Mission of Peace, 27 August 2023

Mission of Peace
Ephesians: Finding Our True Identity
Ephesians 2:11-22

Series Big Idea: The book of Ephesians reveals our true identity…in Christ!
Big Idea: Gentiles have been invited to join Jews in God’s beautiful but messy family, uniting in a mission of peace.
Earlier this year, I did some work with a counselor, a coach. One of the exercises we went through was called 10 Most Painful Life Events. I’ll spare you the details, but one of the things it revealed was my childhood was relatively easy and trauma-free. There are few things I remember that were painful, but one constant involved my athletic abilities…or lack thereof. I was slow. I am slow. This was evident for all to see on field day, and often when teams were being picked for team sports. Can you relate? Do you remember wanting to be picked on a particular team…and hoping you weren’t the last one picked?!
Throughout the Bible, there are two groups of people—Jews, God’s chosen people, and everyone else, known as Gentiles. Needless to say, they didn’t always get along with one another. You could almost think of them as two rival teams. A major part of Jesus’ mission while here on earth was to bring those groups together. Most of us today are Gentiles, and while our text will probably not have the impact it did on first-century Gentiles, the message and mission of peace is both relevant and timeless.
Before we get into today’s text, I want to highlight two things. First, we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians, a letter written to a church in the city of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. I’ve been there, and it’s one of the most incredible archaeological sites in the world, complete with a 25,000 seat coliseum! The Bible is not a book of fairy tales, but rather an historical document written by real people in real places. Paul, a highly decorated Jew, had a remarkable encounter with Jesus which resulted in a mission for him to preach to Gentiles, hardly a politically-correct assignment! Nevertheless, Paul obeys.
We’re in Ephesians chapter two, beginning at verse eleven, but I must first go back to verse ten. Ephesians 2:10 is a very special verse for First Alliance Church as it contains an important element of our church mission statement.
We are a Jesus-centered family restoring God’s masterpieces in Toledo and beyond for His glory.
Ephesians 2:10 says,
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul uses the Greek word poiema, which literally means God’s poetry. When poiema is translated as “handiwork” or “workmanship” it misses the following important point. Poetry in scripture does not rhyme sounds; it follows the Hebrew pattern and rhymes thoughts. This means that as God’s poetry, our thoughts can rhyme with our Heavenly Father’s. That is amazing! How can it work? We know that as we become intimate with someone, we begin to finish each other’s sentences and thoughts. In a deep, authentic, mutual-mind state, we actually don’t know where our thoughts stop and the other person’s thoughts begin. This is exactly what can happen between God and us too. A mutual-mind state with God results in an emulation of His character and heart; we are showing the world the poet behind the poetry. As our mutual-mind state becomes stronger, we are able to live out our purpose of being created for good works. It is important to note here that our “good works” do not save us. Good works flow from thinking like our Creator; we rhyme God’s actions and not just His thoughts.
-       Wilder, E James; Kang, Anna; Loppnow, John; Loppnow, Sungshim. Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel
Isn’t that beautiful? OK, now we begin today’s text!
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. (Ephesians 2:11, NLT)
One of the marks, literally, of a Jewish man is circumcision. It dates back to Abraham, a command of God still practiced today. It was meant to be an outward symbol of an inward commitment to Yahweh, the God of the Bible. Like many Old Testament practices, circumcision is not required of “New Testament Christians,” though many Gentiles are circumcised today. Jews were forbidden in the Old Testament from eating pork, yet that is no longer the case for Christians since the New Testament.
The point of this verse is racism has been a part of our world for thousands of years. Paul is reminding the Gentiles in Ephesus that they used to be outsiders, mocked, despised by the proud Jews. Jesus changed all of that.
In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (Ephesians 2:12, NLT)
What a bleak existence! It’s been said you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 40 days without food, but only one second without hope. I can’t imagine a second without God or without hope. Tragically, there are billions of people today who live without God. We have the privilege of introducing them to Him! Gentiles were without God and hope…
But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, NLT)
Hallelujah! We are all related by blood…the precious blood of Jesus!
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. (Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT)
The cross is obviously a symbol of the death of Jesus, but many have noted its two dimensions, vertical and horizontal. This execution device is a reminder of the work of reconciliation done by Jesus on it, reconciling us to God (vertical) and to one another (horizontal).
The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is more than the absence of violence. It’s wholeness, harmony, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It’s greater than tolerance. It’s blessing.
It’s hard to appreciate how radical this coming together of Jews and Gentiles was two thousand years ago. Today, both groups have been united into one family of Jesus-followers, but it was almost unimaginable in the first century.
Perhaps the closest analogy would be to imagine Republicans and Democrats united, working together to serve the American people! That would be a miracle, right?!
Jesus created one new people from the two groups, Jews and Gentiles. It’s worth noting there are two types of Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus). There are Messianic Jews who engage in Jewish practices such as Passover and Yom Kippur…and others who would simply call themselves Christians, detached from Hebrew traditions like kosher eating. Regardless, all followers of Jesus are one. This is, in many ways, the realization of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:
I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:9-11, NIV)
Later in the chapter, Jesus prays for us…”those who will believe.” In a world with over 40,000 Christian denominations, I wonder how much more divided we would be if Jesus wasn’t praying for our unity! Back to the text.
He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:17-18, NLT)
Here we see again Jesus’ mission of peace. It’s a mission of unity. He wants all of us to get along! We all have the same Father. We all have Jesus as our brother. We all have the same Holy Spirit. Unity does not mean uniformity. We are different and we can celebrate our differences, but we must remember we have more in common than not if Jesus is our LORD.
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2:19, NLT)
Family, isn’t it great to be a part of God’s family? Earthly families can be messy. It’s been said some put the fun in dysfunctional! Seriously, though, because we’re human, we hurt even when we don’t mean to harm. We fail one another. No child or parent is perfect…except when it comes to our heavenly Father.
I’ve always loved the story of Little Orphan Annie, going from rags to riches (not that riches themselves bring true satisfaction). This girl living in an orphanage is chosen, embraced, loved, and given a new family. That’s a picture of all of us, spiritual orphans adopted into God’s family. We are all children of the King. Those of us who are Gentiles have been grafted into God’s holy people.
 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, NLT)
Where is God’s house? Right here (us). He no longer lives exclusively behind a curtain in a special place. That curtain was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died. Hallelujah! We are his dwelling place. When people encounter you, they should be encountering God.
This is why our bodies matter. If God lives in us, we must care for the temple. When Jesus said to pick up our cross and follow him, he meant we are to die. Your body is not yours if you follow Jesus. It’s his.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)
Paul wrote these words to another church. This is why our sexuality matters. We can’t just do whatever we want with whomever we want. We are to be a holy temple for the LORD. We are to love the LORD with all of our strength…our bodies. Wellness, nutrition, exercise, …these things matter. You can’t fulfill your mission of making disciples if you’re six feet under! Some have been mistakenly taught that our bodies are bad and evil, a heresy known as Gnosticism. Others have made idols of their bodies, seeking to glorify themselves in the process. Worship the LORD with your bodies, don’t worship bodies (or anyone else’s!).
Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, NLT)
The thought of God dwelling in us should be both encouraging and challenging to all of us. Notice it says, “together, we are his house.” We are joined together in Jesus. To restate the theme of today’s text, Gentiles have been invited to join Jews in God’s beautiful but messy family, uniting in a mission of peace.
I want to close with another writing from Paul, this one to the church in Galatia, also in modern Turkey.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)
There are no second-class citizens in the family of God. You are welcome, regardless of your family of origin, skin color, zip code, or income bracket. We are all united at the foot of the cross. We all need to die to our selfish desires, surrendering all of our heart, all of our souls, all of our minds, and all of our strengths/bodies to the LORD. When we do, we create a beautiful house for God to dwell and bear witness to His goodness, presence, and power in our world for His glory. May we be one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

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