Good morning! How are you doing today? Are you enjoying the green pastures, napping in the sun down by the still waters? Or are you staggering up the hill through the valley of the shadow of death? Maybe somewhere in between? Lots of in between places in this life, isn’t there. Along with the joy, there is plenty of sorrow. Along with the highs, plenty of lows.
Wherever you are, you aren’t alone. The Lord is near whether you are aware of him or not. And if you are following him, he’s leading you, no matter what is happening in your life.
Last weekend I was at the men’s Tres Dias retreat. Our theme was Jesus is a chain breaker and we saw him break a lot of chains in the lives of the men who were there. This weekend he’s doing the same thing in the lives of the women at the retreat. And if you’ve got chains this morning, Jesus can break them and set you free.
Today we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Thank you, Cory for your great message last Sunday on the first half of chapter 2. Let’s open our Bibles to Eph 2:11. Let’s pray: “Heavenly Father, this is your Living Word. It’s about Jesus. Open our ears to hear and our hearts to respond we ask in his Name, Amen.”
Paul continues his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” … remember at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world...” Eph 2:11-12
If you’ve ever been shunned, labeled, rejected, told you don’t belong, you know what these Gentiles were experiencing. Minorities in America and around the world face this every day. We’ve all felt this and we’ve all participated in doing it to others. It’s called shame.
Satan specializes in shame. Shame isn’t about our behavior, it’s about our being. Shame builds walls. Shame says “you’re no good, you’ll never be any good, and there’s nothing you can do to change that”. Shame works to ruin God’s purpose of bringing all things back together again.
Satan specializes in building walls. He builds them between us and God and between us and each other. He enlists us to do the same. But God tears down Satan’s walls and uses the lumber to build bridges. And the greatest of these bridge is the cross. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Eph 2:13
Let’s keep reading - “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Eph 2:14-16
Have you ever run into a ‘dividing walls of hostility?’ They’re everywhere aren’t they? They exist between men and women, husbands/wives, parents/children, nation/nation. We run into them in race, religion, and politics. You name it. If it involves human beings, we’ll find a way to pick a fight, start a feud, and build a dividing wall of hostility.
The hostility at work in our world all begins in the wall that separates us from God. Our sin, our disobedience is in reality hostility to God! No matter how hard we try, this is one wall we can’t get over.
God must come and tear down the wall between himself and us and he has. He sent his one and only Son Jesus, over the wall, to dismantle the wall by giving his life as the atonement for our sin. The peace we long for to overcome hostility has one source, Jesus.
Paul’s been writing it all along here – “in Christ”, “through Christ”, “by means of Christ”. Look at the words, “For he himself is our peace.” Paul doesn’t write, “Jesus showed us the way to achieve peace.” He wrote Jesus is our peace!
Jesus has the power to take two totally different people on opposite sides of a dividing wall of hostility and bring them together so that they become one. An utter miracle of grace!
Notice the words “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations”. Paul isn’t referring to the 10 commandments. Jesus told us he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it and assign the righteous merit of his life to our credit as a gift we receive by faith.
What Paul means here is the man made rules and requirements we put on each other in order to justify erecting our dividing walls of hostility. Look at verse 15. God’s purpose in sending Jesus was “…to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Eph 2:15-16
Remember what Jesus told Nicodemus? He said, “You must be born again.” The only way for us to be changed from being wall builders to peace makers is to be born again. Our hearts must be transformed. Our old nature must be crucified a new person raised to life.
Peace starts with being reconciled to God, to ‘be at peace with him’. Until we have peace with God we will never have real peace with each other. The question is, are you willing to surrender your pride, confess your sin, ask God to forgive you and change your heart?
Are you willing to become a peacemaker and part of God’s kingdom of perfect peace? The key is Jesus. He’s not the way to peace. He is our peace. Will you let him change your heart? Let me illustrate:
We were all there at the foot of the cross. Believers, unbelievers, saints, sinners, Jews, Gentiles, Romans, slaves, free, rich, poor, men, women. We were all there at the foot of the cross separated from God and from one another, carrying our dividing walls of hostility.
And Jesus prayed for us, “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.” And we didn’t. But Jesus did, the Holy Spirit did, the Father did. On the cross, God tore down the walls that separated us from himself and the walls that separated us from each other. He canceled the debt that causes people to say, “You owe me!” “I’ll never forgive you”, “You just don’t measure up”, “Your different”, “You’ll never be one of us”.
Look at vs 17-18 “He (Jesus) 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.” Eph 2:17-18
Paul’s context is the dividing wall of hostility that existed between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. But his meaning extends to us right here in Christ Lutheran Church this morning.
What walls of hostility need to come down in your life this morning? What walls need to come down in our fellowship? Resentment, un-forgiveness, pride, prejudice, jealousy? How about selfishness that causes us to ask questions like, “What’s that person doing in my church?” Or maybe a spirit of criticism that causes us to complain about how someone else is doing their job? Jesus shed his blood to dismantle those walls. Why should we rebuild them?
Paul says, though Jesus’ cross we all have access to the Father by one Spirit. The same Holy Spirit has been given to all believers, that’s what makes us the Body of Christ. What right do we have to condemn or reject a fellow member of the Body?
When we do these things, there is something very unholy in us that must be crucified. Are we willing to repent and confess it as sin? Are we willing to ask the Lord to crucify it so that we can be born again with a new heart, a heart that bears the likeness of Jesus – a heart that builds bridges rather than walls?
Paul reminds us we are one church, made up of all kinds of people who have been called by grace to faith in Jesus Christ. We have been adopted into God’s family and that makes us brothers and sisters. We are living stones, selected by God, shaped by him, and fit side by side into a holy temple in which he lives by his Spirit.
This church grows as more and more people are added to the kingdom. Are you open to that? If you struggle with that, then ask the Lord to change your heart to match his own? Are you willing to do that? Will you continue to be a wall builder or let the Lord change you into a peace maker?
How about our church? Will we be wall builders or peace makers? The peace we long for, in our marriages, our families, our church, our nation, the world has one source. His name is Jesus. Peace begins when we die to ourselves and let him take possession of our hearts. Will you pray with me?
“Lord Jesus, I get so anxious and fearful about many things and I’m tempted to build walls to protect myself, separate myself from others. I need your perfect love to drive out my fear and dismantle my walls.
Change my heart, cast out my fear, tear down the walls I have erected. Help me run to the foot of our your cross where your mercy flows not just for me, but for my brothers and sisters and all the world. In your mighty name, Amen.