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01.29.17 All Means All Ephesians 2.4-9 Sermon Summary

by on January 30, 2017

According to Ephesians a “great mystery” has been revealed: God has brought near those who were far away. Just how far does the mystery apply?

Summary Points

  • The great mystery in Ephesians, and why it was hard for some Jews to accept
  • How the great mystery transformed Martin Luther and reformed the church
  • How the great mystery will encompass all in the ages to come

After being blown away by Jesus’ ministry, Christ’s first disciples had to deal with this: That the Spirit was given to non-Jews, called Gentiles. This is the “great mystery” of Ephesians, not so much that grace was given to us, but that grace was given also to them.

Ever since the Exodus when God delivered the Jews from slavery to Egypt through the wilderness, the Jews figured they were particularly special. “Chosen” was the preferred term. This is why Jeremiah cites the Exodus, writing during the Exile, when God seemed far away and the Jews felt forsaken, not chosen, and certainly not loved.

But, Jeremiah reminds them, God came near to them. After they had suffered the sword, when they were needing rest, out in the wilderness, God came in grace. The reason is because God had continued to love them. And so, Jeremiah encourages, God will come again during the Exile.

This, then, is grace, that God would come near to us, despite our sin, forgiving our sin, and giving us life.

When we realize this—truly realize it—it is a world-shattering mystery. Just ask Martin Luther. For twelve years he was a monk and a theology professor. Luther was obsessed with his sin, going to confession multiple times a day, consuming so much of his confessor’s time that he eventually told Luther to go and not come back until he had committed some real sins.

Luther did everything the church required for forgiveness, the official acts and even some extraordinary ones. Still he found no peace. Until he discovered the mystery: “By grace you have been saved through faith, this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

“Boasting” here does not refer to the bravado so prominently on display in our times. Instead it refers to self-reliance, self-achievement, what would come to be called self-righteousness. In Ephesians it refers to an ethno-centric religiosity. It was the attitude that our religion and our nation are especially blessed. But neither religion nor ethnicity—Judaism in Ephesians, Roman Catholicism for Luther—is at the center of salvation. At the center is God and God alone.

This is the great mystery. It is by grace we have been saved through faith, not by works so that no one may boast. That last line means, “so that no one need despair,” not the Jews in Exile, not the Gentiles far away, and not Martin Luther. It transformed his life, and he struck the match that would reformed the church.

How far does the mystery go? It goes as far as a sin-obsessed monk, as far as Jews lost in the wilderness, as far away as the Gentiles. But can we measure how far the mystery extends?

Ephesians says, “God has raised us up with Christ,” and it continues, “so that in ages to come, he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace.” Grace extends not just to Jews and Gentiles, not just to Luther, not just to us, but to all.

Psalm 67 captures the vision. “Let the people praise you, O God,” it begins. Let those liberated from Exodus and Exile praise God. Then it continues, “Let all the people praise you,” including all the nations, including all creation. All.

Some Jews of Jesus’ day, and in the days of Ephesians, and in the church of today, can’t imagine the “all” extending all the way. “All” would be too scandalous because it certainly couldn’t include “them.”

But that is exactly the nature of grace. God comes near to those far away. God saves the Jews and Gentiles. God saves the sinner. We who know this praise God. We who know this also have hope that all the people will praise God in the ages to come.

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