March 22, 2015
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As I look around this morning, most of you look pretty good. You might be a little bit “weekend worn,” but for the most part, you don’t look bad at all. Some of you look just grand. None of you, certainly, look even the least bit dead. And that’s because we’re all breathing this morning, and breathing is a pretty good indicator of not being dead.
But once, at some point in our lives, we were as dead as dead can be. And the ironic part is that while we were as dead as dead can be, we were still breathing. We may even have been much healthier than we are today, even though we were dead. The problem was that while we were dead, we didn’t know it. It may be that no one told us we were dead, and so we were just plugging along, doing our thing, living our lives, trying to make a living, going to school or doing whatever it was that we thought made us feel good, or happy or fulfilled. And all the while, we were dead as door nails.
The Apostle Paul is just a tad more emphatic when he describes just how dead we were than I have just been, and so I want to read just what he says about our deadness. “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.”
That’s pretty dead. And it’s a scary kind of dead, because it’s a dead that has no hope, and it is a dead that can only lead to eternal destruction. We may not have known that we were that dead. We were just trying to get along in this world, doing our best to get by, looking out for ourselves and trying to stay safe. We probably didn’t know that our life guide was Ol’ Slewfoot himself, that fella that Paul calls “The ruler of the power of the air”, the devil, the dragon, Satan himself. We probably didn’t give it that much thought. I suspect that we would have been appalled if we knew that it was the devil who was prompting all of our life goals and decisions. We might not have given this concept of sins and trespasses much thought either. Sins and trespasses make us into children of God’s wrath, doomed to destruction and hell. If we did give it any thought, we could easily demonstrate that we were nowhere near as bad as some people. Bad people show up in the newspaper. Bad people go to jail. So really, we didn’t mind being dead at all. It didn’t seem to have any negative consequences; at least none that we could see.
But thank God, one day, we did realize that we were dead. We heard the message of the Gospel, and we responded to it. And the idea of being dead started to make sense to us, and we realized that dead was no place that we wanted to be. But at the same time, the idea of being alive also started to make sense to us. And being alive seemed like a good thing. And as we pondered this, we encountered a God who loves us with an unimaginable amount of love. This God loved us fully and completely even when we were dead in our sins and trespasses. And that was an awesome realization. How could God love us, even when we did not love God? This was extraordinary, because we knew that we ourselves had a very difficult time loving people who did not love us. In fact, we did not love people who did not love us. It was a great waste of time and energy to attempt such a thing, and so we did not do it. And yet, apparently, this was something that God did all the time, and God did this with great joy and compassion for us, even though we did not love him in return.
And then we began to understand the wonderful mysteries of mercy and grace. The Apostle Paul tells us that God is rich in mercy. To me, that means that God has an inexhaustible supply of mercy. To me, that means that God is lavish with his mercy, extending it to anyone who will receive it. What is mercy? Mercy is not getting that which we deserved. Its as simple as that. We deserved death because of our sins and trespasses. But because of God’s mercy, the threat of death that we deserved, that we had even earned, has been removed forever and ever.
And then there’s God’s limitless grace for us to ponder. Sometimes we figure that mercy and grace must be the same thing. Its true that they are often used in close association, sometimes even in the same sentence. In fact, right here in our passage this morning the Apostle Paul uses them together in the same sentence, beginning at verse four.
But if mercy is not getting what we deserved, grace is getting what we did not deserve. Let me try to explain. When my children were young, I did my best to teach them the concepts of mercy and grace. When I was disciplining them, and one of them did something wrong that truly deserved a punishment, once in a while I would not mete out a punishment. And I would explain: “You know you did something wrong, don’t you? You’re not supposed to pull the hair off your sister’s doll’s head. If you want to pull it off your own Barbie’s head, that’s one thing. But leave your sister’s doll alone.” And the tears would start to flow and she would do that “Yub, yub, yub” thing, because she knew what was coming, and she knew that the “Yub, yub, yub” thing softened her old man into melted butter, and maybe she’d get a lesser punishment. And she was right. Most of the time. And sometimes, she got no punishment at all. And that was when I explained about mercy. “You’ve earned a punishment, haven’t you? But today I’m not going to punish you, because I want you to understand mercy. This is mercy. Its not getting punished when you really should be punished.” That’s what God does all of the time. God is rich in mercy. Now teaching grace, especially in the context of mercy, is another thing altogether. And I will admit, I was not very good at it. Here’s why: by rights, after not giving my daughter a punishment that she truly deserved, I should have immediately put her in the car and taken her out for ice cream. That would be grace. But if you’ve ever raised a child, you know how difficult a thing that would be. Not giving her something that she deserved is one thing. But giving her something that she hasn’t earned is quite another. Mercy should be enough. Extending grace could lead to all kinds of abuses. We do have this fallen nature.
But with God, mercy is never enough. God is lavish and rich in grace, too. With God, the two go hand in hand and the good news is that with God, both mercy and grace work very well together. And so the result of grace is that we are recreated and made alive in Jesus Christ. Mercy removes the punishment, and grace gives us the reward.
But for Paul, as he understands God’s mercy and grace, and how they work together, my feeling is that he is utterly amazed by God’s grace. He says something about grace in this passage that is so completely astounding that we are probably tempted not to believe it. Paul says, speaking of God’s grace, that God has “…made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
It looks like most of us are still here. It looks like most of us are still sitting in our pews. We’re alive, that’s for sure. We may be getting a little drowsy as the sermon drones on, but as near as I can tell, we’re sitting in some rather ordinary looking pews in a fairly ornate sanctuary. We don’t seem to be sitting with the risen Christ in what Paul calls the “heavenly places.”
We’ve come a long way already, from being dead to being alive, from receiving mercy and then grace on top of that, but sitting in the heavenly places? What is Paul talking about? I am quite sure that as Paul was writing this epistle to the good folks in Ephesus that he was sitting down. Determining where he was sitting down is a question for the scholars to argue, as there are many mysteries about the origin of this wonderful book. Some argue that this book was written from Rome, perhaps even from prison. But no one argues that this book was written from heaven. No one argues that Paul was sitting in the heavenly places when this book was written.
But maybe, just maybe, that’s just exactly where he was. To be in the loving and kind presence of God is indeed a wonderful thing. And as Paul wrote this book he was certainly bathed in the awesome glory of God. For him, he was in the heavenly places. We too, have been in those places where earth seemed to fade away and the glories of heaven came to the forefront. That’s just one of the many blessings of being a child of God.
But on another level, for Paul, the promise of pudding is just as good as the proof of pudding. To be promised eternity is the same thing as being a participant in eternity. And so in a very real sense, we have already been raised with Christ, and we are now even as we sit here, sitting in the heavenly places.
One last thing. Its hiding in verse seven. Paul has been describing the awesome things that God has done for us. But in verse seven he says that God has done these things so that we can enjoy his kindness in the ages to come. God wants to show us kindness forever. We’ve now tasted God’s kindness in his mercy and grace. But this is something that we will experience for all of eternity. To me that’s an awesome prospect. How much more kindness can God show to us? We’ll have to wait and see.