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Walking in Unity

Published: 3 months ago- 11 February 2024
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SERMON MANUSCRIPT

Big Idea: God’s new people in Christ.

Rome 1997 – St Peter’s Basilica. I was not allowed in. Apparently not dressed appropriately – shorts. Those guys are wearing dresses and you let them in! Not happy, Jan. Excluded. On the outer. Alienated. No further correspondence entered into.

What should be our expectation of the church?

In the days of Paul if any of his Ephesian readers were to go to Jerusalem to see the temple they wouldn’t be allowed in either. Not because of how they were dressed but because of how they were born.

In Paul’s world there were two kinds of people – those allowed in the temple, and those who were not. Jews and Gentiles. God’s nation and everyone else. The guys at Ephesus were not allowed in.

In fact if they had of gone to Jerusalem to visit the temple in those days they would have been able to get as far as an outer court. From that court area they would be able to look up and see the actual building and watch the Jews who were allowed to continue on up into a much closer courtyard of their own.

If our Ephesian friends tried to go any further though they would come to a wall about a metre and a half tall. At regular intervals along the wall there were entrances and at these entrances they would see big signs which read,

No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.

Can’t be much clearer than that. Trespassers will be shot.

Ancient writers tell us that the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles at that time was that the only reason Gentiles were created was to fuel the fires of hell.

A long history of the world being viewed as two people groups, Jews and Everybody else, Jews and Gentiles with no love lost between them.

It seemed impossible for outsiders to get in.

But here we read that God gathers his church in Christ (v11-18)

Through the work of Jesus God knocked down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile.

Read v11-12.

11Therefore 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- 12remember 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.

Now Paul doesn’t say that Gentiles were created as fuel for the fires of hell. But what he does say is that without Jesus we were excluded, on the outer, alienated.

How do we get in? Jesus.

We would like to think that naturally we would be included.

NOT SO, NOT APART FROM JESUS.

Apart from Jesus we did not have the promises – which circumcision pointed to; we were excluded from the people of promise, we were aliens and foreigners in God’s kingdom – without God and without hope.

Theologically speaking you can not be in a worse place than that.

A few months ago Optus went down. Disconnected. Surprised at how much I rely on mobile data.

Jesus is better than Optus. Read v13.

13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

You who were disconnected, are now connected, through the blood of Jesus.

The church is a collection of people reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus.

Read v14-16.

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by 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, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Jesus has reconciled, brought together the two groups. That sign in the temple – Trespassers will be shot – that sign is now out of date.

Look at v14 – he has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

The physical wall with it’s unfriendly signs that separated the Gentiles from the Jews in the temple courts was still standing – that didn’t come down until 70AD when the Romans decimated the temple.

But what we need to understand is that when Jesus died on that first Easter the temple in Jerusalem was rendered obsolete.

The curtain separating the holy of holies from the rest of the temple courts, from the rest of the world was ripped, top to bottom, access to God was now and forevermore through Jesus.

The dividing wall of hostility, from a spiritual sense and in a theological sense had come down (v15).

Jesus through his blood, through his sacrifice on the cross had fulfilled and abolished the ceremonial requirements of the Jewish faith, because through his death Jesus had created a new humanity, a new people group – we call them Christians, or followers of Jesus.

Whatever race or tribe or group or team you may have identified with before or be a part of now, if you are a follower of Jesus then first and foremost you are a part of God’s kingdom, members of God’s family.

Not through bloodlines. But through the blood of Christ. Not through privilege but through preaching.

Read v17-18

17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

To those far away and those who are near – Jew and Gentile.

Please understand that the gospel is for everyone. For all nationalities (suicide bombers and pacifists). For all races (weird and wonderful). For people who have lots and for people who have not so much. For the lovely people and the smelly people.

Everyone needs to the good news of Jesus no matter where they are; and we need to understand that we were the far, far away people, that we were foreigners and strangers. On the outer, excluded and alienated.

But in Jesus we have been welcomed in.

The church is a collection of people reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus.

What should be our expectation of the church?

In Christ God is building his church (v19-22)

Read v19

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

We are now a part of God’s family.

We were once orphans but in Jesus we have been rescued, adopted – issued with passports for the kingdom of God and birth certificates in his family – Father: God; Brother – Jesus.

As good as that is it doesn’t stop there. We are being built into a holy temple, God’s dwelling place on earth.

Read v20-22

20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

God’s people are now the temple. God dwelling among his people is no longer symbolised by bricks and mortar, God dwells in his people by his Spirit.

The temple of God is not located in one place on the planet but scattered throughout the whole world as gospel churches are planted and grow. But the specifications of the building are all the same.

One time we thought about building a house in an estate. There are regulations about the minimum size, the material you can use, where you can put your fences, how many pets you can own (although not many people pay attention to that bit).

If you want to build in God’s estate, if you want to be a true local expression of God’s church there are building codes.

Foundation (v20a) – the teaching of the apostles and prophets (NT), all who point us to Jesus. The ones who reveal to us the truths and plans of God. Who hold the straight edge of Scripture against the lives of God’s people living in a warped world.

He is the cornerstone (v20b)- the one stone that holds all the others. He sets the line, and ties the whole thing together. Jesus is central to who we are, what we do, and how we do it. The building, that’s us as a church reflects him, and showcases him.

Organism – growing. Being built (v21-22). We are a part of an ongoing project. Under construction.

Our church building as it is today has changed over its lifetime. It’s not perfect, it’s not that pretty (although losing the orange walls is a good start), we work with what we’ve got.

Good picture of the actual church – us, the people.

In Christ we are being built together – ongoing process. Not static, growing.

To some extent Church will be hard work. Building things and growing things is hard work. We are a work in progress, that won’t be finished until Christ returns. We need to understand that.

Church is messy because we are sinners. More people more problems.

The church is not a collection of people who have similar interests or social standing, or political leanings, or manners, or who express themselves in the same ways.

Don Carson describes the church as a group of natural born enemies who love each other for the sake of Jesus.

We love the church because we love Jesus. The church is precious to him, he died for it. How can the church be any less precious to us if we love Jesus?

Here’s the nature of our hard work. We will be offended and annoyed by each other from time to time. We will let each other down, from time to time. We will need to practice patience and graciousness. We will need to make allowances for others and others will need to make allowances for us. We will need to be inconvenienced. Our church will never be as cool as we are hoping for – especially on the Sunday when you manage to bring one of your friends.

This new humanity can be a real pain in the neck sometimes, but we persist in humility, forgiveness and love; because we this is God’s work in us and because we love Jesus.

In the last book of the bible, the book of Revelation, there are letters written to seven churches. Ephesus is one of those churches – the warning is that they have lost their first love – (Rev 2:1f) the head is right but the heart is gone. Almost as if they know what to do but forgotten why they do it and who they do it for.

Rome 2013, St Peter’s Basilica. I got in and I was blown away! The immensity of God but at the same time the intimate nature of relationship with him. The building is huge! It covers 6 acres, can accommodate a standing congregation of 60,000 people. The building is two football fields in length and the dome with its depiction of heaven is more than one football field in height. It is huge. But feels a lot more intimate than you would imagine. Statues that adorn the pillars (lower one 15 foot tall – next one up looks the same but is 6 foot taller). Letters of Jesus’ words to St Peter 7 foot high, the canopy under the dome – seven story building, makes the height of the building seem lower – brings heaven closer.

There lies our challenge, our commission. To declare the immensity of the glory of God, and at the same time to make heaven seem closer.

St Peter’s by and large is a testament to Michelangelo. God’s church must be a testament to Jesus.

Not through impressive buildings. But through unimpressive lives expressing impressive love.

Bodies riddled with pain and illness, or just succumbing to age. Hearts broken, hopes dashed, plans unrealised. Imperfect relationships, wavering faith, giving into temptation, forgetting to be kind.

In the midst of all this a persevering love for Jesus, a joy in God’s calling and a fierce and loving commitment to one another.

Lives slowly being changed by his power and attempted to being lived according to his directing.

Delighting in the fruit of God at work in us. Showing the immensity and intimacy of God’s glory all at the same time.