The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church is a marvelous statement of God’s grace in calling us into a relationship with Himself. “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,.. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (1:3,7&8) Unmerited, undeserved redemption through the blood of Jesus…complete forgiveness…blessed with every spiritual blessing…all lavished upon us. Read the whole chapter slowly and consider your own calling by God into our faith in Jesus Christ. If we truly take this seriously we are completely humbled by the depth of such love. We are thankful beyond measure for this grace. Our lives become ones of grateful service, not to earn this great salvation, but to share this greatest of all gift – the gift of life now and eternally. You have begun a new day. Whatever this day holds, live it in the joy of this amazing grace.
We all like to get something free. Maybe it’s that toy that comes with a Happy Meal, or the Buy One get One Free deal at the food store. But we’ve also learned that if it is free it usually is not very valuable. It’s a gimmick or a “come on” to get you to buy something else. We’ve been ingrained with the idea that you only get what you pay for. But then the Lord steps into the path of our lives. He give us something free that is valuable beyond measure. So valuable that there isn’t enough money on earth to buy it. Our redemption, our standing in righteousness before God’s absolute holiness, our life now and for eternity. This is a gift purchased with the blood of the sinless Son of God, a free gift to each of us from Almighty God that no amount of money, no amount of good works, can possibly earn. Jesus asked the question “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”(Matthew 16:26) There is noting we can give, but it has already been given to us on a cross outside Jerusalem. All we can do is bow in humble worship and thanksgiving.
According to our church liturgical calendar we are in the Easter Season. This coming Sunday is the fourth Sunday of Easter, though every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. Christians have the very center of their lives in the God-given events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Nothing surpasses these events in the history of mankind. St. Paul will speak of the “unfathomable riches of Christ”(Ephesians 3:8); a gift that He “lavished upon us”(Ephesians 1:7-8); and the “surpassing, (or exceeding) greatness of His power toward us who believe.”(Ephesians 1:19) We are talking about the difference this one event makes in our personal lives, the difference between being in the eternal presence of God’s love, or the unfathomable darkness of being separated from Him forever. Our God has redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil, giving us a new and eternal life in Jesus Christ. In that truth every day is an Easter celebration.
A Pastor friend of mine was able to be with us over the weekend, and conducted the service for us. He made a comment in his message that I thought to be a very important reminder for us in this Christmas Season. People often say that “Jesus is the reason for the Season”, which, he said, that is not really correct. We are the reason for the season. For God so loved you and me that He gave us His only Son. It is because God knew our fallen and helpless condition that He sent Jesus to be our Redeemer. He gave us a gift of life in Christ that we could never obtain for ourselves. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.(John 3:16) You see, dear one, you are the reason for this Season, and that is the most glorious and humbling truth we could ever find. It is the Pearl of Great Price, and it is your gift through faith in Jesus Christ.
One of our men made a comment in Bible study last evening pointing out that Christianity is a complicated faith. All other world faiths are basically simple. God, however he is understood, is far off, separated from people. The task of mankind is to do as many good works as possible to please and make themselves acceptable to that god. Christianity speaks of God as triune, three distinct persons, yet truly one God. It speaks of the second person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, becoming a human being, born of a virgin. This man, Jesus of Nazareth, is also fully and truly God. Further, that He, in His sacrificial death, made the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind making us acceptable to Almighty God. And even further, that God raised Jesus from the dead, breaking the power of death, and granting new life to all who have faith in Him. Much of the Christian faith is difficult to explain, and parts must be left in the mystery of faith. The simple truth is that our God has demonstrated His love for the people of His creation by doing for us what we can never do for ourselves by any amount of our good works. He has made us to stand in righteousness before Him, as a free gift through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, we never have to doubt whether we have done enough good to please God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) Of all the gifts you may receive this Christmas time, there is none greater than this.
God’s grace is wonderful! It is a totally free and unearned gift. We have our salvation by the pure grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. Grace is free, but it is not cheap, to borrow the expression from Bonhoeffer. The grace of God cost the life of Jesus. We dare not see God’s grace as a nice pat on the head by a wonderful grandfather in heaven who lets all of his kids in no matter what. God’s grace does not say that all values, and ways of life are equal. God’s grace reaches out to bring us into His life. In grace His has provided the complete forgiveness of all our sins. In grace He has given us the living presence of His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, His truth. In grace He leads us gently, day by day, into His life for our best good. When we understand what God’s grace really is, our response is one of humility, gratitude, and love. “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.” (Ephesians 1:3
The traditional version of the third article of the Apostle’s Creed begins, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Christians church…..” In many churches the word “Ghost” has been changed to “Spirit”. After all, few people believe in ghosts, and those that do know them as apparitions wandering around in old houses. For the Creed, “Spirit” is obviously the better word, but even so, it is a confusing concept for many. Yet, He should not be confusing for Christians. The Holy Spirit is God. He is the third person of the Holy Trinity. He is the Comforter Jesus promised to send to all believers. You, dear Christian, have the presence of God dwelling in your life, God’s gracious gift received at your baptism. He is called the Comforter, the Guide, the Advocate, the Helper. No wispy spirit He, but the very presence of Almighty God given to dwell in your life. This is the depth of love God has for you, that He has come into your life Himself, to lead you more fully and completely into His good life.