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Fourth Sunday of Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, March 14, 2021

What Matters Most Is Who You Know

Text: Ephesians 2:4–10

Almost 14 years ago I was subpoenaed to testify at the sentencing hearing of a man who had been found guilty of a very grievous offense. His defense attorney was one of our church members and he had referred the man to me 3–4 months earlier asking for pastoral care. He had admitted that he was definitely guilty, and the District Attorney was asking the court for three life sentences. I always found that a curious request considering that the fellow wasn’t a cat, he only had one life. The DA cited the testimony of a court-appointed psychiatrist who felt the defendant had a 75% chance of reoffending if paroled. I was asked to testify on behalf of the defense as a credible witness and pastoral counselor for the defendant. I was questioned by the prosecutor and the defense but to my surprise that judge asked me several probing questions as well. This was likely because it was not a jury trial and the judge would decide the sentence to be imposed.

After all the testimony, court was adjourned until two o’clock in the afternoon. When we returned the judge was prepared to pronounce sentence. The fellow was sentenced to 50 years in the state prison with all but 16 years remanded. In essence, the man would serve 16 years and then be paroled. However, if he reoffended he would serve the other 34 years plus any sentence of the new charges.

The judge gave his primary reason for such a lenient sentence on the effectiveness of my testimony. The prosecution was incredulous, but I was in shock. Even I thought the sentence was too lenient, and besides that, just a few years prior I had been an over-the-road truck driver! Oddly enough, no one asked me for my credentials but apparently assumed that an older man wearing a clerical collar must be someone to be trusted. You know that you can buy a clergy shirt with a clerical collar on Amazon.

Later on, as I reflected on this event, I realized that it was remarkably similar to what Jesus had done for me on the cross. For many of my sins I had to pay the immediate consequences, but once I bowed down before my Savior, the slate was wiped clean, and I was welcome to come into the presence of the Lord as a family member. Even I knew that my sentence didn’t reflect my true guilt before God, and I am literally eternally grateful. As it ends up the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is spot on.

This morning we will focus on our passage from Ephesians 2:4–10. We are going to refocus on who we are in Christ and how it doesn’t reflect what we deserve but who we have come to know. Those who are in Christ have had an amazing shift in their position before God and find themselves “seated with Him in the Heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.”

We are beginning the fourth week of the Lenten journey where we are focusing on the cross of Jesus Christ. The first week we looked at the importance of remembering our baptismal vows (which we will renew on Easter morning). We looked at the example of Noah who chose to follow the command of God to build an ark and that decision saved him and his family when the flood waters came. We saw that Jesus was our perfect example when he submitted to the water of baptism as a sign of his obedience to the will of the Father.

The second week we looked at the example of Abraham’s obedience to the Lord’s command to sacrifice his only son Isaac even though he was the son of promise. Abraham chose obedience because he trusted in the word and promise of the God that he had learned to follow without question. God did not let him follow through with the sacrifice of his son but provided a ram caught in the thicket for the sacrifice. This was the foreshadowing of what God the Father was going to do through his Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus, in obedience to the Father's will, became the sacrifice for our sins and because of that, we should follow him out of grateful obedience.

Last week we considered Romans 7 where the Apostle Paul wrote that the law of God was holy, righteous and good because it reflected the will, character and nature of God. Even though he knew this, Paul wrote that he was unable to perfectly keep the law because of the sin nature that was still a part of his human condition. For all of his understanding and love of the law, he could not keep it in his own strength. He had discovered that even though the law was holy, it had no power to save him, only to show him that without Jesus Christ he had no hope.

Today, we continue focusing on our journey with Jesus as he heads toward the cross. We will find that this is the greatest example of love and mercy ever found anytime or anywhere in all of human history.

In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul explained that the greatest example of God’s love and power was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this morning’s reading, he demonstrates how that same power can transform our lives from death to life. Paul began the second chapter by reminding the Ephesian Christians of their hopeless condition before they encountered Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to remember that before they encountered Jesus Christ, they were the walking dead who were stumbling along, following the enemy of God who would lead them to the hopelessness and despair of an eternity without the presence of God. A condition that no one can really imagine or comprehend its misery. Even though they were physically alive they were spiritually dead.

In today’s world Hollywood has produced TV shows and many films about “Zombies,” the walking dead, and amazingly enough they are extremely popular. Though the zombies are walking around they are in a state of decay and continually seek to find those who are living so they can bring them down to where they are in death. Paul wanted his readers to see life without Christ as spiritual death, with the result of becoming less and less what God made us to be as humans. One of the greatest lies that Satan has perpetuated upon the unbeliever is making them believe that they are doing fine without God and are free to follow their own desires without consideration of consequences. When confronted they often rise in moral indignation and question the right of the confronter to judge their actions. Good and bad, right, and wrong are considered individual decisions, and the consideration of God’s law or the good of others is irrelevant.

In our world today we see the perfect example of Satan’s corruption and evil being played out by those who support abortion and call it a reproductive right of women and the proposal that taxpayers should not only accept it, but pay for it. They support the lucrative business of harvesting and selling baby parts. Rather than experiencing shame for their great evil they have passed laws that now have threatened those who exposed their godlessness and are seeking to impose huge financial penalties on those who brought their actions to light. We are seeing the walking dead, moving around and talking, but we recognize the voice as coming from the pits of Hell.

We see the same godlessness being forced upon the American people with the LGBTQ initiatives and the requirement that our children be taught that the perversion of what God created as a sacred act between a husband and wife is to be allowed in any and every venue and combinations and celebrated. The walking, talking dead are trying to make this a law. This is no longer a matter of different agendas between political parties but is a war between the light of Christ and the darkness of Satan and his hate-filled loathing of anything bringing glory to God.

The seventeenth-century revivalist and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, described those without Christ as “although dead, the sinner nevertheless walks about actively in sin. He is dead towards God, but he is alive to all wickedness.”

Paul is reminding the reader that those who choose to follow this path “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Paul shows that those who walk according to their own sinful desires and refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord show themselves to not be God’s children but children of wrath.

Let’s look at our passage for this morning from Ephesians 2:4–6,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

The first two words in this section are the most important, “But God”. These two words sum up the whole power and story of the gospel. They tell what God has done and how he has intervened in what was otherwise a hopeless situation. Before God moved on our behalf, we were stuck in Ephesians 2:1–3, and—left in that condition—we were destined to be objects of God’s holy judgment and wrath.

It is vitally important that we describe who this God is according to the Holy Scriptures because there are many viewpoints as to the nature of God. Some see him as a benevolent grandfather type who just wants everyone to be happy and for us to treat one another with kindness. Some view him as really wanting to help us but basically can’t do much, or he is just indifferent to what happens to us. If you ask a thousand people to describe their view of God, you’ll likely get a different view each time.

It is the tendency of the unregenerate heart to fashion a god after their own imaginations, but that is not the God that Paul is writing about. He is the God of the Bible, the God, and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of glory that Paul revealed in chapter one of Ephesians. He is the God who is creator and sovereign over all of creation. Nothing occurs without his permission and there is not one random molecule in the universe that is outside of his knowledge and control. As we have been discussing in our “Behold Your God–The Weight of Majesty” class, the God of Scripture is incomprehensible, all-knowing, all-powerful, not bound by time or space. He is infinite and eternal, and we could never comprehend this God in our own wisdom but desperately need his self-revelation through his word.

James Boice, in discussing the truth that God is Holy, wrote in his commentary on Ephesians,

Nothing is more important in Paul’s opening description of God’s great plan of salvation, unfolding over the ages, than that God is a moral God. He is not indifferent to issues of right and wrong, justice and injustice, righteousness, and sin. On the contrary, it is because of his opposition to everything sinful that his great plan of salvation was devised and is being executed. Sin will be punished; righteousness will be exalted in his universe.

God’s wrath against sin flows from his holiness and that is why the human condition without Jesus Christ is so frightening. This is God’s universe, “and he does not have a “live and let live” attitude toward those who oppose him. This is the God of whom Paul is writing and this is the God that we need, even though once we did not know it. Instead of coming to him to find new life and righteousness, we were prone to run from him to wickedness and spiritual death.

“But God”! What a wonderful statement! It was God who was unwilling to leave us in the desperate, deplorable state that Paul describes at the beginning of this chapter. We were unable to save ourselves because we were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were no more able to help ourselves than a corpse is in breathing new life into itself. We were enslaved to sin and were those who ran toward our own desires and were by nature children of wrath. “But God”! Within these two words lies the beauty and wonder of the Christian gospel. We were without hope, but God intervened to save us and through Jesus Christ dealt with all the guilt and shame that our sins brought upon us.

Why would he do this for those who had been so prone to reject him and his word? Paul writes that it is because,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

God did what only he was able to do and that is to set us free from death and sin. This is one of the most common themes in all the Scriptures. In almost every question or struggle that we have, it is God in Christ who intervenes.

Paul is clear in our passage that God does all these things because he is merciful, and he loves completely, in a way that we can’t fully understand. He even loved us when we were dead in our trespasses and sin. I’m prone to try and figure out the motivation behind someone’s love or favor but with God it is because that is who he is.

C. S. Lewis captures this perfectly in his book, The Four Loves,

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing… the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves…. If I may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and ‘take advantage of Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

Paul asserts that God’s grace, his undeserved favor, is the reason that we can be saved. We don’t deserve it and there is nothing we could possibly do to earn our way into his kingdom. He offers us salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ simply because he wants to and in spite of ourselves, he loved us.

It's the next verse that shows how much God loves us and how far he is willing to go with his blessings. Ephesians 2:6, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

Because Jesus was raised from the dead we too are raised up with and seated with Jesus. These three events refer to what actually happened to Jesus: his resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father. Paul assumed a union between Christ and those for whom he died, those who have come to trust him—so that what is said of the Redeemer can be said of the redeemed. What once historically happened to Jesus also happened to those who have come to him by faith, but it has happened to them in a mystical and spiritual way. These things will one day happen in a physical way at the resurrection, but for now, the believer experiences these realities in an inward way and in a newness of mind and heart. But it’s also the position that we find ourselves, in the heart of God.

A good way to understand the implications of this is to consider Jesus’ teaching on the connectedness of the vine and the branches in John 15. There, the vine receives directly from the branch the needed nourishment for growth. By being attached to the vine, the branches benefit from all that the vine offers. We can also see in Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for those who would believe in John 17:22–23,

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Paul is teaching that we are positionally, spiritually seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father. Not in the future but right now. It resembles the scene at the Last Supper where Jesus says that one of the disciples will betray him. Listen to John 13:25–26,

So that disciple (John), leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

Because of John’s position of intimacy, leaning back against Jesus, he receives the revelation of who it was who would betray Jesus. Because we who are in Christ are spiritually seated with Christ, who is seated next to the Father, we have an opportunity to be in the place of intimacy with Jesus and access to the Father. I’m afraid that often because we don’t understand our position in Christ as those who have been made alive, raised up, and seated with Jesus, we miss the relationship and the power that is ours through Him. The next few verses give us a clearer understanding of how important it is that live into who we are in Christ.

Let’s read verses 7–10,

…so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The place that God has brought us in Jesus Christ is a place of intimacy and revelation. It’s where God opens up his heart to us and that is where we are now. Now God is speaking to us intimately through his word and by his Spirit. This is how he has chosen to show us the greatest kindness both now and in the coming ages.

Paul makes it abundantly clear that all this has come about because of God’s amazing grace and mercy. It wasn’t because of something that we did, lest we become boastful, but it is totally by his grace. We are to reveal his handiwork to those who have yet to know or understand who God is. We have been created in Christ Jesus to continue the work that Jesus started while on earth. Everything that we need is at our disposal—God’s power, authority, strength, wisdom, love, compassion, and mercy are all ours. Why? Because we have become family and have all the blessings and tools of the kingdom for our use. When we focus on the fact of our position, it should change how we pray and how we live.

The positive lesson that Jesus was teaching his disciples in our gospel reading from John 6:1–15 is that there are things that only God can do, like making five barley loaves and two fish stretch into a meal for probably 12–15 thousand. Then to fully make the point, twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered up. The disciples’ job was to move in faith and do what Jesus commanded by distributing the bread and fish and then gathering up the leftovers. I can only imagine what it was like for them to experience that. Jesus continually showed them his power and authority and after Pentecost they finally got the point. They were to reveal the power and the authority of Jesus in their everyday lives because in the Holy Spirit they were in the most intimate position by being seated with him in the Heavenly places and therefore had full access to all that the kingdom offered.

This is the great privilege that Paul had in mind as he wrote this section of Ephesians. I will close with these questions for us to ponder.

Have you been made alive in Christ?

Do you sense the power of Christ within you?

Do you have a sense that you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realm?

This week I want to encourage each of us to sit quietly before the Lord imagining that we are sitting next to Jesus and in the presence of the Father. Ask Him to speak to you, revealing his love. Make this a part of your daily devotions and times of worship.

Christianity is not a mere doctrine or the hope that somehow God will forgive your sins. Christianity is Christ alive in his people. Colossians 1:27, 

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

If we are enjoying that intimacy with God, we will no longer set our affections on the world but on God’s glory. We are in a battle between light and darkness, and you can’t avoid it. To run away and hide is choosing a side.

God is showing us through his word that he wants intimacy with us, and the proof is the cross. If we pursue him continually and we will be rewarded by his love and the power to stand and fight in Jesus’ name.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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