The Fourth Sunday in Lent April 3, 2011
Genesis 14:8-20 / John 12:27-36
12, 376, 151, 49
You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of Him who came to the cradle that He might die on the cross:
The very idea that there is a God at all is an offense to fallen mankind. For if there is an all-powerful Creator God, then all glory belongs to Him alone and not to man. Sinful man cannot stomach the thought that he is not his own Savior—the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. That’s why the words of our text are so distasteful to the foolish, perishing world.
On the other hand, to all who have received faith’s wisdom by the operation of the Holy Spirit, these words bring the richest peace, comfort, and hope as well as songs of thankfulness and praise to our Creator-Redeemer God. YOU ARE GOD’S SPIRITUAL CREATION!
No one wants to “go under the knife” of the surgeon, and no one appreciates the surgeon who has performed an operation to save his life unless he is aware of how terribly ill he was in the first place. So the Ephesians and we ourselves need to be reminded often of our former condition if we are to continue giving God the praise He deserves.
We “were dead in trespasses and sins,” [v.1] Paul writes. We were not merely condemned to death, but we were cold stone dead—completely without spiritual life. Since the fall of Adam, human beings are by nature spiritual zombies, unable to wiggle a finger to save themselves from the condemnation of their sins.
Does it look like sinners are spiritual zombies and dead? No, it doesn’t! Take the self-acclaimed greatest boxer who ever lived, for example. Mohammed Ali appears to all the world as a kind and generous person. He travels all over the world to sign autographs for children even though he is hardly able to walk and talk. Many would say that here is a “good” man whom God must accept. Ali believes the same thing about himself. Many years ago his wife said that her husband believes that each autograph he signs makes him more acceptable to Allah.
You see, unconverted man may not be an obvious offender against God’s commands. He may lead an outwardly respectable life by the world’s standards. He may be a faithful husband, a loving father, a good friend, a loyal citizen, and a very good neighbor. He may even appear to outdo some regular church-goers! Yet, he is spiritually dead by nature and completely without the ability to please God. For whatever he does is done from slavish fear, or the thought that he might be rewarded by God or receive the praises of others.
While being “dead” to good, we were all by nature “alive” to evil! By nature we all walked in sin and in perfect harmony with the morally depraved course of this world, Paul says (cf. v.3). We call this “inherited” or “original sin.” We were also the slaves of Satan who is described in as “the ruler of the power (domain) of the air,” and “the ruler of the spirit even now working in the sons of disobedience.” [v.2]
Have you ever seen Satan? No. That’s because he rules beyond our senses in the intangible “air” about us in this world. The evil spirit of this ruler is seen in the works of the children of disobedient Adam, “among whom we also once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” [v.3]
People get all excited about how far so-and-so has climbed the ladder of success in this world, rising from humble beginnings to great heights. But look at you! From the depths of spiritual death, from the very jaws of Satan and the gates of Hell, your God has “seated you in the heavenly places.” [v.6]
Verses 4-6 of the text tell us that God alone has made us “alive together with Christ.” Notice the cause of our heavenly ascendancy and new life: “mercy, love and grace.” God’s mercy took pity on us in our spiritual deadness and condemnation. God’s great love determined that something would be done for us. He showed His great love for us in giving His only Son as the blood-sacrifice and payment for the sins of the world!
God’s grace made that love effective in us in spite of our own unworthiness. God’s grace caused us to put our trust in Christ and His redeeming work. Through the Spirit-power of His revealed Word and the Sacrament of Baptism we “are made alive together with Christ.” We are “raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places!”
Did you pick up on the vital connection between Christ’s experience and ours? Soon we will again celebrate Christ’s coming to life in the tomb, His resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father. All that Christ experienced physically is related to our spiritual blessing as cause and effect.
Notice how the words “together with” (v.5) combine Christ and us. Because Christ who was dead has been made alive, we who were spiritually dead are also made alive! Because Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we have been raised from spiritual death to walk in a new and spiritual life! Because Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, therefore, we are “seated with Him in the heavenly places!”
All of this should affect the way we live our lives, dear friends. For if, even now, we are sitting with Christ in heavenly places, we ought to be functioning more and more as His kings and priests (1 Peter 2:9). All the power and blessings of Christ are behind us, with us, and working through us! If Christ says, “All authority is given to Me in heaven and earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18f), then let us go! If Christ says to us, “Confess Me before men” (Matthew 10:32), then let us confess Him with boldness, energy, and joy! If Christ says, “Deny yourselves, and take up your cross and follow Me” (cf. Mark 8:34), let’s do it without complaining! If through faith in Christ you and I are already seated in Heaven with Christ, then we should not let money or possessions, or earthly friends, or any created thing bind us to this earth. We should be ready to leave it all for Jesus.
Consider the purpose for which Christ has made you His spiritual creation. He has done this so that “in the (timeless) ages to come He might show the riches of His grace in kindness toward us.” [v.7] Surely the greatness of these eternal riches in glory far surpasses our greatest earthly dreams!
Now we come to the most familiar portion of our text—verses 8-10. You are God’s spiritual creation “for good works.” Through faith in what God has done for us in Christ, God instills life into our dead souls by the creative power of His Gospel. As the Lutheran confessions also teach, faith is living an active.
In His wisdom God created man on the sixth day as a living being. God did this so that man would be able to produce and work to the glory of his Creator. So also, when God recreated us spiritually through faith, He gave us a faith that is lively and active in producing those works which please their Creator.
How then can we boast of our good works as if they are really our own idea and accomplishment? Verse 10 clearly says that we were “created in connection with Christ for good works.” What could be more plain? Can the green azalea bush hold its flowers up to heaven and boast before its Creator of how much it deserves for its beautiful performance? Neither can we who have been spiritually recreated by God ever boast of the good works we perform by His enabling Spirit.
But which works are true evidence of the spiritual life of faith? Luther entered the monastery as a young man because he believed that only the works of monks, nuns, and priests merited eternal life. But see how wonderfully Paul speaks in our text of the believer’s works. They were “prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [v.10]
The works we do as Christ-believers were all prepared by God in eternity when He chose us to believe. Every one of our works of faith are created things like the sun, the moon, and the stars! God has prepared them for us with the purpose that we should walk in them the way a person walks around in his house!
So whatever we do out of faith’s love for our God is a good work, whether it be preaching the Gospel of Christ, cleaning the house, or doing a favor for someone. Everything we say or do from a Christ-believing heart, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is part of the house of good works which God has prepared for us that we may “walk in them.”
Finally, when Paul says that we are “God’s workmanship, created in connection with Christ Jesus,” he uses a word for “creating” that is equal to the Hebrew word for “create” in the first chapter of Genesis. So, just as at the beginning God called all living things into being from nothing, so also he has brought forth spiritual life from nothing.
If you are truly alive by faith in Christ, then you are God’s spiritual creation. “Know that the Lord, He is God,” writes the Psalmist, “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 103:3). Blessing and honor, praise, and all glory be to the great Three-in-One from His thankful people now and forever! 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.