“The God Who” Series
January 23-24, 2021
“The God Who Opens Hearts”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Two weeks ago, I preached on Baptism. I find it comforting to know that God says to us when we were baptized, “I have called you by name you are Mine.” I find strength when God, in our baptism, is the one who says, “You are My beloved daughter.” “You are My beloved Son.” Baptism is God’s hand reaching into our heart. Then last week I attempted to cover the teaching of election. “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4) Once again it is all God’s doing. He is the initiator bringing us our salvation. He is the active one. We are the passive one.
So what? What does this do? How does it change our life right now, for the better? The last few weeks the theological emphasis was a teaching called “Justification” – the declaration that we are counted God’s redeemed not by our doing but solely by the work of Jesus. Today the emphasis is upon “Sanctification”, that is becoming holy people, especially the growing of our faith to a deeper level.
St. Paul spent more time in this congregation than at any others during his ministry. From 52-55, on his third missionary journey, he preached and taught and prayed and loved these people. But he had not seen them for 5 years and now he sends this letter to them. He wanted to keep their faith active and alive. “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1:15-16)
The God who opens our hearts to make us Christians wants to open our hearts so we can live a deep Christian life. For many years the names of Christian churches were pretty predictable. First Presbyterian Church, Second Baptist Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. But things are not predictable anymore. Denominational names are not used on many churches nowadays. In Denver there is a church that has as its name, “Scum of the Earth”. They took their name from Paul’s words in I Corinthians 4:13, “Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” “Scum of the Earth” – actually a genuine Christian name for a church. There is an ELCA congregation downtown that is called, ‘House for All Sinners and Saints.” Quite a few years ago, north in Arvada, this name was what one congregation went by, “Next Level Church.” I guess they took things a little deeper than most. They went to the next level.
I read the prayer that Paul makes in this chapter as a “next level” prayer. Listen to it, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17-18) I look at this as the absolute perfect prayer for so many relationships that we have. Wouldn’t that be the perfect prayer that a parent would have for their kids? How about a Small Group Leader for the group they lead? Sunday School Teacher? A pastor who is leading their church? “[That] the glorious Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”
One of the challenges for a vibrant Christian faith is that we don’t become stagnant in faith. We want to feel alive and we want to feel alive – here in our soul. I have a brother who is a Lutheran pastor and who served a congregation of deaf believers. My brother is also deaf. (And he is a big Kansas City Chief fan – so I guess he’s not very smart either.) He showed me a few signs that the deaf may use. If you take your index finger on your left hand and put it on the side of your nose and twist it – it means, “boring”. Let’s try that. If I see a bunch of my members looking like they are picking their nose during my sermon, I’ll know what they are really saying and doing!!
The God who opens hearts takes us to a deeper level of our faith. God does not want our hearts to become hard or closed to Him and His truth and His ways. I told you that Paul established this church in 52, wrote this letter in 60, but this congregation received another letter quite a few years later. That letter was from St. John. The letter was written somewhere between 90 and 100 A.D. You can read the letter in Revelation 2:1-7. It begins, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write… Then in verses 4-5 we read, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
“You have forsaken your first love.” Who was that? Did they become unloving in their marriages? Did they start out with such good and pure hearts and then become stagnant, unloving, unfaithful to their spouse? Or was the call for them to return to a living, vibrant faith in Jesus? Sometimes we are “on-fire” in the faith and then the faith gets doused. Had they become apathetic in trusting Him or following Him? Did they fall into the trap of a boring faith and a failing love?
The God who opens hearts is the God who heals hearts. The Ephesians were called to repent and do the things that they once did. We had better do the same. We had better do this toward God and the people that God has placed in our life. “That you may know him better.” “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” That is the perfect prayer for everyone – including you and me.
The God who opens hearts, desiring to make them truly alive with a deep faith in Jesus and a new love for Him and all those that are in our lives, is also the one who heals these hearts. Here is a promise from the Old Testament, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
This is God’s work. This has to come from the power of God’s Holy Spirit. It won’t come simply from you, but this transformation can come. You and I can be different, better, more deeply committed to God. We don’t have to be stagnant. Faith should never be lifeless. Jesus, in John 15, paints a glorious picture of those whose spiritual eyes have been opened, those who want to know Him better. Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches, if a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Ephesians 1:15-23 is only one sentence long. In its original language it is 169 words long, without taking a break. It is the second longest sentence in the New Testament. The longest was the previous words in the same chapter, Ephesians 1:3-14 – 204 words. One chapter. Two long sentences. But one thought – God is doing a great work in us through Jesus.
This section about God opening hearts and healing hearts culminates with the resurrection of Jesus – where every heart needs to go. It speaks about His power in us through the resurrection of Jesus. I catch Paul toward the end of his 169 words, “And his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:19-21)
Don’t let your faith become stagnant. Let God bring you His excitement when you read the Bible, involve yourself in Christian community, exercise it in prayer, experience it with the power of Christ’s resurrection within you. May the perfect prayer be your prayer:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Amen.