You Say You Want a New Year’s Revolution?
January 29. 2017
By Ed Young
The first time I ever thought about peace I was in elementary school. We had a hulking principal whose name was W.A. Woodruff. He had this big, booming voice. And he would walk into the cafeteria and some little kid would have guts enough to flash him the peace sign. And then everyone would wait to see what he would do. W.A. Woodruff would pause, then he would do two peace signs. And everyone would cheer. We wanted to have peace with Principal W.A. Woodruff.
Isn’t it true that men don’t understand what brings conflict and therefore what brings peace? We can see this at the individual level, within families, churches, at the company, in the nation, and among the leaders of the world. It’s always the same issue. Men don’t know the way of peace.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul gives us his peace plan. He uses an illustration that Jesus bridged the widest chasm, which ever has existed between men. The gulf between the Jew and the Gentile.
If you don’t think the conflict between Jew and Gentile is the most difficult gulf to bridge, consider why it’s been so difficult to settle the Arab/Israeli problem in the Middle East. Some of the greatest minds of our day have tried to work it out. But no one has gotten anywhere.
Here’s the outline. First we have separation from peace.
Then we realize that He is our peace. That’s the origin of peace.
Then there’s the process of peace, how it actually was brought about. He came and made peace.
And finally, there is the means of laying hold or possessing the peace. He preached peace.
So here’s the deal. If you’re having a conflict with anybody – whether it be at home, work, neighborhood, here, there, or yonder – this is the way of peace. This is the secret to peace.
I think it’s cool that Paul starts with the definition of what true peace is. He says, “True peace is oneness.” It’s not just the cessation of hostility or absence of conflict. It means being one.
This is very important because otherwise, when you talk about peace, you’re only being superficial.
Is it peace when you get two armies to lay down their weapons and stop fighting each other? Or two rival gangs to say, “Yeah, we’re not going to kill one another anymore?” I guess we could call it that. And that is definitely preferred to armed conflict. But it’s not really peace.
Is it peace when a husband and wife agree not to get a divorce, but to stay married just for the sake of the high school student? But the home continues in coldness and divisiveness? It may be peace according to man’s definition, but it isn’t according to God’s.
I mean, is it peace when two friends who haven’t spoken to each other for some time finally agree to disagree? To speak kindly to each other, but they don’t seek each other’s company anymore? Sorry, that’s not God’s definition.
Peace is oneness. It’s harmony. It’s sharing mutual enjoyment. It’s being one. Anything else is superficial, temporary, and unsatisfactory.
But here Paul tells us the secret of peace. Of course the secret of oneness is a person. Jesus Christ makes peace between individuals, nations. That peace will be satisfying, permanent, and genuine peace. It will be real peace that will last and last.
Paul is saying in order to live at peace you must have peace. The problem with most of us is that we want to start by clearing up just the results of the conflict. God never starts there. He starts with the person. He says the peace is the person. And in order to live at peace with someone else, you must be at peace with the person of Christ.
So, the place to start the origin of peace, the genesis of peace, is the settling of any problems between you and Jesus. That’s always the place to start.
Isn’t it true that most peace missions fail? From 15BC to AD850, there were 7500 eternal covenants agreed on among various nations, with the hope of bringing peace. But no covenant had lasted longer than 2 years.
In reality, the only eternal covenant that’s lasted and that will last is the one made by our God, sealed by the blood of Jesus. It’s Christ’s peace mission that is critical in our understanding of life.
There are several aspects of peace that we need to understand. The first being separation from peace.
In the first section of Ephesians 2, Paul talked about the salvation of the people in general. But now he turns to the work of Christ, particularly for the Gentiles. We have to understand, most of the members of the Ephesian church were Gentiles. And they knew a lot about God’s program in the Old Testament and how it involved the Jews.
We see after sin comes into the world through Adam that life gets hard and people seem to continually get worse. And God chooses Noah and his family. He wipes out everyone else. Again, the people pursue simple lifestyle and evil is prevalent. People don’t follow after God. The problem is sin. Sin is a divider. So God chooses Abraham from all people and makes a covenant with Abraham, a unconditional covenant that only has responsibility for God.
God says all the peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham. And God chose the nation of Israel to come through him, and he would be the conduit through which God would bless the world through bringing salvation through Jesus. God gave them a sign of this covenant, the act of circumcision. It was a mark that identified the descendants of Abraham.
But the Jews often thought more of themselves because of this mark. And they looked down on others who were uncircumcised rather than realizing that God choose them to reveal himself to the world and to use them to be a blessing to all the nations.
So God set Israel apart to show the world who he was and to bring salvation to the world. But while Israel had its mark of the covenant and remained separate nationally and ritually, they often rebelled against God morally and acted like the other nations around them.
For centuries the Jews, the circumcision crowd, had looked down on the uncircumcised crowd, the Gentiles, with an attitude that God did not want them to display. The mere fact that the Jew had received the physical work of the covenant was no proof he was a man of faith. But since the time that God called Abraham, God made a difference between Jews and Gentiles. He made this difference not that the Jews would walk around and brag and feel superior, but that they might be a blessing and a help to the Gentiles. God set them apart so he might use them to help ungodly nations. Israel became like the lost sinners around her.
And that’s one of the reasons that God had to discipline the Jews. Because they would not maintain their spiritual separation and minister to the nations in the name of the true God.
Ephesians 2:11-12, “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
So the Gentiles were without Christ. The Ephesians worshipped the goddess Diana.
They were also without citizenship. God had called the Jews and built them into a nation. He gave them his laws and blessing. A Gentile could enter the nation as a proselyte. But he was not born into that very special nation.
They were also without covenant. While the blessing of the Gentiles is included in God’s covenant with Abraham, God did not make any covenants with any Gentile nations. The Gentiles were aliens and strangers. And the Jews never let them forget that.
They were also without hope. Historians tell us there was a great ominous cloud of hopelessness covering the ancient world. Philosophies were empty and traditions were disappearing.
And also, they were without God. The pagans did not know God. I think it’s worth understanding that the spiritual plight of the Gentiles was not caused by God, but by their own willful sin.
Paul said the Gentiles knew the true God but deliberately refused to honor him (Romans 1:18-23).
So religious history is not a record of man starting with many gods and gradually discovering the one true God. Rather, it’s a sad story of man knowing the truth about God and deliberately turning away from it. It’s a story of devolution, not evolution.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis give the story of the decline of the Gentiles. And from Genesis 12 on, the call of Abraham, it’s a story of the Jews. God separated the Jews from the Gentiles that he might be able to save the Gentiles also.
John 4:22, “…salvation is from the Jews.”
God called the Jews, again, starting with Abraham, that through them he might reveal himself as the one true God. And with the Jews he deposited his word and through the Jews he gave the world a savior.
The origin of peace. Now, in this next section we’re going to see what God did for the Gentiles. The “but now” is Ephesians 2:13 and it parallels “…but God…” in Ephesians 2:4.
Ephesians 2:13-15, “13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 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,”
Paul is talking about now the greatest peace mission in history – Jesus Christ not only reconciled Jews and Gentiles, but he reconciled both to himself in the one body, the church. The word “reconcile” means “to bring together again.”
For example, a distraught husband wants to be reconciled to his wife who has left him. A mom wants to be reconciled to her wayward daughter. The lost sinner needs to be reconciled to God.
Sin is the great divider, the great separator in this world. It’s been dividing human beings from the beginning of history. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were separated from God. And before long their sons were separated from each other as Cain killed Abel. The earth was filled with violence.
The only remedy seemed to be the judgment. But even after the flood, men sinned against God and each other. And man even tried to build their own unity without God’s help. And the result was another judgment that scattered the nations and confused the tongues.
It was then that God called Abraham. And through the nation of Israel Jesus Christ came into the world, and it was his work on the cross that abolished the enmity between Jew and Gentile, and between sinners and God.
In Ephesians 2:13-15 we see that God had put a difference between Jews and Gentiles so his purpose of salvation might be accomplished. But once they were accomplished, there was no more difference. The differences were erased by the difference maker, Jesus.
This was a difficult lesson for the early church to comprehend, because of centuries the Jews had been different from the Gentiles in their religion, their dress, their diet, their laws.
Until Simon Peter was sent to the Gentiles in Acts 10, the church had no problem. But with the salvation of the Gentiles on the same terms as the Jews, problems began to develop. A lot of the Jewish Christians jammed Simon Peter for going to the Gentiles and eating with them.
The question was batted around, “Must a Gentile become a Jew to become a Christian?” The conclusion was, “No. Jews and Gentiles were saved the same way, by faith in Christ.” The enmity was gone.
The cause of the drama was the law. The law made a definite distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles. The dietary laws that God had put in place made an obvious difference – the clean and the unclean. The Gentiles did not obey these laws; therefore they were ‘unclean.’
In fact, there was a wall between the Jews and the other nations. And there was a literal wall in the Jewish Temple separating the Court of the Gentiles from the rest of the Temple areas. Paul is talking about a feature in the Temple of Jerusalem. He was a Jew who had been brought up there and he had remembered the wall that was about 3 or 4 feet high that ran through the court of the Temple, dividing it into two sections, separating the court of the Gentiles from the inner court into which only Jews were permitted. And it was this wall that the Jews thought Paul and his Gentile friends crossed with the Jews attacked him in the Temple and threatened to kill him.
Paul was talking about that dividing wall. And they would have pictured the dividing wall that separated them from the Jews in worshipping the Lord. The Ephesians would also understand this wall as a separation between them and God as well.
Paul is talking about the ending of the great conflict between the Jews and Gentiles of his day. He says the first thing Jesus did was break down the middle wall of partition, the dividing wall of hostility.
When we think of a wall we think of dividing something. We build walls in houses to divide it into different rooms. We build walls around houses and countries and towns. There’s a big debate about building walls around our country right now.
In order for the Jews and Gentiles to be reconciled, the wall had to be destroyed. And Jesus did that on the cross. When he died, the veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. By fulfilling the law in his righteous life and by burying the curse of the law with his sacrificial death, he removed the legal barrier that separated Jew and Gentile.
So we see that Jesus is our peace (Ephesians 2:14) and Jesus made peace (Ephesians 2:15).
And that verb “to make” means “to create.” The church, the body of Christ, is his new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:15, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”).
The process of peace in Ephesians 2:16-18, the drama was also removed between sinners and God.
“16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
Not only did the Gentiles need to be reconciled to the Jews, but both the Jews and Gentiles needed to be reconciled to God.
The God of love wants to reconcile the sinner to himself, but the God of holiness must see to it that sin is judged. God solved the problem by sending his son to be the sacrifice of our sins, revealing his love and meeting the demands of his righteousness. This was truly a re-cancellation.
So Jesus is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus made peace (Ephesians 2:15). Jesus preached peace (Ephesians 2:17). As judge, he could have come to declare war. But in his grace, he came with a message of peace.
You know the strength of any hostility is demand. A self-righteous demand upon someone is what creates hostility. A demand without any admission of guilt on the part of the one demanding one-sided justice. A holier than thou insistence. This is what creates hostility.
And the Jews despised the Gentiles because they considered themselves better. So Christ’s solution was to take away the law, remove that from the picture. It helped them to see that the law judges both alike, and you’ll end the hostility.
One of the ways to stop the hostility is to remove the self-righteousness. That’s like the parent that can never apologize. Hostility comes by self-righteous demand.
God is not content with just ending hostility. He can create a new person. He can create a new man. Jews don’t have to become Gentiles. Gentiles don’t have to become Jews. Whites don’t become blacks; blacks don’t become whites. Etc.
But there’s a third step. That he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross. If there’s any area in which one feel superior to the other, and which a person says, “I didn’t need quite as much forgiveness as that one did. My life was higher than theirs,” then self-righteousness starts in again. But if and as we stand before God on a level playing field, both needing the same forgiveness, then the hostility is brought to an end.
Possessing the peace. In Ephesians 2:19-22, you have the unification. “19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Paul has repeated the word “one” to emphasize the unifying work of Christ. We are made one.
“Both made one,” (2:14).
“One new man,” (2:15).
“One body,” (2:16).
“One spirit,” (2:18).
All distance and division have been overcome by Jesus.
In Ephesians 2:19-22, there are three beautiful figures in this passage. And each is an advance upon the previous one. They are designed to teach us the great truths about what it means to be a Christian.
One is the figure of a kingdom – fellow citizens with the saints.
One is the figure of a family – members of God’s household.
And a building – Holy Temple for the dwelling place of God and the Spirit.
We’re no longer foreigners. A foreigner can be very familiar with the country where he lives, but he’s living on a passport. He doesn’t have a birth certificate that makes him a citizen. That’s very descriptive of many people in churches.
The Bible recognizes two kingdoms in this world. The kingdom of God or kingdom of Satan. Being in a kingdom you have certain responsibilities and privileges which are given to us in Christ. We’re members of God’s own household. The child always outranks any ambassador or governor or secretary or minister or senator.
Notice “one nation” in verse 19. Israel was God’s chosen nation. They rejected their redeemer and suffered the consequences. The kingdom was taken from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. This new nation is the church, a chosen generation.
Notice “one family” in the last part of verse 19. Through faith in Christ we enter into God’s family and God becomes our father.
The family of God is found in two places – in heaven and earth. Living believers are on earth; believers who have died are in heaven.
Notice “one Temple” in verses 20-22. In the book of Genesis God walked with his people. In Exodus he decided to dwell with his people. God dwelt in the Tabernacle until Israel’s sins caused the glory to depart. Then God dwelt in the Temple. His next dwelling place was the body of Christ, which men took and nailed to the cross. And today, though his spirit, God dwells in the church and temple of God and he dwells in the hearts of those who have trusted Christ.
The foundation for his church was laid by the apostles and New Testament prophets. Jesus is the foundation and chief cornerstone. The cornerstone binds the structure together. The temple of Jesus, the church, will last forever. “…I will build My church…” Matthew 16:18.
The Holy Spirit builds this temple by taking dead stones out of the pit of sin, giving them life and setting them lovingly into the temple of God. And this temple is fitly framed together as the body of Christ.
This whole thing starts with Christ. He is the one who can accomplish it. It begins with the declaration that he is our peace. First, he’s broken down the dividing wall of hostility as I talked about earlier. Second, that he might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace. Third, that he might reconcile us to God in one body through the cross; therefore bringing hostility to an end.
Now that Christ has come, there’s no longer purpose in the division. So now that Christ has come he destroyed the barrier that divided them and through him created one new man. The church, the body of Christ – to bring peace.
Christ did not only make reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles by making the way to God through faith in Christ Jesus, but we see also that through Christ God made reconciliation between sinners and God.
Today, verses 20-22, we are the temple of God corporately as we meet together in the church. It’s not an option for you to be a part of the church. People say, “Yeah, the church is full of hypocrites and sinners.” That’s true. But it’s impossible to be in a growing relationship with Christ apart from the church.
Jesus wants unity. But not just for unity’s sake. He wants people, the church, unified around him and the truth of his word.