I’m going to be reading from the letter to the Ephesians. If you don’t have your Bible that’s ok, just listen and I will hopefully illuminate a little bit what I will be reading. It’s in chapter 2, verses 11 through 22. I’m going to attempt to just take the whole passage and go through it very quickly.
Ephesians, chapter 2, beginning with verse 11. These are words of the Apostle Paul writing to a congregation in the city of Ephesus, and this is what Paul says to them. He says:
“…therefore remember that formerly, that is before, you who are gentiles by birth and called uncircumcised by those who call themselves the circumcision, remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
But now, in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. 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 and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access to the father by one spirit. Consequently, see as a result of all the things that he has said, as a result of all this that I’ve just said, you are no longer foreigner and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets 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 together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his spirit.”
What a wonderful passage, man. I mean, you get lost, even if you have a Bible in front of you it’s still hard to follow, all these images that are being fired at you through the Apostle’s writing. Paul was a very dense kind of writer. I mean, his mind was so rich and the knowledge of the Lord was so profound.
I mean, if you had a chance to read this passage 3 or 4 times, and I asked you, well, what seems to be the dominant image? What seems to be the dominant theme of these eleven, twelve verses that we have just read? What seems to be the common thread in all of this meditation? You would probably say with me, I would say something like reconciliation, peace, bringing together, tearing down of dividing elements, establishing communication among individuals and groups that were in conflict before. That seems to be the main, the dominant theme.
And by the way, before I go any further, I neglected saying the time….. saw something here, that at the ends of the service we have a fellowship time and that you are more than welcomed, right here, right in this same floor, right around these walls, right after the service you’re invited to take a little bit of time and go and have something to drink with us and have a snack and just spend a little more time among ourselves, getting to know each other better. I just wanted to say that.
Anyway, the theme of this passage seems to be reconciliation, peace, the tearing down of barriers. And the Apostle Paul begins in this verse 11 saying, “…therefore remember that formerly…..”, at one point in your lives.
Remember he is writing, you have a lot of these images that are here in this passage are better understood if we knew more about history and about the circumstance in which the Apostle Paul is writing. Remember he was writing 2000 years ago to people in the Greco Roman world, in a very specific geographic area, the Mediterranean, near the Middle East, and near Greece and Rome and so on and so forth, and so there’s a lot of things that belong to that culture that we kind of have to translate into modern terms, in order to understand better what the Apostle Paul was saying.
So, number one, we need to understand that he is writing to a city and to Christians who are not of Jewish descent. These are believers who were non- Jewish. They were part of the Greek and the Roman world and these converts to Christianity were being brought into the Kingdom of God from all kinds of sinful, pagan, sensual, kind of lifestyles. They were simply normal people of their time who lives according to the customs and the morals of 2000 years ago in this great cities of the Greco Roman world. They didn’t have the same moral understanding that he Jews had about purity and about holiness and about eating only certain things, and not doing certain things. You know, these were individuals who had a totally different lifestyle that had very little to do with the morality and the ethics that Christianity was bringing into the world.
Christianity was a very young, just a barely few decades old when Paul is writing. So, he’s writing to people who’re just receiving the gospel for the first time and being weaned from very sinful, very distant lifestyles from what Christianity and Judaism represented.
So, he’s writing to these new converts from the non-Jewish world and so he is saying, “….therefore remember that before, that’s what means formerly, before you became Christians, before you were believers through Jesus Christ, you who are gentiles….”
You know, gentiles means those who are non Jews. The Jews divided the world into two people: Jews and gentiles. And the word gentile was like a pejorative terms, it was like, you know, those low people. Anybody who was not a Jew was almost unworthy of consideration or respect. The Jews were so full of pride at their Jewishness and having the law, and having the revelation from God which is not what God intended at all. But they had become prideful as a nation, and looked at everybody else as unworthy of consideration or unworthy of respect.
And so the Apostle Paul is using all these images and saying, hey guys, remember that before you became believers you, who are called gentiles by those who consider themselves the circumcision, that means, the Jews had circumcision as the distinguishing mark of a Jewish person. When a baby was 7, 8 days old he was circumcised as a sign that he belonged to the Jewish nation, and so that was their pride. That was the sort of stamp that they bore in their body to certify that they were closer, that they were part of the Jewish nation.
And so, these circumcised people looked at the other people as the uncircumcised ones, the ones who had not become Jewish. So, it says, you know, remember that you who are non-Jews by birth and are called uncircumcised by the Jews who called themselves the circumcision, remember that at that time, before you became Christian, before you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, and then he goes into a description of what it is like not to have Christ in your life.
See, that’s why this is valuable for us. It is kind of a photograph, a picture of what a person who doesn’t have Christ, what the culture or the nation that does not have Christ and the values of Christianity as its distinguishing, governing feature, what life is like before Christ. And that’s why this is important for us to remember. It is a picture of what it is like generally not to have Christ in your life.
And so, you know, it occurs to me one thing immediately which is that that counsel of the Apostle Paul to remember what life was like. You know, it is so important for us every once in a while to either remember what we were like before we knew Jesus, or to remember what we were like before the Lord really did his work in our lives.
It is good every once in a while to sit down, even to imagine, what my life would be like without the Lord and without knowing Christ. Why is that important? Because it enables us to appreciate more what we have as believers. Sometimes we take for granted all the benefits that come as a result of being a Christian.
This morning I was talking with a person who has been a Christian for several years and still has many problems in their life: personality situations, difficult character traits and so on, but they love the Lord deeply and were rescued from a very, very negative lifestyle; depression, suicidal, sexual bondage, worldly lifestyle and all of kinds of things. And this person came to know Jesus and their life was transformed.
And even 15, 20 years after they’ve known the Lord, they still have a lot of you know, social difficulties and relational problems and so on. But as I saw this person that God has used in so many wonderful ways doing so much for the Kingdom of God and being blessed, and blessing others, I said, man, yes, that person may still have some defects in their character, but guau, imagine were they would be now if they had continued in the same direction that they were in twenty years ago. They would probably be a human wreck right now, bitter and probably scarred in all kinds of ways by all the mistakes that they probably would have continued making, and just a shell of a human being. And yet, here they are, still stumbling, still imperfect, still with many sinful traits in their lives, but you know, look at them speaking about the things of the Kingdom of God, about spiritual things, blessing others, counseling others, helping that person’s children to become better human beings, and so on.
And that is, you know, it was important for me to remember that, because sometimes we criticize people because they’re not perfect Christians, but we neglect to consider what it would be like if they hadn’t got to know Christ. And you know, this society that we live in with all its positive things here in America, we often neglect to remember that so much that makes America great is the result of its Christian background.
You know, America has become more of a secular nation that emphasizes the separation of church and state and tries to keep religion away from you know, politics, from education and from society because they think that’s the way it needs to be. Keep religion away so that everybody… since you can have one particular religion and keep all religion away.
But, you know, often I think America neglects to remember that so much of what makes it great is the result of its Christian heritage. For example, its love for the handicapped, its history of philanthropic help, you know, so many great institutions that help and give lots of money.
I know in Latin America for example, where I come from, it’s not like that. You know, the rich don’t give millions and millions of dollars to causes. America has a great tradition of philanthropy for example, of mercy for the poor and you go to many countries whether it’s Europe or Latin America, Africa, Asia, there is not that kind of thing. And a lot of other values that are now, have become secularized and disengaged from the religious origins, but they are affecting this nation for the better to this day, and they come from that Christian background.
And so you know, it is important for us to remember what it was like or what it would be like without Christianity. The treatment of women for example. You go to most countries in the world, in the third world particularly or countries that are of pagan origin of non Christian origin. You know, we talk, some people say Christianity is a religion that is against women and so on and so forth because they isolate some passage that are very complex, but you look at how women, for example, are treated with all the mistakes that have been made and so on, in countries that have been influenced by Christian influence and you go to countries that do not have a Christian influence and you will see the big difference. Because there is in Christianity that respect of the dignity of every human being and also the appreciation for the dignity of woman.
And so, you know, I could go on and on. My point is that we need to remember what our life would be like without Jesus Christ, and what happens to cultures when they do not have Christianity and the values of Christianity.
You know, that’s why I say, please, as believers, as Christians, let us make every effort to let the truth of the gospel, the teachings of the word of God, the moral teachings, the ethical teachings of scripture, permeate every area of our life: our relationships, the way we talk, the way we do our business, the way we develop our intellect, the way we administer our money, our sexual habits and relationships and customs, our ethical dealings with other people.
Let the truth of the gospel, let the values of the Kingdom of God permeate every area of your life, because when you allow the values of Jesus Christ and of the Christian truth to enter your life, light comes in, life comes in, order comes in, beauty comes in and you begin to see how your life becomes more and more orderly and protected from the ravages of evil that is the lot of all those who do not have the protection of Jesus Christ in their life.
It is so important to let either the individual life or the life of a home, or the life of a community or a nation, to be guided, to be illuminated and ordered by the values of the Kingdom of God.
So, this is what the Apostle Paul is saying, remember what life was like before you were believers. Remember that at that time, number one you were separate from Christ, verse 12, “….at that time you were separate from Christ…”.
Being separate from Christ means that you do not have the covering of Christ, you do not have the protection of Jesus Christ, you know that the only thing that demons, demonic beings, that want to destroy and kill and maim and darken human existence, the only thing that they respect is the name of Jesus Christ, the person of Jesus Christ. I have seen demons tremble and protest when I mention the name or the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no other name truly that forces demons to obey and to flee when they’re occupying illegally a human being, except the powerful name of Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus has something very powerful that neutralizes the influence of evil in human beings, or human collectivities.
And the person who is not a believer does not have access to that, does not have that protection. I tell you, there is something so beautiful about walking life knowing that Jesus Christ is covering your life, that the protection of the mighty son of God is with you, walking with you, covering you, protecting you from the attacks of life.
Jesus said once to the… you know, when we see him in the mount of olives looking down on all of Jerusalem, and he said, Jerusalem, Jerusalem how I wanted to cover you like a chicken covers its chicks, and you did not allow me, therefore now, your city is left unprotected.
And you know what happened to Jerusalem? In 1825, about 20 years after Jesus was crucified, the Roman empire came in, after a rebellious time when the Jews resisted the rule of Rome, and came into Jerusalem and destroyed it completely. I mean, raised it to the ground, and not content with that they sowed salt over all the land so that no living thing would ever grow, and spread the Jews all over the world, for 2000 years, never to return as a nation to Jerusalem, till 1948. 2000 years it cost them because they rejected the protection of Jesus Christ. They rejected their Messiah.
And when you reject the protection of Christ, you are exposed to all the ravishes of life. I mean, how can anybody live by their own wits? I cannot understand, without the protection of God, without the covering of the mighty son of God. Do not attempt to live your life by yourself, no matter how smart, how strong, how charismatic, how socially agile you are. You cannot make it unscathed. Now, if you have the covering of Jesus Christ in your life, no matter how much you suffer, you will still come out ok.
One thing, when you were out there in the world, you were separate from Christ, you did not have access to his power, to his love, to his protection, to his counsel, to his company.
Number two, you were excluded from citizenship in Israel, that means you were not… I think he’s talking here about the spiritual Israel, not necessarily the nation of Israel. But now, we, as believers in Christ, we are part of that spiritual Israel, that people that God has chosen. And so, as believers in Christ, now we are spiritually engrafted into the nation of God’s people. That’s what he means.
Before Christ we didn’t have that citizenship, we did not have access to that nation. It’s so important in order to enjoy the benefits of being a son of God to first have Jesus Christ. In order to enjoy the benefits, for example, of American citizenship you first have to swear and become accepted into citizenship into the American nation. And then, you can travel and do all kinds of things as an American citizen.
And so, Paul is saying, before you didn’t have citizenship in the nation of Israel, you didn’t have access to the benefits of being a member of God’s chosen people.
And also, it says “… you were foreigners to the covenants of the promise”. That means, also, when you don’t have Christ in your life, you do not have access to the promises of God. There are so many promises in the Bible. Some people have said that there’s like 700 incredible promises in the word of God for believers. I mean, everything from financial prosperity, to happiness, to protection from evil, to forgiveness when you sin, to eternal life, to all kinds of great things, whatever it is. I mean, we have a generous God. We have generous father and he has made all kinds of promises to his children.
That’s the beautiful things. You know, one of the reasons why I serve the Lord, man, it’s because it pays off. I’m telling you, it’s wonderful. I’m not doing it just because I’m a nice guy. Yes, perhaps, but I’m also in for all the beautiful things that come from being a believer as well. It’s great to be a Christian. I can tell you from personal experience, and many of you can probably do the same thing as well.
It’s great to… there’s wonderful benefits to being a believer because we have a generous God. and when you come into the Kingdom of God and you become a follower of Jesus Christ, man, all kinds of blessings come into your way. I mean, you’re all of a sudden given an ATM card to you know, go in there and be blessed in many, many wonderful ways. That’s the beauty of being a believer.
Don’t let anybody tell you, you just come into the Kingdom of God, oh, just to suffer and to kind of wait until God beams you up out of this cruel world.
I mean, man, I want to enjoy this ride and when the Lord takes me I’ll be happy. I know I’m going to a better way. But I’m not in a hurry either. Because I’m enjoying this world, because there’s a lot of good stuff here as a believer. And so, you know, when you don’t have Jesus in your life, you don’t have access to all those benefits.
So, it says, you were separated, you were foreigners to the covenants of the promise. God made a covenant with his people and he said, if you do this, I’m going to do this and this, and that and I’m going to bless you here and there and so on and so forth. As a non believer you didn’t have access to any of those things.
And it says, “….you were without hope and without God in the world….”. I think that’s the worst part of not being a follower of Jesus Christ, of being a believers. Because, I mean, what hope is there? I mean, as believers we have this eternal hope of ever lasting life. The Bible says that if our earthly body breaks up and is destroyed, we have a body that is not corruptible, not made by human hands, and that you know, we have access to eternity.
That’s what gives me joy. The fact that, hey, I mean, this is an imperfect life, if I die today I know where I’m going. You know, my mom was operated, she’s 92 years old, she was operated a week ago and for a while we didn’t know whether she was going to survive or not. There was a very serious situation and you know, our mother we love her dearly. I mean, she’s been a presence with us all this. I’ve known her since birth. And you know, she’s been a very powerful presence in my life, you know. And you know, it was a difficult time for all of us as we contemplated the fact that we might lose our mother. But you know what? What gave us all strength was knowing that if she were to die, number one, she was going to be so much better off, and number two, we would one day see her. And that took the sting out of the thread of death in other words. You know, the pain was still there but it wasn’t that searing, desperate pain that I see in many people when their dear ones die, you hear them screaming and riding on the floor and this despair, because they don’t have the consolation of knowing where their loved one is, and whether they’ll ever see them again.
If you read Greek texts of literature and history and so on, you see the despair of Greek culture and Roman culture as well: it’s negativity, it’s pessimism, it’s uncertainty about the after life. And when they did venture into speculating about what the after life was like, it was very dark, and very, very uninviting. Ok? Hades, you know, and that kind of just dark place and so on and so forth. It was a hopeless world, there was no consolation.
I mean, what hope is there? What joy is there if you know that you struggle and you fight in this world, you loose so much, you suffer so much and then, what. What happens? If the best that you have to hope for is simply that your life stops and is snuffed out and you no longer exist, man, that’s pretty depressing even as it is. But if it is something more like you are suffering and you don’t know whether you’re going to go to hell or to some other place, you’re going to have some guy with the fork waiting for you, you know, as soon as you die, that’s even more scary. Imagine that. So you’re without hope. I mean, I would probably blow my brains out if I thought that this is all there is.
And this is the lot of most cultures that are without Christ, without the hope that Jesus offers. You know, this is the image that is here. And then it says in verse 13 “but now, praise the Lord, but now in Christ Jesus - and I will finish here,- ….you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
You see, that is what we celebrate tonight. Praise the Lord. You know, I am no longer in that category of people who are so contempt, you know, all these negative qualities, but now you who have received Jesus Christ, who were humble enough to accept him as your Lord and your savior, you who were once far away….
You see, before these Ephesians, these Greco Roman, these Asians and all these other individuals, they were far away from the mercy and the blessings and the promises of the Kingdom of God, they had no access, they didn’t have any knowledge of those things. They didn’t know how to think even in those terms that Christianity offers. They were far away.
When you don’t have Christ, how do you come before God? I mean, how do you traverse, how do you travel through the infinite? How do you go through eternity? I mean, what plane do you take? What bus, how do you get there? There is no vehicle than can cross eternity or infinity. Perfection. How do you go from your imperfection as a lowly human being to the perfect realm where God dwells? How do you do that? You’re infinitely far. You are far away, you had no instrument, you had no vehicle, you had no process, you had no knowledge of how to get there. You had no way of getting there. You were far away, but now you have been made near.
Do you know that through Jesus Christ you can be in touch with the father instantly through the power of prayer. I don’t even have to pick up the phone. I just kind of get my mind in thinking and I’m there. I’m before the throne of God through Jesus Christ. Instant communication. Praise the Lord. Verizon hasn’t yet come up with that kind of communication. I praise the Lord. Through the power of faith, through the connections of the spirit I can just clamor and call to my father through the name of Jesus Christ. And I say, father I need you, and I can be in touch with the Kingdom of God. As a believer I am never far away.
As a matter of fact, I am dwelling in eternity even now. We are all before the presence of God, 24 hours a day. Jesus said, low, I am with you always until the ends of time. Every day you walk in Christ, you walk in eternity, you walk before the father. Wherever you are as a believer, you are there, you are near and who makes that possible?
You know, it’s not a system. It’s not a theological mechanism. It’s not some sort of process of gradual perfection or of academic illumination. It’s not an intellectual process. It is a person. It is a person. Christianity is about a person: Jesus Christ who died on the cross.
You know, never let anybody tell you that you’re going to become close to God even if they use Christian language by knowing more and studying more and becoming better and you know, getting in touch with some sort of consciousness raising process. That’s not what gets you near to God. It’s simply a connection, a personal connection with the person of Jesus Christ. His blood and you accepting the effect, the influence of that sacrifice and that person of Jesus. Everything else is good, the theological teachings, all the knowledge that the Bible brings, and all the wonderful concepts that are in Christianity, but none of that has meaning if you first haven’t shook hands with Jesus, or better yet, knelt before Jesus and say, you are my Lord, you are my savior, you are my ultimate authority and I accept you as the final arbiter of every area of my life.
Now, when you have done that in your spirit, when you have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that he came to earth in bodily form, that he died on the cross, and that he was resurrected at the third day, and that he sits right next to the father, waiting for the moment to come to judge the quick and the dead, until you have received that truth and you have made it your own, you cannot have access. As soon as you do that, you are saved. You, then, are brought near to the presence of God and you have access and you have all the benefits of the Kingdom of God. It is a person.
That’s what’s so important. People don’t understand that many times. The centrality of Jesus, but now, in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ, for he himself is our peace.
It’s the personal, the personal, the personal, the personal. It is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. You see, I wish I could say that of somebody else, you know. I wish I could say that. It is through this religious figure, or that other religious figure, or that other religious system, but it is non of that.
I mean, what I seen in scripture time and time again is that it’s the person. Jesus said, I am the truth and the way and the life, and no one comes to the father but through me. And somebody has said, either he was lying, either he was a madman or either he was completely deluded. And I don’t think he fits that picture. The Jesus that I see in the Bible is a very lucid human being, very intelligent and very honest. And if he said that, I believe that he meant it and he knew what he was talking about.
As believers we are founded, our blessing, our identity as Christians is founded on the person and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And if you haven’t made your transaction with Jesus Christ I urge to do that tonight, to come before the Lord, kneel inside your spirit, humble yourself and say, Lord, Jesus I acknowledge that you are who you say you are. Come into my life and establish your throne inside of me and rule over my life. And I believe that blood that you shed on the cross, even though I can not understand every aspect of that sacrifice, but I choose to believe that it was necessary and it was effective. And it’s capable of cleansing my life and bringing me near to the father.
If you can do that in your spirit right now, then you are a child of God. You’re no longer an alien, you’re no longer a foreigner, you are part of the kingdom, you’re part of the covenant, you’re part of the nation and you can live life with absolute confidence, absolute hope, absolute expectations that things are just going to get better, and better, and better.
Why don’t we lower are faces for a moment, just our heads for a moment. Close our eyes, if you want to perhaps, and just make sure that you have done that in your life. It’s not about a denomination. It’s not about a church. I may not ever see some of you again, but I want to make sure that you do that right now and that if you haven’t done it , you say to Jesus right now, Lord, I receive you as my savior and as my Lord and I ask you to bring me near to the father. Help to walk with you every day of my life.
I pray that you will do that right now. And at some point I pray also that you will have the courage, if you haven’t done it yet, to do it publicly because there’s something very beautiful about doing it publicly. Just as you get married publicly and you graduate publicly, it’s great also to have other people witness your time of commitment to Jesus Christ. And if you want to do it right now, I certainly would love to see your hand go up and I just like to pray for you, if you haven’t done it yet, praise the Lord, I see a hand there. Praise God. I do praise for you my brother. Anybody else that wants to say to the Lord Jesus, Jesus, I receive you as my savior right now. Anyone else? Amen. Amen. Praise God.
Father, I bless my brother and my sister, that little girl there as well, yes, father, because I know you value children so much as well, and these hands that are raised accepting you Jesus as their savior, as their Lord, I thank you and I pray that, and I know as you have promised in your word that when we open the door of our life, you come in. I pray that that will be the case, that they will know that you have come in today into their life and I pray for freedom and blessing and joy to come as you sit there in the throne of their life. Thank you, father. I bless them right now. Thank you for your word. We worship you. We thank you in the glorious, mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen and amen.
Why don’t you give the Lord a big hand clap and just say, yes, Lord, thank you, thank you for what you have done in our life. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, we worship you, father. We glorify.