July 29, 2012: The Two Become One In Christ, or: Peace Rules Within The Church

Let us pray: Dear Savior, the world longs for peace, we long for peace. But, everywhere we turn, discord and strife seem to be the status quo. Today teach us that real peace comes from You alone. It comes from allegiance to Your cross. It comes from You making peace between God and man by dying for us on a cross. Enable us to embrace that truth and to live it, thus spreading Your peace around, one person at a time. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF ETERNAL PEACE

TEXT: Ephesians 2: 13-22

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

There are a few over-arching concepts, embedded in the Bible, which you need to grasp and make your own. If you fail to do so, you will never grasp Scriptural truth. Those concepts include: The Trinity, exactly Who is Jesus and what did He do for us, the stealthy nature of sin, and the truth of how the Holy Spirit comes to us and impacts our lives. Another important truth is grasping exactly who the “chosen people of God” really are.

A long-held view of the “chosen people” is that they are the Jewish race. Even many well-intentioned Lutherans hold this view. But, it is wrong and deluded. And quite frankly, it has fostered untold discord and even wars throughout human history. Even today, many Evangelicals tie this view to Biblical references, such as in Revelation, and to the modern, political state of Israel, thus helping to promote Mideast discord.

I want to take you back in time to the book of Genesis. Who was the first “Jew?” It was Abraham, wasn’t it? He was and still is considered the father of that race of people. But, for the first 99 years of his life, Abraham wasn’t a Jew! He was a man from the land of Haran, modern day Iraq! His name for those first 99 years was Abram, which means: exalted father. Except, Abram wasn’t a father, either. He had no son and no daughter, and no heir. But, but, Abram was a believer in the Triune God and in God’s promise of a future Messiah Who would eventually come through Abram’s lineage. Or, as the famous passage says: “Abram believed, and God credited it to him as righteousness.”

When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and said: “I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers…You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham (father of many), for I have made you a father of many nations.” And then God ordained to have Abraham circumcised in order to confirm that truth. Circumcision was a physical reminder, a very personal one, of God’s promise to him. And so, at that time Abraham became the first Jew. He became the father of God’s chosen race.

In Romans, chapter 4, St. Paul under the Spirit’s inspiration, lays out the true meaning of exactly what this all means. He makes the case that faith came before circumcision. That believing in God’s promised Savior came before Abraham’s founding of a race of people. And he says that all this is a gift from God, born of grace, not of human lineage or of human works. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.’ Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!”

Then, Paul goes on to remind his Roman readers that God’s chosen people are not merely a particular race of people, but like Abraham, they are everyone who believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans, Germans, Spaniards, Jews in Israel, progeny of Esau and Ishmael throughout the Arab world—all are counted as the chosen people if they believe, accept, and embrace Christ as their Savior.
Well, that brings us to today’s lesson. Paul was a missionary to non-Jews, to the Gentiles. In that sense, he was a missionary to us. And in order to stamp out the misguided view that only ethnic blood-lines tie you to God instead of faith in Christ, he writes the words of our text. So, let’s consider his God-inspired truth under this theme:

THE TWO BECOME ONE IN CHRIST, OR:
PEACE RULES WITHIN THE CHURCH

I

What causes all division between human beings? Isn’t it sin? Isn’t it rebellion against God and His ways? And what reveals sin more clearly than anything else? Isn’t it the 10 commandments? Isn’t it God’s perfect standard of human behavior which He holds up to our eyes and which condemns us—if we’re truly honest? To be sure, every human being tries to externalize sin. That is, we all imagine that it entails only actions and not thoughts and words. Because of that, certain Jews at Paul’s time lived exemplary lives, at least externally, and thus viewed themselves as the chosen people. But they lived a lie. They forgot passages such as Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can understand it?” Meanwhile, the gentiles within the Ephesian church were often treated as second-class citizens. Discord and strife ensued. All this happened because faith in Christ was relegated to the ditch.

So, what is Paul’s response? “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away (gentiles) have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two (Jews and gentiles) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, but abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. (That is, we cannot be saved by what we do (works) but by faith in Christ Who kept them all for us—perfectly!) His 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. He came and preached peace to you who were far away (gentiles in Northern Galilee and Samaria) and peace to those who were near (Jews in Israel and Jerusalem). For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

II

So, God’s chosen people are believers of every race and background who cling by humble faith to Christ’s saving cross. That means you and I are numbered as God’s chosen people. It means that we live under His blessed hand. It means that He watches over us, uplifts us when discord comes, and will eventually take us into heavenly glory. In Christ the two become one. That one being Christ’s beloved Bride, the Holy Christian Church, which He married Himself to while on the cross, with whom He sealed His vows with His blood. Knowing this, how can peace not reign within His Church? After all, He is your Prince of peace!

Then to wrap up all this imagery and further apply it, Paul goes on to say: “Consequently, you are 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 (the bible) 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—(current ongoing action)—together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

You are God’s chosen people—through faith in Jesus Christ! So, act like it. Live it. Breathe it. Show and share the peace He gives. Be at peace with yourself because God is at peace with you. Amen