In every letter Paul gives a grand statement of the gospel, always stated a bit differently for the context of that letter. Chapter 2 is that chapter in Ephesians.
Paul reminds his readers what they were according to the “flesh” alone.
You were dead because of your offenses and sins! . . . We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do. What was the result? We too were subject to wrath in our natural state, just like everyone else. (2:1b, 3)
So, then, remember this! In human terms — that is, in your “flesh” — you are “Gentiles.” You are the people whom the so-called circumcision refer to as the so-called uncircumcision. . . . Well, once upon a time you were separated from the king. You were detached from the community of Israel. You were foreigners to the covenants which contained the promise. There you were, in the world with no hope and no god! (2:11-12)
Before they came to Christ, the Ephesian church, which must have been largely Gentile, were dead, fleshly, destined for punishment, locked out from the promises and blessings of the Jews, without hope.
Can you remember when the same could have been said about you?
Then . . . because of the great grace of God, not because of anything we had done, lest we boast (2:8-9), we were reborn. This idea of being new birth is very important to Paul at this point. He punctuates that idea twice in this chapter with creation and resurrection language:
He made us alive with the king. . . . He raised us up with him, and made us sit with him — in the heavenly places in King Jesus. (2:5-6)
The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], so making peace. God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, though the cross, by killing the enmity in him. (2:15b-16)
With rebirth the Ephesians are not the same person. They died hopeless objects of wrath; they were reborn children of the King. They died alienated Gentiles; they were reborn part of a greater humanity that does not see ethnicity and the hostility that too often comes with such differences. They are no longer defined by their flesh. They are new creations.
Can you remember when you were very aware that the same could be said about you?
That is the gospel.
Maybe you are one of the over 20 million people who have viewed Jefferson Bethke “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video in the two months since it was released and quickly went viral. Since then, several take-off versions have been produced from Muslims, pro-religious Catholics, and even atheists. Our friend Hifzan Shafiee, who has commented on here often, has collected on his blog the original Bethke video, the Muslim version, and the Catholic response. Check all three videos out on this one post of his.
Notice these lines from the Muslim version of the “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video, because they express thoughts the ancient Hebrew Christians might have understood:
You [Christians] say Jesus was God, and that God had descended
We [Muslims] say Jesus was man, for Jesus was dependent
Our God is all great and cannot be comprehended . . .
See, we used to worship the creator, until Satan turned us to the creation
You began to worship the people, and neglect the one who made them
We began to believe that God had died, but how could a God even be created? . . .
And know that just because you love Jesus, doesn’t mean he feels the same way about your affection
See, what you believe in is exactly what he resented, matter of fact it’s everything he despised
See, the worshipping of creation goes against the very message he supplied.
The Muslim hang up stated so strongly here, is the same objection that seems to be behind Hebrews 2: Why would you worship a human man named Jesus? To a Muslim that seems blasphemous. To a first century Jew who favors angel veneration, a sentiment that had a bit of traction with the Christians being addressed in Hebrews, this idea would seem ridiculous. Aren’t spiritual beings like angels a better object of your esteem than a man?
The answer for both the Hebrew Christians and detractors of Jesus today is the same. Yes, there was a time when God made Jesus “a little lower than the angels” (2:7). But this was for a purpose. God did this so that Jesus “might taste death on behalf of everyone” (2:9). But Jesus didn’t just die; that was a precursor to the much greater purpose God had in store: “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death — that is, the devil — and set free the people who all their lives long were under the power of slavery because of the fear of death” (2:14-15). And in becoming a part of the human brotherhood, God in the form of Jesus became a truly sympathetic God (2:17-18). After all, Jesus was far more than just a man.
It is a truly magnificent thing to have a transcendent, spiritual God, so majestic that he is surrounded and served by angels. It is also a humbling honor to have an immanent God who understands what our life is like because He lived it and can show us the way to true holiness and submission. In Christ, the Creator became like the Created. In Jesus, God can be both. Why settle for less of a God?