Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
What do we see in our Gospel lesson today? They see a really smart kid. They see Him sitting in the temple among the teachers, the most learned scholars of the land. He’s listening intently and He’s asking them questions—good questions, smart questions, so much so that the teachers are amazed at His understanding and His answers. Is His knowledge so astonishing because He is the Son of God, or because His intellect is free from the sin that clouds our thoughts so badly? The Bible doesn’t say. But it does tell us why Jesus is there: He is there because it’s necessary that He be in His Father’s house, going about His Father’s business.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself the question: what is the Father’s business? What is it that requires a 12 year old Jesus Christ to be there in the temple on that day? We could wonder and speculate forever, but thankfully we are given the answer. That’s what St. Paul talks about in our epistle for today.
Our epistle is full of Good News as St. Paul bombards you with the proclamation of God’s blessings for you. And as we work through this text from Ephesians 1, I would suggest that it is good to note two things: First note how many different times you hear of God working to save you; second, note how this work is connected to Jesus again and again and again. God the Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Every spiritual blessing is yours, and it is yours for Jesus’ sake. God the Father is holding nothing back. Our text does not say that Jesus has won your entrance into heaven for you, but after that heavenly blessings are all based on your daily work and merit. It’s yours—every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places is yours in Jesus Christ.
God the Father has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. The Incarnation, the becoming flesh, of Jesus is not a lark where the Lord looked upon the earth one day and said, “Salvation by works isn’t going very well, so let’s try something different.” He has chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world: it has been His plan from eternity to pour out on you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places for Jesus’ sake. This has another significant piece of good news for you: as the Father’s choice has been from eternity, so it is for eternity. In other words, there will not be a day where God the Father says, “I’m done choosing you now. Yesterday I would have forgiven you and made you holy and blameless, but you’ve dropped off My list and I’m moving on.”
In love, God has predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, for Jesus’ sake. You’re part of His family: for Jesus’ sake, He has gathered you in. Whether you’re male or female, you have the standing of “son” in His family, because the sons are the heirs and you’re an heir of His kingdom. This is His will, that He might be gracious to you for Jesus’ sake.
In Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of His grace. You are redeemed and adopted into God’s family because Jesus Christ has shed His blood for you. Don’t forget the Gospel lesson: that 12-year-old boy Jesus is in His Father’s house at the time of the Passover feast, and His parents have been missing Him for three days. Twenty years later, He will be the Passover Lamb that is sacrificed and His blood shed so that the Lord passes over your sins and spares your life. He will be missing for three days after. But then He will rise again. Why? So that you might have redemption through His blood. So that you might have the forgiveness of your trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
The Lord has lavished this upon us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth…in Christ. Looking at the world throughout history, with all of its violence and bloodshed, it’s difficult to discern what sort of God is there and what exactly He’s up to; and apart from the Gospel, it’s little wonder that nonChristians come up with all sorts of strange ideas about God as they try to read His mind from the world around them. But His will and purpose is no mystery to you, because your faith beholds your Savior on the cross. That is God’s will and purpose, to deliver you from sin by the death and resurrection of His Son. There’s a lot of things you cannot know, but because of Jesus Christ you know this: God predestined you before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless and in heaven, all for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The Lord has sealed you with the promised Holy Spirit, guaranteeing that this inheritance is yours. How has He sealed you? By the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, which gave you faith to believe. Why has the Lord sealed you with the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing your inheritance? Because Christ has died for you. All of this is yours “in Him.”
That sure explains a lot about our worship, does it not? If God does all of this for us in Christ, then our worship is going to be about Christ. Gathered by the Holy Spirit, we come to where Jesus promises to be. That’s what our worship is.
Our text from Ephesians 1 is full of Good News, one glad announcement of salvation after another. It’s all about the blessings that God pours out upon you, lavishes on you, in Christ. Of course, wherever there is such Good News to be heard, you can bet that sinners will find a way of messing it up. And, sure enough, the pure Gospel presented so plainly in this chapter has been obscured by sinners in a couple big ways for one simple reason: the blessings God gives are beyond reason. They’re illogical. They’re so rich and free that they don’t make sense, and even Christians often fall into the trap of believing that the Gospel has to make sense. Thus we turn our attention to the two great errors which obscure these blessings beyond reason, which we could also subtitle, “How Christians unwittingly mess up the Gospel.”
The first error gets the fancy title of “double predestination,” and it goes like this: “Since the Bible says that God has predestined believers in Christ to go to heaven, He has also predestined unbelievers to go to hell. In other words, before the foundation of the world, God chose some to be saved and some to be condemned. If you’re one of those chosen to go to heaven, then Jesus died for you. If you’re one of those chosen to go to hell, then Jesus didn’t die for you.”
How does this error come about? Because Christians try to make the Gospel make sense according to human logic. See, we normally think that a choice involves two options. You can choose to do one thing or you can choose to do another. As a commercial for some product put it a while back, “one choice is no choice at all.” It makes sense. And if that makes sense, then this makes sense, too: if God chooses believers to be saved, then it only makes sense that He chooses unbelievers to be condemned. If a choice always has two options, then God must make both decisions. Seems logical enough.
But what does this reasoning do to the Gospel? What does it do to all of these blessings that God lavishes upon you? You can’t be sure that they’re really for you—because you can’t be 100% sure that God has chosen you. You might just be fooling yourself, thinking that you’re chosen for heaven; after all, you know better than everyone but God the miserable sins that are still going on inside of you. (Do those chosen by God really have some of the wicked thoughts floating in their minds that are floating in yours?) What does this reasoning do to Christ? It takes the focus off of Him and puts it on the Father’s sovereignty. In other words, a believer is saved because God chose him to be saved and used Jesus to get the transaction done. An unbeliever is lost—not because he doesn’t believe in Jesus, but because God chose him to be lost. That’s what this error does: it takes the focus off of the cross and says that all of God’s blessings are yours— if you’re chosen to be blessed.
In response to this error, we rejoice to declare God’s blessings beyond reason. We don’t make God submit to logic, but we must submit logic to God. The Bible never says that God chooses people to be condemned. It says the opposite: Ezekiel 18 declares that God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, and 1 Timothy 2:4 declares that God desires all to be saved; furthermore, 2 Corinthians 5 proclaims that Christ has died for all. God doesn’t choose people to be condemned: He offers salvation to all through Christ. Those who reject Jesus are lost because they reject God, not because God rejects them.
Therefore, you rejoice: you don’t have to wonder if God has really chosen you to be saved or if Christ has died for you. Instead, you have the certain hope that you are chosen from before the foundation of the world to have eternal life because Christ has died for you.
The other big error is the opposite ditch from double-predestination: it takes all of salvation out of God’s hands and puts it all into man’s. It’s called semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism, and it goes like this: if man can choose to reject God, then man can also choose to believe in God. It only makes sense, because one choice is no choice at all. If man can choose one, then he must be able to choose the other.
What does this do to the Good News of Ephesians 1—what does it do to Jesus and the blessings God lavishes upon you for Jesus’ sake? As far as Jesus goes, it robs Him of glory: it says that He did His part to save you, and that you do your part to save yourself by choosing to believe in Him. It takes the focus off of Him, and puts it on your decision, your commitment, your dedication. As far as the blessings go, it makes them uncertain again: they’re yours, if you really believe in Jesus enough. If you’ve truly chosen Him and made a decision for Him, then salvation and all those blessings are yours. But if your decision wasn’t sincere enough—if you’re only fooling yourself, then you’re lost. You can’t be sure if you’re truly committed: after all, as Jeremiah 17:9 says, your heart is deceitful above all things. And what about those times when you really mess up and sin—what does that say about your sincere devotion? You can’t be sure.
In response to this error, we rejoice to declare God’s blessings beyond reason and do not force Him to submit His will to logic. The Bible never says that we can choose to follow God: instead, Ephesians 2 and Romans 5 make it quite clear that you were born dead in sin. By definition, dead men cannot do anything to make themselves alive. But Christ has died for you.
You’re like Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11. Four days in the tomb, Lazarus couldn’t decide to be alive again. He was dead. Jesus came and spoke His life-giving Word, “Lazarus, come forth.” He made Lazarus alive, and Lazarus had nothing to do with the process. Now, if Lazarus had decided later to reject Jesus’ gift of life and kill himself, that would be his choice—not the Lord condemning him. That is how salvation works: God makes us alive in Christ. That is His doing, not ours. If we reject it and are lost, that is our doing, not His.
This, dear friends, is one of the great gifts we Lutherans have to offer to our fellow Christians in other church bodies, because only Lutheran theology holds purely to this Gospel. Only Lutheran theology sits quietly and listens to— and, more importantly, accepts— the wisdom of that 12 year old. Even more importantly, it understands and rejoices in what that 12 year old’s work was.
He chose you before the foundation of the world. That is to say, He predestined you for adoption as a child of God. Yes, that’s right, He chose you. If there is ever any question of whether or not you are one whom God has chosen to save, the only answer God gives us is the cross. God points you to the cross and says, “I chose you there. That was for you.”
He has redeemed you by His blood, forgiven your trespasses and lavished His grace upon you.
He has done all the work necessary to save you—and there is no doubt about His commitment, His sincerity or His faithfulness to you. That was the Father’s work. That was the work He had to be about that day. Preaching and teaching and bringing about incredible blessings beyond reason.
These blessings beyond reason may not fit our requirements of logic, but they are faithful to the Word. Faithful to the Word, they keep the focus on Christ. Faithful to the Word, they proclaim that God’s blessings are certain in Christ for you.
That’s your joy today: from the foundation of the world, God purposed that His Son would come and redeem you by His blood, so that He might seal you with His Spirit and lavish His grace upon you today. There is no doubt to these blessings beyond reason: for Christ’s sake, most certainly, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In His Name. Amen.