The 12th Sunday After Pentecost August 19, 2007
1 Kings 19:4-8; John 6:41-51
149, 245, 32, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:16-17) Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians—pilgrims struggling in these last days to remain faithful to the Word and will of our Faithful Shepherd—grace and peace be multiplied to you from that same Lord Jesus who did all things so well:
Ever wonder what makes one aroma good and another bad? What is it that causes us to use the word “stink” in describing one smell and “fragrance” to describe another? Sometimes on our walks around the neighborhood, my wife and I will catch the scent of steaks on the grill. There is just something about that magnificent aroma that is almost universally appealing. Makes one almost want to go up to the door and make new friends…
But just what is it that makes one aroma good and another bad? It isn’t necessarily that if something tastes good, then the smell is appealing. Ever try limburger cheese? It tastes great and smells, well, very, very bad. Nor is the opposite true. Some folks like the smell of gasoline, but that doesn’t mean that they’d like a tumbler of “gas on the rocks” before dinner.
This all makes you wonder if such things are just wired into us by our Creator. If so, the next interesting question is whether or not there is such a thing as an aroma that is pleasing to God himself? Our text tells us that there is, but as in all other ways, what pleases God is always on a much higher plane than that which pleases sinful mankind. By the grace of God, our text will guide us onto that higher plane—elevating our thoughts and attitudes to a level where true insight and lasting value can be found, to a place where we can walk arm in arm and in perfect harmony with our Lord Jesus Christ. Our text is found in Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Ephesus, the fourth chapter:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
So far the very words of our merciful God. Thanks be to God for giving us these pure and holy words that bring life and immortality to sinner like you and me. That God would so bless us through these words, we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
It is rather embarrassing how shallow and superficial we can be. We spend so much time and energy on that which means nothing. We fret over dents in our fenders, downswings in our pension plans, and the dust on our furniture. Perhaps we play such games because we are reluctant to move into the big leagues—the place where things really matter. So also while we salivate over steaks on the grill, God takes pleasure in a little different “aroma.” God takes pleasure in his Son, who, according to the inspired words of our text, “has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.” [v.2] That is the sort of thing that gives pleasure to our God. That is what to Him is a “sweet-smelling aroma.” Even in the face of ridicule and torture at the hands of His own creation, the perfect obedience of God’s Son was and is a source of pure delight in the reckoning of our Holy God.
That is the plane on which we walk today. With our hearts and minds thus elevated, we are now ready to direct our attention to some very simple words in our text—words that were given to us in the context of a sentence, but words that I want you now to consider on their own merit. Block out all else for a moment and focus on these simple words from verse 32: “…just as God in Christ forgave you.”
These are not difficult words—neither in English nor in the Greek from which they were translated. There is no question about these words, nor is there scholarly debate about what they mean to say. They say exactly what they mean and mean exactly what they say: “God in Christ forgave you.” To aid in applying these words to ourselves, we now examine them, one by one.
Who is it, first of all, that has forgiven you? God. This is the very best of news because, in the end, no one else matters. God is your judge. God forgave you.
Note the word forgave. Again, there is no debate about this word, no questions or debates about what it means. It means forgave, pardoned. Unlike English words, Greek words are very specific and relate most accurately exactly what the writer intended. The Greek form of this verb (forgave) indicates a positive assertion made regarding an act carried out in the past. In other words, this forgiveness is a done deal—God forgave.
We are taking great care with these words for a reason. The Devil, as they say, is often in the details. There is no Devil here. This is purest, sweetest, simplest Gospel. It speaks to every single one of you and says as clearly as can be said, “God has pardoned you.” Note that this sentence does not say, “…may forgive.” It does not say, “…will forgive.” It does not even say, “…goes on forgiving.” It says did, done, accomplished. It is a fact—an accomplished act according to the decree of the only One who makes the rules. “God in Christ forgave you.”
Can you ever hear those words too often? Think for a moment of a rather embarrassing sin that you committed in the week just past. God forgave that sin. Think of that sin which, in your estimation, is the worst sin you have ever committed. God forgave that sin too. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? This may be the only time in your life when something that sounds too good to be true is nonetheless absolutely genuine.
How is all of this possible? It is possible by virtue of these two words from the sentence in question: “in Christ.” God forgave every single one of your sins because he piled every single one of those sins on his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus carried your sins to the cross, and paid for them there with his very lifeblood. He left no sin behind.
One word we have left to examine. We must not fail to examine this word for if this last window of doubt is not closed and latched, the Devil will most certainly enter through this very window to vandalize your heart and lay waste to your confidence. It is the word you—God in Christ forgave you. The doubt that Satan would love to create in your heart is that Christ perhaps died to pay for other sins, but not your sins. He forgave others, but not you.
But how can I know that this “you” means me? There is but one test, one qualification that you must pass before you can be sure that God has also declared you not guilty in Christ: You must be a human being—a member of the human race and part of this sinful world. That is the only test, the only qualification. Pass that test and you can know with absolute certainty that these words are spoken also to you. Scripture clearly says: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing (charging) their trespasses (sins) to them…” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19) If you are part of “the world,” then you have been reconciled to God by the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Dear Christian, with this simple sentence you can now shout down the Devil himself. He is powerless against these words of truth. They carry us to that higher plane—to a nobler, holy walk with our God here in time and on into eternity.
As we now walk along that high road our text offers us some inspired guidance, for we still have this sinful Old Adam clinging to our holy and perfect New Man. We can still be confused as to the perfect, holy will of the God that our inner being longs to serve.
Verse 30 of our text offers a rather starting insight into what we are still capable of doing despite what our God has already done for us. There we read that we should not “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” The word grieve means just what we would expect it to mean: to “cause pain” or “make sad.” Hard to imagine that we could accomplish such a thing, but there is, again, no doubt as to what these words say and mean. How then could we do such a thing; how is it possible for a human being to “grieve the Holy Spirit”?
Our text gives us a partial listing of some of the human actions that bring this about. The list in our text includes “bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice.” [v.31] Take a look at this list and note well just what the Holy Spirit is talking about here.
Bitterness indicates a hostile attitude. It speaks of someone filled with animosity and resentment who causes trouble among his brothers.
Wrath has to do with being hot-tempered. It points to anger that quickly wells up within the heart and overflows in a demonstration of indignation or rage.
Anger differs from wrath in that it indicates a deep-seated indignation that settles in the heart and remains there, tainting a man’s thoughts and actions.
Clamor is a picture of voices raised in angry shouts; loud outbursts of malice and bitterness.
Evil speaking refers to harmful or abusive words, slander and reviling. We have taken the original Greek word almost directly into English as “blasphemy.”
Malice indicates general ill will or evil thoughts and intentions—dark, bad, malevolent feelings.
Of this great and terrible list, Paul says simply: “Let all (these things) be put away from you.” It takes no great depth of insight to see that such things simply don’t belong in the heart of God’s children, let alone in our words or actions. They are not appropriate actions for those who have been forgiven.
And yet these very things are found in our lives, aren’t they? We have felt them, we have harbored them, we have employed them against our beloved family members, our friends, our acquaintances, our fellow Christians, our co-workers, and with total strangers. We have allowed such dark and evil inclinations to live in our hearts, holding them in reserve for the times when we feel the need to call them out like a pack of trained wolves meant to rip and tear and destroy.
Such things, Paul tells us, are to have no part in the heart of a child of God.
Yet note well where it is in our text that you find this list. It does not follow our beloved little sentence: God in Christ forgave you—causing doubt as to whether or not those who find such things in their hearts actually are forgiven by God. This list comes first. In writing to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul was acknowledging that such things did indeed show themselves in their hearts, for he did not say, “Let there never be…” He said, “These things are present among you. Get rid of them.” But note well that the presence of sin in the lives of the Christians in Ephesus did not nullify or cancel out the fact that God forgave them. That is, in fact, what makes God’s forgiveness so special. It is in realizing how sinful we truly are that the message of forgiveness takes on its true luster. It is in recognizing the awful load of perversion and sin that Christ carried to the cross that we begin to understand the true nature of those simple words: “God in Christ forgave you.”
Woe to those false prophets today who tarnish the splendor of God’s forgiveness in Christ by justifying sin, styling it as “alternate lifestyles,” “committed relationships,” or “choice.” The Christian faith is not about denying sin. It is about freely confessing our sins—all of them—and then rejoicing in the perfect forgiveness that can be found only in Jesus Christ.
Take no comfort when man calls you good. Rejoice rather that God, in Christ, has forgiven all of your many sins. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.