Numbers 21:1-9, Ephesians 2:1-10
March 26, 2006
I’d like us to focus today on these wonderful words of Paul to the Church at Ephesus. This letter contains some of Paul’s loftiest and most inspirational writing ever. And that’s amazing, since he probably wrote this letter while he was in prison!
We read today from the beginning of the second chapter. But before we talk about that, I want us to go back in look at the end of the first chapter! (You might want to look in your pew Bibles.) There we find Paul writing some encouraging words to this Church, saying how he thanks God for these people, and how it is his prayer that God may give them a spirit of wisdom and knowledge, and that they may “have the eyes of their hearts enlightened.”
Listen to some of these words. “…that you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might, which he has accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far and above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him head over all things for the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Paul is really pouring it on here! Besides the unbelievably long sentence, he’s giving us a sense of the glory of Christ and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power! I’d like us to let those thoughts be the background for what we will concentrate on in the second chapter!
So, with that in mind, he goes on to tell these people that, in Christ, they were “made alive, when once you were dead.” What does he mean by that? “You have been made alive.” As we read those words, I’d like us to remember a quote I gave you a while ago which has come to mean a lot to me! It was this great statement of ST. Irenaeus from centuries ago, who said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Those are life changing words!
You see, when we think about being made alive, when once we were dead, we Christians tend to think mainly of the life to come. In other words, “Once you were heading for death, but now you have been given a ‘free pass.’ You are now given a ticket to life eternal.” And while that’s true, I don’t think anyone can read these words of Paul – from this chapter and the last – and not think that there is so much more to our lives in God’s kingdom! God wants us not just to be “saved” but to be fully alive – alive in the way we live this life. Here! Now! Not “someday!”
Paul goes on to say that God is “rich in mercy.” And out of his “great love… we were made alive together with Christ.” Again, not “someday.” We are made alive together with Christ now! And not only that, but he “raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places…” and that “…he might show us the immeasurable riches of his grace…”
That’s what I want us to focus on today. The “Immeasurable riches” we have in God’s grace. And let’s let that language speak to us here. “Immeasurable riches.” The riches of God‘s grace “cannot be measured.” Another word for “Immeasurable” is “Infinite.” Either that refers to the sheer magnitude of his grace, or it means that it is immeasurable in that it is beyond our understanding. We cannot possibly fit it into our minds. I think it’s both! God’s grace is infinite and incomprehensible!
Notice also here that when we’re talking about Grace, we’re talking about God’s covenant with us. We’ve been talking about covenants throughout Lent. The sign of the first covenant we looked at was the rainbow. The next was Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. The next was the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Now we are looking at the covenant of grace. And its’ sign is the cross and the empty tomb! And Paul, a child of the Covenant, (Bar Mitzvah) tells us that the covenant of Grace is part of our lives in ways we cannot even comprehend! It covers us, and its riches are immeasurable!
The sad thing is that so many of God’s people fail to see the immeasurable riches of their relationship with God. Instead of being “fully alive” as St. Irenaeus said, their faith seems “lifeless.” Think about that. How many Christians see God’s kingdom as the pearl of great price, for which Jesus told us a person would sell everything they had to buy? How many put very little of themselves, their time, their talents, or their resources into their church? If they had to give it up, they’d never miss it. And then they wonder why it seems to have no meaning, or doesn’t help much in times of trial.
There’s a great advertising slogan on a billboard coming up I95. Maybe you’ve seen it. Its a sign for a bank, and it says, “Leave your bank – they’ll never notice!” Isn’t that great? How many people treat their faith the same way. “Give up your faith. You’ll never notice!”
This is one of the most important things about lent. This is even more important than thinking about how we need to improve, or striving to see how have we failed. Those are important! But even more that that, we need to think about how important our faith is to us. That’s a consideration that too many of us miss! How important is your faith to you? Do you really think about God’s grace as being “immeasurably rich?”
Think about the things you do in your life. How much prominence do the things of faith take in your busy lives? And I know your lives are busy! But no matter how busy your life becomes, remember, you will make time for that which is important to you! Am I right? Jesus said the same thing! “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
If our faith is not that important, what do we do? I’ve been thinking about this lately. And I’m wondering, does our faith first mean something to us and then it becomes important? Or is it the other way around. Do we first choose to make something important to us and then it becomes meaningful? My guess is that it happens both ways. But if we had to choose one, what would it be? I believe that something must become meaningful to us first, or we will probably never make it important.
Let me invite you to think about two words. “Inspiration” and “Dedication.” Is it more important in our life of faith to have “Inspiration” or breathing the spirit into something? Or is it a more important to have “Dedication.” – that is, deciding to do the things of faith in a disciplined manner. Obviously we need to have both, but sometimes I think we end up telling people more about the latter.
Think about that. When you’re talking to someone about your faith, are you speaking to their head or their heart? Is sharing the faith simply a matter of convincing them? Or do you need to inspire them? Sometimes I think we have forgotten the inspiration. Too often we’ve thought, “If only we can teach them enough…” But maybe that’s not enough! We need to inspire them! We need to reach their hearts!
We were at youth group last week, and someone asked if anybody knew John 3:16. And one girl immediately started saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him would not perish but have everlasting life.” “Wow!” I said, “You said that wonderfully.” She said, “I know it by heart!” “That’s great!” I said. But then I had the presence of mind (or was it the presence of the spirit!) to ask, “But, do you really know it in your heart? Or do you just know it in your head?”
We know a lot of things. Our heads are full of knowledge. And that’s great! I love learning new things. And everything I learn fascinates me. But we can’t just “know” things about our faith. We can’t just let our faith revolve around good thoughts. It needs to get into our hearts? That’s the job of inspiration! Otherwise, we’re just talking about education – which is getting things into our heads. And let me get back to the earlier question. Which of those things – inspiration or education – is going to make us think something is important?
Yes, we have the job of choosing what’s important, we have the job of dedicating ourselves to our faith. But it takes more than just making that choice. It takes inspiration. It takes the touch of God. It takes those experience where it all gets into our hearts! It’s important that we convince our hearts of the immeasurable riches of that our faith. That’s what God is interested in convincing, by the way. That’s why the word “heart” appears over and over in the scriptures.
“You desire truth in the inward being. Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6) “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts.” (Psalm 139:33) And what does Paul say is the criteria for following Jesus? That you “confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your (what?) heart that God raised him from the dead…” (Romans 10:9) Not your mind!
Heart is where belief comes from. And you know it’s often our mind that messes things up. It’s in our mind that we find doubts. It’s our thinking that gets in the way. I know that’s hard to imagine. But it’s true!
So let me challenge you this Lenten season to search your heart! Learn what’s most important there. That’s so important! Seek the inspiration of God’s spirit, not just greater devotion. Ask God to touch your heart and your soul. Be open to him. Seek to know the immeasurable riches of God’s grace!
Eternal God, we ask for you to touch our hearts. Help us to see the riches of your grace. Help us to grow in our knowledge and our love for you. Show us how you want us to live as people fully alive. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.