“No Longer Aliens” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 18, 2021

“No Longer Aliens” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Aliens are not very popular. I’m not talking about aliens from outer space. I’m talking about aliens who are illegal immigrants, people who come in as outsiders. Often there is hostility between the aliens and the people who’ve been there their whole lives. They feel like their territory is being invaded. Foreigners, strangers, outsiders are seen as a threat. In whatever the culture, throughout history, aliens generally have been unwelcome.

Well, that was what the situation was like at the time of the New Testament. The insiders were the Jews, God’s chosen people. The outsiders, the aliens, were the Gentiles. There was a mutual hostility between them. The Jews didn’t like the Gentiles, and the Gentiles didn’t like the Jews. And this hostility carried over to some extent even when people from both groups came into the church. It was a struggle at first for the Jewish Christians to accept the Gentiles into their midst. The Jews had been trained to think of the Gentiles as “illegal aliens,” as people who didn’t belong, as outsiders who were outside God’s law and outside of God’s people. When Gentiles were accepted into the church, sometimes it was just barely. They were considered by some Jewish Christians to be second-class citizens within the kingdom of God. “Guess who’s coming to dinner? The Gentiles!” “Oy! Not the Gentiles! There goes the neighborhood!”

This is the background that Paul in addressing in our text today from Ephesians 2. He reminds the Ephesians of their status as Gentiles before they came into the church: “Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh (were) 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.”

Now Paul doesn’t say this to put them down or to make them feel bad. In fact, he’s reminding them of how much God has done for them by bringing them into his family. How about us? Do we have a lively sense of what God has done for us by bringing us into his family? Do we realize what our situation would be apart from Christ? Most of us are so used to being in the church that perhaps we don’t realize how bad off we’d be otherwise.

But what a description here of life apart from Christ: “Separated, alienated, strangers.” “Having no hope and without God in the world.” Wow! That’s a shockingly bleak picture! Do you realize there are many people all around us in our community, maybe in our own family, who are not living by faith in Christ and are in the exact same boat? “Having no hope and without God in the world.” That’s a scary thought. But that’s also where you and I would be, if God had not brought us into his family.

And that’s where Paul goes next, to the fact that God has brought us into his family: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” God has brought us near, in close. He has made us insiders. And this has happened “in Christ Jesus.” In Christ–in connection with him–now we are on the inside. God has brought us near to himself through the blood of Christ. The blood Jesus shed on the cross cleanses us from our sins and opens the way for us to come into God’s presence.

Paul continues: “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 and 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.”

Christ has made peace between Jew and Gentile. Both groups come into the church the same way. Not by means of the law. Because the law never could save anyone in the first place. Some of the Jews thought so, but they were wrong. No, we come into the church–we come into God’s family and God’s presence–only through Christ. “For he himself is our peace.” Peace is not an idea; it is a person. In the person of Christ we have peace. Through his blood, in his flesh, through his cross–only in Christ Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, do any of us, Jew or Gentile, have peace with God. So there is a level playing field. We all come in through the same door. And since we all have peace with God in the same way, therefore in the church we are at peace with one another.

This is helpful for us to realize when factions and frictions arise in the church. Whether we’re lifelong members of the church or recent converts, all of us have come in through the same door, in the same way. Only in Christ are any of us acceptable to God. None of us is more worthy than another. We are all poor, miserable sinners, saved solely by God’s grace in Christ. This helps me to realize that I’m no better than anyone else. If God accepts a wretch like me–and I realize that Christ died for that person over there just as much as he died for me–then who am I not to love and accept and forgive my brother or sister in Christ? God cares for all of us. We therefore care for one another. We are at peace with one another, and we seek to maintain that peace that Christ has established among us.

Paul goes on: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” No longer strangers. No longer aliens. Now we are on the inside. Fellow citizens with God’s people. Members of God’s household. Think about that! What a tremendous identity we have! What a high calling! Would that we all would think of ourselves in this way! What a difference that would make in the way we live and in the priorities we set! What a difference it would make in our church! We need to see our identity in life, first and foremost, as being part of God’s people, the church. To see ourselves as members of God’s household, his family. For this is who we are! This is what Christ has won for us. God has made us his own. He has brought us into his family, through baptism, that we might live and belong to him alone. What a wonderful identity we have! See yourselves in this way, my friends, for this is how God sees us.

“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.” Paul here compares the church–that is, the people of God–to a building, specifically, to the temple. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles together laid the foundation for this building by laying down God’s inspired and authoritative word for all generations. Christ Jesus himself is the chief cornerstone of this building. Christ is the focus of it all. The Old Testament prophets point forward to him. The New Testament apostles declare what is ours because of him. Christ determines all the angles and the dimensions and the shape of the church in all ages. He is the one who unites us all, in all times and in all places.

In Christ we become a temple, a holy temple in the Lord. The distinctive thing about the temple was that it was the place where God made his dwelling on earth. Where God’s saving, guiding presence took residence among his people. The Lord showed his mercy in the temple. That is where he forgave sins through the sacrifices he provided. Today all of this takes place in the church. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.” Here, in the church, where Christ gathers us together in his name–this is God’s holy temple. Jesus is in our midst. The Lord is here, welcoming us into his presence. The Lord is here, forgiving our sins. The Lord is here, present in the Holy Sacrament. And so we are being built up as his people, “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

It’s all because of Jesus. Through his blood, in his flesh, through his cross, he himself is our peace. Our peace is a person, Jesus Christ. In him we are at peace with God. In him we are at peace with one another. This peace is ours, whether or not we feel at peace. This peace is objectively true, even if the circumstances in our life are not all that peaceful. God’s word assures us of a peace that passes human understanding. Our experiences may tell us, “No.” Our emotions may tell us, “No.” But God, in the gospel, tells us, “Yes.” “Yes, in my Son, I have reconciled you to myself. Yes, in my Son, I have established peace, and I unite my church. Believe this peace; it is true. Receive this peace; it is yours as a gift. Know this peace, deep down in your soul.”

My “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” today I declare to you that we are no longer aliens. Now we are insiders, at home, where we belong. The church is our home. We’re at home and at peace. In Christ, who is our peace, we are at peace with God and at peace with one another.

So, guess who’s coming to dinner? We are! Whether Jew or Gentile, whether lifelong Lutheran or new convert, we all come to our Lord’s Supper together as one people in Christ.

Published in: on July 17, 2021 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  
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