Please turn in your Bibles this morning to Ephesians chapter 2 as we look at this morning a society that seems to be growing more violent, a society that is lacking control, a society that is lacking peace. Look at our television shows from Reality TV, to game shows, to children and adult cartoons, to movies, to video games like Grand Theft Auto where you get points for killing police officers, stealing cars! We like violence. Our sports, the more violent the better. We see violence in our workplace, our schools, shopping malls, roadways, homes, even at church at times. It seems like there is no place in our society where violence is absent. What seems to be absent is peace.
Let me give you a couple of examples to show you what I mean. The first comes from the NBA as we watched in unbelief as members from the Indiana Pacers team went into the stands to fight fans from the Detroit Pistons, the team the Pacers were playing that night. It all started when a hard foul was given to a Detroit Pistons player with just seconds left in the game whose outcome was already decided upon. The foul was not necessary but because of it a shoving match started and stopped between the players involved. After that the Indiana Pacer player went to the scorers table and laid down on it, taunting the Piston fans. Then, from the crowd a drink was thrown onto this player and he responded by getting up and going into the crowd and began to punch the fan that he thought threw the drink at him. Then other Pacer players and Detroit Piston fans got involved in this brawl that was just plain ugly. No one was right here, there was no self-control and it lead to violence. Parents grabbing their children and running for safety, others just were crying! Nice family outing. Is anyplace safe anymore?
Then, an even worse tragedy as gun deer hunting season began in Wisconsin. There was a group of 14 or 15 hunters who gathered together for their annual deer hunting tradition in the Rice Lake area. Chai Soua Vang was also hunting in the area but without permission to do so. When one of the hunters approached him and asked him to leave the area, Vang got down from his tree stand and started shooting at the hunter. As others came to his rescue Vang shot at them and in the end 6 people were dead and 2 wounded as Vang unloaded his gun at these hunters, some whom were not even armed, just coming to help their friend who was shot. Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier said this about the incident: Its unbelievable that it can happen in a small county. I just dont think any of this makes sense.
I think it does make sense because these are just the symptoms of a bigger problem. Violence is not the root of the problem, it is just the symptom and thus, we see violence running out of control in our society and we are looking for reasons why this is occurring, trying to treat the symptom instead of the problem. And I am afraid if we dont deal with the root of the problem, we will find ourselves like H. G. Wells as he said, The time has come for me to reorganize my life, my peace I cry out. I cannot adjust my life to secure any fruitful peace. Here I am at sixty-four, still seeking peace. It is a hopeless dream.
I dont believe that is true, as we will see in our study this morning. With that as our background, lets begin reading in Ephesians chapter 2, starting in verse 14, and lets see what the Lord has for us this morning, the peace He wants to bring into our lives!
Here Paul is speaking of the division between Jew and Gentile. For the Greeks, considered Gentiles by the Jews, they did not look favorably upon those that were not Greeks. In fact the Roman Statesman Cicero tells us, As the Greeks say, All men are divided into two classes, Greeks and Barbarians. For the Jews, they felt Gentiles were only created to fuel the fires of Hell and that even an unbelieving Jew would be plucked from the fires of Hell by father Abraham because he was a Jew.
On the Temple mount area there was a wall or barrier that separated the court of the Gentiles from the rest of the Temple area. Now between the court of the Gentiles and the court of the Israelites there was a sign that was placed and it read, No Gentile may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death. In other words, a line has been drawn in the sand you might say, and if you cross it, you will be put to death and it is your own fault for crossing it because you have been warned!
This was no joke or just empty words or idle words. In Acts chapter 21 Paul is accused of allowing a Gentile to pass from the court of the Gentiles into the court of the Israelites. We are told of this in Acts 21:26-32, Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them. Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place. (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.) And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. They would have killed Paul if it werent for the garrison of Roman soldiers coming from the Antonio Fortress to rescue him!
You see, there was no peace between Jew and Gentile because the Law separated them, kept them apart, kept the Gentiles from getting close to God. Those barriers between people are still around today and people are putting up new ones, new walls to keep people out. In his book, The Cross of Peace, Sir Philip Gibbs writes:
The problem of fences has grown to be one of the most acute that the world must face. Today there are all sorts of zig-zag and criss-corssing fences running through the races and peoples of the world. Modern progress has made the world a neighborhood and God has given us the task of making it a brotherhood. In these days of dividing walls of race and class we must shake the earth anew with the message of Christ, in whom there is neither bond nor free, Jew nor Greek, Scythian nor Barbarian, but all are one.
- Sir Philip Gibbs, The Cross of Peace
One of the things I have noticed since we have moved to Wisconsin is there are not as many fences in peoples yards as there are in Chicago. Walls, fences keep people out, they keep people at a distance, and they tend to hinder the building of relationships. We are the king of our castle and we dont want anyone encroaching into our territory, by our walls of our kingdom, which is sad.
I saw this played out when I was around 5 years old and my brother John was around 3 years old. We were kicking around a ball, as kids do, and from time-to-time the ball went into our neighbors yard. We didnt damage anything and at that age we didnt think it was a problem until the police, with their lights flashing came into our driveway looking for the kids who were causing trouble. Our neighbor had called the police on us because our ball went into her yard and when the police found out that we were the ones causing the trouble, Im sure looking terrified at this point, they got angry and left. There were bigger criminals to arrest than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!
That was over 40 years ago now and I wonder what would have happened today if that occurred. Instead of calling the police she might have taken matters into her own hands, which we see happen today. So what is the solution to this problem? According to the worlds standards, the solution is workshops on violence, which we have at the hospital I work at and many employers have, anger management classes, counting to 10 or 20 or however long it takes for you to cool down, drugs to calm you down and-so-on. We do all kinds of things to try and bring about peace and it truly doesnt work as this story shows us. We are told:
On January 30, 1973 Patrice Tamao of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, allowed himself to be nailed to a cross as a sacrifice for world peace and understanding among men. As thousands watched on television, six-inch stainless steal nails were driven through his hands and feet. Tamao had planned to remain on the cross for 48 hours, but after only 20 hours he had to cut short his voluntary crucifixion because of an infection in his right foot. The newspaper article had as its heading, Crucifixion-for-peace falls short. How true that is as man tries to bring about peace by all kinds of means and it just doesnt work, it falls short.
Paul, in Ephesians 2:14-17 tells us the answer to our problem. We are told, For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.
You see, our peace is only found in Christ. Laws, ordinances, ceremonies, good deeds, sacrifices, traditions, can not make peace between man and God nor can they bring peace between each other, with our fellow man. Sin is the root of the problem and violence, hatred, anger are just the symptoms. Remember what James 4:1-3 tells us, Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Thus, peace can only come into our lives when we come to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ and surrender ourselves to Him, allow Him to be our Lord and Savior. Peace will only come as we die to self. Paul put it this way in Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
I know, some of you may be thinking this is all to simplistic. Yes, it may be simplistic, but if it is true, why do we have to negate it or reject it because it is so simple? We shouldnt! In Isaiah 57:20-21 we are told, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, When it cannot rest, Whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, Says my God, for the wicked. You see, outside of Christ a person is unstable, turning and churning, not finding rest, not finding peace, and thus, what is in his heart is manifested in his life, violence!
Outside of Christ is like the wife who called her doctor one morning, saying, Doctor, come quick! Its my husband! Whats the matter? he calmly replied. Well, he got up this morning and took his vitamin pill. Then he took his appetite suppressant, his anti-depressant, and his tranquilizer. He also took an antihistamine and Benzedrine. Then he lit a cigarette, and there was this explosion! You see, it falls far short and many times there is an explosion involved!
But for those who receive it, Christ has come and He has become our peace, He has forever broken down that dividing wall between people, all those barriers that were between men and God and between man and his fellow man. In Christ we can have peace with God and then the peace of God, which surpasses all our understanding, will fill our lives.
Paul put it this way in Romans 5:1; Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And because we have that peace with God, Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6-7; Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. You see, because of our relationship with God through Christ, His peace will guard our hearts or our emotions and our minds or our thoughts it is the peace of God that is then manifested in our actions because the root of the problem has been dealt with, Christ has paid the penalty for our sin in full!
I like the way Richard John Neuhaus put it. He tells us:
In both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, peace the shalom of God is tantamount to salvation. It means the bringing together of what was separated, the picking up of the pieces, the healing of the wounds, the fulfillment of the incomplete, the overcoming of the forces of fragmentation by forgiving love. In short, shalom is the content of the rule of God, the promised goal of pilgrim hope.
- Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry, p. 72
Paul tells us that we have been reconciled to God and each other in Christ. The word that Paul uses for reconcile in the Greek is APOKATALLASSOE (ap-ok-at-al-las-so) and it carries with it the idea of turning from hostility to friendship. Hostility towards God and hostility towards our fellow man has now been changed to friendship towards both in Christ.
Turn to Colossians 1:19-23 and look at the totality of this reconciliation. We are told, For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. It is as the Scottish commentator John Eadie wrote: The cross which slew Jesus slew also the hostility between man and God. His death was the death of that animosity. He not only is our peace but He also preached or brought the good news of peace found only in Him!
I do realize that as Christians we can become discouraged as we look at our society, our world because we dont see much peace. Just turn on the news and you can easily see the violence but dont lose hope. First of all, Jesus told us in John 16:33, These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. We will never find peace, true peace in this world, that peace is only found in Christ.
But in saying that may we not just give up in this world, give up on people. It is easy to throw our hands up in the air but that is not what we are to do. You see, we have the solution to the worlds problems, we have the solution to the violence we see out there and that solution is Christ! In the Kingdom Age, when the Lord rules and reigns, there will be no violence, not like today. If anyone causes trouble, Jesus will deal with it immediately! Peace will fill the land because the Prince of Peace is on the throne!
Paul, in II Corinthians 5:17-21 shows us what God has done in our lives and then what we are to share with others, what we are to bring to others. We are told, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
We are brand new in Christ and since God has reconciled us or made peace with us through Christ He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation or the ministry of being peacemakers! We are to bring the peace of God to people who are at war with God. We plead with people to be reconciled to God through Christ, to have peace with God through Jesus and thus, as they do, then they are at peace with God and that peace is seen as they reach out to others. Once the root of the problem is dealt with, sin, then they are a new creation in Christ and the old ways, the violence, the evil is done away with and they are new in Christ!
Folks, the cross is Gods answer to the Judaizing, to racial discrimination, to segregation, to bigotry, to anti-Semitism, to war, to violence, to all the other symptoms that emerge from our sinful hearts because, as Isaiah tells us, You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Perfect peace is only found as we surrender our lives to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ and then, and only then will those other things disappear!
Think about it, do you think the fans in the stadium and the players on the court would have acted the way they did if Jesus Christ was on the throne of their hearts, if they knew the Prince of Peace? Of course not because they are guided by a higher law, the love of Christ! Do you think this man would have shot and murdered those hunters because they wanted him off their property if the Lord was on the throne of his heart? Of course not! Yes, it may be simplistic, but it is true and it does work.
As I begin to close this study this morning, listen to this true story from World War II. It is the story of a group of American soldiers who lost their buddy in a battle and as they carried his lifeless body, the body of their dear friend to the only cemetery in the area, hoping to bury him there in this Catholic cemetery, but they ran into some trouble.
The priest who cared for the cemetery met these men and asked them if their friend was a Catholic. They had no idea and the explained to the priest that they did not know. The priest responded back by saying, I am sorry, but he cannot be buried here. Obviously these soldiers were very disheartened and discouraged and they decided to do what they believed was the next best thing for their dear friend. They decided to bury him just outside the cemetery fence.
When they returned the next morning to pay their respects they could not find their friends grave outside the fence. Obviously they were upset, they couldnt believe that someone would have taken him and moved him, and what troubled them was they could not find any ground that was even dug. As they wondered what they were going to do, the priest came by and they explained their problem to him and he told them, The first part of the night I stayed awake sorry for what I told you. The second part of the night I spent moving the fence.
Folks, Jesus didnt just move the fence, he tore it down, He tore down those walls of division bringing us together as one in Christ. Now that we have received that reconciliation, that peace, may we bring that same reconciliation to others, the peace of God that is only found in Christ. Let us be peacemakers, not according to the worlds standards, but according to Gods as Paul said, Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. II Corinthians 5:20. That is the heart of God and as God is in us He is working through us drawing people to Himself! Yes, it does seem impossible as we look at things through our own eyes, but with God, all things are possible. May we not forget that as we go forth bringing peace, not violence to a world that is hurting, to a word that is in need of peace, the peace of God that is only found as they make peace with God through Christ. I have titled this study, Why the violence? and as I have said, it is sin that manifests itself in many ugly ways. The solution is Jesus, as I have said. Lets bring to people what they need and see what God will do!