Summary: In the past we were alienated from God and from others, but now we have been reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ, so let’s seek to live for the future, for a time when all of God’s people will be joined as one, in a new heaven and a new ear
One of the things we love to do is to remember the past. We keep journals and photo albums, we tell stories and reminisce, all to preserve our memories. On the other hand there are some memories that we don’t want to remember. Memories of past hurts, of things we’ve done that we’re ashamed of. Some people repress these sorts of memories, try to pretend they’re not there, but all that does is to allow them to work their way down into our subconscious where they continue to hurt us. The alternative is to bring them out and expose them. To seek forgiveness, To see how far we’ve come since we were hurt. That’s what Paul does in this passage from Eph 2. He says "remember" Remember what life was like before Christ. Then he says look at what Christ has achieved. Then he says look forward. So that’s what I want to do today. To look first at the Old Order - at alienation, at Christ’s work - reconciliation, and The New Order - unification, and then we’ll think about some of the implications for us.
The Old Order - Alienation
I’d like you to try to imagine what it must have been like for the first disciples, steeped as they were in 2000 years of history, of an understanding of themselves as God’s chosen people, his special possession out of all the nations, to be told that they were to treat Gentiles the same as they would Jews. It’s hard to imagine what that would have meant to them, because we don’t have any real equivalent today. I guess you could liken it to the attitude of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, but that doesn’t go anywhere near the strength of feeling of the 1st Century Jews. Here they were, a tiny, insignificant nation, and yet God had chosen them and revealed himself to them. He’d sent them Moses and the Prophets. He’d told them they were to be a nation holy to him. That is, set apart for his service, and over the years, they’d developed a somewhat arrogant view of their calling. Let me read you something that William Barclay wrote about this: "The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that he had made ... It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile mother [at childbirth], for that would simply bring another Gentile into the world. Until Christ came, the Gentiles were an object of contempt to the Jews. The barrier between them was absolute. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, or if a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that Jewish boy or girl was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death." Harsh words, are they not? So how must Peter have felt when he lay on his rooftop and dreamed that God was telling him that the Gentiles were now clean, or Paul when he saw his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus and was later told that he had been chosen to take the gospel to the Gentiles? It must have been overwhelming!
But lets imagine that we were Gentiles at that time. Remember how the people of Israel were told that they were to be a light to lighten the Gentiles? They were to show by their national life just how good life could be under God, so that the nations would come to them to share in their blessings. But imagine you were one of those Gentiles who had come to Israel to join with the people of God. What would you have encountered? First you would have experienced the contempt expressed in that description we just read. But even if you got past that to convince the Jews that you were serious about worshipping God with them, you would still have found yourself excluded from the centre of Jewish worship. When you walked into the Temple precincts here’s what you would have found. A one and a half metre high wall with a sign on it that said something like this: "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!" Not "Trespassers will be prosecuted", but "Trespassers will be executed!" This is probably what Paul has in mind when he refers to the dividing wall of hostility. Gentiles could get close enough to look up and see the Temple above them, but they could never enter it. They could never be part of the full worship of God. In other words, they could never enjoy the full benefits of being part of God’s people.