This is really good stuff.
“Therefore 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…” Ephesians 2:11, ESV
It is very hard for us to imagine the hostility between Jews and Gentiles in this period. Paul alludes to the name calling and labels in verse 11 (‘the uncircumcision’ - Stott). The Jews were given great advantages and privileges as the people of God (Rom 9:5). But they were supposed to be a light to the nations instead of becoming self-righteous! Stott says Israel “twisted her privilege into favoritism and ended up heartily despising – even detesting – the heathen as ‘dogs.’
William Barclay gives mind-numbing descriptions of this hatred of Gentiles. First, he says that Jews thought of Gentiles as being created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell! Secondly, they would not even aid a Gentile mother in giving birth, since it would result in another Gentile coming into the world. And finally, if a Jew and Gentile intermarried, the family of the Jew would conduct a funeral service, since the one who married the Gentile was now dead to their family (Barclay, quoted in Stott).
Could anyone ever bring these two together?
Paul gives us the good news of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ on behalf of the church. He speaks on our reconcilation to each other, and then to God.
A. Reconciled to Each Other. “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…” Ephesians 2:14-15, ESV
This means that Christ has unified what man could never unify. He tore down the dividing walls at the cross and has accomplished unity for his church. We do not have to work to accomplish unity; it already exists. We simply have to believe this truth and live in its implications. We should not be rebuilding the ethnic walls Jesus tore down at the cross, or living as if he never tore them down!
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28Consider, then, how evil it is to refuse to embrace other Christians because of their ethnicity. This attempts to ignore (or even destroy) one aspect of Christ's work on the cross.
“and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:16-18, ESV
Paul not only speaks of the horizontal reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ; he teaches that Christ took these two groups and reconciled them both to God!
There are several important things in these three verses:
- Jews and Gentiles Reconciled to God through Christ crucified. There is one way of salvation for all ethnic groups – Jesus Christ!
- Killing the hostility. Earlier Paul spoke of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Now he speaks of the hostility that existed between man and God (our rebellion towards him and his just wrath against us). Through Christ, we now have peace with each other, and we have peace with God! Our rebellion towards God and his just wrath against sinners has both been brought to peace through the cross of Christ!
- He preached peace. Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:7 (the Lord’s messenger who proclaims peace) and combines it with Isaiah 57:19 (peace, peace to the far and near) to describe Christ’s peace as being proclaimed through the gospel to those who are far (Gentiles) and also near (Jews) [Thielman]. This peace was proclaimed by Christ after he rose from the grave (John 20:19); and he sent his apostles out to proclaim the gospel of peace to all nations. Through those who proclaim the gospel Jesus still preaches peace!
- The Triune God! In verse 18 Paul mentions Christ, the Holy Spirit and God the Father in one verse. The Three Persons of the One God join in unified work for our salvation and for church unity and fellowship. Through Jesus, Jews and Gentiles both have access in one Spirit to the Father. The God who exists as a community has brought warring rebels together into a community through the gospel of Christ!
What a glorious thing God has done in Christ Jesus! Let us repent of our racism and receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. And let us embrace our brothers and sisters - all who believe in Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation and language!
- The Letter To The Ephesians; Peter T. O’Brien; ©1999; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI.
- The Message Of Ephesians – God’s New Society; John R. W. Stott; ©1979; InterVarsity Press, USA. Downers Grove, IL.
- Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament; Edited by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. Ephesians commentary by Frank S. Thielman. ©2007. Baker Academic. Grand Rapids, MI.