Second Sunday of Easter – 4/7/2024

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John 1:1-13  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Ephesians 1:1-14  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us.  With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.  13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;  14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Chosen, Redeemed, Sealed

As far as the world is concerned Easter is over. The Easter baskets are all put away. Any leftover candy in the stores is discounted and the world has moved on.  In the church, though, we are in the beginning of the Easter season which we call Eastertide.  Our beautiful Easter Flower Cross will be on display for the entire season. Eastertide lasts for seven Sundays, from the Resurrection until Pentecost. 

We will be spending the Sundays of Easter in the book of Ephesians. While we remain in the Easter season it is a good time to spend time considering what Christ has won for us through his death and resurrection.  Ephesians is a wonderful choice for this season.  As one author put it, Ephesians is “doctrine set to music, truth that sings, theology from the knees and heart of prayer.”  Watchman Nee, in his book on Ephesians, Sit, Walk, Stand, says that of all Paul’s letters, it is in Ephesians that we find the highest spiritual truths concerning the Christian life.  The letter abounds with spiritual riches and yet is intensely practical. 

Something I want to point out at the beginning.  Paul addresses his letter to the saints.  Now this isn’t a saint in the Roman Catholic sense, someone who has lived an exceptional life and possibly been martyred.  For Paul, every Christian is a saint.  That means that we are all saints.  At the end of the sermon today, we will come back to what it means to be a saint.  

As we reflect on what Jesus accomplished on the cross we are going to look at God’s purpose and our place in it.  Three points we are going to consider from our scripture this morning are that we are chosen by God, we are redeemed by Christ and we are sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Paul doesn’t use the word, Trinity but we see all three members of the Trinity at work here.  We see the Father’s work of love in choosing us to be holy, adopting us as His sons and daughters and bestowing His grace upon us.  We see the Son’s work of redeeming us, earning forgiveness for us and obtaining an inheritance for us.  We see the Holy Spirit’s work in sealing us, making us secure and becoming the guarantee of our eternal inheritance

Chosen  Let us start with being chosen.  As Presbyterians we know about being chosen.  Our nickname as a denomination is the “frozen chosen.”  The “frozen” label comes from our reputation for being intellectual and not outwardly emotional in our worship, for living from the mind and not the heart. You may argue about the frozen part but we do believe that we are chosen by God.  This is the one thing many people know about Presbyterians; the doctrine of predestination.  In many other denominations people believe that they choose God, salvation is dependent on their choice.  We believe that it is God who first chooses us thereby allowing us to choose God.  

A W Tozer put it this way:”Salvation is from our side a choice, from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest by the Most High God.  Our “accepting” and “willing” are reactions rather than actions.  The right of determination must always remain with God.”

We are chosen and adopted by God.  I remember back in grade school we would play various sports, kick ball, soft ball and such.  Before the game started the teams were chosen.  Those of you who are good at sports will never have experienced what I did.  I was not athletically gifted and I was always the last chosen.  I remember standing with all the un-chosen kids, waiting and hoping to be chosen but not being chosen.  The worst was when the teams fought over who had to have you on their team.   Not being chosen hurts.  Being chosen, on the other hand, is wonderful.  It says I belong, I am wanted, I am somebody.  Paul tells us here that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  We are chosen, in love we are chosen.  We aren’t the kid sitting on the bench during the ball game.  God calls us to participate in the game, God doesn’t leave any of His children on the bench.  We belong, God loves us, God chooses us.  What motivating inspiration to know we are chosen by God!

I love the way Henri Nouwen puts this concept.  He calls God the Beloved and says we are adopted in the Beloved.  In the words we heard this morning from the gospel of John, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

God’s choosing started long before Paul.  God chose the Israelite people.  Listen to these words for Deuteronomy  7:6-9   6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you– for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

We need to recognize our “choosen-ness” and live out of it.  We need to take our identity not from the world but from God.  At the core of our being, the most important identity we can have is that we are chosen by God, this is the core from which all of life needs to flow.  “I am chosen by God, I am loved, I have purpose.”  This is not pride.  Let me say that again, this is not pride.  Pride consists in valuing ourselves for what we can do or what we own.  That would be living out of our own strength.  I am talking today about living out of our identity as God’s chosen.  We realize that we are not chosen because of any value we have, there is nothing special about us, nothing worthy of being chosen.  It is God, who out of His great love has chosen us, that acts here, we do not act, we react to God’s action.  This is at the heart of our baptismal theology, this is the reason we baptize babies.  It is not us who choose God but God who acts first to chose us thus allowing us to respond to God’s love.  

Redeemed  Now we come to redeemed. Being chosen by God is the first affirmation in God’s purpose and our place in it.  That we are redeemed by Christ is the second.  Jesus Christ redeemed us through his blood, shed on the cross.  Jesus died so we could be free.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven our sins.  He who was without sin died for us who are filled with sin.  Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, reached across the great divide between humanity and God and bridged the gap with his own body.  His arms stretched on the cross also stretched out to us in love, calling us back to God.  This was his purpose in taking on flesh.  John tells us in our gospel reading that Jesus existed before the universe did and in fact, the universe was created through him.  Yet when Jesus came to us, we did not know him and today many still do not know him.  How sad that is that many do not know him, do not recognize the act of greatest love every shown.  

Sealed   The first affirmation in God’s purpose and our place in it is: “we are chosen by God.”  The second is: “we are redeemed by Christ.”  The third and final affirmation is: “we are sealed with the Spirit.”  Paul tells us we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that reveals God to us, makes the power of Christ’s sacrifice effective in our lives, perfects us making us holy and blameless and seals us forever as belonging to God.  

Let’s consider what it means to be sealed.  The dictionary defines it as; “An identifying mark to signify authenticity, authority or the confirmation of a relationship.”  Sealing something makes it secure.  We seal envelopes so the letters inside won’t fall out.  We seal food in Ziploc bags to keep it fresh.  A seal also authenticates something.  Long ago, before post offices and such people would write letters and seal the letter with sealing wax into which they would press a ring or seal that would identify the letter as truly coming from them.  

We are marked by the Holy Spirit to identify us as God’s chosen people, redeemed and freed by Jesus Christ.  This is an eternal marking, not visible to our eyes but visible to God.  The seal of the Holy Spirit confirms our relationship with God, it says, “this person belongs to God, this is God’s son, this is God’s daughter.”  Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant God has made with His people through Jesus Christ.  John Calvin, the father of our Reformed faith, considered the sacraments as “signs and seals” of grace.  

We are chosen by God, redeemed by Jesus and sealed by the Holy Spirit.  This is what it is to be a believer but how does it show in our lives?  What difference does it make?  Let us return to the first verse in Ephesians.  Paul addresses his letter to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.  We see three definitions of what it means to be a believer, what Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones calls “the irreducible minimum of what constitutes a Christian.”  These are things we will each see in our lives.  

First, Christians are saints.  In the Bible to be a saint is to be set apart, something God does apart from any human merit.  We do not earn the title saint, it is all God.  A Christian is set apart by God when God reaches down through the person and in the power of the Holy Spirit, regenerates us and thus draws us into the company of God’s church.  As Christians, we are to live in the world but not be of the world.  We know we are just passing through this world, this is not our permanent home.  When people look at us, look at our lives, do they see someone who is set apart, who lives according to God’s standards and not the world’s?

Second, Christians are faithful.  This means we have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and we believe in God’s love and grace towards us and we act on this faith.  Faith itself has three parts.  First there is content, doctrine, facts.  For example, this is the faith we demonstrate when we recite the Apostle’s Creed.  Second, there is an emotional element.  Faith warms the heart and draws us to God.  Do we feel love for God? As John Wesley said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Finally, there is a volitional element.  This  involves the will, this is personal commitment.  Do we read our bible?  Do we attend church regularly?  Do we spend time in prayer?  Are we committed to God and does this show in our life?

Third, Christians are in Christ.  The phrases “in Christ” or “in him” occur 9 times in just the first chapter of Ephesians and 164 times in all of Paul’s writings.  It means more than believing or being saved by atonement.  It means being joined to Christ in one spiritual body so that what is true of Christ is also true of us.  This can be a difficult concept.  Paul uses images of man and woman joined in marriage later in Ephesians.  (E. 5:22-33).  Jesus talks about the union of vine and branches in John 15;1-17.  Union with Christ is the essence of salvation.  John Murray wrote: “union with Christ has its source in the election of God, the Father before the foundation of the world and has its fruition in the glorification of the children of God.”  Union with Christ is a hard concept to illustrate.

I told you at the beginning we would come back to what it means to be a saint.  I read a story about a little girl who attended worship in a church with a lot of stained glass depicting various saints in the Bible.  When she was asked what a saint was she said, “a saint is a person the light shines through.”  She identified saints with the people she saw in the church windows and she knew the light shone through them.  I think this is a wonderful definition of a saint and it illustrates our union with Christ.   Not the light of the sun, s-u-n, shining through but the light of the Son, S-o-n, Jesus shining through.  A saint is someone whose life – speech, actions, attitudes and relationships all point to Jesus.  

We end with a question to ponder through the week.  I invite all of us to keep this question before us as we go through our week.  Consider it as you go to bed each night.  Think of yourself as a piece of stained glass and ask yourself, Does the light of Christ shine through you?