Putting Down Roots
Coming in is Easy!
Growing up was a little rough for the Rausch boys. I’m not sure what it was but there was a time when we were fighting like cats and dogs.
I know that none of you can relate to this J but we had our ups and downs as brothers, especially as we slipped into our teenage years.
We were highly competitive, close in age and cut no one any slack, with dad more than once having to step in as referee.
It was pretty bumpy for a stretch and it wasn’t until later that we began to appreciate and support each other. But it took years to come to that place.
Some of it had to do with the fact that we didn’t get to choose our siblings, some of it with the normal rough and tumble of three boys close together, and some of it was just plain immaturity and stupidity.
Thankfully, we did eventually grow out of it and came to appreciate each other and what we had.
But it does underline the point that coming into a family is relatively easy, while living as a family is another matter altogether.
It’s so easy to get married and to have kids; it takes nothing at all! Anybody can get married and most everybody is able to bear children.
Getting married has become so easy. All you need to do is purchase a license, get a couple of witnesses and have a JP or a minister officiate. Only afterwards do you realize how much work it really is to have a happy, functional marriage.
It’s the same with having kids. If you are able to bear children, then having kids is easy. Raising kids to become successful and well-adjusted adults is another matter altogether.
I am saying that to say that the same is true in the family of God. The challenge is not in the coming into the family, but in the staying together as family.
Just like it was easy for you to be born into this world, so it is easy to be born a second time into God’s family.
None of the work is yours. All of it is God’s. The Father wills it, the Son provides for it, and the Spirit makes it happen. The heavy hitting was all done from above.
I love the language and imagery in Ephesians 1 that captures the sense of second birth:
“God predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” Eph. 1:6-8
All we need to do is agree to this and ask God to bring us into the family. How hard can that be? God did all the heavy work.
Staying In - Not So Easy
So coming into the family is the easy part, but staying in the family and getting along with the family is another matter.
I really think the struggles my brothers and I had was related to how different we were. While my dad’s blood certainly ran in my veins, I can tell you that I am an Olbrich more than a Rausch. My brothers, on the other hand, were more Rausch.
It was like Rebekah’s twins, jostling in and out of the womb. One clearly more like his father, while the other more like his mother.
Shades of that was our reality as well. In some ways we were as different as can be with none of us having a choice in the matter.
We ended up stuck in this family trying to make it work. No wonder we had struggles.
The same is true with the family of God. We do not get to choose our brothers and sisters and very few are going to be like you.
Most will have different values, ideas, preferences and characteristics than your own, which means that staying together takes a ton of work.
It means putting aside our own agendas, with the interest of others ahead of our own, as we grab towels to serve instead of thrones to reign.
Honestly, we have not done well with this. People have left in anger and stopped talking to each other, churches have been split, congregations haven’t gotten along and denominationalism remains entrenched with barriers and dividing walls seemingly everywhere.
The Prayer for the Ephesians
This is what drives Paul to his knees in the desperate prayer that is Eph. 3:14-21. Behind this stood his deep concern for the unity and the getting along of these diverse believers!
This section is called The Prayer for the Ephesians, and it uses the rare imagery of kneeling in prayer as a way to show the seriousness of the situation at hand.
Paul says: “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom the whole family of believers in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Eph. 4:14-15
I want you to notice a couple of key things in this passage.
First off, when he says “for this reason”, Paul is linking this desperate prayer back to what he called the mystery having been unveiled, namely that Gentiles are co-heirs along with the Israelites in a brand new family arrangement.
“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. 3:6
This naturally led to a huge surge of people coming into the family of God, jostling for a rightful place at the kitchen table along with those who were already there.
You can well imagine the rough and tumble of what that would look like. This is like trying to make a blended family work.
Honoring the Family Name
One of the first things he does is to pray that they would remember whose name they bear: “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom the whole family of believers in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Eph. 4:14-15
Yes, we derive our name from the Father. I don’t know if you have ever been told not to bring shame to your family name but in some families it’s all about the honor of the family name.
‘Live up to the family name. Don’t dishonor it. Remember whose child you are and whose name you carry.’
In a far greater sense, we bear our Father’s name. I love the intentional play on words in the passage to underline that.
The words family and father are almost interchangeable in the original language. One is patera (father) and the other is patria (family).
Similar sounding words, coming from the same root, meant to suggest a striking similarity between the family members and their Father.
We bear his last name, we really do! We are to be more and more like our Father.
Born into his family, as true and genuine sons and daughters of him, becoming more and more like him the more we grow up and mature.
As we take on his nature, mimic him in our attitudes, thoughts and behaviors, then you would think that differences and divisions begin to dissipate, right?
I have learned since my teenage years that me squabbling with my brothers was a childish thing. Thankfully, over the years, as I matured, I was able to set aside arguments as I gained a deep appreciation of the diversity among us as brothers.
The same is true in the family of God! Learning to get along and appreciating diversity honors the name we now bear.
When we insist on only hanging around only with our kind it brings dishonor to His name, for those folks in the other corner bear as much His name as we do over here.
There is no greater joy in heaven than when we can leave our shell behind, reach across the table, and embrace someone completely different from us. I honestly believe that.
That is what’s behind Paul’s prayer!
Jesus Moving In!
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Eph. 3:16
Paul is praying that the Father, who has immense resources, would “out of his glorious riches” strengthen them. Literally, this means to encourage their inner being with the power of his Spirit.
So what kind of power is this, for what purpose is it given, and how will that help us get along in the family of God?
The answer may surprise you, my friend. Notice what it says in the next verse as the reason for being strengthened with his power: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (vs. 17)
What this means is that when we were birthed into God’s family Jesus came into our hearts and life whether we realize it or not.
We didn’t just have our Father’s eyes, but in our hearts Jesus came to dwell. Everyone that is born of God has Jesus dwelling in his or her heart.
The more we realize that, the more room we make for him to settle down and permanently move in.
The more Jesus settles into our hearts and makes it his living space, the more likely we are to grow up spiritually.
If there is a key word in this passage, then it’s the word “dwell” because of its permanence.
It’s not temporary, it’s not in the here and now. Jesus is not a guest who is coming over for a visit but a resident who is settled in. Lyman Coleman points out how the word dwell implies a permanent dwelling such as in a house versus a temporary stopover such as in a tent.
So it isn’t just “Come Lord Jesus and be my guest” but “Stay Lord Jesus and move right in!”
This is an incredibly powerful image that will help us in our spiritual growing up.
Jesus isn’t just a guest or a visitor but someone who has moved in and intends to stay permanently.
Make yourself at home. My home is your home. Empty your suitcase, hang up your coat, and feel free to take off your shoes.
That’s what Paul is after when he says “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Pray that we would have the ability, desire and wherewithal to realize that Jesus takes up permanent residence in our hearts, and that as he does he takes over the place more and more.
We should realize how that is actually a very good thing since it becomes key to us growing up in the family of God.
The more he takes up residence, the more that is going to affect and change my life.
It’s almost like when somebody moves in, and I mean really moves in, and they begin to spread themselves all over the place. They hang their stuff all over, their furniture arrives, and their food ends up in your fridge. The moment you walk in you know they have moved in.
Bumping into Jesus
When you let Jesus move in He will happily hang his stuff all over the place, so much so that when someone walks or bumps into you all they see is evidence that Jesus lives here.
Think about that for a moment. When you live in close proximity within a family you are bound to walk into each other. It happens in your natural family and it happens in the family of God.
We are bound to walk into each other. Somebody, somewhere, is going to step on your toes. Sooner or later you are going to bump into someone.
It’s inevitable in the family of God. There’s going to be differences of opinion. Different dreams and desires, different expectations and traditions, different styles and preferences.
So yeah you are going to bump into each other, no question about it.
If you have Jesus living in you and somebody walks into you how sweet it would be if all they saw is evidence of Jesus living in your heart? How sweet that would be!
The test of who lives in you really comes down to what someone finds when they bump into you.
Is it the clothing of the old nature outlined in Gal. 5:20, which include: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy”?
Or is it the clothing of Jesus outlined in Col 3:12-14 where it says: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Whose clothes are hanging in your closet? Paul tells us to “clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 13:14). Has that happened?
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that the clothes of Jesus would be hanging all over their place.
Rooted in Love
Speaking of his clothes, first and foremost those clothes are made of love. Which is why he tells the Colossians: “Over all these virtues put on love.”
That’s his stuff. It’s love. That’s what he hangs up when he moves in and that is what ends up in your fridge, closet and cupboard. The more Jesus lives in you, the more love will be evident.
So what does love in you looks like? Something like this:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Cor. 13:4-7
This idea of when Jesus moves in love moves in, is at the heart of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Eph. 3:16-18
Using now the imagery of a tree deeply planted in soil, Paul says that Jesus dwelling in us becomes the soil out of which our tree and eventual fruit grows.
When somebody bumps into you they are going to become acquainted pretty quickly not only with who lives in you but with what fruit you have on your branches.
So let me ask you: What is your primary fruit? What do people notice first when they bump into you? Is it bitterness? Envy? A sharp tongue? Anger? Mistrust?
Or have you been planted so deeply in the love of Jesus that the fruit are all variations of his love, which Paul describes as the fruit of the Spirit including “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23) Of which Paul says: “against such things there is no law”, meaning that you can keep living that way, reacting that way and being that way and it will never be illegal and there will never be a law against it.
So Paul prays that we would “know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3:19
That it would be the fullness of God that people would bump into when they bump into us!
A Sweet, Ripe Peach
As we wrap it up this morning, ask yourself what’s the first fruit people bump into when they get too close to you?
Are you soft and mushy like a sweet ripe peach or prickly and sour like an old cactus in a desert?
The answer is not avoiding people, unless you want to live the hermit life, but figuring out how to be that sweet, ripe peach.
The key to that answer is Jesus and his soil in your life, and there is usually one of two things at play here.
If you have prickly pears or the fruit of a cactus, then either you have not let your roots down deeply enough into the soil of Jesus’ love, or there is no soil in your heart into which to let your roots go down into.
So I would encourage us to do two things:
1. Open up your heart and invite Jesus to come into your life and hang his stuff all over your house, and you will see how his soil settles into your heart.
2. If you have done that, then let your roots down deeply into the warm moist soil of his love. How? By praying, by confessing our sins, by absorbing his Word, by worshipping him with all our heart, by responding to his Spirit and by always asking ‘what would Jesus do.’
That keeps the connection strong and unencumbered, as you reach deeply down into the wonderful soil of his love.
As you nurture that relationship, the fruit of the Spirit will be your auto reply and default setting, without even having to try much.
So don’t try to be sweeter, don’t let this be about your effort, but open your heart and let your roots down deeply into the love of Jesus and then you will see how sweet peaches will be the first fruit.
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.” !
Welcome to the Family – Moving Over and Making Room
It’s an amazing thing to watch how a little human can throw an entire household on its ear, so much so that by the time the dust settles everything in that household has been rearranged.
I am talking about what happens to a childless couple when a baby arrives. My goodness, nothing is the same again once the baby has come.
We are seeing it not once but twice in our family with grandbabies coming into the families of two of our kids, and literally rearranging how households look and are managed.
Those of you who’ve had babies recently know exactly what I am talking about, and for the rest of us who had our kids a while back, still might remember the turbulence associated with a new addition.
They say that a new addition to the family is never an easy thing. Everyone’s got to move over a little, make some room, with considerable give and take.
Be it a newborn or even someone older. Maybe it’s a foster child, a new partner, or a blended family where she brings hers and he brings his.
Talk about growing pains, adjustments, and trying to make it all fit together as people work out the new normal.
The Ephesian Miracle
Well, the new normal is also what was happening in the Ephesian family of God!
The entire passage that we read today is about the new normal of a growing family trying to fit it all together and making it work.
Just like a biological family is an ever-growing thing with people coming and going (birthed in, married in, divorced out, moved away or even passing on) and thus never looking the same, so also the family of God is an ever changing and growing entity.
At least it better be if it is healthy. Just like a healthy family is ever growing, ever changing and evolving, so also is the family of God. At least in Paul’s mind that was so.
For Paul the family of God by its very nature would be an ever-growing entity. In his mind it would never be “us four and no more”.
Which is why what Paul found in Ephesus was so startling when it says that: “There he found some disciples.” Acts 19:1
How many disciples, you ask? Twelve to be exact, as verse 7 points out. And as verse 3 points out these twelve traced their roots way back to John the Baptist who by then had been dead for 25 years.
These twelve were either the same twelve that started out, or grew to be twelve people, or were reduced to twelve people.
The point is that they ended up with twelve people after 25 years.
While being a group of twelve might feel cozy and safe it is never God’s intent that it stay at twelve. You can start out with twelve, but you cannot end up with twelve.
God wishes that none perish but that all come to repentance. This meant that these twelve men were being empowered by the Holy Spirit as missionaries and evangelists, and with Holy Spirit saving people and adding them into the family, this is precisely what happened there:
“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God … He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul … In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
Acts 19:9-11, 20
This phenomenon became known as the ‘Ephesian Miracle’ and was a huge game changer. They went from twelve to who knows how many, as happened elsewhere in places such as Jerusalem and Antioch.
Of the Jerusalem church it was said: “The Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46
To go, in their case, from 120 to 3000 meant as great of growing pains as it was in Ephesus with their twelve.
That people came in from such diverse backgrounds that it was in many ways like the United Nations.
You can see the growing pains in those early chapters of Acts where people were trying to figure this out.
One example of that was a dispute that arose over the distribution of food among groups of widows:
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” Acts 6:1
The same thing was also happening in Ephesus. Might not have been the distribution of food but I can almost guarantee you that there were struggles around accommodating the surge of new family members.
God is no respecter of person. He saves “whosoever will”, and that can include all kinds of people from various backgrounds.
In Jerusalem it would have been the multinationals that hung around at that time. In Ephesus it would have been an assortment of individuals ranging from merchant sailors to temple prostitutes, as well as various types who worked in related industries.
As people were birthed into God’s family, it was like everyone thrown into the wash together. There were no little piles of one group here and another little pile there, but everything got thrown in together!
The Colours of the Rainbow
What we are seeing in places like Jerusalem and Ephesus, is the family of God as diverse as the colours of the rainbow, at least in the early stages of revival fires before things cool off.
In the early stages of a revival when things are fiery hot everyone is thrown in together as they figure out how to be the family of God.
Only when things cool off and revival is replaced with mechanism do you see a splitting up among cultural, demographic or socio-economic lines.
We saw it in Jerusalem, where eventually this multinational church split into Jewish and Gentile churches.
We saw it also in my own Pentecostal movement, where at the beginning it was a multiracial, gender-neutral movement with no delineation between black and while nor male and female.
Only as the revival fires cooled did the movement split among racial lines with the Assemblies of God stateside being predominantly white and the Church of God being predominantly black.
It’s this idea of the family of God as the colours of the rainbow.
Yet there is a twist to this: It maybe the colours of the rainbow at first, but the colours all run together with everything stained a crimson red.
It’s like when guys do laundry and toss different colors into the same wash where everything comes out a little bleached and discolored, right?
It’s really important to understand that the family of God doesn’t stay the colours of the rainbow because sometimes colours clash.
In the family of God the colours blend. No matter what colour you come in as you end up coming out red.
So let’s say you come in blue but at the other end you come out being red. The same if you come in being pink, green or any other colour.
In other words, no matter who you are coming into the family of God, you come out looking red. Crimson red. Red as in the colour of his blood.
As colours may clash in the natural, so also we can clash because of our differences. But if all of us are stained crimson red, then no matter where we came from we have this common stain and bond.
People are like the colours of the rainbow with everyone different, which in the natural create division and differences.
Stained Crimson Red!
This is what’s on Paul’s mind as he witnesses the miracle of Ephesus unfolding in front of his eyes.
Thus he reminds them of the differences and separation that naturally exist between groups of people, even as it does when colours clash:
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”; remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Eph. 2:11, 12
There was lots of natural division, exclusion and separation. Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised and uncircumcised simply did not mix. This was like having two families and there would never be any intermarrying.
Throwing them together like this would never work. There would also be an ‘us versus them’ mentality. resulting in tension, animosity and suspicion.
Simply trying harder wasn’t going to work, nor would being civil or grown up help. Jews, Greeks and Romans did not mix. Not then, not now!
Something far more radical needed to take place, which in Paul’s mind was to have all those who come into the family of God stained crimson red with the same blood of Jesus.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Eph 2:13
In other words, you have been stained crimson red by His blood just like everybody else that has ever come into the family of God.
This was God’s grand plan. That a new family would be created and invitations be given to ‘whosoever will’ regardless where they came from to join this new family.
Not as foster kids, in-laws, nor even adopted in as we understand adoption, but by being born a second time into this new family.
All of us having our Father’s eyes, and all of us stained crimson red with the blood of Jesus.
Whatever we were, we left that at the door. Those of us who were purple now are crimson red as are those who were yellow, blue or any other colour.
By making us all crimson red Jesus has destroyed the barriers and walls that used to exist:
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” Eph. 2:14-15a
Paul says that Jesus set aside man-made laws around culture, language and a way of life that allows the many groups to come into one family thus destroying former barriers and walls!
You need to realize that barriers and walls were very real things in those days.
Barriers were literally the fences and borders that kept groups separate, and the dividing wall was the actual name of a wall surrounding the temple and meant to keep the Gentiles out.
A New Community of Peace
All of these natural human barriers Jesus set aside and in their stead has come what Paul calls a “new humanity”, a community of peace, love and acceptance.
“His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
It’s really interesting how Paul sees this new community.
Peace can be made a couple of different ways. It’s true that the word for peace literally means, “to join together that which is separated” but it can easily be misinterpreted as “you Gentiles now join us Jews”.
As if to say, that now that the wall is down why don’t you Gentiles come on in, become like us Jews and we will serve God together in the temple.
But that still reinforces this cultural elitism that says while we won’t exclude you anymore, we will insist that you become like us in our culture, language and way of life.
This passage makes it very clear that actually both groups were invited to come into a new family instead of one joining the other one.
The passage also makes clear that both needed to be reconciled to God, both needed to receive the message of peace and both were invited to have the same access to the Father.
No socio economic group, no language group, no ethnic group has special status in the family of God.
Thus it’s never good enough to invite others to become part of your group unless your group is the family of God.
All human groups are null and void in the eyes of God. That’s why it says that Jesus abolished cultural laws with its commandments and regulations as it pertains to the family of God.
God annulled the Jewish law and any other cultural way of life as the spiritual means to come to God. We come to God through Jesus only and not by any other means, folks.
Human Culture or Kingdom Culture?
Having said that, let me be clear that this doesn’t mean that we should abandon our culture or heritage. I love my culture and my mother tongue, but it’s not what the family of God is about.
The family of God is not about maintaining a German heritage or any other human heritage. I love my German-Canadian hybrid way of life but it’s not what I come to church for.
If I want to learn German I will go to German school, and not to church. I come to church to learn about Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong, I will use German or any other language as a bridge to help people find Jesus, but it’s not about the language but about finding Jesus.
The colours of the rainbow of God’s family are the crimson red of Jesus’ blood with our anthem being “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus”!
Naturalized or Natural Born?
That brings me down to what I think is the bottom-line of today’s passage in verse 19:
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” Eph. 2:19
If Paul makes any sort of appeal to these Ephesians, then it would be this idea that those who have experienced spiritual birth then are in God’s family not as “foreigners and strangers” but as “fellow citizens” and “members of his household”.
Don’t let the significance of this escape you. This comes down to the question of are you really in? Are you in as much as the charter members?
For the Ephesians it meant, are you as much part of the family of God as the original 12? Paul didn’t want this subtle division between the foreigners/strangers and the citizens/members.
Foreigners and aliens were sort of in. They were like the foster child who is in, sort of, or the naturalized citizen who is also sort of in.
Do you realize there are two categories of citizens in both the US and Canada? There is the natural born citizen and then there is the naturalized citizen.
“A natural citizen is someone born in the United States or born to American parents on foreign soil. A naturalized citizen is someone who was born in a foreign country, but took a series of steps with the end goal of being granted citizenship.”
I am not a natural born citizen. I belong to this second class of naturalized citizens, which means, if push were to come to shove, I could be deported back to my country of origin.
In some ways I will always be a lesser Canadian citizen then someone born here.
I am saying that to illustrate that in the family of God there are no degrees of citizenship. There are no lesser citizens or second-class citizens.
Everyone who is born of God and who has experienced second birth is a “fellow citizen with God’s people and also a member of his household”!
If someone has experienced second birth with the assurance of their sins forgiven, they have come into the family of God as a natural citizen.
To suggest anything else is to raise doubts over the power of the blood of Jesus to save us and give us second birth!
So let me wrap this up by speaking to two types of people.
Firstly, for those who constantly wonder if they are a part of the family of God or are somehow doubting that they really belong to the family, they need to realize that they are doubting the power of the blood of Jesus to have birthed them into his family.
That younger brother in the story of the Prodigal Son, when he repented and came home, did so as a son and not a servant.
Secondly, those who see themselves as elder brothers, who may have been around for a very long time and may be part of the original 12, need to realize that if a prodigal comes home with their sins forgiven, that they have been birthed into God’s family as much as anyone.
There is no such thing as probation, nor foreigners, or aliens but only natural-born members of God’s family.
To suggest otherwise is also to raise doubts over the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus to forgive sins and birth people into God’s family.
In closing, what I would like us to do is recite these words of Scripture as we declare this family of God open for all those who call on the name of Jesus:
“You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” Eph. 2:19-21
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