reconciliation by the way of the cross

Hostilities and tensions between people are a serious part of this world. From the Middle East to mid-town America there are people who cannot get along even amidst peace talks. Will peace ever come? Can real peace be a part of our world? How can I be at peace with my overbearing family member, bullish co-worker, “frenemies,” or nagging church member who is consistently unfair or unreasonable?

Dealing with these deep-rooted tensions are not easy. God is well aware that we need to be at peace with one another. Peace usually does not happen through 1000-page peace talk agreements, becoming the next Dr. Phil family, grueling divorce settlements, or court ordered conflict resolution seminars. Permanent peace can only happen through the reconciling work of the cross of Christ.

Real Tensions & Religious Hostility [Ephesians 2:11-12]

When Paul writes to the Ephesians he is aware of the tensions between new Christians coming from Gentile and Jewish backgrounds. It was not easy for the new community of Christ to worship with one another. Jews and Gentiles came from radically different backgrounds, but through the cross they are can come together as one.

The tensions between Israel and the world have been happening ever since God chose them to be a His holy nation from among all the pagan and idolatrous nations of the world [Deuteronomy 14:2; Isaiah 43:1]. The Bible describes the special covenant relationship God has with the Hebrews, as His people [Genesis 17:7; Exodus 6:7; Romans 9:4-5] for His glory [Isaiah 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11]. Their circumcision marked physically their covenant relationship with God [cf. Genesis 17]. The Jews were given special access to God through their priesthood and possession of the Temple, which is where God dwelt [Exodus 29:42-43]. God designated the Hebrews as a divine picture displaying His glory to the world.

According to the Jews, the Gentiles were uncircumcised pagans who lived like wild, scavenging dogs.  Therefore, the Jews segregated themselves from Gentiles. Over time the Jews had a deep hatred towards the Gentiles for their irreligious practices and debase lifestyles. To the Jew, there was no debate, salvation was of the Jews.

On the flipside, the Gentiles viewed the Jews as weird because of their legal forms of clothing, behavior, and biased religious practices. They viewed the Jewish circumcision as mutilation of baby boys. They thought the Jews were unsociable because they refused any contact with Gentiles. Imagine what it would been like if you were a [spiritually] unclean Gentile having a Jew take a religious bath after touching or meeting with you, or calling you an “uncircumcised dog.” Not a way to win friends and influence people.

Now Paul, the author of Ephesians was a Jew, which is quite common of other characters in the New Testament. He lived by the Law and loved being a Hebrew [Philippians 3:5]. Before coming to Christ he was a Christian killer because it was offensive to think that another group of people would claim to be the people of God [Galatians 5:11]. It wasn’t until Paul met Jesus on the Road to Damascus that his eyes were opened to the reconciling work of Christ. He realized that without Christ—as a Jew or non-Christian—meant no eternal hope. Jesus, the Messiah, was a radical paradigm shift in the Jews understanding of God’s divine plan for humanity. All the promises that were given to Israel were now open to the rest of the world through Christ.

Your Spiritual Emancipation Proclamation [Ephesians 2:13-18]

“And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons. And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages…And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”[1]

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which ordered all slaves to be freed. This began the long road to restoring peace and equality between all Americans. It took about 100 years before racial reconciliation took effect through the leadership of Martin Luther King in the early 1960’s. To this day these tensions are still real in our world.

In Ephesians 2:13-19, Paul writes about our Spiritual Emancipation Proclamation. Through these words, “But now in Christ,” [cf. 2:4] we are given seven distinct benefits of Christ’s peace: we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” [v.13], He “has made us one” [vs.14], He has “broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” [v.14], He “created one new man in the place of two” [v.15], He “reconciles us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility [between Jews and Gentiles]” [v.16], He “came and preached peace” [v.17], and through Him “we have access in One Spirit to the Father” [v.18]. Herein is documented our freedom, which was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Peace appears 4 times in this passage. The world’s idea of peace is often living in prosperity and happiness without the interference of harm or imposition of rights. However, the biblical idea of peace means to put together two things that have been broken. What is broken? Man’s relationship with God is broken. How is it made right? The cross of Christ reconciles mans relationship with God [vertically] and mans relationship with one another [horizontally]. To reconcile means to set up or restore a relationship of peace not existing before. It is the thought of a ravaged wife desiring to be reconciled to her husband who has left her; a worried mother longing to be reconciled to their prodigal; or a lost sinner needing to be reconciled to God. How huge it is to reconcile a sinner to a peaceful relationship with God.

In Christ, we have freedom and the gateway to become reconciled with God and man. Jesus unveils to all men—Jew and Gentile—on one eternal plan: in Christ, we have one Savior, one cross, one body, one new man, one Spirit and one Father [4:4-6; Galatians 3:18; Colossians 3:11]. Christ reconciled the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles, making it possible for any man to become right with God because “He is our peace.”

Israel was once the display of God’s glory, but now in Christ the church would be the display of His glory. Today it is common to believe there are two covenants—one for Jews and another for Christians—however, biblically there is only one New Covenant given to man in Christ. There are not two ways to God; rather there is only one way to God [cf. John 14:6]. As John Piper argues this may appear intolerant, disrespectful, undemocratic, unpluralistic, offensive or anti-Semitic,[2] rather it is biblical and Christ-centric. Jesus, the Messiah, has become the focal point of redemptive history, and both Jews and non-Christians need Jesus because He is their only peacemaker.

Together we are Building the New Temple of God—The Church [Ephesians 2:19-22]

Being one in Christ for both a Jew and Gentile Christian would have been a cultural and spiritual adjustment. Think about what it would have been like to be a Jew and hear that Christ abolished the Law of Moses or to be a Gentile and know that the Temple of God was no longer a physical structure. A Jew would ask, “Why did Jesus abolish the law?” The simple answer, is that there was no longer a need for the Law because Jesus has fulfilled the Law. The Law of Moses still has its uses, primarily in showing people their sinfulness and ultimately in providing the basis for the condemnation of Jews who do not believe in Christ [Luke 18:18-27; Romans 2:14-16].

The Jewish temple in Paul’s day was an enormous building. In fact, Herod the Great modified the Temple in Jerusalem to be an eye-catching structure. In Ephesus, there was another temple, the Temple of Diana, which was a magnificent structure that some say rivaled the Parthenon. For both the Jews and the Gentiles worship in a Temple was a vital and central part of their lives. However, those in Christ—the holy temple—within the church are now the gathering of people worshiping God. It important to realize YOU are the place God dwells? You reflect Christ.

It would have been a huge and humbling pill for a Jew to swallow to acknowledge a Gentile as being a part of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, let alone “citizen” of the same divine kingdom. Through Christ, Gentiles have been invited into God’s divine plan and believing Jews have been invited into the church of Christ.

The church at large is a beautiful picture of God’s reconciling work through the cross of Christ. The Church is the living organism, which displays the Glory of God. Jesus Christ is the Head and High Priest of the church interceding on behalf of its members. We all function as priest having access to God anytime and anyplace. We are the living stones of His Temple [1 Peter 2:5], being built up in Christ, who have Him as our chief cornerstone. Without Him the whole thing crumbles. Without Christ there is no foundation to build upon, no stones can fit together, nor can the building grow [vs.20-21].

Like was said in the beginning, dealing with these deep-rooted tensions and hostilities are not easy. God is well aware that we need to be at peace with one another. Permanent peace can only happen through the reconciling work of the cross of Christ. If God can reconcile Jews and Gentiles in Christ, what other relationships can God reconcile? Your overbearing family member, bullish co-worker, “frenemies,” or nagging church member who is consistently unfair or unreasonable.

[1] An excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation written by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

[2] John Piper, Israel and Us Reconciled in One Body. September 27, 1992.

[3] Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program. Moody Press, Chicago. 1972. 34.

rags to riches reality

Steve Jobs was born to a teenage mother and later adopted by a working-class couple in California. He dropped out of Reed College when he couldn’t afford tuition, but continued auditing classes. In 1976, he started Macintosh in his friend Steve Wozniack’s garage with just 50 computers. He was fired from the company because of a power struggle. He then started Pixar and sold it to Walt Disney. He returned to Apple in 1996, leading the company to a massive expansion in music and media through devices and software including iPod, iTunes and the new iPad. Some love him in a cultish way, whiles others love to hate him for being a rock star CEO. Most remember the scene in Forest Gump when Gump says, “I investment in this fruit company [Apple]. I don’t have to worry about money anymore.” No one can deny Jobs is a true to life rags to riches success now worth over 5.5 billion dollars.

We love to hear stories about people who rose out of poverty into the path of success, like those seen in the Pursuit of Happiness and Cinderella Man. We are inspired by the work ethic and luck of people who climbed out of the hole. The Bible tells us the greatest rags to riches story of all time—you—a follower of Christ.

The Bible describes people without Christ like filthy rags [cf. Isaiah 64:6]. You might look like you have it together on the outside, having acquired the “good life” by the worlds standard, or believing you don’t need any help to make something of ourselves, but we are still viewed as wicked inside out if we do not have Christ. Without Christ you are a dead men walking.

Dying Penniless in your Filthy Rotten Rags [Ephesians 2:1-3]

Sin literally a deadly poison. Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin might be cute in a baby, but the older you get the more ugly your sin appears. Before Christ my biblical rap sheet does not look hopeful. I was a gutter dweller, saturated with a thirst for sin. We are reminded that this is what, “You were…”

…dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [Ephesians 2:1-3]

It is hard to believe the Bible characterizes us like this. I certainly did not think of myself as that bad. Now my mother would probably disagree, since I was no angel. But was I as bad as the verses above describe me to be? These verses seem to be describing a vile murder or rapist, not an innocent young boy who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Is anyone innocent of sin? It is clear from these verses we are born into a world that is sinful, by nature we are inclined towards sin, and there are supernatural powers influencing us to sin. The odds are triple stacked against me—I am a sinner [vs.2-3], living in a sinful world [v.2], powered by sinful opponents [v.2]. Is there any hope?

The truth is we need to be reminded of how sinful we are in order to be grateful to savor the sweetness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Remember all the ways God has blessed us in Christ? [cf. Ephesians 1:3-14] Without Christ I am a pile of filthy rags that are good for absolutely nothing.

Becoming Rich without Deserving a Dime [Ephesians 2:4-7]

There are two words that bring us hope in a sinful world, “but God…” These two words contrast all that we are before Christ [vs.1-3], but who we can be in Christ [vs.4-7]. Even though I am sinful and sold out to sin, God comes through with His mercy when I ultimately deserve His wrath. “But God,” are two wonderful mysterious words of salvation.

Why is God so merciful to His followers? Paul shows that the origins of Gods saving initiative are found in His mercy [v.4; cf. Ex.34:6; Ps.103:8], His great love [v.4; cf. Rom.5:5-8; 8:39], His rich grace [vs. 5, 7-8] and his kindness to us in Christ Jesus [v.7]. Our salvation is totally undeserved, but again that is the character of God.

The benefits of Gods mercy are both present and future. In Christ, I am saved for eternity, but now have power over sin through my present day relationship with Christ. We see three present future realities of God’s mercy for His followers in verses 5-6. First, I am “made alive with Christ.” Without Christ I was dead in my sin [v.1], but through Christ I am made alive. I am alive because my sins have been forgiven in Christ forever [cf. Colossians 2:13].

Second, I am “raised up with Him.” There is a clear connection here between Christ’s resurrection and mine [cf. Colossians 2:12; 3:1]. Without Christ rising from the grave I would not have hope of raising either. My salvation secures my resurrection. Third, I am “seated with Him in the heavenly places.”  In others, I no longer have to live under the authority of the ruler of the kingdom of the air [v.2]. In Christ, I have been transferred from the old kingdom to the new reign of Christ.

Followers are given these realities so that “in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” [v.7] Grace is basis of the whole work of salvation [cf. 1:6; Rom.3:21-25; 5:15]. God’s grace is like a physician bringing back-to-life a person whose heart has been flat-lined in a coma for years, raising Him from the artificial life-support, and setting him loose into the world to live freely. God has taken us from below the spiritual poverty level, raised us to new life, and given us an eternal inheritance.

We think we deserve God’s grace. I hear people say often, “God is love and would not send anyone to hell. I am certainly good enough to get into heaven.” Grace would not be grace if we deserved it. We don’t deserve it. Instead we impose upon God that we do deserve it. Grace is not cheap. It came at the cost of Christ’s death upon the cross. Grace is priceless.

Becoming Rich without Doing any Work [Ephesians 2:8-10]

When God pours out His grace He does not hold back, “For by grace you have been saved.” [v.8] This is the heart of the gospel message [vs.8-10]. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, or rich enough to get salvation by my own merit. God has to come through with His grace.

There are comments on either extreme of grace, “I am too bad for God to forgive me,” or “I don’t need grace, I’m okay.” To this David Powlison writes, “Left to ourselves, we think we are either too good to need grace or too bad to receive it. Are you too good to need a major redemption?”[1] This is echoed in the Bible,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:8-10]

Salvation is humbling. It is humbling because I cannot do anything to get it on my own. Salvation is the work of grace is supremely and solely through the work of Christ. Any good work that I do produce is a gift from God and picture of His grace. Even faith in God’s is a gift from God. As one commentator states, “If Gods grace is the ground of salvation, then faith is the means by which it is appropriated. And faith itself cannot be a meritorious work; it is the response which receives what has already been done for us in Christ.”[2]

I was once a poor man living in the squanders of sin, now I have been given the riches of the kingdom in Christ. God’s grace has picked up my horrific tab and canceled my spiritual indebtedness. Salvation through Christ is the world’s greatest rags to riches reality. When I think about the grace of God I sing with Paul, “to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has blessed us in the Beloved [Christ].” [1:6] God’s grace is not only a source of comfort, but counsel to work out my salvation as I “walk in” His grace in a manner that is worthy of His glory [v.10].

[1] David Powlison. Seeing with New Eyes, Phillipsburg, NJ. P&R Publishing, 2003. 49]

2 Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 174.