The cross reconciles more than our relationship with God. Dr. Howard Griffith preaches a chapel message on Ephesians 2 entitled “Reconciled by Blood” at RTS Washington.
Let’s pray together before we read the Word. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank you for the holy words that we have on the pages of this book, and we ask your Spirit to open our hearts, to hear you, to believe you, Lord, to walk in your ways. We thank you for Paul and we thank you, Lord, for these words in Ephesians. And we offer our prayer now in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Reading from Ephesians 2:11 and following:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Words of God.
I had the experience over the last couple of weeks of the privilege of being asked to speak in a church over in a part of Maryland that I don’t really go to very often. One of our students invited me to go there, and I’ll just put it this way, that the cultural difference between me and the church I was invited to speak in is about as stark as it gets, that I’m aware of anyway.
I was a baby boomer raised in a suburb of Washington, D.C., by parents who lived in a white upper middle-class world where differences in cultures were not appreciated or recognized even really. My father struggled in his relationship with his employers. He struggled with the changes that were taking place in the Washington, D.C., area, especially in the 1960s when I was really young. And so it wasn’t easy for me to see different kinds of people and appreciate the differences.
When I was invited to speak at this church, I’d been a minister for a long time and spoken to a lot of people, but this church is really a lot different, and I had tremendous anxiety about this. Not because I didn’t want to do it, it’s not because I was doubtful about the things I was asked to teach about. I’m not doubtful about any of that or the value of it. What I was afraid of was that I was going to say something to offend somebody and not know I was doing it. That’s what I was afraid of. And I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and lost a lot of sleep. I asked my brothers, a number of friends, to pray for the Lord’s blessing on this time.
The reason I’m telling this story is that when I got there, I couldn’t find the church. I had to park the car and go and speak to a group of people and say, “Do you know where this church is?” I thought maybe they’d know since it’s sort of an African American area. And they did. They said, “I think there’s one up there.”
So I went up there, and it’s just really, really needy. The whole area, so needy. When I got there, I was welcomed so beautifully by these wonderful Christian people. It didn’t matter what I was in the least to them because they were believers and they loved the Bible. And so if I was going to bring in the Bible and teach about the Bible, they were thrilled. I was welcomed. I was there for four hours. We had a lot of give and take, pretty sizable group, eager people. I’m so thankful to God for the privilege of being able to minister in a context like that because it’s a needy context, but what a wonderful privilege it was. But it has illustrated, in my experience, some of the difficulty that’s there because we’re different from each other.
Christ’s Blood Reconciles Us to God
God was alienated from us because of our sins, but God loved us despite our sins.Now, this is something that Paul is writing about in Ephesians 2. He’s writing about our being reconciled to God through the blood of the cross and being reconciled to one another through the blood of the cross. And we know, we believe, that our relationship with God was set right at the cross of Christ. God was alienated from us because of our sins, but God loved us despite our sins. And because he loved us, he made Christ to be sin for us. It’s a very strong statement that Paul makes. God treated him as the sins of the world deserved, or as Paul first told the Corinthians, “Christ died for our sins” and his righteousness covers our sins.
The cross reconciles more than our relationship with God. It also transforms our human relationships with each other.Now, in the beginning of this letter, in Ephesians, Paul writes, “In him we have redemption in his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” And every Christian believes this, of course. Whenever the word “blood” is used, especially by the apostle Paul, it’s a reference to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and he repeats it in a number of places. But what I want us to observe in this passage and hear in this passage in Ephesians 2, is that the cross reconciles more than our relationship with God. It also transforms our human relationships with each other. All those God has reconciled to himself are also reconciled to each other. That’s Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2.
In Paul’s Context, Christ’s Blood Reconciles Jew and Gentile
The background, of course, is the division between Jew and Gentile. The problem was that a whole way of life set the Jews apart from everybody else. But what Paul calls the law of commandments and ordinances, given by God for good to protect his people until Christ came, had become points of pride and points of hostility between Jew and Gentile.
God was not hostile to the nations, but Israel became hostile to the nations as did the Jews in Paul’s particular time. And I think it helps us to recognize that Paul’s not simply referring to divine revelation. He’s referring to divine revelation in this passage as it had been embraced or, in fact, even twisted. And he refers to the hostility both in verse 14 and in verse 16. It’s not God’s hostility there; it’s hostility between Jew and Gentile. Israel became hostile because of its pride, because of its abuse of the Word of God, because of the law of God. And Gentiles, likewise, had become hostile to Jews.
And then he writes in verse 14, “For he himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he might create in himself one new man in the place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body” (I think that’s a reference to the church there) “through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
So think of the way of life: circumcision, temple rituals, food laws, holy days. Now, to a Jew, it was unthinkable to relate to anybody who did not observe these things. Of course, in the early church, this became a huge issue as Gentiles began to come in. There was a party that argued that all this was still in place and that Gentiles could not be admitted unless they agree to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses. We’re all quite aware of this, and the church resolved this at the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 by saying that since salvation is for both Jew and Gentile by grace, all disciples, Jew and Gentile, were now free from the yoke of Moses.
And in Ephesians, Paul is encouraging these Gentile Christians that they’re full citizens now. It’s a little different than the problem that was there early on. He’s not speaking now to the circumcision party as such or to the Judaizers. He’s encouraging Gentile Christians that they’re full citizens, that they’re equally children of God, equally part of the covenant people, full heirs of all the promises of God. And all this came about, as he says, through blood. It all came about at the cross. It came about because Jesus died. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off had been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).
Both Jew and Gentile draw near on the same terms by grace and through faith, through blood.So God loved both Jew and Gentile, and Christ’s blood was shed for both Jew and Gentile, and both Jew and Gentile now draw near to God. Both Jew and Gentile draw near on the same terms by grace and through faith, through blood. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). So there are no barriers. There are no barriers. And this is part of the gospel. It’s part of the indicative of the gospel. Well, it implies an imperative, I think, and more than one for our relationships with one another and how easily we find reason not to live this out with one another. It’s not so much Jew and Gentile, although in other places in the world it still certainly could be. But we allow things to set us over against each other. We have lots of reasons for not accepting one another, receiving one another. Here are a couple of things I want us to think about together.
Christians Must Be Reconciled to Others
Whatever wrongs we’ve committed against each other have been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ.First of all, we may not nurse bitterness and revenge toward each other, toward anybody. That is not acceptable for any Christian. Whatever wrongs we’ve committed against each other have been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ, and whatever debts we owe each other have already been paid by the blood of Jesus Christ. And so we have no right to hold against each other sins that Christ has paid for and sins that God has already forgiven. Even unconfessed offenses have been covered by the blood of Christ. So within the church of Jesus Christ, and I mean the whole of it, the universal church, my eyes have to see, not the offenses, but the blood of Christ. I have to learn to see my brother, my sister, the way God sees him.
We have no right to hold anything against anyone else.Sometimes, it’s true, we suffer wounds in the life of the church that are deeper than any other wounds we’ve experienced, sometimes because we’re so close, because our life together is so intimate. It’s so bound up with our relationship with God. And what’s the hardest thing in ministry? I think there’s no doubt the hardest thing in Christian ministry is living with each other in leadership in the church. I’ve had wonderful opportunities and, on the whole, lots of peace in relationship with elders and other ministers. I’m really thankful for that. But honestly, that isn’t something that can just be assumed. It’s something that has to be worked at. But here’s what I’m saying: we have no right to hold anything against anyone else. We just don’t have it.
Now, what about Jesus’s command for reconciliation? “Your brother sins against you, go show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you’ve won your brother.” How does that fit? Well, it means that reconciliation is not an option that I may indulge or not, given how I feel about it. It’s not a matter of the indulgence of my attitudes. Reconciliation is a matter of obligation. And we know this because Jesus says, “Pray this way: forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
The most important thing this means, in light of Jesus’s command, is that I’m free to go to a brother when he’s wounded me for his sake and not for my sake. It’s not about settling a score. It’s not about my hurt pride that Jesus makes this command. It’s about recognizing and working out the reconciliation that has been established at the cross. It’s the cross. How important is it that the cross functions in our lives? It’s not just something we learn about, say thanks for, and then get past and go on. It’s not like that. It’s the centerpiece of our whole relationship with God, and it stays that centerpiece. The saints in glory cry out in praise in the book of Revelation, “Worthy is the Lamb for you were slain. You shed your blood and made us priests to God.” They’re in eternity; they didn’t get over it. They continue to be moved by it and give glory.
Well, if I go to a brother, I go for his sake, not for my sake. And just think about the example of Joseph. Joseph says to his brothers in Genesis 50 as they come to him after all that they did to him and they say, “Please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph’s reply is, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” Now Joseph didn’t know about the blood of Jesus Christ. That blood saved him, but he did know about that. But we do know about it. That’s what I urge on all of us is that we may not nurse bitterness and revenge. We must be reconciled to one another and we must accept one another. We’re not free to hold ourselves aloof from other believers.
Knowing God’s Truth Shouldn’t Separate Us from Other People
And one of the beautiful things about seminary study, and nobody loves this I don’t think more than me, is that you begin to see how God’s truth fits together. There’s a wholeness to the Scriptures. There’s a coherence and a unity and a beauty in the teaching of Scripture. There’s a wholeness to what God has done once for all in Christ. And that beauty and that wholeness is one of the chief features of the Reformed theology. One God, one triune God, one plan of God, one work of God executed by the three persons in perfect unity. One salvation in which we receive everything that we need.
There’s a coherence and a unity and a beauty in the teaching of Scripture.But the great temptation of loving that beauty, embracing it and adoring God for it, is that we think we made it up. Or we think somehow it makes us better than somebody else who doesn’t understand it or embrace all the parts. That’s just not true. It’s not true. So we maintain every stitch of orthodoxy that God has given us in his Word. But we must not do it in a way that sets us off from other people and says those people are not adequate. No. No. What? Reconciled to one another by the blood of the cross.
So thank God. Thank God we don’t have to set up a way of life for ourselves and set ourselves over other people or maintain our own dignity in some way. That’s not right. No, we are received by God on the basis of the blood of his own Son. And received by God on the basis of that blood, we receive one another on exactly that same basis. Praise God. So let me pray for us.
Lord, we’re humbled before you because we know how wondrous this is and how beautiful it is. Lord, teach us to put this into practice every single day, we pray. We thank you for that wonderful sacrifice that brings us near. We offer our prayer now with thanks to you, Holy Spirit, for bringing it to us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.