“God’s Divine Commonwealth”

July 29, 2018
Jonathan Rumburg
Ephesians 2:11-22

Introduction

If you want to travel abroad you need a passport.  And with a passport U.S. citizens can get into 158 countries.  Now if you hold a German passport, you can enter 161 countries, which makes it the world’s most powerful passport.

There are, however, a number of countries where you will need not only a passport, but also a travel visa—which is preapproved, special permission to travel to a country.

Say you want to see the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City, so you get tickets for Beijing, but oops!  You forgot to apply for a travel visa to get into China.  Sorry, you can’t get on the plane.

This is to say, that though a passport opens the world to us, it still has limited power and won’t get us everywhere.  Fortunately there are no travel restrictions when it comes to God’s divine commonwealth.

Move 1

When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he recognized similar passport and travel visa restrictions were occurring within the church.

Racial and cultural divisions between the Jews who had come to faith in Christ and the many Gentiles now flocking to the church had reached a breaking point.  Jewish Christians did not recognize the Gentile “passport” of wanting to follow Jesus as offering proof of full citizenship in the kingdom of God.  They argued a visa was required, and in this case, the visa of the physical stamp of circumcision (2:11).

Since the time of Abraham, circumcision meant that one was truly an Israelite.  Without that mark, the Gentiles could only be second-class citizens by comparison.

All this is to say… Some congregations then (and some still today) required certain ethnic, political and theological visas before entry or full acceptance was granted.  But like a fair-minded customs officer here’s where Paul intervenes in the situation.

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         As a Jew (and a former Pharisee at that), and as an Apostle to the Gentiles (whose culture he also knew well), Paul understood the dilemma but also knew the solution.  He proposed that the old passports held separately by Jews and Gentiles were now invalid, saying, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free.  Meaning, as citizens of a new commonwealth, you’ve been freely given a new passport with a visa that will get you into any community of faith anywhere in the world.

Visit the church in Rome; they’ll let you in.

Visit the church in Corinth; they’ll let you in.

Visit the church in Thessalonica; they’ll let you in.

Your old passport, your connections to a previous life, have been replaced by a new common citizenship where the only qualification is faith in Christ, and the only visa needed is the mark of Christ’s blood, shed on the cross.

This was Paul’s message then, and it’s still his message today.

Move 2
So, what does this new, incredibly powerful passport represent and what kinds of access does it open up to the rest of the world?  Paul offers a short list of some of the rights and responsibilities of faithful passport holders of God’s divine commonwealth are entitled to.

First, this passport transcends artificial boundaries and borders.

In verse 14, Paul reminded the Ephesians that Christ “in his flesh” has made both Jews and Gentiles into one group and has “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

Paul was likely referring to the cause of the house arrest in Rome he was under—a sojourn that allowed him time to write to the believers in Ephesus.

He had been accused of bringing a Gentile into the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 21:28).  Taking a non-Jew beyond a particular dividing wall in the temple was such a heinous breach of Jewish law that even the Romans permitted Jewish leaders to execute anyone who violated that sacred space.

Paul was spared only because of his Roman citizenship and was given the right of appeal.  Awaiting the outcome of the appeal, he was held by authorities in Rome, and took up letter-writing.

The readers who first cracked open this scroll would have known why Paul was in prison.  For them, the barrier between Jew and Gentile was best symbolized by the “dividing wall” of the temple. (v. 14)  But Paul announces—and this must have come as a powerful shock—that this “dividing wall” had been shattered in Christ who takes the place of the temple and enables all people to come together in him.

There are still plenty of “dividing walls” both inside and outside the church, just as there were in Ephesus.  Divisions of race, politics, practices and doctrines often cause Christians to look at others as second-class citizens of God’s divine commonwealth.  But Paul counters, saying, faith in Christ transcends these artificial boundaries.

Like Paul, we must be bold enough to cross those boundaries even if it costs us something.

Second, the passport of God’s divine commonwealth brings with it a new set of rules.

Paul wrote that Christ “abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace.” (v. 15)

The “law” to which Paul referred was the Law of Moses and its practices that separated Jews and Gentiles—faithful laws at one time, but had since been corrupted by those in power to keep that power.

But Paul believed the law as fulfilled in Christ.

The death and resurrection of Jesus made peace between God and humanity, and between Jews and Gentiles.  Citizenship in the Commonwealth of God is thus marked by faith in, and obedience to, Christ and not by what we eat, what we wear, or how we worship.

Therefore, the rules we are told to follow need to be vetted by asking: Are they God’s rules, or are they cultural rules those with power are trying to invoke in order to keep power?

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         Third, the citizen of God’s divine commonwealth has direct access to God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit—and this is where true power lies.

The old covenant was mediated by priests in the temple who offered sacrifices on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of sins.  But now, says Paul, through Jesus “both [Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (v. 18)

Instead of a customs gatekeeper who chooses to allow people into the country based on the passport they hold, Jesus is a welcoming host who invites any and all into God’s divine commonwealth.

We have also been given the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us in ways beyond our understanding, while also giving followers of Jesus our travel itineraries.

Because we have access to God, any place we go is an opportunity to share God’s love.  There is no border or boundary the Spirit cannot cross, and when we embrace our citizenship in the kingdom we have more access to the world than even a German passport can grant.

Whether it’s just walking across the street or flying across the expanse of the globe, every day is an opportunity to represent Christ and invite others to become citizens of His kingdom.

Move 3

A passport and a travel visa allow you access to a lot of different countries.  Yet some countries still do not allow unfettered access to all areas of their country.

For instance, even a visa allowing access to the People’s Republic of China does not grant you access to all areas of the country as there are places where tourists will be turned away. But in the commonwealth of God, one can roam at will.

We are free to go into areas of poverty and give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, shelter to the homeless, and medical aid to the sick.

We are free to build schools and hospitals, open clinics and food banks.

We are free to speak truth to power, to march in protests, to worship in peace, to proclaim the coming of the sovereign realm of God.

We are free to love and we are permitted to share the bread and cup with all.

No restrictions.  It’s a powerful passport we carry as citizens of God’s divine commonwealth.  But perhaps it needs to be renewed.

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         At one time, Gentiles were considered to be passport-less “aliens and strangers” who were at least temporarily without a country, without hope and “without God in the world.” (v. 12)

But now, says Paul, those who were once “far off” have received a new identity along with God’s covenant people—an identity stamped with the blood of Christ. (v. 13)

Conclusion

In a world where divisions seem to grow deeper every day, it’s time for the church to renew the passport we’ve been given in Jesus Christ.

It’s time to be bold and break down walls of racial, ethnic, gender, social and political division in the church so that we can demonstrate to the world what true citizens of God’s divine commonwealth look like.

We must be willing to go and share life together with other citizens whom governments and pundits might see as aliens and strangers, but whom the people of God see as brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of God’s divine commonwealth.

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         So may we remember…

We who were once far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

May we embrace this citizenship that is open to all.

And may we aim to see all people as those who Christ himself welcomes into God’s divine commonwealth.  Amen.

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