Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. 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. In those days you 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”
– Ephesians 2:10-21NLT

When I started working at a church, I found that in some ways…it really isolated me from the everyday people of my community who may never step foot inside a church. I felt convicted I needed to know these people and their world if I was going to dare to claim I loved them and cared about them. What this led to was a practice of spending at least half a workday every week doing my work in a coffee shop near my church. Over the years, this has led to some amazing conversations and relationships with people I would never have met otherwise.

In this practice, I’ve also heard a lot of varied political perspectives. Coffee shops during the workday are an amazing hotbed of political discussion. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hear the heated opinions of an active Communist. In the past I’ve listened to disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans hash out what is wrong with the American political system.

In our American society, politics are one of the deepest divides we face right now. It seems like we can’t even have healthy, useful conversations about our political views because people become so emotional and hostile over their political values. Inevitably, it seems like political debates devolve into criticisms of the other side’s intelligence and morality.

In Ephesians 2:10-21, the Apostle Paul writes something incredibly controversial in his political environment. He wrote in verse 14NLT, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people…”

Stop. Right. There.

Jews looked down on Gentiles because they were “outsiders”, not observing the laws and rites of the Jewish faith. At best, Gentiles observed a “corrupt” version of Judaism not centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. At worst, the term “Gentiles” composed any other person in the world who did not worship Yahweh, including Roman and Greek peoples with their multiple gods and sometimes questionable worship practices, such as temple prostitution. In return, Gentiles despised the Jews for their self-righteousness and absolute refusal to bend to popular culture, which included observing the worship of Caesar as a god. The divides could not be deeper. Jews would often refuse to even enter a Gentile’s house or share food with them.

What you can draw from this is Jesus uniting these two groups as “one people” was scandalous for everybody. Yet that didn’t even slow Him up. On the one hand, one of His own disciples was “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15). Zealots were essentially “Jewish terrorists”, seeking to forcibly remove Roman rule from Israel. They frequently worked to assassinate Roman leaders and inspired revolts against Roman rule. Yet on the other hand, in Luke 7:1-10, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion asking for healing for one of his servants. After meeting this man, Jesus says to the Jewish audience around Him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9b).

Christians…we are loved by an incredible God. “Once [we] were far away from God, but now [we] have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13NLT). Note the language here: we did not somehow bring ourselves close to God. Jesus, through His death, laid bloody hands on us and drew us into relationship with the God of the universe. He gave us a Family based on shared blood with the Creator.

That family is not just for those who are already in it.

Look at that sexuality or gender questioning neighbor: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that Islamic coworker bowing toward Mecca: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that radical feminist broadcaster: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that sky-high driver you’re trapped behind: Christ is drawing them.

What if He is drawing them through you? What if He intends them to be adopted as your brother or sister by working through you?

As Reverend Matt Popovits of Our Savior New York stated, “People should reject you because of Christ, not reject Christ because of you. There is a difference.”

  1. Who are the people you have the most difficulty making peace with?
  2. Why are these people such a challenge for you?
  3. How do you feel when you read Jesus may want to draw them into His family through you?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively about someone, think of them in terms of someone Christ died for that He wants to bring into His family…your family. When you have the opportunity to bring peace in His name in our divided society…do it.

John 10:11-18 – Trustworthy

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:11-18NLT

The first US Presidential election I remember really having any kinds of thought about was when I was in middle school. I remember the controversy in our country at that time, and the middle school rhetoric floating around about who should be president. In retrospect, it was mostly parroting of opinions we heard around our dinner tables at home, as most of us were still rolling dial-up internet from home (if we had it at all). Similar scenes repeated in high school for President Bush’s second term election, perhaps with a little more diverse opinions from our parents, due to increased maturity and high speed internet access.

But the election I really remember was when President Obama was running for his first term. I was on a large, public university campus. The election seemed like the end of the world, with battle lines drawn and angry debates across the quad throughout the spring and fall. There was so much stock placed in what would happen during that election. Both sides predicted the end of America if the opposing candidate took the Oval Office. Each presidential election since then has produced the same kind of language…and I suspect similar ideas were spread in elections long into the past. Those opinions just didn’t have the internet to spread them like wildfire immediately after they were expressed.

We seem to expect so much from our leaders, as though we believe if we can just pick the exact right person, the inevitable spiral of corruption can finally be stopped and even reversed. It’s as though we expect them to save us, to keep the “wolves” at bay and perhaps even lead us to greener pastures. Yet in verse 12 of John 10, Jesus says, “A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock.” In other words, the leaders of this world, whomever they are and however they come to lead us, cannot live up to the standards we place upon them. They are doomed to fail to “deliver” us. Under the right conditions, they will break and run, no matter how honorable. They are human. Like all humanity, they have a failure point.

In contrast, Jesus calls Himself the “good shepherd.” Unlike the “hired hands”, He “sacrifices [his] life for the sheep”. And He doesn’t do so out of a sense of obligation or external pressure. Instead, He says, “I sacrifice it voluntarily.” Jesus runs into the danger, offering His life that His sheep may survive.

We are those sheep, and He is the leader in whom we can trust for salvation from the wolves. Presidents and judges, bosses and managers, even pastors and elders…they cannot save. While we can love them and support them and call them to higher service…we cannot trust them to save this world. But we can trust the one who made the world; who crafted it with His own two hands. We can trust the one who “know[s] [his] own sheep.” In other words…the one who knows us inside and out and still choses to step into the wreckage of our lives and fend off Satan and the sin that tears us apart. He is good; He does not give up; and He is coming again.

  1. What people or things do you tend to put your trust in to make your life better? Make a list.
  2. Why do you find yourself trusting these people or things?
  3. Have these people or things always succeeded in earning your trust? Why do you continue to trust them for security if they have failed you?
  4. Challenge for the week: Spending some time every morning talking to Jesus about why you struggle to trust Him with certain parts of your life. Ask Him to show you how to trust Him more.

Mark 13:24-37 – Peace in Turmoil

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:24-37ESV

In our interconnected world, news from across the ocean is before our eyes within moments. A natural disaster in South Asia can be captured on a smart phone and accessible online the minute it happens. While this instant access certainly allows for a plethora of cute cat videos and videos of incredible feats of human ability, it also means we are inundated with immediate notifications of everything going wrong in our world, so much so it feels like our society is tearing apart at the seams.

In the last year, we have faced accounts of husbands murdering their families before completing suicide, people shot to death at concerts or as they worshipped on a Sunday morning, teenagers murdering one another in school or with their words online, dictators in North Korea threatening nuclear war, men in authority using their power to abuse women, children trafficked into sexual slavery, and at every turn… political stances polarizing our nation, dividing us along lines of hate so entrenched they offer no chance for thoughtful, loving hands to join across party lines.

Focused on this world, our fixated eyes tell us to despair. In fact, I learned at the Future of the Church Summit this year the human brain cannot distinguish between threats across the world or right in your community. It’s no wonder our daily lives are filled with anxiety, depression, anger, pain, confusion, grief, and fear. The world looks like it is crashing down around us.

Leading up to Mark 13:24-37, Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem, explaining to His disciples what the signs of the end of time will be. He tells them there will be:

  • wars and rumors of war,
  • people claiming to be God,
  • earthquakes,
  • famines,
  • persecution of Christians,
  • families betraying one another to death,
  • false prophets who perform miracles,
  • and stranger natural phenomenon.

As you read this list, it’s tempting to believe Jesus’ return must be imminent. Yet Jesus clearly states in verse 32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In fact, a cursory perusal of history will tell you all these signs have been tearing our world apart since Jesus ascended into Heaven before the disciples’ wondering eyes. Shortly after His ascension, Emperor Nero of Rome would be impaling Christians and burning them alive. Ethnic cleansing and widespread wars were a staple of the ancient world. Forty years after Jesus’ ascension, Mount Vesuvius would bury Pompeii, becoming one of the worst volcanic eruptions in European history. It would not be the last. World history is speckled with people who have claimed to speak for God or be Him, only to be proven liars. World hunger has been a known issue for centuries.

Why was Jesus so specific and yet so unclear?

Perhaps because He wanted our eyes fixed, not on the despair of this world, but on His face. The promises of verses 26 & 27 were what He really wanted us to remember: “and then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Our world is a mess. It has been since Adam and Eve, duped by Satan, bit deep into the fruit of sin and in so doing shrouded our world in death. It will be until this promise is fulfilled.

But this promise will be fulfilled.

In an act of eternal compassion, Jesus ensured we knew He would be back, promising in verse 31, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This broken world will never be the final story. We don’t need to worry about how He will resolve all the pain we see… because the hands which created the universe, the same hands which bore the nails at Mount Calvary, offer us a place to rest, no matter what comes.

  1. What issues in our world trouble you the most right now?
  2. What fears do you have for the future?
  3. Read Psalm 139:1-16. How does this passage offer you comfort in the midst of your fear?
  4. Challenge for the week: write a prayer to God about your fears on an index card or sticky note. Try to make it 100% genuine. Don’t try to pretty it up but be honest with the God who already knows you inside and out. Put the note someplace you will see it every day and talk to God about it daily.