“God Is Building His Church”
(Ephesians 2:11-22 – Pentecost 9 – July 25, 2021)
Ephesians 2:11-22 – 11Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh – who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands – 12that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. 18For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Dear “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” in Christ:
Many people are looking for peace and security. People living in war-torn areas of the world may trust in the strength of armies and weapons to bring peace and security to their homes. People living in areas with high rates of crime and violence may trust locked doors and home security systems for peace of mind. When looking to buy a house, many people would rank the relative peace and security of a neighborhood right up there with pricing in their list of criteria. If there is any place we care about having peace and security, it is at home where we live.
In our text, two concepts stick out in this line of thought. One is that God has brought peace to sinners. By the reconciling work of Christ, He has brought us to a place where we can live at peace with Him and each other. The other concept is that God has brought us security, as He gives us a firm foundation on Christ, our eternal Savior. “God Is building His Church”: It is 1) A household of peace, and 2) A household of security. It is just the place for you and me to live!
1) It is a household of peace
First, the church God is building is a household of peace – peace with God and one another.
Paul begins by reminding the Ephesians that once they had no peace with God. As he reminds them: “at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vs. 12). The Ephesians, like most gentiles in the world up to the time of Christ, did not know the true God.
From the time of Abraham, God had set apart Israel as His chosen nation. Unlike the Gentile nations around them, God had revealed Himself to Israel in His Word, given through His prophets. He had revealed His holy Laws to form their daily lives and set them apart as His people. God also revealed His covenant of promise concerning the Messiah. He was going to send among Israel that Savior of the fallen world He had promised to Adam and Eve. Generation after generation of Jews had the advantage of hearing through God’s prophets what that Savior would be like, which tribe and family He would be born into, and so on. As they sacrificed at God’s house they were pointed to the once for all sacrifice of the Messiah to take away the sins of the world. So God’s covenants of promise pointed to Israel’s special role as the nation through whom Christ would come.
But most gentiles, like the Ephesians, once had no idea of God’s plan of salvation in Christ and to be found holy before God. They were “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vs. 12). This is not to say they had no religion. In gentile religions, there were plenty of false gods to whom they paid their dues. They looked for peace with the gods by sacrificing to idols their own hands made, in the forms of created things. But as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:20: “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God.” So all their efforts at making peace with the unknown God were acts of futility. In fact, even their greatest sacrifices were detestable to God. Truly they were living in spiritual darkness.
Recently, we visited the Lava Beds National Monument. Inside the caves, when we turned off our flashlights, the pitch black darkness was striking. What a nightmare it would be to get lost in a labyrinth of tunnels without any light, groping about just to feel the next rock wall. Like the Ephesians, before we knew Christ, that was the condition in which God found each of us. Without the light of His revealed Word, we would be groping about in spiritual darkness. We would be trying to find a way out of our sinful condition and its consequences of death. We would be trying to find what brings peace between us and the holy God, based on our own efforts and sacrifices. But we would be lost forever in those dark, echoing caverns of our own self-made spirituality.
But by grace, God brought His salvation to us in a way we never would have expected. Paul says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (vs. 13). We did not bring ourselves near to God by our good behavior, by our efforts to make peace with Him. By His grace alone, He chose to come to us and bring us His peace. Purely out of love and mercy, while we were still sinners, God sent His Son to the cross. Jesus shed His blood and gave His life as the sacrifice that paid for all our sins and reconciled us to God in peace.
Again, when it comes to the faith that receives this gift, it is not that we had stronger willpower to find God, or that we made a better choice than others to follow Christ. We did not come to Him; He came to us. As Paul says, Christ “came and preached peace to you who were afar off” (vs. 17). By His Gospel, He revealed to us personally that by His cross, He paid for all our sin. By His Gospel, He declared His forgiveness to each of us. Through His Gospel in Word and Sacrament, He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us faith. So God rescued us from our spiritually dark path of “having no hope and without God in the world” (vs. 12). By baptism and faith in His Son, He gave us a new relationship of peace with Himself and eternal life as His children in Christ.
And now as His children, God has given us a new home in His household of faith, His Church. As Paul here reminds the Ephesians and us: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (vs. 19). Not only has God brought peace between sinners and Himself; He has also given us a relationship of peace with each other as members of His household, as one family of God in Christ.
Paul was telling the Ephesians that a great change had taken place in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Once, the Jews had nothing to do with Gentiles – those “uncircumcised” people who lived unclean lives. In turn the gentiles looked down on Jews with contempt. But now in His Church, God is building a household of peace in which all live under one roof by faith in Christ. Paul says: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father” (vs. 14-18).
God has brought peace to all who are in His household by faith in Christ. Now that we have peace with God, we have a true basis for peace with one another as one family of God in Christ.
Do we still see differences between believers as far as God-given race, color, sex; social status, wealth, and other outward things? Yet when it comes to our God-given identity in Christ, Paul says in Galatians 3:26-28: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Do we still find conflict between individuals in the visible church at times? Yes, the sinful nature still clings to us this side of heaven. But we live in repentance and look to the same Savior. So as Ephesians 4:30-32 says, Spirit-led believers can live in peace and “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
Do we see differences between Christian church bodies? Yes, false teachings have crept into the visible church and we must separate ourselves from error. We do not want a false basis for peace and unity between us. We want to stand firmly on the truth of God’s Word alone. Yet we recognize that all who trust in Christ crucified alone to pay for their sins, whichever visible church they are in, make up the one true invisible Church of believers. One day, God will gather all of His own safely in heaven, to share that perfect peace and unity He has given us in Christ.
2) A household of security
So we see that God truly is building His Church as an enduring household of peace. And His Church is also a household of security. It is secure in its foundation and in its rising walls.
Can there be a firmer foundation than the one we have in Christ? Paul says we have been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (vs. 20). No other foundation can be laid than Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). All the prophets and apostles testify in Scripture that as our crucified and risen Savior, He is the only foundation for our salvation and eternal life. He is also called “the chief cornerstone.” A cornerstone played an important part in a building. The angle at which this stone was set determined all other angles of the building. This is true also as God builds His Church from His chosen and precious Stone, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4). God’s Church is built squarely on the truth of who Jesus is as our Savior. Jesus said: “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Our foundation on Christ and His Word is eternally secure.
Paul also pictures the walls of God’s Church rising securely from this foundation of Christ: “in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (vs. 21-22). God has fit each one of us, like living stones (1 Peter 2:5), into the walls of His temple. The Holy Spirit has seen to that, as He brought us into God’s household, connecting us to Christ By Baptism and faith. The Spirit who dwells in us as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 1:22) will continue to keep us securely connected to Christ to very the end, as He strengthens our faith through His Word and Sacrament.
Yet are there still temptations we experience to doubt our secure foundation in Christ? Certainly, the world around us tempts us this way. It rejects Christ as the only foundation of salvation, and it mocks our faith as foolish and shameful. Again, Satan tempts us to doubt our secure foundation in Christ. He points to the greatness of our sins and tries to bring us to shame and despair of ever being saved. Yet as God says of Christ in 1 Peter 2:6: “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
Let Satan and all the world be against us; yet God is for us. As we turn to our unshakeable foundation in Christ, His Word tells us that we are not put to shame. Paul says in Romans 8:33-34: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” We stand securely with Christ, who presents us at the throne of God, cleansed of all sin by His blood, and covered in His own righteousness in the sight of God.
Again, trials we face may tempt us to doubt our secure foundation in Christ. Do we feel shaken by job insecurity, health insecurity, political insecurity, financial insecurity, end of life insecurity? Yet again we turn to our unshakeable foundation in Christ. His Word assures us that nothing can separate us from His love – no trial of life, not even death. He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us, will surely give us all good things (Romans 8:32-39). He who died and rose again will bring us to that home of perfect peace and security He is preparing for us in heaven.
Thanks be to God in Christ our Savior! As He is building His Church, He has graciously brought us into His household of peace and security. Now, as the family of God in Christ, think of what a great privilege and purpose He gives us in this world. As many around us are looking for peace and security, we have His Gospel to share. We can invite those who are afar off and those who are near into His household of faith. We pray that by the work of the Spirit in His Gospel, many more know the true peace of His forgiveness and the true security of His eternal life.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.