It seems that throughout the history of mankind, people have developed words to distinguish groups of people. The Greeks referred to all those who were not Greek as barbarians. In Rome you were either a citizen or a non-citizen. The Jews called all those who were not Jews by the term “Gentiles.” It would seem the purpose of creating such distinctions was to elevate your own group and put down those who you considered less than your group. Even today we can find this type of terminology in places.
But this was not to be so among Christians. Notice what Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:17-20 NET).
One of the terms of distinction the Jews used was “far off” and “near” – they regarded themselves as those near to God and everyone else (the Gentiles) as those who were far away. Those who were far off had no promised Messiah, they were not the children of Israel, they did not have the covenant of promise, they had no hope, and they were without God (Ephesians 2:12-13). But this is now in the past. Because of Jesus’ blood those who were “far off” are now part of the “near”.
How did this happen? When Jesus died he nullified the old law so he could create one group of people (i.e., everyone) rather than have two groups in which only one was accepted. Through the cross, Jesus reconciled all people in one body to God (Ephesians 2:14-16). Anyone can now be part of God’s people! Everyone is now “near”. All have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:17-18).
So, Gentiles are no longer foreigners but fellow citizens and members of God’s household. All people can be part of God’s family – the picture is of a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation, Jesus as the cornerstone, and all Christians, no matter their background, become the building, joined together to be a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
This is what was proclaimed from the Day of Pentecost, although it took a while for it to be understood. When asked what they should do since they had killed the promised Messiah, Peter replied: “Repent, and each one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:38-39). Notice what he said: the promise of forgiveness of sins through baptism in the name of Jesus was for “you and your children” (the Jews) and also for “all who are far away” (the Gentiles). The gospel is for all.
There can be no more “us” and “them.” We are all one in Jesus.
Readings for next week:
20 April – Ephesians 5
21 April – Ephesians 6
22 April – James 1
23 April – James 2
24 April – James 3