2015-9-06 Once Far, Now Near

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          September 6, 2015

“Once Far, Now Near”
Text: Ephesians 2:11-13

Today, after a two-sermon hiatus, we resume our punctuated sermon series through Ephesians.  For the next three weeks, God willing, we flesh out the implications of Ephesians 2:1-10.  First, let us review the ground covered so far in this chapter.  We either learned or recall that we once were dead in sins and trespasses (1-3), but have been made alive in Christ Jesus (4-7)—and that wholly by His grace (8-10), through faith in Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Now, let us note where we expect to go (verses 11-22, which form a single paragraph in the NA26 edition of the Greek New Testament).  Today, we shall note that we, who once were far from God, now stand near to Him through Jesus Christ (11-13).  Next week, we declare with Paul that Jesus is our peace—the One Who speaks peace both to Jew and to Gentile, and both to those near and to those far (14-18).  In two weeks, we see our new station in Christ, especially when compared to our former station (19-22).  With this retrospect and prospect completed, let us hear that portion of God’s Word appointed for us today.[1]

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

We do well to consider what God says to us in His Word this day, but first we must consider the folks to whom the Holy Spirit first addressed these words.  The Ephesian church was a mostly Gentile (if not entirely Gentile) group, and the Apostle Paul—as led by the Spirit—addresses the Gentile contingent explicitly.  Much of what follows could be applied to first-century Jewish background believers as well.  In any event, what we read today applies to every Christian household; let us then, without further ado, get to the heart of the matter.

Just as the Gentile Christians at Ephesus must remember what they were before meeting Jesus Christ, so also we must remember what we were before meeting Him.  We were separated from Christ: both because of our fall in Adam, our federal head, and our actual sins of commission and omission.  We also were alienated from His covenant people.  In the first Christian century, and earlier, the Gentiles were positively anathema—or accursed of God—in the pious Jewish mind.  At the center of Jewish worship in the New Testament world, the great temple at Jerusalem, signs alerted Gentiles not to draw than a certain wall to the inner courts.  Non-Jews were prohibited from approaching closer to the inner temple than the Court of the Gentiles—and this on pain of death.[2]  In our time, before we met Christ, we were not united to Christ’s people through His atoning work.

Furthermore, before meeting Christ we were strangers to the covenants of promise.  This is because our lives were devoid of the Word of God—either because we lacked a copy of the Bible or because we did not avail ourselves of the Bible we had.  In any case, we were at that time devoid of saving understanding of the Word.  This lack, when added to the two previous ones, leads to a two-fold lamentable condition.  We were, before meeting Christ, without hope.  That is, we were without honest expectation of ultimate future good.  Also, before meeting Christ, we were without God in the world.  We were without divine help in matters great or small—and this is a sad state indeed.  Fortunately for most of us, that state did not endure.

The Gentiles of first-century Ephesus, and the twenty-first century Christians wherever they are and meet, must remember what we now are.  We are ones, formerly estranged from God, who now are brought near to Him.  God the Father brings us near to Himself in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), apart from Whom no one comes to the Father, and He is the new and living way to the fullness of the Father’s presence (Hebrews 10:20).  Furthermore, we who once stood estranged from God are brought near to Him by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews ix.22).  Yet Christ shed His blood on the cross for the sins of every elect soul.  Note well the poetic remark of Charles Wesley, who extolled Jesus’ blood with these words: “His blood can make the foulest clean—His blood availed for me” (from “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing).  This atoning work of Jesus thus completed, we who were far off now come near as Jesus draws us.

Think back over the course of your life—and, if it applies, over the course of your life since meeting Jesus—and answer if you can this question, “Have you ever felt far from God?”  Many of us have; let’s delve into some reasons why.  Have we felt far from God because of our sin?  Have we felt this way when cast down because of circumstance?  Have you, for whatever reason, experienced what many Christians have experienced, but what John of the Cross (1542-91) first called, a dark night of the soul?  Have you ever wondered, as Beth Moore and her hearers wonder in her study on Esther, if God even knows where you are?  Some of us recall this feeling before conversion, and some of us recall it since.  Alas, some of us may be enduring such a time now.

We who once were far away are brought near by the blood of Christ.  If you are not yet trusting in Him inseparably as Savior from sin and as Lord of life, do so today and be brought near to our triune God.  If already you are trusting in Christ today, but feel some distance from God, then know that in fact you are brought near to Him—no matter your current feeling.  Therefore, rest in this and like promises of God’s closeness to His own, such as the Spirit’s Word through Solomon, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a Friend Who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24), and through Moses, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7).

The table before us is a visible reminder of an invisible spiritual reality that we are brought near—and held near—to the three-in-one God by the blood of Jesus.  Rejoice, and partake to your soul’s health, and revel in His precious closeness.

AMEN.

[1] The phrase retrospect and prospect is a favored chapter title of Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968) in his book A History of Christianity (New York: Harper & Bros., 1953).

[2] I learned about the signs from Dr. John Blumenstein in lectures in New Testament Literature at Erskine Theological Seminary; Due West, South Carolina, spring 1993.  I learned about the death sentence accompanying those signs from Dr. Ligon Duncan and Rev. John Stevenson in the appropriate sections of http://www.monergism.com, accessed September 2, 2015.

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