Ephesians 2: 11-22
Rev. Barrett Ingram
December 6, 2020
Today is the second Sunday in Advent, and the sermon series is based on the theme of candles on the Advent Wreath. So much of our journey through life is about trying to find something. We’re trying to find love, or a new job, or a place to live, or contentment with what we have. And some of the characters in the Christmas story, like the shepherds and the Magi, had to find Jesus. “And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” So, what do we find in the Christ of Christmas? What are we finding? Last week we thought about finding hope. Paul was writing to the Christians at Rome, and he reminded them of the promises of God found in Scripture. Going back to Genesis, God promised Abraham that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through his descendants. The promise of this blessing extended beyond the people of Israel to the Gentiles – to the nations. And in Jesus Christ, that promise was fulfilled. So, our hope is based on God’s future: a God who was faithful to His promises in the past, and continues to be faithful to His promises. Jesus Christ, who came once as the babe in a manger, will come again in final victory as King of kings and Lord of lords. Hope.
Today we’re moving on to the second candle, the candle of peace. Different words in the original languages can be translated as peace. Peace is used 231 times in the NIV, from which I will read. It’s not the most used word, but it occurs often enough to have some significance. The biblical prophets spoke about peace. We have that vision of a peaceable kingdom in our Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah. In Galatians 5, Paul lists “peace” as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Jesus blesses the “peacemakers” in the Sermon on the Mount. He says in John 14: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. So, we’re going to think about the peace that we find in Jesus Christ. What does it mean to say that Jesus is our peace? To help us think though this topic, we are going to look at a selection from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Lucy and Linus have a chicken wishbone. They are going to pull it to make a wish. As Lucy explains to Linus how the wishbone works, Linus asks, “Do I have to say the wish out loud?” Lucy says, “Of course, if you don’t say it out loud, it won’t come true.” Then she makes her wish first. She says, “I wish for four new sweaters, a new bike, a new pair of skates, a new dress and one hundred dollars.” Linus goes next. “I wish for a long life for all of my friends.” He continues, “I wish for world peace; I wish for great advancement in medical research.” At this, Lucy takes the wishbone and throws it away. “Linus,” she says, exasperated, “that’s the trouble with you; you’re always spoiling everything.”
Such seriousness does take the fun of wishing, and “world peace” seems to be such a glib response. It calls to mind the joke about the bright eyed but brainless beauty pageant contestants answering the question about what the world needs most. The required answer: World peace! It’s a joke because any student of history knows that it is unrealizable. Thousands of years ago, the Prophet Jeremiah spoke of the false prophets in Jerusalem: They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Around this time of year, we always read those words from Isaiah 9:6: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. But the One we call Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, said most provocatively (Matthew 10:34): Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. The serious student of Scripture knows that there are no easy answers.
A few years ago, a lady I know sent me an e-mail and asked for recommendations for devotional reading material. She was trying to read through the Bible like a novel, and she got stuck along the way. And I remember she said, “I’m so sick of reading about these Old Testament wars.” I had never thought much about it, but there are a number of wars in the Old Testament. The Hebrew people always seemed to be battling their neighbors, who had those hard to pronounce names. And as unpleasant as it is to read about the wars, I’m sure people living through it were equally weary of war. “Will this ever end?” they surely asked themselves. “How much more of this warfare must we endure?”
The idea of a coming messiah is found throughout the Old Testament. There was always this underlying hope, since things went terribly awry in the Garden of Eden, that one day Someone would come along and rectify all wrongs. “When the Messiah comes… when the Messiah comes,” that’s how all the good stories started, said one commentator. We could start one, “Once upon a time…” They started them, “When the Messiah comes…” You see a beggar on the street, tin cup fastened to the neck of his guitar: “Brother, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money, but when the Messiah comes, there will be no poverty.” You see the crippled man, useless limbs folded beneath the trunk of his body? “Brother, I wish I could help you but when the Messiah comes, you will be made whole.” And for a people who had been at war for as long as anyone could remember, you can imagine that what they wanted more than anything was an end to the violence. That’s the hope we heard in our reading from Isaiah: “The wolf shall live with the lamb…the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The violence we see in the natural world will cease, and so will the violence humans perpetuate against each other. In other words, when the Messiah comes, there will be peace.
In the time appointed, Jesus did come. Needless to say, expectations had been building all of those many centuries. People projected onto the Messiah all of their hopes and desires. He was there to do for them all of the things they could not do for themselves. He was there to heal them from their infirmities, to overthrow the occupying Roman government and return Jerusalem to Jewish rule. He would bring financial prosperity, and then finally peace. As is so often the case, the god we make in our own image rarely lives up to reality of God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And so, the Messiah God sent did not live up to the peoples’ expectations. Jesus was not a political messiah; he did not come bringing prosperity and peace – at least not in the way they expected.
Jesus also did not come wielding a sword of war and violence. Nowhere does Jesus say that we are to take up the sword in his name and kill infidels. There are no Kamikaze Christians; we are not to kill others and ourselves in the name of Christ. Some religions may teach that, but Jesus Christ does not. History is replete with Christian martyrs, but we are not called to seek out martyrdom. The sword we take up as Christians is in shape of the cross: “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) The call of Jesus is not to take the life of another, but rather to lay down your own life. “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) It’s the paradox of our faith – that we find ourselves when we lose ourselves. We get back everything that we give up. In the end, nothing is lost when it’s given to God – not even our own life.
In Ephesians, Paul does not say that Christ brought peace – as though he offered some program or strategy. No, verse 14 says, “For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups [Jews and Gentiles] one and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… 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.” The key here is the expression Paul often uses, “in Christ.” We see it in verse 13, “But now in Christ Jesus…” Galatians 3:28 – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” II Corinthians 5:17: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses again them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Over and over again, Paul makes the point that in Christ, in the New Creation, we have peace because we are reconciled. We are reconciled to God, and we are reconciled to one another. The old categories [Jew/Gentile, Male/Female, Slave/Free], while they still exist, are no longer the primary means by which we are judged. If we are in Christ, then our identity comes notfrom all of these external categories that divide us and bring hostility; no, if we’re in Christ, then our identity comes from him. And he is our peace.
The question for us to think about on this second Sunday of Advent is this: Have we found peace in Christ? Do we know his peace on a personal level – his peace that reconciles us to God and one another? This is a question only you can answer for yourself. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” It has to start in our hearts. If you have not thought much about the peace of Christ, then I would challenge you to spend some time thinking about it this week. Invite Jesus Christ into your heart, and ask him to be your peace.