Eph. 2:8e “. . .and that not of yourselves:. . .”PRIVATE
“That” refers to the whole idea of salvation, as conveyed in the former phrase. We are saved in spite of ourselves, and claim credit for no part of our salvation. God alone is the Fount of salvation. The Father wrought the plan, the Son bought the pardon, the Spirit sought us when astray.
Even our exercising faith leaves us no ground for boasting. Apart from God, saving faith could not exist, for it is based on God the Father’s Word, has God the Son as its object, and is prompted by God the Spirit.
Some nevertheless try to make a savior of their faith, saying, “If I just had more faith, if I could believe more strongly, maybe then I could be saved.” The issue in salvation is not “how much” we believe, but “in Whom” we believe. Jesus is the Savior. Faith is merely a means of receiving.
As the ground, because of the way it is created, is able without exertion, labor, or travail, to receive rain and absorb moisture, even so our faith, due to the way it is created, is able without exertion, labor, or travail, to receive grace and accept salvation. Do not try to merit salvation.
Eph. 2:8f “. . .it is the gift of God:”
How clearly can Paul express himself? If terms have meaning, if we are to trust the obvious definitions of words, salvation is “by grace.” Any other proffered explanation must be deemed a distortion of Scripture.
Salvation has to be a “gift,” for though it is possible to make restitution for a broken law, it is impossible to make adequate compensation for a broken heart; and sin breaks God’s heart. At the heart of the Universe is a shattered, crushed heart in desperate need of mending, but forgiveness for a splintered heart can never be earned. Reparation is impossible.
If a motorist carelessly ignores a school bus “stop” sign and kills a friend’s child, law is satisfied by a prison sentence, but what about the child’s mother? What can the motorist do to restore his relationship with her? How can he atone for a crime committed against her love for her child? His only hope for restoration is free forgiveness on her part.
Similarly, our only hope of being put back right with God is an act of free forgiveness on His part. In Eden, we broke not only God’s law, but also His heart. At Calvary, we intensified God’s pain by killing His Son. Our present sins continue to desecrate God’s law, but even more seriously, they also violate His heart. We can never merit forgiveness from God’s shattered heart. God either gives salvation freely, or not at all. Man must accept salvation as the free “gift of God,” or not receive it at all.
Salvation “is the gift of God.” We can barter nothing to earn it, for it has no equivalent. Man owns nothing costly enough to trade for salvation. We come to a throne of grace, not to a bargaining table. Do not try to buy, offer no terms, suggest no conditions. Simply ask to be given “the gift.” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Do not dicker with God. Salvation is infinitely beyond human means of payment. Leave all thoughts of merit behind forever. It foolish for a beggar to claim anything but need.
God sent His Son to save sinners; thus come as a sinner. Since Jesus was nailed to the cross to forgive sins, bring yours for forgiveness. Christ came to seek and to save the lost; therefore come lost.
Salvation truly is “the gift of God.” While we commit evil with both hands, heaping up sins and guilt, God is at work with both hands, heaping up pardon. The temporal consequences of our sins remain, but our fellowship and communion with God can be fully restored. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isaiah 44:22).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (PS 103:12). Hezekiah revelled in this truth, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isaiah 38:17).
Micah (7:19) proclaimed, “Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” In the Mariana Trench, 200 miles southwest of Guam, the Pacific Ocean reaches a depth of 35,800 feet. Pikes Peak, our best known mountain, rises 14,110 feet above sea level. This means if Pikes Peak were dropped in the Mariana Trench, one would have to go down four miles before reaching the top of the peak. Our sins are mountainous, but God buries them in the depths of the sea–what a beautiful picture of grace.
A poor woman once desired a cluster of grapes from the king’s greenhouse for her sick child. She took money and tried to purchase grapes from the king’s gardener, but he rudely sent her away crying. The king’s daughter heard the angry words of the gardener and the cries of the woman. The princess kindly intervened and said, “My good woman, you were mistaken. My father is not a merchant, but a king: his business is not to sell, but to give.” With this she plucked a fine cluster from the vine, and gently dropped it into the woman’s apron. Thus the woman received as a free gift what she could not secure with money. In fancy, replace this Princess with the Prince of Peace, and hear Him say to all who seek to earn salvation, “You are mistaken. My Father is not a merchant, but a king: His business is not to sell, but to give.” Salvation truly is “the gift of God.”
Eph. 2:9a “Not of works,. . .”
This certainly goes against the grain of our culture. One of the most popular songs of my era contains the lyrics, “You won’t get to heaven if you break my heart.” The predominant view of our society is, God keeps brownie points. Of course, everyone thinks they have earned enough points to enter Heaven. Often, the hardest part of soul winning is to get a person lost, to convince them “guilty” is their only acceptable plea before God.
To divert attention from grace, Satan tempts man most severely at this very point. He promotes salvation “of works” because it appeals to our ego. “Grace glorifies God. Works glorify man” (Wuest). We have nothing good in ourselves, but our fleshly vanity wants us to think we have.
Do not let the devil reduce you to being a hireling. One who accepts grace serves God because he loves God; one who seeks salvation “of works” serves God because he loves self. The latter is a servant who works for wages, and who would turn to another master if he could earn better pay.
Eph. 2:9b “. . .lest any man should boast.”
Here is a major reason why salvation is “not of works.” God does not want croaking bullfrogs or crowing roosters in Heaven. Strutting peacocks and chest-thumping apes would be totally out of place there.
All who stand on heaven’s streets will know they deserve to be falling elsewhere in a bottomless pit. Any who hear Heaven’s music will fully realize they should be hearing screams in another place. All who see the wonders of Heaven will know they should be shrouded in outer darkness.
In Heaven all praise shall be rendered forever unto Jesus alone. Here we are clothed in His righteousness. When we enhance our apparel by donning His glory, we will confess who made this, our best suit, and who paid for it. We should be rehearsing this acknowledgement here and now.
One true mark of a heaven-bound saint is, he casts aside pride and finds no room for boasting. If your idea of how to be a Christian or how to enter Heaven makes you boastful, or reflects credit upon you, you do not know what it means to be saved. When a sinner truly approaches the throne of God, an overwhelming sense of personal guilt is unavoidable.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded” (RM 3:27). Put boasting outside your heart, lock the door, and allow no room for it inside ever again. With Paul, always jealously guard the honor of our Beloved. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (GL 6:14).
Paul had known the danger of boastful pride. Saul of Tarsus had been pompous, proud of himself in every way–proud of his nationality, proud of his tribe, proud of being a Pharisee, proud of being a student of Gamaliel, proud of his morality–proud, proud, proud. He and his fellow Pharisees were not mere talkers. They truly fasted twice a week, and tithed of all they possessed. They did works proudly. The idea of grace was beneath their dignity. They preferred the honor they gleaned from works.
Such people hate to hear preaching which downplays the role of works in salvation. If you take away their works, they are left with nothing, a very uncomfortable position for ones who choose not to believe in grace.
On Judgment Day, boasters will not fare well. Many will say to God, “Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” The repeated reference to works is significant; it reveals a rejection of salvation by grace. The outcome is dreadful, “I never knew you: depart from me” (MT 7:23).
By contrast, God will commend His sheep, saying they ministered to Him when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. Significantly, the sheep will be unable to recall their good deeds. Their only response to God’s praise is, “When? When? When?” (MT 25:34ff).
Baxter said near death, “All my hopes are from the free mercy of God in Christ.” A friend tried to comfort him by mentioning the multitudes being blessed by his writings. Baxter replied, “I was but a pen in God’s hand, and what praise is due to a pen?” In the spiritual as well as the physical, ears of wheat which bear the most grain always hang the lowest.
Eph. 2:10a “For we are His. . .”
“His workmanship” defines what it means to be a Christian. Believers are God’s handiwork. The possessive pronoun “His” is significant. God is the doer. He performs the work. We do not make ourselves Christians. We are not what we are as a result of anything we have done. We contribute nothing of merit to our salvation. Our role is solely to receive.
Salvation is enacted by God alone. Michelangelo assumed responsibility for his sculptings from start to finish. He went to the quarry himself to select the marble block on which he would work. Once it arrived at his studio, no other hand was allowed to touch the stone, lest it be marred.
God deals with sinners in a similar fashion. Everything in us which pleases God is the supernatural handiwork of God. He goes to the quarry of rock-hardened hearts, marks out a dead stone, quarries it, breathes life into it, makes it a living stone, and begins to fashion it.
We, the blocks of stone, want to do something to help God. We yearn to merit our salvation, but each time we begin to exert ourselves to buy His favor, He says, “Stop and desist! Be still and know that I am God.” The Lord wants salvation done right and thus does it all Himself.
Eph. 2:10b “. . .workmanship,. . .”
A wonderful word from the field of art. “Poiema,” based on a verb meaning to do or to make, denotes something which is made. F. F. Bruce translates, “His work of art, His masterpiece.” The word pictures God as an Artist laboring in a workshop, fashioning, forming, bringing into being. Believers are by-products of God’s artistic genius.
Being taken from the realm of art, “poiema” denotes something orderly and beautiful, something which is being fashioned toward perfection. The relentless pursuit of excellence is the craft of the artist. Believers are God’s “Workmanship,” through which He seeks to manifest order, beauty, and perfection. He crafts us in His studio, displays us in the gallery of Earth (MT 5:14-16), and prepares us for the gallery of Heaven (EP 2:7).
“Workmanship” referred to any work of art, including a statue, a song, an architect’s drawing, an engineer’s building, a painting. From “poiema” we derive “poem,” our title for the master-stroke of literary workmanship. Poetry is the highest, most skilled, and most painstaking form of writing. A true poet strives for absolute perfection, even to the smallest syllable.
Believers “constitute the syllables in God’s great poem of redemption” (Ironside). Let us be careful lest we try to mar the Divine poems. The Master Poet dips His pen in grace, let us not blot His perfect writings with blotches of works for merit. Any effort to improve perfection only mars it.
The poet lyrically says, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” A layman distorts it by blurting out, “Hey! Romeo! Where are you?” The poet gently remarks, “What light through yonder window breaks?” A vulgar tongue utters, “I wonder who turned the light on.” Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be: that is the question” is certainly more penetrating than “Shall I kill the rascal, or not?” The poet caresses our hearts with, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” We feel crudely violated by, “Whatever you call it, its pollen makes me sneeze.”
Even as a coarse tongue detracts from poetry, we detract from God’s work when we try to merit salvation. Cease trying to improve on Divine perfection. Salvation is God’s work, something only He can accomplish.
Eph. 2:10c “. . .created in Christ Jesus. . .”
Only God can save, for it requires creation, the making of something out of nothing. Salvation is not merely assistance, or the doctoring up of our old man a little bit. Our sin nature is not improved into a better one. Salvation is a creation. Where there is nothing, God creates a new nature. Salvation requires an omnipotence which wills the material into existence.
In the first creation, in the midst of a vacuous void of nothingness, God “spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (PS 33:9). The people of God’s first creation have been marred by sin, and thus He has instituted for them His second creation. People whose lives are marred and ruined by sin can be “created” anew “in Christ Jesus.”
Our Savior, “Christ Jesus,” truly can save. A man can have a radical change in his life in a moment. This truth we hold dear. Wretched sinners can be altered in an instant. This goes against the grain of our culture. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks; you can’t change a leopard’s spots.” The new birth throws these cliches to the wind. A man can be radically changed, “created in Christ Jesus.” Though vile as Lucifer, one can be made pure as Gabriel. No sin is too huge, no sins are too many, to cripple the saving power of God. Any suggestion of overwhelming the grace of God wilts before the question, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (GN 18:14).
Eph. 2:10d “. . .unto. . .”
This preposition directs our thoughts toward the purpose of the new creation. A Creator who wills the material into existence has every right to exert absolute sovereignty over His creation. God has the right to determine whatever purpose He chooses for every thing He creates.
God has this right, and exercises it. He assigned a specific purpose to each part of His first creation. Sun, Moon, stars, planets, plants, and animals function in ways ordained by God. God also has a purpose for His second creation. Each believer has a divinely specified mission.
We are created “unto good works.” After much hesitation, Paul is finally feeling comfortable enough to discuss the role of works in a believer’s life. He has been very careful to keep works in their proper place.
In verses 7-10c, Paul has already delivered a divine decalogue extolling salvation by grace alone. He has mentioned “exceeding riches” of God’s grace, God’s “kindness toward us through Christ,” “By grace” are ye saved, “through faith,” “not of yourselves,” “it is the gift of God,” “not of works,” no one can “boast,” we are “His” workmanship, “created” in Christ. With a ten-fold blow, Paul has hammered against the doctrine of salvation by works.
“Unto” is Paul’s eleventh blow at the error. We are saved “unto,” not “by,” good works. To put works first is truly “preposterous,” a before (pre) coming after (posterous). This is contrary to nature and cannot be. To put works first inverts “the order of things. It is beginning at the wrong end. It is saying X Y Z before you have learnt to say A B C” (Maclaren).
Good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation. They are effect, not cause. Good works are a result, a consequence, of salvation already accomplished. Many try to use good works to work their way upward to Heaven. No, no, no. Believers are already seated in Heavenly places. We do not do good works looking upward toward earning Heaven. We sit already in the Heavenly places and work downwards from that blessed fact.
Eph. 2:10e “. . .good works. . .”
Now, after eleven jack-hammer blows for grace, the champion of grace speaks favorably of good works. Paul forcefully opposed works as merit for salvation, but favored works as the proof of salvation. It is acceptable to object to a thing in the wrong place, and appreciate it in the right place. Fire is fine in my fireplace, but bad in my couch. Works have nothing to do with earning salvation, but are important in their proper place.
Works cannot save us, but something is terribly wrong with any who claim to be Christian, yet do not live a life which issues in good works. Works are the necessary outcome of faith. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Do not delude yourself. Be not deceived. The proof of faith is good works. We Calvinistic Baptists trumpet the belief that justification by faith leads without fail to glorification. We sometimes seem slow to champion the parallel truth that justification by faith leads without fail to sanctification. Good works are an inseparable condition of the new creation.
A believer is “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Thank you, God, for giving us a way whereby we can analyze whether or not we are saved. This is ever the acid test of Christian living, “Do you desire holiness? Are you ever yearning to be set apart to God and set apart from sin?”
Anyone who uses the doctrine of salvation by grace, or its corollary doctrine of eternal security, as an excuse to sin has never been saved by grace. One mark of a grace-saved one is absolute awe and devotion.
When someone greater or better than ourselves loves us and bestows favor on us, we know we do not deserve it. Their love is merely a gift. Nevertheless, we know we must spend the rest of our life at least trying to be worthy of that love. All of life has to become one long effort to express gratitude and to try to deserve such favor.
When we grasp the doctrine of salvation by grace, we are awed by God’s forgiveness, and find ourselves compelled to love Him and serve Him. A love which saves undeserving wretches as ourselves constrains our hearts to be knit to Him forever. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (Watts). Thomas Chisholm expressed it well:
Living for Jesus who died in my place,
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace,
Such love constrains me to answer His call,
Follow His Leading and give Him my all.
Eph. 2:10f “. . .which God hath before ordained. . .”
Good works yield no merit before God, and thus cannot produce salvation (2:9a). Instead, salvation produces good works (2:10e). Even as a pear tree is ordained to bear fruit, believers are ordained to produce good works.
To perform good works believers were created, and God does not misfire. God’s creations achieve their ordained purposes. Otherwise, God is a weak and unwise Creator. When God makes a bird, it is the best flying-machine which can be produced. When God creates a worm, it is the best fertilizer and tiller of the soil imaginable. If birds and worms have purposes, and fulfill them, we can be sure those for whom Jesus shed His blood shall be enabled to accomplish the purpose for which they were created.
A Christian will live a Godly life. In this life, sinless perfection will never be our attainment, but must ever be our aspiration. Holy living, outward righteousness–this is our purpose, our ordained reason for being.
Let no wimpy pulpit lull you into a sissy salvation. “Awake to righteousness, and sin not” (1 C 15:34a). Believers, “you are foreordained to behave yourself” (Ironside). The saints have a prearranged sphere to live in. We are not free to determine our conduct on the basis of situation ethics or our own personal judgments. The good works we are to do are products, not of our own hunches and guesses, but of God’s fiat.
Long before time began, God ordained the life-style His followers would have. He determined believers would be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (RM 8:29). This dictated life-style was not only exhibited in His Son, but also detailed in a Book. The Father now empowers us to live this exemplified, written life through His Holy Spirit.
God ordained believers, and also ordained the works toward which He fashions us. We were created for good works, good works were created for us. “Christian”–“good works”–the two go together, like a hand in a glove.
Dear believers, due to God’s sovereign purpose regarding us, we are capable of good works. Each saint is “equipped for every good work” (2 TM 3:17). God is at work in us, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (PH 2:13). “The path and the power will always correspond. God does not lead us on roads that are too steep for our weakness, and too long
for our strength. What He bids us do He fits us for; what He fits us for He thereby bids us do” (Maclaren). Thus, every command of Scripture is also a promise of God’s strength to empower us to obey it.
A believer can live the Christian life wherever he is and whatever the circumstances. There is a time and place to “flee fornication” (1 C 6:18). Sometimes we do need to re-locate, but we must be careful not to place a hyper-emphasis on surroundings and outward circumstances. Wherever we are, until God opens a door for us to leave, we can please God. Daniel brought as much glory to God in Babylon as Jeremiah did in Jerusalem.
Understand our position. Know what is ours. Before the foundation of the world, we were equipped for whatever a day might bring forth.
Eph. 2:10g “. . .that we should walk in them.”
“Walk” is a Hebraism denoting habit, the regulating of one’s life, the ordering of one’s behavior. God ordained good works as the highway in which His saints are to “walk” habitually.
“Walk” denotes perseverance. A walker is not one who takes a step or two, but one who continues in steady motion. A Christian is not one who takes to godly living in spurts, “here yesterday, gone today, return tomorrow.” Christian living is the ongoing commitment of a life-time.
Evil men can do good works by spurts and at times. Judas showed remorse for his betrayal, Cain offered a sacrifice to God, Pharisees fasted and prayed. Even the darkest lives manifest an occasional ray of light.
On the other hand, even the brightest lights in the kingdom cast an occasional dreary shadow. Abraham lied, Noah became drunk, Gideon made an idol, Samuel failed miserably in child-rearing, David committed adultery and murder, Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Nevertheless, the men of this latter group, though not perfect, persevered, they carried on. The bent of their lives was unto the Lord. Christians stumble, but rise again to continue their walk in good works. Our falls may be great, but the way we walk is straight.
In addition to perseverance, “walk” also denotes progress. A walker neither regresses nor stands still. A Christian makes headway, advancing to ever higher levels of achievement.
A caterpillar begins to achieve its ordained purpose in creation by spinning a cocoon. By setting itself to its God-given task, and doing what it was created to do, the caterpillar begins to make progress toward its intended beauty. However, if it decides to be content with the progress it makes in spinning its cocoon, the silken ball will become its tomb. The caterpillar becomes beautiful, not by resting in the deeds of a given phase, but by pressing through and beyond its earlier accomplishment. It attains beauty by deciding to press on to another phase of deeds. Even so the believer must never be content with any accomplished level in life.
Seek higher ground. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (PH 3:13-14). Celebrate your victories, but do not rest on them. Strive for “a higher plane than I have found. Lord, plant my feet on higher ground” (Oatman).
Persevere. Progress. We are never allowed to sit on the sidelines here. Ours is a “walk” upward to the end.
Eph. 2:11a “Wherefore remember,. . .”
To walk in good works is no easy task, “wherefore remember” what God has already wrought in your life. Consider not only your foreordained position in creation (2:10f), but also your already accomplished past. Paul urged his Gentile readers to recall their condition before Christ came.
He who is capable of raising the Gentiles of Ephesus, and us, from the dead can also enable us to walk. Helping us do good works is nothing compared to the fact we are saved in the first place. We conceptualize the huge quantity of God’s power available to us today by calling to mind the vast obstacles His power has already overcome in our lives yesterday.
Compare what you are now with what you have been. A proper use of memory will facilitate our walk in good works in two ways: by crushing pride in ourselves and by exalting confidence in God.
Remembering what God has done evokes lively sentiments of gratitude, thereby keeping us always humble. Memory provides our rouge of spiritual beauty. It keeps forever on our faces “a holy blush” (Bayne). To remember aright will strip away our pride.
Often our problem is not too little faith in God, but rather too much faith in ourselves. “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 P 5:5b-6). Remember what you were when God found you–lost, undone, dead. Let memory strip away your pride.
Considering our present height in light of our former low position not only drags down pride, but at the same time exalts confidence. A proper remembrance encourages us.
A correct use of memory helps us begin our battles from the premise of victory, which is essential to be an overcomer. If told I am to box a ninety-pound weakling, I assure you I will enter the boxing ring confident of victory. If told I am to box the heavy-weight champion of the world, the bout will last ten seconds–when the bell rings to begin the bout, I will immediately fall to the mat and let the referee count me out. In the latter case, I am defeated before the fight begins.
Many Christians are approaching some of their most difficult spiritual battles the same way. They have given up. They have quit. Talk of victory seems laughable to them. To such ones I cry out, “Call in the reinforcements of the past. Summon yesterday to help today.”
I hasten to caution you to keep memory in the right place. Some things need to be forgotten. Sins of which you have repented, and God has forgiven–do not resurrect them in memory to haunt yourself. Leave them buried. Anything from the past which haunts you and depresses you, forget.
Constantly dwelling on a sin-filled past can cripple you. It is possible to become so disheartened that you no longer try to overcome. You can be so obsessed with past evils that you actually begin to think the door of heaven has been slammed against you. Oh, dear child of God, if the door of heaven is closed to your prayers, your hand, not God’s, has locked the door. Jesus is always at the door knocking, seeking entrance.
On Memory Lane, never stop by our little muddy pool of sins. Press on to God’s ocean of loving forgiveness. Forge ahead to things which should never be forgotten, the mighty acts of God in our behalf. “Do not let yesterday escape without record. . .recall it, interrogate it, consider exactly what it is and what is its relation to your present condition” (Parker).
What do you need to remember? “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (RM 5:20). “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (JN 9:25). This one “was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (LK 15:24). The God who did these great things for you can enable you to walk in good works. “Wherefore remember.”
Eph. 2:11b “. . .that ye being in time past Gentiles. . .”
God who raised us from the dead can enable us to live a victorious life. The correct use of memory helps us be confident. Thus, Paul calls the Ephesian Gentiles to remember their previous, lowly condition.
“Gentiles” refers to all non-Jews. It has always required as much grace to save a Jew as it does to save a Gentile. All men are equally lost. Nevertheless, we must admit, from a human perspective, the salvation of Gentiles in the New Testament era came as a much greater surprise.
We can hardly conceive the marvel which swept the Jewish world as they saw their own Scriptures being taken by their own kin to other races. We cannot imagine how close-minded Jews were against Gentiles. Jews would discuss the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and other theological matters, but the salvation of Gentiles was a closed issue, a dead letter.
When Paul spoke to the Jewish crowd near the temple, his audience was long attentive. He spoke of his Damascus Road experience; they listened. He mentioned the blinding light, the voice from heaven, his sight being restored; they listened. But then he said God had sent him to “the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live” (AC 22:21-22). They screamed and tore their clothes. The rabble would have killed Paul had he not been rescued by temple soldiers. Gentiles were outsiders, and Jews wanted the status quo maintained.
Eph. 2:11c “. . .in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that
which is called the Circumcision. . .”
Gentiles carried evidence of their lowliness in their own flesh. They had a stigma; they were uncircumcised, destitute of the outward symbol of inclusion in the covenant. They lacked the mark, the sign, of being Jews.
Circumcision was enjoined by God upon Abraham as a token of the covenant. This surgery marked out the people of God and distinguished them. The extent to which this mark singled out the Jews was revealed in the days of persecution under Antiochus. Forced to compete naked in Greek gyms, Jews resorted to counterfeit foreskins to conceal their nationality.
Circumcision began as a symbol of faith, but became a badge of arrogance. Jews called themselves “The Circumcision” and gave Gentiles a nickname, a disdainful tag of contempt, “Uncircumcision.” Jews uttered it loudly when alone, muttered it quietly when near Gentiles. It succinctly said everything a Jew felt about Gentiles. Jews counted Gentiles as dogs, and fuel for the flames of Hell. The Talmud forbade a Jew “to give good advice to a Gentile.” Doctors were “forbidden to cure idolaters, even for pay; except on account of fear.” Midwives could not help Gentiles in labor, for this would only bring more pagans into the world. A Jew who married a Gentile was declared dead and given a funeral. All these feelings of contempt were summed up by Jews in one word of disdain, “Uncircumcised.”
To be fair, let me hasten to tell the rest of the story. Jewish contempt for Gentiles was equalled and often even superseded by Gentile hatred for Jews. The animosity was mutual and reciprocal. Gentiles also hated one another. The Greeks called all other peoples barbarian, and the haughty arrogance of the imperialistic Romans is legendary. We emphasize Jewish prejudice not to slander them, but because they were the nation of God, and we who are now the people of God must not duplicate their error.
We Christians have ample dirt clinging to our garments to keep us busy cleaning a long time. We are often harsh on others and use nicknames we should avoid. We sometimes pick on fellow Christians, as if it somehow increases our own piety to question the piety of others. We often make little banners to wave over our own heads, as if we are the only believers who are truly elect and chosen. This attitude is wrong. We do not have to agree with all believers, but our Master expects us to love them all.
Christians must also be careful about their attitude toward those who are not believers. God help us not to reproach and despise those who are destitute of salvation. We are to help the fallen, not step on them.
We are called to show a most difficult trait: the ability to hate the sin while enveloping the sinner in love. Anti-semitism is on the rise again. In these sensitive times, let believers cease and desist from slurs or jokes berating Jews. Our task is not to demean Jews, but to woo Jews to Jesus.
Certain segments of our culture have become violent against homosexuals. “Gay-bashing” is now a common word in our vocabulary. As reprehensible as we find homosexuality, as angry as we are about the role of gays in spreading AIDS, we must somehow find grace to love the sinner. People of reason, in legitimate forums, must come to grips with how to decrease homosexual activity and protect us from AIDS. Sticks and stones are no way to handle gays. They need to be drawn to a Savior.
Bigotry and prejudice are always out of place, especially among believers. We neither deny differences of opinion nor condone error, but every solution believers offer to the world’s ills must come from a premise of love.
Eph. 2:11d “. . .in the flesh made by hands;”
Circumcision was hand-wrought on the body. Paul is not trying to discredit the rite of circumcision. Rightfully done, it was honorable. The ritual merely needed to be kept in its proper place. Paul’s complaint was not as much against the use of circumcision as against its abuse. From the first, circumcision had been intended as only a symbol (GN 17:11). When not matched by inward faith, circumcision was meaningless, worthless, a mere work of the flesh. By misunderstanding their own Scriptures, Jews came to think the only thing which mattered was the token in the flesh.
Unbelieving Jews began to focus solely on the symbol. They possessed the sign, but not the thing signified. They had merely undergone a minor surgery, a manual procedure. Nothing had happened inside them.
The Jews made the classic error of religious people. They focused on superficial, physical, external distinctions. Having been cut by human hands on a body made for the tomb, Jews felt secure. Gentiles had never had the cut done on their physical bodies, and were thus outside the pale.
Beware, believers. Hypocrites usually value themselves primarily on their external privileges. It is a poor circumcision indeed which never touches the heart. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church membership, outward goodness–these are nothing if not matched by an inner response. Outward symbols are meaningless if not prompted by inner realities.
Eph. 2:12a “That at that time ye were without Christ,. . .”
Gentiles were not to be derided or hated, but this does not negate the fact they were distinguished from Jews by God. Jews and Gentiles were separate, and God Himself had made the distinction. Do not underestimate the differences. They were real and stark. The Gentiles’ lack of the symbol of the covenant was an apt portrayal of their actual spiritual condition.
Verse twelve reveals five disadvantages a Gentile faced due solely to his birth. The first disadvantage was being “without Christ.” Gentiles at large were excluded from those events which led to the coming of Messiah.
God made the Jews separate in order to maintain a pure seed from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David for the Messiah. In fact, everything God did for the Jews was with an eye to the coming Christ.
God intended for outsiders to be welcomed in Israel if they were willing to accept the distinctions and laws He gave the Jews. Ruth and Rahab did this very thing. The Jews were meant to invite others to join them and share in their separateness, but their attitude became one of exclusion. As verse eleven showed, Jews misunderstood the reason for their own separation. They were divided to be a blessing, but began to see themselves as a privileged sect. Instead of building roads to the blessing they held, Jews constructed walls. “Come and welcome” degenerated into “Stay out.” A Gentile woman once came to Rabbi Eleazar asking admission to Judaism. The rabbi replied, “No,” and shut the door in her face.
Gentiles were in essence “without Christ.” What a bleak outlook. Jews, even at their worst, had the prospect of a coming deliverer, a Messiah. This was a vital part of their heritage. Gentiles, though, were left out, “traveling a road to nowhere and. . .busy doing nothing” (Powell).
What was true of the Gentiles before Christ came is still true of all unconverted sinners; they have no saving interest in Christ. As J. Vaughan says, this is the worst of all spiritual miseries. “Without Christ,” having to stand before God as a man is in himself; no righteousness, no substitute to pay the sin debt, no pardon. “Without Christ”–standing before God in one’s own real character, no refuge, no forgiveness, no intercessor, no mediator.
“Without Christ”–no one to make the last lonely journey with you, to go into the unknown alone, no arm, no companion, no sweet voice to say, “I am with you!” I read this week of a man who considered himself open to all religions. He loved for ministers to call, but fatefully decided he was not a sinner in need of a Savior. Two weeks after stating this belief, on a sudden death-bed, his dying words were, “Who will carry me over the river?”
“Without Christ”–may none of us be guilty of causing anyone to be in this position. If I or anyone of this church has done anything to keep you from the Savior, if you sense in us any vestige of exclusiveness, I beg your forgiveness. Do not let our faults keep you from the faultless Savior.
Eph. 2:12b “. . .being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,. . .”
Being “without Christ” (2:12a) was a Gentile’s first disadvantage by birth. Gentiles lived with no anticipation of a coming deliverer. They were fatalistic, holding no prospect of better days to come. To them history was cyclical, repeating itself–no climax to come, no glory ahead, just the “same old same old” over and over again. Gentiles were “without Christ.”
The Gentiles’ second disadvantage by birth was “being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.” The Jews were a “commonwealth,” a community of citizens knit together under one polity. The government of Israel was a marvelous wonder, and unique among all others in the history of the world.
The Greeks had practiced democracy, rule by the people directly. Rome was at one time a republic, rule by the people through representatives. Communism tried to be an oligarchy, rule by a small group of people. Many live under a monarchy, rule by one person. Of all peoples, only the Jews ever lived under a genuine theocracy, rule by the one, true, living God.
Whatever mode of government the Israelites were under, they always ideally viewed themselves as being ruled solely by God Himself. Gideon, when offered the throne, replied, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: YHWH shall rule over you” (JG 8:23). Even after Israel established a monarchy, they viewed their earthly king as merely a deputy, a representative of Israel’s true Sovereign.
Israel’s only king was God (PS 145:1). Thus, to belong to Israel meant to possess citizenship in a commonwealth lofty and sublime. Simply to be a Jew gave one dignity. One truth cannot be denied; the Hebrews truly were unique among the peoples of the earth. Gentiles had nothing to compare to this heritage. They were “aliens,” people of a different country, citizens under inferior types of government.
Today the Church is the commonwealth of God. All outside it are “aliens,” citizens of a different country. The lost do not understand the laws and language of Zion. They hear the preacher, but he seems out of touch. They listen to our music, but the songs seem dull and boring. They read the Bible, but are unmoved by it. The lost are not “at home” with the people of God, but our call is for them to come receive a home among us.
Do not stay outside the borders of the commonwealth. Come home. The cross is a Statue of Liberty, beckoning the alien to come. The statue in New York harbor invites, “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The cross sends forth an invitation, also:
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
And what is Jesus saying? What is His call?
Come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home! (Will Thompson)
Our churches need to be Ellis Islands, places where “aliens” feel they can be gladly received and warmly welcomed into the commonwealth of faith.
Eph. 2:12c “. . .and strangers from the covenants of promise,. . .”
“Covenants” is plural; God made various covenants with Abraham and the patriarchs. “Promise” is singular; all the covenants found their focus and fulfillment in the one great promise of Messiah’s coming. These “covenants of promise” were the foundation on which the Jewish faith rested.
Here we have the Gentiles’ third disadvantage by birth. By and large they had never heard of the covenants and knew nothing about them. Their plight was accurately described by the word “strangers,” a term filled with pathos. The term branded a person as one who did not belong to a group. “Strangers” are excluded from the benefits of membership.
The motto of one of our credit card companies is true, “Membership has its privileges.” It is no small advantage to belong to the Church of Christ, to share with its other members the blessings unique to it. The Church of the Nazarene is a people in whom God is peculiarly interested. The Christian Church enjoys favors based on “the covenants of promise”; outsiders do not share in these blessings.
Membership entails advantage; exclusion involves disadvantage. It is terrible to be a stranger, outside the select group, out in the great mass somewhere, beyond the circle of interest and concern. I remember how painful it was as a child to go watch the older boys play football at the local playground. We younger tykes would stand on the sidelines, hoping with all our might we might get asked to join in the game. We were rarely allowed to play. The older guys disdained us. “You do not belong” feels terrible, and the worst kind of exclusion is to be outside the Church.
The decision not to belong to the fellowship of believers must ultimately be made by the individual himself, not by the Church. It is true the Church is an exclusive organization; not just anybody can be a member. A person has to make a public profession of faith and be baptized in order to belong, but we must be careful to make sure people understand this and this alone is the criteria for membership. No other distinctions, such as race, nationality, color, or social standing, matter.
To make sure unbelievers always receive a loud and clear message of “Come and welcome,” the Church must ever go to the lost, inviting them to Christ. We must convince the lost we love them. If they say no to church membership, let it be solely their choice, not due to anything we do or say.
A local church can surround itself with inclusive organizations, groups which can serve as avenues to the fellowship, activities which prove to all they are welcome. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, worship services open to all, ball teams–these things allow people to participate without having to be Christians. Have contact with Hindus, Moslems, atheists, Hottentots–whatever the label, touch their lives, let them see Jesus.
Bring the lost to the door of the Church, and put their hand on the doorknob. Let the decision of whether or not to turn the knob and open the door be left to them. Let people be “without Christ,” “aliens,” and “strangers” only because they choose that option themselves.
Eph. 2:12d “. . .having no hope,. . .”
The Gentiles’ fourth disadvantage by birth sprang from the first three–no Christ, no commonwealth, no covenants, therefore “no hope.” They had aspirations, conjectures, and desires, but no expectations based on definite and reliable grounds. Hope, this precious gift which gives believers such peace of mind, was absent. The first century was the age of suicide. Life had little meaning. Gentiles had no solid, firmly-anchored assurance of salvation, of life after death. The Roman poet Catallus wrote (50 BC),
The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets,
There is one unending night to be slept through.
Unbelief is the death-knell of hope, the spring-board of pessimism. Men destitute of Christ, outside the commonwealth, without the covenants, have no hope. Social Darwinist Herbert Spencer wrote, “My own feeling respecting the ultimate mystery is such that I can not even try to think of it without some feeling of terror so that I habitually shun the thought.”
Outside Christianity, the world’s deepest thinkers and profoundest philosophers are invariably pessimists, especially as they grow older. Apart from Jesus, this world is, in the final analysis, a place of gloom. Ultimately, the worldling finds himself in agreement with the poet, “We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep” (Shakespeare, in “The Tempest”). The lost man who believes in nothing beyond this life must inevitably say, as Satan does in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Our final hope is flat despair” (Book 2, Line 139).
“Having no hope” is one of the most terrible statements in the Bible. Anything worse can hardly be conceived. The infamous Prison de la Roquette, in Paris, which housed criminals condemned to death, had inscribed above its hideous iron gates, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
When hope departs, “chaos is come again” (Othello). Hope is the last thing to go, for when it is gone, nothing worthwhile is left. Thus, a man devoid of hope must drown out any serious thoughts from his mind. Why do worldlings tend to run through life at break-neck speed? Why do they often listen ceaselessly to TV, radio, or the stereo? What is such a one trying to avoid thinking about? “Having no hope.”
Our word “lunatic” is derived from “luna,” the Latin word for moon. The ancients believed a man would go stark, raving mad if he stared at the full moon all night long. They may not have been far from right. If a man stares at the moon all night, he has opportunity to think, time to ponder ultimate realities, a chance to consider God, judgment, Hell. Grave consideration of these matters could very possibly drive a hopeless man to lunacy.
Friend, if you have irrevocably chosen to live without Christ, outside the commonwealth, with no covenant, do not take time to stare at the moon all night long. Run through life with all your might, leap from pleasure to pleasure, take a second job, moonlight, keep your mind occupied at all cost, grab all the gusto you can. For if you ponder seriously your true plight, if you dwell on “having ho hope,” it might drive you stark, raving mad.
Please leave your hopelessness behind. Receive Christ, join the commonwealth, enjoy the covenants, revel in hope. Come and welcome.
Eph. 2:12e “. . .and without God in the world:. . .”
“Without God” was a Gentile’s fifth disadvantage by birth–no Christ, no commonwealth, no covenants, no hope, no God. Our Gentile forbears had gods aplenty, but not the one, true, living God. The ancients were religious to the hilt. Temples abounded, but the idols of our ancestors were gods of their own making, mere extensions of their own weakness and sins.
Being “without God,” we had no communion with God, and had never known Him. We had no heavenly friend, no spiritual encourager, no divine patron. To be without food, without friends, or without shelter would be gloom enough, but to be “without God” meant to be without everything, for He is the source of “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).
With “in the world,” we have “words which complete the dark picture” (Moule). It is frightening to think of having no God “in the world.” This is the very place we need God most. “In the world” we confront the dreadful realities of evil and sorrow. Ours is a world passing away, a world under the judgment of God, a world ruled by Satan, a world where we desperately need God’s help.
The Gentiles were fallen, lost, sin-laden, exposed to condemnation “in the world.” Our ancestors were like orphaned children, wandering aimlessly in an empty, ruined house. They “resembled mariners who without compass and guide were adrift in a rudderless ship during a starless night on a tempestuous sea, far away from the harbor” (Hendriksen).
Eph. 2:13a “But now. . .”
These are musical words. I appreciate the great Apostle’s tender sensitivity. He knew how to paint the darkness of our race, but also knew when his readers’ hearts would be near the point of exploding with sorrow. Under infallible inspiration, Paul knew when to change the tempo and tenor of his thoughts, and when to turn his attention from disease to cure.
This wonderful thirteenth verse brought to salvation Augustus Montague Toplady, author of our beloved hymn, “Rock of Ages.” While visiting relatives in Ireland, Toplady was saved at age 16 through hearing a lay-preacher expound this verse during a revival service in a barn near the hamlet of Codymain. If you do not know Jesus as Savior, I pray God will use our feeble efforts on this verse to woo you to the Rock of Ages. If verse twelve accurately describes your plight–no Christ, no commonwealth, no covenants, no hope, no God–fly to Christ. The Ephesians were at one time in your identical position. God who saved them (and Toplady) will save you.
Eph. 2:13b “. . .in Christ Jesus. . .”
The Christ of Old Testament prophecy is the Jesus of the New Testament Gospels. The Christ who was the focus of the covenants entered the world and received the personal name, Jesus. Christ is no longer merely the object of promise, He is a person whom we can know. In fact, He is One we must know, for outside of Christ, no man is close to God.
It is no coincidence this pivotal verse contains the name of Jesus. Whenever Paul wished to turn thoughts from despair to hope, from discouragement to celebration, He pointed his readers to Jesus, the fount of all joy.
Eph. 2:13c “. . .ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh. . .”
This phrase was based on a common Hebrew way of speaking about one’s position before God. Jews deemed Gentiles as “far off” from God, but viewed themselves as “nigh” to God. Moses had said of Israel, “What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them?” (DT 4:7).
Gentiles were spiritual vagrants, outcasts, nomads, on another shore, across an unmeasured wilderness. Jesus was speaking of our Gentile ancestors when he spoke of the prodigal son who “wasted his substance with riotous living” (LK 15:13) in a far country.
Nevertheless, the seemingly impossible happened. We who “were far off” have been “made nigh” to God. We believing Gentiles are “in Christ Jesus.” Such union is the zenith of nearness. To be one with Christ means we are exactly where He is, and thus in Him we are near God. In fact, “Jesus is Himself God; here is nearness outdone” (Spurgeon). Into this type of intimacy Gentiles have been invited.
In speaking of “far off” and “made nigh,” the Apostle begins turning our thoughts toward an apt illustration. He is pointing us toward the temple. In a special way, God dwelt in the temple, a building which in Paul’s day portrayed by location, design, and management the nearness of Jews to God in contrast to the distance of Gentiles. Through its geography, architecture, and administration, the temple pictured the way things really were.
Geographically, the temple was located in the midst of Israelite territory. The temple’s physical location aptly represented the stark, spiritual truth: Jews were near God, Gentiles “far off.”
Even the temple’s architecture spoke volumes on this matter. Only Jews were allowed to enter the court immediately surrounding the temple itself. The Court of the Gentiles was outermost, the court farthest away from the Holy of Holies, the room wherein God’s glory dwelt.
The true insult to Gentiles was in the temple’s administration. Not only were Gentiles “far off.” Even in their own section of the temple complex, Gentiles were treated with absolute disdain by the Jewish leadership.
The money-changers did their business in the Court of the Gentiles. This lucrative enterprise, which operated under the jurisdiction of the High Priest, was conducted in the only part of the temple complex where Gentiles were allowed to worship. The noise and din of commercial activity essentially nullified any chance Gentiles had of meaningful worship. The Jews could not have cared less about Gentiles having a chance to worship YHWH.
This aloof arrogance made Jesus furious. Outraged, He cleansed the temple by driving out the merchants, and quoted from their own Scriptures (Isaiah 56:7), saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (MK 11:17, NASB). The Jewish leaders had instead made the temple a den of thieves (and bigots, I might add).
God ultimately broke through Jewish exclusivism by sending forth His followers, especially Paul, into the Gentile world. This “release” of the Gospel to Gentiles was graphically portrayed by God in the temple itself. When Jesus died, God tore from top to bottom the veil of the temple.
Jews bragged that wild horses tied to each end of the four-inches-thick veil could not tear it apart, but God tore it to teach two vital lessons. First, the torn veil means the way to God is freely open to all who come by way of Jesus’ death. Second, the torn veil means God has in essence been released from the shackles of a single confine. The Gentiles had not been warmly welcomed, or freely invited to come to God by way of Judaism. God thus leap-frogged Judaism and carried His Gospel directly to Gentiles.
Since Jews would not let Gentiles in, God went where Gentiles were. Let me illustrate this by conveying a story Ivor Powell heard from Rita Snowdon. As our Allied forces were liberating France, some soldiers sought a place to provide a decent burial for one of their fallen comrades. They happened upon a Catholic cemetery, and asked the priest if their friend could be buried there. Since the soldiers did not know if the deceased had been Catholic, the priest with deep sorrow and regret had to refuse their request, for it would be a breech of the laws of his Church. The men laid their friend’s body to rest just outside the cemetery fence. Next morning, they returned to see the grave one last time before leaving, but could not find it. They looked everywhere along the fence, but found no trace of freshly turned soil. Then the priest arrived with an explanation. He said he had been troubled by his decision of the previous night. Early in the morning, he had “with his own hands” moved the cemetery fence so that the body of the man who had died for France might be included!
This pictures what God did for us Gentiles. He moved the fence. While Jews closed the gate of admittance, God extended the limits of the fence, and built a new entry gate. We were “far off” from God, but He made us nigh by extending the fence toward us. We no longer have to go through the gate of Jews, Judaism, human rituals, or an earthly temple. We who were outcasts can come directly to God through His Son because the fence and a new gate suddenly came to us!
In those touching, opening scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian seeks relief from the burden of sin on his back. Evangelist points Christian toward a little wicket gate on the other side of the field. Christian walked to the gate, over which was written, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He eventually passed through the gate, walked up the hill, and came to a cross, where his burden came loose, dropped from his shoulders, went tumbling down the hill, and fell into an open grave. Christian never saw his burden again, for it was gone, buried in the Savior’s tomb.
This whole wonderful scene was made possible by an important detail. The wicket gate was near Christian to begin with. It was across a field, but still within walking distance. This is what Jesus did for Gentiles. He extended the fence, and brought a new entry gate nearby.
Verse thirteen is a nearby gate of pearl turning upon hinges of diamond. Enter it and begin your pilgrimage to the heavenly gates of pearl.
Eph. 2:13d “. . .by the blood of Christ.”
The transition of Gentiles from “far off” to “nigh” was made possible by a historic event, the death of Christ. To bring us near, God’s Son had to shed His blood. This shows how far away we Gentiles actually were.
Blood is the red fluid which circulates in the arteries, veins, and capillaries of vertebrates. It conveys oxygen and nourishment to the tissues and removes from them carbon dioxide and other waste matter. Being essential to human existence, “blood” is often used as a symbol of life itself.
Because a perfect Savior freely poured out His life-blood as a ransom for sinners, “the blood of Christ” has taken on extraordinary meaning. To believers, “the blood” is a phrase pregnant with staggering significance. It is shorthand, an abbreviated way of calling attention to the numerous and varied ramifications of Christ’s redemptive work accomplished on the cross.
Some object to the word “blood.” I hasten to object to their objection. Some denominations have deemed the word “blood” as gory butchery, and have taken from their hymnals songs which use the term. The cross is often considered scandalous, and a stumbling block (1 C 1:23), by the overly refined. We reject such finicky spirituality with but a wave of the hand and press on to celebrate the theme we love. While the ninnies whine, the rest of us go merrily on our way, singing, “There is power in the blood of the Lamb; Are you washed in the blood; The blood will never lose its power.”
“Our gospel is a gospel of blood; blood is the foundation; without it there is nothing” (Lloyd-Jones). Taking out the blood of Christ would leave the New Testament without a theme and without a purpose.
I admit, “the blood” is not a pleasant thought. It conjures up images of slaughter and suffering. It is painful to realize our praises can rise only because of a Savior’s cries. We can sing solely because He moaned. We are able to pray only because He agonized. We can rejoice because He wept.
A death involving blood, by definition, indicates the loss of comfort and gladness, and signifies cruel death, harsh demise, painful death. Jesus’ death was caused not by natural causes or disease, but “by the sharp sword of divine vengeance” (Spurgeon). A blood ransom was needed. The soldier’s spear in His side was but a picture of God’s sword sheathed in His heart.
The death of Jesus was horrible and gruesome. Our church’s Easter pageant accurately depicted what actually happened. Some mothers had to take little children out of the services because they were crying in the scenes where soldiers were cruel to Jesus. I am thankful there were hearts in the audience tender enough to cry about it. Someone ought to cry. We should never become steeled to what is entailed in the phrase “the blood.”
We are sometimes guilty of trying to divert attention from the crucifixion’s horror. Years ago I talked with a dear friend, Kevin Larkins, to see if he would do some landscaping for our church. I asked him to design on our hillside a cross-shaped display of flowers. He immediately objected, saying we would be guilty of sugar-coating and beautifying something about which we should never forget its terribleness and ugliness. I did not necessarily agree with Kevin’s concern about flowers in the shape of a cross, but I rejoiced to hear a saint expressing concern about keeping the death of Jesus in proper perspective. It was a terrible remedy for a terrible malady.
Ours was no small problem needing a little cure. We had a deadly disease which required nothing less than the healing blood of divinity. We reverently say even Jesus could bring us nigh only one way, by His blood.
Fortunately, when Jesus did spill His blood, He shed it not only for Jews who were “nigh,” but also for we Gentiles who were “far off.” John the Baptist declared (JN 1:29), “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of. . .Israel(?)”–NO! He takes away the sin of the whole world. John the Beloved (1 J 2:2) said Jesus is the propitiation “for the sins of. . .Israel(?)”–NO! Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of all the world.
Even we lowly Gentiles are redeemed by Christ’s blood (EP 1:7), and can sing, “Redeemed how I love to proclaim it, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.” Even we coarse Gentiles are cleansed by the blood (1 J 1:7), and one of our number could write,
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains. (Wm. Cowper)
We insignificant Gentiles even enter into the holiest by the blood (HB 10:19). If we say this too loudly, Caiaphas will roll over in his grave.
Let the Circumcision no longer demean the Uncircumcision (EP 2:11). We are second class citizens no more. In the past, Jews had a symbol of faith; Gentiles had none. When asked what was the token of their salvation, the Jew could reply, “Circumcision.” The non-Jew had no answer to this question, but now the believing Gentile can reply, “The blood of Jesus.”
Using a knife, the Jew performed a one-time rite to picture faith. A Christian Gentile also enacts a one-time rite to picture faith. The believer stirs the waters of baptism to symbolize one’s acceptance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the means of salvation.
The Jew wore his badge of circumcision as a continual, lifelong reminder of faith. A Christian Gentile also has a continual, lifelong reminder of faith. In the Lord’s Supper we hold in remembrance the truth that the life of Jesus poured out is the only way we were enabled to come to God. We partake not merely bread, but broken bread, the symbol of a crushed body. We drink not only juice, but juice separated from the bread, a symbol of blood separated from the body, and thus an apt picture of death.
Gentiles suffer from disadvantage no more. The Jews could rightfully say Gentiles were not parties in the old covenants, but we are alienated no longer. Jesus said, “This is My blood of the new covenant” (MT 26:28). And though we Gentiles missed out on the former covenants, we are now participants “through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (HB 13:20).
“The blood” is everything to us. We glory in Jesus’ perfect, sinless life. We triumph in His victorious resurrection, and eagerly anticipate His triumphal return, but the heart and soul of everything we believers hold near and dear is grounded in Jesus’ death. Paul’s words to the Corinthians were well chosen, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 C 2:2).
Let nothing preempt the proclamation of the cross. Spend more time talking about the crucifixion than about any other particular subject. Jesus died for the sins of the world. Tell it to everyone everywhere everyday!
If you would draw sinners, preach the blood. It captures attention. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (JN 12:32). The crucifixion continues to be the magnetic appeal, the arresting attraction, of Christianity. It remains the most powerful wooing agent we have. The blood brought me into the kingdom. My dad’s telling of Jesus’ death on the cross broke my heart, and drew me to salvation.
The beauty of Christ is epitomized at Calvary. He wins more love there than He could ever win elsewhere, because the story of the cross personalizes the Gospel. The beauty of Golgotha is that it applies to each individual. Many have died heroic deaths, but the telling of their stories does not compare to talking of Calvary. The death of Socrates has no special claim on our hearts. The death of Lincoln does not command allegiance from us. Thousands have died as martyrs, but Jesus’ death is different in that everyone can say of it, “It is for me, as much as if I were the only one Jesus died for.” As we rightly portray the blood of Jesus, a sinner is forced to deal with the truth that this One died for me, for my sin, in my place.
The shedding of Jesus’ blood was the worst crime ever perpetrated on earth. His crucifixion was the ultimate manifestation of man’s sin at its worst, but also served as the climactic manifestation of God’s love. The event which exposed the true enormity of wickedness in man’s heart also revealed the vast love in God’s heart.
Do you wish to speak eloquently of God’s love? “The blood” says it all. To save us, God the Father gave up One who was the center of His heart. In turn, that One had to empty His heart of blood. “It flowed from his head, thorn-girt, that it might atone for sins of thought; from his hands and feet, fast nailed, that it might expiate sins of deed and walk; from his side, that it might wipe out the sins of our affections, as well as tell us of His deep and fervent love, which could not be confined within the four chambers of His heart, but must find vent in falling on the earth” (Meyer).
The shed blood of Jesus pictures a divine life laid down, a priceless gift given in behalf of others. However, it is all for nought in an individual’s life unless the benefits of the shed blood are personally appropriated.
When Moses read the book of the covenant aloud, the people vowed, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient” (EX 24:7). Only after they made a valid commitment did Moses sprinkle them with the shed blood of sacrifices. The benefits of sacrificial blood must be appropriated. Shed blood provides no advantage until applied on the basis of commitment. Once the Israelites made a proper commitment, and once blood was applied to them, a beautiful thing happened. For the first time, YHWH was called “the God of Israel” (EX 24:10). The title and the relationship it depicted were made possible by shed blood applied on the basis of commitment.
Appropriating the sacrifice of Jesus means confessing, “It should have been my life poured out, and I acknowledge this by pouring out my life unto God.” Life is man’s most precious physical possession. Since God gave His most precious possession in Jesus’ deed, man’s only adequate response must be to offer nothing less than his most precious possession to God in return.
Eph. 2:14a “For he is our peace,. . .”
We Gentiles were “far off” from God, but have been “made nigh” by the shed blood of Christ. The root cause of our estrangement from God was sin, and Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for sins Jewish, sins Gentile, sins of the whole world. Peace with God was won at the price of Christ’s blood.
The blood of Jesus vanquished sin, the great separator. Thus, Jesus is the great uniter. The Greek verb “eiro” means “to join.” Its noun form “eirene,” translated here as “peace,” refers to things joined together. To make peace means to join together what is separated. As “our peace,” God the Son has restored the friendship with God the Father we lost in the Fall.
Themistocles once offended King Philip. Desperately seeking to regain the royal favor, he sought to win the heart of the king’s young son, Alexander (later, the Great). In time, Themistocles gained an audience with King Philip, and entered the royal presence with Prince Alexander in his arms. When the king saw his own son delighting in Themistocles, and smiling upon him, the king’s wrath was quickly appeased, and his displeasure dissipated. Similarly, let all who seek an audience with God the Father approach the royal presence solely by means of God the Son. The Father smiles only on those whom the Son smiles on, “for he is our peace.”
Jesus is not only our peace-maker, but also our peace-matter. He is, in His own Person, the embodiment of peace. Jesus does not make peace and depart. He is the peace itself. As the medium and substance of peace, Jesus joins together and keeps together. If Jesus leaves, peace fails.
His presence is essential for peace to endure. John MacArthur tells a story which illustrates this truth well. In World War II a group of American soldiers was exchanging fire with some Germans who were occupying a farm house. The family who lived in the house had run to the barn for protection. Their three-year-old daughter became frightened and ran out into the field between the two groups of soldiers. Upon seeing the little girl, both sides immediately ceased firing until she was safe. The child brought a brief peace, but once she was back in the barn, gunfire began again. Her presence was essential to the peace being a lasting one.
A Presence is also always needed for one to have peace with God. Peace occurs only as Jesus is the peace-matter. He died on the cross to purchase peace, and intercedes at the right hand of God to maintain peace. He is even now our mediator, pleading our cause based on His blood.
In this phrase “He is our peace,” Paul makes a transition in his thoughts. He enters the phrase talking about man’s relationship with God, but departs the phrase talking about man’s association with man. “He is our peace” covers both. In annihilating the perpendicular distance between man and God, Jesus lessened the horizontal distance between man and man.
When Jesus overcame sin He dealt not only with the cause of man’s separation from God, but also with the root of man’s alienation from man. Sin ruptured the relationship between God and man, and also wrecked the relationship between man and man. Sin is the cause of human conflict and division. Evil carries within its own self the impossibility of peace. By its very nature sin is selfishness, which is divisive and disruptive. When we act selfishly, we inevitably infringe on what someone else wants or needs. As we have our own way, we inevitably infringe on someone else’s territory.
Fortunately, Jesus dealt with sin, the terrible thing within us which causes our social troubles. By overcoming sin with His own blood, Jesus “is our peace” in human relationships. He joins together what is separated.
Again, though, the key is to realize He is the embodiment of peace. He did not come buy peace, set an example, and leave us on our own to enact the results of His efforts. He made peace possible in the first place, has to come personally to enact the peace, and has to abide to maintain the peace. He has to be present for the peace He bought at Calvary to work.
Jesus unites people by bringing them to Himself first. He did not send Jews to Gentiles originally, or Gentiles to Jews first. He began by bringing Jews and Gentiles to Himself first. This was portrayed in Paul himself. Can you imagine Saul of Tarsus going as a missionary to Gentiles before his Damascus Road experience? God had to draw Paul unto Himself and fill him with Christ’s love before he was willing to go to the uncircumcised. Paul went to the Gentiles by way of Jesus.
The temple helps illustrate this. When Jesus died, the veil was torn, picturing the fact the way into the holiest is open to all who come by way of His death. Let us pretend we are in the temple the very moment the veil is torn. Visualize people from all over the world being present in the Court of the Gentiles. Now imagine God Himself saying from within the veil, “All who appropriate the blood of my Son Jesus Christ, come and welcome.” Since the Holy of Holies is quite small, as we approach the room, and try to enter it, a noteworthy thing happens–we are forced to draw closer to one another. Believing Jews and believing Gentiles of every tribe of earth are compacted together. This pictures a vital truth. In coming to God through Jesus, people are drawn closer to one another.
Peace between groups is ultimately achieved not by “us” going to “them,” or by “them” coming to “us,” but by both parties coming to Jesus. He is the meeting place, the site of concord between divergent groups. The way to have true, lasting peace is to take away that which prevents it. Sin is the preventer, and only Jesus deals effectively with sin.
Enduring peace is possible only when self dies, and the best place for self to die is at the foot of the cross. Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (GL 2:20). This is the only way a pompous, self-righteous, bigoted Jew could ever love Gentiles.
The elusive human peace mankind seeks lies in understanding three haunting words in the New Testament, “I die daily” (1 C 15:31). Prejudice is so ingrained in us that we overcome it solely by letting it die with our old man. We must everyday climb on an altar and pray, “God, my thoughts and desires do not matter. Today think in me, love through me, make me you that you may be me.” We must decrease, Christ has to increase (JN 3:30). We need to become nothing that Jesus may be everything in us.
I was blessed to be raised in a home where prejudice was rarely, if ever, blatantly displayed. Demeaning words and jokes were forbidden in our household, a rule of conduct I try to maintain in my house. The reason our family felt this way is rooted in my dad’s boyhood poverty. One of thirteen children, he usually lived in four-room shacks. They were so poor that just before the thirteenth child was born they moved out of their house into the barn. The cows had better quarters than the Marshalls did. Being this low on the social ladder, Dad found it hard to look down on others.
What was true of Dad socially needs to become true of us spiritually. When we see ourselves as we really are, we will deem ourselves so low that we cannot look down on anyone else. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (RM 3:10). Face to face with Jesus we see our own wretchedness, and are left with nothing to brag about. Things we have exaggerated become trivialities. Condemned felons in and of ourselves, we are all down in the dust.
Our only hope was found in Jesus, who alone was able to lift us out of the miry pit. As we look around we see others different from us who have experienced the same thing. They, too, were lifted from the pit by Jesus. In reaching for the same cross, we touch one another, joining hands and hearts, lifting our voices together in songs of praise to our Savior.
Is one of us thinking, “I dislike Indians (or Orientals or blacks)”? Who asked our opinion? When did any of us who have been bought with a price gain the right to express such a view? A Christian should never say anything which Jesus Christ Himself would not say. Does one of us say, “I hate Catholics (or Jews or Mormons)”? Who appointed us judge and god? What right have we to speak such things with lips which are supposed to be Jesus’ lips. Would the gentle Nazarene ever say such a thing? Never!
We must learn to love one another. We must drown prejudice, flush it out, and replace it with tolerance. This happens only as we lay down our lives with all their ugliness, and take up Jesus’ life with all its beauty.
When two parties are at odds, the best way to bring them together is through someone whom they both love. This is what Christ does. “He is our peace.” A common love for Him causes people to love one another.
Jesus is the hope of nations. He alone can bring mankind into brotherhood. Only the Gospel can destroy alienation, separation, and bitterness.
It is not enough to desegregate schools and in them teach harmony and tolerance. These essentials must be done, but they are not enough.
It is not enough to call for goodwill, kindness, and friendliness. It is not enough to negotiate. We support such efforts. They are all a secular world and its governments have at their disposal, but they are not enough.
It is not enough to go to war. The sword is often necessary, but never accomplishes anything permanent. It has to be followed by a higher, divine purpose for being. The peace treaty we signed to end World War I was unable to end World War II, which was already raging in young Adolf Hitler’s heart. From occupied Japan, General MacArthur sent word to America, “Send missionaries.” We sent the computer chip instead, and now extreme nationalism in both countries threatens our relationship again.
Christ alone can bring lasting peace among the nations, because what is needed is a change of heart, and only He can bestow a new birth and a new nature. The Church is entrusted with the only message which can bring peace. Thus, it is tragic when we cry, “Peace, Peace,” and yet are delinquent in spreading the Gospel which alone produces unity. We are blood-guilty when evangelism and missions are not our number one priority.