Sunday School Lesson for March 24, 2002
The Former Alienation of Gentile Christians (2:11-12)
Having explained the sinnerís salvation in terms of the grace and mercy of God (2:1-10), Paul now speaks of their reconciliation to God made possible through the ministry of Christ. In these verses He calls upon his Gentile readers, those referred to by the Jews as "uncircumcised," to "remember that formerly you . . . were separate from Christ." His description of their past alienation ("at that time") from God is quite specific (v.12):
The Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (2:13-15)
The tragic portrait of their past lives apart from the saving knowledge of God is suddenly interrupted by the announcement of what He has done for them in Christ. "But now in Christ Jesus" a miracle of reconciliation has been effectedóone that would have not only vertical implications, but would also radically change the way Gentiles and Jews related to one another on the horizontal plane. Again, Paulís language is deliberately chosen to communicate the fundamental truth that such reconciliation is found in one place and in one Man. He is, therefore, not proclaiming a message of universal salvation or reconciliation, but one uniquely provided though Christís life, death, and resurrection.
The divine gift of reconciliation has been accomplished specifically by means of "the blood of Christ." That is, His death upon the cross as the atoning sacrifice for sins is the singular means of redemption and salvation. Note how this is emphasized by Paul in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:20-22.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusationó
In Christ alone, then, the Gentiles who were once "far away" have been "brought near" to God. John Stott comments that this verse highlights the wonderful truth that
God does not keep his distance or stand on his dignity, like some oriental potentate, nor does he insist on any complicated ritual or protocol. On the contrary, through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit we have immediate "access" to him as our Father. (97).
In this stunning declaration, Paul unveils the creation of a third race of people. Whereas the world of Paulís day was segregated into two distinct peoples, Jews and Gentiles, the redemptive ministry of Christ has "made the two one." Thus, Paul "makes a threefold classification into Jews, Greeks (Gentiles), and the church of God, the last embracing former Jews and former Gentiles" (Bruce, 296). Note that Paul first announces that Christ Himself is "our peace." That is, the Christian gospel is the proclamation of peace with God through Jesus Christ that supplies the only lasting foundation for peace among men. With regard to relationships between Jews and Gentiles, Jesus "destroyed the barrier, the wall of hostility" between the two peoples forever. This "barrier" or boundary between Jews and Gentiles was "both religious and sociological" and consisted of "the Jewish law, more particularly of those features which marked Jews off from Gentiles" (Bruce, 296). Some have suggested that Paul may have also had in mind the actual "wall" in Jerusalemís Temple that prevented Gentiles from entering the inner court. This barrier literally fell in AD 70 during the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.
Paul continues to explain how Christ brought peace and reconciliation between God and men and specifically how the dividing wall was eternally leveled. Christ accomplished this by "abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations." In the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul provides a clear hint of the meaning of this statement:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
The commandments and regulations that Christ abolished, then, probably have reference to the ceremonial laws that governed the faith and practice of Israel. These served a unique historical function as shadows and types of the fuller revelation given in Christ Himself. Yet, in one very real sense, Christ abolished the law of God in its totality as viewed as a way of salvation. Bruce declares that "the law as a written code, threatening death instead of imparting life, is done away with in Christ" (298).
With the removal of that which stood between Jews and Gentiles, Paul again states that Godís "purpose" in this was "to create in himself one man out of the two."
The Reconciliation of the Sinner to God Through Christ (2:16-18)
The work of reconciliation on both the vertical and horizontal planes was accomplished "through the cross" of Christ. That is, the sinnersí reconciliation to God and his reconciliation to others is the direct result of the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesusóa death that "put to death their hostility." The apostle makes this even more emphatic in Romans 5:10óFor if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
The message that Jesus "preached" was fundamentally one of "peace." This was anticipated in the Old Testament prophets, particularly in Isaiah (52:7; 57:19). At the very core of the gospel is the announcement that in Jesus Christ alone peace has been made between God and men (Luke 2:14). Through Him, those who were "far away" (the Gentiles), and those who "were near" (the Jews), are bought together as one redeemed nation. This, then, is the establishment of "nothing less than a new, united human race, united in itself and united to its creator" (Stott, 102).
The unity of those who have been reconciled to God though the cross of Jesus is reinforced by the announcement that Jews and Gentiles alike have "access to the Father by one Spirit." The word translated "access" denotes the appearance of one before a king or ruler. Yet here, according to Paul, those who are part of the new humanity in Christ have been granted an audience with God Himself. The sovereign King of the cosmos is their "Abba" (Gal. 4:6). The mention of the Holy Spirit confirms that salvation is the gift of the one triune God. The believerís access to the Father is through the Son by means of the Spirit of God who "regenerates, seals, and indwells his people, who witnesses with our spirits that we are children of God" (Stott, 103-4).
The Results of Reconciliation (2:19-22)
The reconciliation provided by Christ results in three glorious privileges for the redeemed.
As he says in Hosea: "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one," 26 and, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"
1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, the living Stone-- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
This new "temple" stands firmly upon the "foundation of the apostles and prophets" (v.20). That is, the church of Christ is permanently stationed upon the divine truths reveled to men through those who were inspired to speak for God. In other words, the church rests firmly and securely upon the Word of God. In addition, the "chief cornerstone" of this new temple is Christ Himself (v.20). He is that "stone" which holds the whole building together, providing its integrity and strength.
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One: Discuss with your class the possible reasons Paul calls for his Gentile readers to "remember" their former lives apart from Christ (2:11-12). How is this beneficial to Christian living?
Two: What are the practical implications of Paulís announcement in 2:14 that Christ is "our peace"? How should this truth impact our churches?
Three: In 2:16 Paul emphatically proclaims that reconciliation with God and men is found only at the cross of Christ. What mechanisms of reconciliation do people typically turn to today? In other words, how do those outside of Christ attempt to effect reconciliation between men?
Four: In light of 2:18 how many avenues of "access" to God are there? How would your neighbors next door or co-workers answer this question?
Five: Paul lays major stress upon the corporate nature of Biblical Christianity in 2:19-22. What are we to think of those "Christians" who have no commitment to or involvement in the body of Christ?