As of 31 October 2016, according to our Deputy Prime Minister, there are 290,437 stateless children currently residing in Malaysia. They are born in Malaysia but failed to get their citizenships, mostly because they were abandoned by their parents or born to a family with messy marriage arrangements. What does it mean to be stateless for these children? They better win the fight for their citizenship before they turn 21, else they will be in a state of limbo, with nowhere to belong to. They cannot get married legally, have no access to public education, employment and protection of their rights. They cannot even be deported because there is nowhere for them to be deported to. As the Malay Mail writer Ida Lim described, they are forever an alien.
As I preach from Ephesians 2:11-22, I titled today’s message “You were hopeless” because I realised that we were no different from these children before we know Jesus. But at the same time, such hopelessness is not that one thing that I want us to dwell on today. Instead, I would like all of us to ponder upon our attitudes as Christians in the light of our former self. This message was not meant to discourage you or to lead you to hopelessness, but to push us into a hopeful fresh reset in our spiritual life. Let’s begin with a word of prayer.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
In one sentence, Paul gave 5 precise description of our former self: 1) separated from Christ. 2) alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. 3) strangers to the covenant of promise. 4) having no hope. 5) without God in the world. This was how dire our situations were.
Paul calls us to REMEMBER because it was those feelings of separation, alienation, ignorance, hopelessness and godlessness that eventually pointed us to our need for Christ. Much like the stateless children, we had no access to the Savior and all the privileges that are found in Him. we were cut off, abandoned and without hope for a future. Remember also, it was Christ that brought us near to Him and opened the door through which we may be accepted and gain access to God and His inheritance that was once only meant for the Jews. And He did so with a dear price: by His own blood.
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
Much the remembering involves remembering who the Israelites were before God rescued them: they were hopeless slaves, oppressed by their Egyptian rulers, persecuted with brutality and had no God of their own. And 400 years of darkness and hopelessness, God saw their suffering and remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He rescued them out of Egypt with wonders and miracles. And even so, they were rebellious and stubborn, quickly forgetting their Savior God and turned to idols. So each call to repent has also been a call to remember who they were and how the Lord has rescued them.
So brothers and sisters, do you remember who you were before Christ found you? I keep a habit of journaling down my journey of faith, since the beginning of my faith. Back then it was a cool thing to keep a blog, now I often see the value of writing these special moments where God speaks to me or lead me through a season. It’s getting harder to write especially after I started work, but I insist to have at least one post per month. I put them on a blog because I love to share my stories, but it doesn’t have to be a blog. I encourage you to find ways that can help you to remember your story and the story of God’s rescue in your life. Remembering those stories will help us to remember the Lord God that has brought us thus far and remember that He will continue to do so.
Building Bridges, Breaking Walls
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 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.
In v14, the dividing wall of hostility is not just a metaphor to the separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Wall of Hostility is an actual, physical wall. The Wall of Hostility is a gated fence or wall built around the Jewish Temple that prevents Gentiles and ceremonially unclean Jews from entering the inner court. Archeologists discovered an inscription that writes “Whoever is captured past this point will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.” Those are rather hostile words against the Gentiles. But it describes the kind of tension and differences that exists between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Wall of Hostility separates the Jews from the Gentiles, the clean from the unclean. Because of this division, the Gentiles has no access to God even if their hearts fear Him and desires Him. There’s no way that we can come to Him.
But it’s ironic isn’t it? At this moment, God calls me to remember who I was. I was a stranger and alien to salvation, separated from Christ and had no hope. How was I any different from the rest? So then if I know myself the pain of an alien separated from Christ, how can I then prevent others from coming to Him?
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has done away with all the things that prevented ANYONE to come to God. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, a man or a woman, Malay, Chinese, Indian or our brethren of tribes, there is nothing left to stop from coming to Him. He has made all of us equal and one. All the rituals and requirements that prevented us from entering into God’s presence have been fulfilled eternally by Christ our Savior. He is making a new, unified body out of all of us where hostility is no more. He has brought peace among the chaos and we now all have equal access to the One Spirit to the Father.
Doors that are opened by Christ, who are we to close them? Therefore brothers and sisters, let us reflect upon ourselves and our behavior. Have we in any occasions have prevented others from coming to Christ? Have we made it hard for our brothers and sisters with our unforgiveness? Have we decided that a certain ethnic or race among our friends can have no access to the Gospel?
Remember that we used to be like them: strangers and without hope. So let us be the one that point them to the hope that we now have access to. And remember, they too are welcomed into God’s presence because of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Becoming God’s People
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.
V19 describes the reversal of v12. Through the blood of Christ, we have been transformed from being a foreigner and stranger into family members. God has opened his arm wide to welcome us into his household. He calls us fellow citizens of His kingdom, along with the children that He already have in the beginning. This is our new identity: His people.
And with that, God has undertaken a new construction project. One which the foundation is not laid down by human hands, but by the work and sacrifice of Christ Jesus, the prophets and the apostles. This is a project of tremendous scale and it’s international. He is building a new temple that does away the old one. This new temple transcends the boundary of race, nationality, gender and status, it is now global with no physical temple to limit us.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
As Jesus himself prophesied in John 4:21-24, that we will no longer worship God on the mountain or in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth. We will worship God wherever we are, in an international, global temple. More importantly, building this temple takes everyone of us to contribute into this universal family.
Experiencing the transformation of my former self as hopeless stranger into a blessed family member of God’s household is invigorating. I was without a purpose, but now I have a role in His kingdom. As small pieces of “living stone” in His temple, we are all given a role to play in this family. In Christ, the Holy Spirit builds us into the dwelling place of God. He does so by giving us powers and gifts of the Holy Spirit to serve one another. He also molds us and chisels us to fit perfectly well according to His will.
So brothers and sisters, what role do you have in this family of God? As the cell group completes the series on EQUIP, I hope you have discovered your role and place in this church. Remember that we all have access to that same Spirit, so therefore ask the Holy Spirit for the gifts to serve. If you would like to serve, hesitate no more. God will help you and enable you to serve. Let’s play our part to build this temple of God. Remember our former self, and today you have hope and a purpose in God’s kingdom. Let us rise up and help one another, serve one another and love one another. And together, let’s build our church!
As I said in the beginning of this message, it is never my intention to preach hopelessness. I simply cannot, because the story of God is never a story of hopelessness. It’s a story of rescue, of peacemaking and of a new beginning. Instead, I pray that this message helps us to remember that we who were once hopeless is now living in eternal hope. I pray that this hope that was given to us freely by Christ will empower us to living a victorious life dedicated to build His kingdom.
So remember, my brothers and sisters, that we are not without hope, we are not without God. We have a purpose in all that we do. So as we depart from here, as we go back to our workplace, let us point our colleagues and friends to that open door where the dividing wall of hostility is no longer there to stop them from coming to God. As we go back to our family, let us focus on building a godly family that will be a strong building block of the holy temple of God. As we serve in our church, let us be ever forgiving and loving, that we may be constantly united in Christ Jesus, our Cornerstone.
Love • Christ • Unity