Text: Ephesians 2:1-10
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:: Some Music Used ::
Hymn of Praise: Come All Christians, Be Committed (BEACH SPRING)
Song of Response: One Pure and Holy Passion (Altrogge)
Offering of Music: Lead Me, Guide Me (Eric VanderHeide, solo) (Akers/Smallwood)
Song of Sending: Take My Life/Here Am I (ref. Tomlin/Giglio)
Postlude: Rick Bean, piano
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
We started the service today with the story of the Prodigal Son. It might also be called the story of the Gracious Father, for it was the father who welcomed the prodigal home, when no welcome was expected or deserved. Many of us resonate with that story because we have a bit of the prodigal in us or have experienced a time of wandering far from our spiritual home. Others identify with the older son, the dutiful one; but that, too, is a story of the Gracious Father, who freely gives all things also to the older son, not because of his obedience, but because of the Father’s love for both His children.
Today and for the next four weeks we are going to be looking at some of the theological and biblical foundation behind that story. That foundation can be found in Ephesians 2, which can be summarized in verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Today we will see that all who know Christ can be described as “former wanderers.” But we will also see that God not only loves such as these, but has a purpose for them… for us.
Just How Bad is It? (vv. 1-3)
The first few verses of Ephesians 2 spell out a bit what I mean by “wanderers.” Look at some of the descriptive words. Verse 1 speaks of “trespasses and sins” as a lifestyle – a way of ‘walking’ or living according to the “course of this world.” And that’s not a good thing; it is a form of disobedience. Verse 3 specifically names disobedience and sin, namely indulging the lusts of our flesh and the desires of the flesh and mind. And isn’t this the world we live in? Anything we can think of or lust after is available at the click of a button on the computer. It was no more and no less than the Prodigal son desired: to make his own way, do what he wanted, when he wanted… all free from the structure and strictures of his father’s household and oversight.
Verse 2 also reminds us of something: though God made this world and loves it, for a time it has been given over to the influence of Satan, marred by the consequence of evil. Even Jesus would make a similar distinction, praying that we would not take ourselves OUT of the world, but neither become so OF the world that we looked no different. Rather, he sent us INTO the world in his name.
So, here’s the question I’m getting to: just how bad is it? Just how bad is our spiritual wandering – our physical, mental, emotional, and purposeful participation in the disobedience of this world? Are their degrees of wanderlust? If we are the older brother in Jesus’ story, are we better off and better than the wandering Prodigal?
Jesus would say ‘no.’ And here in Ephesians, Paul says the same thing. Indeed, there is not a “little off-track” or a “little lost.” Rather, Paul writes of this wandering life: YOU WERE DEAD. (v. 1)
You can read in Genesis and Romans and elsewhere in the Bible that the consequence of sin is death. And you can well imagine the response of most fathers to a child demanding the inheritance that should only come with the Father’s death: “Go ahead; take it; you are dead to me as well!”
And here is an important point – really important: it is not the case that some of you are “good enough” and some of you are former wanderers. That’s the real gotcha moment in the story of the Prodigal… when you realize that the “good older brother” doesn’t get it and misses the celebration and joy of his father. No the truth is that ALL of us were dead in sin; that’s the whole point of Romans in the New Testament! It really helps level out our preconceived notion of sin to change: “he is more of a sinner than I am” to “he’s more dead than I am dead.” Whether you read Genesis or Jesus’ story or Romans or Ephesians or any other number of scriptures, our ‘wandering’ is disobedience is sin is death. But that is not all!
That is not all! Death is not to God as death is to us. Jesus raised the dead as if they had only been sleeping. God has pursued us in Christ, even into the Hell of forsakenness itself. Ephesians declares of our wandering souls: YOU WERE DEAD… BUT GOD.
But God What? (vv. 4-9)
But God acted! Verses 5-6 list three things God did. They are very spiritual and theological sounding, but don’t let that cause you to miss them. We were (and are, apart from Christ) spiritually dead; BUT GOD 1) made us alive together with Christ; 2) raised us up with Christ; and 3) seated us with Christ in the heavenly places. Let me briefly speak to each one.
God making us alive together with Christ is the undoing of the curse. It’s the reversal of the spiritual consequence of sin and disobedience. In Jesus’ vivid story, it is the father welcoming his son home, from a life that was no life to a welcome place of belonging. God raising us up and seating us with Christ is the step beyond new life to new purpose. It’s beyond forgiveness to discipleship. In Jesus’ story it is beyond recognizing and welcoming the son home; it is putting the ring on his finger and throwing the party for him, restoring his identity and celebrating life. There’s much more we could explore about what God did, but I want to press on to WHY God did it, and then to what is perhaps even more astounding.
First, why God did these things. Verse 4 describes why: it is because of God’s great love and mercy). Why did the father welcome the prodigal son home? No one would have expected him to, particularly in that culture at that time. The son had as much as said, “I wish you were dead; give me what’s mine!” That the father welcomed him back was exceedingly merciful (“rich in mercy!”); but more than that, it was clear he loved his son. That’s God!... full of mercy, but even more so full of love. And it’s not a wimpy anything-you-do-is-good-with-me “love”; it is a leap into the jaws of death, grab your child from the flames, stronger-than-death kind of love.
And it’s the kind of love that if you ever experience it, you realize it is a gift. That’s just how Paul describes it in verse 8: it’s nothing you did; it is the GIFT OF GOD.
A Purpose for Wanderers (v. 10)
I said at the beginning that God not only loves “former wanderers” but also has a purpose for them. And verse 10 names that purpose: “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
I never tire of sharing that ‘workmanship’ translates the word poiema, which is just what it sounds like: we are “God’s poems” or works of art. And God made us for worship, for service, for good works – not just as a project from time to time, but to “walk in them.” It’s a bookend to where we started. Remember verse 1? Formerly, we WALKED according to this world. And verse 3? We LIVED in the lusts of our flesh, desires of flesh and mind. God not only gives us new life and a new start, but it is to WALK and LIVE in a new way, with a new purpose.
The Prodigal returned home just hoping for servant status; that would be better than the death he was facing in the far country where he was starving. But his father didn’t just spare him from death; he restored him to his true identity, naming him again as son and throwing a party for him.
Have you ever thought that God just doesn’t have any use for the likes of you? Maybe you can buy that God is forgiving and that was enough to get you in the room today and other days. But a purpose for you? A calling? A LIFE? Hear the Good News – and I realize it may be somewhat unsettling news:
All who are saved are “former wanderers”; but God has a purpose for each one, even for you!
In the coming weeks we are going to try to illustrate more personally what that means and what that looks like and I hope you will ask God and yourself what that purpose might be. Amen.