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“His Great Love for Us”
Ephesians 2:1-10


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday in Lent—March 22, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The advent of email and texting has also brought another new form of communication, known as emoticons.  Emoticons are combinations of typeface characters, usually representing a human face expressing some emotion.  The two most common emoticons are made with a colon and parenthesis, and represent either a sad face or a happy face, turned sideways.  In many programs now, if you type in these character combinations they automatically display these symbols.

All the teachings of Scripture fall into two broad categories, which can be summed up with these two emoticons: Law and Gospel.  The Law is the sad face, the bad news of our sin.  The Gospel is the happy face, the Good News of our Savior.

Every good Christian sermon should contain, and properly balance, both Law and Gospel.  First comes the Law, which is like the diagnosis of our sinful spiritual condition.  Then comes the Gospel, which is God’s Good News of his cure for our condition. It is a fundamental mistake either to preach only the Law, without following it with the Gospel, or to preach only the Gospel, without first preceding it with the Law. 

Law without Gospel leads only to despair, and that is not the purpose of the Law.  The primary purpose of the Law is to bring us to a recognition of our sinful state, to prepare us to receive the Good News of the Gospel.  If a doctor tells you that you have a deadly disease, what’s the first thing you then want to hear from him:  Is there a cure?  To preach the Law without following it with Gospel would be like a doctor telling you the bad news of your fatal disease, but then just abruptly leaving the room without saying anything more.  How would that make you feel?

On the other hand, to preach the Gospel without first preceding it with the Law is like a doctor going straight into telling you the treatment you need, without first examining you, explaining what is wrong, and why you need that treatment.  To preach the Gospel without preceding it with the Law makes the Gospel meaningless and frivolous, something you don’t even think that you really need.

Today’s Epistle Reading from Ephesians is like a concise Law-Gospel sermon by the Apostle Paul.  First, he diagnoses our sinful condition, with the full severity of the Law.  And, then, he tells us the Good News of God’s cure for our condition, with the comforting sweetness of the Gospel.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  Note that Paul does not say that we are just spiritually sick.  Sin is not just a slight spiritual sickness or weakness, and all we need is a little boost from God to help us get over it.  It does no good to give a booster shot to a corpse. 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.”  James says, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”  And Peter says, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”  But, we must all confess that we have been guilty of turning from God’s ways and choosing to be friends with the world.

“When you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the powers in the unseen world, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  The truth is, when we follow the world’s ways we are really following Satan’s ways.

“The ruler of the powers in the unseen world, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

Paul first has diagnosed our sinful condition, with the full severity of the Law.  Now he goes on, with the comforting sweetness of the Gospel, to tell us the Good News of God’s cure for our condition.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive.”  In these verses, Paul uses the words “mercy” and “grace” to describe different aspects of God’s “great love for us.”  Mercy and grace are like two facets of a diamond, sparkling with different ways of understanding God’s “great love for us.”

Mercy is not getting what you do deserve.  We all have earned what Paul describes in Romans as “the wages of sin,” death and eternal damnation.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive.”  In his great mercy, God does not mete out on you the wages of sin that you deserve, but instead he bestows on you “the gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”  There is only one cure possible for being dead, to make you alive again.  And that is what God has done for you.

“God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Mercy is not getting what you do deserve, but grace is getting, as a free gift, what you do not deserve.  “It is by grace you have been saved.”

Because we were spiritually dead, and God made us alive with Christ, then we must be saved totally, completely by God’s grace.  For, we could not save ourselves or in any way contribute to our salvation any more than a dead person could cure themselves.  That is why Paul uses these extremes in his illustration, not just being spiritually sick, but being spiritually dead, and made alive again.  Because a dead person is incapable of doing anything, your salvation must all God’s work, by God’s grace alone.

“God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

Paul means that because Christ is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, your resurrection from the dead and entrance into heaven are assured.  He puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians, “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”

It is to emphasize the certainty of our resurrection to eternal life Paul speaks in the present tense, as if you and all believers are already with Christ in heaven: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

This is a very brief description of what heaven will be like.  In heaven, Paul says, God will show us “the incomparable riches of his grace.”  Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Now we come to the climax, and the main theme, of Paul’s little Law-Gospel sermon: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The Law tells us the bad news that we were spiritually dead in our transgressions and sins, but the Gospel proclaims the Good News that God made us alive with Christ.  Therefore, God gets all the glory.  Salvation cannot be because of our works, but is entirely the gracious gift of God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Paul concludes by explaining that even though good works do not save us, we will do good works.  Not to earn salvation, but as a result of our salvation, out of gratitude to God for his gift of salvation. Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians, “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves but for him, who died for them and rose again.”

If you check the church calendar you will notice that on this Wednesday, March 25th, the church observes the festival of the Annunciation, when the angel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would be with child and give birth to Jesus.  We don’t know the actual dates when these events occurred, but the Annunciation is observed on March 25th because it is nine months before December 25th, when the church chose to observe the birth of Christ.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the #1 example given to us in Scripture of faithful service to the Lord.  In simple, trusting faith she turns herself completely over to God’s service.  “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’”  Follow the example of Mary in her faithfulness and her devoted service to the Lord.   “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Every good Christian sermon should contain, and properly balance, both Law and Gospel.  Today’s Epistle Reading is like a concise Law-Gospel sermon by the Apostle Paul.  First, diagnosing our sinful condition, with the full severity of the Law, and then telling us the Good News of God’s cure for our condition, with the comforting sweetness of the Gospel.

Jesus himself sums up the Gospel in today’s Gospel Reading: “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Amen.

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