Amazing Grace/Messy Grace
You heard the Message from Jesus:
"He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near." — Ephesians 2:17
The Story of You continues here with a surprising revelation—that Jesus came and preached peace to you. He let us know in the next verse that it is only through Jesus Christ that we have access to the Father “by one Spirit.” Paul is talking here about the work of the Spirit.
- All three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in this verse. Jesus is the one who preaches to us and gives us access to the Father by all that he did on the cross.
- And that access is by the Spirit who is the living presence of God in the world today.
The Living Christ is present even before we are part of his church, before we are saved by grace. Christ Jesus is at work in us, preaching peace to us.
Have you heard Jesus’ sermon on peace?
- When you think of Jesus, you think of a gentleman, a man of peace. Apart from the Cleansing we have no record of any violence done by Jesus. Surely he was a man of peace, this Prince of Peace, as he was to be called.
- When you hear or read his teachings, you are not moved to violence yourself. The words of Jesus do not inspire you to attack your spouse or your neighbor. Quite the opposite. Jesus’ sermons are supremely about love—the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep. “Love your neighbor, love one another, love your enemy, and love God.”
When Jesus speaks of hell and judgment, he does so in the context of a lack of love: the Pharisee who cannot even see the sinful woman, the teachers of the law who would leave the paralyzed man forever in his bed, the Rich Man who would not help the beggar at his gate, the unrepentant and self-righteous person who condemns others while hiding their own sin, the preacher who burdens others with laws and regulations while he sees himself as above the law.
Jesus willingly left heaven and came to earth to rescue you. He lived his life and taught his lessons with your rescue in his mind and heart. He allowed wicked men to capture him, question him, beat him, and condemn him as he kept his eye on you. He laid down upon that wooden beam for you.
- But he was not through loving you when all of this was done. His work for you continued still.
- After his resurrection and ascension to glory, Jesus returned to this world through the Holy Spirit, and he came right up to your door. Jesus preached you a sermon, and you heard it and felt it and responded to it by opening the door of your life and inviting him in.
- The Story of You is all about how Jesus pursued you to the brink of hell and loved you into the safety of his arms.
Jesus said that if you receive his messenger, you receive him. If you reject this messenger commissioned by Christ, you reject Christ himself: whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me (John 13:20). Luke 10:16: Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me.
You Gained Citizenship:
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household." — Ephesians 2:19
Once you were a foreigner to the covenants of promise. You were excluded from citizenship in Israel.
- You were a true foreigner and stranger to God and his household. You did not fit in any way. You spoke the wrong language. You embraced the wrong behavior. You were culturally an ill fit for the company of faith.
- You were by nature, not a child of God, but a child of the wrath of God (2:3: “deserving of wrath”).
- There was nothing you could do about the distance between you and God. Your nature was bent away from him.
But God acted to save you nonetheless, out of his great love for you. It was all God. He initiated your rescue from the spiritual condition into which you had descended.
God did everything necessary to make you eligible for citizenship in heaven.
American citizenship is a great prize. The economic difference it makes to be a citizen of this country is enormous. The U.S. has not suffered the long agony of war on our soil since the Civil War 150 years ago. This excludes the “war on terror” which is ongoing in almost every jurisdiction on earth.
A family escaped the ravages of war in Africa. They fled their homeland and gained these shores with their young son. They could not speak our language. They did not know our ways. Their dress and customs were unfamiliar to us.
They showed up at our ESL one night, the three of them, and began to learn English. The husband was completely illiterate. He could not read or write any language even his native tongue. He had never been to any school of any kind. His wife had gone to school through the third grade.
Dr. Violet Nix began to instruct them in English, teaching them the very basics of vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax. It took six years, but eventually the wife took the test for citizenship and passed. She became an American citizen in 2015. This spring the man who could not write or read any language passed the citizenship test and took the oath of citizenship in these United States.
This family has not yet become Christian. But one thing is certain. They know that Christians love them. And Christians helped them achieve their dream of citizenship.
Citizenship in Heaven is not simply for this life but for the life to come. It transcends in every way all other citizenship in all generations. Our supreme allegiance belongs to King Jesus who joined us to himself and to one another.
You Were Joined to God’s Household:
"And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." — Ephesians 2:22
Here Paul uses a new metaphor concerning the work of the Spirit in the life of the one who is saved by grace. He compares it to being added to a physical structure, a “dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
- This is not the only time in Scripture that such a picture of the church is painted. Peter does this in 1 Peter 2:5: you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.
- Jesus who said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).
We say you “join the church.” What actually happens is that you are joined to the church. You are passive in this joining. God adds to the body as he sees fit. We are being joined together by the Spirit for his purposes in the world.
God lives in this dwelling. Think about the indwelling presence of God in his church, not just in individuals. God has a special presence in the gathering of believers. If you are not vitally connected to the body of Christ, then you miss out on an amazing dimension of his presence in your life and work.
I never felt that more keenly than after the sermon I preached challenging us to help people in the Ninth Ward achieve home ownership. I felt that call so deeply. And after that sermon Mike Flores came up to me and said, “Sign me up.” He became the vice president of Baptist Crossroads, the partnership through which we built 91 houses with Habitat in the Ninth Ward. But it was all a work of the church.
Someone sitting in the fellowship hall last week pointed to the Care Effect logo on the wall and asked what it was about. We launched Care Effect with 100 volunteers eight years ago. We have since served tens of thousands of hot meals to those in need in our city. We have given out tens of thousands of backpacks of food to kids at risk of hunger. We have ministered to hundreds of children at Rivarde and adults in our prisons. Our church ladies are known in the clubs on Bourbon Street and foreigners come every week to learn English here. These are only some of the things God has done through this amazing family of faith. The Care Effect is the featured book this year for the Women’s Missions Union of our national convention.
Everybody is temporary in this local body of believers including me. We all depart finally either by moving or by death. The body of believers in any local church is a river, not a pond. People come in, and people go out. In all of this the purposes of God are fulfilled.
We should receive every new member as a gift from the Holy Spirit to us personally. This is true of ministers as well. Any time a new person comes into this family, I think about the message that God is sending to me. How does he want to use this person to change my perspective and my character and my kingdom work?