The Hostility Killing Gospel
Nick Esch, 5/26/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Over 6 days the infinitely glorious, sovereign, good God of the universe created all things, and after He created them He saw that what He created was good. But one of His creations stands out amongst the rest. When He created man He created mankind with a particularly good purpose. The triune God said, “‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion [on the earth].’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26-27).
Here we see that we were created by God, for God… We were created in His image, and that means that we were created to image Him; we are to have dominion under God’s Lordship, we are to subdue the earth as stewards under God, and to be fruitful and multiply: raising up children and making disciples who live for the glory of God. In other words, we are to act as God’s ambassadors, as stewards of His creation, and as representatives of what He is like… To image God means that we’re created to display and magnify who God is to the world… In other words, we are to glorify God… This is all one and the same thing… As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever…” And those are actually the same; we will find the greatest joy when we live for what we were created for: the glory of God; and we will truly glorify God when He is our greatest joy and treasure… We glorify God by making much of Him, and we make much of Him by delighting in Him supremely…
This is the reason for the very existence of all of mankind… As God’s Word says in Isaiah 43:7, everyone whom God has formed and made He created for His glory. And indeed God forms and makes everyone. It started with Adam and Eve, but it’s true of all people ever since. As Acts 17:26 says, God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth; so all of humanity: male and female, black and white, Jew and Gentile… everyone was created by God, in the image of God, for the glory of God. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what you look like, you were created in the image of God for the glory of God.
Now because this is true you’d think that we’d be more united in this world; after all, we have a common purpose, and we were all created with equal value and worth. But, there is something else that we all have in common. Because Adam and Eve are our common ancestors, ever since they became sinners in Genesis 3, we all likewise have a bent towards sin. As Romans 3:23 says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Again, all means all: male and female, black and white, Jew and Gentile… everyone by birth has a bent towards sin, and as soon as we are given opportunity we do sin—we rebel against the God of the universe… We rebel against our created purpose: to live for the glory of God… That’s why Romans 3:23 says we sin and thus fall short of the glory of God. We fall short of what God created us for… and we thus sin against an infinitely glorious God.
In fact, glory is what is behind all of our sin. Instead of living for God’s glory like we were created for, we seek our own; instead of living to please God, we live to please ourselves. We want to be made much of, we want to be glorified. In our sin we seek to put ourselves in God’s place; so in our sin we are glory thieves. And this not only puts us at enmity with God, but also with one another. Everyone who is not just like us and for us the way we want them to be, is a threat to us and our glory. And whether we realize or not, this mindset is in us all; which is why the world is the way it is… It’s why there is so much hostility and division in this world… I mean all you have to do is turn on the news, and over and over again you will hear some version of us versus them. Men against women, and women against men… Black against white, and white against black… Republican against Democrat, and Democrat against Republican… Arab against Jew, and Jew against Arab… And on and on it goes…
Well, is there any hope of peace? Any hope of reconciliation? What can possibly tear down all of these walls of hostility? And even more importantly, what can bring peace between God and man. How can God and sinner be reconciled? Well beloved, Lord willing that’s what we will see in our text today. So look with me at Ephesians 2:14-18.
Our passage begins in verse 14 by telling us, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” And this ties us back to verse 13 that said, “in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Jesus is the, “he himself,” in verse 14. When verse 13 refers to the blood of Christ, and verse 14 says, “in his flesh,” both are speaking of the cross of Christ. These verses are talking about the gospel; Paul is pointing us to the perfect life, sacrificial wrath-absorbing death, and death-defeating resurrection of Jesus—He Himself did these things.
So verse 14 is telling us that Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again to save sinners, is our peace… Through the cross He has broken down any and all walls of hostility and made us both one. Now when our text says, “us,” it’s speaking of Jew and Gentile. That’s in part what Paul seems to be referencing when he mentions a wall of hostility here as well. Not only were their invisible walls of hate and hostility put up by sinful man, but there was a physical wall in the Jewish Temple that separated the Jews from the Gentiles. In fact there was a physical wall that separated Jewish men from Jewish women… But the wall between Jew and Gentile seemed particularly hostile. On that wall in the Temple there was a sign that, in no uncertain terms, told the Gentiles that they better keep out.
This week there was a story in the news about a woman in Forney who called 911 when someone began kicking her front door. She ran upstairs and hid in her closet. But the man made his way into her house and to her bedroom closet. But when he got there he found her with a gun, and she shot him. I don’t know what that guy was thinking; he should’ve known that the majority of people in Texas own guns. I mean here there are signs in people’s yards that don’t say trespassers will be prosecuted, but that trespassers will be shot. And that’s how the sign in the Temple was. It basically said, “Gentiles: if you go past this wall you’re to blame for your consequent death.”
So this was quite a wall separating Jews and Gentiles. Verse 15 helps us understand this separation a bit more, and it gives us some insight into how the gospel tears down these walls of separation and hostility. So after reading that Jesus has broken down such walls, we’re told He did this, “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…” Now this idea of the law of commandments and ordinances is talking about the Ceremonial Law in the Old Testament. It’s the Law that clearly distinguished Israel from the rest of the world. They couldn’t eat certain foods, partake in certain activities, and even mingle with certain people. They were also required to do certain things that the rest of the world couldn’t quite understand, like sacrifices and the like. But this difference and this separation wasn’t about hate, or because the Jews were somehow better than the rest of the world. In fact, them being set apart from the world was for the purpose of living for the glory of God and attracting the world to God.
So, on the one hand, many of the Jews had grown arrogant, prideful, and nationalistic and looked down on the Gentiles. So it only made sense to them that they kill any Gentiles that go where they weren’t suppose to be. There was a literal visible wall in the Temple between them, and a there was an invisible wall of hate and hostility between them. But on the other hand, God did indeed make laws and ordinances that separated the Jews from the rest of the world (remember Gentiles just means nations, or we could say the world). But, here we’re told that Jesus abolished this Law.
Now, don’t misunderstand me; Jesus did not abolish the Moral Law in the Bible (like the 10 Commandments)… As He says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Scripture is not contradicting itself here… What God’s Word is telling us is that Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly by living perfectly in line with the Law: never sinning but always living perfectly for the glory of God. In His life He showed Himself to be everything we have failed to be, and to be everything Israel has failed to be. He’s the only one that has truly been holy and perfect as our Father in heaven is holy and perfect. And in His perfect life He perfectly fulfilled the Moral Law and in His death He abolished the Ceremonial Law by accomplishing that for which it was given. The main point of the Ceremonial Law was to set God’s people apart and to seek to make them clean in a way; but now by faith in the person and work of Jesus we are set apart and cleansed from our sin… As we sang earlier, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus…” Through the work He Himself did, because of who He Himself is, because He laid down His life and took it up again, now all who turn from their sin and trust in Him are washed clean from their sin, made right with God, and brought into the family of God—both Jew and Gentile… We ourselves are not perfect and holy; we have no righteousness of our own, but by faith we are united to Christ, and now His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection is credited to us.
We are set apart by Him… And we are set apart for Him. Just as the original intent of the Law was for the purpose of living for the glory of God and attracting the world to God, now that Jesus has fulfilled the Moral Law, and abolished the Ceremonial Law so too are we who look to Jesus by faith set apart for the purpose of living for the glory of God and attracting the world to God. We are not saved by keeping the Law; Jesus kept the Law for us, and now grace abounds to even the worst of sinners who look to Christ by faith… But if grace abounds, does that then mean that we don’t live in line with the Moral Law? Well, listen to what Paul said in Romans 3:28-31, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” By God’s grace in Christ through faith, both Jew and Gentile are saved by Jesus and His Law fulfilling and Law abolishing, and when He saves us He embowers us to live for Him—to live in line with the Law for God’s glory, and for the good of the peoples of the world, that they might see the goodness of God in and through us and come to Christ themselves…
By grace through faith in Christ Jew and Gentile, male and female, black and white, Republican and Democrat… all are made new in Christ and thus brought back to the original purpose they were created for: the glory of God. We are united in purpose once again. It’s not about Jew or Gentile; it’s about making much of Jesus. That’s why verse 15 says that Jesus creates in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace… In Christ the walls have been torn down. There’s no longer a wall in the Temple keeping Jews and Gentiles separated, or keeping male and female separated… In fact, because Jesus abolished the Ceremonial Law, there’s no longer a true Jewish Temple at all; instead Jesus is our Temple… and now, we the church are the new Temple of God. The Temple was where God dwelled, but God came to earth in the flesh in Jesus; and after Jesus live, died, rose again, and ascended on high, the Holy Spirit came down to indwell every believer. So now the very presence of God is within God’s people. The Spirit of Christ, the hope of glory, is in us.
In verse 16 we’re told that Jesus did what He did in the gospel so that He, “might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” In 1 Peter 3:18 God’s Word says that Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. In 2 Corinthians 5 it says that, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself . . . . For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (19, 21). Through Christ our sin is done away with and we are made righteous in the eyes of God, and thus reconciled to God, and brought near to God. Through our union with Christ—the union that comes as we forsake our sin and self glory, and surrender ourselves to Jesus and trust wholly in who He is and what He’s done to save us (that’s what faith is)—we are washed clean, made new, and brought into right relationship with God. We are saved from something: God’s wrath, and we are saved into something: God’s people, the church, the body of Christ. Through our union with Christ comes all of these benefits (and more). And if we are united with Christ spiritually, we are also united with the body of Christ physically. Through our reconciliation with God comes reconciliation with man. When the hostility between us and God is killed (in and through the cross), so too is the hostility between us and our fellow man.
Think back to what I said is at the very root of our sin. In our sin we are glory thieves. Instead of living for God’s glory like we were created for, we seek our own; instead of living to please God, we live to please ourselves. We want to be made much of, we want to be glorified. In our sin we seek to put ourselves in God’s place… And that wrong exaltation of self is what leads, not only to the hostility between us and God, but to the hostility between us and our fellow man. “If you don’t think like me, if you don’t look like me, if you don’t think I’m as awesome as I think I am then you are my enemy.” Do you see how this is the mentality behind the sin of racism?… But, in one way or another, this sinful pride is the root of all sin… But, the gospel tears all of this down. It opens our eyes to the reality of the glory of God, and thus shows us that it is not about us and our glory, but about the glory of God in Jesus Christ… that’s why we exist: to make much of Jesus, not ourselves. And we dare not exalt ourselves over anyone else, because the ground is level at the foot of the cross… The gospel kills the glory of self and makes us alive for the glory of Christ. The gospel kills the hostility that comes as a result of our sinful pride. And it reconciles us to God and to one another.
Notice the text says that we have been reconciled through the cross in one body. That’s not speaking of the incarnate body of Christ, but the spiritual body of Christ—the church. We are one new man; we are a new humanity in Christ. As 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We are the body of Christ, saved for the glory of Christ. We are not just lone ranger Christians who gather together every once and a while, but we are the church, linked together and given a new identity in Christ. As 1 Peter 2:9-10 says, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Though the people of this world constantly divide over their differences, there are really only two types of people in the world. Those who are in Adam (unbelievers), and those who are in Christ (believers). Biblically speaking there should be no such thing as racism, because biblically speaking there is no such thing as race… at least not as the world speaks of it. Biblically there are only two races: those who are in Adam (humanity), and those who are in Christ (Christians). We are all a part of the human race that was created in the image of God, descended from Adam; but Christians are a new race, a chosen race in Christ, united to Him by faith. And that race supersedes any earthly ethnicity. And the church is a people from every ethnicity, from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The universal church is made up of people from every nation and generation. And the local church is to be a small-scale example of that reality. We are to be a heavenly embassy that shows the world that the cross kills the hostility between us and God and one another. That’s partly what’s so beautiful about the church: only in the church do you have people gathering together, covenanting with one another, and sacrificially loving one another, who outside of Christ are nothing like one another. I mean even here at Cornerstone we have people from multiple different nations, different skin colors, different backgrounds, different sexes, different walks of life, and different ages. But because of the gospel here we are… Loving each other and making much of Jesus together! What a great God! I mean only God could bring a rag-tag group of people like us together… But that’s what He does…
Look at our last two verses. Starting in verse 17 we read, “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The first time Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, the first words out of His mouth were, “Peace to you.” He proclaimed it to His disciples, and His first disciples proclaimed it to the world, just as all of His disciples after them have been doing ever since. And that’s what Jesus brings, that’s what the gospel brings. It brings peace: peace with God and peace with our fellow man. It enables us to die to self and to live for Christ. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict, but positive harmony empowered by joy in Christ. As our eyes are open to the truth that the world does not revolve around us, but instead revolves around the Son, namely the Son of God, Jesus Christ, then we are enabled to truly live how we were create to live: for the glory of God, and to love sacrificially, because we see that Jesus is better than everything, even the things we may have to sacrifice… Through Christ, those who were near (the Jews) and those who were far off (the Gentiles) now all have access to God. We can boldly approach the Father in prayer in the power of the Spirit, in the name of Jesus, all because of Jesus. We can stand before God free from fear of condemnation because of Jesus. We’ve been made right with God through Christ; we now have peace… And that peace not only changes everything in eternity, but it changes everything here and now.
All sin flows from our self-glory seeking pride. And all the hostility in this world flows from that same sin. Racism is one of those sins that really displays the heart of the problem; but the heart of the problem is the heart. And the heart can only be transformed by the gospel. When we trust in Christ we are reconciled to God and reconciled to man. Christ brings us peace with God and peace with man, because when we see the truth of the gospel our hearts are no longer captivated by self-glory, but by the glory of Christ.
So with all of that in kind, in conclusion let me give you some application. Do you ever find yourself looking down on those who don’t look like you, act like you, or aren’t from where you are or whatever? Or perhaps you don’t look down on them, maybe your just afraid of them… Or perhaps your not afraid of them, but you view them as fundamentally what’s wrong because they don’t think like you or have the same worldview as you… Friend, not only is there racism or prejudice there in that thinking, but it’s symptomatic of an even larger problem: that you are putting yourself in the place of God and seeking your own glory instead of His. And because that is the root of all of our sin, this temptation plagues us all. None of us can say that we’re not capable of such things. The truth is, racism, hate, hostility, and the like are all a possibility for us because sin still plagues us. But in Christ our sin has been nailed to the cross and we bear it no more; and the power of sin has been overthrown. So look to Christ and seek the peace He gives, and allow the gospel to transform your life. For Jesus is our only hope, and He’s the only hope for this broken world.
And lastly, I would ask you just to evaluate your life; does your life display the reality of the gospel? That in and through Christ God has and is reconciling sinners to Himself, and reconciling sinful men and women from every nation and generation to one another? Are you living in such a way that it shows this to be true? Are you a committed member of a local church, where you give yourself to loving and serving a diversity of people? Are you living to glorify God and to attract people to the glory of God? Are you seeking to make much of Jesus or to make much of yourself? Beloved, the gospel frees us to die to self and to live for Jesus; and remember, that’s what we were created for, and that’s where true joy is found. We glorify God by making much of Him, and we make much of Him by delighting in Him supremely… And because of Christ, because of the gospel we can do this; we can live for the glory of God. So let’s give ourselves to doing just that…