Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Knowing True Grace - January 4, 2015 - Second Sunday after Christmas - Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
This morning we continue to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, God in flesh, Jesus. Our Gospel reading moves us some twelve years from last week when Jesus was presented in the temple to Jesus participating in the Passover with His parents in Jerusalem, perhaps this may even be His own barmitzpha wherein He is now considered an adult in the Jewish community.
Our text is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He begins this letter as he begins most of his letters, with words of praise. Paul begins by saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” or literally, “‘Good words’ be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is praised, or using not so good English, He is “good worded” in connection with Jesus. God is praised because Jesus has accomplished His work of salvation and is seated in the heavenly realms. God is praised because He has accomplished what He said He would accomplish. His Word, spoken and written, have been fulfilled in Jesus, God in flesh, who gave His life for all people.
Paul continues by telling us that God is praised because He chose us, before creation, to make us holy and blameless. We did not choose God, neither do we choose Him. He chose us. He chose us, not because of anything deserving within us, not because He knew we would do anything to deserve His choosing. He chose us by the death of His Son which He told us would happen.
Paul goes on to tell us that in love, that is in agape Christlike love, God adopted us and made us a part of His kingdom. He did this according to His good will and pleasure. It is God’s will that all people come to faith and are saved. And He works out His will according to His plan of salvation.
God’s plan of salvation is that according to His grace, His undeserved love, a love that is freely given, He gave us His Son, the Word made flesh to give His life for ours. It is through the death of the One He loves, His only Son, that He works His plan of salvation.
Continuing on in our text, Paul says it so well, explaining that the mystery of God is that it is God’s will that all people are saved, however we do know that some people are not saved because they refuse God’s gift of salvation. Even Jesus says that we are to “Struggle to enter in through the narrow door, because many, I say to you, will seek to enter in and they will not be able” (Luke 13:24). One of my commentaries puts it this way, “the struggle through which one enters is repentance, which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God . . . calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.” To say that another way, our struggle is that our sinful nature can only refuse and reject the gifts of God, so it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, the Word of God in particular, that we are given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Paul goes on to explain, “7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (v. 7-14).
Paul gives a true definition of grace that is that grace is the free outpouring of Jesus’ blood, not God’s giving us the ability to do anything. Perhaps you have heard me say it this way before that Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is gift. Indeed, to require or to imply that anything is required according to grace means that it is no longer grace. To say one is saved by grace, but all one has to do is, x, y or z, would mean it is no longer grace, but the x, y, or z that would save. Remember, grace plus anything is no longer grace, but the anything. Just as zero plus anything is the anything, so it is with grace. Grace plus works, means works is what saves. Grace plus being good, means being good is what saves. Grace plus accepting Jesus as your Savior, saying the “Believers Prayer”, means that it is the accepting or the saying of a prayer that saves. Grace that is true grace is gift and always and only points to Jesus. Jesus does and we are done to. Jesus gives and we are given to.
In His wisdom and understanding, true wisdom and understanding, Godly wisdom and understanding, it is God who has lavished us with His grace. Certainly in our finite human wisdom we cannot fathom nor understand God’s wisdom and understanding. Oh, we might think we are wise and understanding, as we find many in our society who think they are as smart or even smarter than God and can explain this world and its existence outside of and without God, but we know that our own human wisdom is limited and even more is tainted by sin and the curse given in the Garden of Eden. Certainly, God’s foolishness is so much wiser than man’s wisdom just as God’s weakness is so much stronger than man’s strength. We would do well to always remember that when so called brilliant men of science speak and what they say is contradictory to what God has said, we would do well to believe that the brilliant scientist is wrong and has made a mistake and perhaps needs to go back and see a better explanation, and instead we will trust what God says.
God reveals the mystery of His love in Jesus, reconciling the broken relationship of Himself to His creation from Genesis. As we have discussed before, for too many in our sin filled world, they cannot understand how a Creator God could love His wayward, sinning creation so much that He would give His all even His life to make it right. Even more, how can a Creator God, knowing that His creation would rebel, even create it in the first place. Yet, God’s love is so great, even beyond our understanding.
God’s will is that all people are saved and to that end He sent Jesus and now He sends His Holy Spirit who works through the means of grace to give us faith and to make us a part of His eternal kingdom. God is not slow in His return as some count slowness, but He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, that is how great His love is toward us all.
As I read these words from our Epistle lesson today I realized how relevant and how fitting Paul’s words are for us today. And so I come before you to tell you that as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, so I pray the same thing for you.
First, I want to remind you that God has chosen you. He has not chosen you because of something you have done, or will do. In the same way He does not disown us because of something we do or do not do. He has chosen you because He has given the life of His Son, whose birth we just celebrated, for you.
Next, I want you to know that you are saved by God’s grace alone. Again, this is not something we can accomplish in and of ourselves. This is not something we can earn, deserve or work for. We are saved by God’s grace, by His undeserved love for us. We are saved by the blood of Jesus poured out for us on the cross. But we are not saved for no reason. We are saved and given a purpose, indeed a response of faith. First and foremost we are saved to be loved by God and He does love us and has shown us His love in the giving of His Son. Next we are saved so that we might respond by doing good works. Yes, we are to do good works. We are saved so that the faith which is given to us at our baptism, at our conversion, is reflected in our love for each other, indeed, in our reflecting His love for us to each other.
My prayer, then, is that you will continue to make use of the means of grace so that you might be strengthened in your faith. In the same way the you were brought to faith by God’s good Word, I pray that you will continue to use that good Word to be made stronger in your faith. Remember, the mystery of why some are not saved is because they refuse God’s gifts. We refuse God’s gifts by not making use of the gifts that He gives, the gifts of His means of grace, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments. My prayer is that you will make good use of that good Word, written and given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
And my prayer for you is that you will have the hope, that is the certainty, of heaven. Too often I hear a person say, “I hope when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you can say, “I know that when I die I will go to heaven.” I pray that you will have that certainty because that certainty comes from the good word of the Lord. That certainty comes from knowing the Good Word of Jesus. That certainty comes from faith given by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by Him through His Word and sacraments.
I read a shirt once that read, “So many books, so little time.” If you like to read you know how true that is. There is a plethora of reading material available in our country today. Unfortunately, not all of it speaks favorably or even speaks of the most important Word, the good Word, the Word made flesh, the Word given to us to eat and drink at His holy Supper. I will continue to pray for you, that the Lord will continue to give you a real hunger for His Word, that you may be weaned off the milk of the Word and hunger for the meat and potatoes of God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit will strengthen and deepen your faith in the Lord and your love for each other. May it be done to the glory of the Lord. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.