The intensely bleak picture of a world cut off from God and bitterly divided between itself is one reversed and transformed in and through Jesus Christ. The Great Reversal is a term that has been applied to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross by a number of theologians. Jesus overturned death through his resurrection. He overcame the consequence of sin by taking the wrath of God for our sin upon himself through his death on the cross for those who trust in him. It is Jesus and Jesus alone who did this leaving no room for anyone else to claim the credit and superiority. Through his death he has, “broken down the wall of hostility”. v14 Firstly the wall between mankind and God has been removed. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he was addressing primarily a Gentile church reminding them that they were once alienated from God, not part of the original people of God, and followers of false gods. There was no room for pride and self-justification. It is the place shared by all Gentile Christians now. BUT, and it is a but to be written in huge capital letters, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” v13 His death is our only means of breaking down the barrier between ourselves and God or in other terms of being able to draw near to God. However, it is the same situation for the “commonwealth of Israel”. By Christ’s death he has abolished or swept away the Old Testament “law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” v15 (The Mosaic law)
Not only has Jesus through his death broken the wall of hostility between mankind and God, he has also removed the wall between Jews and Gentiles to create one people of God. “That he might create in himself one new man in the place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” It is therefore God’s will that there should not be hostility amongst his people. They should be distinctively at peace with one another by meeting humbly at the cross. Division caused by pride is a denial of the cross.
Have you ever been in a church where there existed a dividing wall of hostility? There have been many reasons given for such divisions often focusing around frustration on the part of some and a desire for control on the part of others. Sometimes the reasons have been about some form of tribalism, not always based on ethnicity but on theology, family, friendship groups, history, class, regional identity, personal pride and ambition. In Ephesians the dividing wall of hostility was between Christians from the “commonwealth of Israel” v12 and Christians from all other nations who were deemed to be “without God”. v12 For Israel there was a horizontal dividing wall of hostility between themselves and those of Gentile identity. In the Ephesian church there continued to be people who maintained that horizontal division fundamentally misunderstanding the work of Jesus on the cross.
The commonwealth of Israel were the 12 tribes of Israel who were unique in that they were the recipients of God’s covenantal promises from Abraham, through Moses and David, confirmed repeatedly by the Old Testament prophets. History showed that despite a minority of Godly leaders the overall direction the covenant people took was one of rebellion against a loving God. The primary form of that rebellion was idolatry in defiance of the first four of the ten commandments. They built a vertical wall of hostility between themselves and God. This culminated in God’s judgement on the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the reign of Manasseh because their idolatry and evil practices were even worse than those of the people they had driven out of Canaan when occupying the promised land. 2 Kings 21:10-16 The Northern Kingdom of Israel was never re-established following the Assyrian invasion. Idolatry creates a wall of hostility between people and God. Idolatry is anything that people put in the place God should occupy in their lives. Although then the “circumcised” were the way God chose to reveal himself to the world and the means by which the whole world was intended to be blessed, their rebellion placed them in exactly the same position as those who had not been part of Israel. They were now equally a people, “without hope and without God in the world.” v12 How has idolatry created walls of hostility in the contemporary church?
In the early church a great debate persistently raged with the potential to divide the church, invalidate the gospel and divert believers from the essential centrality of the person of Jesus and his vicarious death. Ever since then similar debates have taken place within the church having the impact of creating division through adding additional criteria for salvation or introducing some form of hierarchy of the people of God. In Paul’s day the issue was whether those of Jewish heritage, defined as members of the circumcision, had a prior and superior claim to being the people of God therefore without conforming to the practice of circumcision other races will remain excluded from the “household of God”. v20 This was despite God’s revelation to Peter regarding the conversion and baptism in the Spirit of Cornelius’ household in Acts 10 and the outcome of the council of Jerusalem. (Acts 15:2-35) This illustrates how persistent division within the church can be, even when there had been very clear revelation from God and unanimity between the apostles. Whilst the circumcision debate may now have died away to a minute section of the Christian church other divisions over hierarchy and whether an individual can be considered a Christian remain rampant and harmful within the church. Examples in the contemporary church are how across denominations racism has been identified as a systemic sin and has repeatedly been failed to be repented of and eradicated from the practice, governance and heart attitudes within the church. Similarly, we see Christians establishing hierarchies over forms of worship style and allegiances to human leaders. This raises the question then in the wider world, ‘In what way does the Christian church differ from what they hold to be the world “without God”? v12 Paul’s response is this happens when the focus of thought and faith does not entirely focus on the person of Jesus Christ and what he has accomplished.
Reading the passage again as a whole, how does it cause us to pray?
We can confess to the Lord our natural character and it’s continuing impact on our life.
We can recognize that if we are to be followers of Jesus the values and behaviours of much of the wider world are incompatible with our faith and pray to live distinctive lives for Christ.
We ought to consistently give to God our thanks and praise that he loved us before we could love him.
We can recognize that God’s grace in Christ Jesus is not limited to a one off act at Calvary but is expressed in his continuing handiwork in our lives enabling us to undertake the good works he has prepared for us.
We can pray that we will faithfully follow him in this life until we join him in the heavenly realms.
God however is rich in mercy and great in love. It is not his desire that people should stay spiritually dead and helpless in their sin. We may not be capable of saving ourselves but he is capable of doing so without denying his own holiness. Grace is often defined as not giving to us what we deserve and giving to us what we do not deserve. For this to happen God needed to provide a way for justice to be fulfilled whilst at the same time mercy was extended. This was done through Christ and is only done through Christ. Paul expresses God’s mercy through Christ as, ‘the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.’ v7 By placing us in Christ those who trust in him share in his resurrection life. This brings both Christ and God the Father glory. v7b The key to access God’s gift of salvation in Christ is faith. Even this is not something we can manufacture within ourselves because we are naturally spiritually dead. Saving faith is the gift of God. v8