Summary: The second message in the series highlights what you were before Christ came. It highlights the hostility and conflicts between Jew and Gentile, but how that has changed (and what it means for you) since Christ has come.
Author Rita Snowden tells this famous story from World War I. On the Western Front in France, there was a group of soldiers who brought the body of a dead comrade to a French cemetery to have him buried. The priest came out to them, and said gently that He is required to ask if their fallen friend had been a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church. Not knowing that about him, they said that they didn’t know. The priest then apologetically said that he could not permit their friend to be buried in the church cemetery because of this. So, the soldiers sadly took their friend and buried him just outside the fence. He was to be separated from the rest in the cemetery. In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about a similar situation that involved separation.
The Church at Ephesus was a congregation made up of Jews and Gentiles. A Gentile was any person who was not ethnically Jewish. This would be us. At the beginning of our text, Paul calls us to remember what things used to be like before Christ had come. For us to appreciate what Jesus has done and what we are in Him, we need to know what we were and would have been. Paul does just that. He calls the congregation, and specifically the Gentiles, to remember what they were. He has them remember what things were like.
The Apostle begins by bringing up the hostility between the two groups. The Gentiles were called “the uncircumcision” by the Jews. This may seem like an innocent descriptor to us, but it in those times, it was not. It is was a term of disgust and derision. It would be equivalent to a racial slur or bad word. But the hostility between the two groups went beyond name calling. They didn’t get along at all. The Jews said that Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell! They said that God only loved them, and that they were His favorites. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew would be carried out. They were considered dead! If one went into a Gentile house, one would then become unclean. Not exactly a group of people who get along, or think highly of each other.
But there is more to remember. Paul tells them to remember the separation between Jews and Gentiles. Paul says that the Gentiles were separated from Christ, and he elaborates what that means. He says that they were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. The Gentiles were not part of God’s special covenant people. They were excluded from the privileges and way of life of God’s chosen people under His covenant.
Worse than that, he says they were strangers to the covenants of promise. Notice Paul’s emphasis here. His says “promise” and not “Law.” The covenant that God repeatedly confirmed throughout the Old Testament is defined by grace and promise! It is not defined by “Law” or what a person must do. God’s people had received these promises. They had received the promises of a coming Messiah Who would save them from their sins. But the Gentiles didn’t know them. Sad to say, they were strangers to them.
Since they didn’t have these promises, it follows that the Gentiles had no hope and were without God in the world. Because the Gentiles were strangers to God’s people, possessors of the promises of grace, they were truly without hope and without God. Could you imagine your life without Him? Can you picture a life without hope? True hope?
Hope was one of the reasons that I became a pastor. When my sister Kaitlin was hospitalized for six straight months, that was unbelievably hard on my family. We all struggled with it. The ups, the downs, the pain, and the heartache of it all. Seeing her in a coma for a few months. Seeing her in immense pain and suffering. Seeing her bed bound and a shell of her former self. She was full of chest tubes and breathing equipment. She kept destating when I tried to hold her last. It broke my family. The only way I got through that was the hope that I had in Jesus. The hope that He does all things well and for our good. The hope that He could heal her even when science and doctors said “no.” The hope that if she didn’t make it, that because of Jesus, she would be home with Him in Heaven and made better. The hope that He was with me, even though it might have seemed like He was not. Hope got me through that and was influential in my becoming a pastor. Can you truly deal with sicknesses and diseases like Alzheimers, tumors, or depressions without hope? Can you face death without Jesus? How would you handle tragedy without a Savior who conquers sin, death, and the grave? Is there true hope without Christ? Is life better without Him? Absolutely not. This would have been us without Christ’s coming as Gentiles. No Jesus equals no hope, and no God. What a bleak life.