The Seventh Sunday After Trinity July 25, 2004
390, 463(783), 457, 616(1-2,7-8)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May God the Holy Spirit grant to each of you the vision to see beyond the cares and pleasures of this world to the eternal inheritance that has been prepared for His children. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians:
Human beings are amazing creatures. Not only are we truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” (cf. Psalm 139:14), but we also have an amazing capacity to adapt. God no doubt gave us this gift and built it into us so that we could survive in the kind of world in which we live. The downside is that the same gift that allows us to adapt and survive under the most trying conditions also leads us to rather quickly take for granted the best that God gives us. We are reminded of this in a small way when visitors remark about the natural beauty of the area in which we live. How is it that we can so quickly take for granted this beauty that is all around us? It’s like that everywhere. In Florida folks take for granted the beauty of the virgin cypress swamps and Spanish moss-draped ancient live oaks. In the North they take for granted the pristine backcountry trout streams and wooded hills. In the mountain states the majestic snow-capped peaks became an old sight.
It is important to realize how easy it is for us to treat the sublime as common. This is important because we do the same thing with that which is the most grand and magnificent of all of God’s gifts to mankind—the Word of God. That Word of God is itself Truth and Life. The true majesty contained therein is without equal.
Therefore, this morning we will stand back and try to observe that Word of God as though we are seeing it for the very first time. There we will see, if we but look with the eyes of faith and thanksgiving, jeweled pathways stretching off into eternity. We will see history as old as the earth. We will witness the life and death battle for the survival of mankind. We will glimpse a far distant land where we will one day meet our God. It is there we will see the most thrilling of all sights, for there we will see our eternal inheritance.
The magnificent vista upon which we gaze this morning is found in the First Chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
So far the very Word of God, a magnificent view that stretches not just from horizon to horizon, but from eternity to eternity—from life, to death, to Life. May our God bless us in the contemplation of this grand scene, for He Himself has promised, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and treasure it.” Therefore we pray, “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Just as those who live right next to active train tracks claim that they don’t even hear the trains (even as the train’s incredibly powerful horn rattles the dinnerware off the shelves) so also there is no landscape on earth that the locals haven’t learned to take for granted. As skin through much use becomes callused and insensitive, so also both joy and pain can leave us numb and indifferent. We quickly learn to dwell on what we do not have, rather than on what we already possess. What different people we would be if we would learn to spend our time giving thanks.
But for what shall we give thanks?
For a moment set aside the fact that each one of us lives like a king or queen compared to a majority of the people in the world today and compared to almost all of earth’s residents a hundred years ago. Forget the fact that most of us have never known the terror of war and that thus far we enjoy unheard of peace and plenty. For the the moment forget that we can statistically expect to live to a ripe old age in ever-increasing comfort and ease. Forget all of that (and there is so much more) and concentrate only on one aspect of our existence: spiritual blessings.
When is the last time we thanked God for even one spiritual blessing? And yet, what does our text tell us? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” [v.3] Surely we must be translating that verse poorly! Surely there must be some special, more limiting meaning to these words other than what they appear to be saying. Has God really blessed each of us with “every spiritual blessing”? Yes! There is no mistake. That is the Word of God. Every blessing is ours—yours and mine—in Christ. Stand back for a moment and survey all that our God has given us. Though we try, we cannot possibly take in all that He has done for us, yet some things certainly stand out.
The first great gift to catch our eyes and hearts ought to be the words that come next in our text: “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ…” [vv.4-5] Kind of takes your breath away when you stand back and admire the gift of predestination this way, doesn’t it? Gone is the notion of “blind fate” or “dumb luck” or “just so happened.” You were not just a chance product or a roll of the dice. From eternity God knew you. What is more, from eternity God chose you (predestined you) to be His child in Jesus Christ. Before the world was even formed God knew everything about you and chose you to spend eternity with Him in heaven! Amazing!
Do yourself a favor. Don’t walk away from this “view” just yet. Walk around to the back side of this incredible blessing and look at it from the other side, from God’s point of view. Even more awe-inspiring is the fact that God saw nothing in us that distinguished us from any of the other lost and condemned sinners, nothing that made us more worthy to receive such a gift. We were just as sinful, just as rebellious, just as undeserving as every other sinner. Why, then, did he do it? Why did God from eternity pluck you and me from the mass of humanity headed for the eternal torment of Hell and set our feet on the shining path to heaven? The simple and yet incomprehensible answer is given in our text. God did it simply “according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” [v.5] Note well: There was no merit in us, no desirability, no lovable traits or character. How can such a gift ever become ordinary? How can we ever cease to marvel and lavish praise and thanksgiving upon our merciful God for rescuing us from the certain fate we had earned? God chose us from eternity, as Luther put it, “without any merit or worthiness in me.” Surely we agree with Luther’s reaction: “For all of which it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true!”
The next gift, the next vista in the panorama of our text, is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Most travelers would rather turn away from this sight. They want neither to be repulsed nor reminded. As we survey the landscape do not look away. Look steadfastly, earnestly, knowingly. Look and see the gruesome figure nailed unceremoniously to a plain, wooden cross. See the blood, dried on His head, face, and neck. See the life-blood seeping out of His hands and feet. See the blood pour from the wound of the soldier’s spear. Look and see, and know that the blood itself is not the remarkable thing here, but the need for blood, the need for the blood of the Son of God. God did indeed know and choose us from eternity. We, however, alienated ourselves from God. Something, someone, had to reconcile us to our Father. A penalty had to be paid, and since the evil was so very great, so also the payment had to be great—greater than the evil of all the sins of all mankind. The payment, according to our text, had to be a blood sacrifice—the blood sacrifice of the Son of God. “In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” [v.7]
Most would turn away from this sight. They would rather not be reminded of their need for a savior. Nor do they want to be reminded of their own helplessness apart from Jesus Christ. Most divert their eyes because they know that here the myth of the “harmless character of sin” will be dashed to pieces on the reality of the blood soaked cross. Here, for all who venture a glance, the pleasure of sin is measured against the payment necessary for sin. Sin is thus unmasked and revealed for what it truly is—an ugly cancer that will most certainly devour all who provide for it a safe haven in the heart where it can thrive. Many struggle mightily to remove this landmark, this cross, from the Christian landscape. It is to them an offense. To them it is an embarrassing display depicting the Christian’s lack of sophistication and enlightenment. The Phillips’ paraphrase of the Bible couches the truth in these words:“It is through Him, at the cost of His own blood, that we are redeemed, freely forgiven through that full and generous grace which has overflowed into our lives and opened our eyes to the truth.” What a gift we have been given!
The spectacle the world made of the sinless Son of God will forever remain a curiosity to those in the world. Not even the most experienced world travelers can make heads or tails out of the cross. They can know what happened there, but they cannot know what really happened there. They have been given a gift, but in their ignorance they have no concept of its tremendous value. God, again, has provided us with the gift of understanding. Our text (from Phillips’ paraphrase) goes on: “For God has allowed us to know the secret of His plan, and it is this: He proposes in His sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him.” [vv.9-11] There is probably not an individual in the civilized world who has never seen a cross, but never for a moment can the unbeliever suspect what that cross really represents. It is the most beautiful and vital gift ever given to mankind!
Dear Christian, all of this is ours—yours and mine—for our text has told us that all who are in Christ are even now in possession of “every spiritual blessing.”
There is so much more to see in this text, so many more gifts to learn to appreciate. We look only at one more, the crowing jewel, for it is the culmination of all gifts. Again we read from Phillips’ paraphrase of our text: “And here is the staggering thing—that in all which will one day belong to [Christ] we have been promised a share…” [v.11]
Oh the undeserved love of God, that He would not only rescue us from the Hell we so richly deserve, but that He would also willingly share with us His inheritance in heaven. He has made His inheritance our inheritance! All is ours, not through effort on our part, but as a pure and simple gift from God! God grant that we neither tire of, nor take for granted such truly incredible gifts!
Fill us, O Holy Spirit, with true and boundless excitement over our countless spiritual gifts, especially our blessed inheritance in heaven. 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.