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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