Summary: God’s last will and testament gives us countless unimaginable blessings - but only in Christ, who is their embodiment.
How many of you have a will?
Did you put a lot of thought into it? Did you go over the people you love, and the How many of you have a will?
Did you put a lot of thought into it? Did you go over the people you love, and the things that matter to you, and try to make the two match? How many times have you changed it? Some people change theirs every year, some never change them at all. Some people - especially those with a lot of stuff - change their wills regularly to keep their heirs in line, and others set up irrevocable trusts and other complicated arrangements that try to keep control over their property even after they’re out of the picture themselves. The other side of the experience is being mentioned in somebody’s will, being somebody’s heir. It makes a difference, I think, to people’s lives and plans when they know they’re going to come into a nice little chunk of change somewhere down the road. Most people have too much taste to go around daydreaming out loud about what they’re going to do with great-grandmother’s diamonds, but it wouldn’t be smart for someone who’s gong to inherit something important to ignore the presence of that future promise in their lives - if only to know what is and isn’t realistic about your plans and expectations.
The book of Ephesians could be thought of as God’s will - as in "Last Will and Testament." The whole New Testament is, in fact, just that - essentially a legal document laying out the terms and conditions of a changed relationship between a wealthy and powerful donor and the beneficiaries of his generosity. But the gospels are the stories of how and why God changed his will, that is changed from the Old Covenant under Moses to the New Covenant under Jesus. And each one of Paul’s letters explains something different about what it means; Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome explains how it all works, the one to Colossae explains more fully who Jesus is, while the letter to the Philippians talks about the joys of belonging to God and being part of his purposes. In my view, the letter to the Ephesians explains what God has given to us - the nature and value of the bequest - and the terms and conditions that he expects his heirs - that’s us - to follow as a consequence.
First of all, Paul explains why it is that Gentiles - that is non-Jews - are mentioned in the will at all. After all, the Gentile pagans had no expectations at all. They hadn’t been raised to believe that they belonged to the family of the King of the Universe, "Melek ha olam" as the Jews repeated as part of every prayer, every blessing. And it isn’t because God got mad at the Jews and changed his will out of spite. No, This was always part of the plan. "He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world ... He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ." [v. 4-5] God isn’t capricious, or bad-tempered, or hasty. God always knew that people couldn’t make it back into communion with him, the intimate relationship we were created for, without some very special help.
It’s not that there was anything wrong with the first covenant, that first reading of the will that Moses got on Sinai. It’s just that human beings simply aren’t equipped to manage the inheritance properly. It’s as if God as celestial CEO turned over the day-to-day management of the company to a handful of clueless, greedy and corrupt executives... they had detailed instructions and a limitless line of credit, and ran the organization into the ground within a generation. And if you think I’m exaggerating the speed with which the project went under, read the book of Judges. No attempt at reformation and renewal ever lasted more than 40 years, and usually it was less than that.
No, just handing over the keys to the kingdom would not do. Some different arrangements would have to be made. But do you think God was surprised by this? Of course not! But we had to be convinced, too. We had to be shown that we needed a different kind of help than just a handout or a leg up.
But why us? Why did he choose us? Are we better than other people? Are those of us who are sitting in these and other pews around the country and world better than other people? No. We’re luckier, certainly, more fortunate, more blessed. But just like the beneficiaries of the original covenant, God chose us because of who he is, not because of who we are. " It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you," said Moses to the Israelites, "It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery." [Dt 7:7-8]