Summary: This talk seeks to unpack what it means to be fellow citizens within the Commonwealth of Israel - something that is now a fact for every believer, whether we are a Jewish believer in Yeshua, or a Gentile believer in Jesus.
Whenever scripture says, “Therefore” (2:11) it would be wrong to try to understand what follows without referring back to what has just been said. I guess I could say please listen to Phil Wason’s excellent sermon from last week on our Church website; but instead I’ll give a quick summary of Ephesians 2:1-10. St. Paul, writing to the believers at Ephesus in modern day Turkey has just been reminding them that they were once spiritually dead in their sins (2:1) because of the disobedient way in which they used to live (2:2); but he has also reminded them that God is rich in mercy and full of love (2:4). Even when they were dead in their sins God saved them by grace and made them alive in Jesus (2:5). God has been incredibly kind in Jesus (2:7) and Paul wants the recipients of his letter – and us – to know that we are saved and made alive in Jesus not because of anything we have done, achieved or earned (2:8). No, we have done nothing to deserve salvation.
And since we’ve done nothing to deserve God’s kindness and never can do anything to alter God’s view of us, we simply cannot and must not boast – not ever (2:9). It is God’s gift to us; God’s grace; God’s kindness; God’s own Son Jesus given to us, for us.
None of us can live a perfect life to please God. It is all about God’s free gift; his grace.
“Therefore” (2:11) writes Paul. Therefore since you’ve been reminded that you cannot save yourself by moral achievements; since it is all about God’s grace; now hear what is coming! Are you ready Church?
Therefore, you believers who are Gentiles - in other words you believers who are not Jewish (2:11) remember that you were once separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world (2:12). That was then; but now in Jesus the Messiah you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ (2:13). This is now!
And if you’re here this morning and you’re thinking, “Oh no, what’s the Vicar going on about this time” or “can you put that in plain in English, or plain Essex for me” or “What did you mean by that” – let me explain.
I’m talking about my firm belief that without God, and more specifically without the Lord Jesus, people in this world are effectively lost and without hope – like being on a sinking ship without a destination, without life rafts, without communication, without a crew, and without any back-up; whereas with Jesus and in Jesus, you and I and the people of our community find hope, purpose, meaning and an eternal future – like being on a ship with engine trouble, but with a captain who knows where he is going, with an individual life-preserver for everyone, communal life-rafts, satellite navigation, plus a well-trained crew and a heavenly harbour in view as our destination; and I know which boat I want to be in.
How about you? Which boat are you in? Are you lost without hope (2:12) or safe in Jesus (2:13)?
St. Paul is telling non-Jewish believers there was a time when we were once separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope (2:12).
God made covenants with Abraham and then later with Moses, and as he did so God chose a small and insignificant people to be his own; so that through them – through the Jews - he could display his character and his wonders to the whole of humankind.
Before Jesus we were excluded from citizenship in Israel; not from the Land of Promise, but from the Kingdom, the Community and the Fellowship that existed between God and his people. Jews and Non-Jews were at enmity with each other. We Gentiles were far away, but now in Jesus we have been brought near. God is no longer out of our reach.
I remember an occasion when Rebekah was reaching up trying to pick an apple from a tree in our garden. She was stretching up but the apple was beyond her grasp until I lifted her up and she gladly picked it.
God is not out of our reach because Jesus lifts us up so we can share the good things of God.
These verses deserve several hours of unpacking but I’m attempting to do it in just a few minutes!
Once we were excluded from citizenship in Israel (2:12) but now we are not! Verse 19 says that we gentiles – we non-Jews – are “no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”.