken and the friendship you have so valued has been strained. Perhaps when you cool down you say to yourself: ‘I was a fool to quarrel with him. He is a wonderful person and a valued friend.’ Then you think, ‘I’d love to be friends again. I’d like to have things as they used to be.’ You decide that you will try to repair the damage. You will take the initiative. Then what do you do? You take steps to deal with the root cause of the quarrel. If it were a matter of harsh words spoken then you go along to your friend and say, ‘I am very sorry about what I said. I apologise sincerely. I withdraw that statement entirely.’ As far as you can you remove the cause of the enmity. You take it out of the way. If any action is required you perform that action. If it is a matter of a letter that has to be written you write it. If it is a document to be signed you sign it. If it is money that has to be paid you pay it. You give thought to what the root cause of the trouble is and you deal with it, you take it out of the way. It is only when the root cause is identified and dealt with that there can be a genuine reconciliation. Without that it is possible to have no more than an uneasy, patched-up truce. But not peace, not a reconciliation. . .
“We know that the root cause of the enmity between God and man is the sin of man. It is always sin that arouses the wrath of God, and that is the barrier in the way of good relations between God and man. If there is to be a reconciliation then that barrier must be done away. God didn’t adopt half-measures in dealing with the problem. He sent his Son to live among men and show us how we ought to live. He sent him to die on a cross and so put away our sin . . . What reconciliation is saying is that the root cause has been dealt with . . . the cross means that sin has been taken away. There is no longer any barrier to fellowship between man and man’s Creator” (Leon Morris, “The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance”, IVP, 1983, p.139).
Now if there is to be reconciliation between two men then the one who has caused the offence needs to go and apologise for his words and deeds to the one sinned against. The sin has to be dealt with by the one who sinned. The wonder of the gospel is this, that it is the innocent one, the one terribly sinned against, who sets up the whole machinery of reconciliation, and at what cost! God takes the wickedness of both Jew and Gentile alike that has so offended him. Can you visualise that vast Everest of sin? It is like a mammoth boil full of puss, and decay, and evil matter. It is the world’s rubbish dump, or you can compare it to vile heap of effluent, the sight of which disgusts you. That is our sin, but God himself, the holy one who cannot look on iniquity, approaches and takes responsibility for it. He lays it all upon his holy child Jesus. It was not we who by confessing one sin after another laid them on Jesus. God makes him sin for us – the one who knew no sin – and thus he makes an end of our sin. He annihilates it completely there on Golgotha, and the result of that is God has nothing at all against us. The offence that caused the alienation has been removed as far as the east is from the west, so now by the sacrifice of Christ’s body both Jewish and Gentile Christian have been reconciled to God. Their hostility to God and to one another is ended. That is the third thing that Christ, all by himself, has done. He has abolished the regulations that separated all the Gentile world from intimacy with God and fellowship with Jews; he has made a new human race, and he has reconciled Jew and Gentile to one another and to God.
4. CHRIST HIMSELF PREACHES THIS MESSAGE TO THE WHOLE WORLD.
“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near” (v.17). When Jesus was on this earth he did not ignore Gentiles. His priority was Israel, but there was one occasion when he had to move outside the borders of that nation and visit Samaria to speak to a woman there. Then at another time he healed the daughter of a woman from Syro-Phoencia. In another incident he commended the mighty faith of a Roman centurion. So in such cases we can see the Lord’s willingness to take the message of the kingdom of God outside the little Jewish creek where it had been becalmed for so long. When the lost sheep of the house of Israel said, “No'” then there were other sheep, not of the fold of Israel, and them also he must bring to God. In the risen Lord’s Great Commission he maintains that priority telling them to go first to Jerusalem sinners, and then Judea and Samaria, and then finally to the uttermost corners of the world. They have his authority for crossing continents and oceans with his message.
More than that, Jesus promises his presence; “And Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” he says. When they fly with the wings of the morning and arrive at the uttermost part of the sea there they discover him waiting for them. Wherever they go his presence goes with them. They stand on trial for preaching the gospel of the King of Kings, and as they look around in a courtroom they cannot see one sympathetic face, but they are not alone, he is with them all over the world. When they are thrown into a dungeon, or placed in solitary confinement, they are never by themselves. He is there assuring them that as their days so their strength will be. But more than that, he promises he will be in them, in their very hearts and souls, to illuminate and instruct. They will have inward resources of spiritual enabling in all their work for him.
But more than all of that is promised here. When Paul considered Ephesus on the western shore of what today we call Turkey, so far from Jerusalem, and when he saw this great company of believers present in a gospel church he knew that only One was responsible for that. It was the living ascended Jesus Christ who had homed in on Ephesus to build his church. “He came and preached peace to you who were far away” (v.17), he says. You will remember how on the road to Emmaus the risen Jesus had spent time opening up the Scriptures of the Old Testament and had preached peace to the broken-hearted Cleopas and his friend. Jesus had preached peace to those who were near the scenes of his earthly ministry, but then in the book of Acts we are told of the continuing ministry of this same Saviour. Luke records that for us in the opening verses as he explains the purpose of writing this book to Theophilus that the Acts contains all that Jesus continued to teach. You sometimes hear it said that the book should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, but better still to call it the Acts of the living Jesus. He is the one who walks among the seven churches teaching, encouraging and rebuking. He speaks to the church at Ephesus there. His words are recorded in the last book in the Bible.
What we have in the New Testament is the Saviour becoming the preacher of his own gospel. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.” Paul was conscious that behind all his own efforts there was the authority of God, and behind all his implorings there was the Lord yearning, and the Lord longing, and the Lord pleading. God was beseeching those who were far away. That Lord who in the flesh had beheld the city and wept over it, he is still beseeching, and the apostle knowing the terror of the Lord persuades men. As we persuade men that believing in Jesus Christ they may have peace with God so the Lord is persuading them too and giving them peace. As we seek to open their hearts the same Lord who opened Lydia’s heart so that she attended earnestly to what Paul was saying is opening hearts today.
These are the great accomplishments of Jesus Christ. The regulations that forbade us Gentiles enjoying all the privileges of intimate access to God the Saviour has abolished them. “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (v.18). That is the simplicity of New Testament worship. He has made a new humanity, one new man, and made us his members. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female are no barriers at all to the joys of knowing the love of God. The same Saviour comes here each Sunday and he preaches peace with God to all those who believe in himself. These are the marvellous privileges of the mere Christian.
23rd May 2003 GEOFF THOMAS