Posted by: mikebackup | July 18, 2009

Coming Together

Ephesians 2:11-22 (New International Version)

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

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

These verses speak so much of equality and unity where there was such division before. When Christianity first started it was a radical offshoot of Judaism, made up mainly of Jews. For them to accept Gentiles without condition and and see this new covenant as a merger of equals required a massive change in thinking. Jews grew up seeing themselves as separate from the rest of humanity. Their history was made up of them keeping themselves to themselves. Whenever there had been integration with other groups this was stopped at the earliest opportunity.

A good example of this is to look at the post-exilic times of the Persian occupation (539-333 BCE). . Those that were in exile were told to return and when firstly Ezra and then Nehemiah appeared back in Judah they were not pleased to see the happy integration with their neighbours. In Ezra 10.10-12, the separation of Israel from anyone else started in earnest:

“Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said”.

Nehemiah continued what Ezra had started, implementing social legislation and prohibiting Jewish intermarriage with foreign wives. But God’s chosen people misunderstood their calling. God chose them to bless the nations, a calling that continues for missionary disciples today. Let us remind ourselves of that missionary calling in the Old Testament.

The God of Israel was everyone’s God (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:35 – You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.)

That God chose Israel for the purpose of blessing the nations (e.g. Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’)

That Israel is to be distinct and so make apparent the life God seeks for everyone (e.g. Genesis 18:17-18 – The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? And Jeremiah 4:1 – If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, if you return to me, if you remove your abominations from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives!’ in truth, in justice, and in uprightness, then nations shall be blessed by him, and by him they shall boast. )

That people will come to them, because God will look attractive to others (e.g. Isaiah 19:19-24 – On that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the centre of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a saviour, and will defend and deliver them. The Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the Lord on that day, and will worship with sacrifice and burnt-offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing; they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their supplications and heal them. On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.’ and Isaiah 66:18-21 – For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. From them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put,* and Lud—which draw the bow—to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your kindred from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and on mules, and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring a grain-offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And I will also take some of them as priests and as Levites, says the Lord. )

God also showed how his compassion went beyond Israel when he asked Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah by contrast exemplified the Jewish thinking that they were set apart because they alone were God’s chosen people.

Jonah 4 – Jonah’s Anger at the Lord ‘s Compassion
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”

But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

So in the early days of Christianity, Jewish Christians had to change their thinking. It would have also been difficult for Gentiles. They would have known the history of separation and would have been apprehensive. It was a difficult time of reconciliation.

Understanding that God in Christ has removed any barriers between people is something that Christians today have to not only live out themselves but teach others to understand as well. Britain is in need of this message, because we see large degrees of separation in our society. The popularity of the BNP shows how bad it has become. Their line is that they are standing up for the British people, because other parties have been protecting those entering the country. There is little sense that we are all human beings who have a right to share in the abundance that we have been given on the earth. People separate themselves from the ethic minorities, asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, homeless people, the poor. People seem obsessed with protecting what they have got and keeping their boundaries secure. We are all equals before God and there are no boundaries or separation in the Kingdom of God. This is not to deny our identity, God’s way is unity in diversity.

Churches must work hard at reconciliation and the breaking down of barriers. People then see differences between different groups of people as a positive. Church also needs to make sure that they are not putting up any barriers between themselves and non-Christians. It is very easy to separate from everyone else. In Christ our Good News is that he loves everyone, not matter who they are. Let’s make sure that we show that.

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