One new humanity in Christ

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Sermon Date: 
7 Feb 2010
Bible Base: 
Ephesians 2:11-21
Preacher: 
David Jeans

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Not as easy a question to answer – and not actually a question that needs to be answered. Chicken and egg are entwined together.
There’s a similar question being asked in the circles of those who study Paul. Is his central truth about being reconciled to God or is it about being reconciled to each other? Is Paul more concerned about our vertical relationship with God, or about our horizontal relationship with each other?
I think that the answer is that Paul was deeply concerned with both. In last week’s reading from Ephesians he emphasised how when we were dead in trespasses and sins, God made us alive through the work of Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 is about God acting to heal our relationship with Him.
Today’s reading from Ephesians 2:11-22 is about God acting to heal relationships between people, and in particular in his context between Jew and non-Jew.
Remember that when God called Abraham he said he would make a great nation out of his descendants and that all nations would be blessed through him. The Old Testament is the story of the ups and downs of that great nation, and of the ups and downs in their relationship with God. The New Testament is the story of the second part of God’s promise to Abraham, the story of all nations being blessed through Christ.
In verses 11-12 Paul describes the state of the non-Jewish nations in the first part of the story – at one time alienated from Israel, having no hope and without God in the world. But that was always a temporary state of affairs in the overall purposes of God. And just as in Ephesians 2:4 there are the great words ‘But God’, in verse 13 we have the words ‘but now’ – but now you have been brought near, And this has been done through the cross of Christ. Listen to verses 14 to 18
He is our peace ...
He has made us both one
He has made one new humanity in place of the two
He has reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross
He preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near
Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
The impact of human sin is to break our relationships – with God and with one another. The disobedience of Adam is quickly followed by Cain’s murder of Abel.
At the foot of the cross there is equality. For at the foot of the cross those who appear nearer to God stand alongside those who appear further away from God. Both in need of forgiveness, both in need of God’s grace. What is it we say – ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.
I was listening in the car to a song on a CD the other day
 At the foot of the cross I give up my vain ambition, And I leave my selfish pride.
No place at the foot of the cross for putting ourselves above others.
Which comes first peace with God or peace with each other? Well I guess peace with God comes first because it is the foundation for peace with each other. But if peace with God does not result in peace with each other, we are falling short of God’s purposes for us and have not really grasped what that peace with God is about.
Verses 19-22 are wonderful
Those who were far off are now described as no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. All who have come to the foot of the cross are welcome members of the body of Christ, are welcome to be part of the people of GodBra
But there is more – v21 in Christ the whole structure grows into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ps 133 – behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity – for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.
The church is spoken of here as the new humanity united in Christ, and as the dwelling place of God. There is no place for divisions here.
In New Zealand I was given a commentary on Ephesians written for churches in Asia. It talks powerfully about the caste system in India, and how powerful the gospel message can be when it is seen that Brahmin (high caste) and Dalit (low caste) can be part of the same church. In New Zealand it was wonderful to see a congregation of Europeans, Chinese, Sri Lankans, Filipinos worshipping together. (Yet there were not many Maori or Pacific Islanders because they mostly lived in poorer parts of the city).
Our nation has been slow to grasp the implications of the gospel – indeed our church has been. The pews in Wadsley were numbered, because people paid pew rents to get the best seats. In the centre of the graveyard was a field containing the unmarked graves of inmates of the Wadsley Asylum.
At the foot of the cross there is no room for prejudice or division. One of the biggest challenges for our deanery is that we have what is probably the most unchurched area of Western Europe – the Parson Cross estate. Without hope and without God – but welcome at the foot of the cross.
Let us examine ourselves – are there people (individuals or groups) we would not welcome in the seat next to us in church? Because God would welcome them as he welcome us - at the foot of the cross. Are there people we hold grudges against – because God would welcome them as he welcomes us – at the foot of the cross.
John Stott writes about the grandeur of Paul’ vision in this passage of a new humanity embodied in the church ‘whose characteristic is no longer alienation but reconciliation, no longer division and hostility but unity and peace’. He then contrasts the vision with the flawed reality and concludes ‘I wonder if there is anything more urgent today, for the honour of Christ and for the spread of the gospel, than that the church should, and should be seen to be, what by God’s purpose and Christ’s achievement it already is – a single new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters who love their Father and love each other, the evident dwelling place of God by his Spirit. Only then will the world believe in Christ as Peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due to his name.’[1]
 

[1] John Stott God’s New Society (IVP 1979 pp 110-112)