The Death That Killed Hostility
Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek
This evening we are moving the sermon to the front of the service. Throughout the rest of the service, as we sing and read and pray, we want to do so with a clear understanding of what took place on the cross. We need to understand that sometimes the cleanup to a mess is also messy.
Consider this: Almost six years ago, on April 10, 2010 an offshore oilrig collapsed and began spewing what would become 4.9 million of barrels of oil (205.8 million gallons) into the Gulf. You knew, didn’t you, as you watched that story unfold that the cleanup would be messy, very messy.
Or consider if you have a friend who is crippled by alcoholism. To be a part of that recovery is going to be costly. Or if you help a married couple work through the fallout after adultery, you better roll up your sleeves. Sometimes the remedy to an ugly problem is uglier still.
In the gospel we learn that to kill hostility, the Son of God had to die. At the core of reconciliation there was bloodshed; at the heart of peace there was a war. And in these ironies we have gospel, we have the good news that the death of Jesus kills hostility.
If you have a Bible, please follow along with me as I read Ephesians 2:11-22 (page 1121).
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. Pray with me that he would be our teacher. “We call it Good Friday, Heavenly Father, and indeed it is good, but it was also costly and messy and bloody. . .”
Through Easter, we have been in a series called “More People to Love.” It’s a series about how the Big Story of the Bible ought to shape the story of our lives. Last week, Jason preach from the book of Acts and the story of a Roman Captain named Cornelius and a Jewish fisherman named Peter. Near the end, Jason asked this question: “What then could possibly bridge such a gap of hatred between . . . between the bitterest of enemies?”
It’s good question. Ephesians 2 has the answer.
But before we see the answer, let’s look at the problem closer. In v. 11 we see that Gentiles were uncircumcised. The way this word was used, it was not merely a descriptive term; it was derogatory. Think about what David yelled when he ran to the battlefield to face Goliath. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).
God had graciously made Israel distinct among the nations. He had blessed them. But their blessings were always meant to point both insiders and outsiders to the grace of God.
But something went wrong. They took the blessings of God, the things that made them distinct, and they turned them into a ladder of sorts, a ladder that they thought they climbed up, a ladder that allowed them to look down on others.
In v. 12 we see five statements about the difference between Jews and Gentiles:
- separated from Christ
- alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
- strangers to the covenants of promise
- having no hope and
- without God in the world
The Jewish people knew where they stood; and as far as religion was concerned, they kept the Gentiles as outsiders. All of this was dramatized in the architecture of the temple grounds. On the far perimeter of the Temple, where was, what was called, “The Court of the Gentiles.”
I heard it described once like the seating at a baseball game. There are “100 level seats” with the best and most exclusive being those seats right behind home plate, and there are “200 level seats” and there are “300 level seats,” which are often called “nosebleed seats” because you are so far away and so high up the altitude might actually give you a nosebleed. But then, after 100, 200 and 300, there are the parking lot seats for those that don’t even get to see the game; they just listen from the over wall and cook hot dogs and play cornhole to take their mind off the fact that they are actually not even able to see the game.
If someone says to you, “Hey you want this ticket to the ball game, I can’t use it?” And you look at the ticket and it says, “Parking Lot F,” you know that you are not going to catch a foul ball.
In 1871 archeologists found a stone with a very special inscription on it. It belonged to one of the pillars on or near the wall the marked off the Court of the Gentiles. In pictures, it’s hard to read, both because it is old and also because it is in another language, but the placard contains this warning:
No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the Temple. Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for the death which follows.1
If you were a Gentile, your seat was in the parking lot and you did not try to sneak in. If you tried to pear over the wall, I could image a Jewish man yelling back, “We have Jacob’s blood in our veins, not Esau. We have Isaac’s blood, not Ishmael’s. We have Abraham’s blood in our veins!”
The wall of hostility was strong. But as strong than the physical wall was, what was stronger was the wall of hostility in their hearts. This is the problem.
The Thing about Ladders
The thing about the ladders in our society is that pride isn’t exclusive to those at the top.2 Sure, you can look down with pride—What a bunch of unintelligent heathens. But you can also look can look up at those on the ladder with pride—I’m so glad I’m not like those uppity people.
It’s possible to sit in the nose bleed sections and scoff at those rich people behind home plate. And it’s possible to look from home plate up—way up!—and think how worthless those people are. You can drive through Allison Hill and scoff. You can drive through the West Shore and scoff. You can walk through the Bass Pro Shop and scoff. You can walk through Macy’s and scoff. You can go to the doctor’s office and scoff at their learning and arrogance and you can do something similar but different at McDonalds. You can do it to single mothers and those with coupons at Wal-Mart, and you can do it to those with two-, and especially three-car garages.
Unchecked, our pride and hostility would kills us. Not only hostility with people, but with God. God is not smiling on our pride. He is furious.
That stone, that warning sign on The Court of the Gentiles, represented deep hostility. But what we learn in Ephesians 2 is that the stone is lifted high into the air, and hurled down where it smashes into a thousand bits and pieces never to be rebuilt again!
At least that is part of the picture. It’s not the full picture. Look at vv. 14-16
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 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, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Yes, the stone is lifted up and thrown down and yes it smashes into a pieces, but the picture is that it is smashed upon the head of Jesus, and it killed him. The cleanup to a messy situation was costly. Our hostility with God the Father crushed the Son. On the cross, Jesus absorbed the hostility; he drank it down. The physically grotesque nature of the cross is to dramatize the spiritually grotesque nature of the cross.
A Game Changer
In sports as well as in other spheres, they have these things or events or happenings called “game changers.” A “game changer” is this: the entire direction of a game or match or race is moving almost uninterrupted towards one clear outcome, but then all of a sudden something happens. Something changes. If you had stopped the game just a moment earlier, and turned off the TV you could have said, “It is clear that this is how this game is going to turn out,” but then it happens, and the game is changed. Someone makes a play, someone breaks a tackle or catches a pass, or makes a dramatic three pointer, or a baseball batter leans into a pitch takes his base, steals second and the home crowd is on their feet screaming and all of a sudden the game is changed.
In Ephesians 2:11-22, we have something of a cosmic game changer. Good Friday is a game changer. If you would have turned off the TV in 25 AD, you wouldn’t have known what beautiful changes were coming.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “at the cross, the playing field is level.” You see, if you are on the top of ladder, I suppose it’s a little easier to change a light bulb. But if what if you are going to the moon? Does the ladder help?
No, we all have sinned and are separated from God. Our only hope is that we who were far away from God, are brought near by the blood of Jesus. When Jesus died, he tore the temple curtain in two and he broke down the dividing wall of hostility. And he made not two churches, but one church, one body. The curtain was torn and the wall destroyed, not simply so that we can work to come in, but that God can come out, out to redeem a people from every nation on the earth. This is what makes Good Friday Good.
In just a moment I’m going to pray. The rest of the service will be primarily singing and scripture readings. Just a word on the readings. One comes from the book of Isaiah. It’s an extraordinary passage. In anticipation of the work of Jesus, God calls Egypt and Assyria—who were enemies of God and his people—“my people.” And our final reading comes from the book of Revelation were we see the result of the saving work of Jesus on the Cross, a redeemed people from every tribe, tongue, and nations.