Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ephesians 1:3-14 Pentecost 8

Tension causes conflict between people.  Teenage drama happens because of the tension of trying to be cool enough to have friends and a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Workplace conflicts happen when there is tension—when personalities collide and when people are worried about losing their job.  It’s no different for God’s people. 
It seems that the Ephesian church had some people who thought they knew everything, who thought they were better than the others.  It seems that they had some people who didn’t feel like the fit in with the congregation, and other people who made them feel that way.  Behind the conflict there was a tension.  There was the tension of being a small Christian church in a large idol-worshiping city.  When Paul had been preaching there, the people of this city had started a riot against Paul and the Christians there.  For two hours they had shouted praises to their false god. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” they shouted as they protested against the Christians.  What should the Christians do about these people who were insisting that they be more inclusive of other religious viewpoints?  I’m sure the question was often on their minds.
Those of them who were Jewish Christians felt the tension of being a part of a nation that had failed.  They knew that their people had rejected the Messiah.  Their glory as the chosen nation of God had crumbled.  God was reaching out with his Word to other people, to the Gentiles.  What was left to make them special in God’s eyes now?  God had chosen them first, but now he was reaching out to others with his love.  They must have felt like the firstborn child who suddenly isn’t the center of attention anymore when mom gives birth to a baby sister.  The tension of feeling forgotten probably made them resent the non-Jewish believers and treat them as inferior.  They probably reacted with impatience when these new Christians were slow to leave their old sins behind and live like Christians.
No doubt the Gentile, non-Jewish Christians in the congregation also felt the tension of being inferior.  They had always been thought of as second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.  When Jesus challenged the Gentile woman to show her faith, he called her a dog in God’s house to see if she would still believe in his goodness.  That woman reacted as if she were used to thinking of herself as a dog in God’s eyes.  No doubt the Gentiles in the congregation at Ephesus resented the Jews who seemed to always think that they were better.  One can only imagine the conflicts that must have resulted.
To this church, persecuted from the outside and divided on the inside, Paul wrote words of wisdom.  He gave God’s remedy for any Church that has conflict, and for any Christians who feel inferior.  Are there reasons why you feel that God might have lost interest in you?  Do you feel that you are not one of God’s most valuable people?  Perhaps you resent people who seem to be more valuable, or maybe you feel like you should be more like them.   Maybe you feel like a disappointment to your Lord and Savior.
You may look at your life you realize that you haven’t really accomplished as much as you should have for your God.  You may have accomplished many things, but you realize it was all for yourself.  As much as you would like to care about others, as much as you want to be like Christ to them, you are still so hopelessly selfish with your time.  You are still so slow to give yourself to their needs.
You think about the people you know, and there is someone who loves God more, who trusts him more and worries less than you do.  There is someone who seems to have an endless well of compassion for others.  Someone never lies.  Someone is so much better at loving his wife, someone is so much better at honoring her husband.  Some of those people aren’t even Christians.  We realize that lots of unbelievers have never done the horrible thing we have done.  Then we wonder if we really belong in church.  We wonder if God might be regretting his decision to choose us and bring us into his family.
The Apostle Paul wrote to us as someone who had every opportunity to feel like a disappointment to God.  Jesus had appeared to him personally and called him to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  Yet here he was sitting in prison.  He could have thought that God had given up on him, a failure of an apostle.  Ah, but you say, “How could the great Apostle Paul have thought that?”  Let’s not forget that he was chased out of nearly every town he entered.  He didn’t change the world.  And in his personal life he thought of himself as the “worst of sinners.”  He said, “The good I want to do, this I cannot do.  The evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing.”  And yet, with every opportunity to feel worthless to God, Paul had learned to see things God’s way.  The picture is bigger than how we feel about ourselves.  God had a point in choosing people who have every reason to feel worthless.  He wanted to put his grace on display by making worthless people into the royal heirs of heaven.  Paul wants us to see ourselves as very valuable to God—like princes and princesses in his kingdom—the King has made us his heirs.  He has written us into his will, so to speak.  We are so important to him, in fact, that he already had his eye on us before we were born, and even before he created the world.  He was already planning how he would save us and then bring us to faith in our Savior.  We are so valuable that he has made plans to assure us that we truly do have an inheritance in heaven, regardless of what our gut feeling may say to the contrary.  There has been no mistake.  We are the heirs in the kingdom of heaven.  God has even made it legal.

God the Father Wrote You Into His Will

Hear Paul’s words from Ephesians, chapter 1.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

1.     There has been no mistake.

We have been written into God’s will as his heirs.  We have an inheritance in heaven.
Now, if you were to find out suddenly that you were an heir to the British throne—not the first in line, you aren’t going to be king.  You would be very rich, though—if you were to find out that you were an heir to the British throne, wouldn’t you think that there must be some mistake?  Why would you be in the will?
We ask the same questions about God, don’t we?  Why am I in God’s will?  Why would I get an inheritance?  There isn’t anything all that special about me.  I have in fact dishonored his name more often than I would like to admit.  Why would God want to put me in the will?  The answer, of course, is found in Christ.
Paul wrote, “For he chose us [in Christ] before the creation of the world…in love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.  And all of this God did, quote, “to the praise of his glorious grace.
God knew you before creation, and he chose you, knowing every horrible thing that you would do.  Knowing that you would love him less than you should, and forget about him more often than not, knowing that you would turn away from his will in disgust at times, he chose you.  And you know something, he doesn’t regret his choice.  He chose you so that he could display his grace, so that we could see how good he is and praise him for it.  He chose you because what he was planning to do in Christ was so great that it had to be on display.  The forgiveness that Christ purchased by his death is so complete that he needed real sinners like me and like you.
God’s history shows how true this is.  He chose Israel to be the nation he would call his own, even though he knew that they would forget him and even turn away from him again and again.  He did this because there is forgiveness in Christ even for rebellious people. 
God chose David to be a King and a Prophet for his people, knowing what David would do.  God even chose David as one whose life would foreshadow Christ, and God would compare Christ to David.  God chose to do this before the creation of the world, even though he knew that David would commit that horrible sin with Bathsheba, committing adultery with her and then arranging for her husband to be killed in battle in order to cover up his sin.  God chose David because there is forgiveness in Christ even for people who should know better but still do horrible things.
God chose you, because there is forgiveness in Christ for every awful thing you have ever done and ever will do.  This may seem too good to be true.  You are going to have a gut feeling now and then that God must certainly have regretted his choice and changed his mind about you.  But there has been no mistake, and God does not regret.  You will get your inheritance.  God the Father wrote you into his will, and…

2.   He made it legal by the Holy Spirit.

This is how you know that God will give you the inheritance.  It’s all legal.  The heirs are notified.  You have heard the Gospel—the good news has been preached to you, just as God planned that it would be.  You also have believed, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word.  That is the seal that marks you as a genuine heir.  Paul wrote, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
When a will is written, if you want to be very official, it is folded up and tied with a string.  Then a bit of wax is melted onto the string, and an official seal is pressed into the melted wax.  The seal on the will says that it is official.  It also assures us that nothing in the will has been changed.  If you want to open the will and change something, you will need to break the seal.  The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a seal that assures us that God’s will is genuine and we are truly his heirs.  He was given to you in your baptism, as God promised in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”  You know that he is still with you, because Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit wherever people hear his Word.  He said, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  There you see the evidence of his work, in that you have heard and believed God’s promises to you in Christ.  The Holy Spirit has taught you.
Paul also described the Holy Spirit as the deposit that makes your inheritance legal.  The deposit is a part of the whole inheritance, and it guarantees that the rest is coming.  When you sign a lease on an apartment, you have to make a security deposit.  That deposit makes the contract legal, and obligates you to complete the lease.  The Holy Spirit’s presence in us is like a security deposit.  Having the Holy Spirit in us and with us to teach us to know God and trust him is the first part of our inheritance, and also a sign that God has obligated himself to give us the full inheritance of heaven.  God has written you into his legally binding will.

We can’t leave without saying a little more about the inheritance that we have been given.  The inheritance that God has guaranteed to us is that we will be with to Christ, and we will enjoy every blessing that comes with being royalty in heaven.  God chose to make you the princes and princesses of heaven.  You have been chosen to sit on thrones in heaven with Christ the King.
Now don’t overlook this as just fine theological distinction that God chose you in eternity.  It is vitally important to understand that God chose you long before you ever knew him, because in real life your inheritance in heaven isn’t going to make sense any other way.  Our attempts to live up to the glory of God’s name are so pathetic.  There is no reason in the world why God should have chosen us to be his heirs.  The reason is in Christ, because God is so gracious and his love so deep that it must be put on display.  How better to show his grace than to lift up pathetic sinners like us and give us a place in heaven?  There is no mistake; God has not picked the wrong people.  This has been his plan from the beginning; he chose you though he knew everything you would do.  At the right time he has called you to faith in your Savior.  He has assured you that you are a genuine heir of heaven by giving you the Holy Spirit.  Your inheritance is sealed and guaranteed.  There has been no mistake; its all legal.  God has written you into his will.  Amen.