Ephesians Pt 5 Racism, Circumcision and Reconciliation

Ephesians 2:11-16(HCSB)11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.

There is a clear movement from the bloodlines of ethnic separation to the unifying bloodline of Christ in Ephesians 2:11–16. We have to be sure to see the biblical foundation for this way of thinking, and for this Christ-exalting vision of oneness and harmony among alienated and hostile ethnic groups.

In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are insults to the work of Christ on the cross.

What Paul is addressing in these verses is the centuries-long divide between ethnic Jews and all the other ethnic groups of the Near East called Gentiles. God himself had chosen Israel from all the peoples of the world.
Genesis 12:1–3(HCSB)The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great,and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. }He had focused almost all of his special, saving, self-revealing work on this Jewish people for two thousand years (from Abraham to Christ). He allowed the nations to walk in their own ways. Acts 14:16(HCSB) In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way. And yet he had told Abraham, the Father of the Jews, that through him and his offspring, “all the nations of the earth would be blessed”.
Genesis 12:3(HCSB)I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you

There is a dividing line between the era of bloody separation and the era of blood-bought reconciliation and that line is the cross of Christ, and in this text that line is drawn between verses 12 and 13. Ephesians 2:12-13(HCSB)12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.

God aims to create one new people in Christ who are reconciled to each other across racial lines. Not strangers. Not aliens. No enmity. Not far off. Fellow citizens of one Christian “city of God.” One temple for a habitation of God. And he did this at the cost of his Son’s life. We love to dwell on our reconciliation with God through the death of his Son. And well we should. It is precious beyond measure—to have peace with God Romans 5:9-10(HCSB)9 Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

Hear this! God ordained the death of his Son to reconcile foreign people groups to each other in one body in Christ. This too was the design of the death of Christ. Think on this: Christ died to take enmity and anger and disgust and jealousy and self-pity and fear and envy and hatred and malice and indifference away from your heart toward all other persons who are in Christ by faith—whatever the race whatever the culture!

These designations,these racial divides as Paul points out, are fleshly and say nothing about the heart condition of those who partake in them. In other words, the Jews were causing division within the church over whether or not men ought to be circumcised in the flesh. In Acts 16:3(HCSB)3 Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek, Paul had Timothy, circumcised. Timothy was half-Jewish, and Paul circumcised him so that he would not be a hindrance as they sought to reach out to unsaved Jews. Although the Bible did not require Timothy to be circumcised, it was something he did willing for the sake of reaching the Jews. However, as Paul states without a doubt in Galatians, circumcision does not aid either salvation or sanctification in Christ. Of course, the incident with Timothy does not directly apply today because Christians need not be circumcised in order to reach unbelievers, whether Jews or Gentiles. Philippians 3:(HCSB)2 Watch out for “dogs,” watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh— 4 although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless. 7 But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.

Paul being the good Jew that he was, gave his credentials in verses 4-6, and before that explains that it is confidence in the flesh. After his credentials he says they are worthless like dung compared to knowing Christ.
Paul take sit further in Galatians when he speaks of those who are disturbing the pure gospel saying circumcision is the way to holiness by cutting it all off and be super holy!
Galatians 5:1-12(HCSB)Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all. 3 Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from the One who called you. 9 A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. 11 Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!

The principle of circumcision is a matter of the heart not the flesh. In severe contrast to the racial bigotry of the Jews of Paul’s day, the circumcision that God is concerned with is the circumcision of the heart.
Deuteronomy 10:16(HCSB)16 Therefore, circumcise your hearts and don’t be stiff-necked any longer.;
Deuteronomy 30:6(HCSB)6 The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.
Jeremiah 4:4(HCSB)Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like fire and burn with no one to extinguish it because of your evil deeds.

In fact, the sign of circumcision was really nothing more than that: a sign.
Romans 4:11(HCSB)11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while still uncircumcised. This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also. When a Jewish person was circumcised in the flesh, it was an outward sign of what their parents hoped would become an inward reality. Though the sign was performed outwardly, the reality was manifested inwardly. This is why Paul is able to say, in Romans 2:28-29 (HCSB)28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That man’s praise is not from men but from God. Hence, no one can claim a more favorable status in the eyes of God due to any sign made in the flesh, but rather the reality that is manifested in the heart.

Furthermore, those who would hope, by their circumcised flesh, to call themselves by the title “circumcision” are without warrant unless they are truly circumcised of the heart. There is nothing efficacious about the outward symbol in and of itself. The animosity that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles was so profound that the gospel was often hindered from reaching the Gentiles abroad. Paul’s message is primarily about the gospel and how Christ broke through those barriers to reach the Gentiles.

Paul is discussing the role of the Old Testament Law as it relates to Christianity. He argues that Jewish circumcision is only an outward sign of being set apart to God. However, if the heart is sinful, then physical circumcision is of no avail. A circumcised body and a sinful heart are at odds with each other. Rather than focus on external rites, Paul focuses on the condition of the heart. Using circumcision as a metaphor, he says that only the Holy Spirit can purify a heart and set us apart to God. Ultimately, circumcision cannot make a person right with God; the Law is not enough. A person’s heart must change. Paul calls this change “circumcision of the heart.”

This concept was not original with the apostle Paul. As a Jew trained in the Law of Moses, he was certainly aware of this discussion from Deuteronomy 30. There, the Lord used the same metaphor to communicate His desire for a holy people: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Physical circumcision was a sign of Israel’s covenant with God; circumcision of the heart, therefore, would indicate Israel’s being set apart to love God fully, inside and out.

John the Baptist warned the Pharisees against taking pride in their physical heritage and boasting in their circumcision: Matthew 3:9(HCSB)9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!  How exactly do you suppose they boasted in it? How did they check?

True “children of Abraham” are those who follow Abraham’s example of believing God (Genesis 15:6). Physical circumcision does not make one a child of God; faith does. Believers in Jesus Christ can truly say they are children of “Father Abraham.” “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

God has always wanted more from His people than just external conformity to a set of rules. He has always wanted them to possess a heart to love, know and follow Him. That’s why God is not concerned with a circumcision of the flesh. Even in the Old Testament, God’s priority was a spiritual circumcision of the heart: Jeremiah 4:4(HCSB)Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like fireand burn with no one to extinguish it because of your evil deeds..

Both Old and New Testaments focus on the need for repentance and inward change in order to be right with God. In Jesus, the Law has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17). Through Him, a person can be made right with God and receive eternal life (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). As Paul said, true circumcision is a matter of the heart, performed by the Spirit of God. God has reconciled us to Himself regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, heritage, location, or nationality. He chose us and none for that matters, therefore none of that should matter to us IF we are in Christ.

Ephesians 2:14-16(HCSB)14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.

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Why were the Pharisees against Jesus?

Religion will always try to kill the Prophetic, Religion will always add to the saving grace of the Jesus and add a work to it.

God works in history. He works in the context of people and personalities and politics to teach us, correct us, and act on our behalf. In the time of Christ, the social upperclass included super-legalistic Pharisees, power-hungry Sadducees, favor-seeking Herodians, Jewish priests, and Roman rulers maintaining a precarious order. In all of their history together, these groups may have agreed on only one thing: Jesus had to die. The Pharisees valued religion. They studied, memorized, and debated the Law of Moses, and when that wasn’t enough, they added more laws. Their middle-class position situated them close to the people, but their legalism put them in conflict with Jesus. They heard Jesus clearly saying (in a culturally understood way) that He was God and the Son of God. They might have dismissed Jesus as a madman except those who had been burdened by their teachings were now finding freedom in Jesus Matthew 11:28(HCSB)28 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. In addition, Jesus taught that the Pharisees were hypocrites and false teachers (Matthew 23:11). Jesus was a threat to the Pharisees’ beliefs, social position, and power—but they were unable to kill Him outright. Although the Jews could execute someone for religious reasons (see Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7), if the Pharisees had personally killed Jesus, they would have faced an angry populace and lost even more influence (Luke 20:19). Unable to get rid of Jesus themselves, the Pharisees had to find political justification for an execution. Then Rome could do the dirty work. The middle men between the Jews and the Romans were the Sadducees. Sadducees were upper class. They held the majority of the positions in the Sanhedrin and the most political power. They were also Hellenists, which means they welcomed the influence of Greek culture and philosophy. But because the Pharisees were so influential among the people, the Sadducees often had to bow to the will of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin. It was simple for the Pharisees to convince the Sadducees that, if Jesus were allowed to live, He would inspire a revolt and bring the wrath of Rome on all of Israel. As much as the Sadducees longed for the day when they could rule without foreign interference, they knew that any revolt had to be absolutely successful or Israel would be destroyed (as it was in A.D. 70). Meanwhile, the Roman rulers in Palestine were charged with keeping the peace. If violence erupted (which it did occasionally), Caesar would come down hard on both the Jews and the appointed Roman leaders.  The Pharisees lit the fire. They pounced on the fact that the people of Jerusalem called Jesus a king during the triumphal entry (Luke 19:28). The Pharisees, with the Sadducees on their side, began to accuse Jesus of plotting to overthrow Rome, as if He were a rabble-rouser of the first degree. Ironically, this is probably the exact opposite reason that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus (Mark 14:10). It’s likely that Judas was hoping for the overthrow of Rome, and when he realized that Jesus was not interested in a political coup, he became treacherously disillusioned. The Jewish leaders took their trumped-up charge against Jesus to the Roman ruler Pilate. Pilate knew the allegations were bogus, but he couldn’t control the crowd—a crowd that was incited to clamor for Jesus’ death (Mark 15:11). Fear became a strong motivation for Pilate. If the people rioted, Rome would declare him an ineffective leader and he’d be ruined politically.The New Testament records that the religious leaders hated Jesus to the point that they arrested Him, tried Him, and brought Him to Pilate for a sentence of death. What made them so angry at Jesus that they wanted to see Him dead? There Are Many Reasons They Wanted Jesus Dead There were a number of things about Jesus that infuriated the religious leaders. These included. 1 The claims that He made. 2 The deeds that He did. 3 His threat to their religious system. 4 His threat to their way of life. 5 The people with whom He socialized. 6 The lack of respect He had for their religious traditions. These six things caused outraged among the religious rulers. Consequently they wanted to see Jesus dead. We will consider each of these reasons. 1. Jesus’ Claims Outweighed Their Authority When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah it meant His authority outweighed their authority. The religious leaders did not believe His claims and were angry that some of the people did. They said, John 7:48-49(HCSB)48 Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him? 49 But this crowd, which doesn’t know the law, is accursed!” The religious leaders assumed that the belief of some of the crowd was due to ignorance. But the attention Jesus was getting brought out the leaders’ hatred and jealousy. The jealousy of the religious leaders caused them to want Jesus dead. 2. His Deeds Outraged The Religious Rulers The deeds of Jesus also angered the religious leaders. After seeing Jesus heal a demon-possessed man some of the multitude questioned if Jesus could be the Messiah: Matthew 12:23-24(HCSB)23 And all the crowds were astounded and said, “Perhaps this is the Son of David!” 24 When the Pharisees heard this, they said, “The man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” The miracle was undeniable, for the man was blind and mute as well as demon-possessed. Rather than believe Jesus to be the Messiah, these religious rulers attributed Jesus’ power to the devil. Thus their “official” explanation was that Jesus’ power came from Satan. This was another cause for which they wanted Him dead. 3. Jesus Was A Threat To Their Religious System Jesus was also a threat to their religious system. He pointed out the hypocrisy that was connected with their practice. The Bible records that on two different occasions He came into the temple precincts and drove out the moneychangers. John 2:13-17(HCSB)13 The Jewish Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and He also found the money changers sitting there. 15 After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. 16 He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!” 17 And His disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for Your house will consume Me. 4. Jesus Was A Threat To Their Way Of Life There were political reasons that the religious leaders wanted Jesus dead. There was an unstable situation between the Jews and the Romans. The thought of a Messiah who may lead an uprising against Rome 5. The People With Whom He Socialized Outraged The Religious Rulers The religious leaders were filled with pride and arrogance. They were particularly proud that they did not socialize with “sinners.” They did not believe that the Messiah would socialize with such a crowd. When one Pharisee saw Jesus allow a woman to wash His feet, he said, Luke 7:39(HCSB)39 When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” Jesus noted their opinion of Him. Matthew 11:19(HCSB)19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” The religious rulers believed themselves to be righteous by avoiding sinners. When Jesus kept company with these individuals, it infuriated the proud Pharisees and other religious rulers. 6. Jesus Had A Lack Of Respect For Their Traditions As much as anything, the lack of respect that Jesus had for their religious traditions incensed the religious leaders. Jesus ignored these traditions, which they observed so minutely. He knew they were human-made rules that had not come from God. And it was Jesus’ disregard for their traditions concerning the Sabbath that caused the most outrage. God had commanded the Sabbath to be a day of rest from labors and a time to worship Him. The religious leaders added all types of restrictions to the Sabbath making it difficult, if not impossible to observe. Jesus was grieved and angry at the way they had perverted the Sabbath observance. He asked the religious leaders, Mark 3:4-5(HCSB)4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 After looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Jesus then healed a man in their presence. This healing on the Sabbath was more than they could endure. They concluded that the genuine Messiah would not dare do such a thing. Their response was immediate: Mark 3:6(HCSB)6 Immediately the Pharisees went out and started plotting with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. They were convinced that Jesus had to die. They Had No Godly Or Righteous Motive It was not for anything godly or righteous that the religious leaders wanted to put Jesus to death. It was their hypocrisy, pride and arrogance that caused them to bring Jesus before Pilate to be crucified. They did not want to hear the truth of God. Summary The religious leaders wanted Jesus dead for a number of reasons-none of the reasons were righteous. First, the claims that he made demonstrated that his authority was greater than theirs. The religious leaders could not accept this. The miraculous deeds that he, which demonstrated his superior authority, was also a reason they wanted him dead. Jesus was also a threat to their religious system. He went the temple and condemned the practices. They also considered him a threat to their way of life. They were worried how the Romans would respond. The people with whom Jesus socialized offended the pride of the religious leaders. Above all, it was the lack of respect for their religious traditions that caused them to desire to kill him. This is particularly true of Jesus’ attitude toward the Sabbath. All of these things contributed to their evil desire to want Jesus dead. So, the Pharisees wanted Jesus dead because He pointed out their sin and undermined their influence. Judas wanted Jesus dead because He was not the political champion Judas had hoped. The Sadducees wanted Jesus dead to ensure the stability of their political position. Pilate didn’t want Jesus dead, but he feared a riot. God used all of this to get His Son to the cross to die for our sins. Ultimately, it wasn’t Jews or Romans or Pilate or Judas who put Jesus on the cross; it was greed, fear, jealousy and selfishness. Jesus died because of sin and through His death justified us and saved us from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).