Brought Near by the Blood of Christ
March 11, 2007
I wonder how many of us this morning have a problem remembering things. We do all kinds of crazy tricks to get ourselves to remember the tiniest thing. We’ve done this since we were kids. We started out tying a red string around our finger. Then we moved to writing it on our hands and arms. Later in college we got a paper planner to write down all of the important dates and todos for the week. Then we moved to Palm Pilots and Smart phones. I went through all of these methods and have now switched to this, a stack of note cards. We go through great struggles to be sure to remember even the most miniscule of unimportant tasks. But what do we do to remember the big things? The weighty things? The eternal things? Specifically, do you tend to forget the greatness of the power and grace that saved you?
This is the remembrance that Paul calls us to do this week in our text of Ephesians 2:11-16. If you think back to what we’ve already seen in this great letter from Paul to the churches in Asia Minor, you will remember that Paul has laid out in great detail what it means to be “in Christ” in Ch. 1. Paul has taken us through God’s election and predestination of us in Christ, to our adoption in Him, to our redemption through His blood, to His making known to us the mystery of His will, to our being God’s inheritance in Him - a people for His own possession. We have also seen the greatness of Jesus as He has been raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenlies, ruling as the One who has all things in subjection under His feet.
If you then think back to about this time last year, we looked at the first part Ch. 2, seeing in vs. 1-3 the wretched state that we were all once in. Then we see the dynamic change that occurred when God made us alive together in Christ in vs. 4-7. Then Paul clarifies the basis of God’s work of salvation in vs. 8-10. We were re-created for the purpose of doing “good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” - not as the basis of salvation, for he already said that we were saved by grace through faith...not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Rather, We were saved to do the good works that God had prepared beforehand for us to do.
Well, this week we have a sort of recapitulation of this past vs. present look at those who are in Christ. Whereas the first 10 verses seem to speak to both Jews and Gentiles alike, our text for this week, vs. 11-16, focuses on the past vs. present look at Gentiles (better yet, former Gentiles) who are in Christ. Let us read these verses and see what Paul is telling the churches.
Our text splits pretty cleanly into two portions. Paul writes one big adversative here: You once were (vs. 11-12).... But now you are (vs. 13-16).... And from this text Paul tells us to remember two things: First, Remember You Were Once without God in the World. And second, Remember You are Now Brought Near to God by the Blood of the Christ.
Remember You Were Once without God in the World (vs. 11-12)
Paul begins here by using the word “therefore,” pointing us back to the change that God has effected for those in Christ through the work of Christ that we’ve seen in the previous paragraph in vs. 1-10. There we see that God has brought those who have been redeemed from being children of wrath (vs. 3) to being seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father (vs. 6), This may bring some questions to your mind. How do Gentiles in Asia Minor, those who would have first been hearing this letter, come to be in the favor of the God of Israel? How do those who were not partakers of the covenants of promise become partakers in them? How do those who worshipped every god but the one true God come to forsake all others but Him? Paul answers these questions in the following verses, and he does so by showing what the Gentile believers were before they were brought near by the blood of Christ.
A. The Uncircumcision of “the Circumcision”
First, he calls on the Gentiles to remember that they were at one time “Gentiles in the flesh.” He goes on to explain this by saying they were “called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision (in the flesh, made with hands).” Paul points to the fact that by right, the Gentiles had no claim upon the salvation that they have been given. Israel, those who through covenant had been put into relationship with YHWH, had the right to be in relationship with God. They even had the sign of the covenant - “circumcision.”
But Paul here tips his hand a bit to let you know that even though Israel had the right, and they even had an outward sign, they did not have the relationship with God that the covenant was to bring. They had a circumcision “in the flesh, made with hands.” By stating that their circumcision was “in the flesh,” Paul was pointing to the fact that though the nation of Israel had the outward sign of physical circumcision, they did not have the circumcision of the heart that God called for them to have. Paul speaks to this in Romans 2. There he says in vs. 28-29, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Jeremiah records God speaking in Jer. 4:4, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” Even Moses, the one through whom the Law was written down, says in Deut. 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” This is a constant theme in the Scriptures, but Paul points out that for the most part, those “called the circumcision,” while being circumcised in the flesh were obviously not circumcised in the heart.
And what’s more, the circumcision that they did have was “made with hands.” This was Paul’s way of contrasting something that man had done versus something God has done. In Acts, for example, the silversmith Demetrius creates a riot among the craftsmen in Ephesus when he tells them that, “this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all” (Acts 19:26). Their gods were man made, and thus not the true God. More than that, in Colossians 2:11 we see that Paul says the believers were “In Him circumcised with a circumcision made without hands,” not referring to the removal of foreskin, but of the removal of the flesh from Christ in His death. True circumcision is found in the death of Christ and the work of the Spirit on a person’s heart.
The Gentiles Were Without
But back in our text, though Paul obviously has a problem with the “circumcision,” Paul does recognize these “Gentiles in the flesh” as being Gentiles - He tells them to remember that. Why? First, he says beginning in vs. 12, that they “were at that time without Christ.” At that time, that is, before they were “brought near,” they were without Christ. This begs the observation: If the Gentiles were without Christ, wouldn’t that mean even more that the Jews were without Christ? They mocked Him. They killed Him. Did they have the Christ? In a sense, yes. If you were of the Judaistic religion, you had the Christ, that is, you had the expectation of Messiah. You looked forward to that day that the Messiah would come and rule over not only your people and land, but over the whole world as was promised. All injustice would be remedied. But if you were a Gentile, you did not have the Christ. You had no expectation of Messiah. Paul clarifies this, explaining his first statement by listing four attributes of the Gentiles.
First, they were aliens of the citizenship of Israel. They did not have the honor of being the people of God. They did not have the expectation of relationship with God. Second, they were strangers of the covenants of promise. They were not physical children of Abraham. They did not have YHWH as their covenant God. They had no expectation of relationship with the one true God. Thirdly, and as a result of the previous statement, they did not have hope. Because God’s covenant with Abraham, and all of the subsequent covenants with Isaac, Jacob, Israel, and David, were the only hope given for ultimate blessing by God; those outside of the covenants of promise were without hope. And fourthly, Paul comes right out and says that these Gentiles were at one time “without God in the world.”
We look at this list describing these Gentiles being without Christ and we too should begin to “remember” from what it is that we have been saved. We, too, were once Gentiles in the flesh. We, too, were once without a Messiah, and therefore without hope or God in the world. We, too, were excluded from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise. So, we are put into the same situation as these Gentile believers in Asia Minor. We have the same context out of which to think of these things. We must, then, as Paul told these people, “remember.” Why? Why should we think about our past? Because it is helpful! There are those who attempt to sever themselves from any remembrance of their lives BC. They don’t want to remember their sinfulness. They don’t want to remember their hopeless state, because that is truly what you are in if you are without Christ. In fact, if you are here today hearing this, and you are not trusting in Jesus as your righteousness, then you don’t need to “remember” these things because you are presently living in these conditions. You are without Christ. You are strangers to the covenants of promise, and thus have no hope and are without God in the world. You have no hope! You cannot hope in the gods that you have made in your mind and practice. They are not gods, and they mislead you into a lazy comfort that is keeping you from seeing the truth, that you are without God.
So what do you do? How do you go from having no hope to having abundant hope? How do you go from not having God in the world to having Him as your Father? The same way these Gentiles did. And that is what Paul focuses on in these next verses where we will see Paul telling the Gentiles, Remember You are Now Brought Near to God by the Blood of the Christ.
Remember You are Now Brought Near to God by the Blood of the Christ
Vs. 13 is the hinge statement in this whole section. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off were brought near by the blood of the Christ.” In this one verse, Paul answers the objections of the previous verse. Gentiles at one time were without Christ not being in the citizenship of Israel, but now are brought near by the blood of the Christ. Gentiles at one time were strangers of the covenants of promise and thus not having a relationship with God, but now we who were once far off were brought near. These Gentiles to whom Paul was writing were no longer at enmity with God. And again we ask the question, “Why?” Or better yet, “How?” These are the questions that Paul answers in vs. 14-15.
Christ is Our Peace
How did Christ Jesus, the Messiah, come to mean anything to the Gentiles? How were the Gentiles able to be brought near to the Father? Because He is the Christ, and by His being the Christ that died to propitiate, or to do away with, the Father’s wrath toward sins, “He is peace.” But notice that He is our peace in two ways. First, He is our peace between those who are Jews and those who are Gentiles. “Making both one.” There is no longer a national barrier between the nation of Israel and all other nations. And this division was demolished when Christ “destroyed the dividing wall, the fence.” Now many commentators take this image of the dividing wall to be the wall between the inner and outer courts of the temple. The Gentiles were not able to go to the inner courts where only the Jews could enter, and there was a physical wall separating the two. But is that what Paul is referencing here? Notice he says “He destroyed the dividing wall, the enmity in His flesh, abolishing the law of commandments in decrees/rules.” You see, the wall dividing the Jewish courts from the Gentile courts was an image picturing the bigger spiritual wall of the Law. It was Torah that separated the nations from Israel. What makes a Hebrew and Hebrew? Not the circumcision. Not the temple. But at root it is the Law. And in Christ’s death, we see that this wall, or as Paul explains next, this enmity - the Law of commandments in decrees/rules, has been destroyed and abolished.
Now, if we’re not careful here, we can get into some theological hot water. Is Paul saying here that the Law has been abolished in Christ? Can we have a free conscience and do whatever we want, even if what we want goes against God’s Law? We must be clear here. Jesus says in Matt. 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Note what Jesus is saying. He did not come to earth to somehow remove the truth from the Old Testament. Everything that was said in the Law, i.e. the first five books of the OT, and everything that was said in the prophets, i.e., the former and latter prophets, were fulfilled in Christ. This was a shorthand way of saying all of the OT points to and is fulfilled in Jesus. How could He abolish the Law in the sense of cause to be no longer true or binding if He was the fulfillment of them? What is important for us to understand is that Jesus came to fulfill the Law, that is, to be everything that the Law commanded. Once Jesus paid for sins on the cross, there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” as Paul said in Romans 8:1, because He met the demands of the Law for those who are in Him. We see once again an important theme for Paul - union with Christ. If we are in union with Him, then what He has is ours, that is, His righteousness is our righteousness.
We may find it helpful here to compare Scripture with Scripture to get a better understanding of what Paul is getting at, and see that in a similar passage in Colossians 2:13-14, we see Paul saying this: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” By saying “This He set aside” referring to “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands,” Paul is effectually saying the same thing. The Law can never be abolished in one sense, and has been abolished in another. The Law can never be abolished in the sense that it is binding, not only on Israel, but all of mankind, because it is the representation of the character and attributes of God who created all things. And more than that, it is continually and infinitely fulfilled in the Lamb that was slain from before the foundation of the world. Jesus will forever be fulfilling the Law for every sin that you or I or Paul or Jason the Thessolonican man committed, because if He for one moment stops being the fulfillment of that Law, we are condemned.
But in another sense, the Law has been abolished, in that the “legal demands” of the Law are no longer binding on those who are found “in Christ.” Remember, we “were brought near by the blood of the Christ.” By what? the blood of the Christ, not our doing of the Law. It was His fulfillment of the Law and His death for sins that abolished the legal demands of the Law that not only separated Jew from Gentile, but also separated all mankind from God. Thus we can say with Paul in Romans 7:12, “Thus the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” This truth is brought out even more clearly in Romans 8:1-4, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
This is such a comforting truth! How many of us are, in our experience at least, still in bondage to the Law? How many of us hold ourselves to the standards of the Law, which I would argue is still clearly a good thing to do if we are being made into the image of Christ, but when we fail we in fear and trembling doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God to His covenant? How many of us look to the Law and think, “If I do these things then God will like me?” You cannot come to near to God by doing this. You have sinned. Your record is ruined. You cannot make up for what you have already done. Your only hope is in the one who has, as Paul says here, “brought us near by His blood.” There is no other way of drawing near to the Father, because there is no other way of dealing with sins.
The New People of Christ
And we see that the Law of commandments in rules was abolished not just for the Gentile. In fact this entire section speaking of the “now” of the Gentiles finds its purpose in vs. 15, and we see that it not only effects the Gentiles, but the Jews also. Why did Christ bring near that which was far? Why did He make peace? Why did he make both one, i.e. make the Jews and Gentiles one? “So that He might build the two into one new man, making peace and so that He might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, killing the enmity in Him.”
If you are a believer today, no matter what your nationality or heritage, you are not a Gentile, and nor are you a Hebrew. Christ did not make Jewish Gentiles, nor did He make Gentilish Jews. He made a “new man.” There were Jews who became as the Gentiles - think of the Northern Kingdom after its defeat in 722 BC. There were many Jews who forsook the covenant, stopped worshiping YHWH, intermarried with non-Hebrews and worshipped idols made with hands. On the other hand, there were Gentiles that became Jews. They were circumcised, they went to synagogue, they learned the Scriptures of the OT. But Jesus doesn’t do what has been done: He makes a new man with different characteristics. I like to think of this as the reconstituting of the human race. This new people is what Adam’s race should have been. No distinction of race. No separation in worship. God’s people worshiping Him in Spirit and truth. The blood through which we have been brought near has accomplished that which no Law ever could. The Law separated; the blood joined together.
And as a result of this new humanity, there is now peace. We’ve already seen peace being made between Gentiles and Jews in vs. 14. This, though, speaks not of a horizontal peace, but a vertical peace, one of which both Gentiles and Jews were in need - peace with God. Because you see though the Jews had everything that the Gentiles did not - the Messiah, citizenship in Israel, the covenants of promise, hope, and God, they did not take advantage of these. Paul makes a similar statement in Romans 9:4-5: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” But he said in vs. 2-3 that he had “great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Why? Because they too, even with all of the advantages they had, were separated from God.
I wonder how many of you are in this same situation this morning? You have all of the advantages that you could have: the Word of God in the Bible, the creation of God, the people of God, the common grace of God allowing you to eat, breath, and take part in beauty. Yet you do not seek them as advantages. Instead, you spurn them. You, too, are separated from God.
But through the death of Christ, there is a new man that has been made, that is at peace with God. And we see further that Christ died not only to build the new man, but to “reconcile both in one body to God through the cross.” There are not Jewish churches and Gentile churches. There is the Church, made up of both Jew and Gentile, but constituting a new humanity - those who have been redeemed by Christ. And by being of this new people, there is no longer enmity between us and God. The enmity has been destroyed. There is no Law that can now condemn us if we are in Christ, because He has fulfilled that Law and paid the price for our not meeting the demands.
The obvious question today is, “Do you have peace?” Not a fluffy kind of peace that makes you feel warm and gooey inside. You can have great feelings about yourself and your life prospects, but still be at enmity with God because you do not care about His Law nor your culpability. You may not care that God has set a standard to which you will be held. That does not change the fact that you will be held to it. You can believe many things and they not be true. Just because you believe that you can survive a train hitting you head on, doesn’t mean that you can - it means that you are foolish. If you do not have Christ as your mediator, as the one who is before the Father pleading your account with His blood that paid for sins, then you do not have peace no matter how good you feel.
Have you trusted in the Christ who brings those whom He saves near to the Father? Do you have peace, not enmity, with the Father? Do you trust in the perfect righteousness of Christ for salvation? Are you resting in His perfections? If you are not, turn now from your sins and trust in Jesus’ perfect righteousness and death for sins.
Maybe you’ve trusted in Christ, but have not remembered the gulf that God spanned in saving you from the wrath that you incurred with your Law breaking. Listen to Paul and remember from what you were saved. Take the thankfulness and contriteness that knowledge brings and worship God, so that even that knowledge of your sin is useful in honoring and praising our Lord.
Maybe you’re a believer, but do not have an inner peace. Maybe your continued sinning has caused a loss of fellowship between you and the Father. Realize that if you are in Christ, there is nothing that can separate you from the Father. You have been redeemed and brought near. If you are feeling a separation, understand that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). There is nothing that can pull you from the Father’s side. Go to God through Christ. Plead His blood through which you were brought near as your only hope, and humble yourself before your God. Find rest in Him and experience true peace.
I pray this morning that you all remember from what you have been saved, so that you can even better remember what it means to be brought near to the Father. Not remembrance as an end to itself, but as a spark to light a fire of worship in your lives, to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.
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