Summary: 15th in a series from Ephesians. The danger of following a religion instead of seeking a relationship.
A man was walking across a bridge one day, and he saw another man standing on the edge, about to jump off. He immediately ran over and said "Stop! Don’t do it!"
"Why shouldn’t I?" the man asked.
The first man replied, "Well, there’s so much to live for!"
"Well ... are you religious or atheist?"
"Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?"
"Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"
To which the first man replied, "Die, heretic scum!" and he pushed him off the bridge.
As we continue our journey through Ephesians this morning, Paul is going to address some people that had similar attitudes – people who had gotten so caught up in their religion that they had lost sight of what really mattered. Let’s read our passage together:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men) - 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. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:11-13 (NIV)
In the first half of chapter 2, Paul writes about the human race in general and about the portion of the human race that has been saved by the grace of God. But beginning in verse 11, Paul begins to specifically address his main audience of Gentile believers. He points out that prior to Jesus there was a barrier between the Gentiles and the Jews. But, as Paul will point out in the following verses, Jesus came to tear down that wall and to initiate peace between the Jews and Gentiles.
I’m sure there are quite a few principles that we could mine out of our passage this morning. Certainly, there is the idea of Jesus tearing down the walls that tend to separate us from those who are different from us in some way. In fact, as I looked at some other sermons on this passage this week, that seemed to be a common theme. But as I pondered these verses, what really stood out to me is how both groups – Jews and Gentiles – had gotten so caught up in their religion that it had actually drawn them away from God.
I read this week about a plane which had lost both engines and was heading for a certain crash landing. One of the passengers noticed that she was sitting next to a minister, so she yelled at him: "You’re a minister! Do something religious." So he passed the hat and took up an offering.
One of the things that constantly amazes me is how people react when they find out I’m a pastor. They may not say it out loud like the lady on the plane, but I often get the feeling that they’re waiting for me to “do something religious.”
Both the Gentiles and the Jews of Paul’s day would probably consider themselves to be religious. Obviously the Jews understood themselves to be God’s chosen people and they had the Scriptures to study and to guide their lives. And many of the Gentiles were religious, too. Remember how Paul had addressed them in an earlier encounter in Athens:
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
Acts 17:22 (NIV)
As we’ve seen already, the Gentiles had no shortage of religion. In fact they had all kinds of Gods.
Perhaps before we go any further this morning, we ought to define the term “religion.” I figured that should be a pretty easy thing to do. That is until I went on the internet this week and tried to sort through the hundreds of different definitions that I came across. But probably the simplest and the one that best describes the word in the way I’m using it this morning comes from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
“…a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”
That definition seems to encompass a lot of movements today that I would classify as religions: