“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2: 11-13
Paul, in prison, has been writing wonderful things of our true position in Christ and the beauty of God in our lives despite our circumstances.
He now lifts the lid on the reality of the world they lived in. A reality of hate. From this point on, Paul exposes the division between Jew and Gentile.
The Jews have achievement (but he says it isn’t from God it is merely the hands of man) but the Gentiles you are called the uncircumcised by those who think they are something. He reminds his readers of their state before they met Christ; separated, excluded, foreigners, without hope and without God. Interestingly we get our word ‘atheist’ from ‘without God’. A word that the Gentiles used of the Jew because they didn’t have any statues of their God nor worship the God of their empire. It is difficult perhaps to see the depth of the animosity between these 2 groups. The Gentiles looked on the Jews as arrogant and foolish, The Jew was lazy because they wouldn’t work on the Sabbath and they were revolting because they circumcised their sons. The Gentile was created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell according to the Jew. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl or the other way round then a funeral was held of that Jewish boy or girl.
Just a simple research brings you to a fuller understanding of the hate between the two. Pause.
Let’s advance a few centuries, to the 5th century.
Most of us will have either visited the Colosseum in Rome or seen it on pictures and films. We know of the barbaric gladiatorial games and what passed off as obscene entertainment. But there was a much worse entertainment. That was the fact that Christians were being brutalised and killed daily. Wild animals were kept in pits till they were crazed with hunger. Then they were released upon Christians—boys and girls, old men and women. Christians were soaked in oil then lit on fire as if they were living torches. Men and women were torn with iron hooks, grilled on irons, sawed asunder, and placed in boiling pots of oil. Young women were brutalised sexually. It was evil at the core. Pure hatred for humanity in turning our species into objects of hateful desire. Through it all songs of hymns would be heard from the blood-soaked floor of the hell that these people endured.
On February 2, 1984 President Ronald Reagan told the following story to an audience attending a National Day of Prayer event. The true story is found in the writings of Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria (393-457 A.D.). Reagan’s story was a lot longer than the original but he was an actor after all (and he got the century wrong)!
“This power of prayer can be illustrated by a story that goes back to the fourth century. Telemachus, an Asian monk living in a little remote village, spent most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance. One day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. Believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks later, he arrived there, having travelled most of the way on foot.
“It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. He followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then, there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, ‘We who are about to die salute you.”’ He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, ‘In the name of Christ, stop!”’ His voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum.
“As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, ‘In the name of Christ, stop.”’ They thought it was part of the entertainment. At first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, ‘In the name of Christ, stop,”’ one of them plunged his sword into his body. He fell to the sand of the arena. In death, his last words were, ‘In the name of Christ, stop.”’
“Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd.
“One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. ‘In the name of Christ, stop.”’ It is something we could be saying to each other throughout the world today.”
Telemachus did not say, “In the name of decency, stop.” Neither did he say, “In my opinion you should stop,” or “If you don’t stop you’ll burn in hell.” He didn’t even say, “I’m the founder of Monks for Morality, you need to stop.” He simply said, “In the name of Christ, stop.” A very ordinary man, he spoke with authority. That he was willing to surrender his life to deliver the message showed that he was delivering a message of love, not judgment. God, not Telemachus, deserves the credit for ending gladiator contests. God’s Holy Spirit touched the heart of each person who silently left the Colosseum. It was God who touched the heart of Emperor Honorius who then banned gladiator fights. Telemachus just played his role in a scene God wrote.
What will it take to stop such hate?
Paul says in v13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
We need to know this today: I can make a difference.
In a world divided and filled with hatred of each other the Church can make a difference.
It needs to follow the lead.
The Church needs to get on to the Cross and in to the Colosseums.