Lent 4b

Preached: March 15, 2015

How Great God’s Grace!
Ephesians 2:4-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Ephesians 2.

And because of his great love with which he loved us even though we were dead in transgressions, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and he raised us with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, in order to display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, but God’s gift, not from works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared ahead of time, so that we may walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Do you know grace? You know the definition. Grace is God’s undeserved love, his unmerited favor, his unearned kindness toward us. But do you know grace? You know what God’s grace has done: sacrificed his Son for you and poured the Holy Spirit into your heart through Baptism and his Word. But do you know grace? You know what grace has in store for God’s faithful people: a life under his care now and eternity in his glory. But do you know grace, dear friends?

Nicodemus thought he knew a lot. He was an Israelite, the only people who had God’s revealed truth, God’s written word. And he wasn’t just any Israelite. He was one of the spiritual leaders and teachers of Israel. And he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk. He lived his life according to what he taught. But his late night visit to Jesus, recorded in John 3, showed how little he actually knew. Do you know grace, dear friends?

If we knew grace, why would we every doubt his promises? If we knew grace, why would the guilt of our past ever haunt us or why would we ever worry about the future? If we knew grace, why would sin still feel so enticing? If we knew grace, why wouldn’t we cherish the means of grace, namely God’s word and sacraments, all the more as our dearest treasure? The truth is that we do not know grace as well as we imagine we do.

May the Holy Spirit, through his words given the Apostle Paul, stirs our hearts to know the greatness of God’s grace all the more, so that we find in that grace our true comfort and hope and cherish to the utmost all that his grace has done for us. How great God’s grace!

A. His grace loves us despite what we were

Can you see this cross? It’s hard to notice it when the background is the same color. But against this black background, the cross clearly stands out. In the same way, before we can even see grace, much less know it, we need the right background. We need to see what we were, what our inborn nature truly was.

The phrase “we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5 NIV11) clearly brings that to mind, especially when you’ve read the first three verse of Ephesians 2. In those opening verses the Apostle Paul clearly paints our natural condition. He writes, “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 ... 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.” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV84).

A dead, rotting corpse is fit only for maggots. That’s what we were. Why wouldn’t God hate us! A dead body has no power, no power to choose, no power to take a step, no power to open a door. In the same way when it came to anything truly good and god-pleasing we had no spiritual power, no power to choose, no power to take a step toward him, no power to open the door of our hearts. Dead in transgressions.

But we were even worse. At least a dead body doesn’t do anything. But look at what the Holy Spirit tells us through Paul. Not only did we have no power for good like a dead body, but we were also active in evil. We followed the ways of this world like everyone else. We pursued the cravings of our sinful nature. Our will, our desires, our thoughts, our words, our actions—all were corrupt; all were at work against God. Why wouldn’t he hate us! “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV84), objects of God’s wrath, his holy, just anger against sinners like you and me.

Now against this pitch black background, grace, God’s grace, bursts in with brilliant brightness. God loved us despite what we were. There was no reason in us for him to love us. See your darkness. See your deadness. There was no reason in us for him to love us, but yet he did. He loved us not with a little bit of love, or a sample of love, or a trial portion to see how we would respond. He loved us with great love. His grace loves us despite what we were. How great God’s grace!

So dear friends, don’t try to downplay your sinfulness. Don’t try to lighten up the background. See how pitiful, pathetic, wretched, and ugly you and I were. Don’t excuse your sinfulness by saying that everyone else is doing it. Do we really want to claim that we’re still following this world like everyone else? Don’t excuse your sin by saying that you can’t help it because that’s just the way you are. You’re right. We’re all born sinners, under God’s wrath by nature. Is that really what you want to still claim to be? Even as we try to excuse our sin, we show how sinful we are. Our excuses don’t cover our sin; they cover up God’s grace, blinding us to how great it is.

See your sin for what is, dear friend, so that you know God’s grace for what it is. Then see what God’s grace has done for you.

B. His grace gives us life with Christ

“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—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” (Ephesians 2:4-6 NIV11). We cannot know God’s grace apart from Christ Jesus. He came from the Father full of grace and truth. Without Christ only God’s wrath remains for us. But look at what God’s grace has done for you in Christ!

“God ... made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV11). That’s how grace saved us. Grace united us to Christ. So just as surely as Jesus came back to life so also God’s grace has brought you spiritual life. Yes, you and me, who were once dead in sin, now have spiritual life in Christ. God made you alive with Christ. What grace!

When did this happen for you? When were you united to Christ? When did you become alive with him? When you were baptized. Paul writes in Romans 6, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death ... just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3, 4 NIV84).

If you have been made alive with Christ, that means you also must have died with him. Your sin was nailed to the cross just as Christ’s body was nailed to it. His death counts as yours. When God punished Jesus for the sins of the world, it counted for your sins. That’s how God got rid of our guilt, not by making excuses but by executing his Son as the sacrifice in your place. You died with Christ and have been made alive with him. How great God’s grace!

Grace puts the spotlight on Christ, fully and completely on Christ, not on us at all. And the best known passage of this chapter, a passage for all of us to remember, makes it so clear no credit goes to us. The credit goes to God’s grace in Christ. “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” (Ephesians 2:8, 9 NIV). Remember: faith is something that a promise produces in our hearts. If a trustworthy person makes a promise, that promise draws us to believe and trust what is said. God’s promises in Christ draw us to believe that we are saved by grace alone. Notice how everything from us is excluded: “not from yourselves,” “not by works,” “no one can boast,” as if they could claim any credit. Grace makes salvation God’s free gift in Christ, undeserved by us, but rather totally earned and merited for us by Christ alone. How great God’s grace!

C. His grace provides us with purpose

And what’s more, his grace provides us with purpose. And just two quick points here. His grace provides us with purpose by holding in front of us that final goal of being seated with Jesus in heaven where nothing will obscure God’s grace from our eyes, for we will see his grace in its glory. Think about that in connection with Paul’s words, “God ... 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” (Ephesians 2:6, 7 NIV11).

The second point, comes from the last verse, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV11). In this context of making us alive in Christ, these words are not talking about our physical creation, but rather that our spiritual life in Christ is also God’s handiwork. When he made you alive in Christ at baptism, you became his handiwork, his new creation in Christ Jesus. And just as as when we make something we have a purpose for it, so also God has a purpose for you, dear Christian. What is that purpose? To do good works. But even these good works are not to our glory or credit. For God is the one who has prepared them in advance for us to do. What grace that gives us purpose for now and for eternity!

So dear friends, know God’s grace, his grace in Christ. Nicodemus came to know that grace. Like him grow in the knowledge of that grace every day as you make use of the means of grace, God’s word and sacraments. How great God’s grace! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313