“From What We Were to What We Are” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
July 22, 2018

“From What We Were to What We Are” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

From rags to riches. From the outhouse to the penthouse. From worst to first. These are different sayings we have to express a big change, a big contrast, between the way somebody was and the way they are now. There’s some big contrast involved between the former miserable situation and the current excellent one. And, dear friends, that’s the way it is for us, because there has been a major change, a huge contrast, between our former status and our current one. And so our theme this morning: “From What We Were to What We Are.”

Our text is the Epistle reading from Ephesians 2. Last week we began eight straight Sundays in which the Epistle comes from Ephesians. Last week it was Ephesians 1; this week it’s Ephesians 2. Today’s reading is the second half of chapter 2, verses 11-22. The first half of the chapter, verses 1-10, comes up elsewhere during the church year. But a brief reference to it now will help us to see a similar thing going on in today’s text. Ephesians 2:1-10 sets up a huge contrast between the way we were before Christ and the way we are now in Christ. It says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, that we followed the course of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, and that we were by nature children of wrath. That was our sorry state before Christ. But even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive with Christ, raised us up with him, and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places. That is our wonderful state now in Christ. What a contrast from what we were to what we are! So that’s what St. Paul lays out for us in the first half of chapter 2, verses 1-10.

And our reading today from the second half of chapter 2 does the same job. St. Paul again sets up a huge contrast between the way we were and the way we are. And as we reflect on how God has taken us from where we were to where we are, we rejoice and praise God for his great mercy in Christ. As I read this text now, listen especially for the terms Paul uses to show the great contrast between our sad state then and our blessed state now. Ephesians 2:11-22:

“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–remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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, 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. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Did you catch the contrast between the way we were and the way we are? On the one hand, there are all those negative terms: “separated,” “alienated,” “strangers,” “no hope,” “without God,” “far off,” and “hostility.” On the other hand, there are all these positive terms: “brought near,” “peace,” “reconciled,” “access,” “fellow citizens,” “members of the household,” “joined together,” “holy temple,” and “dwelling place.” What Paul is basically saying is that you and I have been moved, we have been transferred, our status has been changed, from being outsiders to being insiders. So now let’s explore what that means for us and how it happens.

The first thing we need to be clear on, in order to understand this passage, is this matter of Jews and Gentiles. Paul refers to it throughout. To put it briefly, the Jews were the insiders and the Gentiles were the outsiders. Israel, the Jewish nation, the people descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people who had received the Ten Commandments through Moses–Israel was the chosen people of God during the time of the Old Testament. They were the insiders. Everyone else in the world, all those not descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–they were the Gentiles, the pagans, the outsiders.

Paul himself was a Jew. But Paul had been appointed by Christ to be the apostle to the Gentiles. In his missionary journeys–in Asia Minor, in Greece, throughout the Mediterranean world–Paul would often start by going to the local synagogue and teaching there. Then he would move on and preach to the local Gentiles, the non-Jews. Such was the case in Ephesus, the major city in western Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. Paul went to Ephesus and preached there. He stayed there for a couple of years. A congregation developed–some Jews, mostly Gentiles. And it is to them that Paul is writing in this part of the letter. He’s saying, “You Gentiles, consider what you were before the gospel of Christ came into your lives. It was pretty hopeless, wasn’t it?” Paul wants them to appreciate what they have now by being Christians. He wants them to rejoice in who they are now in Christ.

So it is for us. Most all of us here are Gentiles, non-Jews by birth. And most of us have been Christians for as long as we can remember. You may not personally remember a time when you did not believe in Christ. And that’s great. Thank God for that, for those early blessings. But through the lens of this passage in Ephesians, we can more greatly appreciate where we would be without that gift of faith in Christ and being brought into the church at an early age. We would be in as hopeless a state as those Ephesians were, apart from Christ.

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” That’s pretty bleak. Can you imagine what it would be like not to know the promises of God? The promise of a Savior? The promise of the forgiveness of sins? The promise of life after death, life everlasting? Those promises are what we hold on to, when our consciences accuse us or death stares us in the face. Where would we be without them?

Can you imagine what it would be like to have no hope? You would have nothing sure you could look forward to. The graveyard would be as far as you could see, and beyond that, it would just be a terrifying black hole of who knows what. That’s what it’s like to have no hope. Can you imagine what it would be like to be without God in the world? The world is a scary place. Financial concerns, health concerns, sickness and violence and accidents lurking around every corner. You’re out taking a fun boat ride on a lake, and all of a sudden a windstorm whips up, and your boat starts to sink. Frightening! Where would we be without God as our refuge? Without God to lean on and trust in, in every time of trouble? It’s a scary thought.

But that was the reality for the Ephesians before the saving gospel of Christ came into their lives. Separated, alienated, strangers. No hope. Without God in the world. And, the fact is, that’s where you and I would be without the blessings of the gospel and the church in our life. The sad thing is, that is the reality, right now, this morning, for many of the people in our community, in our country, and in our world. Most of the people around us–the people who have no use for Christ and his church–have no sure hope and are without God in the world. And we would be there, too, if not for the grace of God.

Thank God today for that grace! Because of the preaching of the gospel of Christ, your ancestors–pagans, who used to worship sacred trees in Europe–came to faith in Christ and they passed that faith on to your grandparents and your parents and down to you today. You were baptized. You were brought to church. You were taught the faith. You have heard the gospel preached into your own ears. And so you believe in Christ Jesus your Savior. Praise God! Now you know the same good news that Paul preached, that the Ephesians believed, and that millions of Christians around the world are rejoicing in on this beautiful Sunday.

Now we have hope! Now we have access to God, who hears our prayers and cares for us! Now we are at peace with God and at peace with one another! We’ve been moved from the outside to the inside and are at home with God. The church is the dwelling place of God. We are his holy temple, where God is dwelling with his people. Here God forgives our sins. Here God gives direction and strength to our life. Here God revives our hope and enlivens our step. This place, the church, is the best place to be in the whole world, right where we are now.

But how did all of this happen? How did we get moved from Point A to Point B, from no hope to hope, from hostility to peace, from the outside to the inside? St. Paul tells us: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace.” Christ Jesus did all this for us–for all men, Jews and Gentiles alike. Jesus did it by the blood he shed for us on the cross. That was the price it took–the holy blood of the sinless Son of God–to reconcile us back to God. We had sinned against God; we were alienated from him. But Christ came and made peace. Peace between God and man. Peace between Jew and Gentile in one new body, one new people of God, the church. The hostility is over. Peace and reconciliation prevail. Jesus did it. And the walls came a-tumblin’ down.

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” What a tremendous contrast! The more we think about it, the more we rejoice in the Lord for all he has done for us! We have been brought into God’s great big family called the church, which stretches all around the world and all the way back through history. This is God’s forever family, because it will stretch all the way into an eternal future–as surely as Christ is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Fellow saints, fellow citizens, fellow members of God’s family: Think of where we have come from to where we are now. Apart from Christ, we were separated from God and strangers to his promises, having no hope and without God in the world. But now, in Christ, we are at peace with God and at home in his family, the church. Amid all the troubles and uncertainties of life, this gives us great joy and great peace of mind!

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Published in: on July 21, 2018 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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