Last week we learned that Paul says we are God's poem, his workmanship, even if a poem in progress. But the main point we developed last week is that as a result of God's free gift of salvation, the natural result is that we would perform the good works here on earth that he had in mind for us. Not to earn salvation, but as a natural outpouring of his love for us.
We made the point that there is something drastically wrong with the faith of a Christian who does not perform good works. For some reason he or she is like the Dead Sea; receives, receives, receives; but does not pass it on like the Sea of Galilee, a thriving, living, blessing sea.
Then we made our first entry into a new train of thought; one in which Paul contrasts the Gentile to the Jews, setting the stage for a contrast of a Gentile before accepting Jesus and a Gentile after accepting Jesus.
When Paul contrasted the Gentiles to the Jews before Jesus came, he was contrasting God's chosen from God's excluded; those with hope, and those with no hope.
Today's Lesson: The Partition is Abolished
Now on to verse 13:
Here we have another one of those two words that change, in the deep depths of despair, the whole complexion. "But now..." just like verse four when Paul said "But God." We spent two lessons on all the significence of "But God" and what and why God did what he did.
Here, Paul is starting to introduce a totally new class of people (that really won't be revealed thoroughly until we get to Chapter 3 -- a new class that is neither Jew nor Gentile. There are three classes.
(After the rapture we have two again, Jew and Gentile. That is what we find in the book of Revelation. Interesting, and of course after the second coming it is something else again. You can study that on your own, it is your homework assignment.)
How can a person be our peace?
Well in Christ, of course, as it was foretold. There are a lot of Old Testament references about this:
The scope of the work that Jesus did is summed up right here in verses 14 through 18:
Paul uses the term "demolition of the wall of partition", and to understand this, you have to understand the architecture of the temple.
In the days of ancient Israel, if you were Gentile, you could
become an heir to these promises by becoming a proselyte
to the nation Israel. But you could only enter into the court of the Gentiles. You
could not go all the way into the Temple and you could not get as close to
the Holy of Holies as a Jew could. There was an outer court called the
court of the Gentiles. Josephus records this fact, but they have also,
in 1871, found a placard from the ancient temple areas
which reads as follows: "Let no one of any other nation, come
within the fence and barrier around the holy place. Who so ever
will be taken doing so will himself be responsible to the fact
that his death will ensue." In other words, if you as a Gentiles
believer went closer it was under the penalty of death.
It's interesting that some religious groups still attempt to get
Christians backed under the law, despite the book of Romans and
despite these kinds of statements.
The main thing that's starting to develop here is the emergence of the Church. That is a new creation entirely, distinct from anything preceding it. A distinct calling. People who try to say that the Church replaces Israel don't understand either Israel or the Church. The Church has a distinct calling. The Church has a distinct identity. The church has a distinct destiny, a unique place in the purpose of God. Israel does, too. Israel also has a distinct calling and a distinct identity and a distinct destiny which is quite different from that of the Church.
What's new here then? Well first of all, the Gentile has equal rights and privileges with the Jew, and that was hard for them to swallow in the first century. The Jewish Christian had a tough time with that, which led to Acts 15 and the council in Jerusalem. Both the Jew in the Gentile lose their national identity by becoming Christians. Jews and Gentiles are fellow members of this new entity called the Body of Christ. A Jew has the hope of reigning with Christ in this new class, and the Jew is no longer under the law, instead of being a subject in his kingdom. Both are quite glorious, but one quite different from the other.
Just a note of explanation. In the New American Standard version, which this is, when a writer is quoting from another Bible reference, it is shown in all caps, like this is. In this statement, Paul is apparently quoting from Isaiah 57:19:
So now we have seen that Christ is our peace in verse 14. He made peace in verse 15. And he preached peace in verse 17. "You who are far away" are the Gentiles. "Those who were near" are the Jews. This is written from Paul's perspective as a Jew.
Note how the emphasis of being one is repeated in verses 14, 15, 16 and 18. Paul is laying the groundwork that will be very important for us in Chapter 3.
Now what's our proof that we have peace with God? There are probably many, but here is an interesting one -- that you and I have access at any time to the presence of God. That sounds so simple, but it's amazing how such a magnificent thing can be taken for granted.
You know, if you had the access to meet with the President of the United States, boy, first of all that in itself would make you very distinguished. But even if you had that, it would be at a certain time and with a certain protocol and certain regimen. There are a lot of things you have to go through to take advantage of that, even if you had the access, somehow. But we're not talking about administrative head of a country, were talking about the Sovereign of the entire universe. And you have access to him at any time without an appointment. That's wild! It's meaningless to unbelievers. Those are just a lot of words, to them; but to you and me, it is not just words if we understand the reality of that. Wow!
By way of contrast, the high priest in Israel is the only one who had access into the Holy of Holies. Not the king, not any other priest -- just the high priest and only then only once a year, on Yom Kippur and only after an elaborate ceremonial cleansing could he enter into the Holy of Holies. If he tried to enter at any other time, he died. Remember, when he went in on that one day each year, they tied a rope around his foot, so that if he died they could pull him out. No one could go in to get the body. The High Priest had many little bells sewed to the hem of his robe, that rang as he moved. (See Exodus 28:33-34). If the bells stopped ringing, the attending Levites waiting outside would know to pull on the rope. Maybe that is how man learned to pull on a rope to ring a bell. That would be a bad place to have a cardiac arrest; you would not want a rotting body left in the Holy of Holies.
Do you realize how staggering it is that you and I can go directly to the Throne Room of the universe? We can kneel down before the Sovereign of everything and address Him as our Father. That's wild.
Paul is trying to get us to understand something, that if we really were to grasp it, it would blow our mind.
...we will pick up with Ephesians 2:19 and Paul will continue to try to get us to understand that our barriers were removed.