In a world of seven billion people you would think that everyone has at least one friend. In a world of seven billion people you would think that there wouldn’t be anyone who would feel isolated or alienated. In a world of seven billion people you would think that everyone had at least someone to talk to when life gets rough and the darkness begins to creep in. You would think that everybody would have somebody, but that just simply isn’t the truth. James Parks writes,
Loneliness is an aching void in the center of our being, a deep longing to love and to be loved, to be fully known and accepted by at least one other person. It is a hollow, haunting sound sweeping through our depths, chilling our bones and causing us to shiver. Is there a person who has never felt the stab of loneliness, who has never known the eerie distance of isolation and separation, who has never suffered the pain of rejection or the loss of love? (James Parks. Interpersonal Loneliness and Spiritual Loneliness.)
I think, without asking for you who have felt the sting of loneliness to raise your hands, that I can answer his question, “Is there a person who has never felt the stab of loneliness…?” The answer is “No.” Where does the deep, dark feeling of isolation, alienation, and separation come from and is there any way to overcome it? That is a great question and we are going to spend our time this morning taking a look and trying to find an answer.
First of all, I believe that you can trace these feelings of isolation and alienation all the way back to the book of Genesis. After God created Adam and Eve they enjoyed God’s presence in every sense of the word. Adam and Eve spoke with God as with a friend. They enjoyed God’s presence. God placed them as stewards over everything He had made. God gave them the Garden to enjoy and the only thing off limits to them was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In Genesis 2:16-17, God said to Adam and Eve,
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 NIV)
You can enjoy all that the Garden has to offer, but you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the very next chapter of Genesis everything changed as Adam and Eve broke fellowship with God, they rebelled against God and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From that moment on everything changed. We read in Genesis 3:7-9,
7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:7-9 NIV)
God, the Tender Creator who had formed them, breathed the breath of life into their nostrils, and blessed them with His very presence, called out, “Where are you?” while Adam and Eve hid from God. Do you recognize what has just happened? Alienation moved into the Garden. Adam and Eve hid from the one they use to walk with, fellowship with, and enjoy. There was no isolation in the Garden before the time of the Fall. There was no brokenness in the Garden before the time of the Fall. There was no sign of “blame” in the Garden before the time of the Fall, yet after Adam and Eve break fellowship with God by rebelling against Him we see “blame” appear for the very first time. God asked Adam,
11 …Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” 12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11-13 NIV)
The final verses of Genesis 3 are some of the saddest words recorded in God’s Word. “God drove the man out…” Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden and the sweet fellowship they once shared with God was altered, the sweet fellowship that Adam and Eve shared together was altered. Read along with me from Genesis 3:23-24.
23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23-24 NIV)
God didn’t turn His back on His creation and find other things to do, but because of “sin,” relationships were altered, they were changed from what they once were to something altogether different. That’s what sin does—it changes things. Sin breaks things. Sin alters what God intends into something altogether different, something less than God intends for you and me. We do not have to look too far to see living illustrations of what I am talking about. All we have to do is look in the mirror, take an honest look at our own lives, and we will clearly see the effects of sin on our relationships.
This is what Paul was writing about in Ephesians 2. Last week we began our study of the second section of Ephesians 2 by learning about the deep, deep divide between the Jews and the Gentiles. The isolation and alienation were so prominent in the relationships of these two people groups that there was nothing they could do to overcome the divide. That is, if they had wanted to do anything to overcome it. The truth of the matter is that both groups felt justified in their separation. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 2:14-18 and see what we can learn.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-18 NIV)
Those who were “far away” were the Gentiles. Throughout the Hebrew Bible we can find this kind of language being used. The Israelites were those who were “near” God, they were His Chosen People, and they viewed all other people as being far from God. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses had already been told that he would not be allowed to go into the Promised Land and that Joshua would lead the people into the land that God had promised them. As Moses gives his farewell speech to the people of God, he says,
7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deuteronomy 4:7 NIV)
The idea that the Gentiles were those who were “far away” was still present when Simon Peter stood up to preach at Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection. There were people from many nations, both Jews and Gentiles, who were present in Jerusalem when Peter preached his powerful message. Peter let it be known that the promise of God was for those who were both “far away” and for those who were “near.” Peter said,
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39 NIV)
We talked last week about the disadvantages of the Gentiles and the advantages that were showered upon the Jews because they were God’s Chosen People, chosen to be a nation of priests to the nations. The plan of God to reach all nations with His grace and mercy was there all along. In Isaiah 51:4-5 we read,
4 “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. 5 My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. (Isaiah 51:4-5 NIV)
“My salvation is on the way…” And it arrived when God sent His Son to live among us, die for our sins, and then rise from the dead to live forevermore. Paul, in writing to the folks in Ephesus, says “For He Himself is our peace…” In Isaiah 9 we read that He is the “Prince of Peace,” but in Ephesians 2:14 we find that He is more than a title, He is in actuality “our peace.” Before Jesus comes into our lives we are at “enmity” with God and with others. That is a strange word for most of you. A word that we hardly ever hear in our day, but the Bible is very clear in stating that this is the status of our relationship with the world around us. The Greek word, “ἔχθρα” (echthra) means, “hostility as a disposition, enmity, or actual conflict.” The NIV says that Jesus has done away with the “hostility,” but in actuality the word is this Greek word we are talking about. In his letter to the Romans Paul described the sinful minds attitude towards God when he writes,
6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8 NIV)
Left to our own devices we are hostile to God. You say, “I wouldn’t use such a strong word to describe how I feel about God. I rarely give God a thought to be honest with you.” But my friend you are hostile to God because you refuse to honor Him with your life. You thumb your nose at His will for your life. You, for all intents and purposes, have made yourself out to be God by choosing your will over His. Paul is right, the sinful mind, the man, woman, boy, or girl who is knowingly, willingly, rejecting Jesus, is hostile towards God.
Not only are we at enmity with God, but we are at enmity with one another. We want what we want and if you get in our way then we will willingly run you over to get what we want. Our will, fulfilling our desires, is the primary goal of each and every one of us who live apart from a transforming relationship with Jesus. As a result of that we are at war with those who stand in our way. This is true on an individual level as well as a global level. And yet we all want peace. Just give me some peace and quiet! It is impossible apart from us allowing the Prince of Peace to be our peace. We can never be at peace with others until we are first at peace with God.
One of the religious teachers came up to Jesus one day to try and test Him by asking Him which of the laws was the greatest? In Matthew 22:36-40 we can find Jesus’ response. Listen to this.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)
Jesus said that all of the Law and the Prophets hung on these two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about this by saying,
Now the important thing there is to notice the order: First, the relationship to God; second, the relationship to your fellow man and woman. The whole tragedy of the modern world is due to the fact that the first is entirely left out and men think you can start with the second. But you cannot, because you are to love your neighbor as yourself, you are to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The problem therefore is, how am I to love myself? And according to the Bible, I shall never love myself in the right way until I see myself as I am in my relationship to God. So I cannot possibly carry out the second commandment unless I am already clear about the first. It is impossible. And man today, not recognizing God, and not starting with God, and not submitting himself to God, is trying to reconcile himself to his fellow man. And of course he is not succeeding, he never can succeed. He is violating the law of his own nature. He has been made by God, he has been made for God; and he does not see himself truly, he does not see anybody else truly, until he sees himself and all others in light of God’s law, face to face with God Himself. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Ephesians 2: God’s Way of Reconciliation. pg. 204)
If we are not reconciled to God, if the dividing wall between me and God is not torn down, then I have no chance of ever experiencing genuine reconciliation with those around me and having all of the walls torn down between us. Jesus is our peace and He has done away with all of those things that separate us from God and from one another. In verse 16 we read that Jesus has reconciled both the Jews and the Gentiles through “this one body…through the cross.” Jesus is our peace with God by making peace on our behalf, by paying a debt that we owed because of sin, but which we could never pay. Through shedding His blood on the cross we are forgiven, we are reconciled, we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and the hostility between us and God has been abolished forevermore for those who are in Christ Jesus.
In verses 14-15 we find “hostility” once again. This time the hostility is between people. Paul tells us that “He Himself is our peace” and He has “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh, the law with its commandments and regulations.” I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’m not under the Law any longer. I live by grace. Jesus did away with the Law.” Most of the time that I hear those kinds of comments they are coming from folks who simply want to live however they want to live. They want to use Jesus as a license to continue to do whatever they want to do. Jesus did away with the law, but we need to understand what that really means.
There is a difference between the “ceremonial law” and the “moral law” of God. The ceremonial law had to do with all of the feasts, offerings, dietary restrictions, purification rites, etc. The moral law of God is best recognized by the Ten Commandments and Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. In Matthew 5:17-19 we read,
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19 NIV)
Let me explain to you what I mean. We do not practice sacrifice any longer because Jesus, our High Priest, offered His life for us as a once-for-all sacrifice and did away with the need for the temple sacrifices. On the other hand, the seventh commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery.” For those of you who think Jesus did away with the Law, I’m sorry to break the news to you, but the seventh commandment still stands.
Jesus came to destroy all of the walls that separate us as people. He did away with all of the ceremonial laws that kept the Jews and Gentiles separated from one another. John MacArthur writes,
All of the ceremonial laws which distinguished and separated Jews from Gentiles were obliterated. Before Christ those groups could not eat together because of restricted foods, required washings, and ceremonial contamination. Now they could eat anything with anyone. Before Christ they could not worship together. A Gentile could not fully worship in the Jewish Temple, and a Jew would not worship in a pagan temple. In Christ they now worshiped together and needed no temple or other sacred place to sanctify it. All ceremonial distinctions and requirements were removed. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 77-78)
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul tells the people of Colosse to keep their heads up when folks try to judge them because of “what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” He goes on to say that those things, those ceremonial laws, were merely a shadow of what was to come, “the reality, however, is found in Christ.” These were huge walls that separated in biblical days, but today we have other kinds of walls that separate us one from another.
We people are excellent at building walls to keep others out, to keep others away from us. Most of the walls we build are invisible; they are constructs of our minds that keep others at arm’s length. We have racial walls, economic walls, educational walls, societal walls, and the list goes on and on. Kids in school have all kinds of walls to deal with in their everyday life. There are all kinds of groups and each of them are encompassed by invisible walls. Our walls are limited only by our imagination.
I remember when I first met Connie. A friend had introduced her to me and we were sitting in the Student Union when she asked me if I played football? The way that she asked the question tipped me off that football players were probably not high on her list of “Most Favored People on Campus.” I said, “No, why?” She said, “I don’t go out with football players.” She had built a wall hadn’t she?
There is not a wall that you can build that Jesus cannot destroy. You might not realize it if you aren’t following Him, but the truth is that He has destroyed all walls already for those who are in Him. In Galatians 3:26-29 we read,
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
That is great news isn’t it? There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, rich nor poor, educated nor uneducated, black, white, brown, red, or yellow, sophisticated or unrefined, outcast or honored, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. That is great news! Jesus has not only destroyed all of the walls that separate us from God and from one another, but He takes us beyond reconciliation into the Father’s very presence. In Ephesians 2:18, Paul writes,
18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18 NIV)
It is so important for you and me to understand what Paul means when he says that we have “access” to the Father by one Spirit. The Greek word for “access” is “προσαγωγή” (prosagoge) and it means, “the act of bringing to, a moving to, or access.” The word is only used 3 times in the New Testament, in Romans 5:2, here in Ephesians 2:18, and then in Ephesians 3:12. The way it was used in ancient society was most often in reference to a court official who introduced people to the king. The court official was the key to those persons gaining access to the king. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
Now this word ‘access’ is an important and an interesting word. It can also be translated by the word ‘approach’ or better still, I think, by the word ‘introduction.’ ‘For through Him we both have an introduction by one Spirit unto the Father.’ It means that the relationship is restored, that friendly relationship with God whereby we are acceptable to Him and have assurance that He is well disposed towards us. Now the important thing to realize here is that the Lord Jesus Christ does not merely prepare or open the way to this. He actually effects it, He actually produces it Himself. It is He who introduces us to the Father, brings us, takes us by the hand and ushers us into His presence. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Ephesians 2: God’s Way of Reconciliation. pg. 250)
Can you get a picture of that in your mind? It is a picture that should cause all of us to fall on our knees in humble gratitude. To think that the King of Glory, the Innocent who died for you and me, would take us into the very presence of the Father—my mind cannot fully comprehend that.
It is even a more humbling reality when you realize that before Jesus opened the way for us by dying for our sins, nobody could enter into the presence of God except for the High Priest and he could only do so once a year on the Day of Atonement. Now, because Jesus has destroyed every barrier and paid the debt for you and for me, we are encouraged to draw near to God.
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22 NIV)
Some of you didn’t feel like coming to church this morning. You wrestled with whether or not you would come. Somebody may have even pressed you to come until you gave in to their wishes, but now that you are here, you must know why you have come. God wants you to know that you don’t have to live in alienation and isolation any longer. He wants you to draw near. Jesus has made this possible for you and for me. Won’t you come? Won’t you draw near to the Father and watch Him begin His work in your life? Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 5, 2012