I have subscriptions to a couple of national news magazines and far too often I am confronted with images of devastation in the wake of such natural disasters as earthquakes, tornadoes or floods. I am always shocked to see the level of destruction. Homes demolished, property ruined, communities splintered and individual’s lives turned upside down. These photographs depict unintentional destruction.
When I put down a copy of one of these magazines and pick up my Bible, I am presented with similar horrors. Only these are not the result of mindless nature, the shattered lives and fractured families recorded on the sacred page are the result of conscious evil intent. Satan, the great enemy of our souls, loves to deface and destroy God’s creation. He takes pleasure in debasing what is pure and good. He enjoys harming and destroying anything and anyone that is precious to God.
This angry, violent rampage that Satan is on stands in sharp contrast to the purposes and program of God whose intent is always to build, to bring together and to dwell. In today’s passage we see the lengths to which God went to restore what Satan had ruined by introducing sin into the world. We’re reading from Ephesians 2 from verse 14 to 22.
Ephesians 2:14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 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.”
We don’t have to look farther than our own families to see his effort to separate, split and fracture relationships among those who should have the closest of natural bonds. We don’t have to look outside of our own hearts to find the seeds of his evil work as we measure ourselves as superior to those we consider beneath us and resentful of those which greater advantages.
While some passages from God’s word teach a lot about these things, the one we are looking at today emphasizes the positive. It highlights what God has done through the Lord Jesus Christ to rebuild what Satan has torn down, to reconcile what Satan has separated and to restore what Satan has stolen from us.
Right away in this passage, we see that Jesus, Himself, is our peace. Earlier, we learned that until He came, the only way to God was through the sacrificial system of the Jews. But God moved beyond animal sacrifices at the temple when His own Son gave up His life outside of the city. That sacrifice which was so different from all others, was once and for all and in it, God Himself provided the way for us to come to Him. Jesus, the Son of God, became our peace.
The barrier between Jew and Gentile was destroyed because Jesus fulfilled the Jewish law and then suffered death anyway, on our account. By doing this He set the law aside. The Old Testament law was not bad, but it was not good enough. It revealed God’s standard, but didn’t give people the power to reach it.
In Romans 3, Paul explains how this was possible. Beginning at verse 21 he says that the righteousness of God becomes ours, not through our keeping the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. In fact, we can’t keep the law, so the only option is to be righteous through faith. Paul states beginning in verse 22: “For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This was God’s plan from the beginning. Through Jesus’ death for us, the penalty for our sin was paid. This put God in the position of being perfectly righteous yet at the same time forgiving sin. In verse 26, Paul wrote that the death of Jesus “was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Several benefits come to us as a result of the fact that all people have to approach God directly through Christ.
Firstly, we have access to God as our Father by the Spirit. Back in chapter 1, verse 13, Paul notes that after a Christian hears the good news of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ and responds by believing, they are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” God, by His Spirit, takes up residence in the life of the believer, marking that person as one of His own. Here in chapter 2, verse18, we learn that through Christ, both Jew and Gentile have access in one Spirit to the Father. God seals us as His own and gives us access to Himself by the Spirit. You can see, then, that the Holy Spirit is very important in the life of the believer.
Secondly, we learn in verse 19 that the Gentiles are no longer strangers and aliens. Paul highlights this because, as we’ve seen, in the past that is exactly what they were. The gentiles in Ephesus and everywhere else had no access to God except through identifying themselves with the Jews. Now, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, they find themselves no longer at a distance from Him, but brought very close.
“How close?” You might wonder. Our third point shows us that in two steps. Step one is that gentile Christians are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” Since Jesus’ death, we are all citizens of the same kingdom – the Kingdom of God. But there’s something even better than that. We’re even closer to God than being subjects in His Kingdom. We’re part of His family. We relate to Him as Father. This reminds us of closeness and intimacy. Not all of us had great relationships with our human fathers, but we are all guaranteed a warm fulfilling relationship with our heavenly Father.
At verse 20, Paul begins using the metaphor of a building. We all know that a well-constructed building depends on its foundation, so Paul begins there. He tells us that this temple, this dwelling place for God is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Once we know what to look for, we can go back to the Old Testament prophets and see the church in their writings. Of course, it’s more obvious how the New Testament apostles and their teaching played a part in establishing the faith.
Next, Paul speaks of Jesus, himself, as being the cornerstone. In Paul’s time, the cornerstone was crucial to a building. It set the angles and served as the reference point for measuring. If the cornerstone was out of square the whole building would be. If the builders did not align everything to it, the whole building would be askew. As you read the writings of the apostles, you see how frequently they refer back to Jesus and His teaching, to make sure that they stayed true to His design.
Moving on, Paul speaks about the rest of the structure. In his second letter, Peter refers to individual Christians as “living stones” as he makes use of the same metaphor. What is worthy of note is the purpose of this spiritual building. Paul mentions this twice, In verse 21 he refers to it as “a holy temple” and in verse 22 calls it “a dwelling place for God.”
Here we are, a group of people from all kinds of nationalities and backgrounds, some wealthy, some not; some wise, some not so much; some old, some young; some healthy, some sickly. Regardless of what might divide us, we are all brought together in Christ to fulfill the purpose of God. We are subjects of His kingdom and we gladly obey Him. We are children in His family and we love to be close to Him and be like Him. We are His building, and we live in such a way that He is comfortable to take up His residence in us.
God desires to be present with us. He isn’t looking for superficial splendour and beauty. He lives in places characterized by peace and cooperation not criticism and complaining. He would be comfortable where people were honest and truthful, but uncomfortable where people are pretending to be something they are not or faking a deeper spiritual experience than they really have. God would dwell among those who were open, vulnerable, and ready to learn and to change. Do you really think he would want to live in and with people who put up barriers between themselves and others or who hardened their hearts to keep others out? Knowing that “God is love” as John tells us, suggests to me that God would be drawn to people and communities where real love was evident. I suspect He would be repulsed by attitudes of selfishness and superiority that looked down on others and drove them away.
Can we really expect to feel close to God if we are not providing the kind of environment that is in alignment with His character? What things separate you from others? Have you ever considered that when you exclude other Christians from your circle of fellowship that you are offending God? Today, let us repent of the sin of exclusivism in our church fellowships. Let us repent of the sin of personal pride in our own lives. Let us open our hearts to God and to all of His children. After all, He is our peace. He has made us one and broken down the wall that separated us.