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He Predestined Us

Jul 18, 2018

Passage: Ephesians 1:3-14

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Pentecost

Detail:

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Our letter from Saint Paul this morning for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost was originally written to the Christians in the city of Ephesus. At the time, the water ran right up to it and made for a busy seaport. Today the ancient city is in Turkey and the water has drastically receded since the first century. Ephesus is now about 6 miles from the Aegean Sea and has become a major tourist attraction, a boon to be sure for Turkey’s economy. I was beside myself to walk through the ancient city, a surreal experience on the footsteps of Saint Paul. When we came to the ancient theater (outdoor amphitheater), I was excited to see the theater from a distance (maybe about 200 yards away). And then it happened: the tour guide said we didn’t have enough time to go into the theatre (later, I found out that the tour company had plans to lead us into a room, shut the doors behind us, and then present rugs for us to consider purchasing…and this of course was not on the itinerary; and was not the reason we booked the tour to Greece!). But back to the tour itself: I remember when the guide said we didn’t have time to go into the theatre, I said to myself, “Yeah, right!” Me and one of my parishioners made a dash for it leaving the group behind! We ran into the theatre.

In the book of Acts, chapter 19, the Holy Scriptures describe a riotous scene in which people objected to Paul’s preaching of Christ because the gospel was detracting from the sales of various items sold in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis. Ephesus was known for its false worship of Artemis. At verse 26 of Acts 19 we see that St. Paul was being accused: “And you see and hear that not only Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” The accusation of course was completely true. Indeed, this is what St. Paul said! The riot continued for some time.

I mention this, however, because in the history of skepticism against the Word of God, some have read this account in Acts 19 and see that eventually the town clerk addressed the city of Ephesus (attempting to calm the people). The critics 2000 years later have said, “How is this possible?” How does a man address an entire city without amplification? They had no sound systems. This wasn’t like going to Angel’s Stadium with the big screen and advanced audio that fills the air. So how could this be? “Indeed,” says the skeptic, “the Holy Bible (so called) is not true.”

I couldn’t wait to test it myself and I had not gone to Ephesus to buy rugs, but to learn more about God’s Word! I asked my renegade parishioner joining his renegade pastor to go all the way up the steps, to the highest point of the amphitheater and I went all the way down below onto the stage. When we were in place, I conducted a sound check. The architectural design of the amphitheater was so advanced (though the theater itself was ancient) that the sound of my voice swooshed up the theater. It was stunningly remarkable! The sound was easily funneled from the stage to the highest point of the theater and my voice was clear as a bell. God’s Word is proven accurate and true over-and-over again.

And dear Christians, if you can trust the Word about the acoustics of the ancient building, then you can trust it about other matters.

We need encouragement and fortification to trust, because we are confronted by so many discouraging and distracting things in this life against the pure faith. St. Paul was up against it big-time in Ephesus. He had to write to the young Christian Church in Ephesus because there were divisions between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. In addition – as this was a port city – the Christians were exposed to many worldviews and other religions as we are today, especially in Southern California. With idolatry (Artemis was uniquely depicted to emphasize the belief that she granted fertility and therefore, livelihood [I won’t get into the details of her gross depiction]), but the immoral themes surrounding her worship, also elicited behavior that was against for example, holy marriage.

So, what do we encounter in the letter to the Ephesians? Chapter 4 deals with anger and division among Christians; chapter 5 deals with the need to defend and protect Holy Marriage; and chapter 6 arms Christians against false teaching, worship and the occult, the very attacks of the devil.

In other words, there was a great assault against Christians at the time just as we are assaulted today in this beautiful place called Orange County in Southern California. It may be beautiful, but it is utterly deadly: you are bombarded with false religion, atheistic philosophy, materialism (both philosophical and hedonistic [we love our Amazon]); we are provoked to anger from long lines in stores…there were 6 hours lines at build-a-bears across the country last week, parking lots on freeways (esp if you were on one week before last when freeway temperatures got to about 120 in Irvine), all in a culture that loves accusation, controversy and cursing. You can hear the apostle trying to get through to God’s people, Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another; as God in Christ forgave you.” This is the reason Christians are different: not because they are better, but on-account of Christ. We are loved and we are forgiven in Jesus; and God is now kind to us though we do not deserve it, and this is the reason – the compelling reason – that we are kind to others (since we do not deserve the kindness of God, we do not base our kindness to others based on whether or not they “deserve” it, but we are kind because God was and is kind to us though we do not deserve it). This is the basis for Christian ethics. We do what we do (our morals), and we base our position on how to live (our ethic) on-the-basis of our lives in Christ. So, we love – not to be ideal, dutiful or responsible – but we love because Christ first loved us. If we base it on anything else, it will backfire.

Put all of it all together, and another problem pops up: our view of ourselves. We know we should not give in to the culture, we know we should worship the LORD in spirit and truth, we know we should not go the way of this impatient and unkind world, we know we should resist the devil with the full armor of God, we know we should practice sexual purity and honor marriage…and then we look at ourselves and we see another assault: it is an internal one. And we question, yes, we question ourselves. Who and what are we? Are we children of God? Are we truly forgiven? Are we truly Christians? Who am I? What am I? And Saint Paul anticipated this inner battle and conflict, so he starts his letter to the Ephesians with a nuclear weapon against the devil’s attack against your confidence that you belong to God; and against your clarity about who and what you really are! St. Paul’s intention is to enter the 9th inning and hit the devil’s fastball out of the park to win the game; to enter the 12th round to knock him out for you in the Name of Jesus; and to enter the battle so the devil with all his lying accusations and your inner skeptic that wants to agree with him, will run away and drown by and in the depths of the tide of God’s overflowing love and mercy in Christ. And in and through Jesus, to show you the overwhelming basis of your security in Christ!

And as I go into this phenomenal teaching from God’s Word, I want you to be clear about something that what is here taught about the diamond-hard truth of who and what you are, according to Ephesians 1 is something that was established before anyone was born and before anything in the universe was created, verses 3 and 4a: “Blessed be the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…”.

We need to be clear about this. It was not as though God created everything (Gn 1:1), said it was very good (Gn 1:31), and then everything went haywire and out of control (Gn 3), to which God buried his head in utter shock and dismay with a full sense of failure; saying to Himself, “What do I do now?!” And then came up with “Plan B” to send His Son Jesus Christ. No.

Instead the LORD Jesus Christ was always His Plan A…always, from eternity, “before the foundation of the world.”

I was asked the other day by someone I’m getting to know in our community, “Do you believe in predestination?” I am happy to get questions like this, because as evangelical Lutherans to hold to God’s Word as inspired and inerrant, who continue to hold to our Lutheran Confessions pointing back to Scripture alone, my answers are easy: if it is taught in God’s Word, then we believe it. And behold, here it is in Ephesians 1:

Verses 4-6: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

And

Verse 11-12: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”

So, do we believe, teach, and confess predestination? Yes, positively. It is in the Word of Christ! And – I might add – in more places than just Ephesians 1 (e.g. Ro 8-9).

Please notice this: in these two references to predestination, St. Paul is referring to and making predestination applicable to “us” and “we”…who are “us” and who are “we” in Ephesians 1? Answer: Christians, the holy ones of God, those baptized into Christ. That is, these words about predestination apply to you as well.

Think of it: before your faith, before your life, before any blessing in God’s grace to live in faith; before any failure from the sinful flesh to commit sin; before you even knew a thought in your mind; before you took a breath; before you existed…God settled things; God ordered things – “before the foundation of the world” – He saw to it that you are in His eyes blameless before Him (verse 4)this He predestined. The matter of your salvation and status as belonging to God in Christ by grace through faith in Jesus apart from works of the Law, that means you are saved; you are justified, and in Christ, you are holy…God doesn’t see your sin anymore covered in the blood of the Lamb…this status as Christian is a done deal. God predestined it. It’s done! It’s true! It is! You are! God’s predestination is an effective cause of your salvation. Talk about a “grace-alone” teaching…it 100% guarantees that your right and good and saving standing before God is from God, and only God. It was and is 100% before anything came to be.

So that if you know this, you also know that any struggle or trial you face cannot and will not take you away from this truth: you are predestined in Christ…therefore the LORD will – in His time – deliver you from whatever struggle or trial you face!

The LORD took care of your perfect forgiveness, love, mercy, grace, salvation, justification before the beginning of time. And He guaranteed it for you PERSONALLY. “You” doesn’t just mean for the Church or for the world…it means for YOU (personally)! You were predestined in Christ and through Christ to be saved…and you are!

We might ask, “why?” Why would God do this for me, for you? Look at the little words right before verse 4: “In love”…that’s it. 1st John 4:8 & 16: God is love. He loves…He extends gifts, He extends favor; He extends mercy…this is WHAT God is and Jesus proved it by giving His life for you. Why did the LORD predestine me? Answer: “In love!” He loves you. That’s why!

And then there is that part in us that wants to go back to the “deserve” thing again…”But I don’t deserve it!” Brothers and sisters, “deserve” has nothing to do with true love; and the moment “deserve” gets mixed in with love, then love isn’t love anymore.

This love, this saving love, this agape love, this sacrificial and unconditional love is free. He predestined you in love.

The message is so great, so grand, so profound, so fantastic, that our minds mess with us! Are we saying that therefore since we are predestined that we can just do whatever? Just go crazy, give into the flesh, serve sin, ditch God…live for self? This is a wicked thought and it does not see what this wonderful predestination is connected to.

Notice: those predestined are holy and blameless in Christ…St. Paul goes on in this chapter to emphasize the saving work of Jesus. In other words, the longer teaching is that those who have faith in Christ and what He did for them “[being our] redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…(verse 7)” are in fact “holy and blameless” not through their own efforts, but through faith in Christ. Verse 13 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him…” does not mean that God predestined those based on knowing ahead of time whether-or-not one would have faith. Absolutely not (though God knows all things), but God wants us to know that on-account of His gracious predestination in and through Jesus Christ, that those who are predestined do indeed – in time – also have faith! But faith does not cause predestination, but predestination causes faith.

Our minds keep messing with us and we are tempted to be the skeptic again: “Then why doesn’t God grant faith to all people, so that all have the assurance of predestination?” And that dear friends, is a question that has a very deep and mind-blowing answer for you this morning (I’m being facetious). Here is the answer. Are you ready for it? Answer: we don’t know. The LORD does not want us to know, but we will also say what the answer is not: it is NOT that God also chose some from eternity to be condemned. What a horrible thought and one that assaults the teaching that Christ died for the sins of the world. There is no double-predestination and there is no limited atonement. We vehemently reject these ideas that are – by some -- imported into Scripture and cannot be drawn from Scripture.

In addition, verse 13 mentions something else about the predestined…did you see it? “[and] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” This is baptismal language. So, those who are predestined are given by God signs that they are predestined: they believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ; and they are sealed or baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ…and the context of Scripture tells us a little more: like they are found in the household, they worship God, they pray, they yearn for God’s mercy; they cry out to the LORD, they live for the LORD…they love…and even when these signs are incredibly weak and contradicted by the sinful flesh, these signs are still there…indeed, everyone in Church today is weak…in ourselves, so weak, frail, tired, and heavy-laden, but the LORD has brought you here to receive His rest, His Word, His Sacrament, and His strength. He has brought you here…to hear…that you are chosen, you have received the Word and Holy Baptism, you have been given the gift of faith, you are here worshipping…and what are these a sign of? the undeniable and certain truth that you have been predestined in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, for eternal life, for confidence in this life: that nothing, no way, no how, can or will EVER separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD (Ro 8)! How do we know? How do you know? Because hear this Christian: you were predestined into Christ! Done deal! Live in this confidence! God desires that you would to the glory of Jesus whose blood guarantees that you are! As the predestined, hear Jesus (He was talking about you too): “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand (Jn 10:28).” He was and is talking about you: predestined!