A sermon on Ephesians 2:1-7 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 9 August 2020
Jeff Bezos is rich. He is the richest person in the world. He is the founder, CEO and president of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer. He is currently worth $180 billion.
Bill Gates is rich. He is the second richest person in the world. He is the co-founder, former CEO and current chairman of Microsoft, the world’s largest computer software company. He is currently worth $105 billion.
Gina Rhinehart is rich. She is the 75th richest person in the world, one of the richest women in the world, and the richest person in Australia. She is chairman of Hancock Prospecting, which mines the world’s largest iron deposit in the Pilbara of Western Australia. She is currently worth $16 billion.
God is rich. But not in stocks or bonds. Not in diamonds or jewels. Although the wealth of all the world, the wealth of all creation, is his by right. But much more importantly, God is rich in mercy. His love, his grace, his undeserved kindness fills his being to such an extent that it overflows into the lives of his creatures. He doesn’t have to hoard it. He doesn’t have to carefully manage it to make it last. He doesn’t have to dole it out in tiny amounts so that it never runs out. God has more than enough mercy for every single person on the planet, and he has much much more than enough mercy for you.
The message of Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1 to 10, is that God who is rich in mercy has made us alive with Christ.
He has made us alive because we were dead. To our mortal eyes, we seem on a journey from life to death. We are born. We live. We grow. We see. We learn. We choose. We create. We grow old. We slow down. We die and turn to dust. But the truth is that our true journey is in the opposite direction. In verse 1 the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
You were dead.
Paul didn’t write “I was dead”, meaning himself. He didn’t write “he was dead”, meaning someone else. But he wrote “you”, “You were dead”, meaning his readers, the members of the church in Ephesus.
Not “you are dead”, describing something present. Not “you will be dead”, predicting their future. But “you were”, describing the past, something that was once true.
You were dead in your transgressions and sins.
We transgress when we cross a boundary and trespass on unnatural and unlawful territory. When we tell a lie. When we steal a purse. When we take a life. It’s crossing a line that we ought not to. We sin when we miss the mark of the goal of our lives. We were made for fellowship with God, to share his life and love. We sin when we reject him, and squander our lives on things that bring us no joy.
This was the Lord’s complaint against his people Israel in Jeremiah chapter 2.
My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
A spring is a source of fresh water, of rain that fell on distant mountains and soaked into the ground and ran deep underground upon layers of stone, only to break the surface of the earth further down the valley. A spring is a source of life, and if the rain holds up it will never run out.
But a cistern is just a hole in the ground, even if that hole is lined with stones or bricks or cement. Either way, it’s not a source of water. It only stores the water that you put into it yourself. And a broken cistern is just a hole in the ground with a leak. However much water you pour in, it eventually turns up empty.
God is the spring of living water. The source of life and joy. But people turn against him and look for life in other places. They reject his life and choose death. And sadly, as Paul says, it is the way of this world, and doubly sad, although we are too often blind to it, it is the way of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient, the way of the one who was cast out of the light of heaven and rules in darkness.
Some call him Satan and some call him the devil. He is not an evil god. He is just a creature who has lost his way and whose chief work is to make people think that they are gods, the masters of their own fate, the captains of their own soul, charting the course of their life away from the true God. Satan is leading a rebellion against the creator, and he is always looking for new recruits. And millions of people, thousands of millions willingly sign up for the fight. But his rebellion is doomed to fail.
The devil promises life, life without limits, life without external controls. But what he delivers is death. Because God, our creator, is the source of life, and to rebel against him and to live apart from him is to exist in a hollow life, a life of shadows, a living death.
You, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, you were dead. What Paul adds in verse 3 is that he was no better. In fact, no one is better. All of us also lived among them in just the same way. Here, Paul starts to speak about real equality. The true level playing field. We want life to be fair, but the real world is unfair. It is biased and will judge us by how much money we have or the colour of our skin or whether we are a boy or a girl. And we say we want equality, while we all try to wriggle our way into the more powerful group. Most people aren’t rich, only a few people are. Instead most people are poor, but because they still want to be rich they keep perpetuating the systems that only reward the rich and punish themselves. Life isn’t fair and no one is equal.
And there is only one level playing field, because we are all equally guilty before our God, who can see through our skin and our wallet and into our hearts. So that the richest man, the most pious saint, the most talented and successful entertainer are all the same before the God who made them all and finds them wanting. For without God we are dead. And the apostle Paul, for all his natural advantages in the pleasing-God stakes, being born of Israel, the people of God, one of the most zealous followers of his religion, who knew every prayer and every Bible verse, he was no better. Like the rest, he said, we were by nature objects of wrath.
This is what we were. But it’s a description of the past. It is a recollection of ancient history. Because of something new, something different, that has happened in our lives. Because God, who is rich in mercy, who does not rejoice in people getting their just deserts, who will not rest until his purposes of life are fulfilled, because of his great love made us alive with Christ.
This is salvation. It is not a helping hand to those who can otherwise help themselves. It is not a boost to help us reach the life that is just out of reach. It is a resurrection. It is life for the dead. Just as the Lord Jesus’ body lay in his cold dark tomb until he was returned to life by nothing other than the creative power of God who made everything out of nothing, so that same power takes us on our journey, not from life to death, but from death to life.
This is the grace by which we have been saved. We did not save ourselves, because we can’t. What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us. Every blessing that we enjoy is not a reward for our best efforts, but a gift from the God who is so rich in mercy that he can lavish it upon us and still have more than enough to spare for us.
All this has happened in Christ and with him so that we are swept up into his story. Brought to life with him. Raised up with him. Seated with him in the heavenly realms. It is a promise of the future, that where Christ is, we will one day be.
But it is also a description of the present, of the status and power and intimacy with God that we already have. Jesus is the Son of God, and we are his brothers and sisters, the children of God. He is seated in glory and honour, and we are honoured to share in the glory of the presence of the Spirit. He is seated in triumph over sin and death and we have power from heaven to fight the powers of darkness that still harass us. Raised up and seated with Christ. It is a description of the future. But it is also a description of a present that is catching up to that future.
God has done all this to show that his grace does not come in small bite sized portions. God does not feed us so that we are left hungering for more. But God has set a feast of his love so that we will never want for any more.
It reminds us that some people show off their wealth with their big houses and flashy cars. Some people show off their wealth by flexing their political muscle and getting their way. But God is rich in mercy and shows it off in giving it away to those who need it, to those are lost and perishing without him. God has more than enough mercy for you.