So you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19)
Today is part two of what it means to be “in Christ.” Last week we heard the lengthy litany in glorious run-on fashion: In Christ we are blessed, in Christ we are chosen, in Christ destined for adoption, in Christ we are chosen, in Christ we are loved, in Christ we are redeemed, in Christ we have an inheritance for which our Baptism is a dow payment guaranteeing our possession. All in Christ.
Today, the apostle Paul expands on that theme of our being in Christ and focuses on our unity in Christ. In Christ we are now citizens of the commonwealth of God, members of God’s household, living stones built into a temple, the dwelling place of God by His Spirit. One people, one family, one temple in Christ.
In Christ, the walls come tumbling down. Walls that separate and divide. Walls the exclude and keep us away. In the OT, there was a great wall, the wall of separation between Israel and the nations, between God’s chosen people and all the other people, between the “circumcised” and the “uncircumcised.” The Law of God set the Israelite apart, consecrated him, made him “holy.” The Law said, “Do not touch, do not handle, don’t go near, be separate.” It set Israel apart from her Gentile neighbors with a wall of commandments the Gentiles did not have to keep. Dietary laws, Sabbath laws, feast days.
If you were an Israelite, you were different, set aside from birth from a holy purpose: to be the bearer of the Promised Seed to the nations of the world. To be the womb that bore the Messiah in the fulness of time. To bear the promise to Adam and to Abraham, that through the promised Seed of Woman, the offspring of Abraham, God would bless the nations. And so you were set apart.
From your mother’s knee, you learned not to associate with those “unclean ones,” the goyim, the uncircumcised. You didn’t eat at their tables, you didn’t play in their houses. Recall that the apostle Peter had to receive a three-fold visionary kick from the Lord before he would go to the house of the Gentile Cornelius, and even then he was uneasy about it and almost apologetic as he stepped through the door. Recall that the inclusion of the Gentiles, the uncircumcised, as full-fledged members of the church caused such a ruckus in the early church that they had to have a meeting in Jerusalem to sort out the logistics. When some visitors from Jerusalem came to Antioch to see what was going on, Peter visibly withdrew from the table of the Gentile believers and had to be publicly rebuked by Paul. The old walls come down slowly, and they come down hard.
We’re very familiar with walls. We have walls separating us from our neighbors. In the Midwest they used to say that strong fences make for good neighbors; here we have brick walls. We have “gated communities” with high walls and security gates. An outsider might mistake them for prisons locked from the inside.
Sin causes the walls to go up. Our sin separates us from God and sets us against one another. Sin divides, wedging between us and God. That’s the whole nature of sin at its heart, a wedge driven deep between us and God, leaving us alone, isolated, self-absorbed. It was for the sake of sin, you sin, that God put up His own wall, formed His own gated community called “Israel,” a nothing nation of nomads from Egypt, a chosen people set apart for one holy purpose – to bring forth the Christ at the right time.
Jesus was a Jew by birth, circumcised into Israel on the 8th day of HIs life. He walked on Israel’s soil. He also walked on Samaritan soil and Gentile dirt across the Jordan. He didn’t shake that dust from His feet, but He left His footprints there. He proclaimed the peace of God to those who were near – His fellow countrymen, who often rejected Him. And He preached peace to those who were far off – to the Gentiles who often welcomed Him. He reached out to the Samaritan woman at the well. He let the bread from Israel’s table fall to a Canaanite “dog.” He touched the lives of the Roman soldier, the synagogue ruler, the tax collector. He ate at the table of of the priest and Bible scholar along with the tax agent and the prostitute. He embraced the excluded and welcomed them to the kingdom of God; he warned the included that their religious self-justification put them on the threshold of exclusion.
The appearance of Jesus brought the division of the Israelite and the Gentile, of circumcised and uncircumcised to an end. The wall which had stood for some 1400 years cracked at the sound of His preaching, and tumbled to the ground as the earth shook in His death when the curtain of the temple, the dividing wall between holy and unholy was torn in two from top to bottom.
“When I am lifted up from the earth,” Jesus said, “I will draw all to myself.” In the death of Jesus, the wall that divides comes tumbling down and the world is one in Him. He has brought the far and the near together by His blood. He has made peace, reconciling the world to His Father, reconciling us to each other in His crucified body. His blood brings peace; His wounds bring healing; His separation bring our union. In Christ we are one in the most profound sense of the word “unity” – we are one with Christ and in Christ one with another.
But you say, “So why are we still divided? Why are Jew and Christian divided? Why are Christians divided among themselves? What’s all this ‘unity’ talk when the world is more divided than ever?”
And the answer is the same as it was last week. It’s all “in Christ.” This profound reality of our union with Christ and our unity with one another is all “in Christ.” It is not in ourselves. Were it left up to us, we’d be back in the business of wall building. We love our walls. Where they’ve been knocked down, we’ll try to build them back up again. Where God in Christ had torn down the wall between circumcised and uncircumcised, there were those in the church who tried to put the wall back up again. We do the same. We throw up walls of opinion, division, politics. Walls of jealousy, envy, anger. Walls of prejudice and pride. We take the body of Christ and tear it into a million pieces, each claiming to be the true one.
Yet there is but one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all. One Savior – the Lord Jesus Christ. One Spirit to whom we have access through Christ. We may come from different nationalities, speak different languages, have different cultures, but we all have a baptismal passport stamped “citizen of heaven.” You and I a citizens with the saints, members of the family of God. You are built on the firm foundation that God laid down – the prophets of the OT, the apostles of the NT, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone who sets everything straight and in order, the key that joins together the old and the new into one undivided people – a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people who belong to God all in Christ. In Christ means you didn’t do it; you must believe it, trust it, take God at His Word on it.
The Church is never spoken of in individual terms in the Scriptures. Ever notice that? No “I am the church” and “you are the church” but only an inclusive “we” – together with the saints who have gone before us. We together are one people, one family, one temple of the Holy Spirit. You might say that Christ is the end of our idolatrous individualism, where each of us has made our selves into our own gods. Instead, we get ourselves back in a new way, a way free from the barriers and dividing walls of sin, a way that unites and embraces and gather and includes.
That’s what the Church is called to show forth into the world – our unity in Christ Jesus. One Baptism, one Bread, one Cup, one Savior with one Death and Resurrection for the life of the whole world.
Once you were far off, isolated, walled off, excluded. Now you have been drawn near, gathered, included. You belong. Your Baptism testifies. Christ’s Body and the Blood testify. You belong to the people of God. You belong to the family of God. You belong to the priesthood of Christ. You belong to the Body of Christ, the Church, the dwelling place of God by the Spirit of God.
You are privileged people. Gifted, holy, one in Christ.
Thanks be to Jesus!
In the name of Jesus,