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.

Ephesians 2: 14-16

Jesus did all of this a very long time ago. Yet, we are still not living in the reality of what is described here. For there is certainly more than just a little hostility out there in the world, and I cannot see an end to it soon. We just find new reasons to dislike others, to fear them and to seek to keep ourselves separate and apart from many of the people in our world. We can even contemplate and fabricate compelling arguments for the need for these barriers and the laws or rules that are enacted in order to enforce them. In this environment, it is easy to justify the expenditure of extraordinary sums of money on this process of separation, and we name all of it as necessary, acts carried out for the sake of national pride, and in the name of religious purity.

So, you might come back at me with a statement about the fact that Paul, in this letter, was not talking about the same things that I am in the words above, and I will agree with you, to a point. However, I think that Paul’s deeper concept here is one of re-creation or of restoration of that which God designed and devised to be the state of being in our world. When humanity was formed up and established on this earth by the hand of God and with His breath breathed into our lungs, we were not intended to be separated by race, nationality, social or economic status, or by the way that we worship God. These divisions and separations have all come about in the aftermath of our sinful rebellion against our Creator. So, Paul may have been talking specifically about the very broad divisions of Jews and Gentiles, but when that discussion is extended out to its fullest reach, I contend that it is about every form of separation and division that might exist in our world.

Jesus came to break down all of those walls. He entered into His destiny in order to give us the way and the means by which God’s heart for restoration of His creation could begin to be carried out in our world. Now it is our responsibility and duty to follow Christ into that same work of restoration. Where there are divisions, we need to seek reconciliation. As there are barriers to fellowship, Christ’s people must reach out to share a table of grace, understanding, and peace. When people proclaim nationality or other forms of human-devised superiority, Christians and Christ’s church need to raise up a chorus of praise to our only true and sovereign King Jesus as we also stand up and risk defiance of power that is established in this world so that the valid power of the cross is what the world sees standing tall above our heads. There is one road that leads to peace in our world, one path to reconciliation of humanity to God, and a singular way into an eternal relationship with God, and this is the one that takes us to the cross and that leads into the arms of Jesus the Christ.    

And if you call upon him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

1 Peter 1: 17, 18

 

God operates like a father when it comes to us, His children in faith. His approach to this form of parenting is total, complete, and consistent. He loves us beyond all reason, and He is engaged with all aspects of our lives in ways that may even exceed our comfort but that are always what we actually need and what gives to us a grace and a wisdom that come out of heaven. We know that there will come a time, after the days of this life are completed, that we will stand before God to have Him pronounce judgement upon the way that we conducted life. This is something to hold in great awe and respect, and it is a day to consider when we make choices about how to conduct ourselves in this life.

 

Yet, we also know that Christ stands as our advocate when we face this final judgement, for the penalty for our sinfulness, for our disobedience to God and to His Word, has been paid in blood upon the cross. Still, as any good and engaged parent would do, the Father does hold us accountable for the way that we put the gift of redemption to work during the course of the life that was given to us by Christ as a gift of love, grace and mercy. At the point of conjunction between the cross and our lives, Christ’s absolute perfection of purity and holiness becomes our new identity, and we are no longer dead in sin, but we are thereafter renewed as living beings who are filled with Christ’s Spirit and placed into God’s kingdom of faith for the balance of our time upon this earth.

 

God will judge the deeds that we do during these days of our redemption. This new life that Christ has purchased for us at such a great price is what will be evaluated and that we will be held accountable for using well. God is fully aware of our weakness and of our failings, but He also understands the remarkable potential that each of His people possess. We are not strong or capable in ourselves and by our own skills and knowledge; rather, our strength, giftedness, and capability are given to us by Christ. He leads us into the expression of God’s will that is designated for us, and Christ also provides us with His Spirit to guide and to inform our journey. In Christ we are given a new opportunity to live life in a manner that is filled with God’s love, framed in by His grace, and focused on living out the Lord’s peace and justice in all places and in every way.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1: 13, 14

 

Secret codes, signs, sayings, and even handshakes are fairly common in our world. Clubs, organizations, fraternal orders, and the military use them as a means of determining who has the right or the authorization to do certain things or to be in a specified place. People who know the code are granted admittance, and those who don’t are excluded, or in the case of soldiers in times of war, they might be shot on sight. In Christ and in our journey through life as His followers, we too have a form of secret code or identifier that indicates the fact that we are claimed and inhabited by God, Himself. This is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. This third yet equal person of God was given to His followers by Jesus the Christ as the close by and intimately indwelling presence of God who travels through life with us and who provides direct connection to the totality of God’s nature and character for each of us who know Christ.

 

We might think that the Spirit is an invisible expression of God and an unseen indicator of Christ’s presence within His people, and this is, in part, true. However, there is a form of visibility that goes far beyond what the eyes perceive as tangible flesh, and this is the realm wherein the Spirit dwells and by which He can be known and perceived by the entire world. The Spirit guides and directs us into knowing God by means of opening up the deep mysteries of His Word to us. This revealing comes about as we seek out God’s way in all matters of life and in each of the choices that we need to make throughout our days. The Lord’s ethical and moral guidance applies to each thought we have, every word that we speak, and to even the simplest of actions that we take in the course of those days. As we are in Christ, we are new beings, different in every way that matters from who we were before we surrendered our lives to His sovereign rule and entered into the loving grace that frees us from sin’s stranglehold on our hearts and minds.

 

Now, that freedom is the expression of the redemption from sin that Christ purchased for us with His blood and through the cross. We are granted the absolute right to live boldly and confidently in the secure knowledge that Christ will never abandon or disinherit us from that hope of eternity that is God’s promise to all who believe in Christ. The Spirit guards our hearts and protects our souls for that day of reunion with our Savior in heaven, and the Spirit also dwells within us so that we are living, breathing, flesh and blood examples of this great promised victory over death that Christ has won for us. As we live out the fullness of our promised hope in Christ, we bring the touch of God’s desired redemptive grace and love into the world around us. We can also demonstrate this eternal love by the way that we live out God’s mercy, justice, and peace in each and every interaction and aspect of our lives. For the way that we treat others and the selfless manner in which we conduct our own lives is one of the most tangible signs of that mysterious relationship with God that exists within us in Christ and through His Spirit’s presence.

 

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Acts 2: 24

 

We are intrigued by stories of miraculous escapes. These are times and events when a person seems certain to perish due to the great danger that is being faced; when, at that crucial final moment before the peril has its way, someone or something comes to the rescue. This sort of thing populates fiction, and it does actually happen in the real world as well. Drama is not so much an invention of the imagination as it is a creative reflection of the world as it is. When this sort of thing happens, we gain a feeling of exaltation and joy that comes about because of the victory that has been achieved, and we also gain some confidence in going forward in life as we can hope that a similar victory could be ours if we were to need it.

 

So why did God choose to work in such a strangely different manner when it came to His plan for victory over the forces of evil that prowl about in creation? There was no last minute reprieve or daring rescue. There wasn’t even a ram miraculously present with its horns tangled in the brambles as the Lord had provided for Abraham. In Jesus’ scene of torture, trial, and the resultant death sentence God allowed everything to play out as the people who were determined to humiliate and to destroy determined that it should. Jesus, God’s own Son, was forcibly taken from His place in this world and carried away to the halls of human injustice and evil’s triumphant pinnacle of response to God’s authority and sovereignty over all of creation.

 

However, regardless of how things may have looked on the outside or the failure to follow the course that we seek to see happen in survival and redemption stories, this trial and execution of the death sentence were an important part of the narrative of victory that God was writing on that day. The Father was, in fact, turning the world upside down and inside out as He defied the form of nature that had come to be normal in the aftermath of humanity’s rebellious sin. In these momentous hours, Christ would pass through death and into life, and so the seeming finality of death was defeated fully. The victory that Christ brought about now flows forth for everyone who enters into it through faith in Him, and when we enter into this most strange of all victories we too are raised up with Christ into the glorious presence of our Savior and King. Thus, in His presence and by His care and guidance, we too are victors in this life and beyond it.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

My mind has a hard time connecting the idea of peacemaking and the image of the cross. Sure, we wear crosses around our necks, carry them with us, and hang them on our walls, and all of these uses are comfortably harmless as they don’t come close to suggesting the pain, torture, and violence that is the nature of the real thing. In the Roman world where Jesus lived the cross was an instrument of terror. The death that ensued for its victims was drawn out and brutal, and the Romans set up these scenes of execution drama in the most public of places so that no one could miss their intended message which was one of domination and power mixed with a swift and merciless response to any opposition.

 

The violence of the Roman cross is a striking reflection of the nature of evil itself and that nature is the image of its author, Satan. This is the same evil energy that boils up in the rampages of destruction that seem to be a constant part of our world’s narrative. It is also on view in the oppression, hatred, and greed that people engage in with each other. These are some of the more overt expressions of Satan’s animosity toward God that we can observe and that have a powerful impact upon all inhabitants of the earth. There are many other such manifestations of the endless war that Satan is waging against God. Most of them are considerably more subtle that the cross, itself.

 

All of the damage, the destruction, and the pain that come about in our lives exist as a result of this elemental conflict between the righteous and the profane. However, Christ has changed both the outcome and the nature of this conflict. There never was a moment when God and His righteousness were not the victors, but Christ clearly defined God’s method for bringing about that result, and He has set into unceasing motion that final and absolute defeat of Satan. In the sacrifice of Jesus, the spotless Son, on that cross, God transformed the hour of execution and that instrument of torture and shame into the moment and the location where God’s mercy and grace were poured out in that final act of reconciliation so that all who come to Christ are enfolded into the perfect peace that is the air that we breath in God’s kingdom.

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1: 11

 

Although these words are those of Paul speaking to his spiritual family in Corinth, they could be spoken by anyone who follows Christ to any other like-hearted believers in Christ residing next door or far across the globe. He is sharing the reality of one of the most tangible and significant aspects of a life of faith. For the sort of prayer that Paul mentions involves trusting God with the process and with the outcome of everything that takes place during our days on this earth. It says that I care about others and have certain desires and wishes for where and how their lives would go, but at the same time, I recognize that my care and concern is merely a shadow of that which God holds for these same people.

 

When followers of Christ turn to prayer as our response to the various types of situations and circumstances that we and those we care about encounter, we enter in with God into the journey of living in the outworking of His will. We join together in a circle of unity that is centered on Christ and is bound together by His Spirit. There is an otherworldly strength to all of this in that in prayer we are not dependent upon the sorts of might and power that this world embraces and trusts; instead, we are entrusting our hopes, dreams, and desires to the word of God and in His loving grace and provision. People of faith who pray together, whether physically in the same place or greatly distanced from each other, demonstrate to the world that there is another way to exist than that which is spoken by the worldly voices of culture.

 

In Christ, we all encounter the humility of His cross; so, we all need to experience the separation and the rejection that were poured out upon Him by the entire world. The strength that each of us needs to travel along that rough road of separation from the world’s way is supplied entirely by Christ, and the encouragement that is necessary in order to continue the trek comes from His Spirit and is amplified by the chorus of the voices of faith that lift us up to God in prayer. I am thankful and greatly blessed by the prayer that others express on my behalf. I am also blessed to have the privilege to pray for others. As we follow Christ, we may need to separate ourselves from much of this world; yet, as we do this, we join in a mighty family of faith that spans the world and reaches into Heaven as prayer communicates trust, faith, and love that are unending and unstoppable.