Jews and Gentile worshipping together? In Ephesus, believers came out of both camps, and racial tensions were high. Paul tells them that it is only through Christ, through the Holy Spirit, that they will be able to live together in peace.
Read Ephesians 2:11-13. If possible, read out loud.
11-13 But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything. (Ephesians 2:11-13, MSG)
Signs of the Times
- Jewish historian Josephus describes 13 stone slabs with writing in both Greek and Latin that were part of a dividing wall in Herod’s temple. Archaeologist have recovered two of these warning slabs which state: “No foreigner is allowed to enter within the balustrade surrounding the sanctuary and the court enclosed. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death.” Jesus death and resurrection changed everything.
In Acts 21:16-30, we read about Paul’s arrest for bringing a Gentile into the inner court. It was a physical testimony that Jesus had broken down the dividing wall, and there now is a spiritual unity between Jews and Gentiles who all have access to God through saving faith in Jesus Christ.
- In Old Testament times, circumcision played a role in identifying ethnic groups: removal of complete foreskin (Israel), to slitting of the foreskin (Egypt and western Semitic tribes), to no circumcision (Philistines and eastern Semites of Mesopotamia). The Romans and the Greeks in the New Testament times were repulsed by all forms of circumcision.
For the Israelites, physical circumcision had always been an outward sign of God’s covenant between God and his people, something that the Jews regarded with pride. In verse 11, Paul wants the Ephesian believers to understand that spiritual–hearts open to God—spiritual circumcision—was what God desired. His people were to be distinguished solely by faith working itself out in love through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:28-29).
- Some people had joined God’s people in Old Testament times—proselytes were people who became Jewish and agreed to keep Israel’s laws. Male proselytes were circumcised, but were still often treated as of lower status than those born Israelites. Most other Gentile believers were considered to be outside of the covenant despite synagogue attendance and God’s promise of eternal life. Jesus demolished the old law and instated all who believe to be full member of God’s covenant and people.
Read this passage a second time, this time in the New Living Translation.
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13, NLT)
In two columns labeled: JEWS and GENTILES, chart the truth of the Gospel tells us about racial diversity in the church of Jesus Christ.
Before you read Ephesians 2:11-13 for the third time, ask the Holy Spirit to help you quiet your mind to all voices and thoughts but those that He wants you to hear in these verses.
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13, NIV)
Write or doodle to share what you heard from God today.
(INFORMATION & RELATION) + HOLY SPIRIT ACTIVATION = TRANSFORMATION
What will your TRANSFORMATION CHALLENGE this week? Remember, we are responding out of our devotion to God in praise and thanks for His love and grace. This is not something we are striving to do in our own power to earn God’s love, but it flows from His love being manifested in our living. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.
- SUBTRACT a judgmental spirit in me, that makes me feel “less guilty” of sin than others I can point to. When I catch myself in these thoughts, help to name it, confess it, and declare God’s love for all people.
- ADD warmth to my interaction with others that reflects of your love. Help me to do it in a way that brings light to their day, with a smile, a helping hand, a blessing, taking time to listen…
These verses have given me insights regarding the racial and international tensions in our world today. Filled with Jesus love and grace, we can find peace.
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