We continue in our two week series through Ephesians 1–3, with guest writer Dr. David Starling.
Your story—from far to near | Eph. 2:11-22
Yesterday’s passage (Eph. 2:1–11) was the first of three salvation-stories that Paul tells within this central section of the first half of the letter: a story about the dead being brought to life. Today’s passage is the second of those three stories: a story about the far-off being brought near.
You were far off (vv. 11-12)
Paul begins, verse 11:2:11-12 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
It’s partly a list that Paul is writing out for his readers. He asks them to remember the days before they came to Christ, and reminds them that back then they were:
- Separate from Christ
- Excluded from citizenship in Israel
- foreigners to the covenants of the promise
- without hope
- without God
It’s a list, and it’s also a kind of crescendo, that builds toward a climax. And the climax of this list comes at the very end, with the worst two statements of them all: without hope, and without God.
Brought near (vv. 13-22)
And then, verse 13, there’s a turning point in the paragraph, and the list becomes a story: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” There are three dimensions to that – the first of them is peace.
Peace (vv. 14-17)2:14-17 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
The peace that Paul is talking about is in part (verse 16) a vertical peace—the peace that comes with being reconciled with God. It’s also, and inseparably, a horizontal peace—peace with each other.
Paul writes in verse 14 about the “wall of hostility” that existed between Jew and Gentile. The normal state of relationships between Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world was one of barely concealed contempt, occasionally boiling over into war and bloodshed. The Roman writer Cicero wrote about the Jews as “the enemies of the human race” and the feeling was mutual.
Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world looked at each other across the dividing wall that was the law of Moses—the law that God had originally put in place as a fence around Israel, to guard their distinctiveness and their holiness as the people of God. But now, Paul writes, that dividing wall that split the human race into two camps has been torn down by the death of Jesus.
And Paul reminds us elsewhere that it’s not just that division that is overcome; it is also every other division and hostility too—male/female, slave/free, Greek/barbarian… All of them, every one of those divisions and hostilities, dissolved and abolished in the death of Jesus, and in their place a new humanity—one new man Jesus, and all his people united in him, coming before God under his headship and in peace.
The vertical peace and the horizontal peace are not two separate, disconnected blessings. They both belong together. We are reconciled with each other because we have been reconciled together to God.
(ii) Access (v. 18)
That’s the first dimension of what it means to be brought near: it’s about peace. The second thing that it means is access: access into God’s presence.
That’s what the sacrificial system of the OT was about: it was all about how sinful, unclean, guilty people came into the presence of a holy God. And the sacrificial system was a reminder that if you were one of God’s people then you could come into God’s presence; but it was also a very powerful reminder that that access was not just something automatic. It was through a mediator; through a priest who offered up sacrifices for you. And it was by blood. If you went into the temple or the tabernacle that was one thing you couldn’t escape: there was blood everywhere; the blood of sacrifice, the blood that reminded you that a life was sacrificed so that you could have yours.
In Christ, we have obtained access: the access of children into the presence of their father. We have his Spirit in our hearts that teaches us to come into God’s presence and call him Father. He invites us to come right up to him and talk to him in prayer.
(iii) Belonging (vv. 19-21)
Peace; access; and finally, belonging. It’s one thing to talk about access—about coming into God’s presence. It’s an even bigger thing to talk about coming into his presence and knowing that you belong there. And that is what we have in Christ. There’s two ways that Paul talks about that belonging in the final verses of the chapter. The first is the language of citizenship. Paul writes, verse 19: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people.”
But it’s more than that; he doesn’t just make us citizens with his people; he makes us members of his household—he adopts us into his family, and makes us into a dwelling where he lives by his Spirit. That’s what the last two verses of the chapter tell us. We are his family, his temple, his dwelling place. He lives in us.
Peace, access, belonging. That is what it means to be brought near. And in each case, Paul underlines the fact that all these things come to us (i) through Christ (vv. 14, 18, 22), and (ii) with each other. These things are not solitary, private blessings. They are shared blessings, that bring us into relationship with each other. These are the things that unite us with each other.
And so we come to the final point, which is the opening word of the whole passage: “remember”. The New Testament is full of commands like that, to tell us to “remember” what God has done for us. And it’s full of commands to to pastors and preachers to “remind” God’s people of what he has done for us.
In the North of France there’s a little village called Villers-Bretonneux, that was liberated by an Australian regiment back in the last months of World War 1. It was a costly victory, and as many as 12,000 Australians lost their lives in the battle. If you go to Villers-Bretonneux today, and you visit the local school there, written up above the blackboard in every class room is a sign that says: “N’Oubliez jamais l’Australie.” Never forget Australia.
The same applies to us. We need to keep reminding ourselves: Never forget the death of Jesus. Without him we would be without God and without hope, far from God and dead in our sins. Never forget the death of Jesus, and never forget where you would be if it wasn’t for him.
To think about:
What are some of the ways in which the rhythms and patterns of your week can include reminders of the things you need to remember about the story of your salvation, and opportunities to be part of helping your brothers and sisters to remember and celebrate them with you? Can we be more creative in how we go about doing that?