Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 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. 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 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 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.
Last week we saw from Ephesians 1:23 that our destiny as the body of Christ is to be the fullness with which Christ fills all in all. The key that unlocked the meaning of that destiny was Ephesians 3:10 which says that "the manifold wisdom of God will be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." In other words, God aims to make the church, the body of Christ, into a showcase of the glory of his perfections. God will fill the universe with the glory of his Son by putting the body of his Son, the church, on display. He will hold up the church and say to heaven and hell: this is the glory of my Son, his bride, his body, his church.
What Was Israel's Destiny?
But Paul was a Jew. He knew his Old Testament well. He lived in the hope of that book. And so there was a problem with seeing the church as the embodiment and "fullness" of the glory of God and his Son. The problem was that this was Israel's destiny. God had made these promises to Israel. Now Paul is saying that the church, made up of Jews and Gentiles, will be God's people, the glory of God's Son and the fullness of the Messiah's glory in the world.
God Had Chosen Israel as His Own Special Possession
Remember that God had chosen Israel from all the peoples on the earth for his own special possession and had given promises to this people unlike that to any other.
For example in Deuteronomy 14:2 Moses reminds the people of Israel,
You are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.
And in Isaiah 43:1 we read,
Thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
God Was Israel's God in a Unique Way
And not only are they his people, but he is their God in a very unique and special way. The heart and essence of the covenant that God made with Israel in Genesis 17:7 is this: "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be God to you and to your descendants after you." And when he reaffirms it at the Exodus, he says to them, "I will take you for my people and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God" (Exodus 6:7).
So Israel was God's chosen people, he was their God. And Romans 9:4–5 spells out the privileges that status implied: to Israel "belonged the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises . . . and according to the flesh [theirs was] the Christ, who is God over all blessed for ever."
The Reason God Chose Israel to Receive Privileges
The privileges were unspeakably great. And the reason God chose Israel and gave them these privileges is clear from Isaiah 49:3,
And [God] said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."
Or in Jeremiah 13:11 God says that he chose Israel and made them his own possession "that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory." God's aim was to fill the universe with his glory and praise through what he did with this people Israel.
Paul is saying, that's the destiny of the church. How can this be?
Seeking Biblical Truth or Political Correctness?
A while back I called up the main rabbi at Temple Israel, over on Hennepin Avenue (Stephen Pinsky at the time) and invited him to lunch. We went to Rudolph's (not Pizza Hut) and had a very frank, and sometimes tense, talk about Jews and Christians.
The conclusion of that talk was that the rabbi solved the problem of Jews and Christians like this: God has two plans to bless people. One is the Jewish covenant; and the other is the Christian covenant. Jews do not have to be Christians and Christians do not have to be Jews in order to be blessed. Both can get to God their own way: with Jesus (for Christians) or without Jesus (for Jews).
This is a common idea today among those in Jewish-Christian dialogue. And this idea will win the day wherever people place the new authority of politically correct speech above the old authority of the Bible. The new authority today says that if an idea can be made to sound tolerant or respectful of differences or pluralistic or compassionate, then that idea is good to endorse. Notice, I don't say, "That idea is true," because "truth" is emphatically not a politically correct concept. The claim to truth is arrogant and intolerant and disrespectful of differences and undemocratic and uncompassionate. The concept of truth is ruled out by the new authority precisely because it makes people feel put down who don't agree. And the first and great commandment of the new authority is "Thou shalt not make anyone feel put down."
It doesn't matter what your intentions are and what your words mean. All that matters is that someone claims to feel put down when you speak a truth that they don't share. So in the new authority of our day the victim is always right. Because they know infallibly whether they feel put down or not. And there is no defense against this authority because all your protests about your true intention or the loving value of truth are vetoed by the new absolute, namely, of how people feel about what you say.
And so if you say, for example, that there are not two covenants between man and God: one for Jews and one for Christians, but there is only one covenant and one way to be reconciled to God, then your claim to truth will be vetoed by the new authority as intolerant, disrespectful, undemocratic, unpluralistic, offensive, anti-Semitic, and dangerous. The issue of truth will not even be raised. The issue is: how will it make people feel? And, how arrogant will it make you look?
So you will have to choose this morning whether you will submit to the new authority (of so-called political correctness) that increasingly rules our society, or whether you will submit to biblical authority. I say biblical authority not my authority, and so let's look at the text more closely so that you can see for yourselves how Jew and Gentile relate to each other, and to God, and to the body of Christ.
A New People of God United by Jesus
Start with Ephesians 2:12 which describes what our condition was as Gentiles before Jesus the Messiah came. "Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." That's where we start. Then Jesus comes, and all that changes. Look at verse 19, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household."
The same summary statement is given in Ephesians 3:6 where Paul defines the mystery of Christ that he preaches: "to be specific, [the mystery of Christ is] that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs [with the Jews] and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."
What happened? Once we were separated from Christ, now Christ himself has drawn near to us. Once we were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, now we are fellow citizens in Israel. Once we were strangers to the covenants of promise, now we are fellow partakers of the promise. Once we were without hope, now we are fellow heirs of all God has to give. Once we were without God in the world, now we are members of God's household.
And the whole picture here is not that we move into these blessings on separate, parallel tracks apart from Israel—them, without Jesus, and us, with Jesus—but that we move into them together on one track—through one Savior, one cross, one body, one new man, one Spirit to one Father. The picture here is that the true Israel becomes the church of Christ and the church of Christ emerges as the true Israel. And what unites this new people is Jesus. They are the people of Jesus. Not Jew and Greek, not slave and free, not male and female, not barbarian, Scythian, free, but Christ is all and in all (cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
Christ Made Jew and Gentile One in the Church
Now let's be more precise and notice the actual words that prove this oneness of Jew and Gentile in the new people of God.
Verse 14: "He is our peace, who made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one." Christ did not come to open a second alternative way to God. He came to make Jew and Gentile one in his church.
Verse 15b: " . . . that in himself he might make the two [Jew and Gentile] into one new man, thus establishing peace." Here he pictures the church as a single person. Once there were Jewish persons and Gentile persons. Now Christ comes and unites them to himself so that "in himself" there would be only one new person, namely, Christ: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, but Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11). Christ is the one new man. Which leads us naturally to verse 16 where Jew and Gentile are the one body of the one new man.
Verse 16: " . . . and [that Christ] might reconcile them both [Jew and Gentile] in one body to God." The reconciling work of Christ brings people to God not in two alien bodies, one rejecting him (Jewish) and one trusting him (Christian). Christ brings Jew and Gentile to God in one body, the church.
And not only in one body, but also in one Spirit. Verse 18: "For through him [Christ] we have access in one Spirit to the Father." So Paul sums up this great unified work of salvation in 4:4–6, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called into the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."
Paul's Answer to the Problem
So what is Paul's answer to the problem that God chose Israel to be the fullness of his glory and yet now promises that glory to the church? His answer is that the true Israel has become the church and the church has emerged as the true Israel.
There had always been a faithful remnant of believing Jews in physical, ethnic Israel. These were the true Israel. Not all Israel was true Israel (Romans 9:6). But some were. And when Jesus the Messiah came, the proof of whether a Jew was part of the true Israel was whether he confessed Jesus as the Son of God or denied him. John said, "No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23). And Jesus said, "He who does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent him" (John 5:23). If you reject Jesus, you reject God; and if you reject God, you are not part of true Israel.
Jesus is the point in redemptive history where the true Israel becomes the church of Christ and the church (Jew and Gentile) emerges as the true Israel.
There Are Not Two Ways of Salvation
There are not two saving covenants. There are not two saved peoples. And the reason is that there are not two ways of salvation. Verse 16 shows us the unifying foundation of salvation and the people of God. "[Christ] reconciled them both [Jew and Gentile] in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." Jews needed the cross and Gentiles needed the cross. After centuries of animal sacrifices that pointed forward to the True Sacrifice, Jews needed to be reconciled to God and Gentiles needed to be reconciled to God. There was enmity not only between Jew and Gentile, but at root there was enmity between Jews and God and Gentiles and God that needed to be overcome by the peace-making work of Christ.
So there was one great work of salvation on the cross when Jesus died to remove the enmity between God and Jew and between God and Gentile. And he did this reconciling work not separately but in one body, the church. Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in Christ. That is why being reconciled to God means being reconciled to each other. That is why there cannot be two peoples and two tracks to heaven. For there is one way to be reconciled to God: Christ reconciles us to God by uniting us to himself. And that means we become one body, Jew and Gentile.
- Being the body of Christ means that we have been brought into a Jewish inheritance. We have our salvation because we are fellow citizens with Israel and have become heirs of the promise of Abraham—that God would be the God of his descendents. The root of God's covenant with Israel supports us the grafted in branches; we do not support the root (Romans 11:18). We are not an independent body over against Israel. We have been grafted in to the true Israel. God forbid that anyone would distort the good news of Christ's reconciling work into anti-Semitism. The new authority of "politically correct" speech will call it that. But God, who wills the salvation of Israel, does not call it that. Our hearts' desire and prayer to God is that Israel be saved (Romans 10:1)—that Israel according to the flesh become with us the true Israel, the body of Christ.
- The body of Christ is a body where unreconciled relationships are so at odds with the reality of what Christ has done in creating the body that they cannot endure without casting doubt on a person's true participation in the body. This is one of the great practical challenges of being the body of Christ at Bethlehem. We must be a reconciling people because we are a reconciled people. Not a people who do not offend and get offended. But a people who are soon on the road to reconciliation.