St Michael’s & St Barnabas, 1st February 2015
Readings – Ephesians 2:14-22; Luke 2:22-40
When our elder daughter was born, a friend sent us a card we still remember to this day … in fact, I asked Tim to find it out for me … it was buried in a suitcase where I have all our keepsakes for the girls.
And of course, it’s true!
Our lives are shaped by those ‘before and after’ moments … it’s a popular theme of adverts … before and after weight loss with our diet plan … before and after using our brand of toothpaste … before and after using our online dating service etc etc But often our own before and after moments are more serious … before and after meeting our partner, having children, before and after illness or losing a job or the death of a spouse or a close relative.
Unlike the adverts, these events make a real difference … practically, emotionally, and often even financially.
Last week Tim talked about grace, from the beginning of this chapter, 1:1-10. We heardthat grace is God’s rescue mission to save us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As our memory verse for the week said,
In other words, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, we are entirely dependent on grace.
In our passage today, Paul is giving us a ‘before and after’ view of grace.
The church in Ephesus was composed of believers of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. The Jews considered themselves to be God’s chosen people (we’ll come back to them, later), so Paul begins with the Gentiles, those who were not Jewish by birth. He says, v12 …
That’s not a good place to be, is it? Strangers to Christ, excluded from God’s people, left out of the promises, without hope and without God.
Whether we recognise it or not, that is what life was like before we met Jesus, and it is how most people live their lives around us.
But then, through God’s grace, everything changes, v13 …
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
What difference does grace make?
In Christ, the Gentiles are brought near, but as the next two verses makes clear, Jew and Gentile alike are at peace with God only in Christ … that is, for Jew or Gentile, the way to God is the same … through Christ Jesus.
Again, what difference does grace make?
Look how many times Paul uses the word peace in the next few verses,
And there are other descriptions of the same thing …. destroying barriers, and putting to death hostility …
Therefore, the first consequence of grace is peace.
But Paul is not content to talk simply about being at peace with God … that’s why he begins this passage by talking about just one group of believers, the Gentiles. As we know, the church in Ephesus had both Gentile and Jewish believers: Jews believed themselves to be the chosen people of God, but as we saw last week, they could not save themselves by keeping the commandments. As we read earlier, 2:8 … this time, with v9 …
The Jews were fond of boasting that they alone were chosen by God to be his people. But now, Paul says, v15-16 …
His (God’s) purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
And v18-19 …
Jew and Gentile alike, saved by grace, and reconciled to God and to each other …
So the second consequence of grace is unity.
This new people, believers of both Jewish and Gentile background together, are the church … in our context, the divisions between us may be different, but the truth is the same. Whoever we are, from whatever background we come, and whatever we have done in the past, as believers in Christ we are united as members of his body, the church.
And God’s plan for that unity is breath taking … as the church, without divisions, we are all alike part of God’s kingdom people. We are, as Paul writes in the final verses of this chapter …
… no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, we are not simply the local church, together we are …
- Fellow citizens of God’s kingdom
- Members of God’s own family
- God’s building project
- A holy temple
- The dwelling place of God in the power of the Holy Spirit
God has awesome plans for his people …
And if ever you have come to know Jesus, and the forgiveness of your sins through Christ … that includes you.
The third consequence of grace is purpose.
So, let’s go back to the beginning for a moment … what is your experience of grace … what difference has grace made to your life … can you remember what it was like before you encountered the grace of God?
If the consequences of grace are peace, unity and purpose … how have they changed your life? What difference has grace made to your life, your family, your friends? Is being part of the church important to you?
And one final question … what are your expectations of being part of the church? How is God’s purpose for the church working out in practice, in your church?
One last look at v22,
And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
If you would like to answer any of these questions in person, or if you have any questions yourself, or would like to know more about experiencing God’s forgiveness through grace, please talk to someone … anyone else you know who is an experienced believer.
For now, spend some time in prayer with the following questions …
- What is your experience of grace … do you have a ‘before and after’?
- How have the consequences of grace – peace, unity and purpose – changed your life?
- What does it mean to you to be part of the church? And how can you see God at work among the church family?