I did not grow up in the thick of the racial divide that created separate schools, that required black people to ride on the back of the bus, that prohibited black people from drinking from the same water fountains as white people and using the same bathrooms, that painted black people as less than human. The very idea of such a society is unthinkable to me—yet it existed, not too many years ago.
I could not imagine our worship services without people of all colors of skin and socioeconomic backgrounds. I’m so glad you’re here. Why do I begin by talking about that? Because it is the closest I can get to understanding the divide that existed in Paul’s day between Jews and Gentiles.
And I must say that the divide wasn’t created by God. It was created by an exclusive understanding of the law. Yes, God chose Israel. Yes, they were his people. But he clearly said for them to love and care for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner.
God promised that, through Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. By Jesus’ day, the leaders of the Jewish faith had taken those promises and created an exclusive class that excluded anyone but them. Listen to how Paul describes the plight of Gentiles—non-Jews.
The divide was also created by the Gentiles. They did not seek after God. They worshiped their own gods. As a matter of fact, Paul is writing to the Ephesians who had the massive temple for the worship of Diana.
|Who was Artemis||The supposed goddess of fertility|
|Who worshipped her?||She was probably the most worshiped deity in Asia and perhaps the world during Paul’s time.|
|What was worship like?||Hundreds of eunuch priests, virgin priestesses, and religious prostitutes served her. Worship rituals were quite erotic.|
|By what other names was Artemis known?||“Queen of Heaven”, “Savior”, and “Mother Goddess”|
|What role did Ephesus have in Artemis worship?||Ephesus was considered neokoros for Artemis, which meant the city was the center for Artemis worship and responsible for maintaining the cult’s purity of worship.|
|How did Ephesus benefit financially from the worship of Artemis?||The cult brought great wealth to the citizens of Ephesus because the temple of Artemis became the world’s largest bank during that time.|
|What were Artemis festivals like?||Devotees came from all over the world to worship and celebrate during her festivals. Huge processions honored her statues. Celebrations were held with music, dancing, singing, dramatic presentations, and chanting of allegiance.|
|What were Artemis statues like?||They portrayed Artemis as having many breasts–a symbol of her fertility. The main statue in her temple may have been a black meteorite because she was said to have fallen from the sky.|
|What was the Artemis temple like?||The temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.|
|What attracted the people to Artemis?||The promise of fertility, long life, sexual fulfillment, and protection during pregnancy and childbirth; the seductive sexuality of her worship.|
Who we were.
Paul describes the condition of Gentiles, all non-Jews, with five different terms. None of them are hopeful.
- Separated from Christ—at least the Jews had the promise of a Messiah
- Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel—estranged; no possibility of relationship
- Strangers to the covenants of promise—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic
- Having no hope—
- Without God in the world—Gentiles in Paul’s day believed in all kinds of gods.
The absence of hope is a powerful thing. I will share two stories, one that illustrates hope’s presence, the other that shows its disappearance.
Elmer Bendiner tells the remarkable story of a B-17 bomber that flew a bombing mission over Germany in the latter days of WWII. The plane was hit several times by shells and flak, with some of the hits directly in the fuel tank. Miraculously, the bomber did not explode. When it landed, eleven unexploded 20mm shells were taken out of the fuel tank! The shells were dismantled, and to the amazement of everyone, all were empty of explosives. Inside of one shell was a note written in Czech. Translated, it read, “This is all we can do for you now.” A member of the Czech underground, working in a German munitions factory, had omitted the explosives in at least 11 of the 20mm shells on his assembly line. That worker must have wondered often if the quiet work he was doing to subvert the Nazi war effort was going to make any difference whatsoever to the outcome of the war.
On Decmeber 12, 1927 an S-4 submarine was rammed by a ship off the coast of Massachusetts. It sank immediately. The entire crew of 40 was trapped underneath. Every effort was made to rescue the crew. In the awful December weather, crews made heroic efforts to get to six known survivors. Near the end of the ordeal, a dee-sea diver, who was doing everything in his power to find a way for the six survivor’s release, thought he heard a tapping on the steel wall of the sunken sub. He placed his helmet up against the side of the vessel and realized it was Morse Code. The message being tapped from within: Is…there…any…hope?”
Someone has said, “We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope.”
Before Christ we were without hope.
What Jesus did
But now. I know what your tendency is. Your past life plays through your mind like a broken record. You can remember the ridiculous things you did, the people you hurt, the disappointments you caused.
The prevailing word in the middle of this section is “peace.” Notice what Jesus did. You who once were far off have been brought near.
The same phrase “far off” describes the boy who was a long way from his father.
For he himself is our peace. Peace is well-being in the widest sense; harmony between individuals; wholeness, particularly within human relationships.
Peace is not simply getting along with someone else. That’s tolerating someone. Peace is overwhelmingly positive.
So how is Jesus our peace? Notice his actions. Jesus did something to bring us peace.
- Jesus broke down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.The dividing wall was the ceremonial and moral law that we could not keep. It was thrown up in our faces.
- Jesus annulled the law. Jesus certainly did not abolish the moral law as a standard of behavior; but he did abolish it as a way of salvation. Whenever the law is viewed in this light it is divisive. For we cannot obey it, however hard we try. Therefore it separates us from God and from each other. “But Jesus himself perfectly obeyed the law in his life, and in his death bore the consequences of our disobedience.” John Stott
- Jesus created a new humanity. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11, ESV)Racial, religious, social and cultural barriers have been abolished in Christ. A new human race.
- Jesus reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God. “Christ in his death was slain, but the slain was a slayer too.” Armitage Robinson
- Jesus preached peace. Post resurrection appearances (Peter!)
Who we are
- We are citizens of God’s kingdom
- So then you are no longer aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints. (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)
- We no longer live on a passport, but we really have our birth certificates, we really do belong.”—D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones
- We are children in God’s family.
- And members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)
- We are stones in God’s temple.
- 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. (Ephesians 2:20-22, ESV)
- Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets—foundation is most important; teaching role. You cannot worship who you do not know.
- Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone—a cornerstone holds up two walls, Christ joins both Jews and Gentiles and keeps the building in line.The temple had massive cornerstones. One excavated stone measured almost 39 feet! Jesus Christ is essential to both the unity and the growth of the church. Unless the church is constantly and securely related to Christ, the church’s unity will disintegrate and its growth either stop or go wild.
- Into a dwelling place for God—a habitation; an abode. A temple. The temple in Jerusalem had for nearly 1,000 years been the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Now the focal point is the people of God.
God is not tied to holy buildings but to holy people.