Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, March 22, 2009, on this fourth Sunday of Lent. I hope your day is a wonderful Lord’s Day!
We Are What He Has Made Us
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All 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. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Zombies in A World of Disobedience
Do you remember the movie, Night of the Living Dead? Made in 1968, it starred George Romero, and a bunch of zombies. The rather thin plotline was that a satellite returning from space was contaminated with radiation. Somehow, that caused the dead to rise from their graves and try to eat the living, thereby becoming “alive.” Or at least a very poor version of being alive — a shuffling walk, very inarticulate speech, and an insatiable desire to eat real people. It did not win the Academy Award…for anything.
But, my point in that is zombies are called “the living dead.” They appear to be alive, but they’re not really. They’re really dead, but they keep moving around. And in the case of Night of the Living Dead, kept trying to eat real live people.
Well, that’s kind of the picture Paul paints of those in Ephesus before they came to Christ. Now, we’ve talked about Ephesus before — home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the wonders of the world. Renown in all the Roman empire for the cult of Artemis. Demetrius the silversmith who rails against Paul and accuses him of disrupting his souvenir business is a prime example.
Paul says to the Ephesians —
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
Sounds very “night of the living dead,” doesn’t it? But “dead in your transgressions and sins” doesn’t really say it. Paul really is saying, “Your sins killed you, you’re dead in transgressions (little sins) and sins (big ones). The Amplified Bibles says, You were slain in your sins. In other words, your sins killed you.
Then Paul goes on to say –
in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
So, you used to live in the sins that killed you. Kind of a spiritual zombie thing. And you did that because you were following the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the demon now at work in those who are disobedient.
Not only are you dead men walking, but you lived (if you want to call that living) in “this world.” This world, this present age, as contrasted with the world to come, the age to come, which is the kingdom of God.
Okay, with me so far. Let me recap for you:
1. The Ephesians were dead, killed by their own sin.
2. But they walked around like zombies (lived in their sin) because they followed the way of this world, of this age.
3. This world, this age, has a spirit who is behind it all. We know him as Satan, diabolos, the devil.
Interestingly, ABC will host a debate between Deepak Chopra and Mark Driscoll this week, and the topic is — Is the devil real? So, 2,000 years later, this idea of a personality of evil, the spirit of this age, is still being debated.
Then Paul says, But guess what? We all did that. We all of us – Jews, Romans, young, old, affluent, poor, slave, free — we all did that. We were all spiritual zombies. We looked alive, but we were really dead, killed by our own sins. Killed by them because we followed the god of this world, not the God of the world to come.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.
So, nobody gets off the hook. Now this is particularly difficult in the first century. Paul is a Jew, writing to Gentiles — the Ephesians. The Jews believed they were God’s chosen people, therefore, they had special standing, didn’t come under the same rules as everybody else.
Paul says, Not so. We all were spiritual zombies. Jews, Gentiles, everybody, because we all did the same things wrong — followed the wrong path, lived by the rules of this world, not the world to come. We all lined up at the trough of craving and dug right in to satisfy our desires and thoughts, and that’s not a good thing.
And, final point, by nature — naturally, as a consequence, the logical thing that follows — by nature we were objects of wrath. Children of the God’s displeasure. Off-spring of disobedience. Heirs of obliteration. That’s what we deserved from a righteous God who is in the process of reclaiming his creation from its off-track existence.
Now, I will tell you right now, I am not a big fan of the wrath of God. I think we trot it out way too often. “God’s gonna get you for that” runs through our heads way too often.
But the truth is, the wrath of God is a natural consequence. It’s like taking out the garbage, or discarding the refuse you no longer want.
Yesterday, Debbie and I worked in the yard. To do so, we had to open the garage door, and get the yard tools out, including the lawnmower. The garage was built probably in the 1920s or ’30s. It’s a dirt-floor, single car garage, which has now been completely overtaken by yard stuff — rakes, shovels, two lawn mowers, bags of compost, and so on. You get the picture.
Well, to get the lawnmower out, I had to drag it over a bunch of cheap plastic plant containers — you know, the ones like plants come in when you buy them at the nursery. They are pretty much one-time use pots because they are cheap, flimsy, and ugly. But for some inexplicable reason we had kept everyone we ever bought since coming to Chatham. Okay, that’s not true, but almost. We had a bunch of them.
They were useless. Not only were they useless, they were in the way of the tools that could be used. I got really aggravated, backed my Ford Ranger up to the garage door, and threw the cheap, black, ugly plant pots into the back of the truck, and took off for the dump. Well, not the dump, but the closest we have here, the transfer station off Depot St. I backed up to the big steel sled, and threw all the useless, ugly, black pots into the abyss. Or the dumpster, but it might as well have been the abyss.
That, my friends, is a picture of the wrath of God. God isn’t just going around smiting people, and aren’t we glad, because we’d all be in big trouble. But that which is useless, in the way, an obstacle to the coming of his kingdom, an impediment to God’s work and will — those become, naturally, objects of his wrath. In other words, they get discarded. Permanently, eternally, forever removed from interference with the coming kingdom.
So, that’s the state we, including the Ephesians, were all in. Spiritual zombies, about to be discarded.
Squeaky Violins and a Change of Scene
Remember how in the science fiction or horror movies the music would change. The ominous squeaky chorus of violins would begin to play — EE-EE-EE — and you knew something was going to happen. Well, the Bible has it’s own version of squeaky violin musics.
One of the best phrases in scripture is when a verse begins, “But God…” because then you know something is about to happen.
All of a sudden, as Paul is writing, squeaky violin music begins to play. Okay, not really, but Paul says, “But God…”
Now the NIV loses the punchline on this because of the way it translates the sentence, but the “But God” thing is still there —
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Read it this way: “But parentheses (because of his great love for us) close parentheses God…
See what I mean — But God. But God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.
And there it is — God made dead people live. This is the resurrection power of Christ. This is Christmas and Easter all rolled into one. This is the work of God, Paul says, because God loved us with this great, extravagant love, plus he was rich in mercy. Love and mercy. What a great combination.
So, let’s read it this way —
But God — because of his great love for us and his wealth of mercy toward us — brought us back from the dead!
No more spiritual zombies. No more walking dead men. No more pretending to be alive, when we’re really a hollow shell, a living deadman.
And, Paul adds — it is by grace you have been saved. Grace — unmerited favor is the theological definition. Graciousness. What is grace or graciousness? It’s acting differently from your circumstances, it’s rising above the fray, it’s setting a new standard for behavior when one isn’t even called for. God was gracious to us.
We did not deserve it, we could not have earned it, nothing about us elicited that grace from God, it was just there and directed toward us.
But, Wait, There’s More!
I’m using a lot of video illustrations today, but here’s one more. Remember the Ginsu knife commercials? The announcer said something like —
“The amazing Ginsu knife will cut through cans, leather, even stainless steel. And with your order today, you will receive this lovely Ginsu knife for only $19.95.”
Then came my favorite part: “But Wait There’s More!!”
“You get not one, but two Ginsu knives, the special Ginsu knife first aid kit, and a trip to Tokyo.” Or something like that.
Here’s where Paul does his, But Wait There’s More! routine —
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
First Paul repeats what he just said (God raised us up), and then comes the More! — And seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus!
So, it’s not enough that God raised us from death to life, he them brings us into his presence and plots us down right next to Jesus.
Remember the mother of James and John asking to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus. If only she had waited. That’s exactly what happens. Now, I’m not sure exactly what it means for us right now. I’m sure it has something to do with we have access to God, a loving relationship with God, a special place in God’s kingdom, and so on. So, all of those are good things. But it’s like an extra-added attraction —
- God not only knows us (we’re dead sinners)
- God loves us
- God is merciful toward us
- God is gracious to us as well
- God saves us
- God raises us up from death to life
- God then seats us with him next to Jesus.
And why does God do this? Well, it just keeps getting better — to have all eternity to show us how much he loves us. Listen —
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.
Now, “the coming ages” don’t just mean the future. It is a contrast to “this age” or “this world.” In other words, the kingdom of God. And so, in the kingdom of God, in its full unfettered expression, God just shows us the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus.
What gentle, sweet, simple images. Grace, kindness, love, mercy — God loves us, shows mercy to us, does it with grace, seats us with him beside Jesus all so that he can show us more grace, like the kindness he showed to us when he sent Jesus.
Now, the next two verses, verses 8 and 9, are usually the ones we pull out of context and quote all by themselves. But do you know what? Verse 8 and 9 are really a big parenthesis.
Read verses 6,7 and 10 —
6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Reads perfectly fine. Because verses 8 and 9 are a big parenthesis. Now let’s read it again —
6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.) 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
And The Point Is….
And the point of all this is — God made us twice. He made us at creation, and He makes us again in his saving grace. “For we are God’s workmanship (creation).”
In other words, God is remaking us, recreating us, in his image again. Except this time, he creates us in Jesus. What does that mean?
Okay, one last illustration, not from the movies. Did you ever play with Playdough? You know, that colored stuff for kids kind of like clay, but not so messy. Playdough is a wonderful invention, and you can shape it, roll it, form it, pound it, into just about any shape you want.
But then Playdough got smart. They started selling molds to go with the Playdough. Some were like cookie cutters, others were molds you pressed Playdough into, then peeled out to see what you had made.
Well, Paul says, when God remade us, he used Jesus for a mold this time. He created us in Jesus (molded us like Jesus) to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Well, how could we help it? If we’re made like Jesus, we’d have to do good works. But those good works aren’t just good works. They are kingdom works. So, when Jesus heals people he demonstrates that there is no sickness when the kingdom of God is fully come. When Jesus feeds people he demonstrates there is no lack, no hunger, when God’s kingdom fully comes. When Jesus forgives people, he shows there is no vengeance when God’s kingdom fully comes. When Jesus dies of his own accord, he takes power over violence heralding a new age, a new era in peace.
So, here’s the recap one more time:
- We are all deadmen, living out of the desires of this world.
- God loves us.
- God shows mercy to us.
- God is gracious to us.
- God raises us from the dead through Christ’s resurrection power.
- God raises us from the dead and seats us in the throne room of heaven next to Jesus.
- God has made us like Jesus, so that we will do what Jesus did.
- God prepared in advance for us to live like we’re living in the kingdom.
Isn’t that amazing? And isn’t it better than being a spiritual zombie — the appearance of life, but reeking of death. We are what he has made us — just like Jesus.