The Lord's Day Morning
November 20, 2005
“No Longer Strangers and Aliens”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter two, as we continue to work our way through this great book. I can remind you of where we were a couple of weeks ago, looking at Ephesians 2.
In verses 11 and 12, the Apostle Paul, for at least the second time in Ephesians 2, reminds us of what we were like apart from Jesus Christ. In this passage he is especially speaking to the Gentile Christians who are now a part of this Gentile congregation in Ephesus, and so this book is exceedingly precious to us, most of whom are Gentile Christians. (Not all of us, but most of us in this local fellowship of believers are Christians who come from a Gentile lineage.)
Well, these Christians in Ephesus were joined with Jewish Christians in this local congregation, and Paul is explaining to those Gentile Christians the especial blessings that they have because of the work of Christ. And in order to do that, for the second time in this passage (in chapter 2, verses 11 and 12), he reminds them what they were like apart from Jesus Christ: They had no Messiah; they had no state; they had no true friendship in God; they were hopeless; and, they were without God.
And then, beginning in verse 13 and all the way down to verse 18, he tells them for the second time what God has done on their behalf in Jesus Christ: Through the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, they had been brought into the family of God, and he concentrates from verses 13 to 18 on Who it is that caused them to take a full part in God's family, how He did it, and why He did it. In other words, he focuses them on Jesus Christ in both His work on the Cross and His abolishing of the ceremonial law of Moses.
Then he reminds them how that ceremonial law had kept them from being able to participate in Israel. Remember, much of the ceremonial law was designed to keep Israel ethnically and religiously distinct from the Gentiles; so, the things that Israel could eat kept them from being able to have full table fellowship with the Gentiles, and the things that Israel wore made them stand out when they were walking around in the community and there were Gentiles there, and there were certain laws about the times of the year that they had to observe that kept them from being able to participate in the same way that Gentiles would in a society. It, in other words, kept them religiously and ethnically distinct.
But the other thing that that did is it kept the Gentiles from ever being able to fully participate in the life of God expressed in His communion with His people, and now Paul explains that Jesus, through His death on the Cross and through His abolition of the ceremonial law through fulfilling it, had enabled the Gentiles to come into full and unmitigated experience of fellowship with the living God. And one consequence of this, he says, is that they were now brothers and sisters, joint heirs, full members with the Jewish Christians in the people of God. That's where Paul has gone so far in this passage.
Now we come to verses 19-22 today as Paul concludes this part of his argument, and now his focus is on what this work of Christ has made these Gentile Christians to be, together with their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters, and notice he uses three descriptions of the church in this passage: In verse 19, the first section, you’ll see him speak of the church as a kingdom. He uses the image of citizenship in a kingdom. Then if you look at the second half of verse 19, you’ll see that he speaks of being a member of the family of God; and so there is first this description of the church as a kingdom, now as a family. And then finally, if you look at verses 20-22, you’ll see that that whole section of three verses is designed to describe the people of God, the church, as a temple, or a building, the very dwelling place of God.
Today we're going to look at those descriptions of what we are. Notice again where we've come: From verses 11,12, what we were apart from Christ; verses 13-18, what God did to make us a part of His people in Christ; and then, verses 19-22, what we are now that we are in Jesus Christ. The flow of Paul's thought is very clear in this passage.
Before we read the word and look to His word for the direction of our life, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way. It is a great encouragement, too, in that it sets forth Your promises. This passage shows us some of the riches that You give us in Jesus Christ. Help us to respond in gratitude.
This passage also sets forth the responsibilities that we have as the people of God. Teach us by Your Spirit humbly and joyfully to embrace those responsibilities and to live them out. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been build upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling
of God in the Spirit.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul is saying to these Gentile Christians and to you and me that as we are now part of God's new family, we are together with our Jewish Christian friends part of one kingdom, children in one family, living stones in God's one growing temple.
In order to explain what we have received in Christ, the Apostle Paul sets out three descriptions in this passage…three aspects of what we are as the people of God…and he's showing us the riches that we have gained by God's grace. He's showing us aspects of what it means to be the church, to be the people of God, to be trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. And Paul is saying that God's new people made up of believing Jews and Gentiles is a trans-ethnic, trans-national community. Whereas Israel was made up of the descendants of Abraham and was a national community, a state, so God's new people is trans-ethnic: it's made up of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
And it's trans-national: it's not limited to one state. God's community is, he tells us, a kingdom, a family, and a temple, and those are the three things that I'd like to look at with you today.
I. By God's grace, you are now Fellow Citizens of God's Kingdom.
Let's start in verse 19 with this first description: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints…” Now, the word kingdom isn't used in that verse, but the idea of the kingdom is there because of this picture of citizenship that the Apostle
Paul reminds us of. What he's telling these Gentile Christians there was ‘Once upon a time, with regard to the people of God (which was Israel), you were strangers and aliens. You didn't have a passport, you didn't have a Jewish birth certificate, you weren't a part of the nation-state of Israel, you were not part of the ethnic group that constituted the bulk of the people of God; you were help off from being able to participate in the fullness of the kingdom.’
And, you know, the Old Testament utilizes that idea of the kingdom a lot. God's kingdom doesn't so much refer to some sort of a static castle or geographical boundary over which He rules: it refers to the rule of God manifested in the lives of His people, but in the Old Testament the most powerful public manifestation of the rule of God in the lives of His people was in the nation-state of Israel. Israel was to be in the midst of all the nations around them as a living, breathing, walking, talking witness that there is a God, and that He is Lord and Sovereign, and so His lordship and sovereignty was to be manifested in their lives so that Gentiles could look and say ‘Those people are different from us. Those people have a different Lord from us. Those people march to the beat of a different drum than we do. They’re different. They have a different Lord.’
They were to be a visible manifestation of the rule of God, of the kingdom of God, and the Apostle Paul is saying to these Gentiles ‘But when Jesus came and He died on the Cross, and when He abolished the ceremonial law by fulfilling it, He made it possible for you Gentiles to have a full part in His kingdom, to be equally brothers and sisters with believing Jews in that one kingdom. Jesus has redefined the kingdom of God; it's no longer the nation-state of Israel, now it's a trans-ethnic, trans-national community of believers in Jesus Christ from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you Gentiles have a full part in that.’ What a glorious privilege that is to them!
You know, even those Gentile proselytes who had believed in the God of Israel and had given generously to the support of Judaism and even to the bearing of witness and to evangelism by the Pharisees in the first century – even they were held at arm's length. They couldn't come and participate fully in all that it was to commune with the living God in Jerusalem. And here is Paul saying to these Gentile Christians ‘You are fully citizens in this kingdom of God that has been established by Jesus Christ.’ This would have been an incredibly encouraging thing for them to hear, and it ought to be encouraging to you and me, because we have a citizenship that will never ever fail.
You know, there will be a day, my friends — I don't know when it will be, and I hope it will be a long, long time from now — but there will be a day when citizenship in the United States of America is changed. It may be that there will be a day when our nation will come to an end, or there may be a day that will come when our nation is greatly diminished; and when it is diminished or when it comes to an end, so will our citizenship be diminished or come to an end.
But we are citizens of a kingdom that will never, never end, and it will wax and wax in power and extent and greatness until the sun is no more, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the light of His people forever and ever. And we're part of that kingdom, and it is a glorious blessing — but let me also say, it is a great responsibility, because with every blessing of God there is privilege and responsibility, and one of the responsibilities of being a citizen of God's kingdom is that you march to the beat of His drum, not to the world's drum. You’re part of His kingdom; you’re not part of the kingdoms of this world, but of the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever, and His reign is to be manifested in your life.
Just as Israel ate different food and wore different clothes so that the world could see that they were different and followed the one true God, a different God than the false gods of the nations, so also we are to be a living, breathing, walking, talking witness that we follow a different God: the one true God.
But we don't wear different clothes than the world (except that we dress more modestly!) and we don't necessarily eat different foods from the world, so how do we stand out in the world? Because we think differently from the world; we believe differently from the world; we live differently from the world, and we love differently from the world. It is our ambition to be pleasing to the Lord God. We believe what He says in His word. Our worldview is informed by the teaching of Scripture. We love one another even when we're different, and even when we hurt one another. We live by a different moral code than the world around us, and by this the world is to see that God's rule is manifest in our midst.
Do you see how vital this is for us? I want to say to you, my friends, that the biggest challenge to our evangelistic witness to our own neighbors in this community and around the world is that we are so much like this world — the way that we live, our ambitions, our priorities and our desires — that when the world looks at us, the world says ‘You are no different than we are, except that we're better than you, because at least we're not hypocrites.’ And, my friends, that stifles our ability to witness to the saving truth of God in Jesus Christ, and the only answer to that argument against us is our lives. There is only one answer to that argument, and that is our lives; and, therefore, it is incumbent upon us to live as if we are members of God's kingdom, which, by the grace of Jesus Christ, we are.
Imagine…this week if you are in a gathering of people who are all wearing the colors blue and bright red…and they were cheering a particular athletic team, and you were wearing the same colors, too, but you started screaming, “Go, Dogs!” and they look at the “Ole Miss” emblazoned across your sweater, and they say, “What's wrong with you?” Or, let's imagine that you’re in a particular group of people this week, and they’re all clad in maroon, as far as the eyes can see, and they’re cheering and screaming, but there you are in your maroon screaming, “Go, Rebels!” What would they think of you? You’re in the wrong kingdom! You may look like you’re in the kingdom of the Dogs, but you’re cheering like you’re in the kingdom of the Rebels!
My friends, it's the same thing in the world. You can wear your baptism and your Lord's Supper and your church membership, and you can live and breathe and walk and talk as if your membership is somewhere else, but not in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Apostle Paul is reminding us here not only is it this glorious privilege for us to be a part of the kingdom of God, but it is a responsibility for us to live so that the world sees whose kingdom we really belong to.
I want to say, that is one of the great challenges that all of us face, whether we're young people being encouraged in high school or college to conform in our behavior to sub-standard ethics, to be sexually unfaithful, to abuse alcohol, to think like the world, to believe like the world, to love the things that the world offers, and then to dab a little bit of Christianity on top of it just to make us feel good, or whether we're middle-aged, successful, striving after all the other things that all the pagans around us are striving after, and dabbing a little bit of Christianity on top of it, the great challenge for us is to live like we are citizens of God's kingdom and not of the passing kingdoms of this world.
II. By God's grace, you are now family members of God's household.
But there's a second thing that Paul says here. Notice again in verse 19, he says, “You are of God's household.” Isn't that beautiful? Not only by grace are we fellow citizens of God's kingdom, but by grace we are now members of God's family. We are God's family members! Isn't that a beautiful thing? These Jewish and Gentile Christians in Ephesus are now part of the same family, even though their lineages are very different. They’re part of the heavenly Father's family, and here Paul especially wants to stress that that means that they are part of a brotherhood with all fellow believers, no matter what their tribe or language, or people or genealogy or national origin, may be. And that means for us that we are part of a brotherhood that stretches across all racial, and national, and political and cultural barriers, and that is to be expressed in our love for all Christians, but especially in the local congregation.
Young people, some of you over the next few weeks are going to be raising money for Christmas gifts for your young brothers and sisters in Christ on the coast of Mississippi. That is a good thing to do. That's a good way to show your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. And we're doing other things for our brothers and sisters in Christ on the coast of Mississippi. That's a good thing to do, but you know what? It's easier to love our brothers and sisters in Christ on the coast of Mississippi than it is to love one another right in this local congregation. You know why? Because we're not around them enough for them to hurt our feelings and to offend us, or betray us, and to deeply wound us, and to leave us lasting hurts in the depths of our hearts. But we are around one another enough here to hurt one another and wound one another, and offend one another, and leave one another with lasting hurts.
Let me tell you what: When we are in that position, it is right then and there that we have the opportunity to manifest the reality that God is talking about here through the Apostle Paul. Then we have the opportunity to love through those hurts, to love across those hurts, to love against those wounds and to determine that we are going to be brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, no matter how we have been wounded by those who are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in this local congregation.
You know, it would be an interesting thing if we could suddenly with some kind of freedom stand up and say how many wounds there were in the families and in the friendships represented just in this congregation today. My guess is we’d be here for a long time. And I want to challenge you, my friends: If there are estrangements, if there are offenses, if there are wounds, if there are hurts that have disrupted your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in this congregation, make it your purpose for our witness to the world to be reconciled to your brothers and sisters. I'm not belittling what you may have been through, what you may have experienced, by any stretch. But make it your business to be reconciled, because I want to tell you this: It might not make the front pages of The Clarion Ledger, but there will be people in this community who would say ‘You know, I know So-and-so, and I know So-and-so, and I know what happened between them, and the fact that they can love one another – there is only one explanation for that: that there is a God, and that He has grace that is greater than sin, and greater than wounds, and greater than offenses, and somehow that grace of God has worked in their lives that they love one another, because I know what has gone on between them.’
My friends, when there is a grace in our relationship with one another which is clearly manifest to the world that it could not have come from our own hearts, it only could have come from the grace of Jesus Christ working in our hearts, then we bear witness to the world that there is a God, and that Jesus Christ is His Son, and that His power to redeem and change us is immeasurable! And, my friends, that kind of witness cannot be refuted. There is no refutation to that witness to our community. It is a display of the power of God!
III. By God's grace, you are now stones in a living growing temple.
And there's a third thing I want you to see here, as well. Look at it in verses 20-22. (Our time is hastening on….) The Apostle Paul not only says that by God's grace we are fellow citizens of God's kingdom, he not only says that by God's grace we are now God's family members, God's household, God's house, but, by God's grace we are now stones in a living, growing temple.
Now this is an extraordinary thing. You remember that in the Old Testament…what was the greatest visible symbol that God dwelt in the midst of His people, near to His people, present with His people, blessing His people? The greatest visible symbol was first the tabernacle, and then the temple. For a thousand years the temple stood as a visible reminder as that Shekinah glory had come down and filled the temple, that God was in the midst of His people, that God was near His people, that God was dwelling with His people, that God was fulfilling that Aaronic benediction that you heard this morning after the baptisms:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
It was the visible symbol of God's fulfillment of His promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and Moses and David, and Jeremiah, that “I will be your God, and you will be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you.” It was the visible reminder of the reality that David spoke about in Psalm 23, that even when he was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord was with him! And he would do what? “Dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
You see, the greatest promise that God ever gave to His people in the Old Testament or the New is that He would dwell with us, and that we would dwell with Him forever…we would be in fellowship, in sweet communion with Him.
You see what the Apostle Paul is saying here? He is saying ‘Once upon a time, the visible demonstration that God was in the midst of His people was the temple. But now Jesus is building a new temple.’
Do you remember? Jesus got in trouble with the Pharisees for pointing out one day and saying ‘You see that temple? I can tear it down and build it in three days.’ And the Pharisees were not happy about that! And they were not happy about it because that was the visible symbol that God dwells in the midst of His people. And, you see, Jesus was not only indicating that He was going to be raised from the dead, but in His resurrection He was going to do…what? Create a new temple not made of stones, not made of bricks, not made of steel or made of concrete…but made of people! And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘You are the new temple! You are the new dwelling of God collectively as you are brought together. As the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit, builds you into living stones, you become the place where God will dwell!’
It is the fulfillment of every promise, it was the dream of the depth of the heart of every believer in Israel, and Paul is saying to that little group of Gentiles and Jews gathered in Ephesus ‘You are the temple of God.’ And I'm saying that to you on Paul's authority and the authority of the word of God. If you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, you are part of that temple of God.
But, my friends, think of it: If we are ourselves the temple of God, how grievous a thing it is for us to live like the world, to besmirch with sinfulness the place where God dwells.
And, you understand, that's a collective responsibility. Ninety percent of the people of God can be living with Him, and yet, if ten percent of the people who have professed His name have come into the fellowship and they have brought with them a life which is out of accord with His word (which is going after the things of this world, which is living in raw opposition to the realities that we have professed that we would believe and live), then we dishonor God amongst the Gentiles and we bring wickedness in the midst of the place where God dwells.
You remember the sin of Achan. You remember the judgment of God. Oh, my friends, what a great privilege it is to be the living temple of the living God, and what a great responsibility it is! If you this day are living a parallel life, a life which sometimes professes to be God's family, in God's kingdom, as God's temple, and yet out there or in here, or in private or somewhere else in public, are living a life that says ‘That's not my kingdom,’ dear friend, today is the day that God has appointed for you to realize that and to reckon that there is no third option. We are either in God's kingdom or we are not.
And if today you are a believer and you’re struggling with your weaknesses and your infirmities and the way you stumble and you fall, and the way sometimes you’re drawn after the world…but your heart really isn't with the world, it's with the Lord God…then remember what God has made you, and live like it.
Lord God, we love Your kingdom. We love Your family. We’re stunned that You have made us Your dwelling place. O God, grant that we would live like it. Grant us the confidence of knowing that by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ You have made us Your children, You've made us citizens of Your kingdom, You've made us living stones. But, Lord God, if this day we are playing games and we're pretending to be Christians sometimes but our hearts are just not in it, wake us up from that sleep of death, for Christ's sake. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.