One thing that I have learned in my 27 years of life is that the small skinny kid with glasses and big ears is usually not picked first for the basketball team. Or football. Or baseball—even though the small skinny kid was actually pretty decent at sports. Growing up I loved playing football. But one of the annoying experiences of my life was getting picked next to last or last. I knew I could play—maybe not first pick type of play—but I knew that I could play. The frustration would grow as I would be wide open (nobody bothers guarding the small skinny kid with glasses and big ears) and nobody would throw me the ball. Oh, the pain of not being included. My only hope of getting noticed would be to intercept a pass on defense.
Now, that’s a rather ridiculous little story but the reality of not being included is painful. We have all felt the pain of rejection, isolation, and not being included. It is never fun to be the kid sitting alone at the lunch table. The only one not asked to senior prom. The only one turned down by every girl to go to senior prom. It is never a happy situation to be the one not invited to hang out with others. At one point—even if it was kindergarten—we have been excluded from the group. At one point in life you have felt the pain of rejection and isolation. And during that time I would say that you have vowed to improve yourself so that you get picked sooner, so that you get asked to the prom, so that you do not get rejected, so that you have friends, so that you are included.
Those are not bad desires. They are good desires. God created us for relationships and it hurts when that desire is not met. That is a fact of life. To deny that is sub human. Just as that desire is a fact of life so is the fact that we live in a fallen world. And because we live in a fallen world we live with broken relationships. We live with people getting left out, isolated, rejected, picked on, etc. It is rather difficult, if not impossible to feel someone else’s pain. But as we talk about the Jewish/Gentile relationship in the biblical times I want you to try. Remember those times when you felt rejected and try to understand how the Gentiles would have heard this text.
Before we read the text, which will be Ephesians 2:11-22, I want to read you a description of the Jewish/Gentile relationship:
"the Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that he had made . . . It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world. Until Christ came, the Gentiles were an object of contempt to the Jews. The barrier between them was absolute. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, or if a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that Jewish boy or girl was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death" (William Barclay, 125).
So, consider such a background as we read this text. Imagine yourself being a first century Gentile hearing these words of Paul.
READ EPHESIANS 2:11-22
Oh, what a beautiful reminder this must have been. It screams out the word access and included. It says “you fit in”. It is God whispering to the Gentile heart, “I don’t reject you”. It echoes the painful joy of Jesus crying “it is finished”. It shouts to us even in our day that God has a plan and He is in the business of seeing it fully accomplished. Yes, God is reconciling a people. Yes, God is redeeming broken people in a broken world.
At the beginning of this passage in verse 11 and in verse 12 you see the word, “remember”. Now before we begin looking at this passage of Scripture I need to do some rephrasing. You need to know that there is no evidence that the church at Ephesus is struggling with racial division. There is no evidence that Paul had to remind them of these things because they were treating the Gentiles with hostility. The fact is this was probably a mostly Gentile congregation. If Paul had to conquer racism it would have went the other way; encouraging Gentiles not to be hostile toward the Jews.
Even though there might not be racial division at Ephesus Paul is still concerned with painting a big picture of God’s plan of cosmic reconciliation. Ephesians is the unwrapping of God’s plan to “unite all things in [Jesus], thing in heaven and things on earth”. What we see then in this letter to the Ephesians is that God is drawing broken people to Himself—He is redeeming them—He is reconciling them. At the same time that He is doing this He is also redeeming their broken relationships and reconciling them to each other. This cosmic plan is not God calling individual people to himself as much as it is calling individual people into His church for Himself.
What could be happening in Ephesus, or at least has the potential to happen at Ephesus, is that the Ephesian Christians will forget [are beginning to forget] the gospel and this in turn will cause problems. It will cause their affection for Jesus to dwindle and it will cause disunity and strife within their relationships with one another. Perhaps this is why we find our first exhortation in the letter to the Ephesians: “Remember”.
Sometimes as I am reading these letters in the New Testament I wonder how it was received by its original audience. Did it change them? Did it produce lasting change? In this particular case I think we might have an answer. And it’s not a good one. If Revelation 2 is any indication I do not think they heeded what God said to them—at least not permanently. The Book of Revelation would have been written about 30 years (or some scholars actually say 3-5 years) after Ephesians by the apostle John. And church history tells us that John would have been very familiar with the congregation at Ephesus. Here, 30 years later, is Jesus’ description of their church: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…”
I think they forgot to remember. And here is Jesus calling them to the same thing that he called them to through his apostle Paul some thirty years earlier: remember. Jesus says to them, “Remember where you have came from, remember what I have done for you, remember where you are going”. Because they forgot these things their passion had dwindled. They had good doctrine. They believed all of the right things but something was messed up with their heart. So, Jesus calls them to remember. Apparently the gospel had become common place. They no longer had the same affections that they had when they first came to know Christ.
I have to tell you I have been really burdened about something that I see happening in my own life and I fear could be happening in the life of others. On Sunday…and I forget what was happening in church at the time…my lack of excitement about the things of Jesus hit me like a ton of bricks. How can I say these deep truths about Jesus and not have passion? How can I say Jesus loves me and not melt at that thought? How can I read over all of these amazing truths in Ephesians and not weep? How can I preach about the power of God to raise the dead and not immediately drop to my knees thanking God and passionately praying for those I know that are lost? So, as I began thinking about these things I wrote this prayer down:
“Lord, I am tired of saying Christian truths as mere facts. Astonish my heart with the gospel. This [a relationship with Jesus] is so much more than what I live and speak. May I not fake emotions nor squelch them. I want to love others deeply and love you deeper! Purge my heart of passionless truth and truthless passion. Help me feel and believe the weight of the reality of Your Word. Kill my heart of unbelief.”
And I have this same prayer for us tonight; that as we look at remembering the gospel that God might again astonish us with who He is. I want my mind to be blown by the gospel. When I think about the Lord, when I think about His gospel, I want to be giddy like a school girl. Tonight we are going to look at three things God is calling us to remember and then we will consider how remembering and not remembering affects our life in the body of Christ.
I. Remember Where We Were
These first words that Paul uses here must have stung a little. If these Gentiles had been around Jewish people for any length of time they would have felt the sting behind being called “uncircumcised”. They knew what the Jew meant by that—it meant you do not belong. You have no part in our God. The Gentile would have known that even if he went through all of the rites such as circumcision that he would still never fully fit in. So, Paul uses these words here to remind them of who they were. And then he lists these five specific things that it meant to be “part of the uncircumcised”.
Just like the Gentiles in Paul’s day probably wanted to there are some things that you just want to forget. I do not like to think about some of the painful things I did before I came to know Jesus. I do not like to associate myself with the person that I once was. I am embarrassed of the mouth I once had. I am embarrassed of all of the lust that raged in my heart. I am embarrassed of the stupid ways I talked about God. I am embarrassed of my pride, my anger, and my envy. I am embarrassed that Galatians 5:17-21 described me perfectly. I am embarrassed to say that sometimes I go back to that old way of living. It hurts to remember. But our text is calling us here to remember. Specifically we are to remember five things.
Here are the five things that are listed here that the Gentiles were to remember: they were to remember that they were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenant promises of God, without hope, and without God in the world. In other words the Gentiles were separated from God as well as God’s people. Because of this they could not claim any of the promises of God and so we have Paul’s summary statement: without hope and without God in the world. There can be no worse statement. There can be nothing worse than being “without God”. And indeed this is not only the situation of Gentiles in the time of Christ. This is the situation of every person even in our day; unless we are “in Christ” these things describe us as well. We know from the rest of Scripture that Jew and Gentile alike are, apart from Jesus, guilty and condemned before God.
If you are a Christian that is being called to “remember” then you can hopefully feel what this would mean. You can remember what it was like to be without Christ—if you were saved at a younger age you might have a hard time with it, nevertheless if you are saved Christ is precious to you and you can imagine at least a little what it would be like not to be enjoying Christ right now. Simply put, what this means is that before we were “in Christ” the only thing in Ephesians 1-2 that applied to us is 2:1-3. If we are separated from Christ then we are not “blessed with every spiritual blessing”. Instead of being holy and blameless before God as it says in Ephesians 1 we are guilty and condemned. We are not adopted as sons of God, we are hell deserving sinners. We cannot claim God’s grace—maybe his common grace—but not his special grace. We cannot say that we have redemption. Therefore, we have not been forgiven our sins. They continue to pile up before God. The riches of God’s grace have not been lavished upon us instead we stand under wrath. We have not obtained an inheritance, we have not been sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have no clue what is going on in the world because we God has not “made known to us the mystery of his will”. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is not at work in our life to raise us up from the dead. The power of God will instead be used by God to cast us into hell. We know nothing of the blessings of a relationship with Christ. We have no experience of faith. No concept of grace. In the coming ages we will not be shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. We will indeed be a display of His glory but not the glory of His grace—the glory of His justice.
This is what we are called to remember—life before Christ came in. Even if you did not feel these things we are called to meditate on their truth. We are called to consider these things and to remember them. Remember that we were guilty before God. Remember that you could not pray and have a hearing with God. Remember that you were not His child but rather His enemy. Remember the emptiness that you felt in your soul. Remember the distaste you had for the things of God. Remember what it was like to be without hope and without God. But we must not stop there. We also must remember the second thing.
II. Remember What Christ Has Done
If we only thought about where we had been then we would be miserable Christians only fixated upon our past. The main point of this passage is not where we were but what Christ has done. The only reason you remember where you were is so you can compare it to the beauty of what Christ has done and where you are now. We see this point vividly in the way that Paul uses the word “but”. We saw it in Ephesians 2:1-3 where he described us dead in sin and alienated from God, then he says “But God” and begins to unravel everything that God has done. The same thing is happening here. Ephesians 2:11-12 is the description of the Gentiles alienated from the covenant people of God, then in verse 13 Paul says “But now” and then unravels everything that Christ has done in reconciling people to Himself and to each other.
What specifically has Christ done? First we see that those who were far off (that’s another way of describing our state of being without God and without God’s people) have been brought near by the blood of Jesus. Then we read the description that Jesus himself is our peace—the one that has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. Then it says how he did that and points to the ultimate reason—that we might be reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. That he might create one new man. This new man is the church—neither Gentile nor Jew but comprised of people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. In other words Christ has brought unity with man and God as well as brought unity with man and each other.
I think a really good picture of the work of Christ is given to us in a picture of the Jewish temple; especially the temple in the time of Jesus. On the screen you will see a floor plan of this temple. There is so much here to cover but I want to draw your attention to three particular places. First, do you see this little box in the top center, it has the letter M on it. That is the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies is where glorious presence of God resided. See the line there. In the temple of Jesus’ day that line would have been a thick curtain. Only one man on one day of the year could go in and have full access to God. This was the curtain that separated the holy presence of God and sinful man.
The second place I want to draw your attention to is this big line in the middle. On one side you have the court of women. Any Jew, male or female, even those unclean such as lepers (see that chamber of lepers off to the side) could enter this area. But no Gentiles could enter in here.
Now let’s extend this and look at another picture. See the structure in the middle. That is what we just looked at. That is the temple itself. Now see all of that space outside the temple area. That is the court of Gentiles. The temple part that we saw earlier was elevated. And the court of the Gentiles and the inner courts that we saw earlier were separated by some 20 steps and two walls. From any part of it the Gentiles could look up and view the temple, but were not allowed to approach it. They were cut off from it by the surrounding wall, which was a huge stone barricade, on which were displayed at intervals warning notices in Greek and Latin. Two of these “warning notices” have been found that are written in Greek. When translated they read: Two of the Greek signs have been discovered, one in 1871 and the other in 1935. The former, now housed in a museum in Istanbul, Turkey, is a white limestone slab approximately one meter across. It reads: "No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death."
All of this is to point out that no Gentile (and really only one Jew once per year) had access to the glorious presence of God. Not only did Gentiles not have access to God they did not have access to the people of God. Let’s look at two places in Scripture that shows what Jesus has done to bring access. The first is Matthew 27:51 right as soon as Jesus “cried out with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” we read this: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom”. Now this is something that literally happened and it symbolized that access to the glorious presence of God is now granted. Now more than one man and any time during the year can go to God. But did this mean that Gentiles could come into the presence of God?
And now we look at our text in Ephesians verse 14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” Now this is symbolic but what is that “dividing wall of hostility”? More than likely Paul is referring to this stone wall that was erected with signs telling the Gentiles “no entry”. What is the point? Both Jew and Gentile alike now have access to God. But that is not the only point that Paul is making. He is also saying that we have been reconciled to one another.
Remember that Ephesians is about the cosmic reconciliation that God is doing. Ephesians is about God redeeming broken people and a broken world. This means he is redeeming our relationship with Him and our relationship with one another. How he does that is by annihilating all racial, social, economical, and gender divisions. Yes, we still remain different. Now what we are not identified by these things; we are now the church. We are united around the person and work of Jesus. Together our unity and our identity is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Do you see the beauty of this passage? The main point of it all is found in verse 18, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Because of what Jesus has done on the Cross he has broken down all of those barriers. The things that stand between us no longer matter. And the curtain that separated us from God has now been torn. Why? Because of his shed blood we are now united to Jesus. The way God views Jesus he now views us; which leads to our summary and last thing to remember.
Remember Where You Are and Are Going
In verses 19-22 Paul begins to change his metaphor. Previously he spoke of us being created into one new man. Now he pictures us being full fledged members of God’s kingdom. We are no longer alien (non-citizens that only had a few privileges) we are now “fellow citizens and members of the household of God.” We have full right and privileges. We have all of the rights that go with belonging to God. We have all of the benefits. What this means is that the only thing in Ephesians 1-2 that does not apply to us is Ephesians 2:1-3 (and even that applies because it is what we are to remember of our past). It means that all of these spiritual blessings are indeed ours because we belong to God. We have been bought by Jesus and we are full citizens of His Kingdom. Paul then extends the picture a little. He says that we (along with all that have gone before us) are being built into a building—a building that is a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. The foundation of this building has been laid by the prophets (that’s the Old Testament followers) and the apostles. They laid the foundation and every person that comes after is added to that.
Do you get the picture? God is building a building. He laid the foundation with his apostles (those sent by God to proclaim the message of Jesus) and prophets (those sent by God to foretell the message of Jesus). And he is drawing people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language and he is grafting them into this building. One brick upon another. Each brick essential. Each with a job. Each for the honor and glory of God. And one day when this building is completed. We will see the beautiful scene of heaven. We will see the Revelation 21 picture of God dwelling with his people.
Today we have access. Unhindered, complete access, full privileges with God the Father. But then it will be all the more clear. Now we only see faintly then we will see fully. We are involved in the middle of this process. And God is building his building. We have been reconciled to God and are reconciled to one another. This is what we saw when we looked at Ephesians 1:7-10. God has a plan and this plan is to reconcile all things and unite all things in their proper place under Jesus. I shared this story a couple of months ago, but it is fitting to share again. Lets fast forward and take a slice out of a scene in eternity.
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Paul Tripp adds a commentary for believers to that passage of Scripture. “Step into this scene of eternity. Look around, listen carefully, and then look back on your life to understand what cannot be understood any other way. Revelation 7 allows us to see the Lamb on the throne and hear the voices of the saints who have completed their journey. Do you see yourself in the crowd? These saints are people just like you. Like you, they suffered the scorching heat of earthly life. Like you, they went through God’s process of radical change. Now they have reached their final destination. They stand before God’s throne, purified and free, with a full welcome into the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords, their Savior, their Shepherd Lamb.
Picture yourself there, because in God’s story, you are there. This is your destination. This is where God is taking you! You will make it through the heat! Someday you will stand before the throne. There will be a moment when your voice will be heard in the chorus of praise that will never end. Someday you will be convinced that it has all been worth it. Life looks dramatically different when examined through the lens of eternity.”
What effect does remembering have on your life. What effect does remembering your past have on you today? Why are we commanded to remember what Christ has done? Why are we urged to remember who we are and where we are going? Because remembering and living in light of such truth changes you.
When I remember, and really grasp, who I was it is difficult to look down my nose at a struggling believer or even a hardened unbeliever.
When I remember what it was like to be apart from Christ instead of being moved to anger I am moved to compassion for my lost neighbor.
When I remember my past in light of my present I am humbled by my lack of growth and yet encouraged by the many changes that I do see present in my life. This again causes me to have grace and patience with those that are at a different stage in the process of becoming more like Jesus.
When I remember who I was and consider this in light of what God has done in rescuing me I cannot have cold affections toward him. I cannot simply state “Jesus died for my sins”. To really feel the weight of your sins and to feel that burden lifted will cause you to be enamored with Jesus and His Gospel.
When I remember what Christ has done it cripples my pride and self-sufficiency. When I consider that I was dead and it took the death of Jesus to give me access to God I realize that it was not because I was beautiful that Christ died for me. Yet at the same time it cripples my feelings of worthlessness. Because I realize that the love of God is greater than my sin. Grace overcomes.
When I remember what Christ has done how can I fall in love with the world? The world has never done one thing to serve my soul. I realize what really matters when I consider what Jesus did.
The same is true of remember where I am going. It reminds me of what matters. It reminds me of what will be important on my death bed and it reminds me of what will be important in eternity.
When I remember that God’s plan is cosmic reconciliation with himself and with other believers I begin to realize that biblical relationships are not optional. I come to understand that I was created for relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with other people. Even though they are messy now I am called by the work of Christ to get rid of all those sinful things that get in the way of relationship
When I remember I have no fitting response but humble, joyous, soul-shattering worship.
So remember this week…And when you think about the Lord…When you think about what He has done…Do not stop there…Let those affections rise up and worship. Thank him. Think; remember to the point of tears. Remember who you were but do not stop there. Remember what Christ has done. And remember where He is taking you. And worship! Perhaps we cannot urge you to “remember” because you have no relationship with Jesus. We want you to know the beauty of Christ. We want to worship with you. That only happens through Jesus Christ.