Our last sermon taught us how God individually applies God’s grace in our lives in spite of being dead in sin. Theologically, we refer to this as the “ordo salutis” or order of salvation. However, we will end chapter two of the book of Ephesians learning not only about the order but the history of our salvation or “historia salutis”. We will study God’s redemptive historical plan as it progress from Abraham to Christ then we will consider how God’s covenant with Israel is fulfilled by Christ and extends over to all the nations. We will learn how God made peace with man through Christ’s atoning work and how this same work united God’s people under his church.
The two part sermon is organized under three main points. But just like in our last sermon, we will only spent time expounding verses related to the first two points. Our preaching have these three points: (1) Our Alienation without God, (2) Our Reconciliation by Christ; (3) Our Unification with Christ.
Our Alienation without God
verses 11-12: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 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.”
Thirty-three verses pass and the first imperative appears – remember. Paul reminds his Gentile hearers their lot before coming to Christ. He wants them to remember their past in order to appreciate every ounce of grace they receive from God.
Remembering is an important aspect of meditation. It demands us to pay attention. It provides us a way to glory in God. It calls us to magnify in God’s work. It helps us appreciate what we have.
Paul want the Ephesian congregation to remember their status as Gentiles in the flesh. To be “in the flesh” here means more than just possessing a sinful nature. It also means to belong outside the chosen people of God. Historically, God choose Israel to become God’s people.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” ~ Deuteronomy 7:6-8
God separated Israel from all the Gentiles by election. As God’s work gets accomplished in history, they were distinguished in order to fulfill God’s plans and purposes in Christ. In this period of God’s redemptive plan, Gentiles are outside the citizenship of Israel as a nation. They are considered as not God’s people. In Hebrew term, they are Lo-ammi. And as a gentile ourselves, We deserve nothing from the hands of God. We were outcast. Previously, we don’t belong in the covenants of promise. And just like Adam, we were left on our own for our salvation. We are hopeless. Living outside paradise, we are separate from God.
We digress briefly to expound the term Paul used here to express his understand of God’s redemptive work in history – “covenants of promise.”
One of the greatest contribution of reformed understanding in theology is the concept of Covenant Theology. R.C Sproul asserts Reformed Theology is Covenant Theology. It stands in contrast with the popular Dispensational theology which sharply distinguishes the Old Testament as purely about law-keeping while the New Testament as all grace. For a dispensationalist, God saves in different dispensations in different ways – law and grace respectively. However, Covenant theologians see both old and new dispensations being under God’s grace. They are both come from the same source – God’s promise (singular) and while there were several covenants (plural) made since Abraham all the way to Christ, they are made with a single promise in view – God saves his people.
Yet along the way, God made a law covenant specifically with Israel. This covenant binds God and Israel in a similar way as a covenant of works. And a covenant of works requires perfect and personal obedience. They need to keep them all in order to comply with all its demands. And it requires not only moral and ethical compliance but also some civil, ceremonial, and dietary laws which separates Jews from Gentiles. We have to keep this mind later on when we’re on our second point. In the meantime, we stop here but expect to hear how God abolished lawful separation between these two people.
Going back on the importance of remembering our past, we need reminders in order to appreciate the privileges we receive from God. But at the same time, we need to also understand since these are privileges and not rights, we cannot boast and even become arrogant about it. God calls us to remember our history in order to teach us humility in the present and put our hope in God for our future.
Modern churches today can learn well from always remembering our humble position before God. Church leaders get crazy about the latest church growth trends and boast about their successes. They drink from the fountain of grace yet abuse it by getting arrogant and self-serving. Yet Paul reminds of our humble estate as Gentiles. There is no room for boasting. We are saved by God’s grace. And just like how Jews were made to realize their privileged position ought to prompt them to serve the nations, we as Gentiles should always serve everyone in humble service.
Why humble service? Because we only receive God’s grace by the humble service our the Lord of Covenant our savior Jesus Christ.
Our Reconciliation by Christ
verses 13-18: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
The Lord of the Covenant is also its Servant. He serves for his people Israel as well those who were considered not his people, the nations. He fulfills the promise God made in Isaiah 49:5-6. It reads:
And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength—he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Jesus is the Christ who serves as a light to nations and brings salvation to the end of the earth. According to Paul, those “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” The blood of Christ means his death and his dying at the cross means for us Christ’s atoning work. He paid for the penalty of sin. God’s wrath was poured over him instead of God. He is our peace offering. More so, his sacrifice brought peace between God and man, between Jews and Gentiles.
This is sacrifice temple language. In the Holy temple of Jerusalem, God’s presence lies at the center and for the Jewish people, they cannot enter except for their High priest. Israel gain access to God once for all because Jesus becomes their great high priest who offered himself as a sacrifice for sins. But at the same time, the Gentiles were also brought near to God. These are Gentiles who were also allowed to access outside the temple courts. God in Christ brought near those who were once barred to enter the temple and threatened by death if they insist. In this sense, Christ who is our peace brought the two peoples one. By the doing so, he reconciles the whole mankind to God.
ZCRC(Imus), we are privileged to receive God’s promise of salvation. Christ who is our Lord serves his people in humiliation by becoming a Servant of the Covenant. He brought light to the Gentiles. He brought us near to God by his death at the cross. Let us always remember how God served us and in humility serve as ministers of reconciliation for others. May the Lord continue to bring his saving message to all those whom he saves. Amen.