Fourth Sunday of Easter – 4/21/2024

John 14:12-17   12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.  15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

Ephesians 2:1-10 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 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. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Alive in Christ

Since I was the mother of teenage boys for about eighteen years I was exposed to some elements of contemporary culture I’m thinking most of you haven’t.  For instance, how many of you have heard of the computer game, “World of Warcraft”?  Not many, I’ll bet.  It’s an online computer game that all my sons played with their friends. For many years, it was the main topic of dinner conversation at my house.  I could follow some of it but it had a language all it’s own and many’s the time I complained that they needed to speak English!   Something else they exposed me to was the science fiction movie, “The Matrix,” which came out in 1999.  They even convinced me to go with them to watch it at the theater.  The movie is about Tom Anderson who is a computer programmer living in our contemporary world.  Or so he thinks!  As the movie evolves we find out it is really set far in the future.  Earth has been taken over by machines and all of humanity is enslaved by machines.  They think they are alive but in reality, they are hooked up to machines.  What they perceive as the world is actually a computer-generated fantasy.  Tom Anderson is unplugged from the machine and encounters the true reality.  What does this have to do with Ephesians?

In a sense this is what Paul is telling all of us we are like those hooked up to machines.  Paul says, “Wake up!  You think you are alive but you are not.  What you perceive as life is not!  You are enslaved by evil.  Dead in your trespasses and sin.”

You see, we don’t realize we’re dead.  We think we’re alive but we’re not.  We didn’t realize it but we wore grave clothes.  The stench of death was upon us.  As Paul tells us we are dead in our trespasses and our sin.  We follow Satan, the ruler of the power of the air.  Oh, we think we are being independent.  We think we control ourselves but in our sin we are controlled by Satan.  Remember the old Frank Sinatra song, “I did it my way?”  And now, the end is here  And so I face the final curtain  My friend, I’ll say it clear  I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain  I’ve lived a life that’s full  I traveled each and ev’ry highway  And more, much more than this, I did it my way.  I’ve got news for Mr. Sinatra, the result of a life lived “my way” is death.  

Eugene Peterson, in his Bible translation “The Message” puts it this way.  “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin.  You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.  You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.  We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat.”  

It’s been this way from the beginning.  Think back to the Garden of Eden.  That is where Adam and Eve first learned of sin.  What was their reaction?  They immediately hid from God and we have been hiding ever since.  When we are filled with sin, we cannot stand the presence of the Almighty and our Holy God cannot stand the stench of sin that is upon us.  We are separated from God by our sin.

Sin is death because it is separation from God.  God’s answer to sin and death is to send His Son, Jesus to bring new life, resurrection power.  We are made alive in Christ.  Resurrection after death to eternal life is the inheritance of those who have been made alive in Christ.  We share in Christ’s resurrection.  What an astonishing and liberating truth.  

Turning to “The Message” again: It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.  Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.  He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.  He did all this on his own, with no help from us!  Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.  Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.”  

Paul says, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of works so that no one may boast.”  We did nothing to deserve salvation, in fact, we deserve wrath.  We are saved by grace and grace alone.  This grace comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith itself also is a gift.  Paul is quite clear.  We have no grounds for boasting.  We did nothing, Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation.  

Listen to Eugene Peterson again.  “Saving is all his idea, and all his work.  All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.  It’s God’s gift from start to finish!  We don’t play the major role.  If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!  No, we neither make nor save ourselves.  God does both the making and the saving.  He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”

Some people will get upset at the idea that God prepared good works beforehand to be our way of life.  They think this means God controls us, that we don’t have free will. We most certainly do have free will. We are free to turn away from God, to reject all he has to offer us. But what type of people would we be then? 

Let me tell you what we would be like. Have you ever seen or known one of those whiny, spoiled brat kind of kids?  The ones who never say thank you.  Who, no matter what they are given still think they deserve more?  Are entitled to more?  I think we would all resemble one of those kids if we didn’t respond to God’s free gift of salvation by doing the good works God prepared for us, by being grateful for God giving us purpose. 

When I think of all God has done for me, that Jesus Christ suffered and died for my sins to restore me to life, my heart overflows with gratitude which spills over into worship.  I am happy God has good works for me to do.  I know I can’t earn my salvation but I can work to say thank you.  When I consider my salvation, I thank God.  

Our salvation, our new life in Christ doesn’t result from our good works; that would be putting the cart before the horse.  Many people seem to think they need to earn their way into heaven. It is the reverse that is true. Good works are possible and indeed will flow out of the new life that we have through God’s grace. 

In our reading from John’s gospel this morning Jesus said that if we believe in him we will do the works that he did.  In fact, we will do even greater works than he did.  Then he tells us this comes from our relationship with him.  He will do what we ask in his name.  If we love him, we will keep his commandments.  That’s relationship, that’s love.  Jesus will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to abide with us to help us to do the works that are prepared for us to do.

Let me end with a story I’ve heard.  It is totally fictitious, but the point is true. When Jesus ascended back up into Heaven, the angels gather around him to learn all that happened during his days on earth. Jesus tells them of the miracles, his teachings, his death on the cross and his resurrection. The angel Gabriel asked Jesus, “Did they make you king?” Jesus said, “No.” Gabriel asked, “Did they make you prince?” Jesus said, “No.” “Well, did they worship you? Jesus said, “Some did, but most didn’t.” Gabriel asked, “Well, what happened then?” Jesus said, “They crucified me.” After talking more, Gabriel said, “Surely, after you died and rose again, everyone believed in you. Surely, they understood that your death, burial and resurrection were so that they might be saved.” Jesus replied, “No. Almost no one believed.” Gabriel then asked, “What is your plan?” Gabriel waited expectantly, anticipating a grandiose plan – along the lines of Creation itself.

Jesus said, “Before I left, I set up the church, the kingdom of God. I gathered my disciples and told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone, baptizing and teaching them. I urged them to tell the gospel story to their neighbors, friends, relatives, to anyone who would listen. I urged them to tell it to the rich and the poor, to men and women, to all who would hear.” “Gabriel then asked, “What if they fail? What if they don’t do what you asked them to do? What is your backup plan?” Jesus replied, “I have no other plan.” 

Jesus has left his mission in our hands.  We are to do the good works that were planned for us from long before we were born.  Do we have free will, can we say, “no”?  Yes, we can but if we are truly in Christ, we won’t want to say no.  We will love Jesus and want to obey him; we will want to accomplish all He has given us to do.  I know I want to find ways to thank God, I want to please God with my life.  

After all, this is what we are made for.  Paul said, God created us, in Christ Jesus to do the works He prepared for us, this is to be our way of life.  We are alive in Christ and everything about us flows from this.  As the love of God fills us it overflows into words and actions, into purposes set in motion from the very beginning.  

How will you demonstrate your salvation?  Shall we consider ourselves dead to self, and alive to Christ?  We have been bought with so great a price, how can we not want to glorify God with all that we have and all that we are?  Have we realized that we were dead already, and that the life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us, and gave His life up for us.  We are set free from sin and death. What glorious freedom!  What extravagance of grace God has shown us!  What an opportunity, that the God of a million chances will use us wherever we are in our lives, when we set aside the grave clothes, and step out into His purposes for our lives in this world!

Let us celebrate our life in Christ, let us give thanks to God who has given us this life, let us rejoice that Jesus was willing to be born among us, willing to give his life so that through Him we could be made truly alive.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!  Amen!