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Remember, Remember (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
September 28, 2022 4:00 am

Remember, Remember (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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September 28, 2022 4:00 am

God wants us to have days of celebration, because they give us a chance to remember! On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg explains the value of observing what God has done in the past.


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Is there division in your church? The Apostle Paul fostered unity in the local church by exhorting Christians to remember. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explores Paul's letter to the Ephesians to find out what he was encouraging believers to remember and why that's still important for us today. Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 11.

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. 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, soul-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 and one Spirit to the Father. 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. Gracious God, we turn now to your Word. Your Word is fixed in heaven. Your Word is a lamp that shines upon our pathway. You've exalted above all things your name and your Word. And so, with a great sense of expectation, we turn to it now. Speak, Lord, we pray, for your Son's sake.

Amen. Well, you will notice, I think, that verse 11 and verse 12 contain the call to remember. To remember. It seems fitting that we should be responding to Paul's exhortation to remember on a weekend when, by dint of the memorial celebrations, remembrance is on our minds. People have thought throughout the years that perhaps this would be the war to end all wars, and yet it wasn't. And it would be one thing this morning if we could look back, as it were, and say it must have been a very difficult time in which to live when people were at war with one another. And yet we know that this morning there are all kinds of wars and difficulties that are part and parcel of our world. There's virtually no place that we can turn without being confronted by strife and by bloodshed, by the reality of oppression and of injustice. And we realize that our world is in amazing need of repair.

Thoughtful people have always identified that. Folk singers—I was thinking along these lines just yesterday, I suppose it was Memorial Day weekend that brought it home to me as I drove past the cemetery in Chagrin, and I was humming along to myself Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Do you remember the song? Where have all the flowers gone? Gone to young girls. Where have all the young girls gone? Gone to young men. Where have all the young men gone? Gone to soldiers.

Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards, everyone. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn? Where have all the graveyards gone?

Gone to flowers, everyone. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn? Now, that was a protest song, and I understand that. That was, if you like, the plaintive cry of somebody who decided that it wasn't a good idea to do any of these things.

That's not the reason I mention it. The reason I mention it is because there's not a person on the face of the earth that doesn't recognize that in the brokenness of our world, somewhere, somehow, somebody has got to come up with a fix. And here we are at this point in history, and we realize that unless we learn from the Bible, the plaintive refrain just hangs in the air. When will we ever, ever learn?

We actually will never learn. We'll never learn until we're prepared to bow down before God himself. And Paul, in writing this letter to the Ephesians, is writing into a world that was just as broken as ours.

Relationships were set against one another, parents at war with their children, husbands with their wives, colleagues with one another in the practices of business, nations and ethnic groups, and so on. And so, he writes this letter, and he makes it clear in chapter 1 that the purpose of God, the mystery of God's will, as he puts it, which has had hints all the way through the Old Testament, has now, he says, in the fullness of time, been made absolutely clear in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, he says, the purpose of God, a mysterious purpose to us from our perspective, from all of eternity, was not actually in creation Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but the ultimate purpose of God was the Lord Jesus Christ in the story of the gospel. That it was in Christ that he was going to unite all things in heaven and on earth in the person of Jesus. So perhaps you've had the idea that somehow or another God had a plan A and it went wrong, and so he had to quickly come up with something else. That would be to misread the Bible and to misunderstand it. No, God's purpose always was in Jesus. And it is in Jesus that the fragmentation and the fracturing of our world is actually addressed. These songs, like Seger's song and Lenin's Give Peace a Chance, they're all understandable longings, aren't they? I mean, nobody wants to live in hostility with the person next to them. But how do we get this fixed?

Is there a fix? And what Paul is saying in Ephesians, in particular, as we're about to see in the second half of chapter 2, is that God's purpose for his people is that his people, united in Christ, in the community of their friendships with one another, should be something of a microcosm that shows to the world what God will ultimately achieve in a new heaven and in a new earth. And he has pointed out in the first part of chapter 2 that it is by grace, through faith, that we have been reconciled to God. And now he's going on to say, having come to him, if you like, individually, as you now live in him corporately, one of the evidences of God's eternal purpose is to be seen in the absence of hostility, in the presence of harmony, in the breaking down of the barriers, and the building of bridges—bridges which are over all kinds of troubled waters. And at the heart of the Bible story, as our good friend Christopher Ash has pointed out to us, at the heart of the Bible story is the church, not least of all the local church, because church with a big C has to find its expression in some tangible way, and that is in local churches, and we are a local church. The local church contains within itself the seeds or, if you like, the DNA of a remade world. It contains in itself the seeds or the DNA of a remade world. Now, we'll come back to this as we close, but in case I forget to come back, let me just say it now. And that is that the world is supposed to be able to come in.

Cleveland is supposed to be able to come amongst us in all kinds of contexts, whether it is at the BBC, whether it is in a life group in someone's home, whether it is in one of the services here. The society is supposed to be able to come in and say, Oh, so this is an indication—not a perfect manifestation—but this is an indication of what God has planned from all of eternity to do. And that is why there are Chinese people and Indian people and black people and white people and bright people and silly people and fat people and thin people and tall people and short people and so on. And somehow or another, they're all in there together.

Why? All of the normal fragmentation, all of the normal evidences of a fractured world, the seeds of the remade world, are present in the community of faith. That is what Paul is pointing out. And that it is God's purpose from all of eternity to unite everything under Christ. Now, given that he's writing in the first century and he's writing to these people in Ephesus, one of the first areas in which that needs to become apparent is in the division that exists between the Jew and the Gentile. How are you going to tell the world that God has planned to unite all things in his Son if you folks are going to keep calling each other names? If you're going to sit at separate sides of the church?

If you're going to show up late for events because you don't want to talk to one another? That's the issue that he's dealing with. It's an issue which, as you read the Acts of the Apostles, is clearly there, and understandably so. That's the first thing I need you to note, that this division he is addressing is a division between Jew and Gentile. So, when you look at this, therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh.

In other words, Paul is not saying, I am writing this, myself and my companions are writing this to you, the Ephesians. In this instance, he's saying, I am addressing you as Gentiles. I write to you as a Jew who has been made new by Jesus. Now, let me remind you Gentile folks who are reading this letter, or to whom this letter is being read, that these things were characteristic of you. And a big barrier of hostility existed.

Now, William Barclay, whose commentaries are pretty good usually on historical stuff, has a quote that I want to give to you in order to drive this home, because we're a long way away from this, both geographically and historically. The barrier, he writes, between Jew and Gentile was absolute. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death. Even to go to a Gentile house rendered a Jew unclean. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. That is the world out of which the Jew came. I thank you, God, that I'm alive this morning and that you have not made me a woman or a Gentile. That was a morning prayer by a Jewish man.

Quite a staggering thought. If you find it very far removed from you, try and dig in the recesses of your mind. Go back to Fiddler on the Roof. One of the scenes in Fiddler on the Roof is when Tevye—I think I remember—he's pulling something, a cart behind him.

It's on the end of a rope. And as he pulls this cart away, his daughter, who is going to marry a Gentile, is calling out to him, and he refuses to turn back. He just keeps walking away from her. The tears are running down both of their faces. You are dead to me, he says.

You are dead to me. That is the extent of the division between the Jew and the Gentile in first-century Ephesus. And when we understand that, then we realize what a drama it is for that world then to say, How come you guys get along?

How is it that you actually are worshiping together? Who or what has brought about this change? Does it have something to do with Jesus of Nazareth?

Well, yes, it does. You remember David, when he was talking to the soldiers, because the Philistine Goliath was proving to be a real challenge to them. You remember his terminology? He says, Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God? Now, he's using that as an epithet. You see, he understood that God had entered into a covenant with his people.

He had called out Abraham. He was making a people of his own. They were to be a light to the nations. And God in his kindness had given the men in the nation circumcision as a mark upon them to remind them that they belonged to God and to live as his people. Well, they were very proud of this. And they recognized that the Gentiles had no such badge of the covenant on their bodies. And the Jews were not about to let them forget it. So they used the very reality of that as a point of division. And it's going to take some time. As the early church unfolds—you can read Acts 15, for example—for them to reach the point, whereas Paul writes to the Galatians, Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. What counts is a new creation.

It's going to take a long time for that to dawn. And it was vital that it dawned because of the purpose of God to deal with this wall of hostility. As we go on into Ephesians 2, we'll see this even more forcibly. The court of the Gentiles was separate in the temple precincts from the Jewish people's place. And a big sign said, You enter beyond this on peril of death.

If you proceed where you have no access, you will die. Get out. And that was a distinguishing feature of life. Now these Jewish people and these Gentile people are sitting together, breaking bread together, and calling each other brother and sister. So church, the community of God's people, was clearly not about attending services or signing up or fulfilling duties. It was about the fact that they had been made a new creation. And some people continue to think of church as either an obligation or something you need to do or I'll try it one out of four or whatever it might be. You don't understand church.

That's your problem. Until you understand what has happened to you in Jesus, if it has happened to you in Jesus, you'll never get beyond that. But when you realize what He's done, you see, the Jewish people then began to rely on the mark of circumcision as what it was all about. And Jesus says to them, It's not what it's all about. We have Abraham as our father, John chapter 8.

We're the true people. He says, Listen, if you had Abraham as your father, you would do what Abraham did. That is, believe me, and it would be counted to you for righteousness.

But you do have a father, and your father is Satan. Well, that's not very nice, is it? That was Jesus. He wanted to point out to them, Yeah, you've got an external mark on your body, but you need your heart circumcised. That's what Jeremiah the prophet was talking about, so that the cleansing that needed to take place, which was pointed to in the mark of the covenant, was not present in their lives. Well, that's enough on that.

That's the first thing that we need, the first line of approach. We need to realize that the division that he's addressing here is a real division, is a significant division, and they were calling each other names, Jew and Gentile. Now, secondly, notice the condition of the unconverted Gentile.

What is the condition of the unconverted Gentile? Well, he starts verse 12 again. Remember, number one, separated from Christ.

Paul, when he is charged before the Roman authorities by the Jews who were antagonistic towards him, who were saying, This man has opposed our Judaism, this man has disrupted everything, he then says to Festus and to Agrippa, Listen, that's not true. The reason I am up here on a charge is because the things that I have been saying are directly related to, quotes, the hope of Israel. And what is that hope of Israel?

It is that the Messiah who will come is the very Messiah of God. And that was a Jewish expectation. But it wasn't a Gentile expectation. It wasn't a Gentile hope.

Remember, he says, You were separated from Christ. You had none of this. You weren't looking for any of that.

None. Secondly, you were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel. They neither had the badge of the covenant, nor did they enjoy the blessings of the covenant. Because those blessings were blessings of belonging, and they didn't belong. You didn't belong in here.

You had no part in this. Separated. Alienated.

Thirdly, and he just really builds on this, doesn't he? Strangers to the covenants of promise. In other words, they had no knowledge of and no right to the promises that God had made to his people.

And Paul's writing, and he says, You know, you Gentiles who are reading this letter, you had no access to any of this. Fourthly, you had no hope. Having no hope.

What does that mean? That they didn't have anything to look forward to at all? No, not ultimately. But the Jew was always going somewhere. The Jew was a pilgrim.

The Jew's sense of history always had a destination in view. But the Gentiles had none of that. For them, history was heading nowhere. Faced with the futility of death, their existence was essentially meaningless.

Having no hope. And fifthly, without God in the world. And on turning their back on the living God as he's made himself known, they didn't believe nothing. They started to believe everything. They believed all kinds of things. They created all kinds of gods. Gods that suited their fancy. Gods that would apparently do as they asked.

The same remains true today. If we reject God's revelation of himself in Scripture, if we suppress the truth of God, then we will find that we are very quickly taken up with superstition and with novelty. We will find that we have in ourselves, as Calvin said, you know, that the heart of man is an idol factory. That we have within ourselves an immense capacity for creating gods of our own. So the 21st century Western culture rejects God by way of revelation. Turns his back on his commands and his guidelines for living. Doesn't find itself isolated and atheistic.

No. Surrounded by all kinds of notions and superstitions and ideas. When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn? Is the answer just blowing in the wind? Is it?

No. When we are united together with fellow believers in a local church, we are giving the world a tiny peek into God's eternal purpose. To have everything united together under Christ. We're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with part one of a message titled, Remember, Remember.

We'll hear the conclusion tomorrow. Here at Truth for Life, we are passionate about proclaiming the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our mission is to see unbelievers converted, believers established in their faith, and local churches strengthened. If this resonates with you, we want to encourage you to come alongside us in this mission. Sign up and become a monthly Truth Partner. You commit to giving a set amount each month and to pray regularly for this ministry. Your gift goes toward distributing this program to a global audience, making Alistair's online teaching library freely accessible.

You can sign up to become a Truth Partner at slash truth partner, or call us at 888-588-7884. Now when you sign up, be sure to request the book, Seven Reasons to Reconsider Christianity. Providing you with this book is our way of saying thanks for your support. This is a book that looks at the common doubts and questions people have about Christianity, and it explains why what's written about Jesus is trustworthy and true. This is a book that was written by someone who is facing the end of his own life, and in it he outlines seven reasons why Christianity is worth considering with an open mind. He writes with humor, with honesty, and with clarity, and he challenges some of today's most frequent misconceptions regarding Christian beliefs. You can also request the book when you give a one-time donation at slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. I don't know about you, but there are certain parts of my life before I started following Jesus that I'd just as soon forget about. Join us tomorrow as we'll find out why it's so important for us to remember. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-01 13:08:42 / 2023-01-01 13:17:18 / 9

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