(suitable for Advent/Christmas)
Sermon prepared by Rev. Sid Couperus, Trinity CRC, Abbotsford, B.C.
Added: June 2008
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
- Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3
- God’s Greeting: “May grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen.”
- Songs of Praise: “How Great Thou Art” PsH #483,
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness PsH #” #556
GOD REMINDS US OF HIS GRACE
- Call to Confession: Isaiah 1:18
- Prayer of Confession
- Declaration of God’s Grace for Sinners: Isaiah 12:1-3
- God’s Will for His People: Isaiah 56:1-2
- Song of Dedication: “O For A Thousand Tongues” PsH #501
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH HIS WORD
- Prayer for Illumination
- Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10
- Sermon: “Picking Out The Perfect Gift”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S SHAPING
- Prayer of Application
- Hymn of Response: “Amazing Grace – How Sweet the Sound” PsH #462
- Congregational Prayer
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO HIS WORLD
- God’s Parting Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
- Our Parting Praise: “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” PsH #638
Picking out the perfect gift is one of the challenges that come along with birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and the Christmas season. For example, a commercial for “Best Buy” stores has a consumer coming up and asking, “Do you have the gift that will have my wife saying ‘You shouldn’t have… that’s just perfect!’” Other commercials suggest that gift cards have become the perfect gift, allowing the recipients to choose for themselves what they want to get. One East Indian immigrant to Canada, when asked what he does for Christmas, said he now gives each of us children a good amount of cash to spend on after-Christmas sales so they can cash in on all the good deals. Gift giving has become the most prominent drive behind Christmas in North America today.
But the Bible has another take on the perfect gift, as described in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. He begins Ephesians chapter two by describing the reality of the situation towards which the gift was being prepared. In other words, he first gets at what we were and then later he tells us what we are now in Christ.
First of all, let’s consider What We Were.
1. To begin with, Paul tells us, YOU WERE DEAD.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live...” Ephesians 2:1 says.Paul uses two different Greek words to describe sin; the first being transgressions, stepping over the line. This is when we break the law, go against God’s commands. Transgressions are sins that we commit, sins of commission. The Greek word suggests that doing sin is missing the mark.
Then there are those times in our lives when we had opportunity to forgive someone else, but did not, where we had a chance to reach out and help someone, or visit those who were sick, those who were in prison, those who are shut in, and we chose deliberately not to go in. For whatever reason; we may have been too busy, didn’t have enough time, did not feel like having company, did not want to take time to go through all the paper work. These are called sins of omission.
In both situations, Paul says “You were dead, in your transgressions and sins,” your negative behaviour and lack of positive response. You were dead in your relationship with God.
This is the kind of death that God spoke of in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve fell into sin by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If they would eat from that tree, they would surely die. And they did. So today, we are dead in our transgressions and sins.
Paul goes on, secondly, to explain even further what we were when he says,
2. YOU WERE ENSLAVED FROM OUTSIDE “when you followed the ways of this world…” according to verse 2a. These ways of the world are the influences that come at us in our culture, in our world.
It is easy to see how we have followed the ways of the world around the season of Christmas. Secularism has a whole value system which differs very much from the value system of God. Materialism and consumerism have different priorities than those that have been laid out in God’s word. We are influenced by the culture that we live in.
Thirdly, we learn what we were when Paul says
3. YOU WERE INFLUENCED FROM BEYOND. Paul mentions, “when you followed the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” That’s verse 2b.In fact, Scripture reveals the devil as one of God’s fallen angels, who means to dissuade us from God’s presence, to lead us into disobedience and who seeks to destroy all that he is able. Indeed, Satan has won some major battles within some of our lives, creating incredible and sometimes irreparable damage. All of us are influenced by him in small and sometimes even larger ways. He is at work against us, and our neighbours, and our God.
Fourthly, Paul reminds us that
4. WE WERE INFECTED FROM WITHIN. He says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Ephesians 2:3a
Here he uses the word all inclusively, referring to Jews as well as Gentiles—we have all been there. The law of God helps us see how we have been infected from within, some from poor self esteem and others from pride of self, pride of ancestry, parentage, pride of race and religion and even pride of righteousness. We are all infected from within.
We have been enslaved by transgressions and sins from cultural influences, from Satan’s persuasions in us and from within our own hearts. And Paul has one more unpleasant truth to describe what we were. Not only were we dead, not only are we enslaved from the outside, not only were we influence from beyond and infected from within; fifthly, the result is that we are also condemned.
5. WE WERE CONDEMNED. He writes in v.3b,“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” That phrase “by nature” points back to the fall of Adam and Eve when mankind fell into sin and found their lives to be “by nature,” sinful, or objects of wrath. God’s anger and wrath is a constant hostility to evil, refusing to compromise in it, and continuing to condemn it.
For that reason the Jewish faith set up sacrificial systems and practices to help call for forgiveness and express worship and gratitude. Jews and Gentiles alike were objects or children of God’s wrath.
But God’s wrath is not like our wrath. God’s anger is not like human anger. The Bible describes God as slow to anger, never spontaneous, never impersonal or arbitrary but always purposeful and constantly seeking to further his plans.
Death, Slavery, External Influence, Internal Infection and Condemnation are the five concepts Paul brings to describe the situation of the human race, and all of this might sound rather pessimistic. Our North American culture tries hard to soothe this generation’s longing for feeling special in receiving gifts, for having won or cheered for the winning team, for living in a country or nation that is prosperous and safe, for having succeeded in whatever you tried. Education, Commerce and Sports all work hard at making this world a better place, but neither government or schools, or entertainment or business can touch the spiritual realities of being dead in our transgressions and sin, being enslaved, influence, infected or standing condemned. That spiritual reality stands and is true for each person born into this world.
Then God steps in and the good news of the gospel is proclaimed in all its glory. It’s no longer a matter of what we were but of who we now are in Christ!
B. What We Are Now
1. First, what we are now is because of God’s character. Listen again to these two verses from our Scripture reading in Ephesians 2.
Eph 2:4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Paul lists four character traits of our God that we do well to sit up and listen to intently. We learn Who we are now because of
First, God’s great LOVE for us. The Letter of John reaffirms Paul words when John says, “God is Love.” Love is this character trait that causes God to act on our behalf.
Second, His MERCY. Paul describes God as “rich in mercy,” And mercy is one of the main characteristics of our God. One way of measuring mercy is by asking yourself “are you a merciful person?” Do people see you as mercy-filled? Do you help people in need, and do so generously? Have you forgiven people who have wronged you? Our God most certainly has. That’s who he is—full of love and mercy. We are now objects of God’s love and mercy.
That’s why we are alive again after being dead in our sin. Paul teaches that
Thirdly, God has Made us ALIVE. In fact Paul writes in v.5 that God“made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” This is the Apostle Paul speaking from his own experience, knowing how dead he was, and how God made him alive with Christ on the road to Damascus, even when he was dead. This was Paul writing to the new believers in Ephesus, even though they were Gentiles—people the Jews would never have imagined could find favour with God. But Paul tells them God made them alive with Christ.
And God’s fourth characteristic is GRACE. Perhaps you were baptized as a child. That’s a wonderful sign of God’s grace. Yet at a certain moment in your life God gently placed his hand on you and you were caught in the grip of his grace. This is God’s character of generosity. The fourth characteristic of our God that Paul mentions is grace. “It is by grace you have been saved.” It was the very character and person of God that interrupted our lives, stepped into our beings and poured his character into ours. And the Apostle Paul describes how and when that took place.
So what we are now is recipients of the blessings that flow from God’s character. God s love and we receive his love. God is merciful and we receive his mercy. God is alive and he makes us alive in Christ. And God is gracious and he lavishes his grace upon us and it changes our lives. What an awesome gift!
And that brings us to the second part of this last point. What we are now is SAVED. But being saved is more than we may think. There’s more in that gift than we might imagine. Paul describes our wonderful salvation as three parts of our relationship with Christ.
Number 1, WE ARE PART OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION. “And God raised us up with Christ…” Paul says in verse 6.We have been raised from the dead, just as Christ was raised from the dead. No longer are we dead in our transgressions and sin. We are raised to new life.
Number 2, WE ARE PART OF CHRIST’S ASCENSION. Paul writes in verse 6 “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Paul is writing the church in Ephesus, and telling them that they have been raised with Christ and seated with in him in the heavenly realms. Suddenly the shackles of slavery have been taken off and we have been released. We are no longer followers in this world, no longer enslaved to our culture. Nor are we bound by Satan or overpowered by his temptations—all because of where we have been seated. Nor are we subjected to the sins that have infected us from within, whether because of poor self esteem, or pride of self, pride of parentage, pride of race or religion, or even pride of righteousness. We have been freed by the grace of Christ Jesus and have been seated with him in the heavenly realm. We’re overcomers. We reign with Christ.
And number 3, WE ARE PART OF CHRIST’S SESSION. Paul describes what that is in v.7 when we says that we are seated with Christ, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” We who were condemned have been forgiven and redeemed and crowned with Christ’s righteousness, as if we have become God’s trophies of grace and exhibits of his skill. Paul’s phrase “the coming ages” could well suggest the hundreds and thousands and millions of people around the world who have since become followers of Jesus, because of the good news. But it more than likely points to the heavens when Christ will return, and myriads in number will stand before his throne of grace. We are part of that group or session who praises God for all eternity.
In summary, congregation, SALVATION IS
1) having been delivered from death,
2) having found freedom from enslavement of the world, from Satan’s grasp, from sin living within, and
3) no longer being condemned, but forgiven, redeemed and crowned.
Doesn’t that sounds like the Apostles’ Creed? I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried, who arose again on the third day, who ascended into heaven—and took us with him—who sits at the right hand of God to judge the living and the dead—and has seated us with him in that heavenly realm. All because of Jesus what we were is now behind us. And what we are in Christ is what we must live out of each day.
Paul sums it up the gift we’ve been given. We started out talking about gifts, and here is the perfect gift. He says,
YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED BY GOD’S GRACE. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith,” Grace is God personally touching your heart with his love, mercy, compassion and grace, accepting you totally and completely for who you are.
And GOD HAS PICKED this PERFECT PERSONAL Gift. and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” says verses 8 & 9.
When comparing this gift of God’s grace over against any gifts that we might give or receive, whether they be birthday gifts, wedding gifts, anniversary gifts or Christmas, nothing compares! Santa Clause becomes trivial and the gospel, the good news becomes so much more prominent! There is no greater gift than what we have received and become through Jesus Christ.
But there’s still more. The gift keeps on giving. In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us, For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The gift that God has given us is the gift that keeps on giving. Jesus would have us share this gift of God’s grace so that others too might be touched by the very character and person of God, in Christ Jesus, his love, his mercy, his making people come alive who are dead, and the fullness of his grace.
After all, is that not what Christmas is all about, the coming of his son Jesus, as a baby, in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths? Who would have imagined this perfect gift that God wanted to give you and you, and you, and you, and you and me.