Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Peace with God, Access to God – Ephesians 2:16-18




In these verses, we are promised something more wonderful than we could ever really imagine in our wildest dreams.  It is summed up in the two words peace in verse 17 and access in verse 18.  The peace that is promised is peace with God and the access that is promised is access to the Father.  And this is not something that is merely potential; it was truly and fully purchased upon the cross for all God’s chosen people, for all who embrace Christ by faith with renewed hearts.  It is not merely that we might have this peace someday or that we might have this access in the future, perhaps in heaven.  No, the reality is that if we belong to Christ, then we have peace with God right now and we have ongoing access to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. 

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, too often these realities don’t land on us the way that they ought.  I wonder why?  Could it be that the promise of peace with God and access to him seems far away and unlikely because of the difficulties we are going through at the moment?  Perhaps we question God’s love for us when we seem to be at the end of our tether and there doesn’t seem to be any hope of deliverance from our predicament.  When we look around us and see the wind and the waves raging, or when we look ahead and see the storm that is coming, God’s love for us doesn’t seem very real and therefore the promise of peace doesn’t seem very believable.

Or perhaps peace with God just doesn’t seem to be very practical.  No, it’s not so much peace with God that we want as peace in our current circumstances.  We want peace from the hectic pace of life, from people who we feel are trying to pull the rug out from under us, from physical pain and weakness that dogs every moment of every day, from our own inadequacies that hamper every attempt to move forward with our lives.  Worry and anxiety haunt us at every turn.  Yes, we want peace, but we don’t think it is peace with God that we need.  We want peace with life!

Perhaps we don’t think it’s peace with God that we need because when we look at the saints in the Bible and the saints in history, a strong relationship with God doesn’t seem to correspond to peace in this life.  David was doing just fine until he killed Goliath.  He then had to spend the next decade or so of his life dodging King Saul’s jealous rage.  The apostle Paul was really doing great until he became a Christian.  His life wasn’t so great after that – beatings, stoning, ship-wreck, and so on.  Of course, the greatest example is our Lord himself.  His single purpose in coming into this world was to die an awful death upon a Roman instrument of torture.  And who had a greater relationship with the Father than the Son?

It’s not that we don’t want peace that these truths don’t land on us the way they ought.  The fact of the matter is that we are all peace-seekers.  Everyone wants peace.  I don’t think there is a human being who has ever lived or will ever live who has not spent or will not spend their entire lives seeking peace.  On some level, everything we do is an attempt to get peace.  Some people go for it by immersing themselves in work.  Some people go for it by immersing themselves in entertainment.  Some people seek it by pursuing wealth and comfort.  Some people pursue it in thrilling exploits and a dare-devil lifestyle.  Some people seek it by living in denial of reality.

This morning, I want us to see that the greatest thing we need and the greatest thing we actually want is promised us in Christ: peace with God.  It is not gained by denying reality.  It is not gained by pursuing the things of this world.  Nor is it gained by denying oneself of every aspect of this world.  Rather, it is gained by finding a relationship with God the Father through the sacrificial ministry of God the Son and the inner ministry of God the Holy Spirit.

If then we want to see that peace with God is our greatest need and most precious treasure, then the first thing we must do is to do exactly what the apostle exhorted the Ephesians to do: to remember (11).  What were they to remember?  They were to remember “that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (12).  This is where everyone is who is yet outside of Christ, who is not connected to the saving benefits of his atoning death through faith. 

In other words, it doesn’t matter how good you have it right now, if you are without Christ.  For to be without Christ is to be without any real hope.  Honest atheists have recognized this.  I think it was Bertram Russell who said that we have to live life in the face of despair.  He understood that apart from God and the promise of life after death, there is nothing really to hope in.  We are left with despair, and so you live life in the face of despair.  All the riches in the world don’t give hope.  All the comforts in the world don’t give hope.  And therefore they don’t give peace.  How can you have peace, even if you define it merely as inner tranquility, if you are living life in the face of despair?  That is the very opposite of peace.  No wonder that we read in the prophesy of Isaiah (and which Paul was obviously thinking of when he wrote Ephesians 2:11-22): “I [God] create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him.  But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.  There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 59:19-21).

Hopelessness and therefore absence of true and lasting peace cannot be escaped with money or possessions or earthly comforts or worldly security.  Everyone who is outside of Christ is also hopeless and without peace, no matter how rich or affluent or well-liked or famous they are in this world.  Thus, when we begin to think to ourselves that we will have peace and inner tranquility if we could just get that better job or if we could just be liked by such and such a person, then we have bought into the lie that the things of this world can give us peace.  More to the point, if we think that the gospel is not practical because it does not address our current worries, then it is because we have believed the falsehood that this world can buy us peace.

The thing is, we know this on some level.  We see evidence of it all around us.  Why is it that every time you turn around, you hear a story about one of the famous and wealthy who are just destroying their lives through really bad choices: drugs, alcohol, or some other type of recklessness?    If the things of this world really could bring you peace, then the rich and famous should be some of the most contented people in the world.  And yet we know that is not the case; in fact, in many cases, they are some of the most miserable people in the world.  And yet such is our madness that we believe that if we just had what they have, we would find the peace that has eluded us.

In fact, the gospel is practical.  Having a relationship with God is the only really practical way to live.  To live any other way is to really be living in denial.  To live as if this life were all there was to it, that is denial.  To you remember the parable that our Lord told of the rich fool?  It was in response to man who was upset with his brother who had wronged him financially by not sharing his father’s inheritance with him.  To this our Lord responded: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Lk. 12:15).  If we believe that, then we will go after peace in the things of this world.  To enforce the danger of such thinking, our Lord went on with this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room were to bestow my fruits?  And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:16-21).  How practical is it to spend all your life laying up wealth to the neglect of your soul?  It’s not practical, it’s stupid.  This parable reminds me of the story of the man who jumped off of a tall building.  Half-way down, someone asked him, “How’s it going?”  To which he responded, “So far so good.”  Everyone who is not rich toward God is like that man that jumped off that building.  They are flying through this life downward and downward toward the judgment seat of God.  “So far so good,” is what they tell us.  But as they say, it’s not the fall that kills a man, it’s the sudden stop.

Every one of us will come to that sudden stop.  It’s called death.  And the Bible teaches that on the other side of that sudden stop is the judgment seat of God: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).  Therefore, the most practical thing you can do, no matter how bad your present circumstances are, no matter how un-peaceful your life is in this world, is to make sure that you have a relationship with the living God.  The fact of the matter is that the things of this world only last a little while, in comparison with eternity.  To spend all your effort toward securing a little peace in this world, to the neglect of the next is nothing short of insanity.

But that brings us to the other problem.  Perhaps we can see that having a relationship with God is practical.  But the other problem is, how can I be sure that he loves me when all around me is turmoil and trouble?  This thinking is rooted in the wrong belief that the evidence for God’s love of us is to be found in worldly success and earthly prosperity.  But this is simply not the case.  There are a multitude of reasons why God lets us go through stressful times.  One reason is that God is rooting out the evil that is inside of us.  We need affliction in our lives; it purifies us.  As the psalmist wrote, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71).  Sanctification just doesn’t happen apart from the furnace of trial: “ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than [that] of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Another reason we need to be tried is that we can never really go deep in our experience of the love and power of God apart from the trials we experience in our lives.  Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians begins and ends with this truth.  In chapter 1, he writes: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” (2 Cor. 1:3-6).  By the way, this text also gives another reason for suffering in our lives: we can never really empathize with others in suffering and minster to them until we have suffered a little ourselves.  But the other big truth here is that God is the one who comforts us in all our tribulation; not just some but all.  We experience God in it. 

And then close to the end of the epistle, Paul reminds us of his own experience: “And he [the Lord] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).  Paul was so convinced of this truth, that he not only did not complain and doubt God’s love in his suffering, but gloried in his infirmities.  And we need to remember that these are not the words of some philosopher in some ivory tower, but a real man who suffered a lot in this life and who nevertheless could testify to God’s power and love and grace and mercy even in the midst of weakness and suffering.

But there is another reason.  Again, in 2 Corinthians, Paul writes this: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  I don’t understand all the implications of these verses.  But one thing at least seems clear: Paul is saying that our afflictions that we experience in this world and in this time are producing for us a richer experience of God in the world to come.  The trials of this life are not just bumps along the road to heaven; they are integral to preparing us to experience more of God in eternity.

And so we should not think that our troubles are signs of God’s thoughtlessness or carelessness.  No, they bear every sign of our Father’s care for us.  He does not abandon us in trouble.  He comforts us in all of them.  When we go through the fire and flood, God is with us.  He is our refuge and strength in time of trouble.  He sanctifies us through trials and makes us more like his Son and therefore more blessed.  And in our trials he is preparing us for unspeakable glory. 

So we have no reason for doubting that peace with God is really offered to us through his Son.  And of course this is the greatest reason to believe that what God offers us is true.  The death of Christ upon the cross not only purchased reconciliation with God, it also proved once and forever that God is infinitely serious when he comes to us and gives us a message of peace.

But what is the peace that God offers us?  It is clearly not a stress-free life in this world.  That is, it is not the promise of a life of ease and comfort this side of heaven.  In fact, the apostles told believers that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  It is something much more than that.  As we have already observed, that doesn’t give you peace anyway.  But what is offered to us in the message of the gospel?  When the apostle says that he “came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (17), what is being preached?

To answer this question, we must go back to verse 16: “And that he [Christ] might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”  Now as we have already noted in an earlier message, the apostle is arguing that in Christ peace has been achieved between Jew and Gentile (verses 13-15) and between both Jew and Gentile and God (verses 16-18).  There is a horizontal dimension to this peace and there is a vertical dimension to this peace.  But the most fundamental aspect to the peace that Christ purchased on the cross is peace with God.  That is what Paul is talking about in verse 16.  In fact, the peace between Jew and Gentile is predicated upon their common reconciliation with God.

Now note how Paul describes it: “having slain the enmity thereby.”  That word “enmity” means “hostility” or “hatred.”  Some think this is still a reference to the hostility that existed between Jew and Gentile.  But I don’t think so; Paul has already dealt with that in the previous verses.  No, this is hostility between man and God in verse 16.  On the cross, Jesus Christ dealt with the most fundamental problem between God and man: the just wrath of God against us on account of our God-denying, God-ignoring, and God-despising choices in which we chose our own sovereignty over God’s rightful sovereignty over us.  We are traitors against the God of heaven.  Sin is not just the problem with the human race; sin is man’s fist raised against a holy and just and good God. 

The hostility begins with us; we are hostile toward God.  Paul writes in Romans, “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (8:7).  We must not think that because we are not outright atheists that we are exempt from this description.  Every sinful act and affection and thought is a usurpation of God’s rightful claim upon your life; it is an act of treason.  We are not merely victims of circumstance.  By nature we do not love God, we hate him.

So there is no reason to expect that God must do anything good for us.  And yet, God has done the greatest thing for us.  He did not wait for us to mend our ways.  He does not wait until we are better.  For the fact of the matter is that we can never do enough to undo all the ugliness that we have introduced into God’s good world through our sin.  We can never wash away the stains.  So God did it for us.  He killed the hostility by nailing it to the cross.  Paul put it like this to the Romans, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. . . God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6, 8). 

Let us remind ourselves what Christ our Lord did upon the cross.  The guilt of our sins, which should in justice have brought God’s wrath down upon our own heads, Christ took upon himself.  He bore God’s wrath upon the cross.  Not God’s wrath against the sins of Christ, for he had none; but God’s wrath against the sins of his people.  This is what Paul means when he says that Christ reconciled us to God by the cross.  And having borne God’s wrath and satisfied his justice against our sins, he has killed God’s hostility against us. 

Do you understand what this means?  It means that all for whom Christ died are no longer the enemies of God.  God is no longer against them; he is for them in every sense of the word.  He is their Father, he is their friend, and he is their refuge and protector.  He loves them and gives them eternal life.  He gives them peace.  This is the peace that is preached in the gospel.  This is what is offered to those far and near.  Our Lord told his disciples on the eve of his death: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).  Thank God that he does not give us the peace of the world!  He has given us something infinitely better.

The result is that we have access to God: “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (18).  This means that we have a way of approach unto God as our Father, and this way is never barred, is never shut up.  The door is always open.  The access is continual.  The OT worshipper approached God as it were from a distance; we approach him directly by Christ in the Spirit. 

What should we do, then?  We should do exactly what the author of Hebrews exhorts us to: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22). 

This access is only for those who are in Christ.  Are you in Christ?  Have you entrusted your soul to him?  You may feel that you are not worthy; of course you are not, but he has been worthy for us.  All who believe in him are washed in his blood and clothed with his righteousness and are granted access to God.

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