Brought Near by the Blood

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

“They’re not one of us,” is an easy sentiment to have. “They’re not from here,” or, “They’re UND fans,” or, “They prefer Japanese automobiles,” seem to cross all of our lips from time to time. Sometimes, we’ll hear or think, “They’re not one of us,” even within these sacred walls. And this isn’t in the sense that they’re not one of us because they haven’t joined yet, or they have removed themselves from fellowship with us by a different confession of faith, but a more insidious sentiment. It’s the idea that someone is categorically not one of us. They’re aren’t us, and they never will be, nor are they even capable of it. You can probably imagine a time where you’ve had that sort of thought in your heard.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians in our text, “Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise.”[1] Paul instructs the Ephesians to remember that they were once members of the category, “Not one of us.” They were not of Israel, the people to whom the promise of the Messiah belonged. Rather, they were aliens to the covenant of promise. But, more severely, they were separated from Christ. There existed between them and Christ a dividing wall of hostility – the wall of sin that continues to separate our sinful nature from the gates of heaven. Paul gives this conclusion, though, “Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”[2] Therefore, all dividing walls of hostility are broken down in the household of the Lord.

St. Paul teaches in the text about dividing walls of hostility. The context is that, during Paul’s ministry, there were very many converts from Judaism. Some maintained that, post-conversion to Christianity, the ceremonial laws that identified Israel as a nation must be kept. If one did not keep the Passover, did not refrain from work on the Sabbath, or wasn’t circumcised – among other things – that person was not of Israel and was not, therefore, a Christian. They missed the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem some 600 years before was the closing Word from God on Israel as a chosen nation.

The real dividing wall that faced the Ephesians wasn’t that sort of division, but the ultimate dividing wall – sin. Sin is what separates all men from God. The default position of all people, both Jew and Gentile, is as Paul says, “dead in trespasses and sins…following the course of this world…carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.” As a result of being born we are all, “by nature children of wrath.”[3] The result of all this is that we are all by nature separated from Christ, without hope and without God in the world.

We can see this in so many ways in our lives. For example: we attempt define our own morality, and actually, our own reality. Instead of identifying ourselves as the creatures that God has made to live in relationship with Him and one another, our society teaches us that the individual is the most important. Just this week a courage award was given on national television to a person who denies the good creation of God, asserting that a mistake was made when he was recognized by the sex that God gave instead of the identity that he created for himself. The overall message was that the reality that we live in is not shaped and defined by our Creator, but by each individual on his own. Speaking about this may make us uncomfortable. So, instead of speaking the truth of God in these matters, we leave the State to define morality. In various times though history human governments have upheld morality as defined by God, but that is no longer the case. The wall of sin that separates us and God is evident when we are complacent to allow what happens to be legal to be our measure of what is right.

Even without that wall, even recognizing the forgiveness we receive through faith in Christ, that division remained between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. This maybe was more obvious for the Ephesians, who visibly weren’t Jewish, but we become the Judaizers when we see people in church or in the community and think, “They aren’t one of us.” Instead of sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world and promises rest and rescue for our weary souls, we don’t. We become like King Herod in the Gospel reading last week, who heard the Word of God from John the Baptist, but was content to do nothing.

St. Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.[4]

At one point all mankind, we ourselves included, were far off – completely dead in our sins. But in His flesh, Christ broke down the wall of hostility that existed between God and us. Formerly the demands of the Law stood between us and the sin within us rebelled. In the body of Christ, we have been released from the hold that the Law had over us, demanding our blood for our sins. Instead, Jesus broke down that wall of hostility by actively obeying its demands in our place, and suffering the penalty of our inability to keep the Law.

Therefore, He is our peace and has made us a new man. The Jews once thought that to be saved, the Gentiles must be incorporated, must be made Jews as well. But after breaking down the wall of sin that existed between God and us, Jesus also broke down the distinction between Jew and Gentile, and united both as one new man in Christ. This He did through His own ministry, through sending the Apostles, and through sending faithful pastors today, through whose mouths we hear the preaching of the Gospel, and from whose hands we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

The Scripture says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”[5] Though we were once separated from the commonwealth of Israel and promises of God, though we were once without hope and godless from our very conception, we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints in the household of God.

In this household, there is no hostility. There is no division between God and man, nor is there between each other. We have all been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and are led by the Spirit to forgive as we have been forgiven. As members of the household of God we are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, our cornerstone being Jesus Himself. Daily were are being joined together through His Word and Sacrament into a holy temple in the Lord and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

It’s so much easier to resist, though. After all, how could you forgive a Packer fan? We all have in our heads people we’d rather not talk to and places we’d rather not go, but how then can we share the saving Gospel of Christ? Those thoughts like, “they’re not one of us,” are sinful and must be repented of. In the household of God there are no walls of hostility, either between man and God or between each other. Therefore, being built upon the great shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ, we continue to reach out to those around us. We confess our numerous failures to do so, knowing that Christ is our peace. He came and preached peace to us through His death as punishment for our sins, making we who were far off now near to our God and Father in heaven.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 2:11–12.

[2] Eph. 2:13.

[3] Eph. 2:1-3.

[4] Eph. 2:13–16.

[5] Eph. 2:19–22.

Chosen to be Holy and Blameless

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

Today we have an interesting text for our Epistle reading. As part of the assigned readings for each Sunday we’re going to be going, more or less, through the entire letter to the Ephesians. The whole letter is fantastic. Some of the chief parts that you may remember are: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” At weddings you’ve heard from Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
We begin with Ephesians 1. In the Church’s history, this chapter has been the one that is known for the topic of predestination. Predestination is the teaching that God, from eternity, has decided both who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Obviously there are some issues with that second part, which we don’t believe. This teaching lead to a serious controversy in the 9th century, and particularly for us, in the 1880s. It was during that decade that the Missouri Synod defended the true teaching of God’s Word against what were then the Norwegian and Ohio Synods.
The reason we bring this up is because, if taken the wrong way, the teaching of predestination can confuse us and introduce doubt about our own salvation. That is not the purpose of Scripture, nor of St. Paul in our Epistle reading. Instead, the doctrine of election, another name for predestination, is meant to be one of comfort, whereby we know that, because our salvation is not dependent upon us but upon God’s mercy and grace, our salvation is secure. God our heavenly Father has revealed the mystery of His will to us: we have been chosen in Christ for redemption through His blood.

I.

So, to start with, we have this big elephant in the corner of the room: predestination. When I first looking ahead at the church year and planning my sermons I was really excited for these next few weeks in Ephesians. That’s because it’s a really interesting book of the Bible, and because I think the topic today is fascinating. In a nutshell, predestination is exactly what it sounds like; it says God has decided who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. There are some variations, but it all balls up into that. But, before we even begin to say more, we must be clear: salvation is entirely a free gift of God, given to us by His grace through faith. We must uphold that salvation is a free gift of God and not a product of our work against all other teachings.
The places we could go in Scripture for this include Ephesians 2, which we already know, “By grace you have been saved through faith…not a result of works.” St. Paul also writes to the Romans about salvation. He says, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Titus 3 says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal.” Lastly, it says in 2 Timothy 1, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our own works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

Phew. Now that we’ve gotten that scaffolding in place, we can begin to talk about predestination. An issue arose in the mind of some Christians about why some go to heaven and others don’t. The clear instruction of Scripture is that salvation is by grace. Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of the world on the cross. By His death He set aside the penalty of death and damnation that we all deserve for our sins. This forgiveness is given us through faith. We receive faith through the preaching of the Gospel and the washing of Holy Baptism. The reason why some are not saved is because many, in their sinfulness, reject the saving Word of Jesus. They want nothing to do with Jesus nor do they desire His salvation. There are like the seed that falls along the path. When they hear the Word, Satan immediately comes and takes away the Word. But, those that teach predestination teach that God chooses, or at least influences, those who will reject His Word and suffer.

II.

What a monstrous idea, that God chooses people to go to hell. Put that far away from your mind as we hear the true teaching of God’s Word. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians,

“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, 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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

The true teaching of predestination is this: before the foundation of the world, you were chosen by God to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Through the shedding of His blood, you are made holy and blameless before our God and Father in heaven. According the purpose of His will before all time, Christ was put forth as the payment for your sins.

See how far this removes the work of salvation from your hands. For, if salvation were up to us, we could never be sure. Every day, every second, is a constant battle. We wage war against our own bodies and minds which are filled with temptations to sin. All too often we fall into those temptations, committing terrible sins against God and each other. We sin with our bodies, which according to Scripture, are temples of the Holy Spirit. My friends, if salvation were up to us, it would be over before it even began.

Therefore we turn away from all other opinions. Here in God’s Word is revealed the mystery of His will in the matter. St. Paul writes that in Christ God has revealed to us the mystery of His will, which was His plan from the fullness of time. That is, we are saved because God, in His mercy, chose us for the redemption that is in Christ. This is apart from any and all works of our own.

III.

This is called the doctrine of election, and it’s meant as a comfort for us. Against all the hell that the world throws at us, our salvation is secure through faith in Christ. This hope does not put us to shame, Scripture says, “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” St. Paul writes in our text that when we heard the Word of truth, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and were called to faith, we were, “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the Holy Spirit, who calls us to faith through the preaching of the Gospel. Therefore, having received the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit now resides within us as a down payment and guarantee of the inheritance we have in heaven.

Some use the doctrine of predestination, also known as election, to terrify. They say that God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That is scary and untrue. What is true, however, is that God does chose who goes to heaven. Before the foundation of the world, God chose to forgive your sins through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore your salvation rests secure, because it’s not dependent on your works, your feelings, or your thoughts, but wholly upon the death and resurrection of Christ. How can you know this? Because God said so in Scripture. In Holy Baptism you were claimed as God’s own child and washed free of your sins. Through the preaching of the Word the Holy Spirit continually calls you to repentance and faith. In the Lord’s Supper Jesus feeds you His own body and blood to forgive your sins and strengthen your faith. By these things you may know that God has chosen you for salvation, and you may rest secure.

Jesus, the Savior of Great and Small

Text: Mark 5:21-43

One of the ongoing themes in Mark’s Gospel is rejection. More specifically, the rejection of Jesus. This rejection comes from all sides, but a particular focus of St. Mark is the rejection of Jesus by His own people and His subsequent appearances to the Gentiles. Mark, tradition tells us, wrote to a Gentile audience. Only a quarter way through the Gospel, Jesus has already been rejected by His people, His own family, and even doubted by His own Disciples. We would’ve expected the Messiah to be welcomed by God’s chosen people. They were supposed to be looking for and anticipating the arrival of the Christ. But instead, Jesus’ ministry is met with rejection, doubt, and ridicule.

Last week Jesus demonstrated that He is the Lord God Almighty by displaying His power over the raging storm and waves. Though the Disciples despaired of life itself, Jesus was beside them in the boat the whole time. Likewise, He is beside us in the Ark of the Church throughout the perils of this life. The whole reason for going across the Sea of Galilee in the first place was to go to the Gentiles, those who had been previously estranged from God. If God’s chosen people wouldn’t listen to the Good News, then maybe those who were the outcasts would. Jesus showed that He is not the Savior just of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles as well. He showed that God’s chosen people are not of one race, but of one relationship: faith in Christ.

But now Christ has come back west over the Sea of Galilee to Jewish territory. Even with home court advantage, though, Jesus continued to show that the Son of Man is impartial. He reaches out today to a number of people to demonstrate that He is Lord not only of both Jew and Greek, but of great and small as well. Jesus shows by His power over death and disease that His salvation is for all people.

I.

The text begins, “When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.”[1] Already we’ve said that Jesus is back in Jewish territory. He left it to show God is impartial, but now returning, He is met along the way by a ruler of the synagogue. The rulers of the synagogue were a class of men in charge various matters at the local synagogue, such as arranging readers and speakers. They weren’t priests, but they were fairly important. Here we see that not all Jewish authorities despised Jesus, and while Jesus’ own disciples wondered who He was to command wind and wave, this man understood.

This is reflected in his actions. This important man comes and prostrates himself before Jesus. He falls at His feet, imploring Him to come help. His little daughter is at the end of her life. We’re given to understand by the text that death is near in the immediate sense. There is nothing that could be done. But, if Jesus would just come and lay hands on her, she would be saved and live. She would be saved from the perils of death and the grave. There were any number of doctors or faith healers that the man could’ve gone to, but he asked Jesus. They could’ve prayed, could’ve made this life transition easier for the girl and her family, but they couldn’t save her. Only Jesus could save her and make her live again. And with the words that the man uses, we’re talking about more than just healing.

Jesus, hearing the man, doesn’t mess around. In fact, He doesn’t say anything at all. None of the Gospels record Jesus saying anything here; He just goes. He doesn’t twiddle His thumbs, He doesn’t debate over what to do; He sees an opportunity to share His saving news, and He jumps into action. He, the Lord of all life, who has come to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins, goes to bring life to this little girl.

II.

Jesus goes along with Jairus to heal his daughter who is deathly ill. Along the way, a crowd followed and pressed against Him. In the crowd, “there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”[2] Because of the type of ailment this woman had, she was ceremonially unclean. In other cases, the uncleanness may have ended, but for her it meant twelve years of being unclean. This meant she couldn’t go to the temple, she couldn’t eat the Passover, and other people who came into contact with her must first purify themselves before doing those things. Thus, she was an outcast. We see a stark comparison between her and the ruler. The ruler was an important man who humbled himself before Jesus, while this woman is at the bottom of the social ladder. And yet, they share a common faith in Jesus.

The woman figured if she would just touch His garments, she would be healed. She was right. She reached out and touched Jesus and was instantly healed. Fearing that Jesus would be angry, she confessed what she had done. Jesus responds not in anger, but to comfort the woman. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[3] It was not the touching of the garment that healed her, but the salvation of God present in the flesh of Jesus Christ that purified the woman’s flesh. She became a living image of the healing we will all receive at the resurrection. As with the woman, our bodies are weak and frail. We grow old and die. But as with the woman, so will our bodies be renewed at the coming of Christ. That’s what we confess when we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We know that those who believe in Jesus will be resurrected in our renewed bodies.

III.

In the intervening time, the little girl died. But for Jesus, that isn’t an issue. Jesus instructs the father not to fear, but believe. There was a great commotion in the house. The practice at the time was to hire professional mourners, and so the house was filled with weeping and mourning. Jesus asked, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”[4] They laughed at Him, not realizing that the Lord of all life stood in their midst. For Jesus, death is but as sleep. Then, taking the girl by the hand, He spoke to her. “Little girl, I say to you, arise.[5] He spoke His Word to her, and immediately she rose from the dead. He spoke the Word of life and brought her back.

That’s what Jesus does. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His Word brings water to the barren soul and life and light those who dwell in the shadow of death. It’s not dependent on who you are, where you’re from, what you do, or what social circles you run in. The salvation of Jesus Christ is for all people. He suffered for the sins of the entire world, and by His death and resurrection has reconciled all people to the Father. This reconciliation is given through the gift of faith we receive in Baptism. From the greatest to the least, is for all people. Jesus raised from the dead the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue, and He healed a woman who had been an outcast for twelve years. The Pharisees once commended Jesus for showing no partiality, and they were right. No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter what you’ve done, Jesus died for you.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:21–24.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:25–26.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:34.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 5:39.

[5] Mk. 5:41.