11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. - (Ephesians 2:11–18 - ESV).
Let’s face it, life is competitive. People constantly jockey for power, prestige or recognition. No one wants to be unpopular, weird or left out, yet our culture is full of barriers that bind people into classifications that can be highly detrimental. I am sure you understand that this is nothing new. In fact, the early church faced it as Christianity exploded into what was then a classification of people called Gentiles. This was not minority, but the majority as a Gentile was anyone who was not of Jewish decent. I will not take the time to address the tensions between the two, however trust me when I say that they were both spiritually and socially enormous.
Significant to our discussion was the spiritual exclusion of the Gentile from Temple worship. This was very evident in the structure of the Temple complex which consisted of a series of courts. Each court was a little higher than the one that went before, with the Temple itself standing in the center. Starting from the outside was the Court of the Gentiles; then the court of the Women; then the Court of the Israelites; then the Court of the Priests; and finally the Holy Place itself.
The Gentile could only enter the first court. Between it and the Court of Women was a wall and engraved in the stone were warnings that a Gentile or foreigner was liable to death if they proceeded beyond that point. Paul was keenly aware of that barrier because his final arrest in Jerusalem was when he was wrongly accused of bringing Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile, beyond that wall. (Acts 21:28.29).
This is the historical, social and religious background to these verses in Ephesians 2. John Stott writes, “Although all human beings are alienated from God because of sin, the Gentiles were also alienated from the people of God. And worse even than this double alienation (of which the Temple wall was a symbol) was the active ‘enmity’ or ‘hostility’ into which it continuously erupted – enmity between men and God, and enmity between Gentiles and Jews”.
Into this mess, marches the Gospel. Notice how Ephesians chapter 2 begins with a predicament or the “bad news”. In verses 1-3 Paul first graphically describes our helpless condition as those who were dead, enslaved and condemned. Yet in verse 4 he emphatically breaks through the hopelessness to give the good news with the words “But God . . .” followed by “being rich in mercy, because of the great love which He loves us, even when dead in our trespasses made us alive with Christ – by Grace you have been saved” (2:4-5 - ESV).
Once again in verse 11-12, Paul gives a hopeless predicament when he describes the Gentile as of the “uncircumcision,” “separated from Christ,” “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” “strangers to the covenants of promise,” “having no hope,” and “without God in the world”. William Hendriksen summarizes it as “Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless”. Once again Paul gives a resounding “But Now . . .” in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13-17).
Building on all that he has written so far in this letter, Paul shows how the blood of Christ has brought peace through annihilating the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and has created a “new man [people] in place of the two” (2:15). In destroying the dividing wall, Christ has made those who thought they were near to God and those who were considered “far away” and created a new people who have been purchase by His blood. Fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople, Chrysostom put it this way, “it is as if one should melt down a stature of silver and a stature of lead, and the two come out gold”.
Beyond the physical temple wall was the barrier caused by “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (2; 15) or what is commonly referred to as the Ceremonial Law. These laws which included sacrifices, circumcision and other ordinances were tied to temple worship. They had been commanded by God, but had gone beyond the ceremonial to become another barrier used to keep the Gentiles “far off”. The ceremonial law had served its purpose in pointing forward to Christ, but were fulfilled in Him and therefore abolished. In addition Christ fulfilled the moral law that is summed up in the Ten Commandments through His perfectly righteous life. It is through Christ’s death that our legal demand to perfectly and perpetually obey moral law was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). The Believer is now declared as righteous by receiving Christ’s righteousness by faith. “Jesus abolished both the regulations of the ceremonial law and the condemnation of the moral law. Both were divisive. Both put aside by the cross” (Stott).
Paul goes on to give us even more good news and that is that through the blood of Christ, God has reconciled God to Himself a fallen and sinful people. This reconciliation to God is at the heart of the gospel. In his letter to the Colossians Paul writes, “. . . and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:20-23 - ESV). And to the church in Corinth, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:16-19 - ESV).
Please notice how reconciliation with God is closely connected to a reconciliation with other believers. Peace with God cannot be separated from peace with one another. Going back to the passage at hand, Paul tells us that “through the cross” Christ has “made us both one” (2:14), created “one new man in place of two” (2:15), and are now “reconcile us both to God in one body” (2:16). “Christ crucified has thus brought into being nothing less than a new united race, united in itself and to its creator” (Stott).
This in fact is the message of Christ who “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (2:17). As a result those who were “far off” are not just admitted in the court of Israel, but into the most holy place ““For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18). This is truly beautiful! Because of Christ, through faith the Believer receives something far more beneficial than going into the Holy Place in the Temple, we get to into the very presence of God. No more barriers, no more distance.
Though almost 2000 years have passed since Paul wrote these words there is powerful application for today. First, know that every human begins life as an outsider or “far off”. If Christ had not demolished the barrier and become our peace, we would be without hope! This reality should drives us continually to a deeper love for Christ.
These words should also bring great comfort to those who feel like an “outcast”, those who consider themselves as “nobodies” and believe themselves to be “far off” from God and from other people. Though most of us struggle with this, middle and high school students face it on a daily basis as they walk through the sociological mess of adolescence. For those who are there, please know that in God’s upside down kingdom there is no “cool” or “not cool”. In Christ you can have an identity that no one can take away. There are no barriers of clothing, academics, or athletics, because Jesus gives you a new identity.
And for those struggling with spiritual pride and consider yourself to be “near” God, while looking down at those who are “far off,” beware that your spiritual pride will rob you of experiencing the joy that comes from living out the Gospel. Paul is very clear when he ties our reconciliation to God to our reconciliation to others. God is building what I call a “3rd Culture” a people for Himself, a people who are known for their ability to love as they have been loved.
Paul also speaks very powerfully to those who the church often consider the outside or “far away”. I’m referring to those who live, work and play around us. Those people whose life or behavior may bother us whether it be due to race, lifestyle, politics or socio-economic status. We are called to be a people who living out the Gospel in our places or spheres of influence. God is calling a people who are not called to set up walls, but destroy them as we share the good news of the Gospel.