Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
I think I have told you before about the minister who was giving a talk about the Bible and he started by ripping out two pages – OT/NT – And he did this to emphasize the truth that the Bible is one book!
And indeed, there are Christians who are not sure what the OT is all about. This is reinforced by the fact that some Bible publishers publish ‘Bible’s that have just the NT or NT and Psalms.
And you can also get Sunday School curriculum that largely treats the OT as a source for good colouring pictures about Jonah in the Whale and stories that add up to ‘Be brave like David!’
The truth is though that the Bible is His-Story – The Lord Jesus Christ. And this includes the OT!
Augustine said, “The new is in the old concealed and the old is in the new revealed.”
And so, for example, if you read Leviticus and then you read Hebrews, your understanding of
each book will be wonderfully enriched by the other.
Well, we have another example of this here in Ephesians 2:11-22. To understand this passage, you need to know that the Old testament is largely a record of God’s dealings with the Jewish people. And so, from the perspective of the Jews, the world was divided into them and everyone else, whom they called Gentiles. Well, in the congregation or congregations at Ephesus, there was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers. And there were tensions between these two groups. On the Gentile side of the divide, there was what today would call a ‘superiority complex.’ For various reasons they were arrogant towards the Jewish believers. So Paul addressed this arrogance in the first part of his letter by reminding all the Ephesians that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith.” If you know that you are saved by grace alone then there should be no room at all for any arrogance. But now Paul gets a bit more specific with these Gentile believers. But his words to them are equally needed and important for you and me today. They give us reason for praise, for humility, for unity, for holiness, and for evangelism.
Let’s see this as we consider PAUL’S SURVEY OF THE COVENANT OF GRACE. And his survey begins with a REMINDER of SALVATION’S EXCLUSIVE HISTORY, and it continues with a REVIEW of the SAVIOUR’S RECENT WORK, and it ends with a REPORT on the SPIRIT’S ASTONISHING HOUSE.
I. So the Survey of the Covenant of Grace begins with a Reminder of Salvation’s Exclusive History, which we see in vv11-12.
A. And it is a reminder, because these verses begin with a call to “REMEMBER.” And I am sure we all know how such a call to remember works. I can remember times, when I was a child, when I was bit upset about being asked to set the table or mow the lawn, or something like that, because I did it yesterday, or whatever else my reason was. But then my Mother reminded me that she made dinner every night and did the washing every day, without complaint, and all of a sudden my ‘injustice bubble’ was popped, just like that. Well, Paul wants to pop the ‘arrogance bubble’ of these Gentiles by having them think about what they were saved from.
B. And what he reminds them of is the EXCLUSIVE-TO-THE-JEWS HISTORY OF SALVATION.
1. And this begins with the reference to CIRCUMCISION/UNCIRCUMCISION. I mentioned before that the world of the OT was divided into Jew and Gentile. Around about 2000BC, God entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants, who would become the nation of Israel. And God required all the males to be circumcised soon after birth. So the circumcised ones were the Jews and the uncircumcised ones were the Gentiles. And if you were uncircumcised, you were “separated … alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants.”
a. One of the things we human beings feel most keenly is EXCLUSION from a group. We don’t like it when we are not picked for the team or when we are excluded by a group of kids at school or when we are ignored at church or work for one reason or another. Exclusion is not nice at all.
b. Sometimes this is unjust but sometimes it is just. Society of Engineers – just how it is!
c. Well, from around 2000 BC to AD 30, anyone who was not circumcised was excluded from God’s covenant family. That’s just how it was.
2. And what that amounted to is what we see at the end of v12; it meant “HAVING NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD.” For 2000 years of world history, if you were not born into a Jewish family, you had no hope of salvation.
a. Now, I know this will be a bit of a generalization, but for the sake of illustration, do you ever wonder what your life might have been like if you were born to a family in rural India, or Ecuador, or the Palestinian Territories? It would be very different than growing up in NZ and especially if you grew up here in a Christian home. Now, its not the same today as it was in OT times because you might encounter Christians in India or Ecuador or the PT, or hear about the gospel on the radio or over the internet, etc. But for 2000 years of world history, that part of the world that was not Jewish had no hope and was “without God in the world.”
C. But in connection with our topic today, which is the covenant of grace, notice the heart of what Paul identifies as that which the Gentiles were excluded from in OT times: He says, “You were at that time separated from CHRIST … and strangers to the covenants of PROMISE.” The emphasis here is not on the Law but on Christ. In OT times too God’s way of saving His people was FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
1. The difference between OT times and NT times is best summarized with two words – PROMISE and FULFILMENT. Those in God’s covenant household in OT times were those who believed in and trusted in the One that God promised to send, some time in the future. Those in God’s covenant household in NT times are those who believe in and trust in Jesus Christ who has come as the fulfilment of those promises. OT – promise – future Messiah/ NT – fulfilment – the Christ who has come. But the only way to be saved in OT times was also by faith in Jesus Christ.
II. And we see more of this as we come now to the second part of this Survey of the Covenant of Grace, which is the REVIEW OF THE SAVIOUR’S RECENT WORK, in vv13-18.
A. How were the Gentiles, those who were once “far off,” as it is described here in v13, brought into God’s covenant household? Well, the answer is plain in these verses: It was “in Christ Jesus,” and “by the blood of Christ,” and by “His flesh,” and “through the cross.”
1. And here we see something of the wonderful simplicity and clarity of how God’s covenant of grace is administered in NT times. In the Gospels, we have eye-witness accounts of the birth and life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. So we KNOW who He is.
b. We SEE Him live a life of perfect obedience.
c. We HEAR Him tell us that He came to give up His life “as a ransom for many.”
d. And He DID this on the cross, dying and rising again on the third day, having conquered sin and death, that whoever would believe in Him should have the forgiveness of his or her sins and eternal life. It is that simple! Jesus Christ has come as the fulfilment of all God’s OT promises. He has done all that needs to be done to secure our salvation. All we must do is believe!
2. So we take these references to the “flesh” and “blood” of Christ, and then we see in v17 that the Lord Jesus “PREACHED peace to those far off and those near, and we see exactlt how it is that God gathers and builds up His covenant people in NT times:
a. PREACHING the cross of Christ is how we come to faith and how we grow in faith.
b. BAPTISM by water, which symbolizes being washed by the blood of Jesus, is what identifies us as those in the faith.
c. And the LORD’S SUPPER, which is where we remember that by the flesh and blood of Jesus we have the forgiveness of our sins, is how God’s ‘feeds’ our faith.
d. Preaching, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper; the simplicity of how God gathers and builds us His covenant people in NT times.
B. And just how much simpler and plainer, yet fuller and more powerful, than how gathered and built up His covenant people in OT times can be seen in v15, where we read, “He has abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances.” Colossians 2:14 talks about the legal demands of the ordinances (same word), saying, “This [Jesus] set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
1. Do you boys and girls remember what happened in the temple at the very moment that Jesus died? The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And a message in that torn curtain was that all of the sacrifices and ceremonies and feasts of the OT were now fulfilled by the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
a. Jesus was Jewish. And like all male Jewish boys, He was circumcised. But unlike all the Jews, He was sinless. This means that Jesus was the obedient covenant keeping man that none of the Jews had been. Jesus was the Israel that Israel had never been. So all those circumcisions over 2000 years pointed forward to Jesus, the promised seed of the woman and offspring of Abraham, through whom the Lord would bless the nations.
b. And on the cross, Jesus was the sacrificial lamb of God that the Passover Lamb and the Ram that substituted for Isaac pointed forward to.
c. On the cross, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice that 1600 years of daily and monthly and yearly fellowship, sin, and guilt offerings at the Tabernacle and Temple pointed forward to.
d. On the cross, Jesus made the atonement that the 1600 annual Days of atonement had pointed towards.
e. On the cross, the sinless Jesus was what 1600 Feasts of Unleavened bread pointed forward to.
f. And as He rose from the dead, Jesus was the first-fruits that 1600 years of the Feast of First-fruits pointed forward to.
2. Can you see how much harder it was for God’s covenant people in OT times to see Jesus than it is for you and me? You have the NT, which clears away the fog that stood between the OT believer and a promised Messiah to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ as He is!
III. Well, as this survey of the Covenant of Grace continues, we move from the REVIEW of the Saviour’s Recent Work to the REPORT on the Spirit’s Astonishing House that we see in vv19-22.
A. From v19 we see that the Gentiles were now “no longer strangers and aliens.” They were no longer excluded!! Now they were “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Now they were included!!!
1. I remember seeing a video once of a US high school basketball team playing a game. A student who had Downs Syndrome – loved basketball but simply didn’t have the skills to merit being on the team. He was allowed to sit on the bench and wear the team uniform. Well if I remember the story correctly, the coach had promised to bring him on at some stage in the season, but the time had never been quite right. And so it came down to the last game of the season and the last play of the game, and the next basket would win. So the team had possession of the ball and they worked out how they were going to get their ball to their star shooter, and the coach was true to his word and he sent this lad on for the final few seconds. Well, there was a huge cheer from the crowd when he ran on. The ref blew the whistle to resume play but someone fumbled the ball that was supposed to go the star shooter and instead it kind of dribbled out to this lad who just picked up the ball and kind of biffed in the general direction of the hoop, and, you guessed it, it sailed sweetly through the hoop for the winning basket. Well, the stadium went ballistic! The lad was picked up and carried round on shoulders. He was now and forever a part of the team! He knew the joy of being included! Of belonging!
2. Well, that was just a basketball team. What we are talking about here is God’s Covenant household – the family of salvation!
B. And we have already seen that people come into God’s covenant household by the PREACHING of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not a nationality thing, it is not about our obedience, it is by faith in Jesus Christ. And v22 tells us that it is the Holy Spirit who is building God’s covenant household.
1. The Holy Spirit caused the Apostles and Prophets to write down all the words of the Bible. He made sure that we could have the truth about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. And the Holy Spirit raises up men to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ from pulpits, and men and women and boys and girls to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in their homes and neighbourhoods and schools and places of work and recreation.
3. And the Holy Spirit causes people to hear of Christ and rejoice in Christ and respond in faith and repentance.
4. And the Holy Spirit fits each of these persons together with others in local congregations, and causes them to grow in their love for the Lord Jesus and their usefulness to the Lord Jesus in these congregations.
5. It is God’s covenant household. Christ Jesus is the Cornerstone. And the Holy Spirit is the builder.
Well, so what? What does this mean for you and me today? We are helped by Ephesians.
1. EPH 3:20-21 – DOXOLOGY. Knowing that our salvation is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ should lead us to praise the Lord! And we should be especially thankful if we have known the privilege of being raised in a covenant home where Christ is honoured.
2. But this great truth also ought to affect our daily behaviour and attitudes: Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
A. And then he goes on to say in vv2-3, “with all HUMILITY and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” There is no room for arrogance/pride. We pray for each other and we give preference to each other.
B. But Paul continues, “eager to maintain the UNITY of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
i. There is plenty in the church that can be cause for division – beliefs, practices. Strive for unity and we allow for diversity in non-essentials.
a. Men – 1 Timothy 2:8 says, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” We must guard against quarrelling.
C. Next, if the Holy Spirit is the builder of God’s covenant household, it follows that the people of this household be HOLY! Ephesians 4:17-19, “No longer walk as the Gentiles do … Speak the truth … No corrupting talk … Be kind … forgiving … NO filthiness … not even a hint of sexual immorality
3. Finally, this truth is a call to EVANGELISM – Tell others about Jesus
1. They have no hope of forgiveness (drugs – hopeless).
2. They have no elders to watch over their doctrine and life.
3. Their name does not appear on a prayer calendar.
4. No one will visit them when they are in hospital and pray with them.
5. They do not hear God’s Word opened and explained, each week, as you do.
6. They have no Sunday school classes, or catechism, or FG Bible studies
7. For them there is no hope of heaven.
8. Currently, the only reason for their existence is ultimate and eternal judgment by God.
9. In truth, they have no real reason to get up each day.
10. At the moment, that man, woman, or child is “without God.”
But Acts 2 tells us that in one 3000 were added to God’s covenant family. Ephesians is proof that God’s covenant family was spreading out to include the gentile nations. It continues now in PNG. Missionaries. It continues as believing parents raise up their children in the fear of the Lord, and it continues as we tell others that the forgiveness of sins and eternal life can be found in Jesus Christ. This is the good news of the Covenant of Grace. Amen.