EPHESIANS SERIES (V)
Our Union With Christ:
Our Access To God
11 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—
12 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.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
15 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,
16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,
21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
June 26, 2016
Our Union With Christ: Our Access To God (Ephesians 2:11~22)
- Brought near to God (v.11-13)
- One with the Jews in Christ (v.14-18)
- One temple of God (v.19-22)
Our text today uses many familiar words and ideas that echo the times of the tabernacle and the sacrifices. The texts talks about circumcision, alienation, covenant of promise, blood, dividing wall, peace, access to God, house of God, temple, dwelling of the Spirit. Israel was God’s treasured possession; the rest of the word was alienated from the covenant or uncircumcised in the language of the Scripture. Let’s revisit the tabernacle for a moment and see how close Israel was to God and how far we were as Gentiles in the flesh. I hope that this will give us a better appreciation of what Paul was saying to the Ephesian believers and to us as well.
God’s blessing to the covenant nation was, “I will be their God and they shall be my people. (Exo 6:7; Jer 32:38: Eze 37:27; Heb 8:10)” Put another way, God promised to dwell in the midst of His people. The tabernacle and the sacrificial system was ordained as part of the unfolding of God’s great plan, the Israelites were the guardians of this covenant. The tabernacle in the wilderness was where God meets his people. If we recall in Exodus, the whole area was fenced with a white linen around 2.3 meters high (Exo 27:18). Uncircumcised people were not allowed to come near; otherwise, they must be put to death (Num 3:38). Priests were ministering in the tabernacle services day and night, and yet they can never enter the Holiest place where the very presence of God was. Only Aaron the High Priest could enter the Holiest place, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement! (Lev 16; Heb 9)
On this long awaited day, the High Priest had to strictly follow the right approach to God. He bathes himself, takes off his normal elaborate priestly garb and appears first as a sinner needing atonement for himself and his whole household with the blood of the choicest bull, before he could offer the blood of the goat for the whole nation. As he enters the holy place of the tabernacle with the sacrificial blood of these animals, he takes the censer full of coals of fire from the altar, and two handfuls of sweet incense. At this breath-taking moment, he faces the 10-centimeter thick curtain into the Holy of Holies. He would sprinkle the incense into the live coals of the censer, “that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. (Lev 16:13).” As he enters the Holy of Holies, filled with sweet smelling smoke from the censer, the whole congregation stands anxiously outside, wondering if the offering would be acceptable to God; wondering if the priest could still come out alive.
In this chamber of God’s presence, the high priest was in a way, “veiled with the thick smoke.” The shining glory of God was right above the Mercy Seat. He sprinkles the blood into the mercy seat. I can imagine this frail high priest trembling because he was standing at the very threshold of life and death, of judgment and mercy. The blood, when it is acceptable makes the difference.
We only have the slightest idea of the Holiness of God. When it was time for the tabernacle to be dismantled and moved, the Levites take a huge veil and walk backwards as they cover the Ark of the Covenant so no one could see it (Num 4:5). This holiest symbol of the covenant presence of God was very zealously guarded. I just wonder what Japan or Philippines was like those days, thousands of years ago. The whole world was in darkness, kept away from the covenant of God.
- BROUGHT NEAR TO GOD (v.11~13)
Paul continues to give solemn reminders to the Ephesian believers. Remember that you were before called the “uncircumcision,” by the Israelites who were ritually circumcised with human hands, marking them out as members of the covenant. In other words, the Ephesian believers were numbered among the strangers to the covenant, banned from even coming near the fence of the Tabernacle.
Remember that you were once afar off. Paul gives a series of descriptions – separated form Christ, alienated form the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenant of promise, no hope, and without God in the world (2:12). Notice that Paul starts with “separated from Christ” and ends with “without God.” Apart from Christ, all our acts of devotion, no matter how sincere and revered by tradition, are acts in the darkness, without the true God. In Jesus’ own words, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (Joh 17:3)”
We should note the importance of the fact that the ritual circumcision of the Israelites was performed with human hands. We cannot, like the Jews did, mistake the outward circumcision for what it was supposed to inwardly represent (regeneration). In Deuteronomy God made this promise, “…the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deu 30:6; cf. Eze 36:26)” The real circumcision and covenant membership that came with the atonement and redemption of Jesus Christ is one that is inward and spiritual.
All external signs, rituals and sacrifices point to the spiritual reality of the coming of Christ. Jesus came as God’s appointed perfect and final High Priest, who offered up his own blood and sprinkled it in the heavenly temple, once and for all. The ministry of Aaronic Priesthood was for the covenant nation of Israel ordained until the appointed time; the Priesthood of Jesus is far superior. He ministered as the High Priest for the whole world! On the cross therefore, what he accomplished in his atonement is perfect and complete for all that the Father gives to be with him (Joh 17:12). This is the reason we’re all here today. God did a wonderful work in our hearts and we began to see his great plan. So that now, “in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
- ONE WITH THE JEWS IN CHRIST (v.14~18)
The sacrifices and ceremonial rituals separated the Jews from the rest of the world. This body of ritual ordinances was a huge wall enclosing and guarding the inheritance of God, while the rest of the world was excluded. But because Jesus Christ is the very substance and fulfillment of all these requirements of God to enjoy presence, the coming of Jesus made these observances obsolete. There is therefore no more division between Jews and Gentiles as “circumcised” and “uncircumcised.” Paul clarifies, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit… (Rom 2:28-29)” A real covenant person is one that is circumcised not with human hands, but circumcised in the heart by the Spirit of God!
At the time of the Letter’s writing, the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing and there was a balustrade surrounding the temple. Uncircumcised men were warned not to cross at the threat of death. Some commentators thought this was probably what Paul had in mind when he talked about the “wall of hostility.” But, the Jews now find their peace with God in Christ’s perfect and final sacrifice. The Gentiles find their forgiveness and peace in the work of the same Jesus Christ! They are now both the people of God. The wall of partition therefore has been broken, nailed to the cross (Col 2:14)!
When Jesus was on the cross and cried, “It is finished!” that 20-centimeter curtain that separated the Holy place in the temple form the Holy of Holies was torn asunder! What a horrible omen for the Jews who crucified him! The most guarded presence of God was exposed because God has no more need of the physical temple! Those who were near, (the believing Jews) and those who were afar off (the Gentiles that God was calling) were all brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ to the very throne of God in heaven! “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (v.18)” Only the High Priest in the Old Testament had access to God’s presence once a year, veiled by the smoke from the censer! But now in Christ we all, together, have eternal access and were brought nigh to the presence of God! Isaiah therefore proclaims, “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near. (Isa 57:19)”
- ONE TEMPLE OF GOD (v.19~22)
Paul uses a variety of language to describe this new relationship of Gentiles together with the Jews to God. He calls them – “fellow citizens with the saints,” “the house of God” and “stones being fitted together into the building of the temple of the Lord!”
The believing Jews and Gentiles together make up the “whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (v.21)” The full unveiling of Jesus as the Christ, the anointed Son of God, by the apostles and the prophets is the very foundation of this final temple. The Church is built upon the “apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, (v.20)”
What a great honor and privilege we have in Jesus Christ. We are not only brought near and given access to God, but we are, “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (v.22)” We are a temple not made with human hands. When Jesus rose from the dead, we were together raised with Him. I always tell people, whenever we worship on the Lord’s Day – “Regardless of number, all Christians on the Lord’s Day in a sense ascends together with all true believers around the world in the heavens, worshiping God!” So when people would ask, “How many worshipped last Sunday”? I’d say, “Locally, we were (20,30?). But if you really want to know the actual figure, it’s… “…myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Rev 5:11-12)’” Amen! I feel crushed whenever I see people measuring and evaluating their congregation in terms of what they see – the number of attendees, the musical instruments or the location. Our real worship is at the throne of God where our Lord Jesus is!
Today, we saw how fearfully impossible it was to have access to God’s holy presence apart from his mercy and the blood of the sacrifice. We saw that only the high priest had a chance to meet with God, once a year, covered with a veil of thick smoke. But now in union with Christ, with all the Jews and Gentiles who believe in the same faith of Abraham (Rom 4:16), are brought at his very presence. There at God’s right hand, our Lord and great High Priest is our Advocate. He presents us to His Father as holy and righteous, by virtue of His own perfect work and merit. Even now, it’s unthinkable for unbelieving Jews to believe that we have such access to the throne of God. The apostles’ visions of God crush them and at the same time lift them into glory. In the words of John, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. (Rev 1:17)” But the gracious Lord touch him and said, “Fear not.”
With the view of what we realized today, I often ask Christians, “Why does it them seem a burden to come to God?” “Why is serving God seemingly a weariness when we are now graciously given access to his throne of grace?” I pray that we will not be found trifling with the grace and presence of God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)” Let us pray.