Sunday, October 02, 2011

Ephesians 2:11-22 - From Racism to Reconciliation

Pastors Michael Catt (l) & Daniel Simmons
Opening thought
This weekend the movie Courageous opened across the nation, a movie about men being the husbands and fathers God has called them to be. I urge you to see the movie which was was made by a Southern Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and pastored by Michael Catt. As a young white minister, Michael Catt was fired from a Mississippi church for quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. in the pulpit. He never forgot it.
“Getting fired … was really a pivotal, defining moment for me,” Michael Catt said.
Now 58, he’s the pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA, and among a few churches taking steps to create – and maintain – the multi-ethnicity of Christ’s body nearly a half a century after King’s death.
When Catt became pastor of Sherwood Baptist in 1989, he noticed his predominantly white congregation was a stark contrast to the small city of Albany, whose population is about 65% black. He led the way in hiring its first black associate pastor. A tragic flood in Albany in 1994 eroded racial barriers even more and created a sense of unity that still exists today. Catt and his congregation reached out to the predominantly black Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which had been damaged by the flood.
There Catt met Senior Pastor Daniel Simmons, who is black, and the two forged a friendship and began swapping pulpits. Now, the two regularly preach at each other’s churches, and their congregations come together for those occasions.
Catt, Simmons and their mixed congregation are featured in the new movie Courageous, produced by Sherwood Baptist, ranked #1 in per theater ticket sales its first weekend.
“We learn from each other,” Simmons said of the two churches. “We mutually support and encourage each other.”[1]
Pastor Fred Luter
The Southern Baptist Convention a decade ago confessed the sin of racism and asked forgiveness. At the Convention this past June, messengers approved moving toward more racial diversity in its boards and committees. It also elected its first black First Vice President, Pastor Fred Luter of New Orleans, a position that traditionally prepares an SBC leader for the President’s chair.[2]
Contextual Notes:
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is an awesome study of the church of Jesus Christ. In chapter 2 we see that God formed His church of flawed human beings, but He formed it out of His great love for sinners of all kinds (Eph. 2:1-4). He takes those who are dead in their sin and makes us alive in Christ, recreating us to make us suitable for the good works He prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:5-10). That regenerating, recreating work closed the gap between Jews, who enjoyed a covenant relationship with God, and the Gentiles, who were locked out of that relationship (Eph 2:11-13). By bringing both Jew and Gentile to God through the Cross, Jesus settled the long-standing hostility between the races, removing its cause (Eph 2:14-18). As a result, Jew and Gentile are now “fellow citizens” of God’s household and together parts of a holy temple that God’s Spirit is building even today (Eph. 2:19-22).

Key Truth: Paul wrote Ephesians 2:11-22 to teach believers that believers are people of reconciliation through Christ’s blood, Christ’s peace, and in Christ’s household.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about racism and reconciliation.
Key Verse: Ephesians 2:14
Pray and Read:  Ephesians 2:11-22

Sermon Points:
1.   We are all reconciled in Christ’s blood (Eph 2:11-13)
2.   We are all reconciled in Christ’s peace (Eph 2:14-18)
3.   We are all reconciled in Christ’s household (Eph 2:19-22)


Exposition:   Note well,

1.   WE ARE ALL RECONCILED IN CHRIST’S BLOOD (Eph 2:11-13)
a.   Eph. 2:11-12 – The term Gentiles, in case you have always wondered what it meant, is the word for all other people on the earth other than Jews. Jews made up about 10% of the population of the 1st Century Roman Empire. The Jews were special because of their unique relationship with God, with covenant promises that go back to Abraham and Moses. Those differences created a sense of superiority and arrogance on the part of the Jews and hostility from the Gentiles. Anti-Jewish riots even two centuries before Christ were known in many cities in Asia and Europe.
b.   Most of the believers in Ephesus were Gentiles, and Paul reminds them that the Jews had dismissed them as the uncircumcised while they had been proud to call themselves the circumcision. Circumcision of course was that ceremony that God had commanded Abraham to perform on every male descendant to participate in the chosen nation. The term uncircumcised became an insult about those on the outside.
c.   ILLUSTRATION: While most of the time we write off Southerners figuring they=ll never get the race thing right, we must remember that racism isn=t just in the South. When I was in graduate school in Southern California a few years ago, I had a dear friend who had staged sit-ins at Kentucky lunch counters in the 1960's.  Often she confided to me in her beautiful Black English: AGene, honey, I sat in lunch counters in Kentucky in the sixties, but I never in my life seen such racism as there is here in Los Angeles.@  She taught me that racism is not a Southern problem; it is an American problem.
d.   Why is racism Satan=s strategy? We find the answer in Mark 11:17: “My House will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Remember the Tower of Babel? The Missiological Plan of God was that the people he created would multiply and fill the earth as distinct ethnolinguistic people groups (Gen 1:22, 28; 9:1, 7), and then select one people, Israel, to be a kingdom of priests with a Messiah to take the message of redemption to the entire earth. But at the Tower of Babel the people disobeyed by gathering together (Gen 11) and God scattered them, confusing their languages. Satan=s strategy has always been the same: Stop the transference of the Gospel over cultural boundaries through racial prejudice, hatred, and racism.
e.   APPLICATION: In America, this strategy of the enemy played out in the antebellum period in a simple racial pride. Those descended from Europeans honestly believed the lie that they were superior in a number of ways to the other nations of the earth. Thus, the enslavement of other Europeans, then Native Americans, and then later Africans was not questioned except by those affected by the Second Great Awakening (1802) and the Finney Revivals in the North which led to political abolitionism. The fruit of those centuries of slavery led to the iniquities we still endure among those groups including poverty, the breakdown of the family, and the non-leadership of many men. The kind of racism we are familiar with from the era of Jim Crow and segregation actually developed in the postbellum period in a culture of Western Indian massacres and Reconstruction in the South when white Northerners pitted White Southerners against Black Southerners for their own political and economic gain. Those resentments from the War between the States remain with us today.
2.   WE ARE ALL RECONCILED IN CHRIST’S PEACE (Eph 2:14-18)
a.   In bringing together Jews and Gentiles, Christ has reconciled them to each other, and at the same time has reconciled both of them to the Lord (Eph 2:14). Jesus has created a new peace, a new harmony, just as Isaiah prophesied the coming Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
b.   The dividing wall that separated Jews and Gentiles was very real. It was the barrier that kept Gentiles from entering the inner part of the Temple in Jerusalem (see Acts 21:28f. Archaeologists have uncovered an inscribed sign from the Herodian Temple forbidding entry to the Court of the Jews on pain of death). Jesus destroyed that barrier of access to God on the cross. In Him there is no barrier or dividing wall between Jews or Gentiles. In Him all human hostility and barriers are brought to peace. Jesus Christ is the only one who has the cure for the evils of racism, tribalism, and divided Christianity.
c.   Jesus also abolished the cultural requirements of Jewish law, its commandments and regulations, that had been a barrier to Gentiles becoming believers (Eph 2:15). Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic law perfectly (Rom 8:4; Luke 2:1), establishing a new covenant through his death on the cross (Hebrews 7-10).
d.   One New Man (Eph 2:15-16) – In Christ Jews and Gentiles are one. The atoning work of Christ on the cross destroyed their enmity and brought reconciliation and peace. Jesus put to death the basis of hostility between Jew and Gentile by providing equal access to God through his sacrifice on the cross. The two are called not only to live in peace, but to live as one. Paul masterfully brings together Isaiah 52:7 and Isa. 57:19 to show that all this was already planned. The veil has been rent!
e.   In fact, the word Paul uses here for reconcile is the Greek word apokatallaso, meaning a “complete change from enmity to friendship without any impediment” (Eph. 2:16). This word is stronger than the ordinary one used in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 or Romans 5:10-11 (katallage: “the changing of places, to come over to the other side,” “to change from enmity to friendship”). That ordinary word is also used in Colossians 1:20 where reconciliation involves bringing “all things” under the authority of Christ, even principalities and powers.
f.    Trinitarian work: Note that all three persons of the Trinity work together to reconcile Jews and Gentiles to each other and the Lord: the atoning work of Christ made it possible. The Holy Spirit gives access to the Father (Phil 2:18)
3.   WE ARE ALL RECONCILED IN CHRIST’S HOUSEHOLD (Eph 2:19-22)
a.   This house in which the far-away Gentiles have been brought near with now elder brothers and sisters, is a temple of worship. It is built on a solid foundation of the prophets who foretold the Messiah’s coming (the inerrant Old Testament and the Bible the early church had), the apostles who proclaimed the gospel of Christ (the inerrant New Testament in process) and founded churches, and Christ who fulfilled the prophecies of the prophets and the worked redemption, becoming the Chief Cornerstone. In ancient buildings the cornerstone was highly prized because it tied the whole building together. Now that temple rises, a dwelling place of God (Eph 2:22)
b.   Paul’s call to them to seek oneness, peace, and unity is a call to us to seek the same with our fellow-Christians whatever their race or background, that we might be one temple displaying God’s holiness
c.   I want us to pay attention here because there is something more here than assuaging racial guilt or just getting along somehow in a multicultural world. Somehow in the spiritual world, when reconciliation happens, something important occurs. Paul said it is, indeed, a mystery: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Jesus Christ” (Eph 3:6). Paul saw it as his job to “make plain” this “mystery:” "I became a servant of this gospel . . . to preach to the Gentiles . . . and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery . . ." (Eph 3:8‑9). Paul describes the purpose in Eph. 3:10-11 that “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Therefore, through a unified Body of Christ (i.e., the church) God’s intent is to make known to the demonic principalities the manifold wisdom (i.e., the mystery of reconciliation) of God!  Through a reconciled body!  Through reconciliation! Therefore, the gospel is preached through the Unity of the Body.
d.   This Unity in the Body, demonstrating Christ’s Peace, is an answer to the Jesus’ intercession in the Garden of Gethsemane before his Crucifixion: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). The demonstrated unity of the Body of Christ announces the violent rushing in of God’s Kingdom into the spiritual kingdoms of this world. “From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matt 11:12).
e.   This announcement in a city or region through believers’ demonstration of reconciliation and demolition of racism erects a new spiritual climate for a community. It opens the door for God’s work in a new way. Paul had already seen the reality of reconciliation at work in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11). His experience there teaches us that there is a connection of some kind between the number of believers in a city in unity and the work of the church. The exaltation of the higher authority of Christ through reconciliation brings the demonic forces under subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ in that area, city, or region.  They are forced to submit.
f.    Then through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, we can intercede boldy. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph 3:12) about our crime rate, our conversion rate, our unemployment rate, our church growth rate, our suicide rate, revival, and spiritual awakening. Paul exhorts that unity in the body is a key to the church’s work: “Therefore, “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:3-4). Unity is, after all, a goal of the church. “It was he who gave . . . apostles, . . . prophets, . . . evangelists, . . . pastors, . . . and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13).
g.   APPLICATION:  One area where we need improvement is with Latinos. They are here among us. Do we look down on them simply as wetbacks? Are we overlooking the labor and sex trafficking they are enduring? Are we reaching them? Are we befriending them? Are we learning from them?
Invitation:


[1] Lucas L. Johnson, “Churches work toward integrating congregations,” Augusta Chronicle, September 30, 2011, http://chronicle.augusta.com/life/your-faith/2011-09-30/churches-work-toward-integrating-congregations#.TocRkIJuET4.twitter

[2] Eric Eckholm, “Southern Baptists approve steps aimed at diversity,” New York Times, June 15, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/us/16baptist.html