Ephesians: Your Worth

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here and as usual it’s a joy to be able to talk about Jesus with you today.

I do want to take a moment to let the guys in here know that we’re going to go and do some trap shooting on Wednesday night in Ashland – info can be found on our Facebook page – no experience necessary – but if you are coming – let us know – put it on your communication card or shoot me an email and we’ll make sure we have enough food for you.

This morning we are in our fourth week of a study on the letter to the Ephesian church, written by the apostle Paul – one of the most important leaders in the early church.  Paul wrote this letter as he sat in jail about the year 62ad – and he is writing to the church that he started about ten years earlier.

And I want you to know that wherever you might find yourself on the spiritual journey, we are glad you are here.  Some of you are excited to be here.  Others might have chosen to be elsewhere this morning but out of love or respect for a loved one or friend who asked you to come, you’re here.  And we think that’s commendable.

We’re glad you are here and you don’t need to pretend to believe something you don’t.  We will do our best, of course, to help you see the greatness and the goodness of God displayed to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.  And we pray that the day will come when you think highly enough of Jesus to surrender your life to Him and follow him wherever he leads.

And I’m especially glad you’re here today because today we are going to see how the work of Jesus on the cross helps solve some of humanity’s biggest problems.

Sometimes people think – you know- did Jesus die on the cross just to get us into heaven?  And if that’s all it would be enough.  But this morning we’ll see how the gospel – the good news of Jesus – addresses three of mankind’s greatest problems.

So let’s begin to read from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and today we’re reading from Chapter 2, verses 11-22.  If you don’t have a bible – you can download one right now – and it would be helpful to have it in front of you as we speak about how the Gospel of Jesus solves three of mankind’s biggest problems.

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. (Now – to the Jewish person – the entire world is divided into two groups.  Jewish people, and everyone else – called Gentiles.  And even though Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi – and all of his disciples were Jewish – It didn’t take long for the good news of Jesus to burst the banks of Judaism and make headway in the world of the non-jewish person as well.

You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 

Circumcision was an external proof of Jewish heritage- a it became a source of pride for the Jewish nation – We are God’s Chosen people.  We are the family of God – but Paul makes clear here and in all of his writing that what really matters is NOT your DNA, but your heart.

12 In those days you (Gentiles) were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us.   Now don’t miss that Paul changes his language here – from you to us.  He is including the people of Israel into the pool of humanity for whom Jesus paid the price for us to have peace with God.

And here we discover the first of humanity’s problem.  The gospel solves our alienation from God.

Before we surrendered our kingdom to Jesus and the Kingdom of hEaven – we were at war with God.  It was a clash of kingdoms.  It was a game of thrones.  It was a showdown of wills.  Mine or thine.   It was a matter of treason against God – punishable by death.

How then did peace come to us?  Jesus took our death and gave us his life.  He himself became our peace.

Before Christ – listen to Paul’s apt description of our spiritual reality.  We were without God.  Without Hope.  Far away from God.  We were alienated from God.  But Jesus solves this – mankind’s greatest problem.

Now I’m not going to spend much time on this issue – because Josiah preached a wonderful message last week on the first ten verses of Ephesians chapter 2.  And it’s worth reviewing – but I’ll show you the one verse that Josiah last week recommended being a top five verse to memorize.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 

Our alienation from God is mankind’s greatest problem.  And the only way we can have peace with God is by receiving the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.  But peace with God is not the only problem that the Gospel solves.   Peace with God sets in motion a chain of events that ends up solving two more of our greatest problems.

Let’s keep reading…

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 

15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

The gospel of Jesus solves humanity’s greatest problems.  It provides us peace with God.  And secondly – it brings us peace with one another.  Verse 16 – it ends our hostility with one another.

Humanity has always had an US and THEM problem.  Us and Them.  In Paul’s day – and in his Jewish world – there was no great division than the dividing line between being Jewish – and being not Jewish – also known as Gentiles.   The world was divided – Jewish – Gentile. Jewish people were circumcised. Gentiles were not.

Even though in God’s plan the nation of Israel was formed to be a blessing to the nations – they were supposed to be the nation that showed the rest of the world what a godly nation looks like – they were supposed to be a light to the nations – but – it became a source of pride and hostility.  A source of divisiveness.

It became US – the chosen ones – and THEM – the Gentiles.

But here we are two thousand years later and nothing has changed.  We don’t care as much about Gentile or Jew.  Our US and THEM might be different – but the problem isn’t

It doesn’t matter where you go – us and THEM are lurking.  In every corner of the globe.  In every school, workplace break room.  You’ve got US – people who are reasonable, smart, got our priorities straight, hard working, good.  And you’ve got them.  You know them.  The idiots.  The fools.  The Morons.

Everywhere you go – every time you start a new job – part of the deal is learning who are the people who are in and most importantly – who is the person the rest of those people consider the idiot.  You want to make sure you don’t accidentally become friends with the idiot – lest you find yourself being on the outs with the people who are “IN.”

Humanity has an US and THEM problem.  It shows it hundreds of ways.

Usually when one is comparing you can let your audience know which one is the cool one and which one is the dumb one.  And it’s by slight mannerisms – facial expressions, intonations or adjectives.

Much of daily life consists of dividing human beings into piles – acceptable or unacceptable.  And of figuring out ways to communicate our disgust of THEM.

You drive a Kia Soul?  Really?  Really?

Wow you like Country music. (Head nod)

You live in Springfield?  Wow.   See- none of these are questions, right?  Statements that you are somehow deficient.  Welcome Springfield.  Glad to have you here.

Bowhunters! Rifle “hunters’  (Snort)

Oh your church has donuts too?  Where do you get your donuts from?  HyVee?  Your I guess technically they are donuts – I guess.

Sin has broken us so badly that we can’t help but push people beneath us or puff ourselves up above others.  And to perfect subtle ways to announce to others that we find them unacceptable.

And much of our time is committed to the studied degradation of the other.   It’s called contempt.  Contempt is the studied degrading of other human beings.  It’s the art of finding people who in your mind or in your heart – deserve no respect – they have no value.

People have been spitting on one another – if not literally,  certainly metaphorically and I dare anyone to argue with me when I say I think we live in the most contemptuous age in history.

And contempt has done untold damage to our souls. Dallas Willard, in his book the Divine Conspiracy, writes – and this is a little longer quote than I’d normally quote – but it’s powerful and worth reading.

Contemptuous actions and attitudes are a knife in the heart that permanently harms and mutilates people’s souls.

To belong is a vital need based in the spiritual nature of the human being. Contempt spits on this pathetically deep need. And, like anger, contempt does not have to be acted out in special ways to be evil. It is inherently poisonous. Just by being what it is, it is withering to the human soul.

But when expressed in the contemptuous phrase— in its thousands of forms— or in the equally powerful gesture or look, it stabs the soul to its core and deflates its powers of life. It can hurt so badly and destroy so deeply that murder would almost be a mercy. Its power is also seen in the intensity of the resentment and rage it always evokes.

Contempt for our fellow human being – is one of humanity’s greatest problems – and Jesus intends to fix the problem by creating a new kind of human.

Paul writes, He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 

How?  Two things – first – the gospel of Jesus levels all of humanity.  All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory, as Paul writes Romans chapter 3.

Jew/Gentile.  Republican?Democrat.  White/Black.  Rich/Poor.  Man/Woman.  The Gospel of Jesus removes all of the slashes that separate us into tinier and tinier groups – and levels us all – none have an upper hand.  All of us are hosed – unless Jesus saves us.

The Gospel humbles us all.  The gates to the Kingdom of Heaven have been thrown wide open to whosever wishes to enter through faith in Jesus – but the door – is a low door – it requires all who wish to enter it to stoop in humility.  Every knee must bow in order to enter.  Each heart must confess – we have done nothing to deserve being rescued.

The gospel destroys the pecking order – it levels us all.  We were all equally needy – and we are all equally loved.

Which means that the Gospel not only humbles us all equally – the gospel lifts us up equally.   The story of Jesus dying on the cross for his friends, means that all of us are loved by God.  None of us are worthless.

And that means that every human being we see – is created by God – and deserves to be treated respectfully and lovingly.  We are equally needy and equally loved by God.

Jesus destroyed the walls that we used to use to separate us into US and THEM.  And what is left?  Human beings – each of whom is created by God, and is loved by God.  And therefore is worthy of our respect and love.

What will rescue us from this dark contemptuous age in which we live?  Only the Gospel.  Only the new kind of human beings that rejoice in the kindness of God and reflect that kindness to others – wherever they might land on the spectrum of humanity.

Don’t you see?  The work of Jesus on the cross.  It destroys the walls that alienated us from God, and it destroys the walls that alienated us from one another.

But there’s yet more.  Paul tells us that the work of Jesus solves yet another one of humanities greatest need.  And this is the need to belong.

People have a great need to belong.  To be accepted.  And Paul says the answer to our need is found in the gospel – and specifically –  in the church.

You know it’s become fashionable to bash the church.  But God never does.  We are the church and Jesus loves his Church.  We are called the bride of Christ – we collectively are God’s hands and feet and salt and light – and so – We’re precious people to Him.

Now when we started Journey we said we’d like to be a church for people who don’t like church.  And so – we have to be careful too – that we aren’t projecting an image that the church is worthless or bad- it’s not bad.  And when it’s working correctly – well it’s nothing short of beautiful.  A beautiful mess, the church is.

The church is the answer to humanities great need to find a place where they belong.

And so Paul gives us three images – and note that each of the images – they grow in their intensity of unity.

Paul says…19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people.

Now people can be united by many things.  They can be united by a hobby or a shared experience.  And one of the strongest bonds that tie people together is our shared citizenship.  We take a lot of pride – rightfully in being an American.

But what Paul is telling us is that through faith in Jesus – we all have dual citizenship.  We are citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And that citizenship takes priority over our American citizenship.

Now this reality, by the way, scared Roman authorities greatly – and continues to scare authoritarian leaders throughout history.  It means our primary allegiance is borderless.  I can travel to Mali Africa – and I will find fellow citizens.  Any country in the world – you will never be a stranger.

Because – and now the second image – not only are you fellow citizens – but Paul writes,

You are members of God’s family.

It’s one thing to say, I traveled to China once and I met some fellow citizens.  It’s another thing to say – I’ve sat in a church in China with my brother Joshua – and his wife and my sister, Sabina – and we prayed to our father.

It’s one thing to say we share the same King – but it’s more intense to say we share the same father.  And yet – this is what awaits the one who places their faith in Jesus.  Brothers and sisters in every country you will ever travel to…

Lastly – he writes  20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Notice again the increased intensity of these metaphors.  You might live in the same house as your father – but here Paul says you are cemented together – and together we form a temple where God himself fills.

You know – if you look at the early church – take for instance the list of names at the end of the book of Romans.  You will find in chapter 16 a long list of names Paul wants to pass along greetings to.

And if you read through it you will find that the church consisted of both Greeks, Jewish people, Roman people.  It had wealthy people – slaves, free people, racially diverse, economically diverse, you had powerful people – people who were high up in the government – and you had servants – all together – as fellow citizens – as brothers and sisters – cemented together – a holy temple for the Lord.

That is the church – and this is the church.  And so – as we close I’d like to address two groups of people in the room.

For some of you – you are still on the fence regarding your faith.  And I’d simply invite you – to place your faith in Jesus – humble yourself – and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do you ever feel on the outside looking in?  Have you been longing to find a place where you belong?  Place your faith in Jesus, and be part of the family.

Secondly – I’d like to address my fellow believers in the room – my brothers and sisters.  And I’d like to ask you to do two things this week.

First – can we be brave enough to give God permission to examine our hearts to unearth any contempt we have for people – groups of people – give God a hunting license this week – to make us aware of words and actions that are contributing to the contemptuous air we’re breathing – because it’s not in line with the kind of human Jesus is turning us into.