Do you have peace with God? Be careful when you answer this. I’m not talking about some existential peace that makes you feel good about yourself and your surroundings. Not the, “my world is falling down around me, and though I hate it, I have peace” kind of peace. But the peace that we have with God, in that the holy hatred that He once had for us in our sin has been done away with in Christ. Do you know that God’s wrath toward your sin has been put upon Christ, and as a result you now have peace with God? Understanding this peace is what our passage deals with today in Ephesians 2:17-22.
But before we get into our text, let us look at what has been the argument so far in Ephesians. In Ch. 1, Paul gave us an overview of redemption, looking at the work of redemption through the various roles of the persons of the Trinity. We saw that the Father had chosen a people for Himself from before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before Him (1:4). The Son redeemed us through His blood, the only perfect sacrifice, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (1:7). It is because of His position as the Son of God, and only secondarily our position in Him, that allows us to be the inheritance of God (1:11). The Spirit seals those who have been redeemed by Christ and is the only guarantee that one could have that points to one’s redemption (1:13-14).
In Ch. 2, Paul looks at redemption from a different viewpoint - Not from the view of understanding of how redemption was accomplished, but of how does that redemption come into our lives - how is redemption applied? We were dead in our sins (2:1). We had no hope, nor did we want it. We were going along with the world and Satan, and had no understanding of who God really is (2:2). Nor did we care. But God, because of His love and mercy, even while we were dead and did not want Him, made us alive with Christ (2:4-5). We begin to see how Ch. 1 and Ch. 2 intersect. The work of Christ on the cross comes into our lives and the full redemption that was accomplished on the cross begins to effect us in real time. Because Christ has been raised from the dead and seated with the Father, we too are raised and seated, because of our position being “in Him.” Why are we redeemed? Because we loved God and really wanted to be saved? No, we were dead in our sins following the world who does not know God (2:1-2). Because of our good works? Because we read our Bibles and pray every day? No, we could do not good works without God’s Spirit leading us to do that which He has already prepared for us to do (2:10).
Well, we come to vs. 11 and begin to see Paul digging underneath redemption applied to some important things to remember about the underpinnings of that redemption. Paul tells us to remember the separateness that we, as Gentiles, once experienced as those who were unrelated to God. We had “no hope” and “were without God in the world.” But through the redemption that Christ accomplished, and that He then applied to us, we have been brought near by His blood. He is our peace. The covenant promises that were made to Israel were accomplished in Christ, and so all who are in Christ partake of those blessings.
But how did we, non-Israelite Gentiles, become partakers in the life of YHWH? How should you and I understand ourselves before God? Are we Israelites, too? Are we assigned to a tribe? Or are we some kind of secondary citizen in the household of God? Or, are we simply alone before God? Do we go through life alone, in our own cult of worship? How do we know? All of these questions are addressed by our passage this week of Ephesians 2:17-22.
Our passage is closely related to what went before it beginning in vs. 11. The whole theme is that believing Gentiles and Jews have been joined together into a new humanity, or new race. Here in vs. 17, Paul continues his argument that Gentiles are now in union with God. They too have peace with God. The question is, “How?” How have the Gentiles, who Paul already has said were strangers to the covenant promises made to Israel, come to be partakers of those promises? And behind that question is an even bigger question: “How does anyone come into union with God?” How can a righteous God look past the sins of a person, let alone an entire people, and see them as righteous? Not only the Gentiles, but even Israel? How does this happen?
Paul answers that basic question here in our first section, where Paul focuses on The Messenger of Peace in vs. 17.
“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” Who is “He” here? It is Jesus; He is the subject of this passage in context. Well, laying behind vs. 17 is Paul’s interpretation of two OT passages - Isaiah 52:7 and 57:19. We are familiar with Is. 52:7 because of Paul’s truncated quote of it in Romans 10:15 - “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Paul understands this passage to be speaking of Jesus as the Messenger.
But what is it that this Messenger says? In Is. 57:19, we see that the context speaks of salvation to the contrite and lowly person. [Read 57:14-19] “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near.” This passage in Isaiah speaks of Jews who have been dispersed among the nations because of God’s anger against their sins. That is who the “far” and “near” are in Isaiah 57. But Paul takes this passage and applies it not specifically to the nation of Israel, but generally to the whole of humanity, where the “near” are the Jews and the “far” are the non-Jews.
The Isaiah passage speaks to a problem that we all have - sin. Notice how Isaiah introduced God: “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy.” Out of that statement right there, we have been condemned to hell for eternity because of our sin. There is only One who is high and lifted up, i.e. transcended above the creation, not effected by the sin that is the key characteristic of the fallen world. This One “inhabits eternity,” so it would not be possible for Him to ever no longer be. He will always live. This eternal, transcendent One is also Holy, thus he can never, ever be in the presence of sin. And as a result of His holiness He is just, and as a result of His justice that is also eternal, He must punish sin for eternity. There is no such thing as short-term hell.
So, this introduction of God is stifling to the “I’m ok, your ok” non-gospel that is out there. “God’s not really angry with us, right? God is love, isn’t He?” Yes, and God loves Himself and His holiness much more than we think. He will not let the unrighteous go unpunished. Sin must be punished, or God is not God. A holy God cannot become unholy by allowing sin to go unpunished. This is the principle problem of humanity. We do not have peace with God, therefore we do not have peace with others, and we do not even have peace with ourselves. But we see Jesus comes to proclaim, “Peace!”
But don’t Isaiah and Paul both say, “Peace to those who were far away and peace to those who are near”? If this One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, proclaims “peace” to those who are unrighteous, then doesn’t that mean that He is unholy?
If the Messenger were anyone else in the world other than Jesus, that would be true. God would be no more. God cannot be holy and unholy. But even in this passage in Is. 57, we see God pointing out the unrighteousness of the people to which He speaks peace: “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.” These people are sinful! But look what God says next: “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 YHWH, and I will heal him.”
Now notice the order of what is said: 1. God is high and lifted up and Holy. 2. He only dwells with and revives those who are contrite and of a lowly spirit. 3. There is no one who is contrite and of a lowly spirit, but all are sinful, having iniquity. 4. But He will not be angry forever, and will heal them. 5. Their healing will produce the fruit of the lips, i.e. contrition. 6. God will dwell with them.
But how can God do that? Does God simply declare, “You are holy!”? Does He make a humble people by divine fiat? No, and that is where the text back in Ephesians picks up in vs. 18, where we see the Role of the Messenger.
“For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” So Paul’s argument is that God is just and continues to be holy, even though Jesus proclaims “peace” to those who are sinful. What is it about Jesus, “Him” here in vs. 18, that allows us to have access to the Father? How does the interposition of Jesus between us and the Father affect the Father’s wrath for sin? Look back at vs. 14, 16: “For He Himself is our peace, who had made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility...that He might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross thereby killing the hostility.” We have peace with God, that is, we have been reconciled to God, through the cross. The bearing of God’s wrath on the cross for the sin’s of His people is what Christ did, thereby gaining reconciliation for those whose sins He bore. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 3: 21- 26. God is just and is the justifier of the one who trusts in Jesus for salvation. We are reconciled by Christ’s work.
But not only have we been reconciled and have peace, as Paul says in 2:18, but we have continuing access to the Father in one Spirit. Once you have been joined to Christ, you have a continual access to Father because you have the Spirit, God Himself, dwelling in you. There is no barrier between you and the Father, because the Son has taken away the sin that was the barrier; and there is no distance between you and the Father, because the Spirit is continually bringing you into the throne room of God.
That is such a comforting thought! Even when your day is dragging, and you have so much to do, you have complete access to God! When your inbox is piling up, or your line is getting longer and longer, or lawyers are calling, or parents are arguing, whatever it is in your life that seems to weigh down on you and hold you in a grave of despair, you, if you are in Christ, have complete access to the Father! Realize what you have at your disposal! So, stop complaining to others, and pray to your Father through the Spirit! “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks!
But you may not see things that way. You may be having a hard time understanding your position before God because of all of the stuff that the world has piled on you and that you’ve piled on yourself. How can you visualize yourself in an ongoing relationship with God? Paul helps us with that in these next verses.
Remember, Paul is writing to a group of Gentile Christians who need to understand that even though they are not Hebrew, they have access to the Father through the Spirit because of the work that Christ has done. Remember back to vs. 11 - “Therefore remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, what 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.” Gentiles are not Hebrews. But in Christ, both Hebrew and Gentile have been joined together into one new humanity - vs. 14, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one.” There are not separate destinies for a Jew who trusts in Christ and a Gentile who trusts in Christ. Christ has “made us both one.”
There also are not separate destinies for a Jew who does not trust in Christ and a Gentile who does not trust in Christ. Remember back to Isaiah 57:20, “‘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.’” Even in Israel, there were those who God would not save. Why? Because they did not keep the covenant. That is the theme of the OT. God made a covenant with Israel in the desert - if you keep my covenant, you will be blessed; if you do not, you will be cursed. And this was not harshly imposed upon them, for they all cheered and willfully submitted to it. But they were foolish, and after a while, because they had not experienced God’s punishment of them, they began to sin more and more. So much so, that the curses of the covenant came down on the whole nation. Let this be a reminder to us, that just because you may not have seen God’s wrath poured out on sinners, does not mean that it does not and will not happen. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Well, here in Eph. 2:18, Paul picks up his argument from vs. 11-14 - “He has made us both one.” Because Jesus came proclaiming “Peace!” to those far and near, and because through Him we have access through the Spirit to the Father, there is a resulting image to see. And remember, Paul is trying to tell the Gentiles (and the Jews) that they are now in union with God, through the Messiah, to whom all of the covenant blessings have been bestowed. How do you picture that? Paul mixes three metaphors.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints.” Previously, in the Old Covenant, we were strangers and aliens. We were not at home in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was all around us, but we were simply visiting, much like immigrants who come into our country today. They are here. They do work. They get paid. They even enjoy some of the blessings that comes with living here. But at the end of the day, they are not citizens, and if the government chose to, they could legally kick them out or take away there freedoms. In many ways, they are second class citizens.
But Paul says that as non-Hebrews, we are now “fellow citizens with the saints.” Who are the saints? Those who have been made holy in Christ, both Jew and Gentile alike. We are given the rights and privileges of a full citizen, because we are one. How? Because Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant, and if we are “in Him,” then we partake in all of the blessings that He received. You see, Jesus is the true Israel. None of the nation of Israel ever fulfilled the covenant. None of them, save one - Jesus. All of the promises to the seed of Abraham and to the seed of David, were not fulfilled in Isaac, Jacob, or Solomon. These covenants all pointed forward to the One who would fulfill every covenant - Jesus.
And because of Christ’s position as Son, we see the second metaphor - we are now “of God’s household.” In the OT, to come under the household of someone meant much more than it does now. If you were in a household, whether you were genetically related or not, you were family, and had all of the rights afforded to a family member.
But Paul throws in a third metaphor, that of a temple. He says we have “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole building is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, being fitted together, in Whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
In this metaphor, Paul focuses on three aspects of the temple: the foundation, the cornerstone, and the living stones that make up the building.
1. The Foundation - vs. 20a Now, if I were to begin a sentence could you finish it for me? “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is _________ ___________.” This is Paul speaking in 1 Cor. 3:11. So, in one place Paul says that Jesus is the foundation, and in another he says that the apostles and prophets are. Which is it? Both. Remember, Paul is using a metaphor, and he changes the metaphor in different places for different purposes.
Here, he argues that the basis for the temple that God is building is the Word of God that comes to believers through apostles and prophets. Notice he doesn’t say prophets and apostles. This is not a reference to the OT and NT; he does that elsewhere. Here, he refers to the means by which the Church was receiving revelation from God. Look forward a couple of chapters to 4:11. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...” The apostles and prophets were the base on which the church was to grow. The church could not become something outside the lines of the foundation. If the walls were to be built, the apostles and prophets must be that which supports them.
2. The Cornerstone - vs. 20b But what if the apostles and prophets began growing in their doctrine. What if they began to expand into that which Jesus did not teach? Well, Paul tells us that Christ is the Cornerstone. Not only did the cornerstone hold the largest part of the weight of a building, it also was the guide for the rest of the building. You don’t begin building a wall from the center up and out. You set a cornerstone, and from it, the trajectory of the walls are already set. The builder would place the cornerstone so that the rest of the building would grow out from it.
But we cannot understand this passage without looking at Isaiah 28:14-22. We see the dual purpose of Jesus as cornerstone. Paul uses this picture of a cornerstone to show that neither the Church nor the apostles can grow outside of the bounds which Christ has set in His life, death, and resurrection. This is a good thing. This helps us know the limits of what we should believe.
But, here in Isaiah, we have a bit of a different picture. Isaiah says that when you see the cornerstone, you are to understand that He is there to judge. “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be in haste.” Everyone who trusts this cornerstone will not be in haste. In haste from what? In haste from His justice. “I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
Isaiah is pointing to the salvation and judgement that comes with Christ. Those who trust Christ will be saved. Those who do not trust Him are the ones He came to judge. His plumbline has gone out, and those outside of the line that He has set, will be wiped away. The waters of God’s wrath will sweep them away.
Do understand that trust in the person and work of Christ is the only hope that any of us have. Even Israel, who had all of the blessings of the covenant at their disposal, only had one hope for salvation from God’s wrath - trusting the cornerstone. That is why Christ said that He was the way, the truth, and the life, and that anyone who wanted to come to the Father had to come through Him.
3. Living Stones - vs. 21-22 And it is on this cornerstone that the foundation has been lain, and it is on the foundation that God is building His temple with us, living stones. “On whom (Christ) the whole building (both believing Jews and believing Gentiles), being fitted together (the work of God as the master craftsman), is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” As John Stott has written, “God is not tied to holy buildings, but to holy people.” God is fitting each one of us, as He has for all who have trusted in the Messiah, into just the right place in the wall of His temple. That is the idea of “being fitted together,” that just as a good mason finds just the right stones for certain places in a wall, God uses each of us, after He has shaped us, to fit into the Church. Think of 1 Peter 2:4-5: “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
But notice the corporate-ness that comes with being a living stone. We are being “built together” into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. This is why there can be no Lone Ranger Christians. We are not saved so that we can go off and be the best you that you can be. We have been saved to be among the saints of God, and then corporately we are the place where God dwells in the Spirit. We are His holy temple, and need to be relating to each other often, so that we will shine forth the glory of God in His Church.
In conclusion, let us think back at the wonderful things we’ve seen in this section of Ephesians. We, who are Gentiles, began in vs. 11 by being separated from the Messiah, without God and without hope. But because of the person and work of Jesus, we have been brought near. He Himself has proclaimed “peace” to us, so that we now know that there is no enmity between us and God. We are now citizens in God’s kingdom. We are family members of God’s house. We are God’s temple, having the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus as our cornerstone. Once unholy; now, holy. Once strangers and aliens; now, fellow citizens.
I wonder how many of us here still act like strangers and aliens? You’ve put your trust in Christ as Savior, but but you have a hard time feeling “at home” in God’s household. You don’t feel like fellow citizens with the saints. In fact, you’re not really sure what “peace” with God is. You have so many burdens on your conscience. You’ve done so many bad things, and thought even worse, and you wonder how can you be a holy stone fit into God’s temple. Do remember, as God said in Isaiah 57, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him.” And as Paul said earlier in this chapter, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved.” God’s grace in salvation does not save you part of the way, and the rest is up to you to earn. If you have been saved, it is only by the grace of God, and that grace, streaming from the redemption that Christ earned on the cross and in His life, meets every demand that could ever be put on you. If you have come to God through Christ, then you have been brought near by the blood of Christ, and therefore you are no longer a stranger to God, but a son. So, live like a son. Think like a son.
But if you do not trust Christ for your redemption, but place your faith in something else, whether it be your own goodness, your families goodness, or simply a feeling that everything is going to be ok in the end, do realize that you are outside of the wall that God is building that has Christ as the cornerstone. The storm is coming. The flood is about to sweep you away, and all because you are outside of the wall - the very wall that would save you from the storm of God’s wrath. Trust the cornerstone that is Christ, who is able to save you from the flood. Trust the divine builder that has built this temple, and who saves all who are in it. Look to Christ for your salvation, and do not wait. The storm is coming.
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