“Nothing Has Been Left to Chance” (Eph. 1:3-14)
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (July 15, 2018)
About 15 years ago, now, during the height of the Iraqi War, I happened to see on television Nightline’s Stone Phillips interview with Private Jessica Lynch and 4 of her fellow army personnel, who had been ambushed and held as prisoners. As they each relayed their hair raising experience being attacked, captured and interrogated, I could not escape admiring them for their bravery and presence of mind during their ordeal.
One thing that struck me the most about their story was that, to a person, they all expressed that, once it seemed clear that they were not going to be able to escape from the Iraqis and that no other American soldiers were going to come to their rescue, the only thing they felt certain about was that they were going to die. Correspondingly, the only questions they had in their mind was how they were going to die and when. They all agreed it wasn’t until later during their imprisonment, as one day passed into the next and they heard the American bombing drawing closer and closer, that they began to fill with hope that perhaps they would survive.
A soldier of a different sort is the author of the text before us. The apostle Paul, as a soldier of Christ, wrote this letter of Ephesians while he lay in prison for preaching the Gospel. He, like these five soldiers in a Baghdad prison, faced only an uncertain fate at the hands of his captors. But Paul occupied himself, not by wallowing in uncertainty, but by writing words of certainty and hope to his fellow Christians.
In fact, there is only one thing any one of us can be sure of in this world and that is that we can not be certain about anything. Our retirement nest egg is only as certain as the next stock market plunge. Our job is as secure as the next economic downturn or company buyout. Our crops are as certain as the next hail storm. Our home is as secure as the next lightning storm or flood. Our relationships are as certain as the next major conflict of interest that will divide us. Our good health is only as certain as the next disease or ailment to afflict us. Our happiness is only secure until the next tragedy fills our life with grief.
However, as Christians, we can know, like St. Paul, that there is a certainty that transcends this world. Even in the midst of all the uncertainty around us, we can be certain about what is beyond this world; and that is, our eternal salvation.
Do you have that certainty? If you were to die tonight, are you certain of going to heaven? The findings of a Gallup poll taken a decade or so ago are not very encouraging. They show that 29% of Americans who say they believe in heaven felt that their chances were excellent that they would go there when they die. That means that 71% were uncertain about where they would be spending eternity! Such findings, if still true, are frightening. Life for those who believe this way must be a living hell! How can one confidently face the uncertainties of life, as well as death, without a sure and certain hope in heaven?
God does not want you to be a victim of such uncertainty. He wants you to be absolutely sure of your eternal salvation. That is why God lays out for you in this text the certainty of your salvation... of your eternal inheritance... of your spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. This certainty that can be yours stems from three actions of God’s grace; First, He elected you to be His child. Second, He redeemed you that you might stand holy and blameless in His divine presence. Third, He sealed you with His Spirit to insure that you would take possession of your eternal inheritance in heavenly glory.
One of the most damaging things to our own personal feeling of security is the thought that we could simply be an accident or an after thought. Remember those times when you were the last person chosen for a team or you obtained a certain position or promotion only because the person who was chosen got sick? How secure did you feel? How secure or certain do you feel about your importance or your specialness when you are constantly told that you are simply a byproduct of evolution... or someone’s mistake? Can you really blame a child, who has discovered that he/she was born out of wedlock, for growing up with the feeling that he was nothing more than an accident, or at best, an afterthought to his parents. Security comes from knowing that you were a first round pick; purposely chosen out of love and want.
Know this, as a believer in Jesus Christ, your eternal security begins with this truth as God’s apostle clearly testifies: “(God) chose (you) in (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined (you) to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will-- to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given (you) in the One He loves.”
The operative word Paul uses here can be more literally translated: “elected.” In other words, God elected, (chose) you in Christ even before the creation of the world to be His child. He chose you to be in His family before you were even conceived!
There are no after thoughts or second thoughts as far as God is concerned. He has left nothing to chance. Your certainty of salvation, dear Christian, rests in the fact that God chose you to be His own... a member of His Holy Family...to live in His presence in all holiness and completely unblemished as He is. He selected you as a “first round draft pick” before there even was a world.
Be comforted also by this: Your “election” to God’s team had nothing to do with your will... your decision... or your choosing of God but it had everything to do with His good pleasure and will and His choosing of you. You are a Christian today because God picked you from the very beginning. Your coming to faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior was no accident. God’s election of you in Christ is the cause of your salvation.
Now, lest you become self-righteous or, the other extreme, doubtful of your election, the apostle assures you that God chose you not on account of some goodness He foresaw in you or some great works He knew you would perform for Him. Your election in Christ was completely independent of how “good” or how “bad” you are or how “perfect” or “imperfect” you feel you are. But He literally marked you out; that is, He predestined you to be His adopted children “according to the good pleasure of His will... by His love... to the glory of His grace.”
Do you still feel like an afterthought in God’s kingdom? What could be more secure and certain for you than to know that God in His grace and love elected you in Christ Jesus to be His own.
But be ready to be bolstered even more in your certainty of your eternal salvation. For Paul tells you that God has carried out His eternal will by giving you redemption in Jesus Christ. That which God purposed to do for you in Christ even before the creation of the world, He has put into effect in the fullness of time to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Jesus Christ. For God has given you redemption through Jesus’ blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
In order for sinners like you and me to be brought holy and blameless into God’s presence, our sins needed to be taken away... our blemishes washed and removed. In Jesus, God has done just that. Jesus was put to death for your transgressions and raised for your justification (Ro. 4:25). Jesus Christ has redeemed (rescued) you with His holy, precious, blood. At Jesus’s cross God’s good pleasure was carried out for you, His elect. There Jesus atoned for your sins. There your guilt was expiated. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He was proclaiming to the world that He had accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for each and every one of you. The debt has been canceled. That sin and blemish that kept you from God’s holy presence has been, literally, sent away. Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. The shed blood of Jesus makes the salvation of you who believe in Him eternally secure.
But what if you never heard of God’s election and Christ’s redemption? Think of it this way: Suppose you were drafted by the Chicago Cubs or the Minnesota Vikings to play on their team and they were willing to pay you big bucks but no one ever notified you. You would never be able to play on their team unless you showed up. And you couldn’t show up if no one ever notified you of your pick.
God has taken no chances when it comes to your eternal security. Part of His eternal plan to have you on His Heavenly Team was to bring you the “good News” of your election and redemption in Jesus Christ. He appointed men like Paul, like Peter, like John, to be His personal ambassadors to the world. God revealed the mystery of His plan of salvation in Christ and then to the world in Jesus’ chosen witnesses. He also empowered them with His Holy Spirit that they might be able to share that witness of Christ with the world. That was what Pentecost was all about. Then God saw to it that your parents, a friend, a pastor, or a teacher brought you that inspired testimony of the apostles and prophets as recorded for us in the Holy Bible.
Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ shared with you, God has brought you more than the news of your election and redemption in Jesus. Through the Gospel of Christ God has actually brought you into that salvation. Paul writes: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”
Now, left to one’s own wicked devices and the negative influence of the world and Satan, one might still begin to doubt the certainty of his salvation. One might think: “Yes, I’ve heard the Gospel, in fact, I hear it every Sunday in church, but can I be sure that Good News is really for me? Maybe I’m not really one of God’s elect, after all, I’m not as good of a Christian as that person over there. And who knows, maybe God will eventually tire of sinners like me and change His mind and not bring me into heaven but cast me to hell instead? I need proof of God’s promise before I’ll ever be certain of my salvation.”
If someone had promised to buy your house, you would ask for a proof of their sincerity, wouldn’t you? No doubt you would ask them to give you some earnest money, something up front as a guarantee, or deposit, that would make you certain that they would follow through on their intention.
To make your hope of eternal salvation even more certain and sure for you, God has also given you who believed in Christ His “earnest money, if you will; a deposit of what He plans to give you in eternity. In our text we read: “Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-- to the praise of His glory.”
You can have no better “guarantee” or “pledge” from God than the Holy Spirit Himself. He is your personal pledge that your eternal inheritance will be there for you. Nothing can cause it to rust away or be stolen from your possession.
The Holy Spirit, Who has been given to you through the Word of Christ spoken to you and through the waters of Holy Baptism empowered by the Word, is God’s eternal pledge... a true down payment on the manifold eternal treasures God has laid up for you in Jesus Christ. He has left nothing to chance, nothing for you to doubt. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise!
But can you be sure you have the Holy Spirit on deposit in you? If you have faith that Jesus is your God and Savior... that He has atoned for your sins... that He has redeemed you, then you can be certain that the Holy Spirit is in you. For you see, true faith in Christ is a work and gift of the Holy Spirit. You do not come by such faith in any other way. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit works through the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Holy Baptism to create faith. Every true believer in Jesus Christ, therefore, has the Holy Spirit on deposit in them and is sealed for eternal life in God the Father’s holy presence. And as Jesus says, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10).
Yes, dear battle ridden soldiers of the cross of Jesus, even though there are no certainties in life in this world, God has left nothing to chance as far as your eternal security is concerned. He has graciously given you in Christ Jesus the precious and eternal surety of your ultimate redemption from this world and the heavenly glory laid up for you.
In that certainty you can walk right out of the door of this church today in the full comfort and confidence that even if you experience rejection by your family, friends, co-workers, or neighbors, you have been lovingly and graciously elected (chosen) by God in Christ Jesus to be His holy child forever.....You can go forward in full assurance that even if you should sin, Christ has already redeemed you with His own precious blood bringing you the forgiveness of all your sins.... You can hold your head up in full confidence that even if you should suffer pain and trial, Jesus has already suffered total abandonment for you that you might never be abandoned by God in your suffering...... You can go the distance fully assured that even if you should meet your death, God has already sealed you with His Spirit as His pledge and guarantee that you will see eternal life and the treasures of heaven He has laid up for you.
In all this certainty, you, too, can with St. Paul joyfully proclaim, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!” Amen.