“[The mystery] was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3:5-6
If you say, “Jesus didn’t come to start a religion,” where do you put the emphasis?
Usually, people put the emphasis on “religion”.
- They might be saying, “I think he was just a good moral teacher”. (In which case they have to disagree with much of what he taught about himself, or dismiss the idea that he really said any of it.)
- Or they might be evangelical Christians using some form of the saying, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” (And that saying can be either helpful or inane, depending on how you flesh it out.)
Today, on Christmas, I want to put the emphasis on “start”. Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion.
Jesus is Jewish. The Messiah. Jesus came to inaugurate the new covenant–hinted at in the Torah, foreshadowed in the Psalms, promised in the prophets. He came to live the life we couldn’t and die our death so we needn’t. He came to reveal–in the flesh–the mystery of how the Jews would be a blessing and a light to the nations.
Today, we should remember–not the beginning of a religion, but its continuation and gracious expansion. Today, we celebrate Jesus, our foundation, the cornerstone of inclusion: The inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant of the promise made long ago by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Today, we remember how we Gentiles are grafted in, becoming children of Abraham, God’s chosen people.
Today, we remember:
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, so 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 in 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.