My Good Friday Sermon from Ephesians 2:13-18

Here is the transcript of the sermon I’ll be preaching on Good Friday. Two other preachers are preaching and I have been assigned the middle portion of Ephesians 2:11-22 (that’s why it seems to begin in media res):

The first word in v. 13 in most translations is “but.” Paul here is going to present a contrast to our previous state as spiritual Gentiles who are separated, alienated, and strangers, who lived hopelessly without God.

Being united with Christ, being “in Christ,” brings about a change in our natures and enables us to participate in life with God, even sharing in the communion of the life of God.

This is brought about through the cross (“by the blood of Christ”). This most shameful, hateful, miserable experience in which the Son of God was brutally and unjustly murdered, Paul tells us has resulted in four things for the one who is “in Christ,” that is for the one who trusts in Christ and in Him alone:

1. We were far off, but now we’ve been brought near (v. 13).

This wording, “near” and “far off,” originate in Isaiah (57:19) and it becomes even more prominent in vv. 17-18. But this language had become common in Judaism for those who brought a non-Israelite to the congregation of Israel and made him a proselyte. We might use similar language today when we talk about bringing someone to Christ.

But what Paul says here is not only true of Gentiles; it is true of all who unite with God through Jesus Christ whether Jew or Gentile. But we have not been brought near to become participants in the ancient rites and rituals of a bygone religion from some dusty part of the world; we have been brought into a new community.

This is a new era and we are a new people made by the one who makes all things new. New not just in time but new in quality: this is something that the world hasn’t seen before but it is also something the world could not have produced or even conceived of before.

Through our union with Christ, the newness of the age to come that has broken through into this tired old age has permeated our very souls and our being so now we can also say that “in Him”…

2. We were hostile, but now we are at peace (v. 14-15, 17).

KJV and NKJV say “wall of separation” at the end of v. 14 but I think ESV and NIV get closer to the intended meaning here when they say “dividing wall of hostility.” Many see this as a reference to the wall which separated the Temple proper from the Court of the Gentiles.

As P. T. O’Brien points, out, however, this wall was really the Law. Not the Law as an expression and extension of God’s own righteous character and nature, but the holiness code contained in the oral tradition and oral law (v. 15a) that served as a fence around the Mosaic Law.

This fence, which served to emphasize the separateness of those “far off” and those “near,” also served to lull the Jews into a sense of complacency and superiority. They could not see, because they would not see, that “the Law is our schoolmaster, bringing us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24).

Through our union with Christ we are now at peace (v. 17). We are now one new person (v. 15b), a new people marked not by ethnicity or social status or background or heritage or upbringing; we are a new people marked by the blood of Christ, the name of God, and the seal of the Spirit.

Now I look at my brother and sister in Christ and I do not see black or white or Jew or Arab or American or Japanese or Democrat or Republican or Wolverines or Buckeyes or Star Wars fans or Star Trek fans or any other human designation;

I look at my brother and sister and I see one for whom Christ died, and indeed, I see Christ himself. And this is how God sees me (and you if you have faith in His Son) when he looks at me because…

3. We were enemies, but now we have been reconciled (v. 16).

Christ, “in his flesh” (v. 14) has abolished everything that not only separated man from man, race from race, but also that which separated man from God! Now there is peace with each other, Jew and Gentile, man and man, man and woman, because there is peace with God!

Through our union with Christ we are now at peace, with God and with each other, the hostility has ended, between man and man, and between man and God. Now God looks at me and sees not my sin, but his own precious Son.

How have we been reconciled? Though “his blood” (v. 13), “in his flesh” (v. 14). Christ was killed, but in his death he killed the hostility and enmity (v. 16) that was between man and God.

Now I do not see God as the Judge who looks on me in anger nor do I dread the Day of Judgment when his wrath will rightly and justly be directed toward those outside Christ. That is certainly what I deserve, but we are no longer enemies. Christ has brought heaven down and brought me up to God and reconciled us and now I see God as wonderful, merciful, gracious, loving, and kind.

I do not dread the Day of Judgment because I know that on that Day when the books are opened and I am judged, God will find there not my sin but the righteousness of his own Son.

When I stand before God in that Day, God will look upon me and see, not all that I used to be, He will see all that I am “in Christ.”

And indeed, I do not wait until that day to come into his presence, because…

4. We were outcast, but now we are welcome in God’s presence (18).

When Paul speaks of having “access” he is still alluding to the Temple and the restricted access to the presence of God in the Most Holy Place that barred the entire congregation of Israel from the presence of God. Only the High Priest, and then only once a year, and then only after certain ritual cleansings, and then under fear of death, only under these restrictions did he have access to the presence of God.

But now, through Christ and in Christ, we have access to God and, not only that, we come to him in a very personal and intimate way: He is now our Father. And as Father, he is more gracious and welcoming than any earthly father could be.

But notice how this speaks to the division between Jew and Gentile posed earlier: Not only are Gentiles invited to enter where only Jews could enter before, both Jew and Gentile are invited to draw near to a place and in a way where no has been able to enter before!

And since both alike call Him Father, both Jew and Gentile stand as one humanity before God.

And this Father makes no distinction between those children who were Jewish by birth and those who were Gentile by birth, all alike call Him Father, all alike participate in the same cleansing by Jesus’ blood, and all alike share in the same Spirit who takes those who were spiritually dead, in fearful bondage, and subject to divine wrath (2:1-3), and makes us alive by His Spirit, sets us free by the power of the Son, and turns toward us his love and mercy instead of his wrath.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, united in rebirth, redemption, and reconciliation so that God may be glorified and we may know the blessing of heaven and the age to come even while we still walk this earth.

Amen.

 

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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