11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
Since Cain and Abel, people have always had a real hard time getting along with one another.
Take, for instance, a 1986 peace march that largely self-destructed through bickering. It began in Los Angeles only to stall in Barstow, about 120 miles out of L.A., where about half the 1,200 marchers went home.
Soon those remaining polarized over those who were real walkers and those who rode in vehicles. They fought over a dress code. They decided to hold an election, but disagreed over who could vote, finally allowing even children to vote.
Then the election was declared invalid. Many ended the peace march not speaking to each other. (The Orange County Register, Sunday, July 6, 1986, pp. A1, A2. qtd in R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 91)
One word we could use to describe this all-too-human condition is alienation. Alienation is being separated from a group or a person to which you should belong. In the case just described, the peace marchers could not be peaceful with one another. They should have belonged together.
They are just a small picture of the whole human race. As we were created by God, we should all belong together. There shouldn’t be any separation between people, nor any separation between people and their Creator, the Lord God.
But sin entered this perfect world early on. Adam blamed Eve for the trouble, alienating himself from her. Then Cain killed Abel, and things just steamrolled from there. The human race finds it easy to be…
I. ALIENATED FROM ONE ANOTHER
Ephesians 2:11 Wherefore remember,
that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh,
who are called Uncircumcision
by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
11 Διὸ μνημονεύετε ὅτι ὑμεῖς ποτὲ τὰ ἔθνη ἐν σαρκί,
οἱ λεγόμενοι ἀκροβυστία
ὑπὸ τῆς λεγομένης περιτομῆς ἐν σαρκὶ χειροποιήτου,
A. The Alienation Of Jew And Gentile
Paul turns his focus on the Gentile Christians in the church. That is who he is referring to when he says, “the Uncircumcision.”
There was a lot of disunity and distrust between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians in the early church.
When we look at the history concerning the relationship between the Gentiles and Jews, it’s easy to see why there was so much distrust. For example,
A certain Gentile woman came to Rabbi Eleazar, confessed that she was sinful, and told him that she wanted to become righteous. She wanted to be accepted into the Jewish faith because she had heard that the Jews were near to God.
The rabbi is said to have responded, “No. You cannot come near,” and then shut the door in her face. (John F. MacArthur Jr., Ephesians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], 68)
Biblically, there’s no better example of the Jewish hatred toward Gentiles than Jonah. Here’s a man that refused to obey a direct order from God to preach at Nineveh. When God finally forced him to do so, and the Gentiles of Nineveh repented of their sins, Jonah found no joy. Instead,
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 2 And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. (Jonah 4:1–2)
To an extent, the Jewish distrust and hatred of the Gentiles was justified because the Gentiles had often attacked them and persecuted them. Hitler wasn’t the first to try and kill off the Jews.
So, the hatred festered and grew for centuries:
If a young Jewish man or woman married a Gentile, their families would have a funeral service, symbolizing the death of their child as far as religion, race, and family were concerned.
For fear of contamination, many Jews would not enter a Gentile home or allow a Gentile to enter theirs. (John F. MacArthur Jr., Ephesians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], 70)
The Jews, who were circumcised, called the Gentiles the “Uncircumcision,” as a derogatory term. It would have been as bad as some of the racial slurs that we have today.
When David approached Goliath, what did he call him? He said, “for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
So you can see why when Jewish Christian converts and Gentile Christian converts were suddenly thrust together in one church, it would have been like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s locked together in a barn.
Throughout the New Testament, we can see traces of the church battles between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Many Jewish Christians couldn’t imagine how a Gentile could become a Christian without obeying the law of Moses and being circumcised.
It was such a large issue that, in Acts 15, the early church debated what precisely the Gentiles had to do to become Christians and it was decided that becoming a Jew first (by circumcision) was not necessary.
B. Alienation Today
Now, the alienation of Jew and Gentile is as far from us as the moon is from Earth.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people that we’ve alienated ourselves from. People who, in fact, we are to be witnesses to.
(1) People Of Different Race
Race is one way that we’re alienated from one another. Baker is predominately white town, so anyone of a different color is often looked on with suspicion or even animosity.
We shake our heads at the animosity between Jew and Gentile in Bible times, but are we any different today?
(2) People Of Low Morals
Another way we’re alienated from others is by our distaste of their low morals. Garth Brooks sang about his “friends in low places.” Christians tend to avoid befriending such people.
Whether it is homosexuality or drunkenness or drug addicts or whatever, Christians get the idea that we’re just supposed to steer clear and run them down with our words.
What’s the difference between doing that and how the Jews behaved toward the Gentiles?
Yet the New Testament speaks clearly that we’re not to alienate ourselves from sinners, but to be witnesses. One example is:
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. (1 Corinthians 5:9–11)
We can also look to the example of our Lord Jesus. Did he avoid the sinners?
15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. 16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:15–17)
Now, this doesn’t mean that we are to become sinners in order to win sinners. But it does raise a question for each of us: Who are the sinners that we are associating ourselves with in order to witness to them?
What is the root cause of our alienation from one another? It is sin. And what is sin but being…
II. ALIENATED FROM GOD
Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were without Christ,
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,
and strangers from the covenants of promise,
having no hope,
and without God in the world:
12 ὅτι ἦτε ἐν τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ χωρὶς Χριστοῦ,
ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς πολιτείας τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ,
καὶ ξένοι τῶν διαθηκῶν τῆς ἐπαγγελίας,
ἐλπίδα μὴ ἔχοντες,
καὶ ἄθεοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ.
Paul is referring to the Gentiles here, but what he says really applies to any unbeliever. He describes what alienation from God looks like. Alienation from God is being…
A. “without Christ”
Like many Jews, the Gentiles had no personal salvation through Jesus. They also did not have a “national hope” of a Messiah. Although many of the Jews missed the Messiah when he came, the Gentiles did not even have the opportunity to know who Jesus was. They had no Messiah to look forward to.
This is why foreign missions is so important. Despite the slide of Christianity in our country, it’s still easy to know something about Jesus.
But in Mongolia, where missionaries that we support, Zachary and Amanda Whitener, will be going, there are something like 40,000 Christians in a country of three million people. Truly, these are people who are “without Christ.”
Alienation from God is also being…
B. “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel”
The Gentiles were not citizens of Israel, which meant that they did not have the spiritual advantages that the Jews did. Jesus pointed this out when he talked to the Samaritan (half-Gentile, half-Jewish) woman at the well:
22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. (John 4:22)
In the Old Testament days, for a Gentile to be saved, they had to become a Jew first. Otherwise they were aliens from Israel.
Naaman is one example in the Old Testament of a Gentile becoming part of the commonwealth of Israel.
Remember that Naaman was a Syrian commander that had leprosy. He went and found the prophet Elisha in Israel, who told him to go bath in the Jordan river seven times. After being offended at such a simple suggestion, Naaman did so and was healed.
Look at what Naaman does next, something that we often read over:
17 And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. (2 Kings 5:17)
What do you suppose he did with those two mules worth of dirt? Here’s what I think he did. He took that good dirt of Israel and put it in a frame and on that dirt he built an altar to the Lord God. The dirt was to be his little patch of Israel.
Naturally, God can be worshipped anywhere. In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus also said:
21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. (John 4:21)
But this was Naaman’s way of joining himself to the commonwealth of Israel. Very few Gentiles became Jews to worship the Lord. Most were…
C. “strangers from the covenants of promise”
“strangers” (ξένοι ξένος Adjective masculine plural nominative) means “foreigner” or “alien” (not the same Greek word as “aliens” however).
The Gentiles had no part in the “covenants of promise.” God made a sweeping promise to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race:
1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1–3)
The Gentiles had no part in that. They may have built great nations themselves, but none of them were blessed by God in the way that Israel has been blessed.
Unbelievers today look at God’s promises in the Bible and shrug their shoulders—they are no big deal to them. They are “strangers” to the promises of God.
Furthermore, alienation from God is…
D. “having no hope”
Because the Gentiles were alienated from Israel and from Christ and from the “covenants of promise,” they had “no hope.” They had no hope because they had no way of making themselves right with the true God of Heaven.
Every human being needs hope in order to survive. The majority of people exist on false or temporary hope. They hope in some idol or possession, or perhaps in their own power or in some other person in their life.
But what happens when their hope is revealed as false? They may commit suicide, or they may distract themselves with drugs or pleasure.
Don’t feel anger or hatred toward those who do such things—understand that they have no hope and seek a way to share the hope you have with them. Peter says:
15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:15)
Share hope with the sinner who has none. The alienated Gentiles were a people without hope, and that was because they were…
E. “without God in the world”
Why were the Gentiles without God? Why are unbelievers today without God?
It isn’t because they have intellectually determined that God doesn’t exist. That’s their claim; they might say “I can’t believe in a God that allows evil” or “If I can’t see it or prove it, I won’t believe in it.”
But what unbelief boils down to is that they don’t want to believe in God.
In the July 2013 newsletter from the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum (which is a Christian and Creationist museum that I highly recommend you pay a visit to if you haven’t already) I read about their encounter with an atheist retired Biology professor who visited the museum.
This professor (who refused to enter the museum when he found out it was Christian) claimed that humans have gills when they are in the womb. This was an idea proposed by one of Darwin’s associates in the 1800’s—that human beings repeat the evolutionary stages in the womb.
It has been debunked for years. Yet the professor clung to an outdated, disproven theory as one of the reasons he didn’t believe in God. He simply didn’t want to believe.
Atheists aren’t the only ones who don’t want to believe. Many people claiming to to be believers are people who don’t want to believe in the true God of the Bible.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (supposedly someone who loves God) said that “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.” and “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/26/desmond-tutu-hell-homophobia_n_3661120.html)
Rather than believing what the Bible says, Desmond Tutu made up his own god that would allow him to believe what he wanted to believe about god.
It’s as the Bible says:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:21–22)
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; (Romans 1:28)
The Gentiles, and every unbeliever, did not like to retain God in their knowledge—so they became “without God in this world.”
F. Unbelievers Are Alienated
So Gentiles were, as any unbeliever is, completely alienated from God. God doesn’t make any sense to them.
You see some people claim to be believers, but the god they worship is not the God of the Bible, but a god that they’ve made up. They are just as alienated from the Lord God as the most ardent atheist.
In addition to being alienated from God, the unbeliever might also be alienated from believers—perhaps because of the fault of believers—making them that much further from coming to the Lord Jesus for salvation.
What hope does the alienated unbeliever have? How can they become…
III. ALIENATED NO MORE
Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus
ye who sometimes [at one time] were far off
are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
13 νυνὶ δὲ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ὑμεῖς οἵ ποτε ὄντες μακρὰν,
ἐγγὺς ἐγενήθητε ἐν τῷ αἵματι τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
The Jews sometimes referred to the Gentiles as “far off,” meaning perhaps the same thing as when we talk about unbelievers as being “lost.”
“But now in Christ Jesus” can the “lost” or the “far off” be “made nigh” (“Nigh” is an old way of saying “near”). That leaves us with the question:
A. To Whom Are We “Made Nigh”?
The first, and most obvious answer is:
(1) To God
The Gentiles and all unbelievers are far from God. The Bible says:
The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29)
But in Christ, any person can be made near to God. That’s because Christ is perfectly holy and righteous, so when we are “in Christ,” it’s as if God sees us through Christ. He sees us as righteous. He hears our prayers. He is close and personal with us, as a good friend.
But as a result of being “made nigh” to God, we can also be “made nigh”…
(2) To One Another
Christians of any race, of any social class, of any nation or tribe should be the nearest and closest people in the world. Sadly, that isn’t always the case and there are two reasons for that.
One is that some people who claim to be Christians aren’t really Christians. They claim the name, but not the lifestyle. In that case, it’s right that true Christians aren’t near to them because they aren’t Christians, or at least aren’t living the Christian life (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
But the second reason is that Christians sometimes hold to unbiblical traditions and values. It’s much like the Jewish Christians in the early church who wrongly insisted that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to become Christians.
So some Christians sadly let their view of other Christians be colored by racial values, or by unimportant theological values.
But if we are truly “in Christ,” then we should find ourselves near to every other person who is “in Christ,” because we are of the same family. Like families, we’ll have our differences, but we’ll still be brothers and sisters.
That leaves us with one final question:
B. How Are We “Made Nigh”?
We know that “in Christ” we are made near to God and to others who are also “in Christ,” but how does that happen?
It happens when we “are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” The source of alienation among men and women can be traced back to sin.
Why are we far from each other? James says that it is the lusts or sin within us:
1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (James 4:1)
Why are we far from God? The Bible says that it is because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Sin separates us from God and man, but what can forgive our sin? Nothing but faith in the blood of Jesus.
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [a pleasing sacrifice] through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:24–25)
Are you near to God today? Have you had your sins forgiven though faith in the blood of his Son, Christ Jesus?