Passage: Ephesians 2:13
We need vertical and horizontal peace and Jesus provides both.
What does it mean to “be at peace”? One kind of peace is about an inner feeling. We feel untroubled. We feel content. We feel calm and tranquil. We are at peace. What needs to be true in order to feel at peace? Usually we feel at peace because our outside world is at peace. Think about a time this week that you lacked peace. What was happening? What was on your mind? What was the situation?
Another kind of peace is the peace we can have between people. If two countries are at war, they lack peace. When one defeats the other or a peace treaty is signed, they are no longer at war. In our relationships, we might be “at war” with someone. They may seem like an enemy and we lack peace in the relationship. What does lack of peace in a relationship feel like? What does hostility in a relationship feel like? Tension, fear, anxiety, insecurity, restless, friction, uneasy, stressed, knots in stomach, not safe, relationship is in jeopardy.
What might you do when you lack peace with someone? Avoid. Distance yourself. Protect yourself. Put your guard up. Holding your breath. Defensive.
When we have peace in a relationship, what does it feel like? You can relax. You can enjoy the person. You can be yourself. Safe. Let your guard down. Exhale. No tension.
What these two definitions of peace have in common is that they are the result of everything being as it should be. There’s nothing wrong with your circumstances or with the relationships. There is nothing troubling about your circumstances or your relationships. But sometimes people feel peace even when things are not going as they’d like. Sometimes people feel peace even when a relationship isn’t as it should be. How can we have that kind of peace? How can we have a peace that goes deeper than how our life is going? How can we have a peace that creates peace around us?
Today we are in our second message of a three week sermon series called “Bad News, Good News”. Each week, we are looking at a verse that tells us both the bad news and the good news. They tell us the bad news about our condition without Christ. And they tell us the good news of our new status with Christ. My prayer is that these verses would restore the joy of our salvation found in Christ and that they would get us excited to share this good news with others.
Just like the last message, this one will have a simple outline. First, the bad news and the good news for those who know Jesus. Second, the bad news and the good news for those who don’t yet know Jesus.
We’ve thought about what it means to lack peace because of our circumstances and in relationships, but how about a lack of peace in our relationship with God? What causes that? How does it feel? Maybe you can avoid other people, but you can’t avoid God...even though we might try to. The verse we will hear from today is Ephesians 2:13. Let’s start with the bad news when there is no peace.
Bad News for Those Who Know Jesus
We are focusing on Ephesians 2:11-22, but this passage is a sister passage to Ephesians 2:1-10. In both passages, Paul follows a “then but now” pattern. Ephesians 2:1-10 says, “You were dead in your sins, but you have been saved by grace and you are God’s workmanship.” That is their personal story - their “then but now” story - their without Christ and with Christ story. That is now our story as well if we have surrendered to Jesus.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul continues this “then and now” pattern but with a different emphasis. Verse 11 begins with “therefore”, notifying us that what Paul is going to say from these verses is based on what he has just said in the previous verses. “You were dead, but you were saved by grace and you are God’s workmanship... therefore,” he says, “remember.” This is the first command in the letter to the Ephesians and the next one won’t come until chapter 4 verse 25. In these opening chapters of Ephesians, Paul is focused on what God has done in their lives rather than what they need to do. But here he gives them something to do: Remember. Remember what?
“[R]emember 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—12 remember 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.” (Eph 2:11-12)
Paul is addressing his Gentile, non-Jewish readers. In the Bible, everyone who wasn’t a Jew was called a Gentile. And one of the distinguishing marks of being Jewish was circumcision. Part of their “then” story is that they were not part of the people of God. Which
He repeated the “remember” command in verse 12 then lists five realities to describe their previous situation. First, they were separated from Christ - not “in Christ” but “apart from Christ” and all the spiritual blessings that are found in him (1:3). Second, they were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, meaning they were not citizens of the people of God. They were not part of God’s kingdom people. Third, they were strangers to the covenants of promise - the covenants that God had made in the Old Testament where he promised to bless his people. Since they weren’t part of God’s people, they were strangers to the promises to God’s people. Fourth, they had no hope. Their future was bleak. They didn’t have God’s promises to hold onto. And fifth, they were without God in the world - they didn’t know the one true God.
In summary, they were separated from Christ, alienated from God’s people, strangers to God’s promises, hopeless, and godless. This was their situation. That is a bit deflating. “You don’t have to be such a downer, Paul.” Why does he want them to remember how bad off they were? Because we will only be thankful for our present and our future with Christ if we remember our past without Christ. It leads us to say, “I know where I’d be without Jesus and it wouldn’t be good.”
Later in verse 19, he tells them that they are “no longer strangers and aliens.” That means they used to be strangers and aliens - strangers and aliens to God and God’s people. They didn’t know God. They were foreigners to him. They were outsiders when it came to God and God’s people.
In verses 14 through 18 he will use the word “hostility” to describe what life was like. They lived with tension, division, enmity, hostility, discord, and broken relationships both with God and with others. God was against them and they were against God. Other people were against them and they were against other people. They were living as enemies of God and others.
Verse 13 sums all of this up as “far off”. Separated, alienated, strangers, foreigners, hopeless, godless...“far from God” - far from belonging to God, far from God’s promises, far from hope God gives, distant, separated.
Consider for yourself. Do you feel far from God? Does God feel close to you? Or does he feel distant, cold, and remote? Do you feel like there’s tension? Do you feel uncertain and insecure about your standing with him? Do you think he’s giving you the cold shoulder? Turning his back on you? Holding you at arms length? Like he has plugged his ears to you? Does he feel far off? If not now, when has God felt far to you?
One reason Paul wants us to “remember” where we once were is so that we can also remember that we are no longer there. That’s where we once were but now we are in a different place. Only when we remember the badness of the bad news do we rejoice in the goodness of the good news. How do we get close to God? How do we go from far to near? Let’s read the good news of verse 13.
Good News for Those Who Know Jesus
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)
But now! You who once were far off. That’s where you were - far off. But now You have been brought near by the blood of Christ. It’s not even that you have come near - you didn’t bring yourself near. You have been brought near. You didn’t bring yourself. God brought you near. He reached out, grabbed you, and pulled you close.
In verses 19 through 22, he describes the nearness.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)
No longer far off but near. Paul uses three images to describe the nearness: fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, and a holy temple or dwelling place for God. “Fellow citizens with the saints” means they are part of God’s people now. They aren’t strangers or foreigners; they are full citizens. “Members of the household of God” is family language; they are sons and daughters of God now. We’ve been adopted by God into his family, given the status of son or daughter. “A holy temple” or “dwelling place for God” is of course temple language. In the Old Testament and at this time in history in the 1st century, the temple was where you went to meet God. It’s where his presence was so that’s where the priests were and where you offered sacrifices. Nothing unholy or sinful could be in God’s presence. But now, God has made his people the dwelling place of his presence. And these people who once were far off have been made the dwelling place of God.
No longer outsiders. No longer on the outside looking in. No longer separated. No longer distant and far off. Now they are full citizens, sons and daughters, and the dwelling place of God’s presence. You can’t get much closer than that!
How is all of this possible? Remember what Verse 13 said:
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near - HOW? - by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)
Jesus has made it possible. We didn’t clean ourselves up. We didn’t work really hard to impress God and get his attention. We didn’t earn an invite to his kingdom or his family. We didn’t climb our way up a ladder to get close. We didn’t submit a really impressive resume that stood out from all the others and got put on the top of the pile. No, Christ has brought us near. How? By the blood of Christ? This nearness and closeness, Paul says, comes by the blood of Christ.
Verses 14 through 18 explain how this works and take us to the heart of what Jesus did for us through his death. There is a lot in there. It’s not like eating yogurt or applesauce, which require no chewing and thus little work. This is more like biting into a piece of steak; it requires more work to eat, but it’s worth it in the end. Or if you are a vegetarian, it’s like biting into a big piece of kale.
Verses 14 through 18 take us back a lot further in the Bible and in human history. These verses describe a solution to an ancient problem that affects all humanity. When I was a kid, I loved Legos. I had tons of them and I would build all kinds of creations. Usually I created castles, working on them for days until I would take them apart and start all over again. Sometimes I would get one of those big complex Lego sets. With those, the only way I was going to get all those pieces to look like the picture on the front of the box was by following the directions. If it was going to turn out like it was supposed to, I needed to follow the creator’s instructions.
When God created this world, he had a picture on the box for how he wanted everything to turn out. He created a good world and he created humans to be in charge of this world for him. Two simple instructions would make everything work well: love God above all else, love one another as ourselves. Two rules, two commands, two instructions for things to turn out like the picture on the box.
But it didn’t go like that. The first humans God created, Adam and Eve, were deceived by a being opposed to God, Satan, who came to them in the form of a serpent. The serpent convinced them that the picture on God’s box wasn’t all that great. The serpent convinced them to build a different picture by following different instructions.
The instructions for getting the picture on the serpent’s box had two steps: 1) Reject God being in charge, 2) you be in charge, you define right and wrong on your terms. And this had consequences. First, it separated them from God. It put up a dividing wall between them and God. Where there was once nearness, closeness, and intimacy, now there was distance, enmity, hostility, and separation. By rejecting the King, they made themselves enemies of the King.
Second, it caused separation between the two humans, Adam and Eve. Immediately after their choice to rebel against God, Adam and Eve experienced a dividing wall go up between them. They hid themselves from each other. When God asked what happened, they blamed one another. Later, one of their kids killed his brother. Anywhere we look in the world today, both inside and outside the church, we can see this hostility at work between us. We have an inner inclination to bite and devour one another rather than to love one another. We have an inner drive to look out for ourselves above all else rather than caring for others.
The result is that there is a dividing wall of hostility in our vertical relationship with God and there is a dividing wall of hostility in our horizontal relationships with one another. We are relationally separated from God and we are relationally separated from each other. We don’t love God like we were supposed to. We don’t love each other like we were supposed to. We are a long way from the design on the front of God’s box.
Later in human history, God chose a people, Abraham and his family, to bring blessing back to a world cursed by broken relationships. He pledged himself to this family and told them to love him above all else and to love their neighbor as themselves. God also told them to separate from other nations - to be careful not to let the rest of the world pull them away from God. In this way, God’s law worked like a fence to protect Israel. They were to be a light to the nations, the Gentiles, but if they became like them, they’d be just as dark as everyone else.
The problem was that they had the same problem as Adam and Eve: they often wanted to be in charge. God knew they would do things that would put dividing walls between them and God so he also provided a way to be forgiven for their law-breaking. They would bring a perfect animal, place their hand on it and confess their sins, then kill it. The animal died in the person’s place by taking the person’s sins on it so they could be forgiven.
Over time, though, the people became more and more rebellious, ignoring God. They went through the motions with the sacrifices. A dividing wall of hostility went up between them and God. And they began to think of themselves as better than other nations. A dividing wall of hostility went up between them and the rest of the world. This relational division was actually represented by a physical wall in the temple in Jesus’ day telling other nations they’d die if they crossed that dividing wall.
So what do we have? We have Jews and we have Gentiles. And in this horizontal relationship, we have a dividing wall of hostility between them. Their relationship is broken. We also have God and humanity, made up of Jews and Gentiles. And in this vertical relationship, we have a dividing wall of hostility between both Jew and Gentile and God. Humanity’s relationship with God is broken. Jew and Gentile need peace with each other. Humanity needs peace with God. That’s the problem. What’s the solution? Verse 14 says that Jesus himself is our peace. And what has he done?
He died the death we deserve on the cross in order to kill the hostility between us and God. We don’t keep God’s commands and so we deserve death - separation from God. Jesus kept all the commands and died in our place so now all those commands that stand against us showing how we fall short are null and void. He fulfilled them! Just like the sacrificial animals in the Old Testament, he took our sins on him and died in our place. We have been reconciled with God, both Jew and Gentile. There is no more hostility between us and God. He broke down the dividing wall.
The commands also separated Jew and Gentile but Jesus fulfilled them. They are no longer the governing authority over God’s people. The dividing wall has been broken down by Jesus when he died on the cross. Both have been reconciled to God and so the two groups have now become one. Together, they are one new humanity. The Holy Spirit gives everyone who trusts in Jesus a new heart and access to God the Father through Jesus in the Spirit.
The relationship between Jews and Gentiles was broken. The relationship between every person was broken. The relationship between God and humanity was broken. Jews and Gentiles were against each other. One person was the enemy of another. God and humanity were against each other. Enmity, strife, alienation, division, distance, separation, fighting, tension, war.
When a relationship is broken, reconciliation needs to occur. Reconciliation restores peace in the relationship. Jesus is our peace, he made peace, and he proclaims peace. Jesus broke down the dividing walls. Jesus brought peace by putting hostility to death through his death.
What has made it possible for hostility between Jews and Gentiles to cease? The cross of Jesus Christ.
What has made it possible for hostility between God and humanity to cease? The cross of Jesus Christ.
What has made it possible for both Jews and Gentiles to have peace with God? The cross of Jesus Christ.
What has made it possible for both Jews and Gentiles to have access to the one true God? The cross of Jesus Christ.
What has made it possible for Jews and Gentiles to be the one people of God? The cross of Jesus Christ.
On the cross, Jesus absorbed all the hostility between God and human beings and all the hostility humans have with each other. He provided forgiveness and forgiveness is always costly to the giver.
How might we divide up today? Racially, socioeconomically, culturally. How do we make distinctions between each other? How do we show partiality? None of this should be the case if we claim to be people of the cross.
Did you wake up this morning thinking or feeling that God is against you? Surely he would never be on your side. Not with all the times you’ve messed up, not with all the bad you’ve done. The amazing new reality for everyone who trusts in Jesus is that God is at peace with us. No barriers. No walls. No hostility. There’s nothing between us. God is for us not against us.
Perhaps you say, “Well, I don’t think God is against me. He just doesn’t really pay any attention to me. I’m insignificant. He has bigger things to take care of. He takes no notice of me.” We are told that by the cross of Jesus Christ, God has brought us near. We have access to God. We are his family. You don’t go to the temple, you are the temple. We are not insignificant to God.
What can we feel because of this? You can relax. You can enjoy God. You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can be yourself. You’re safe. Let your guard down. Exhale. No tension. Knowing you have peace with God puts you at peace.
Consider for yourself. How does it feel when someone feels far from you? How does it feel when there is distance between you and another person? Isn’t it interesting that we can be living in the same house with someone, in the same room as someone, sitting on the couch next to someone, or eating across from someone and we can still say to them, “You seem distant. You feel far away.” We know what it feels like when there’s a wall between us and another person. We know what it’s like to be physically close and yet relationally far. There’s lack of warmth, lack of intimacy, lack of interest and concern. The walls are up, their guard is up, they feel cold and remote. We can especially feel this way when a relationship lacks peace. There’s distance, tension, fear. There’s uncertainty and insecurity.
With God, we can be objectively near and yet subjectively far. Meaning, the fact is that we are near because of what he has done. But we can feel far.
It does more though. It affects our other relationships. You know how friction at work spills over into creating friction at home? Maybe you come home and you are grumpy and irritable. You are harsh with everyone. Finally someone asks, “What’s wrong?” And you say, “I’m sorry. My boss was a jerk today and I’m taking it out on you guys.” Now, how much spills over into all of life when we have friction with the Lord of the entire universe?
Do you lack horizontal peace? You need to get vertical peace. Peace with each other is possible because peace with God has been paid for. Our peace with God is the foundation or basis for our peace with each other. You can be at total peace about the most important relationship in your life. Then you can give that peace out to others by loving them as you love yourself, even your enemies.
Just like Israel, we need to remember where we came from so that we remember we are near to God only by his grace. We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it.
Bad News for Those Who Don’t Know Jesus
Remembering our past without Christ makes us aware of the condition, status, and situation of those who are still without Christ. Think about that list you wrote down last week. People do horrible things when they lack peace in relationships. They will do almost anything to stop feeling the inner turmoil and pain from it. They will seek peace in destructive ways: drugs, alcohol, avoidance, entertainment.
How many people do you know with broken relationships? Who keep hurting others and keep getting hurt? Those horizontal issues are the fruit of a vertical issue. They lack horizontal peace because they lack vertical peace. The cross of Jesus Christ is the answer to all hostility. The most broken relationship in anyone’s life is their relationship with God. Why? Because every other hurtful thing done to another person was most offensive to God because he’s the one who commanded us to love others.
How many people do you know who wake up believing God is against them? They either say, “God doesn’t care about me” or “Why does God care so much about what I do?” They might be angry at a God they claim not to believe in. They are hostile toward God and they believe he’s hostile toward him.
Good News for Those Who Don’t Know Jesus
The good news is that all that hostility has been completely taken care of.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)
You don’t have to climb up a mountain to get close to God. You don’t have to beef up your resume of good deeds to show him you deserve to be near him. You don’t have to hold your breath wondering if he will finally accept your performance.
Could we get any better news? A broken relationship where the blame is all ours for why it’s broken. A relationship where we have messed up over and over and over again. A relationship where the other person knows how terrible we have been, how terrible we are, and how terrible we will be. A relationship where the other person knows exactly what they are getting themselves into. And yet, he brings us near. How? By us cleaning up our lives? By us having consistent Bible reading and prayer times? By our obedience, our efforts, our performance? By the good deeds we do? No, he brings us near by the blood of Christ. He loves us even though we’ve been his enemies. He breaks down the walls between us. He crosses over the great divide separating us. He puts his arms around us and pulls us close. He brings us near. We don’t work our way into nearness. We don’t fight our way into his good graces. We don’t perform our way into convincing him he should want us. He just does. Because that’s who he is. What a relief!
We aren’t bothering people by telling them this news. We are offering them relief from the deep inner turmoil and angst they feel every day. We are telling them that the tension they feel with God can disappear. We are telling them that someone has closed the distance between them and God. We are telling them that someone has purchased the peace they so long for. We are telling them that they can rest and relax. Jesus is their peace.
I handed these invitation cards around last week. And I want to say a bit more about it this week. The reason we create cards like this a couple times a year is because I find it’s easier to invite someone to something when I have something in my hand to give them. Maybe you have a relationship where you aren’t sure how to bring up the topic of faith. Maybe you have someone that you have wanted to invite to a church service for a while. I find that having an invitation like this makes it a lot easier. It’s an easy conversation starter. Perhaps you don’t know how to start a conversation about faith. You can go up to a friend, family member, coworker, neighbor, or anyone else and say, “Hey, my church is going to be doing a teaching series on relationships in the fall and I wanted to invite you” or “and I thought you might like to come.” It’s that easy. You are inviting them to something that you think would be of value to them.
How might they respond? Some people will just take the card and say thanks. A lot of people will ask, “Oh, what church?” If they say that, you have a really great opening. You can say, “Good News Church.” They will probably say, “Hm, I haven’t heard of it.” Then you can say, “Yeah, we don’t own a building. Do you know where Niko’s is? We meet in the Dorr Township Community Room right across from there.” They might ask what type of church it is or they might not. Either way, you can actually share the gospel here. You can say, “We really focus on the good news about Jesus, that he brings us near to God when we deserve to be far off. You can add in something that you really like about our church or how you have been impacted. Then you can ask them, “What’s your faith background?” And now you are in a spiritual conversation.
They might give you a brief answer. “I grew up Catholic but I don’t go anymore.” Then you can ask, “What was that like for you?” or “What led you to not go anymore?” Then listen to their story. Curiosity is a super power for having meaningful conversations and spiritual conversations.
We are Good News Church. We are people who were far but who have been brought near. That’s the good news God has brought to us. We are inviting people who are far from God to come near not by their efforts or goodness or obedience or their cleaned up life, but by the death of Christ.