Remembering Where We Came From

Sermon Titled “Once Far Off….Now Brought Near” (Ephesians 2:11-13) – Sunday 26th January, 2014

  • Ephesians 2:11-13 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

In the preceding verses of Ephesians (vs. 2:1-10), Paul essentially tells us that we live in a condemned world, under the wrath of God’s judgement, and that our only hope of salvation is by Gods grace, through faith, and completely by the full merits of Christ and not our own. With that said, Paul begins Ephesians 2:11 by saying, “Therefore,” and he continues the dialog with the following words:

  • vs.11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)……” 

Paul’s comment above brings to our attention that there are essentially two groups of people in the world: Us – the Gentiles, the uncircumcised, the non-Jews; and Them – the chosen people of God, the circumcised, the Jews.

When the early church was forming, these two groups were at great odds with one another. There was enormous division for a number of reasons, but ultimately, as Pastor Reimer explained, the Jews believed that the Gentiles were beyond the saving power of God and therefore without hope, and the Gentiles resented the Jewish claims of their position of superiority based on their heritage. Paul hopes to convey in his message, that reconciliation to God must also encompass a reconciliation between Jew and Gentile.

The other key point that Paul makes in verse 11, is that circumcision, while once a mandatory requirement (under the Old Testament), is an outward sign of one’s obedience to God. But Paul suggests that it’s a circumcision of the heart that really matters; obedience is one thing, but a desire to “cut off” one’s sinfulness shows that we not only want to obey Christ, but that we love and trust Him.

  •  vs. 12 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. 

Here Paul insists that the Ephesians remember who they were before they were reconciled with Christ. It’s important that they don’t forget that their former lives were without hope. He reminds them that they were:

1.Separate from Christ – Mark 8:36 says “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have understood this verse. In my pre-Christian days, when I knew very little about God, I lived my life with the expectation that I would one day die so I had better live it up! But as much as I tried to feel secure and happy, there always seemed to be a void, a persistent discontentment in my soul. That emptiness will, I believe, be experienced by many, and only some will discern the meaning of it and recognize that their separation from Christ is what causes it.

As such, we should remember that we were once separate from Christ, that we might have a greater desire to share the gospel. It’s easy to become “snug” in the knowledge of our salvation, forgetting the emptiness of our former lives and consequently losing compassion for those who are not yet saved.

2. Verse 12 remember that at that time you were……….excluded from citizenship in Israel…..

Paul reminds the Ephesians that the Jews, at one time, were the only group of people privy to the full favor of God. All other nations were outcasts and excluded from the right to be citizen’s of God’s kingdom. Now that the Jews and Gentiles are both permitted to enter into the inner most courts of God, Paul emphasizes the fact that it wasn’t always this way.

We’ve all experienced to some degree feelings of exclusion. There is division (which leads to exclusion) in so many areas of life that it’s impossible to avoid it: cultural, gender, race, age, job, politics, religion, sport, sexuality, and so forth. One of my clearer memories of feeling excluded was when I first came to Japan in 2000.

I was, first of all a foreigner, living in a small fishing community in southern Kagoshima (where hardly anyone spoke English), and secondly, a bit of a novelty as a single mother who had left the comforts of my home and family in New Zealand. The local women were confused, somewhat cautious, but also very curious. Over time, as the cultural and language barriers began to break down, my daughter and I were eventually embraced, but for a few months I felt quite alone and isolated.

I should thus remember what it felt like to be excluded. I should remember what it felt like so that I will always make an effort to welcome others not just at church, but in any situation where it’s obvious that someone is new to the group or community.

3. Verse 12 remember that at that time you were………..foreigners to the covenants of the promise….

The Old Testament identifies several covenants that God made with some of the leading men of Israel. These covenants added up to one major “promise,” a promise to send a savior into the world, that all might be given the opportunity to receive God’s grace and redemption.

Paul reminds his listeners that the Gentiles were once in the dark about God’s covenants and promise, but when Christ was sent into the world He made sure that these things were revealed to all. Paul hopes that we too, will do our best to reveal these truths to as many people as possible.

4. Verse 12 remember that at that time you were…….without hope and without God in the world.

Pastor Reimer shared a great analogy about being without hope and without God. He recalled a time when he was out in the ocean surfing, and how he got caught in a rip which carried him dangerously close to some jagged rocks. As he let his board go to gain better control, the waves threatened to either slam him against the rocks, or pull him under. There were a few moments, says Pastor Reimer, where he felt completely and utterly helpless, and without God. His life, he thought, was about to end and he was alone and afraid.

Life for many, reaches a critical point where it’s no longer comfortable living without hope of an eternal future. That’s when it becomes clear to those who are seeking, that maybe there really is a God, and that maybe they feel lost because He’s not in their lives. Then, just when it looks as if “drowning” is inevitable, God provides a way out and saves them. We mustn’t forget that God can save anyone, even in the most dire of life’s situations. 

  • verse 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

This verse should cause us to respond in two major ways:

  1. With great joy – as we celebrate Christ’s personal invitation to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him.
  2. In great humility – as we accept that we are all equals in the church.

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