The Lord's Day Morning
November 13, 2005
“He Is Our Peace”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter two. The last time we were together in this letter was on October 23, and we were in verses 11-13. Let me remind you of what Paul was telling us there.
Paul was, for the second time in this chapter, reminding us of what we were like apart from Jesus Christ. He was giving us a reprise of “The Way We Were.” You remember in verses 1 and 2 in Ephesians 2 he says ‘Let me tell you how you formerly were. You were dead. That's how I will describe you: you were dead. You were spiritually dead. You were walking like a dead man to the things of God. You were living in this world in a worldly way, in a disobedient way; you didn't show any interest for the things of God. That's what you were like apart from Jesus Christ.’ And he comes back to that again in verse 11, and that was the passage that we studied the last time that we were together. And he basically says ‘Let me put it another way. You were apart from Christ. You didn't have a country. You enjoyed no friendship with God. You had no ultimate hope. You have no saving knowledge of God. You were Christ-less, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and God-less. That's what you were like apart from Jesus Christ.’
And then he gives the good news in verse 13. He says ‘In spite of that condition in which you found yourselves, by trusting in Christ, by being united to Jesus Christ, you have been brought near to God.’ And you remember that we said that being brought near to God is one of the Old Testament ways of speaking about a person who has a saving knowledge of God; God is near to him, and he is near to God. Deuteronomy 4:7 — “What nation is there that has a God so near to it as the Lord our God?” And Psalm 148:14 — “The sons of Israel are a people near to Him.” So if you want to describe somebody who knows God, who has a saving relationship with God, God is near to him, to her. She/he is near to God.
And Christ has brought us near. How? (verse 13) — Through His blood. Through His finished work on the cross we've been brought near to God.
Now in the passage we're going to study today in Ephesians 2:14-18, Paul is going to cover that ground again. In other words, he's going to go over the ground of verse 13 again from a slightly different angle. Paul has done this already in the Book of Ephesians, and he's done it already in chapter 2. We saw him do it in chapter 1 in the first half and the second half; now we're seeing him repeat his argument from a slightly different vantage point, from a different angle. That's what a good teacher does.
What Paul is going to do is reprise his point of verse 13 by focusing us on three things: Who; What; and, How. He wants us to focus on Who it is who has given us peace, what that peace constitutes, and how He got us that peace. So, his focus is going to be on the Who, the What, and the How.
In this case, he's going to focus on Who it is who accomplished the peace that the Jewish and Gentile Christians in this local congregation in Ephesus are experiencing in their fellowship. Where in the ancient world could you find Jews and Gentiles thinking of themselves as blood brothers? Local Christian churches. The Apostle Paul says ‘I want you to think about Who made that a reality. And then I want you to think about what the peace that He brought constituted. I want you to think what being brought near to God affected in our relationship between one another. And then I want you to think,’ Paul says, ‘about how Jesus did it. What did He have to do in order to effect this relationship between believing Jews and Gentiles?’
Now, what that means for us is this passage is going to teach us Who accomplished the peace that we now enjoy, and it's going to teach us what that did for our relationship with everybody else who trusts in Christ — what that work did for our relationship with all others who are in Christ, and then, finally, how He did this has implications for how we live and worship and fellowship; and so, we’ll look at the Who and the What and the How. Before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your word, and we ask that You would open our eyes to understand it, to believe it; and that by Your Spirit You would enable us to embrace it, to live it, to glory in it, and to glorify You in our understanding and living of it. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
If you are around 25 years old or older, perhaps you will remember one of the most stirring speeches of the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It was given on June 12, 1987, so if you are 25, you were about seven years old. Maybe that's a little young…maybe you don't remember the speech. The speech only lasted 2,703 words, but it was delivered at a very unique place. It was delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin.
Now, for those of you who don't remember that, the Brandenburg Gate served as a visible symbol of the unity which had been fractured between East and West Berlin and between the Communist world and the free world. It was a visible symbol of that huge barrier, some of which was literally made out of stone and concrete and steel and barbed wire, and watchtowers that stretched from the north of Europe to the south, dividing the Communist world from the democratic world, dividing the First World from the Second World. And President Reagan was there to meet with leaders in West Berlin, and while there he delivered this speech to the people of West Berlin, but it was heard by many in East Berlin on the other side of that wall.
The whole speech is interesting, but perhaps the words that are most remembered today are these:
“General Secretary Gorbachev,” he said, “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Now, you might imagine the reaction of the friends in West Berlin to those stirring words, and (who could have believed it?) in the next presidency we would see that Wall come down, and we would see that great curtain fall. It can't be ascribed to the work of one man; surely it was the compound of events that had occurred over the course of the whole Cold War finally brought that system of tyranny crashing down upon itself.
But the Apostle Paul in this section of Ephesians is painting for you the portrait of a man who single-handedly tore down a much greater wall than the Iron Curtain. It is the picture of the peace Creator, the peace Giver, the great Reconciler. It is, of course, a picture of Jesus Christ as the source of our peace with God. He removed the enmity which rightly existed between God and those who were in rebellion against Him, and He removed the enmity that existed between Jew and Gentile in Christ, and He brought together believing Jew and Gentile into one new body. This is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And I want you to see here in verses 14 to 18 three particular things: Paul wants to focus us on Who it is, the person and the work of the One who created this peace; secondly, he wants to focus us on what that peace brought to us; and, thirdly, he wants us to see how He got us that peace.
I. Jesus is the only One who can give you peace with God.
Let's look at the first thing in verse 14. He focuses us there on “Who”, and the Who is of course Jesus. Jesus, Paul is saying, is the only One who can give you peace with God. You know, fifty years ago that would have been a relatively uncontroversial statement in a pulpit in the United States. Today it is entirely controversial. And I want you to see that the Apostle Paul is emphatic in saying, “For He Himself is our peace.” He is the very embodiment of peace. His person, His work alone gives peace. The point is that Jesus is the only One who can give you peace with God. Jesus is the peacemaker. Paul wants these Christians to focus in on Him: Who He is and what He did in order to give them peace.
In verse 13 he has emphasized that Jesus has given them peace with God. They were sinners and they were rightly under God's condemning judgment, and by Jesus’ person and work He has given them peace with God. He's reconciled them to God and God to them.
But in verses 14-18, he emphasizes that this same Lord Jesus Christ has given them an unexpected peace with one another, so that in that local congregation in Ephesus there were Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians gathered together in the same family, loving one another! Worshiping with one another! Serving the same God, singing His praises, doing His bidding! This is absolutely astonishing.
But it shouldn't astonish us, because Isaiah, in chapter 9, verse 6 of his book, had said of the Messiah — what was He? The last thing he says in Isaiah 9:6 about Jesus…we’ll hear it sung at Christmastime…He was Who? He was the Prince of Peace. And Jesus Himself said to His disciples on the night of His betrayal in the upper room in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled.” And then at the end of that long conversation with His disciples, in John 16:33 Jesus had gone on to say, “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” And of course, peace catches up that whole Old Testament concept of shalom. It's not just a cessation of hostilities; it's not just a lack of military activity going on in the world: it refers to total well-being, spiritual and physical, temporal and eternal, and Paul is saying Jesus and Jesus alone gives that kind of peace. Only Jesus can give you peace. Only Jesus can reconcile God to you and you to God. Only Jesus can reconcile you to one another. But the world is busily searching, questing for peace and fulfillment and satisfaction and blessedness anywhere and everywhere but in Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther, so long ago, said, “It is due to the perversity of men that they seek peace first, and only then righteousness. Consequently, they find no peace.” In other words, they want peace and they want well-being, but they don't pursue it in the right place. What had Jesus said? “Seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Because they don't seek peace where it can be found (that is, in Jesus Christ alone), they don't find peace.
So let me ask you a question this morning: Is Jesus your hope for peace? And is the peace that Jesus offers the peace you want? Paul wants to remind these Ephesian Christians and you and me again that it is in Jesus that the only peace worth having can be found.
II. In reconciling us to God, Jesus has reconciled all believers to one another.
But there's a second thing we see here, as well. We see it also in verse 14. Paul moves from the Who, Jesus, to What. That is, what has Jesus’ peace work done? Well, it's brought an end to the spiritual distinction between Jew and Gentile in relation to what it means to be the people of God. In reconciling us to God, Jesus has reconciled all believers to one another. He's not only reconciled God to us, us to God: He's reconciled us to all believers.
What does Paul say in verse 14? “He made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall….” Now, this is a stunning announcement. It's stunning because the most visible example of the division between Jew and Gentile in the world anywhere was still standing when Paul said this. Paul's saying that Jesus has broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles, but the most obvious physical illustration of the barrier that existed between Jews and Gentiles anywhere in the world was still standing — the barricade around the temple! Remember? We talked about it in October when we were looking at verses 11-13. That wall around the temple that said to everybody who was a non-Jew, “Don't come in here!” You remember the sign that was posted at the various entrance ways through that barricade? It read like this: “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” How's that for “seeker sensitivity?” No “Come on in, y’all! Welcome!” – “Stay out, or you die.” That was still standing, and here's the Apostle Paul announcing to these Jewish and Gentile Christians that Jesus Christ has obliterated the barrier that exists between Jew and Gentile
This is absolutely stunning, for that enmity, that distinction between Jew and Gentile, had been established by God. What was the whole ceremonial code for but to keep Jews separate from Gentiles? The food laws were designed to do — what? To keep Jews from being able to eat with Gentiles, so that they didn't develop relationships with them and then be taken in by their idolatry. The dress code, the ritual law — all of it was designed to make Jews different, distinct, socially compact and intact and impermeable by the worldliness of the Gentiles in Canaan around them. And now the Apostle Paul is telling you that Jesus has removed that enmity, and He's creating one new man, one new people, one new body, one new temple made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.
And my friends, if Jesus could overcome that Jew/Gentile divide, then there is no alienation, no estrangement, that He can't cure. And in fact, the local church is to be the living, breathing, walking, talking manifestation of how Jesus has brought together in one all those who trust in Him, whether they’re from Des Moines or D’Lo; whether they’re Bulldogs or Rebels; or Raiders or Patriots; no matter what fraternity they’re in, or sorority; no matter what their socio-economic class; no matter what the color of their skin. If they are in Christ, they are our brothers and sisters, and so when they are with us they are home, and it's our business to make sure that they feel at home when they’re with their brothers and sisters.
And I want to say especially to the young people now, this is an enormous opportunity you have in this culture for gospel witness, because this culture encourages you to form exclusive groups that shut people out and make them feel not a part of a larger fellowship. Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in the city of Jackson said ‘You know, those Presbyterians may be a little opinionated over there at First Pres, but when you’re around their young people it doesn't matter who your parents are or what your clothes are like, or how much money you have or what school you go to, or what group you’re part of or not a part of; if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re welcomed in as a brother and a sister, and you feel like you’re home there. You feel accepted, you feel loved. You feel that there are people who care about you. It doesn't matter whether you’re in high school or college – doesn't matter what your background is. If you share Christ with them, if you share the gospel with them, you’re a brother and a sister in their eyes.’ And I want to tell you, my friends, that is a kind of gospel witness that we ought to long to have.
And young people, you will have much to say. Now you may be thinking ‘I can't go on mission trips and I can't give large amounts of money to the church’…what a profound witness you have as a young person, if you make it your business to make sure that fellow Christians who are not like you feel as if they were in their living room with their own parents when they’re with you — accepted, embraced because of the gospel. And if that isn't your heart, if you don't really care about other people who profess Christ but who aren't like you, then maybe you haven't understood the gospel in the first place. And I wonder if our parents are fostering that kind of gospel community in the lives of their children, and I wonder how we would be transformed if that were really a goal.
You know, it's been one of the beautiful things to see over the course of the last ten years or so – First Presbyterian Church quietly, gradually, beginning to change: Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and others joining with various groups of Caucasian Americans in one congregation, and it's a glorious thing to see. Many of us in America wouldn't know, for instance, that amongst our Asian friends there are significant national and racial tensions between the Japanese and the Koreans and the Chinese, and so when you see Japanese and Korean and Chinese Christians loving one another, you’re seeing a living demonstration of the gospel! That's what we ought to be doing here. No matter where we're from, no matter what our background, the thing that identifies us is the One who brought us together, the One who gave us peace with God, and we are united to all those who are united to Him.
And so I want to ask you a question: What do you need to do to live out the truth of God's reconciliation in Jesus Christ? What change do you need to make in the way you relate to your friends, to your neighbors, to your family? And what does this biblical reality of Christ's peacemaking work, His reconciling work, say about closed circles of relationship that exclude fellow believers and make them feel left out in the cold? Oh, may God grant that we would understand what Christ has done! If He can bring together Jew and Gentile, what a witness that is to the power of the peace given by Christ; and if He can do that, there's nothing or nobody that He can't bring together.
III. Jesus has, by the cross, abolished the divinely-established enmity of the ceremonial law.
But there's a third thing, too, and you see it there in verses 15-18. Paul is interested that we understand how Jesus has done this, and he tells us that He's done it by abolishing the ceremonial law through fulfilling it, in order to create a new people of God and reconcile Jews and Gentiles. He says “…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace….”
In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus by the cross abolished divinely established enmity of the ceremonial law. God had established the ceremonial law to delineate the boundaries of His people, to keep them distinct from the world, to keep them from following after the ways of the world and thinking like the world. But that ceremonial law had also pointed forward to Jesus Christ, Who would give true peace. And on the cross He completed His fulfillment of the ceremonial law, and thus abolished it – obliterated it for His people and created a new people that was not Jewish, but was made up of Jew and Greek, slave and free, barbarian and Scythian: one new man, one new people. The early Christians called themselves the third race. They weren't Jews; they weren't Gentiles. They were the third race. They were something new that God had made: the new Israel, the new church.
The Lord Jesus Christ has done this by fulfilling Himself the ceremonial law. Isn't that what Hebrews 10 is about? Go home this afternoon and look at Hebrews 10:4, and then verse 10, and then verses 19-25, and see how the Book of Hebrews says that Jesus fulfilled that ceremonial code which pointed to Him and pointed to His finished work.
Isn't this exactly what Jesus said to the woman at the well in Samaria? She was quibbling with Him about where the Jews worshiped and where her ancestors worship…they worshiped at the mountains in Samaria, the Jews worship in Jerusalem. You remember how Jesus responded to her? He said ‘First of all, ma’am, you’re wrong; the Jews were right. But secondly, a time is coming when you won't worship in Samaria and you won't worship in Jerusalem at the temple. You’ll worship through Me. I will be the point of access by the Spirit to the heavenly Father.’ Of course, that's exactly what Paul is saying in verse 18, isn't it? That the one place of access to the one true God is through Jesus Christ, and therefore everyone who comes to the Father through Jesus the Son is a brother and sister to everyone else who comes to the Father through Jesus the Son.
You see, the Apostle Paul wants us to understand the work of Christ. He wants us to understand who has gotten this peace for us. He wants us to understand what its implications are. He wants us to understand how He has done this in order that we might understand the implications of that for ourselves, in order that we might confess and rejoice in the hope that He has given us, in order that we might stimulate one another to love and good deeds, in order that we might be faithful in gathering for worship and encouraging one another.
And you say ‘Now hold on. That's a stretch from Ephesians 2:14-18. Where do you get that?’ Well, go take a look at Hebrews 10 today. Look at verses 19-25. That's precisely the deduction that the author of Hebrews draws from this great truth.
How are we encouraging one another and reaching out in love to all those who love and trust in our common Savior, Jesus Christ? How are we in gathering together, in longing to be with one another to worship the living God, because this is family and we're here together to praise the One who saves us?
All these things are part of what it means for Him to be our peace and for us to be a part of God's new family. The Lord bless His word. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, Jesus has paid it all, and so the very thought of Him stirs us in the depths of our being. But it ought to do more than just stir us, O God: it ought to move us to love one another, and to worship You, and to want to live in righteousness – to do deeds of love and kindness. So change us by the truth, we pray. Sanctify us by it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.