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.

Sweet-Smelling Children of Light

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

This week we take a special time out of the year to celebrate and thank the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League for their many years of service as one of the two official auxiliaries of the Missouri Synod. The LWML has been active for over 65 years, sharing the love and Good News of Jesus Christ, the world’s redeemer. The theme for this year’s LWML Sunday, which this sermon is loosely based off of, is “Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings,” Now, as I was researching some ideas this week I learned a couple new words. The first is Dysosmia. Dysosmia is a disorder that involves any alteration in quality or distortion in the sense of smell. This usually manifests in one of two ways: either something smells different than you remember, or you start smelling something that isn’t there.

Now, with the disorder of the sense of smell that leads you to smell something differently than how you remember, to be quite frank, it usually means that you are going to smell something rotten or decaying instead of the good smell. But, there are rare occasions where one might smell something good instead of bad. This is called Euosmia; instead of smelling correctly that something is dead or rotten, one would smell the dead thing as a pleasant smell. In the Epistle text we read how Christ offered Himself as something εὐωδίας, literally – a good odor, a fragrant offering. By offering Himself as the sacrifice and offering in our place, Jesus became a fragrant offering unto God. Through faith in Him we have become sweet-smelling children of the Light.

I.

The text begins, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (vv. 1-2) St. Paul is calling to mind the long history of sacrifices among the people of Israel. We have record of sacrifices pleasing to God as far back as Genesis 4, where Abel offered up the firstborn of his flock to God. After Noah and his family got off the ark, he built an altar to God and sacrificed. God smelled the pleasing aroma and vowed to never again curse the ground because of man or strike down every living creature. The sacrifices continue so on and so forth throughout Old Testament history, even up to the time of Christ.

These sacrifices were instituted by God because of the hardness of human hearts. The Apostle Paul says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words…for at one time you were darkness.” (vv. 6, 8) Earlier in Ephesians we hear that we were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following the course of this world. (Eph. 2:1-2) As those dead to Christ, we were darkened in our understanding. In our natural selves, we do not understand the things of God. We were alienated from God because of our ignorance and hardness.

The word that the Lutheran confessors use to describe our natural sinful condition is concupiscence. This means that not only are we born with original sin, but it is evidenced in that fact that we have a natural inclination to sin and are by nature turned away from the things of God. And finally, in our sin we were callous towards God. I hate to pick on a specific group of people, but being in sin is kind of like being a teenager. What are 3 of the most common words out of their mouths, “I don’t care.” (Cf. paragraph w/Eph. 4:18-19)

In our sin we neither cared about our neighbor in need nor did we want to do anything about it. We didn’t care about God; instead we fashioned gods of our own making and desires. Therefore, Jesus Christ became the fulfillment of all sacrifices, the ultimate fragrant offering unto God. Hebrews 9 says, “He [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (9:12) Because we by ourselves are dead in our trespasses, we smell rotten. We smell dead; in our sin, we walk around with a gagging smell of decay – we might not smell it, but God does. Therefore, “Christ [also] suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Jesus Christ offered Himself up in our place, as payment for our sins – a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

II.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (vv. 1, 8a) I don’t mean to ascribe things to God our Heavenly Father, who is formless, beyond what Scripture does; but it’s like God the Father has Euosmia. Because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we are made a fragrant offering unto God. The “good odor” that is Jesus, has spread to us through the gift of faith. Paul writes, “We are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15) In Ezekiel 20 God says, “As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.” (Ezek. 20:41) God says that He will accept us as a pleasing aroma when He brings us out and gathers us. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He suffered and died to separate us from our sin. Through His grace and the gift of faith we are brought out of the dying masses in the world and made holy and righteous. This is because God has dealt with us for His name’s sake, and not according to our evil deeds.

John Chrysostom, whose name means “golden mouth,” was archbishop of Constantinople in the very early 5th century. He wrote, “We are then, as it were, a Royal censer, breathing withersoever we go of the heavenly ointment and the spiritual sweet savor.” Because of Christ’s offering of Himself as a fragrant offering, that sweet smell extends to us. We are the sweet-smelling children of the Light. As Christians, like Chrysostom says, we walk around like bowls of Royal incense, breathing heavenly ointment to those around us. Paul urges us to, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” (v. 9) This means fleeing from all sin, from sexual immorality and impurity, from covetousness and filthy or crude joking. These are the sorts of things that our sinful nature wants us to do. Our sinful bodies want to covet and be crude.

But thanks be to God,” Paul writes, “who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Thanks be to God, who despite the temptations of our flesh, continues to come to us through His Word. He continues to give us the free forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross. Through faith in Him we smell sweet to God. Therefore He leads us in the triumphal procession. We live in the world spreading the fragrance of Jesus Christ, the good news that through Him sins are forgiven and all things are made new. In His love we no longer live with the decaying stench of death and decay, but the sweet smell of grace and healing forgiveness. This is not of ourselves, but it is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.

Euosmia is a condition where, instead of smelling something nasty, one smells something pleasant in its place. Through the fragrant offering of Himself, Jesus has, in effect, given our heavenly Father Euosmia. He no longer smells us as dead and rotten in our sin, but as His own sweet-smelling Son. Today we give thanks for the Lutheran Women Missionary League and for the work they do. They stand as an example for us to follow. Made fragrant through the death of Jesus, we walk as children of the light, as beloved children of God, covered in the sweet smell of the blood of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.