On the Outside Looking In
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 2:11
You know, rejection has a way of isolating us. Most of us can remember times where we felt like we were on the outside looking in. As a kid, we wanted to be on a team but somehow didn't measure up. Our affections for another person were not returned in kind. The manager said, "You don't have the qualifications that we're looking for." And you're left outside looking in, not part of what you wanted to be a part of for whatever reason. Someone said, "No," and sent you on your way. Well, today those earthly experiences prepare us wonderfully for the passage that we have in front of us this morning. I invite you to turn to Ephesians 2:11 as we continue our exposition of the book of Ephesians and I am about to preach my favorite verse in the Bible with Ephesians 2:11. I've just come to realize and understand and defer to the fact that whatever the next passage is that I'm preaching on, that is my favorite verse in the Bible so it tends to change week by week but you'll see why I'm excited to teach this to you as we go along.
This is a magnificently important passage in Scripture that ties so many things together throughout the course of the history of God's redemption of mankind. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this passage that we are about to see this morning. The Apostle Paul writing in verse 11 says,
11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands - 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
We're going to spend a couple of weeks probably looking at these verses. We'll only get through verse 11 today but I needed to read all 3 verses to help set in your mind the full context of what Paul is saying. This passage is written by the Apostle Paul for a very specific purpose as it conveys a great statement about the nature of God's redemption. Paul is writing these words here at this point in the passage so that Gentile Christians, in other words non-Jewish people who had become believers in Christ, so that people like that would be grateful for their salvation and motivated to follow Christ faithfully. Paul here is shaping our hearts with the grandeur of salvation so that at first we would be in awe of it and then we would be moved to gratitude in that it would issue into glad, willing obedience to the God of our salvation.
As you look at the overall structure of the book of Ephesians, it's an oversimplification but in the first 3 chapters, Paul is laying out the doctrine of what it means to be a Christian and how it was that God saved us. Then in verses 4 through 6, there is a lot of ethical instruction, a lot of commands to do this and do that, don't do this, don't do that, all in the manner of bringing people to maturity in Christ, to build us up. Well, if you're going to be receptive and motivated for the last half of the book, you need to understand what it means to be a Christian because if you understand that and grasp that, your heart is already way down the road toward obedience because it has been made soft and been made tender by the understanding and the illumination of what God has done for you in Christ.
So, what we're seeing here this morning is a life-altering understanding of what God has done for us in Christ. And Paul, as you can see in verse 11, is going to set up a contrast which we'll explain later, a contrast between Gentiles and Jews. He's making reference in this broader passage and in verse 12, a statement about how Gentiles were outside the promises that God gave to the Jewish people. So there is a lot of biblical history assumed in exactly what Paul is saying here and to appreciate this passage, we need to take the time this morning to patiently set the context for the biblical relationship between Jews and Gentiles. And some of this this morning will sound awfully familiar to those of you who have been following our Tuesday night studies. It's very exciting to me to see how providentially God brings these 2 rivers together. Like the 3 rivers up in Pennsylvania that form together to form the Ohio River, we are now seeing streams of biblical thought from different books of the Bible which we are studying together come together to make a massively important stream of thought in our minds. This is so crucial and this has everything to do with how it is even possible for you to be a Christian here this morning.
I would imagine, I won't make a blanket absolute assertion and assumption, but almost everyone in here is not a Jew, is not a biological, with Jews as ancestors to us. We are all Gentiles and so with that in mind, for a passage that specifically addresses Gentile Christians, you should lean forward in your seats. You should be up on your tip toes. You should be bending your ear to hear because this is of great significance to you even though when you first read it it may not be immediately apparent why that is the case. I know that was true of me for many years reading the book of Ephesians. I just never really got why this mattered. Ha! Why does it matter? This is the core of everything. So, that's what we're going to look at here this morning and I'm so excited to open this up to you.
Now, to set the context, though, we need to take a look at what God has done for the Jews. He's talking to Gentile Christians but he's setting them in contrast to Jews and so we need to be able to set a context so that we understand the force of what he's saying. When Paul wrote this in the first century, the antithesis between Jew and Gentile was far more greatly embedded in the nature of society than what we really think about it today. This was a defining aspect of their existence for the people he was writing to and so we need to kind of enter into their shoes a bit to understand the sense of what Paul is saying and why it is so vital to them and now vital to us today.
Let's look first of all, this will be the first point in your notes if you're taking notes and I encourage you to take notes whenever you're able to do so, first of all, I want to talk with you about the nobility of the Jews. The nobility of the Jews. We are setting a little context here and we're going to sweep through some really important biblical themes in just a few minutes. The nobility of the Jews by which we mean that the Jews had a particularly chosen place in the program of God and that goes all the way back to Genesis which we've been studying so recently on Tuesday nights. Let me just remind you of a couple of things. God in the early chapters of the first book of the Bible, in Genesis, 4,000 years ago from our time today, God made promises of great blessings to Abraham and to his descendents.
Look back at the book of Genesis 12 and, like I say, we're just going to bounce from mountain peak to mountain peak. We're not going to spend much time on this but it will be more than enough to give you a sense of why Paul is saying what he's saying in Ephesians. In Genesis 12:1, the Lord called Abram out of paganism and made promises to him that still matter today, that are still in effect today. Genesis 12:1, "Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And 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 will be blessed.'" And so, God establishes this promise of great multiplied blessings, multifaceted blessings to Abraham and as you read through the book of Genesis, you find him defining and expanding on those promises more and more. Look at Genesis 15:1, for example. Genesis 15:1, "After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.'" And if you drop down to verse 4, "Behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 'This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.' And He took him outside and said, 'Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.'"
Now, we are not looking at every passage that we could because we've already covered this on Tuesday nights, but God is established a covenant with Abraham saying, "I'm going to bless you in multiplied ways. I'm going to bless you on an individual level. I'm going to bring a nation forth from you and give national blessings to you and I'm going to go even further, so much so that all the families of the earth will experience blessing through your seed, Abraham. I promise you that. I will keep that promise."
Now, as you move along in the understanding of Genesis and in the reading of Genesis, God established a physical act to be the physical sign of that covenant, the sign of circumcision and I want you to look at Genesis 17:10 with me. Sometimes you just stick passages out so people say, "Okay, now I know where this is found in the Bible." Genesis 17:9 we'll start with, "God said further to Abraham, 'Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.'" So God is establishing a covenant not just with a single individual that would expire when that man died, he's saying, "This extends through your generations, through your descendents for perpetuity." He says, "This is for every generation that follows you throughout their generations." So you start to see, watch this, you start to see that there is a formation in the plan of God that a people, a nation would come from the loins of Abraham who were the recipients of special unique promises given to them that set them apart from everyone else. God made promises to Abraham and promises to his descendents that he did not make to other nations.
Now, verse 10. How do we know whether someone is a part of that or not? God established a sign to show that an individual shared in the promises that he made to the nation. Verse 10, "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin," watch this, "and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you." Male circumcision was to be the sign that someone belonged to the covenant people, belonged to the covenant nation, that they were on the receiving end of these magnificent promises of God and the removal of the male foreskin was an outward sign that you shared in the promises that God made to the nation. Uncircumcised people were outside the covenant. Look at verse 14, "But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant." So to be absent the sign of circumcision was to be absent the promises of God; to lack the physical sign meant that you were not participating in the spiritual reality of what God established.
Now, that's a helicopter view, a space shuttle view of important biblical truth. Over 600 years later after these promises that God made to Abraham, God as we saw last time on our Tuesday night studies, God gave birth to the nation proper. He gave birth to Israel as a nation so that, watch this, so that they could be priests on his behalf, so that they would mediate between God and the nations. Look at Exodus 19. Exodus 19 where in verse 5, God said to the people of Israel, having delivered them from Egypt, he said, "Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine." You will be my unique possession. You will particularly belong to me. "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests." A priest mediates God to men and mediates between men and God. A true priest, we're not talking about the Catholic imposters here of today, we are talking about the concept of priest in general. God said, "'You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
Now, 400 more years later, around 1,000 years before the time of Christ, 1,000 years go by in the blink of a biblical eye, God promised a kingdom to one of Abraham's descendents named David. Look over at 2 Samuel 7 and what we're seeing is we are seeing these great biblical promises that God made to the people of Israel, to individuals in the nation but also to the nation as a whole and we're seeing how richly privileged this nation was. There was an utter nobility about the place that God had assigned to them, not because of who they were in themselves, the Scripture makes that so clear. God bestowed his love on them not because they were a great nation, not because of anything that they had done, but because of his great love because it pleased him to do so. He set his love on them and that's what separated them out as God gave them these promises.
2 Samuel 7, God is speaking to David and he says, "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." Wow. So here you are, you're a Jew and you've got these great promises that were given to Abraham that belong to you as a member of the nation, now skipping forward 1,000 years, God has promised a kingdom to one of your own kinsman and says, "Your kingdom is going to endure," and you just see these magnificent promises of blessing and prominence and reign that are given to the Jews in the Old Testament.
Now, 400 more years later, going to about 600. I'm speaking in round terms just for the sake of ease this morning. About 400 more years later, God made another covenant promise to the people of Israel. Look at Jeremiah 31. We're looking at the nobility of the Jews in order to understand Ephesians 2. Jeremiah 31, God promises in verse 33, "'This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the LORD, 'I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, "Know the LORD," for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,' declares the LORD, 'for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.'" Now, we're used to hearing words like that when we celebrate communion in the church today but what I want you to see is that when God made this promise in Jeremiah 31 before the coming of Christ, he called it a covenant which he made with the house of Israel.
So, it was pretty good to be a Jew. It was a special place to be. That was a special ancestry to share in. You were part of the chosen nation. You had promises of a coming Messiah, of a coming King. You had promises that God made to Abraham that he says continues throughout all your generations and here you are with the mark that shows that you belong. You're in. You're inside. You're within the realm of those great promises that God had made to his people. It was good to be a Jew and the Apostle Paul even said that there were great advantages to that even as he wrote after the coming and crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Look over at Romans 3. We'll look at a couple of passages in Romans rather quickly. About all you can do is dip your toe in the water and then get back out but it will be enough for us to gain the momentum we need for Ephesians 2. Romans 3:1, picking up Paul's argument in the midst of the stream. He says, "What advantage has the Jew?" If all men are sinners and all need a Savior, what is the advantage of being a Jew then? What is the benefit of circumcision? Which was the sign of belonging to the covenant nation. Did it not matter? Was it not important now that Christ had come? Was Paul rendering the Jewish nation irrelevant with what he was saying? No, no, what is the benefit of circumcision? Verse 2, Paul says, "It is great in every respect." He says, "First of all, they were entrusted with the oracles of God." The revelation of God in the Old Testament came through the Jewish prophets. It came through Moses. The promises were given to Abraham. The oracles, the revelation of God were delivered through that race.
Look over at Romans 9. Paul, here recognizes that despite all of the covenant promises, not all of the Jews were truly redeemed and saved. The promises were made to the nation but that didn't mean every single individual Jew had his sins forgiven and so Paul says in Romans 9:1, "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart." Why are you so sad, Paul? Well, "I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Paul was a Jew. Now he's a saved Jews and he says, "There are people in the nation, they are not saved and it breaks my heart. I am unceasingly sorrowful over this fact." And what accents his sorrow is the fact that the Jews have such a great position and they are missing it.
Look at verse 4, "my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs," as a people, this is what they have, this is what belongs to them, "the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants," do you see it there? The covenants that we've been talking about, "and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises." They have so much in the economy of God and yet they don't know him. They are going to hell and this breaks my heart but our point for this morning is that he recognizes the special place that they had in the economy of God.
Verse 5, "whose are the fathers," they descend from the right line, "and from whom is the Christ," the Messiah, the Savior of the world belongs to the Jewish race. He says, "And here they are with all these privileges and they're lost. I can't stand it like that. It just grieves me so deeply that with all of these great promises they have and all that belongs to them, they are outside the kingdom."
Our point for this morning here is for you simply to see Old Testament, New Testament, the privileged position that belonged to the Jews, that under the ordained purposes of God, they were uniquely recipients of blessings that didn't belong to other nations. Promises made to them that separated them and gave them a unique privilege, a unique status. But that's the nobility of the Jews, but there was only one problem, a big problem multiplied throughout their generations. There was only one problem: the Jews as a nation squandered the privilege. They squandered it. Here they were with all of this great blessing and they squandered it.
Point 2 this morning, we're just going to look briefly at the futility of the Jews. The futility of the Jews by which we mean they did not take advantage of the noble position that they had. Now, brief qualification to what I'm about to say: to be sure there was always a faithful remnant in the Old Testament. God told the prophet Elijah there are 7,000 that haven't bent the knee to Baal. In the New Testament, there were many Jews, thousands of them that believed in the Gospel, but as a nation collectively, the Jews squandered their privilege. They failed to mediate God's presence to the nation, to the nations, plural. They failed to honor and love and revere and obey the God who called them. The Old Testament is a sad recounting of that miserable history. You could illustrate it in so many ways. Jonah was called to preach to Nineveh, called to preach to a Gentile city and he said, "I'd rather die first." They fell into idolatry almost immediately after God had called them out as a nation. They were in idolatry by Exodus 32, worshiping a golden calf and they ultimately went into exile for their idolatry. You can read about that in 2 Kings 17 and 18; for the sake of time, we won't go there. And you look at the book of Judges and you see that every man just did what was right in his own eyes and there's this decelerating cycle into deeper and deeper sin. God shows them grace and they sin against him more and the consequences of it are profound. It is heartbreaking to see the effect of sin and disobedience on such a greatly privileged nation.
By the time that Christ came, the Jews were hard. They were cold. They had twisted the law of God beyond recognition and Jesus rebukes them in Matthew 5 in the great Sermon on the Mount and says, "You've heard that the Pharisees say, but I tell you this." It's not that he was contradicting the law that God originally gave, he's saying that, "The Pharisees have twisted the law of God to make it something that it doesn't mean. Let me correct it and show you what the significance of it actually is." That's when he said, "You've heard it said you shall not commit adultery but I say to you don't look on a woman to lust after. You've heard don't murder, I say that means don't be angry." The Jews had taken God's law, thoroughly externalized it, made themselves proud and boastful of the little things that they kept and they were completely missing the whole point. They opposed Christ. Their Messiah was in front of them and they opposed him tooth and nail. They rejected him. And yet through it all, through it all, the Jews clung to their biological descent as a sign that they had God's favor on their lives.
Look at the Gospel of John 8. This is all introduction and will so much help you understand what we're going to see in Ephesians 2. John 8:31, "Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'" Some of the Jews opposed him on that and look at what they rely on as the status that they are okay, that they are still enjoying God's favor, "We are Abraham’s descendants and we have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" They are opposing his teaching which comes with the territory of teaching God's word. They oppose his teaching and the basis of their opposition to show that Jesus was wrong is, "Hey, we're biological Jews. We're descendents of Abraham. Don't you get it? We're in."
Go on to verse 52 of John 8, "The Jews said to Him, 'Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, "If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death."'" Look at the way they cling to their biological sin. "Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?" The reality was in front of them in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The God who made all of those promises to them was present in human flesh, having incarnated in his birth at Bethlehem and they oppose him and the grounds of opposing their God is, "We belong to the genealogy of Abraham." They had so externalized it that they completely missed the spiritual significance of what it was supposed to be to be a real Jew, a true Jew.
How cold and how hard were they in that position? Turn over to John 19: 13. How hard were they? They rejected their Messiah and pledged allegiance to Caesar. John 19:13, "Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews," to the Jews, "'Behold, your King!'" He didn't realize what a true statement that was but he said, "Behold, your King!" What do they do? Ah, "Stop it!" "They cried out, 'Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!' Pilate said to them, 'Shall I crucify your King?' The chief priests answered, 'We have no king but Caesar.'" How utterly futile is that. What an utter travesty and perversion of what the Jewish nation should have been.
But they weren't done. They still weren't done. Opposing God in his purposes. They opposed the preaching of the Gospel in the book of Acts. I'm just going to show you one passage for the sake of time. Turn to Acts 13:44. Going through this like this just kind of gives you the creeps. Man, I need a shower. Acts 13:44, "The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming." They contradicted Christ, they contradicted his apostle. "Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly," this is a bit of a bridge here, "Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, 'It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,'" to you Jews first. Watch this now, "'since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.'" It had gone on long enough. They crucified Christ. They opposed Paul and the Gospel. They repudiated the message and the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ and stirred up crowds and beat the apostles and threw them in jail. Paul says, "Enough. If you as a race are going to deal with God's truth in such a futile way, we'll turn to the Gentiles now."
One last thing, chapter 15, verse 1, that bears on this as well. Just the hindrance, the pride, the misguided trust in their physical descent as being sufficient for spiritual guidance, chapter 15: verse 1, "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" "Guys, unless you come through us, you can't be saved. You Gentiles, unless you come through the Jews, unless you're circumcised and unless you embrace the law of Moses as your guide, you cannot come to Christ. You cannot be saved. You, on the outside, must come through us on the inside."
So what have we seen in this second point, the futility of the Jews? They were the chosen nation but they squandered the privilege. They turned their back on God again and again throughout the Old Testament at the time of Christ and in the proclamation of the Gospel. It's grievous. But not only that, I mean, it would be a tragedy in the literary sense, that would be a great enough tragedy that they had squandered it for themselves but what we see in Acts 15 is that they are hindering the Gentiles also. They are proving to be a barrier between the Gospel message and the salvation of the Gentiles and so they have this arrogance, talking in the first century now, "We belong to Abraham." You don't. They opposed Christ. They opposed the Gospel. They tell the Gentiles, "You've got to come through us if you want to see God. Check in with us first." And here you are as a Gentiles standing on the outside and say, "They do have the covenants, after all, and they don't want us around. They still carry the spirit of Jonah and now they're saying that we've got to come through them." Scripture says the Jews were placing a burden on them that the Jews themselves couldn't carry.
What is a Gentile to do in that circumstance? That sets the stage for Ephesians 2:11. But let me just pause here for just a second. What I want you to see is that the story and the plight of the Gentiles in biblical times, in one sense, was your plight as well: those of you of Scandinavian descent, European descent, South American descent, Scottish descent, whatever the case may be. There you were, a Gentile, and all of these promises made to the Jews and you are on the outside looking in. You're identified with, we are identified with, racially we are identified with the People's that had nothing offered to them by God. Alone. Separated. Isolated. No basis, no promise of God to us upon which we could approach him and the Jews, we're speaking racially here now, not individually, the Jews said, "We don't want you around and if you want to come, you've got to become a Jew first or you can't be saved. You've got to suck up to us. You've got to lick our boots if you want to be saved from your sin. You've got to be circumcised." Do you know what? That doesn't sound like a real good idea to me and yet what are you to do?
Now, point 3 here: the hostility of the Jews which is what I was just describing. The hostility of the Jews and that brings us into our text, Ephesians 2:11, for this morning. Ephesians 2:11, and this is cool. This is great Scripture. Speaking as a Gentile who was once separated from God with no promises to call my own, this is one of the greatest Scriptures in all of the Bible to a Gentile. Paul says, "Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh," you are physically not a Jew and there are two words right at the start of the verse that I want you to pick up on and to notice here. This is a very big, important transition that Paul is making in the flow of his argument in Ephesians. Don't miss it. Paul uses the strongest inferential conjunction in the Greek language, "therefore," when he says this. It's bridging what he said in the first 10 verses of Ephesians 2 with what he is about to say. What he is about to do here is he about to discuss their prior spiritual condition from a different perspective than what he had been talking about it in verses 1 through 10. Stay with me here. You won't get lost. In the first 3 verses of Ephesians 2, Paul spoke, as it were, on an individual personal level. He's addressing them collectively but he's talking about what was true of them in their individual lives, "You were dead in your trespasses and sins. You were captive to the world, the flesh and Satan. You were under the judgment of God. You were, individually you were just separate. You were dead. You had no hope." But God made you alive together with Christ. By grace we have been saved, 4 through 10.
Paul when he says, "therefore," is picking up that 10 verse unit of thought and moving the argument forward to say, "What was true of you individually was true on a racial level." He had said earlier that God saved them by God's power and grace even when they were dead in sin, now he's going to show them the work of God from a different perspective that is tied in with the Jewish Gentile distinction that they lived their lives under. "Therefore, in light of what I said in these prior 10 verses, now listen to this because it follows and expands greatly and importantly what I've just been saying. Therefore go from this great island, across this bridge to the next great island of thought that you must understand if you are going to be a functioning, growing Christian in Christ. If you're going to achieve the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ, you need to understand this," Paul says. "Therefore, now pay attention."
Look at verse 11 again, he says, "Therefore remember." Ah, what a sweet word. He says, "Remember this," it's a tense that expresses, "remember this continually. Don't ever forget this. Keep this in mind as you go through life and come back to this thought again and again so that the richness and the sweetness and the power of it would affect the entire way that you think. Keep this continually in mind. Remember this." Remember what? "Remember that." Ha, the word "that" is about to express the content of what he wants them to remember. Ha, but then he goes on an immediate digression. He picks up the "that" in verse 12, "remember that you were at that time separate from Christ." But here in verse 11 he's going on a little bit of a digression to help them remember and appreciate the significance of their salvation.
It's so powerful. It is so sweet. It is so significant. The ramifications of this affect everyone in this room, affect every Gentile in the world. The ramifications of this echo throughout the eternity halls of time. This is big! Paul says, "remember that formerly," remember in your prior life before your conversion, "remember that you, the Gentiles in the flesh." He's writing to Gentile Christians here and he says, "I want you to remember something really important as Gentiles," and he recognizes the hostility that they had faced from the Jews in this verse. Look at it. He says, "remember that you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called," somebody is calling them something. They are on the receiving end of a derogatory reference, "remember that you are called 'Uncircumcision' by the so-called 'Circumcision.'" What is he saying here? Now everything that we've said for the past 40 minutes comes into immediate, urgent focus. He's reminding them that these people who were Jews, who were physically circumcised, excluded them, called them "uncircumcision." They Lorded their position over the Gentiles. They called them "uncircumcision" in a derisive way to taunt them. "You are uncircumcised," say the circumcised. And beloved, watch this, they are saying that based on all of the things that we looked at from the Old Testament where the people of Abraham, of Moses, of David, "The promise of the new covenant was given to us, not you. Ha! You uncircumcised heathen! You don't belong! But we do."
The absence of the physical sign in the flesh, according to the Jews, showed that they were outside the promises of God and they had so perverted the very point of being a Jew, the very point of being a Jew was that they would be a priest to the nations, that through them all the families of the earth would be blessed. They so perverted it that rather than saying, "We have received blessing and now we share it with you," they say, "We have received blessing. We're special. You're not, you Gentile dogs!" Remember that. Paul says, "You remember the position that you were in as a Gentile in the flesh and you remember with quivering hands and shaking knees, you remember what that was like." Paul says, "You keep this in mind. The people who have been given the oracles of God wouldn't share it with you and drove you away and wanted nothing to do with you and you had no promise of your own from God in the Old Testament to claim and to be the basis upon which you would approach him." Do you see how miserably impossible the situation was? The first 3 verses: you are dead in sin; you aren't seeking for God and you were captive to the world, the flesh and the devil. You were captive dead, facing judgment. You didn't even care and if you did care, it didn't matter, you had no promise of your own and the people who had the promises wanted nothing to do with you. You were out somewhere in the black corner of the deepest recesses of the universe, spiritually speaking, with nowhere to go. It was so hopeless for you and so the whole situation was spiritually impossible.
The Jews intimidated them away but now a sweet pivot point, Paul interesting in that he's a Jew himself, says this is what they said. But let me just say one thing on this tangent that I'm on, speaking as the Apostle Paul here. "It's the so-called 'circumcision.' The so-called. It's the sign without the reality. Yes, they intimidated you. Yes, they drove you away. Yes, they hated you. Yes, they called you dogs. But do you know what? They had the sign of the covenant but they weren't speaking according to the spiritual reality of the covenant. They weren't speaking for God when they said that. Their circumcision has nothing to do with spiritual reality. It's just something in the flesh with human hands. Remember that." Paul says, "They had it all wrong when they were trying to drive you away with their hostility." Martyn Lloyd Jones put it this way commenting on this verse, he said and I quote, "God did not create the nation of the Jews in order to have nothing to do with the others. He created the nations of the Jews in order that through them he might speak to the whole world but the Jew had misunderstood. He had turned this difference into a barrier and he held himself aloof and despised the others."
This is wonderful news. Paul rejects their snobbery, their arrogance in verse 11. Ha! Paul, the appointed apostle to the Gentiles of the Lord Jesus Christ, directly commissioned by him, says, "Let me set you straight: you can disregard the Jews. They have the physical sign but not the spiritual reality." Paul says, "Their flesh had been cut with human hands but their hearts were untouched by God. They were unconverted Jews who had no say in the matter." Paul says to these Gentile Christians, "You remember that. Remember. Remember this former state that you were in. Remember the hostility of the Jews that was directed against you."
Why is that important to know? Why should we remember that even today? I mean, most of us don't have much interaction with Jews, let alone on a spiritual level. Why is this so important? I'll tell you why it's important: Paul is showing to these Gentile Christians, he is showing to us today, the greatness of the grace of God in the Gospel. Christ when he saved these Gentile Christians, not only overcame their Ephesians 2:1-3 state, he overcame something even more transcendent. He overcame the opposition of the so-called people of God to their salvation and what is more, oh, I could say this and die and go to heaven and it would be okay: what is more is that what Paul is saying here is that God who blessed the Jews with promises has stepped beyond those promises in order to bring grace to the Gentiles, in order to bring grace to people like you and me. The Jews were going to limit God to what he said, he said, "No, I'll go beyond and I'll do whatever I please and it pleases me to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles and that's why you're saved."
Christ overcame Jewish hostility in order to save the Gentiles. Christ went beyond the promises made, in one sense, went beyond the promises made to the Jews and kept that original promise that he made to Abraham saying, "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed." The Jews should have seen from the beginning if they had read their Scriptures rightly and gone back to it, they would have seen this is to be a blessing to everybody, not just us. But they blew it. They perverted it. They turned it into a matter of pride and self-esteem for themselves and God in his power, in his grace, in his might, in his unspeakable goodness, just moves them aside and says, "This is for you too, Gentiles." He bypassed the Jews and sent the Gospel directly to the Gentiles and here you and I are today standing in the stream of that blessing that God has given. If it had perpetuated, if Christ hadn't intervened, if God hadn't gone beyond the Jews and brought salvation to the Gentiles, you and I would still be on the outside looking in. We would be without hope in the world. We would have no hope of eternal life. We would be dead in sin. We would be facing certain eternal judgment because we weren't born to the right stock, came from the wrong parents and grandparents and we can't change that. We can't reverse that. You can't choose your ancestors. God says, "Excuse me, this is for the Gentiles."
Acts 13:47. So what should we think about this? Acts 13, remember we looked at this earlier in today's message. Paul had been preaching to the Jews. They are contradicting. They are blasphemy. They are repudiating it all. Paul says, Acts 13:46, "We're turning to the Gentiles." Verse 47, "for so the Lord has commanded us, I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth." Verse 48, here's what our racial forefathers did in response to the recognition of what was happening, "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." "You mean, you put the Jews out of the way and we can come directly to God through Christ? Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! Salvation is ours! The doors to heaven are open wide! The Jews aren't in the way! We can come directly to God through Jesus Christ! Hurray! Rejoice! Hallelujah! God is good and the promise now comes to us as well!" God welcomes Gentile beggars to his spiritual banquet and we are welcome at the table of God and we don't have to go through the Jews to get there. We can just come straight to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
That, beloved, for you is the very foundation upon which you can enjoy Christian salvation today. If you're a Christian today, it's because God has dealt with the Gentiles thus and we don't have to go through the Jews. We don't have to be circumcised. We don't have to keep the law of Moses. We can come in our sinful state and present ourselves to Christ and he will save us and no unbelieving Jew can stand in the way. They don't have that prerogative. "Excuse me, you're in my way. I'm coming to Christ now and you have nothing to do with it. You can't stop me because Jesus said you come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."
We are Gentile Christians here today, no biological claim on the promises of God but he brought the Gospel to us. He brought the one thing to us that could save our souls. He presented the lovely Lord Jesus Christ in all of his crucified and resurrected glory to us and said, "Believe on him and you will be saved," and there were no Jews around to contradict the sweet clarity, simplicity and directness of the promise. You, non-Jew, come to Christ and be saved, hallelujah. In light of the totality of the course of redemption history, hallelujah. Praise be to God. His promise was for the world not just for the Jews. I wasn't a Jew but he still received me. That is the greatest thing the world, there is nothing like that anywhere. We are not reliant on men. We're not hindered by men. Those of you who are not Christians today, the Lord Jesus tells you to come to him and you will be saved. You don't have to go to through a church. You don't have to go through some dressed up priest. You don't have to do a bunch of rituals. You don't have to wonder who your parents are. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that Christ says, "Everyone who comes to me I will receive." It is direct access to God through him, the promise is for you. And for those of us that rejoice in our salvation today, we look at that and say, "That's why I can be saved. That's why I can be a Christian, it is that God went beyond what he promised in the Old Testament and promised salvation to me in Christ and he worked in my sinful heart and when I came to Christ, he saved me forever and ever and ever, amen."
Paul is going to work out the implications of this in the following 2 verses. Go back to Ephesians 2 for just a second. I want you to, we'll look at these 2 verses next week but I just want you to see, I kind of did my exposition ahead of time. I want you to see this: "remember that you were at that time when you were unsaved," he says to these Gentile Christians, "you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world but," by way of glorious contrast, "now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." There was one being in the infinite expanse of the universe who could save you from that miserable condition, the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ and do you know what? He did. He saved you.
In the black corner of the universe now brought near by the blood of Christ. What is that supposed to do to you? It's supposed to make you profoundly grateful. It should profoundly humble your heart. "I did not save myself. I could not have saved myself." It fills you with gratitude and a desire to obey. "God did this for someone separated like me? Oh, my heart belongs to him alone. O God, what would you have me do? Here I am, send me, I'll go and I'll go singing and rejoicing and screaming hallelujah to the God of my salvation. Hallelujah to the Lord Jesus Christ who has been so good to me in my lost condition. When men pushed me away, Christ said you come."
Our Father, we are so profoundly grateful for the Gospel and so profoundly grateful that you showed grace to Gentiles and that we now live in the overflow of that blessing. God, you knew it all along. It was the Jews who twisted it, not you. You said in Genesis 12, "All the families of the earth will be blessed." This was ever your intention and those who twist it and perverted it, taught us false doctrine, led us astray, assured us we were saved when we weren't, who taught false things about how one could be forgiven, God, you broke through all of that. You burst through all of those human barriers and exploded your grace on our hearts. We who were far off, brought near by the blood of Christ. God, we thank you for the greatness of your salvation. We thank you that you brought it to the Gentiles and we pledge to you as those who are Christians, we pledge to you our undying, undivided loyalty in response. And Father, for those who are still outside, it's not because we're putting a human barrier, it's because they have refused to come. O, Spirit of God, draw them to Christ as well that we might all share in this glorious salvation together. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.