“The God Who” Series February 13-14, 2021
“The God Who Makes The Two, One”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There is a problem with religion. And you may be fully aware of it. Religion can become simply an academic exercise. It can be all between the ears.
People can take religion classes in high school or college or they can do it on-line. They can learn about various religions, including Christianity, and then they take some tests about it. But it has nothing to do about faith, it is simply about knowledge. There can be folks who are not believers, even atheists, who know more about Christianity than most Christians.
Though I may spend time trying to impart knowledge to you in a Confirmation class, or a Bible study, or a sermon, my goal is not to speak as much to your head as to your heart. (Though for some of you Germans or Scandinavians I had better start with your head because you can be pretty hard-headed!!) I want you to be a believer in Jesus. I want you to trust your eternal soul and your daily living in the saving ways of God. I’m not neutral in all of this. I want you to take all this personally. If you are living without faith in Jesus, or if you are living outside the ways of God in your life, I want to upset your life. But if you repent and turn to God I want to console you by turning your heart to the only hope that is sure – the forgiving actions of Jesus on the cross and the life-giving resurrection of Jesus. You can start with knowledge about God’s ways but God wants you to move to faith – trust. Paul, who wrote Ephesians, also wrote Romans, and he says there, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scriptures says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9-11)
Last week I spoke about the God who builds His church. The message was about divisions among the Jews and Gentiles. They were taught to hate each other, belittle and disrespect each other. But the two became one by God’s miracle. Part of our reading was, “For he is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) Peter, in Acts 10 said, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or even visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Later he would add, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:28,34-35)
It is when things become personal that it actually means something in your life. Today is Valentine’s Day. I hope more than a few of you have told another how treasured they are to you and how much your life has been blessed because they are a part of it. When that happens love really means something.
Ephesians 3 takes the unity of two groups of people and speaks about it in a personal experience. I told you that this letter was written when Paul was in prison, right? But I didn’t tell you why he was in prison. He was there because of a guy who had come from Ephesus to see him. And that guy was a Gentile. And because of this visit 3 ½ years of his life were spent in a crummy prison. I told you about that literal dividing wall in the Temple in Jerusalem, 4 ½ feet high, with the warning that Gentiles – also called Greeks – weren’t allowed in with the threat of a quick death if they didn’t stay away from the insides of the Temple. Here’s the situation – Paul is in Jerusalem and some Jews see him and start talking to the crowd about him, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.”) (Acts 21:28-29)
It is when things happen personally that you are able to truly be changed by what is done. Paul was changed, for the better, when he spent time in prison. In 3:1 Paul says, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” Wouldn’t you think that he would say, “I, Paul, a prisoner of Caesar, or of Rome, or of some terrible misunderstanding of something that I didn’t do…” But he doesn’t say that. He says, “A prisoner of Christ Jesus.” And he doesn’t say that he was a prisoner “Because of you Gentiles”, but he says he was a prisoner “For the sake of the Gentiles.” This wasn’t a knowledge thing, a mind thing, this became a heart thing. When Paul was converted to a living faith in Jesus he was told the purpose for his life, “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17c-18) Where he was didn’t determine if he could or could not do that work.
It is when things happen personally that you are able to truly understand God’s great purpose in life. In Ephesians 3 words about the call of God to the forsaken Gentiles is given. When Paul considers that great truth he reflects on the truth that he was once called to the greatest position ever – to be a bearer of God’s redemption to all people. “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery.” (Ephesians 3:7-9a)
If anyone started outside of God’s truth it was Paul. “I was less than the least of all God’s people.” “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” (I Timothy 1:13a) “Here is a trustworthy statement that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (I Timothy 1:15) “For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (I Corinthians 15:9) He was a no-hoper. The outcome of his life was going to be bad. But what did he know? What did he experience? How was His life changed? He was a recipient of grace – God’s free gift. He got to know personally about this God who “Came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17)
The work that God does for us is meant to be received personally. But it is not meant to stay individualistic or simply personal. Paul experienced the truth of Jesus but the truth was meant for many more. In my mind this is how I picture it:
The two become one. The two, once distant from God, are brought together by Jesus.
The one, though, becomes multiplied. The unity we are given by Jesus, branches out to
After Paul talks about his personal experience of conversion he speaks about the privilege and joy and delight of being God’s child. He said it was God who did this, “To make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:9-11) God provides His work for everyone in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus. We make this our own by resting our hearts in His work. And then, God allows us to be part of this hope to others. We have the God who makes the two become one and the one – us – are used to multiply the hope of Jesus to the world.
Last Sunday as I watched the Super Bowl I had the funniest feeling. I didn’t care who won. In fact, I hoped that both of them would lose. Kansas City or Brady – neither of them have my heart. I couldn’t take the game personally. But in this matter of Jesus – you have to take Him personally. Don’t let Jesus be someone who sits in your head; He wants to change your life. What a job He has done!! Amen!!