33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”
That passage is from the 21st chapter of Acts. The apostle Paul has gotten in trouble again and has been arrested. If you read through Acts and on into Paul's letters, it seems sometimes that Paul wasn't happy unless he was getting into some kind of trouble. And when I say “trouble”, I don't mean some governor somewhere gave a stern lecture and a warning. Did you hear what these people were doing to Paul? They rushed him and were beating him and trying to kill him. He must have really done something bad for the whole city of Jerusalem to get mad and try to kill him. Do you know what crime Paul had done to incite this riot?
It doesn't matter that Paul actually didn't do what he was accused of this time. The people were trying to kill him because somebody THOUGHT they saw him bring a Gentile into the court of the temple. Shocking, huh? How dare he! How dare he defile the temple! How dare he bring a filthy, uncircumcised Gentile into the place reserved only for the holy and pure Jews. Yes, those “holy and pure” Jews who then tried to kill him.
The temple was divided into sections. The Jews could go into the inner area but the Gentiles could only look from a distance and worship in the outer court. There was actually a wall that still stands to this day that blocked the way to the temple and kept the Gentiles in one area and the Jews could go everywhere else. That wall has an inscription that reads “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.”
They didn't just politely ask you to leave. If you were a Gentile in the court of the Jews, there was no reason good enough. They just killed you. Some friends of mine invited me to a fancy schmancy restaurant one time and I showed up in jeans and a shirt. The lady at the door quickly informed me that I couldn't come in because I was not wearing a coat and tie. So I know exactly how the Gentiles felt! Haha!
Have you ever tried to get in somewhere where you couldn't? Have you ever been to a church where you were not welcome? That's a bad feeling. If you have ever tried to get into a concert or a show or any place without the right ticket or the right credentials or at least with the right person, you know something about how that feels.
It is the same with Heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” Not everybody will get to Heaven; only those with the right relationship. Jesus made that clear but Paul gives us some more detail about how that happens and what we looked like before we knew Jesus and what we looked like afterward as well.
Turn to the book of Ephesians. We will look at the second chapter, verses 11-22. In this passage, I have to believe that Paul is remembering that instance in Jerusalem at the temple as he references the barrier. He talks about the hostility between Jews and Gentiles and the fact that Jesus has brought them together and under his citizenship as a new society. Read Eph. 2:11-22.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I wish we had about 3 months to fully unpack all of the significance in this passage; to fully appreciate the beauty of the words and the way that it applies not to just Jews and Gentiles but to us a church and as individuals as well. As we go through the book of Ephesians, I want us to keep this in mind mainly as the new church we are to become, remembering that it is “through Christ” and “in Christ” that we have a new life and should be as a new church.
Today, I want us to see ourselves as a church, much like Myra described herself as an individual, as we were before we met Christ, then what Christ has done and lastly as what we have become. To start, let's go back to verses 11-12.
Paul here talks about the circumcision and the uncircumcision which is how the Jews and the Gentiles referred to each other. These were both used in a derogatory way by both parties. Each one did not want to be the other. In fact, the original Greek word for circumcised is the word from which we get our term “dog breath” and the word uncircumcised means “pig face”. Or something along those lines. It was used by both parties to call the other party something bad.
Verse 11 is to show that what had, in the Old Testament, been given to Abraham to show outwardly the sign of the covenant of God’s people had now devolved into name-calling and was useless. But in verse 12 he drops the business of what Jews and Gentiles called each other and comes on to the serious reality of Gentile alienation.
He says that you were separate from Christ. This is a tragedy, especially in light of what we learned about being “in Christ” last week from chapter 1. In chapter 1 it talked about the spiritual blessings we have in Christ that include election, adoption and unification. We have, in Christ, the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life but here in chapter 2, Paul reminds us of what we were before we were in Christ, and that includes being alienated from God, from Heaven, from all the spiritual blessings that God could possibly bestow.
And believe it or not, if we are going to have a new life as a new church then we as a church have to be in Christ. Without it we are spinning our wheels. We are just trading places and prolonging the inevitable. Let’s make this easy on all of us and let’s just all go join the church across the street if we are not going to live, as a church, in Christ.
Well, I agree, pastor, but how do we know if we are living in Christ or not? That’s a good question and the answer is that when we are not living in Christ then that alienation will manifest itself. Not just alienated from God and His blessings but it will show up in our being alienated from each other and the community and the state and the world.
That is why Jesus said in Acts 1:8 that we would be His disciples in Jerusalem and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. When we get so inwardly focused on what makes us comfortable instead of how we can reach lost people then that shows our alienation which is proof of not living in Christ. You can’t expect God to bless a church or an individual that has allowed himself to be alienated from Him or the community and the rest of the world.
And we shouldn’t live like that when we are reminded of what Jesus has done in our lives as individuals and as a church. And what He has done is spelled out in verses 13-18. He has made peace. Look at verse 13. In the Old Testament, Israel and the Jews are always referred to as being near to God and the Gentiles, everybody else, are referred to as being far away. Then in verse 14, it says that Jesus is our peace and has brought both Jew and Gentile close to each other and close to God, through His Son Jesus.
Verse 16 says He put to death their hostility and then 18 says we both have access to the Father. He is our peace and through Him we have peace and the fact that we have access to the Father should bring us peace. Does it for you? Does access to the Father bring you peace?
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” James says we don’t have because we don’t ask God. That is an incredible blessing; to have access to the Father through the Son. And through the Son, we have peace with God and with our fellow man.
So, that brings us to the 3rd part of our testimony as a church and as individuals. When we were not in Christ it was shown through our alienation with God and others but through Christ’s death on the cross and our subsequent relationship with Him we now have peace with God and man and so now we have become a new society.
Let’s look at that in verses 19-22. In those verses Paul pictures us as being God’s kingdom, God’s family and God’s temple. All built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets and with Christ Himself as the cornerstone. When it says that it is built on the teaching of the apostles and prophets, it does not point to who they were but what they taught and what they taught was the Gospel.
That passage in Acts 2 that I like so much talks about how the people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, which was the Gospel of how Jesus lived, died and rose again so that we can have a relationship with Him. He is the cornerstone. Everything in the temple was in relation to the cornerstone. Every brick, every window was placed in accordance to where the cornerstone was. All of the weight was on the cornerstone. But because that giant stone had been tested and proven itself true, the rest of the building could be built true.
Is that the kind of church we want to be? Do we really want to be a church known for truth? Or do we want to be known as a church for…anything else? Because anything else is sin. Anything else is not being in Christ. What a shame it would be if we went through all of this work to move our fellowship to another location and we were not in Christ, unified with each other and unified with God .
We are not who we used to be. Because of the peace that Jesus brings us with God and with others we are a new society and a new church!