I Am Reconciled
I’m going to talk about the church today. Not this church, but Jesus’ church.
There have been times I didn’t want to go to church. I can recall one time 6 years ago when I told the Lord, “The people there don’t really like me, and I’m not sure if I like them. It would be safer if I just stayed here and watched the ball game.” Do you know how he replied? Through the mouth of an old man he said, “I know … I’m not sure if they like me either. But for reasons you just gave, you gotta go. Moreover, you’re the pastor, so go anyway.”
No one likes it, but sometimes we need a kick in the pants. It makes us remember.
There was once a member of the British Parliament who was standing in the lobby of the House when when a distinguished gentleman came up and begged for a moment of his time.
The man told of how he’d worked hard, been thrifty, and had made a large fortune. Yet his relatives had robbed him of it, then put him in a mental home. Today was his weekly day of freedom and he’d written everything down in a document, which he handed to the MP saying, “Study it and communicate with me at your leisure. Thank you, sir, thank you. Good day.”
The MP took the paper, shook the man’s hand, and promised to do everything in his power. Then, he turned to go back to the debate in the House. And as he did, he received a kick in the pants that nearly sent his spine through his hat.
“Don’t forget!” said the old gentleman.
Paul kicks us in the pants today. Beginning our passage with the words: “Therefore remember…”
If you have your Bible, turn to chapter 2 of Ephesians. We’re going to be talking about the church.
Ephesians 2:11–22, ESV
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—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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 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, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
What Is the Church?
The Pew Research Center tells us that in America today only about a third of everyone you meet believes in God or some higher spiritual force, typically not the God of the Bible. And this means that there is a movement away from religion. There is a hunger for faith, but not organized religion.
It’s like this … we saw last week that there is deadness, brokenness, emptiness in our lives and God comes and brings wholeness and vitality, showing us his mercy and love. So folks say, “Ah, that’s wonderful. I want to experience that.” Then, today we read that that power of God, which brings that vitality, also brings you into the church. And folks say, “Oh, no. I don’t want that.”
So here’s today’s hard question: Will God work in your life individually, yet leave you alone corporately? The Bible’s answer is: “Nope. Absolutely not.”
One pastor put it this way: “If you go to the Bible with your mind so closed that you say, ‘I want to meet a God who will help me individually but will not relate me corporately to other people or get me involved in a church,’ the God of the Bible says, ‘Fine. You’re knocking on the wrong door. There are other spiritualities, other religions that are right in tune with the spirit of the age, but I am not. If you want to God like that, you’re going to have to make one up out of your own imagination because I am the real God and I don’t work that way’” (Tim Keller).
The Lord isn’t going to touch your spirituality, but leave your psychology and relationships alone. If one thing gets touched, everything gets touched.
Notice the images used at the end of our passage:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:19–22).
When you meet someone for the first time what do you ask them after you’ve learned their name? I usually ask them were they are from. And they reply, “I’m from northern Kentucky; I’m from Ohio; I’m from Mars.”
It’s a helpful question because where you are from has a formative influence over you.
So Paul’s saying something pretty radical here. He’s saying, “When you become a Christian you get translated. You’re no longer primarily from Kentucky or Ohio. You’re no longer primarily a Red’s Fan. You’re no longer primarily from wherever your bloodline places you. Rather, the power of God, the Spirit of God has a far more formative influence on you. You’re citizenship has changed.”
But the translation is even more intimate than citizenship. God isn’t just my king, he’s my father. I have the same access to him as a son. I’m a member of a new family.
Now, I’m going to pause here for a moment. … If the Bible says that we’re a family, you’ve got to be ready for what that means.
“Most Christians carry enough baggage from their past to break the back of an elephant” (Steve Brown, Born Free, 18). And when you enter the house with those bags someone is bound to get bruised shins. And so people start wear shin guards, and building walls, and assigning folks to rooms.
But when you look around at whose in the house, do you know what you find? You find lonely people who need a friend like you do. You find people who are worried about paying their mortgage or surviving cancer like you are. You find people who feel guilty the way you feel guilty. You find people who are insecure the way that you are insecure. You find people who laugh at the same things you laugh at. You find people who bleed in the same way you bleed. You find people who are concerned about their families like you are. You find people who have moments of great courage and love and graciousness like you do. And you also find people who at times are just as selfish and arrogant and self-righteous as you are. That’s what you find in any family, and God’s family is no different.
But there is something that makes God’s family different in another way. It’s not the number of bags that get carried into the house. What makes it different is that those in the household of God are being freed from the weight of those bags.
As they talk to each other about Jesus and help each other to rest in the truth of Jesus’ grace, those in the house are cemented together and filled by the same Spirit of God. This is why Paul calls the family a “holy temple in the Lord.”
Why Do We Need the Church?
A serious problem with contemporary Christianity in America is that we tend to think that it ought to operate like everything else in America, that is, according to the rules of consumer capitalism. We come when we want. We go when we want. We take what we want. We leave what we want. We hop here or there as we want. We’re consumer capitalists.
1. You Have Been Translated
But Christian’s aren’t Americans, we’ve been translated.
A seminary professor of mine once went to South Korea to teach a bunch of pastors. They rented a big hall, filled it with thousands of Christian pastors and Christian workers. And gave Dr. Willem Van Gemeren the microphone. I don’t think they knew what they were doing. He asked them: “Who are you?” And the crowd shouted back in English, “Koreans.” Then he said, “That’s the problem. Stop being Koreans. Start being Christians first!”
We’re citizens of a new country; members of a new family; bricks in a new temple. When God did something to us individually, he did something to us corporately.
Why did he do that? Why couldn’t have have left well enough alone?
He did it because you can’t carry your bag alone—it’s too heavy. You can’t even put it down alone—you’ll break your foot. And what is more, you can’t remember the gospel alone—you’ll forget it. You can’t express love alone—when you do it is “narcissism.”
2. You Need a Glimpse of God
And when you begin to get a taste of what Christian community can be, I think you start to get a glimpse of the life of God.
You see, God exists in community. And so Paul can’t help but to explain things without mentioning all three persons of the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Just check out verse 18, it’s got all three in one verse: “For through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
But think about this… Some religions have many gods in many persons. And those gods have different wills; therefore, they’re in competition with or fighting each other. Then there are religions that one god who is all alone. Of course when that god creates he’s no longer alone, but community isn’t an essential part of his being.
But the Christian God—I don’t know if you’ve every thought of this before … But God is three-in-one, one God in three persons. One will, one heart, one purpose. The very essence of the Christian God is love and communion and communication. These are not something God does they are something he is.
Think about the implications of this …
It’s not possible that God saves a person and leaves them alone. You can’t know God without his bringing you into a community. For you learn of God through community, and you remain connected to God through community.
We just can’t be Christians without being apart of the lives of other Christians. Community is the Christian’s lifeline. We’re too busy and burdened; we’re too fearful and anxious and lonely and doubtful; we too easily forget the good news of Jesus not to be purposefully be in a strong fellowship with other Christians. A fellowship were we get seen and known, and touched by others, and we see and know and touch others back.
One of the spiritual writers I like to read, Brennan Manning, wrote in his last book before he died in 2013 what truly seeing his life would show, what secrets would pop out. He wrote with honesty and transparency:
“Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a season, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check. I’ve shattered every one of the Ten Commandments six times Tuesday. And if you believe that that last sentence was for dramatic effect, it wasn’t” (All Is Grace, 25).
There is an old story about an elderly woman who came forward to take communion at her Anglican church. As she knelt at the communion rail, she started thinking about her sims. She was old and there had been a lot of sin. As the woman pondered who she really was, and looked up and down the communion rail at the others who were so clean and together, she tried, as the organ music played, to slowly, unobtrusively back away from the chancel. At that point the priest noticed her. He turned and stuck the communion cup of wine under her nose and said rather loudly, “Take it, woman! It’s for sinners! It’s for you.”
That’s why we need to be deeply committed to a community of Christians. Because when the truth of Christ isn’t strong in our hearts, it’s strong in there’s. They hold the cup of grace out to us and say, “Drink up! And remember the taste of the wine.”
How Do We Get the Church?
So I’ve told you what the church is and why we need it—it’s all has to do with grace. What I haven’t told you yet is how the church comes about. But guess what? That has to do with grace too—I hope you didn’t think I was going to say something else.
In 1927, the wife of Scottish preacher Arthur Gossip died suddenly. When he returned to preach after a time or mourning he compared life to watching a plane pass through the sky during wartime. “There you are, lying on your back watching a plane fly gracefully across a brilliant sunlit blue sky when all of a sudden it is blown apart by gunfire and falls to earth a tumbling, tangled mess of metal. Only on this occasion the gunfire was the tragically unexpected death of my beloved wife.”
Gossip explained that he didn’t understand this life. Yet what he did know was that during this darkest period of his life he needed his faith more than ever. “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.” Without his faith there was no hope.
Paul writes quite a few words at the beginning of the passage to essentially say the Gentiles didn’t have that hope. They weren’t initially part of God’s covenant people. They didn’t have access to the temple, the priesthood, the law, or the promises. In fact, the Jews who were suppose to share it with them didn’t do it. They were hoarders. And they enshrined their possessiveness in the construction of their temple itself.
The first Jewish temple was built by Solomon, but the Babylonians destroyed that temple. Then, they marched the people off into captivity. Years later when the Jews returned to Jerusalem they built the second temple, and surrounded it with a series of courts. A court for the priests, then the court of the laymen, and then a third for women. All three of these were constructed on the same level. Descending from that level was five steps to a walled platform, and then another fourteen step to another wall beyond which was the court of the Gentiles. Then, they placed put signs that read “Trespassers will be executed.”
Now, think about that… Right there enshrined in stone is the source of hostility and hatred between people: Jews and Gentiles, black and white, northerners and southerners, democrats and republicans. “We are better, we are more worthy, etc.” Pride, self-righteousness.
Whenever you find yourself thinking, “I would never have done what so and so did,” you might have a point, but you also pointed at your own pride and self-righteousness.
I’ve acted like that. I probably did it yesterday.
A teacher asked a boy this question: “Suppose your mother baked a pie and there were seven of you—your parents and five children. What part of the pie would you get?”
“A sixth,” replied the boy.
“I’m afraid you don’t know your fractions,” said the teacher. “Remember, there are seven of you.”
“Yes, teacher,” said the boy, “but you don’t know my mother. Mother would say she didn’t want any pie.”
That thought… “I’m pretty good because I sacrifice often”, that’s self-righteousness too.
If you’re thinking right now, “If what you’re saying is right, I can’t think two thoughts without bumping into pride and self-righteousness,” you’d be right.
But … “If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; if He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agendas, the mixed motives, and the dark desires buried in your psyche, you would feel His acceptance and forgiveness” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, 63).
Do you know why? Jesus brought peace. He brought reconciliation on two levels.
1. Jesus Reconciles Us to God
By paying the penalty incurred because we don’t live up to the standard of God, Jesus didn’t push aside God’s holiness or the moral law. Rather, he nailed the record of our debt with it’s legal demands to the cross—he canceled the debt (Col 2:14).
2. Jesus Reconciles Us to Each Other
And … Because God accepts us on the basis of our reliance on Jesus’ work, Jesus also demolished the wall between people.
Thinking about this … outside of Jesus people are looking to a lot of different things as the standard of their goodness: circumcision, clothing, food laws, feasts, rituals, race, ethnicity, nationality, political party, etc. Looking at all that stuff gets people singing: “Anything you can do / I can do better / I can do anything / Better than you. / No, you can’t. / Yes, I can. No, you can’t.” And they don’t just mean that they can do it better, they mean that they are better. And there you have it: walls and wars.
Reliance on Jesus’ work, negates reliance in our own. It reconciles us to one another. At the foot of the cross we’re all on the same level—we’re sinners in need of grace. And ya know what, that’s who Jesus want: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mk 2:17, NLT).
Do you see? This is where we are spiritually. We’re called to the cross.
And when we’re at the foot of the cross, relying on Jesus, experiencing his infinite love and unreserved acceptance, we’re experience a double reconciliation: reconciled to God, and reconciled to each other.
The foot of the cross is where the church is. That’s the community you want to be in.
And know this, like I said at the beginning, you’re gonna bump into other people’s baggage even at the foot of the cross. Because we’re serious about all of this, because we’re sincere about all of this, doesn’t mean our discipleship journey is an untarnished success story.
There are somethings the Bible tells us to forgive and move on from, like those bruised shins. But there’s one thing we’re commanded never to forget: The love of God in Jesus that reached down and found us. This is why we need the church.
We are reconciled; therefore, we can be reconciled.