What It Really Looks Like
Back To The Drawing Board
If what was happening in cities like Ephesus was really of God, then it was one the most amazing and radical things ever witnessed!
If this sudden influx of Gentiles was actually God-inspired, then it would force many people back to the drawing board in an attempt to come to terms with this phenomenon.
Not that the conversation was new; the conversation had been happening for well over a decade by then, but to see it actually take place, especially on the scale of Ephesus, was a totally different matter.
It literally meant going back to the drawing board.
What I am referring to is that the family of God would be so diverse that every single human being was welcome to join it, regardless of language, culture, color, gender or creed.
Of course, the implication was that people couldn’t just willy-nilly march in and announce themselves to be a full-fledged member anymore than in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet guests couldn’t attend without wedding clothes.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.” Matthew 22:11-12
Similarly, one couldn’t just march into the family of God and self-declare. Everyone who ever wanted to be part of the family of God had to be born a second time so as to be born into the family.
The very thing that was outlined at the beginning of Ephesians: “In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Eph. 1:5
This so called adoption is more akin to being born and then adopted in, with the mechanism of this birth described in the next verse as “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Eph. 1:7
This is a legitimate second birth, so that when asked whether they really belong no one is left speechless or found as a stowaway who doesn’t belong.
As much as we take different people coming into the family of God granted in our days, in the days in which this was first made manifest it caused a tremendous uproar among those who were already in the family.
The assumption was that this family was for them and their kind only, and thus were upset when other sons and daughters were born into their family with the same rights, legitimacy and privileges that they had.
This was going to be a Jewish family of God – so they thought.
Even though they all could all point back to a time near the beginning in Jerusalem where multinationals were coming into the family of God albeit only among the Jews in the ‘diaspora’.
But at least it pointed to a day when multinationals would come into the family far beyond the Jewish tribe.
Gentiles As Well!
It would be another eight years before a different wind was to blow with the Italian Centurion Cornelius and his household as the first non-Jewish family members born into the family.
For that to happen, took considerable arm-twisting with the Holy Spirit almost marching Peter to the doors of Cornelius’ house and Peter’s acknowledgment that this was against every cultural norm of his day for which he showed remorse over the prejudice of his day:
“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Acts 10:28, 34-36
No sooner did Peter see the evidence of second birth among these non-Jews, that he then ordered that they be baptized into the family of God.
“Then Peter said, ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Acts 10:47-48
No sooner had word reached the ears of his peers back in Jerusalem, that the reaction was swift and predictable.
“The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 11:1-3
Only upon hearing Peter’s testimony did they finally acquiesce that such a momentous thing was indeed possible:
“Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story…. So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 11:4, 17-18
A Jewish or Gentile Church?
Now, you would think that this would settle the debate once and for all, right? But this only settled the first part of the debate on who can be born into God’s family.
The second question of what to do with them was far from settled. What should they look like, act like and be like?
Of course everyone knew God’s requirements of holiness as a personal lifestyle in terms of thoughts, words, actions and attitudes, but the question is what would that look like within their context?
Added into the complexity of this was how much of what they believed and practiced had to do with custom and culture and not with God’s requirements.
These were Jewish Christians, with their Jewish culture and way of life very much part of how they saw and did church. Was this going to be a Jewish church or a Gentile church?
This actually caused considerable tension among the Judaizers who were convinced that to be in the family of God you had to be circumcised and observe the rules in support of a Jewish culture and way of life.
While their Jewish culture and way of life was all good and fine at the end of the day it had no place in the family of God and it was in no way a prerequisite to coming into God’s family.
What made this all the more important was the incredible haste of more and more people from all walks of life being born into the family of God, in response to the urging of the Spirit among the “whosoever will” of the world.
The Holy Spirit was extending invitations to everyone, it seemed, and many were responding.
If the Parable of the Wedding Banquet shows us anything then it’s this very point:
2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matt. 22:2-10
The servants gathered all they could find, both the bad and the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests even as the family of God is filled with many different sons and daughters!
The well-to-do, the successful and the stars would be invited as well as the kid on the street, the drug dealer and the down-and-outer.
You see, the birthing is so powerful with “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” possible for the most hardened sinner in this world, that anybody could receive second birth.
This makes the urgency so great, for us to be going to street corners and inviting anyone we find, both the good and the bad!
If anything we tend to be among the least, the lost, and the last, because they much more than the high and lofty know they are lost and thus more reticent to the invitation to be birthed into God’s family.
The Mystery Unveiled!
This may explain why Paul finds himself among the riffraff of the Ephesian outcasts.
He calls himself a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1) as he talks about “the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you” (vs.2) which he says in vs. 8 was “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Eph. 3:8
Paul labored amongst these Gentiles with such success that they were born into the family of God by the thousands! Whole societies even shifted away from evil, incurring the wrath of local powerbrokers resulting in Paul’s repeated arrests.
A great example of that was in Ephesus where riots ensued when silversmiths were out of work, due to the drop in demand for temple statues as a result of the thousands who now were followers of Jesus.
Luke wasn’t kidding when he commented that “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts. 19:20) within the entire region!
The reason why Paul did what he did, by going to the riffraff of Ephesus, had to do with what the Parable of the Wedding Banquet was all about.
The news was so great and the matter so urgent that no stone was left unturned in the search for those who would respond to the invitation.
Wedding invitations were flying out the door by the thousands and millions.
This is what Paul is reflecting on in Eph. 3 as he talks about this great mystery of ‘whosoever will’ being made known for the first time in his day.
Just like wedding invitations went out to both the invited guests, most of whom said no, and also to whosoever else, most of whom said yes, so also the family of God is open for all to join and not limited to a few select!
What may seem unthinkable to us that certain people should be excluded, in their day it was widely believed!
This was until God opened their eyes that upon Christ’s death and resurrection, which makes second birth possible, that a brand new family would be birthed consisting of Jews, Gentiles and anyone else.
It was like the scales fell off their eyes, so that people like Paul could grasp the enormity of this which he calls “the mystery made known to me by revelation.” (vs.3)
In fact, he says: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Eph. 3:4-6
We can’t fault them, folks. They did not intentionally set out to create a closed society so as to be prejudicial. It was hidden from them for all their history, just like the inventions of our modern times were hidden from our forefathers.
Our ancestors could no more fathom what we enjoy today with modern technologies such as smart phones, tablets and wireless devises anymore than these Jews could grasp that God was going to create a new family for the “whosoever will”!
Imagine the shock when the lights were turned on and it became obvious that the old theocracy of the Old Testament, which was misunderstood, misinterpreted and mismanaged, would be replaced with the church as the family of God with invitations going out to all people.
Low Hanging Fruit
It still leaves the question hanging of why. Why people like Cornelius and the Ephesians?
Why did the Gospel – the Good News that through Jesus death and resurrection we can be birthed into God’s new family – have greatest resonance among the Gentiles of the world?
The answer has to do with low hanging fruit. You know what low hanging fruit is, don’t you? It’s the fruit on the tree that is ready to fall into your bushel without much effort at all.
It’s the apples or peaches that are so ripe that they fall into your bushel just by looking at them.
Most of the Gentiles of Paul’s days were low hanging fruit. It’s back to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet one more time.
We can only guess why many of the invited guests turned their noses up at the invitations, but I can guarantee you that the ‘whosoever will’ the servants extended invitations to were low hanging fruit.
Those who lived in the Old Testament theocracy, thinking that they already had everything they needed, were far less inclined to grab the new thing than those who were always excluded.
While the offer was fantastic, who do you think was more inclined to jump at the good news that “the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus”?
Gentiles would be all over this while Jews for the most part would be put off, which would explain why invitations were spurned.
This was the low hanging fruit of Paul’s day.
One Birth at a Time
So invitations were given to everyone they came across and, like ripe peaches, they simply fell into the bushels.
Each new brother or sister was a full member of the same body as those who had been in the family of God since way back.
Interest was so great in places like Ephesus and elsewhere in the Empire that within a few years the thousands became tens of thousands before spilling over into hundreds of thousands.
Current estimates suggest that some 2 billion people claim to be in the family of God. Whether it’s true or not is anybody’s guess, but the offer of second birth still resonates deeply in our culture.
If it were 2 billion people, then it would mean an incredible 2 billion second births since that is the only way into the family of God.
When Paul says that “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7), he is describing second birth that every single person experiences by coming to Jesus and asking him into their life.
While I can’t speak for the 2 billion out there, I want to make sure that everyone of us can testify to the fact of our own personal second birth.
If you don’t have this assurance, then you can simply by opening your heart today and asking Jesus to give you forgiveness of sins and redemption, release and freedom through his blood!
A Manifold Family!
If you have done that, then you are in the family of God as much as anyone around here! So welcome to the family! You’re not the first nor will you be the last.
In fact, many are coming in even as we speak right this moment. Each one is different from the next. They come from every tribe and nation. There are many languages, with various cultures and colors.
This is exactly how Paul finishes off this section in Eph. 3 when he uses the word “manifold” in verse 10 to describe the phenomenon of many different people coming into the family of God:
“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I love how through the church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known. ‘Manifold’ literally translates as multi-colored, or colorful, which describes the riot of colors in a flower garden!
Many colors, many nationalities, and many languages – the ‘whosoever will’ of the nations described in Revelation as standing before the mighty throne of God:
“There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9-10
Aren’t you glad you’re in the family of God this morning? Are you full of joy that you are not an outsider looking in or a second-class citizen trying to belong?
If you have been born a second time, you belong here this morning! If you haven’t, then we invite you to become one of us by experiencing second birth as you ask Jesus to replace your old nature with the new one.
This morning, the anthem among us should be the same as those who stand before the throne: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” !
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