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PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 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 2:11-22, ESV
Good morning, Emmaus. I’m Max, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus, and it is good to be with you this morning. Just one thing I want to clarify, is that those Mark guides, they’re for everybody. You don’t have to be in a gospel community. Get one, I know Forrest wants everyone to be in a gospel community, I want you to be in a gospel community, but these are for everyone. So, go get one, get yours today, it’s going to be helpful as we jump into Mark next week.
So, we’re in our fifth week of our Vital series, where we’ve been talking about, what are the vital things, the gospel distinctives that make the church unique? We’ve gone through several things already over the last four weeks, and we’ve gone over, basically, the who, the what, the when, the why, the how, and now we’re on week five, the where. So, where we’ve come from is we’ve talked about conversion, the why the gospel is proclaimed - that we should be not just convinced that the gospel is true, but we’re converted into believing the gospel is true. We have come from renewal, what the gospel does, it makes us new, we’re being brought back into God’s intention. We’ve talked about identity, about who the gospel makes us, that our identity is being transformed into the identity that Christ gives us. And, we’ve talked about rhythms of how the gospel transforms us where we put the gospel into practice through the rhythms of study, serve, share, and seeking sabbath, seeking after God and his rest.
And so, now we’re on week five, and the question that comes to us is community. See, when we talk about being a gospel centered church, and the vital distinctives that make the church unique, the thing we have to understand is that all of those things can kind of be done alone, right? Conversion is about you, renewal is about you, identity is about you, rhythms and what you put your hands to. But, God does not leave us alone. When he brings us under his son, he gives us a community, and the community is where the gospel shapes us. It’s the where of the gospel.
This all takes place, here, in many ways. In the book of Ephesians, where we’re going to be camping out this morning, the structure of this book is really primarily concerned with two things. Paul wants to make sure that he understands that the Christians he’s writing to understand that the vertical dimension of who they are has been dealt with. And, therefore we’ve been made right with God, we can be made right with other people, and now he’s basically saying that if God has converted you and renewed you and given you a new identity, and has set you free to practice the healthy rhythms consistent with his character, now in Ephesians here, Paul is going to answer a question of, where does this take place?
Now, I am not a sports guy. I have never really been into competitive sports, following sports, watching sports. But, there is one thing that I have learned in my rigorous study of sports, and that is this … the most important thing about sports is not what happens in the locker room, right? It’s not what happens in the huddle that’s the most important. It’s what happens out on the field or on the court that matters. And, what Paul wants us to remember as we get into where does the gospel shape us, is that it does no good for the church to just be good at doing church. It does no good for the church to just be good at the hour and a half time that we huddle together in here, and to say, you know, I’m really good in the huddle. But, out in the field, out where it matters, I have no idea what I’m doing.
And, Paul is concerned with that, and he wants us to know that this new gospel community that we are called into, is something that, we’re in it whether we realize it or not. You’re in the game whether you realize it or not. The question is, are you going to be prepared to actually do what’s necessary to see success in God’s definition of success? And, I will tell you that that task is all of life. And, because it’s all of life, it’s huge, it’s big, it’s bigger than I can go into in the time this morning. So, we need God’s help to help direct us this morning. So, let’s go to him and ask him for help this morning as we dive in here.
We do realize that the church is your bride. It belongs to you, and we, out of our gratitude and our faithfulness, and our desire to be obedient, the desire that you’ve given us to be obedient, we want to be a church that’s healthy. But, God, more than that we don’t want to just be a healthy church for an hour a week. We want to be a healthy church out in the world where you’ve placed us. So, would you help us this morning to see your word, to see you, and to see how the gospel shapes us, and how it shapes our community. We ask these things in your Son’s good name, amen.
THE COMMAND TO REMEMBER
So, if the gospel is concerned with where we actually go out and practice it, if you’re like me, you start to think immediately … okay, the gospel matters, I want to know the gospel, I want to live out the gospel, so what do I need to do? Give me a list. Are you like that? Do you like lists? [Congregation member: No.] No? Good. Good. Because, what Paul gives us here is not a cosmic chore list to do. I don’t know if you caught it, but this whole section, there’s not one thing that we’re told to do. Did you catch that?
There kind of is a command to do it, but it’s not something that you can actually just, you know, pick up and manipulate. The command that we’re given, here, is to remember. That’s the only thing we’re told to do in this passage. The whole rest of this paragraph is just talking about Jesus. It’s just talking about who he is, and what he’s done, and who we are. So, the command we’re given is not this chore list of, like, you’ve been brought in by the gospel, now get busy. He says, you’ve been brought in to the gospel, so remember.
So, the gauge by which we should be measuring ourselves is, are we good at remembering? And, I would submit to you that everything we do in this huddle, when we gather as a church on Sunday, the whole thing is about remembering. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what’s behind everything. It’s behind the liturgy, it’s behind the songs, it’s behind our prayers, it’s behind the preaching of the word. We’re called to remember. We’re actually commanded to remember, in Ephesians 2:11-12. Did you catch it? … Therefore remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh … and then in verse 12 … remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world … He says, you want to know what it means to live out the gospel in community, where he’s placed you? It starts with remembering. Not forgetting.
Now, this passage in chapter 2, verses 11-22 here, it starts with … Therefore. And, it’s always a good rule - you’ve heard it many times here if you’ve been with us at Emmaus, whenever you see the word therefore, what should you do? You’ve got to look at the section that came before, right? And, what came before it? Well, it was actually in our liturgy this morning. Look at Ephesians 2:4-10 the passage right before it. It says …
… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them …
—Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV
So, when he says therefore, he’s saying, I want you to keep in mind what just came before. This reality, that we just read, is the thing that’s supposed to inform what we’re remembering, right? That’s what we need to remember. It is by grace you have been saved. See, often times we think that Christianity is about what we do. And, while there is good things that we should put our hands to, and good practices that we should have, and fruitful things of obedience that we should have parked out in our lives, the mature Christian is someone who is able to quickly and deeply remember who we were, and where we’re going, and who Christ is, and what he’s doing.
When we counsel people in community, when people come to you with their problems, the mature Christian is one that is quick to point them to remembering who Christ is. And, if you do that, many of the things on the peripheral, the things that seem huge or insurmountable, or the fires that seem they are going to consume you in the moment, they get put in their right perspective. It doesn’t look as bad. So, this morning we’re going to talk about three things that Paul here in Ephesians 2:11-22 tells us to remember. And, it’s these … remember that we’re designed for community, remember that there is distortions to community, and remember that we are redeemed to a new community.
I. REMEMBER: We are designed for community (Eph. 2:12,19)
So, I want you to recall and understand here that the way that he starts to illustrate this with us here is that he uses the conflict between Jews and Gentiles to illustrate here what the gospel in community looks like. And, I want you to remember, if you have studied your Bible for a while - and if you haven’t, let me bring you up to speed. The Jews and the Gentiles did not get along. Basically, if you were a Jewish person, you had two categories of people: Jews, and everyone else.
And so, this conflict that existed between the Jewish people and everyone else, is deeper, has gone on longer, and is more acute than any of those conflicts that we frequently see in our world, in our day. It’s bigger than North Korea vs South Korea, it’s bigger than Democrat vs Republican, it’s bigger than Easter vs West, Socialism vs Capitalism, it’s bigger than Black Lives Matter vs KKK. The conflicts that Paul is using to describe what it means when the gospel comes into a people and the community that comes out of the gospel, that conflict that’s been resolved is bigger than anything that we can understand today. It’s hard for us, because we’re not in that day. Most of us here don’t have that Jewish heritage that helps us fuel and understand what Paul is saying when he uses this as an example. But, I want you to see that this conflict is big.
So, how can Paul say that? If that conflict is as big as I’m claiming it is to you, how can he say, as he has earlier in this book of Ephesians, say that the church is a place where family relationships and gender relationships and economic and business, and all of the relationships we have, have actually been reoriented and recreated? How can he say that? How can God possibly bring together people who are that diverse?
Well, I think if I was to ask Paul that question, he would say this … that when we experience Christ, radical grace through repentance and through faith that he gives us, it becomes the foundational event in our lives. Now, all of those categories that I mentioned before about the conflicts we see in our day, they’re all stemming out of events that shape us, right? Conflicts that have existed in the past that shape the communities in the present. But, what happens is, I think Paul would say that when we come to Christ, that becomes the foundational event. Our history, our heritage, our language, our race is no longer the thing that identifies us. Now, when we meet someone from a different culture, a different class, a different race, who’s received that same grace from Jesus, we see someone who has experienced the same life and death event that we have experienced. And, therefore, we’re one. We have immediate commonality with them.
So, let’s get into this. Remember that you were designed for community. Look at verse 12 in chapter 2, and look at verse 19 with me … Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world … verse 19 … so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
Now, if you just let that wash into your mind for a second, you realize that if he’s saying that you were separated from Christ and you were alienated, and now you longer are strangers, and no longer alienated, but are now members, what he’s implying here is that we’ve been alienated from someone, right? So, he’s implying here that you had a relationship, you were designed for a certain relationship, but something has happened that now you’re alienated. So, what’s happened? Paul has already answered this in the section before, right? That’s why we always to back when see the word therefore, in chapter 2 in the beginning. We did it in our liturgy. Remember that you are dead in your trespasses and sins. That’s what’s happened. You are actually dead.
You were, at one time, all humanity was connected with God, and because of sin, you are now alienated from God. And, it’s not that you’re just separated by distance, you are separated in the kind of category that’s the difference between life and death. See, human beings were created to be in community, specifically in the relationship between God who made them. And, if we go back to Genesis, we recognize that God - who himself is a community - a three in one community, made human beings to be like him and be made for community like he is in a community. And, we were made to be in relationship with him, but when we rebelled, we were alienated from that source of life.
But, the good news of the gospel that we preach is that the gospel we actually preach is God-shaped. To put it another way, the gospel is trinitarian shaped. What I mean by that, is the gospel we preach is shaped like the trinity, because it is all persons of the trinity at work in us, and for us. See, did you catch the trinitarian language in Ephesians 2:11-22? I want to read it again. We’re going to be reading a lot of Ephesians, but I want you to read it with me again, cause it’s just so good. It’s, like, woven in there like an intricate tapestry, and I want you to hear it. Read it again with me and I want you to listen for that trinitarian language. Listen for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit language in here …
… Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 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 2:11-22, ESV
See, what Paul is getting at in this passage, is that the results of what he’s describing here, results in a human community that’s new, that’s trinitarian shaped. If the gospel comes from God who’s a trinity, and the gospel itself is the trinity at work, then the results of that would be a community that’s trinitarian shaped. It should look, and feel, and operate as the godhead does, that we are united but different, that we defer to one another, but there’s no hierarchy, that we love without fear of being rejected, that we serve people's needs without being motivated to be made sure that our needs our met.
If the gospel is trinitarian shaped, then what happens - just like what we do with the trinity - is we try to kind of reduce it down, to make it understandable. Right? I’ve served with the kids for a while, the tension when you come to things like the Trinity and try to explain that to kids, you’re like, well, I’ve got to make this make sense, so I’ve got to reduce it down. But, inevitably when they start to reduce it down, it gets distorted, right? So, what that means is that if we’re designed for community and the gospel is coming into that community, and he’s making a new community, and it’s coming from the trinitarian God, and it’s shaped like the trinity, and the community it makes is like the trinity, that’s a big idea.
And so, what we do sometimes in church, or in our lives, is we say … that’s too big to bite off. It’s too big to explain, so what I need to do is I need to reduce it down. And, what ends up happening is we end up distorting it.
II. REMEMBER: There are distortions in community (Eph 2:14-16)
So, the second thing we need to remember is that there are distortions to community. See, remember the conflict that Paul uses to illustrate this is the conflict between the Jews and the Gentiles. But, what the gospel comes to do in the world is not just to reconcile those two warring factions, the gospel comes into the world, and the cross comes to put away and to get rid of all of the warring factions in the world. Look at verse 14 with me … For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law and commands expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body, through the cross, thereby killing hostility …
See, we are designed for community, but the Bible calls that reconciling, that peace that he keeps talking about here in Ephesians 2, the Bible’s category for that is shalom. It’s a peace where all the broken bits are put back together, where alienation no longer exists. But, we all know - if you’re like me, we can say, yeah, that’s the reality, but I still fall back into my sinful habits. Do you? Just Mark, I guess. [Mark from congregation: every day.] Do you? I do. Why does that happen? Why does God’s peace, why does God’s shalom, that the gospel has been proclaimed to actually bring about, why is it not here yet? Why is not all fixed?
See, we continue to vandalize God’s shalom with our sin, and Christians do this. Christians fall right back into their distorted views. And, see, here’s the thing … it’s not always these overt warring factions like Jews and Gentiles that could distort community. It’s subtle things. It’s subtle substitutions, subtle emphases that take over, which is why we need to remember that distortions exist in community. If you remember that that’s a possibility, you can be a little bit on guard against it. So, let me share with you a couple distortions that come up.
And, an example of this from the Bible - just to help you feel a little bit better about yourself - is Peter. Peter’s the good friend of Jesus, right? Peter, in Galatians 2, is called out by Paul for a specific thing that he’s doing. Peter - who was a Jewish Christian himself - began to back away and remove himself from eating and meeting with Gentile Christians. And, Paul calls him out. And, Paul calls it out not just like, hey, that’s a bad idea. He says, it’s sin. And, the way that he describes it is this … He says, Peter was not instep with the gospel. See, Peter had good theology, right? We would all agree with that. He knew this stuff, but it did not prevent him from falling into a distorted community. It did not prevent him from falling back into his old ways. And so, if it happened to Peter, you can be darn sure it’s going to happen to us.
So, we need to be on guard for these things. There’s a great quote in Dietrich Bonhoffer’s book Life Together, which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it. It talks a lot about Christian community. He says this beautifully …
“Christian community is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate…He who loves his dream of community more than the community itself becomes the destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together
Why is this distinction important? What does it look like when a community of Christ followers fall back into distorted views? See, at Emmaus, we believe gospel community is unique, and it’s important. It is grounded in theology, and it is worked out in our lives. But, we know that just like Peter, we can get our theology right, but we easily can bring in our assumptions about community to it. And, when we do, we distort community because it misses God’s fullest intention for his people. So, let me share with you just a couple things that might help bring this to the forefront for us.
Distortion #1: Christian Community as Connection
One of the distortions is that community is just connection. See, one of the things we can believe is that Christian community is just about connection. And, when we make it about connection, is that basically it becomes about networking, it becomes about social gatherings. It’s about being casual, offering lightweight assistance to one another when it’s appropriate, but it’s really about convenience. But, when things get difficult, what happens? What happens is, the difficulty becomes the sinner of why we’re gathering, why we’re a community. And, we forget, what is it that we’re actually surrounding ourselves around? What do we belong to? What actually unites us?
See, if our goal is just to have connection, that when any conflict comes up, then our whole foundation falls apart. And, the goal of good Christian community is transformation, and therefore we can’t have it if we’re only connected around something that connects us, say, like, a hobby, or homeschooling, or our job, or we’re all retired. Right? As soon as the thing that connects us, that thing that maybe we have in common with one another breaks down or comes under attack, then all the community is fractured.
Distortion #2: Christian Community as Therapy
The other distortion that can happen is community as therapy. Now, what happens here is that groups pursue, you know, being vulnerable and being honest, and actually calling out sin and attempting to help one another with the things we struggle with. And, that’s important, that should be something we pursue in community, but what happens is we become so focused on talking through and helping the issues we’re struggling with, that that becomes the thing that taints and flavors everything that we’re doing. We get together and all we do is talk about our problems, when we should be talking about Jesus.
Remember, what’s the command here? To remember our problems? To remember Christ. Right? Remember, remember, remember.
Distortion #3: Christian Community as Bible Study
One of the other distortions is that Christian community can become just a Bible study. Should we know our Bibles, should we study our Bibles? Obviously, right? But, what happens in these groups is that the distortion comes in when it becomes all about just transferring information, rather than being transformed ourselves. When we get together and all we talk about what the Bible says, or what the pastor says, verses letting the scriptures actually dive in and pierce our lives, and if we fail to connect God’s word to our lives, then what we’ve done is we’ve basically set aside that goal of transformation, the goal of this community that Paul’s talking about, for the sake of just gaining knowledge and facts.
Distortion #4: Christian Community as Clique
The last one I want to share with you is that Christian community can be distorted into community as a clique. And, this one I think is probably the most nefarious. And, I say that because we all desire to have deep relationships with people, do we not? Nobody’s really satisfied with just the casual, cursory pleasantness with one another. So, we desire deep relationships, but what we end up doing is, because we desire deep relationships, we start to exclude people who we don’t know yet. Right? When you’ve known someone for five, 10, 15, 25 years, someone new coming into that dynamic, there’s no place for them, right? Because, ti’s like, how can I catch you up to speed on 25 years of a friendship? So, we don’t do it overtly, we just slowly kind of … you know? We just … it’s not overt, it’s not a punch in the face and, you know, be on your way, it’s just, we turn away. Because, we gravitate towards the people who are like us. We gravitate to the people who we know, who know us.
But, what we just heard in Ephesians 2 here, is that he has removed alienation. He says, we are no longer strangers. So, if we are no longer strangers, what right do we have to make strangers of other people? We don’t. I would go so far to say, like Paul said to Peter, that you are in sin if you do that. You are out of step with the gospel.
See, all of these aspects of gospel community are important, right? We need to be connected, we need to study, we need to work through trauma, we need to work through sin, we need to go deep and be safe, right? You can’t have good Christian community without those things, but when those things overtake and substitute the radical unity that Paul’s talking about here, that comes from true access to the Father via the Son, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we fail to let God transform his people into the new man that he’s talking about here.
See, we are so desperately afraid of being on the outside, of not having access, that we will gladly substitute one of these things because it’s something. Because, it makes us feel good. Because, they seem better, or because it comes naturally to us. But, that is a substitute that God says, no. No. He says, you have been seated in the heavenly places. Why would you substitute a clique for that? Why? Because, it’s in front of us. See, he says, that reality is coming, and it’s hard sometimes to see that as the reality because it’s not right in front of us. That’s why he says, I’m commanding you to remember.
You fall into these distortions and substitutions when you forget. Dietrich Bonhoffer says this in that same book, Life Together …
“without Christ we…would not know our brother, nor could we come to know him. The way is blocked by our own ego.”
—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together
See, apart from Christ, I’m not saying you can’t have relationships. I’m not even saying you can’t have good relationships. But, I think what Paul would say to us is that you can’t have those relationships that you are actually designed for. So, that leads us to the third thing we need to remember.
III. REMEMBER: We are redeemed to a new community (Eph. 2:14-22)
A new one. See, it’s not just a subsection of an old one. It’s a new one. Paul uses the language here of a new man out of the two. See, it’s important to remember that if it’s new, it means it’s not just the best parts of old ones cobbled together in a way that is peaceful. He’s saying, it’s actually a whole brand new thing that God is doing. I don’t know if you heard it, we’ve read it several times now, but Paul uses specific language. He uses specific language of dividing wall of hostility, and far off, and near, and strangers, and aliens, and the dwelling place of God, and, like, why is he using all of this language? He’s using it because he, Paul, as a Jewish Christian himself, has the whole Old Testament in his mind when he’s writing this letter to the Ephesians. And, he has that in mind because he’s using this as an example to bring and illustrate what he’s talking about.
We already mentioned shalom is peace, right? Shalom = peace. But what is this peace that he’s talking about? Well, this idea of dividing wall of hostility, I have a picture I want you to see. It’s a picture of the temple. You see those big walls? That was there to basically cordon of and section off, this is God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, and that was sacred, it was special. And, you had to get access into that space. But, there’s something that was actually inscribed on the outside of that temple and I want to show it to you. They actually found it. It’s the next picture.
How many of you guys read Greek? Let me translate it for you. Basically, it says that if you’re a gentile and you cross this wall, this boundary, you could be killed. It’s basically a warning. It’s an inscription saying that if you’re a Gentile and you cross over that wall into God’s house, God’s dwelling place, you’re putting your life in your own hands. Paul is referring here to the dividing wall of hostility as that wall that separated the Jews and the Gentiles. He’s saying, before Christ, if you tried to get access to him - to God, you would be killed. But, now Gentiles were not allowed in, but now they are. He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He has brought peace between those factions.
See, but the biggest problem that Paul is getting at here - and it’s subtle, but it’s important. He is highlighting something that he wants us to remember. It is not enough to just be brought near. We need to be brought in. I have another picture I want to just show you to just help illustrate this. You have God, and you have Israel, and you have the nations. And, Israel and the nations are separate, right? And, the language Paul uses here, is he says, he went and preached to those who were near, and those who were far.
Now, let me ask you. Why did he have to go preach to those who were near? Cause, they weren’t in! They were near, but not in. The nations and Israel are both in the same place, ultimately. They’re both not in. He came to preach to those who are near, and those who are far.
See, sin separates us from God, and it doesn’t matter how near you may be to God. If you’re not made right with God, you’re still out. And, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been near to God your whole life. This is especially true if you’ve had kids, right? My kids come with me to church every Sunday. They’re near to God. They’re near his people. Are they in? See, now you see my posture is different with them, isn’t it? The way I relate to my kids, the way I relate to others when I see that we’re all in this predicament changes. I don’t assume anything. I don’t assume that just because you might have been in church for 40 years, that you’re in. You could be near for 40 years and not in.
Do you see the distinction? See, sin separates us, but what we need is we need access. We need access. Where do we get access from? Well, the prophets in the Old Testament talked about this reality, talked about this dividing wall of hostility being torn down, talked about the day that God would bring all things to be made right. And, I want to read this text to you from Isaiah. We’re going to read Isaiah 57:14-21. This is the context that Paul has in his mind, the day that it’s being talked about, the day of Christ. I want to read it to you, listen for it …
… And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people's way.”
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.
Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
“and I will heal him.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” …
—Isaiah 57:14-21, ESV
See, there is no peace for those outside. And, Paul has this in his mind when he’s reading Ephesians. Peace, peace to the far and to the near. I want to read a quote to you, it sums it up very artfully, about the vision that the Old Testament prophets in Isaiah had in their mind …
“Isaiah and the other prophets in the Old Testament, “dreamed of a new age which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made smooth. The foolish would be made wise, where the powerful would be made humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run deep with new wine, all weeping and grieving and striving would cease, and people would not go to sleep with weapons under their pillow. They called out and proclaimed to the world that God was bringing about a time where all injustice would be made right, abuses of power corrected, where people could work in peace and be fruitful in their labor. Where lambs lay down with lions. They told of a time when men and women from all nations would come to worship God rightly.”
—Cornelius Plantinga in Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be
See, Isaiah saw this coming time, and what I’m telling you this morning is that time has come. It’s come in Christ. Paul is describing here is that if we are in Christ, we get actual access to God. We are not just brought close, we are brought in. And, when you are brought in, you must be radically and utterly destroyed. However, we have an advocate. We have the one that Paul is telling us to remember, right?
How can we have that access? It says, through him, by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18-19 … For through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father, so we are no longer strangers and aliens … How do we have access? It has to be through him, through Jesus. He has to introduce us. I will tell you, what would happen if the president came to town, and you decided … I want to meet that guy. And, you decided, I’m going to jump this barricade, and I’m going to run as fast as I can toward him, and I’m going to introduce myself. What would happen? You’d be tackled at best, maybe worse … right?
Paul says we need access. We need to stop and to remember that Jesus is our access into the happy land of the trinity. If we try to go by ourselves, we will be destroyed. Now, one last thing. How does this apply to us? Because, we could stop right now and say, yeah, we did a good job remembering. Now what? And, some of you - maybe one of two of you - might be thinking, we’re starting the book of Mark next week, summer is starting, and actually most of our gospel communities are taking a break. So, where do we put this into practice? How are we supposed to do this, Max?
Well, I will say, as Matt talked about last week. We have rhythms at Emmaus, right? We strive to have rhythms. And, one of those rhythms is sabbath. One of those rhythms is seeking after God. To take this remembering practice and put it into our lives. And, that’s what summer is for. So, I will encourage you, you heard a whole litany of things that are happening at the church. We don’t expect you to be a part of all of those. It would be impossible to do that. But, we do ask you to take this summer, get a Mark journal, start reading the book of Mark. Find people who are in a gospel community and get connected if you’re not. Enjoy your gospel community, have BBQ’s, go to the beach, go bowling, play miniature golf, go to the men’s retreat, go to the marriage conference, right?
Maybe God’s telling you you need to be a catalyst for this kind of gospel community. Maybe you’ve never been in a gospel community, maybe you need to lead a gospel community. Maybe you need to host a gospel community. Maybe God wants you to actually be the catalyst that brings this kind of community that Paul’s talking about, into reality. Whatever it is, whatever it is, use this season that’s coming upon us to engage deeply so that you can commit in the Fall to live out this kind of picture that God has for us in community.
And, I will say this. In the spirit of not being strangers and aliens anymore, I know that as we have grown as a church, you tell me if this is true of you, you see people you don’t recognize, and you’re afraid because you’re like, if I go introduce myself to them, and they’ve been a member for 8 years, I’m going to look like an idiot. But, if the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down, then you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. There is no offense there. If you don’t know somebody, walk across the room and introduce yourself. If we, through Christ, have been introduced to the actual life of the trinity, then you can walk across the room because we have the same experience, and start this pattern, start this reality of gospel community, where there is nothing that divides us. There is no stranger here. There is no alienation here. Engage deeply this summer, so that we might see a new fresh season of this gospel community this fall. Let’s pray.
We recognize that this community that you talk about is so big and so vast and so deep. We would do well to spend a majority of our time remembering and reflecting on it. But, we recognize that as finite human beings, we forget. We’re quick to forget, and we’re quick to substitute. So, would you help us today? Would you help us as a church. Would you help Emmaus be the kind of place that actually recognizes the access we have to you, and because of that can be radically hospitable, and radically connected and unified, not in a way that diminishes or distorts the differences between us, but that celebrates them and sees them all used for your glory, and for the preaching of the gospel of your son. We need your help. We cannot do this without you. Amen.