Jack Graham - The Body of Christ
I absolutely love the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. God's Church. I grew up in church. In fact, I started going to church nine months before I was born, I'm told. And a little Baptist church in Arkansas where my parents—wonderful, spiritual heritage and history in my family there. But my earliest childhood memories involve the church. Now I recognize that some of you did not have that experience growing up and you're either new to church or maybe you didn't grow up in a church that you loved. Maybe you grew up in a church that you wondered why you were there. But always in growing up, and the church wasn't perfect by any means, but in growing up in the church I developed my life, I came to Christ in the church as a little boy, was baptized. Later on, called to preach the Gospel in the church.
As a matter of fact, fifty years ago this month my buddy O.S. Hawkins and I were ordained on the same night in the church, the Sagamore Hill Baptist Church. And you know both of us are still at it; we're still swinging. The Church is the bride of Christ. We'll learn that later in Ephesians. The Church is also the body of Christ. Not a mere organization, a human organization, but a living, breathing organism; the body of Christ. We are a spiritual family in this body. And the title of this message is "The Body of Christ". Unity in the Body of Christ. "One people, one purpose and passion". We are one in the bond of love. We believe together, we belong together; we are becoming more and more like Christ together. It's God's family.
Now in Christ there are no barriers; walls of separation fall down. There's no separation of class or race or culture or gender. We are in Christ, His Church one body united. And yet in reality there is so much division. We know there's division in the world, chaos and wars and rumors of wars. We know, of course, there is division in our country, profound division, whether it's political division, cultural division, racial division. We know that there's hostility in our country and we're praying for our nation in these days. We also know unfortunately there at times has been division in the church.
There're all kinds of churches and denominations and groups, and sometimes we wonder why all these denominations, why all these different kinds of churches? Because Jesus prayed that we would be one; that we would be one in Him, one in the heavenly Father. But there are walls that separate us. And we wonder how are we of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to relate and connect and make a difference in our world? We are in the midst of a radical revolution. And I'm not talking about a political revolution but it is the spiritual revolution of the Church of Jesus Christ! Underneath the breathings and movements of history there is God's Church on the move! And in the Church, we have been given something called reconciliation.
Now I believe if you think about it, reconciliation is the word. There are many important biblical words: justification and glorification and sanctification. There are many important words that I could cover, but when you think about it: redemption. When you think about it, the word that covers it all ultimately is reconciliation. That we were at war with God, but God has made peace with us. He has reconciled us by the blood of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the word reconciliation means bringing people together or bringing us together. Two sides come together in agreement. "How can two walk together except they be agreed"?
We know what marriage reconciliation is about and we know to some degree what political reconciliation is about. But spiritual reconciliation is what I want to talk to you about today from Ephesians, chapter 2. That's what this passage is all about. And I want you to read it with me, all of us following along. I thought about just taking it apart, piece by piece, but I believe it's important that we take the time and read these verses, all eleven of them, from Ephesians chapter 2, 11 and following: "Therefore, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh, called 'the uncircumcision' by what is called the circumcision which is made in the flesh by hands".
That is, we’re talking about Gentiles and Jews. Ephesian believers were Gentile believers, "remember that you were at that time", this is your BC life—Before Christ, "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel", that is, you do not have the advantage of being in the spiritual family of Israel, "and strangers to the covenants of promise", and watch this, "having no hope and without God in the world", no hope, no God, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near", underscore this in your Bible, "by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one", that is, Gentiles and Jews, you and me, "and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances".
That is, the ceremonial laws of Israel, though the Ten Commandments are principles for living and the commandments of God wrapped up in "love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; your neighbor has yourself". The commandments still apply today, but the ceremonial commandment, we're not saved by keeping the commandments and yet the commandments still exist as guidelines for living, but we are no longer saved by keeping the commandments. We're NOT saved by keeping the commandments or certainly not the ordinances of the commandments.
"That he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (that is, bringing us together. And here it is:), and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit". Now that’s one of the most important passages of scripture in God’s Word! Because it describes this Gospel that we have been given, "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek".
It describes what God has done for us, the religious as well as the irreligious. The Gentiles, of course, were barbarians in the ancient world and still today the barbarians are at the gate. But the fact is, our ancestors for the most part, those of us in this room who are non-Jewish were barbarians and we came out of a Gentile world. And thank God, the Gospel was not for a small segment of a racial history of one people, but the Gospel is for everyone! And, therefore, this message of Jesus Christ... When I say reconciliation says so much, it's the most powerful and pertinent word describing it; what has happened to us in Christ.
In Christ we are restored to a relationship with God! We can now walk as friends of God. Our Father and in fellowship in His love; together one church. In Christ there is only oneness. There is no white Christianity; there is no black Christianity; there is no republican Christianity; there is no democrat Christianity; there is no male or female Christianity; there is no American Christianity or non-American Christianity; no national Christianity or international Christianity. There is only one Christianity and Christianity is Christ, and Christ alone! And in Christ we are made one. (Go ahead if you're going to do it; don't just halfway do it!) And Christ Jesus has broken down every barrier that exists in humankind. He has broken down the barrier that surely exists between holy God and sinful men like you and me, and He has broken down the walls that exists between us, and it's called The Church.
Now we know we're not there yet. We've seen progress. I grew up, as just heard, as a little boy in Arkansas in the segregated South. I remember restrooms that said "white only", and water fountains that said, "white only". I remember growing up in church and never going to church with another person of a different race. We were white; very, very white. And yet, we saw a revolution take place. And thank God for the great African-American leaders and servants of Christ in our country who have led us forward out of the abyss of racial hatred and strife. We're not there yet; we know that. There's much more progress that needs to be made. But I assure you that some of us who grew up, I was a little boy in the fifties, I grew up in the sixties when so much of this revolution took place. I remember Martin Luther King Jr. saying he looked for that day when where a child would be judged or a man would be judged "not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character". The content of a person's character ultimately is found in Christ.
In heaven, of course, there will be no barriers. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite scriptures is Revelation, chapter 7 and verse 9: "And after this, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nations, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches in their hands". When we get to heaven all the tribes and all the nations and all the people who have been clothed in the garments of the righteousness of Christ will be worshipping together and forever, we will be forever together. And we look forward to that day. But until that day we need to learn, and I'm going to mention three truths.
Number one, we are one because we are reconciled to God. Why are we one? Because we are reconciled to God. That's verses 12 and 13. Look at it with me again. "Remember". All right, take a look back. This is you, me. You were "separated from Christ, alienated, strangers to the covenants of promise, not hope without God in the world. But now in Christ you who were once far off have been brought near (that's reconciliation) by the blood of Christ". 2 Corinthians 5:19, it says, "In Christ God was reconciling the world unto Himself". We were strangers, we were separated, we were without God and without hope. We were strangers in the night.
And if you grasp what this means as a Christian, if you understand what you were before you came into relationship with Christ, if you know what it means to follow Christ, the difference that Jesus makes in your life, you would never want to go back to what you were! You would never want to go back there because you were Christless and Godless and hopeless. No worse condition! And that includes a little Baptist boy from Arkansas. My spiritual condition apart from Christ is hopeless. You cannot live without hope. To be without God, to be without hope. Now the Gentile, the Ephesians, before they met Christ had many gods. You can visit the ruins of Ephesus today and you can see the remains of that secular city, that city filled with immorality and idolatry of all kinds. They had many, many gods but they did not have the true God.
Last week we talked about the fact that people are spiritually dead without Christ. Here we're told, we're reminded that before Christ we were spiritual distant from God, disconnected from God. So as noted, Paul is speaking regarding Jews and Gentiles. Pagans and Jewish people who had the advantage of being the sons of Abraham. We today live in a secular culture. While there are Christian foundations to our lives, to our communities; we like the barbarians of yesteryear, live in a secularize, sexualize culture where there is no Christ. If you think about it, ultimately there are only two classes of people in the world: those in Christ and those without Christ, those with Christ and those without Christ. To be without Christ is to be without God, for He is "the way, the truth, the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Jesus". John 14:6. And to be without Christ is to be without God; to be without God is to be without hope. But our hope is found in Christ and Christ alone!
Look at verse 13 again: that we have access now by His blood. I can access God, we have a full access pass in the kingdom of God because of what Christ has done at the cross. I've often illustrated it in this way: On the cross, and you know on the cross there's a vertical and a horizonal beam. But on the cross, Jesus took with one hand, sinful, hopeless, Godless humanity and with the other hand holy and perfect God, righteous, and at the cross, according to the Scripture, grace and truth met, justice and righteousness kissed. God in Christ was reconciling the world unto Himself. Jesus took you and me by one hand; God who is holy in the other, and thank God, by His blood He brought us together at the cross! It was at the cross that we now have peace. And because of the cross that we now have peace with God. And we have this access, we have this approach to God because of the blood of Jesus Christ!
The blood and the message of the blood of Christ is essential, foundational, fundamental to our faith! Jesus did this at the cross. At war with God, but now there’s peace. Estranged from God, but now we are one with Him. The source of all strife and discord and hostility and hate and anger and bitterness and brokenness and fighting and war is sin; it is sin. The problem between people in our country and around the world: it's not skin, it's sin. The only solution for sin is salvation. And the only salvation is in the Savior, what Christ has accomplished by His blood. We are, listen to me, we are now saved from sin by the power of Christ by His blood, and now we are one! We are blood brothers and sisters in Christ! The blood that flows through our veins, regardless of the color of our skin is red! The only color that matters with God is the red blood of the Lord Jesus Christ! And we confess His blood and we celebrate the blood of Jesus Christ which brings us together. We are one in Christ because we are reconciled with God.
Number two, we are one because we are reconciled now with one another. We are one in the church because we're reconciled with God and by His grace and by His blood, we are reconciled with one another. That's verses 16 through 19. Again, just standing with me for a moment. We are at peace, reconciled with God. He's killed the hostility, verse 16. We were far off but now we're brought near. We have this access by one Spirit to the Father. Notice the plural tense of this. We are now brought together. Not just individually, but we are together in Christ. We are now reconciled with one another. This reconciliation with one another takes place because of Christ and His reconciliation with us. Our country needs reconciliation, racial and otherwise. And this is the Church’s responsibility. It’s on you and me. The government can only do so much. People need justice, not mere social justice, but biblical justice. Justice God’s way. People just want a level playing field and the Church of Christ should be the people that are the dispensers of reconciliation and the messengers of reconciliation.
One final thing, and I'm finished. We're reconciled to God; therefore, we are reconciled to one another. And therefore, we are now reconciled to this ministry of the Gospel. What 2 Corinthians 5:18 calls "the ministry of reconciliation". Did you notice when we read this passage when it spoke of Jesus being our peace? It said He is our peace, He brings peace, and He preached peace. The message of Jesus is this message of peace. He is the Prince of Peace. He lives in us. His world is alive with us. And therefore, we are to be people of peace; ministers of reconciliation. In the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:9, our Lord said, "Blessed are the peacemakers". Jesus is the way-maker, He is the peacemaker. And this message of reconciliation is too good to keep to ourselves. We can’t just huddle up on Sunday with people that look like us, think like us, vote like us, do what we do.
Everyone should be welcome in the body of Christ. Everybody is somebody in His body. And we all have equal access to God in Christ. This word access: it’s only used, I think, 3 or 4 times in the New Testament. It really means access to a monarch or to a king, King Jesus. We are welcome into the presence of the King by the Holy Spirit. We are invited into the very presence of God. And because of Jesus, now we dare to draw near. And you can walk right into His presence and be at home in Him. You are no longer excluded; you are no longer estranged; you are welcomed, you are wanted because of what Christ has done. And ladies and gentlemen, we have this mission to take this message of the Gospel to our world and live it out! Not just say it, but to live it! And may God help us to include everyone and anyone, and to make every effort we can not to build walls, but to build bridges for Jesus' sake.