Brought Near by the Blood

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

“They’re not one of us,” is an easy sentiment to have. “They’re not from here,” or, “They’re UND fans,” or, “They prefer Japanese automobiles,” seem to cross all of our lips from time to time. Sometimes, we’ll hear or think, “They’re not one of us,” even within these sacred walls. And this isn’t in the sense that they’re not one of us because they haven’t joined yet, or they have removed themselves from fellowship with us by a different confession of faith, but a more insidious sentiment. It’s the idea that someone is categorically not one of us. They’re aren’t us, and they never will be, nor are they even capable of it. You can probably imagine a time where you’ve had that sort of thought in your heard.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians in our text, “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.”[1] Paul instructs the Ephesians to remember that they were once members of the category, “Not one of us.” They were not of Israel, the people to whom the promise of the Messiah belonged. Rather, they were aliens to the covenant of promise. But, more severely, they were separated from Christ. There existed between them and Christ a dividing wall of hostility – the wall of sin that continues to separate our sinful nature from the gates of heaven. Paul gives this conclusion, though, “Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”[2] Therefore, all dividing walls of hostility are broken down in the household of the Lord.

St. Paul teaches in the text about dividing walls of hostility. The context is that, during Paul’s ministry, there were very many converts from Judaism. Some maintained that, post-conversion to Christianity, the ceremonial laws that identified Israel as a nation must be kept. If one did not keep the Passover, did not refrain from work on the Sabbath, or wasn’t circumcised – among other things – that person was not of Israel and was not, therefore, a Christian. They missed the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem some 600 years before was the closing Word from God on Israel as a chosen nation.

The real dividing wall that faced the Ephesians wasn’t that sort of division, but the ultimate dividing wall – sin. Sin is what separates all men from God. The default position of all people, both Jew and Gentile, is as Paul says, “dead in trespasses and sins…following the course of this world…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” As a result of being born we are all, “by nature children of wrath.”[3] The result of all this is that we are all by nature separated from Christ, without hope and without God in the world.

We can see this in so many ways in our lives. For example: we attempt define our own morality, and actually, our own reality. Instead of identifying ourselves as the creatures that God has made to live in relationship with Him and one another, our society teaches us that the individual is the most important. Just this week a courage award was given on national television to a person who denies the good creation of God, asserting that a mistake was made when he was recognized by the sex that God gave instead of the identity that he created for himself. The overall message was that the reality that we live in is not shaped and defined by our Creator, but by each individual on his own. Speaking about this may make us uncomfortable. So, instead of speaking the truth of God in these matters, we leave the State to define morality. In various times though history human governments have upheld morality as defined by God, but that is no longer the case. The wall of sin that separates us and God is evident when we are complacent to allow what happens to be legal to be our measure of what is right.

Even without that wall, even recognizing the forgiveness we receive through faith in Christ, that division remained between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This maybe was more obvious for the Ephesians, who visibly weren’t Jewish, but we become the Judaizers when we see people in church or in the community and think, “They aren’t one of us.” Instead of sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world and promises rest and rescue for our weary souls, we don’t. We become like King Herod in the Gospel reading last week, who heard the Word of God from John the Baptist, but was content to do nothing.

St. Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

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.[4]

At one point all mankind, we ourselves included, were far off – completely dead in our sins. But in His flesh, Christ broke down the wall of hostility that existed between God and us. Formerly the demands of the Law stood between us and the sin within us rebelled. In the body of Christ, we have been released from the hold that the Law had over us, demanding our blood for our sins. Instead, Jesus broke down that wall of hostility by actively obeying its demands in our place, and suffering the penalty of our inability to keep the Law.

Therefore, He is our peace and has made us a new man. The Jews once thought that to be saved, the Gentiles must be incorporated, must be made Jews as well. But after breaking down the wall of sin that existed between God and us, Jesus also broke down the distinction between Jew and Gentile, and united both as one new man in Christ. This He did through His own ministry, through sending the Apostles, and through sending faithful pastors today, through whose mouths we hear the preaching of the Gospel, and from whose hands we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

The Scripture says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”[5] Though we were once separated from the commonwealth of Israel and promises of God, though we were once without hope and godless from our very conception, we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints in the household of God.

In this household, there is no hostility. There is no division between God and man, nor is there between each other. We have all been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and are led by the Spirit to forgive as we have been forgiven. As members of the household of God we are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, our cornerstone being Jesus Himself. Daily were are being joined together through His Word and Sacrament into a holy temple in the Lord and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

It’s so much easier to resist, though. After all, how could you forgive a Packer fan? We all have in our heads people we’d rather not talk to and places we’d rather not go, but how then can we share the saving Gospel of Christ? Those thoughts like, “they’re not one of us,” are sinful and must be repented of. In the household of God there are no walls of hostility, either between man and God or between each other. Therefore, being built upon the great shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ, we continue to reach out to those around us. We confess our numerous failures to do so, knowing that Christ is our peace. He came and preached peace to us through His death as punishment for our sins, making we who were far off now near to our God and Father in heaven.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 2:11–12.

[2] Eph. 2:13.

[3] Eph. 2:1-3.

[4] Eph. 2:13–16.

[5] Eph. 2:19–22.

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