The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 24th day of November 2013:
The Design of the Death of Christ
If you care about the Son of God, if you care about the blood of Christ, if you care about the death of the greatest person who ever was, you have to care about the design of the death. (1) That’s where Ephesians 2:14-18 comes in. These verses form the centerpiece of this entire section (2:11-22) because they explain how the Gentile readers’ coming near to God was made possible through Christ’s death. The Gentiles, who were completely separated from Israel and her God (2:11-12) have now been brought near to Him (2:13). God’s Word to us tonight explains how.
“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.”
He Himself Is Our Peace
“For he himself is our peace. . .” (v. 14a). This is an important, but strange affirmation about Jesus. If you’re like me, you’re used to seeing Jesus as making peace (“We have peace with God. . . through Jesus” Romans 5:1.) or as proclaiming and commanding peace (“Blessed are the peacemakers. .” Matt. 5:9). But here Paul says, “He himself is our peace.” The reason Paul says this is because Jesus is the central figure in establishing peace (as you will see in this passage) between both Jew and Gentile. Christ is the central figure who effects reconciliation and removes hostility in its various forms. If you notice in 2:14-18, every time Jesus in named, He is followed by the word or phrase peace. 1) v. 14 “He himself is our peace.” 2) He established peace (v. 15) 3) He came and preached peace (v. 17). And once you take a good long look at Christ’s reconciling work through the cross, you will have no wonder why Paul states, “He himself is our peace.”
Made Us Both One
“. . who has made us both one” (v. 14b). This refers to the resulting unity of Jewish and Gentile believers. Christ has made both Jew and Gentile one. You may say, “Okay. Great.” But do you understand what a great accomplishment this was? The Jews hated the Gentiles. A. T. Lincoln rightly says, “In accomplishing this, Christ has transcended one of the fundamental divisions of the first-century world” (2). And that’s what makes this verse so amazing. He has made both one. They have been brought into a mutual relationship and a unity which surpasses what they once were (vv. 15, 16, 18).
How did Christ make the two one? “[He has] broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (v. 14c-15a). This is a rather strange metaphor from the apostle Paul, mainly because no such parallel exists in the entire New Testament. But by simply stating this, Paul indicates that there was a real dividing wall that existed between the Jews and Gentiles. There was an inscription on the wall of the outer courtyard of the Jerusalem temple warning Gentiles that they would only have themselves to blame for their death if they passed beyond it into the inner courts. This was segregation for them. If you grew up during that time, then you can best grasp what life was like for Jews and Gentiles. Though this serves as a great picture of the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, this isn’t what Paul is referring to here. The “dividing wall of hostility” was, in fact, the Mosaic law itself with its detailed holiness code. It separated Jews from Gentiles both religiously and sociologically, and caused deep-seated hostility. “The enmity which was caused by the Jews’ separateness was often accompanied by a sense of superiority on their part,” says Peter O’Brien (3). Paul isn’t ‘downing’ the Law here. Why would he count the Law as worthless when he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” over in Romans 7? Paul is saying here that what has been abolished is the ‘law-covenant,’ that is, the law as a whole conceived as a covenant. In addition, Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). It is not the Law as revealing the will and character of God that Christ has abolished, it is the ‘law-covenant.’ It is then replaced by a new covenant for Jews and Gentiles.
If the Law in some way was the dividing wall in the ancient world, for us it is racial difference. The hostility between races, especially between blacks and whites, in virtually all countries continues as an embarrassment. Did Christ’s death abolish all the barriers? The barrier between Jew and Gentile was one of the most obvious in history. If this barrier has been “broken down,” what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11), if all are created in His image, if God’s purpose is unity, if we are to love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44), if Christ took the hostility into Himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify keeping any barriers in place? If this hostility was so deep, large, and wide that God desired it be broken down through the crucifixion of the most important person who ever was, then who do we think we are to hold prejudices and hostility against a brother or sister in Christ? “He has made us both one!”
If you belong to the family of God, “He has made us both one!” You will have differences with one another. But our differences shouldn’t create hostility because the cross is at ground level. No one has higher value than someone else in the church of God. If you are male and she’s female, if you’re rich and he’s poor, if you’re black and she’s white, if you’re Calvinist and he’s Arminian, if you wear Blue Jeans and he wears a suit, if you’re older and she’s younger, if you like Contemporary and he likes Bluegrass, if you’re country as cornbread and she’s a city-girl, and if any of those things create hostility between you, remember this: None of our barriers, none of our ways of devaluing, limiting, and taking advantage of others, has any basis. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Abolishing the Law
The purpose of Christ’s removing this hostility was twofold: (1) to create in Himself one new man in place of the two (v. 15b), and (2) in this one body to reconcile both of them to God (v. 16a). If Christ has broken down, crushed, and shattered the “dividing wall of hostility,” then how did He do it? The first part of verse 15 tells us. Christ brought them together in a sovereign act that was nothing less than a new creation. Paul has already spoken of God’s salvation in terms of a new creation (2:10). Believers are his workmanship who have already been created in Christ Jesus for good works, and these are part of God’s intention for that new creation. If God had in mind to create a new humanity, His church, it could not take place by transforming a Gentile into a Jew and it could not take place by transforming a Jew into a Gentile, the only way it could take place was by transforming sinners into new persons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile takes place through the death of Christ by the one similarity that they actually shared: they were sinners in need of salvation.
Reconcile Us Both to God
If Christ has removed the hostility between Jew and Gentile and has reconciled the two into one body, then it follows that we must both be “reconciled to God.” Do you hear the vivid language in verse 16? “And might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” What an oxymoron! While “creating in himself one new man” (v. 15), Christ also kills the hostility. Christ has abolished the law as a divisive instrument separating humanity from God and Jews from Gentiles. He has created a single new humanity that transcends the former deep divisions and made peace between them. He has reconciled both Jew and Gentile in this one body to God, killing the hostility. This does not mean, however, that the whole human race has been united and reconciled.
Is God Distant?
Sometimes, as believers, we can think of God as distant or unapproachable. This lack of a sense of the nearness to God lies at the root of much of human failure. But the Bible tells us here that we have been “reconciled to God.” In Christ, we have been brought to God, and the barriers blocking access to Him, such as sin, hostility, and the weakness of the flesh have been removed. But when we feel distant from God, it isn’t He who has moved. It is us. God asks Israel in Jeremiah 8:4-5, “When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?” Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and many of us may be backslidden and may not realize it. And while we need to fall on our face in repentance and return to God, we are no longer separated from God. J.D. Greear captures this truth by means of prayer, “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.” (4)
Christ the Preacher
Having dwelt at length on Christ’s work of reconciliation, Paul now turns to his proclamation of peace to both Gentile and Jew. “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (v. 17). The One who is ‘our peace’ and who made peace through His cross now announces that peace to those who were far off and those who were near. Christ Himself is the evangelist, the herald of good tidings from Isaiah, and His announcement, which is based on His death on the cross, is a royal proclamation that hostilities are at an end. You see, the Jews were near to God because they already knew of Him through the Scriptures and worshiped Him in their religious ceremonies (the outward expression of the Law). The Gentiles were “far off” because they knew little or nothing about God. Because neither group could ever be saved by good works or sincerity, both needed to hear about salvation available through Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles are now free to come to God through Christ (v. 18).
Commanded and Commissioned
If preaching peace to all was good enough for the Man who died on the cross, then it ought to bee good enough for us. And while Christ is our example in everything, what’s more is we have been commanded and commissioned by Christ Himself to take this message of peace to our communities, our nation, and to the nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). Did you know that are 2,925 unreached people groups and 6,578 people groups where evangelical Christians make up 2% of the population? (5) We must “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). You see, you may know a great deal about God and the teachings of Scripture, but do not forget that you were once without Christ and in need of a Savior, just like everyone else on the face of this planet. Do not forget your plight before Jesus stepped in (Eph. 2:11).
Access in One Spirit to the Father
To draw near to God and to enjoy Him forever in a new creation is both mankind’s greatest good and the ultimate accomplishment of Christ’s earthly work of redemption. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v. 18). What an appropriate conclusion to this section of Scripture! Through Him, we of different races, different interest, different social status, different economical status, different looks, have access in one Spirit to the Father. Paul’s focus here is on their (Jew and Gentile) continuing relationship with the Father which is the result of Christ’s act of reconciliation. This is important because if Christ has in fact “created in himself one new man (v. 15), then this verse tells us how this new creation will continue to grow. The Holy Spirit will continue to apply the work of redemption to people’s lives and the Holy Spirit will continue to give new spiritual life to the undeserving. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower us to carry this message of peace to the lost, to the dying, and to those in need of salvation.
Through this reconciliation work of Christ on the cross, we have access to the Father in a relationship with Him. It isn’t the Law that is the expression of our covenant with the Father, the sacrificial death of Jesus is the expression of our covenant with the Father. Indeed, He Himself is our peace.