Summary: Second in a series on the riches of having a personal relationship with Christ, from Ephesians 1.
It’s been over 60 years since Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, and a bright-eyed little girl named Judy Garland led us down the road paved with yellow bricks and into the land of Oz. All the actors are dead and gone, now, but the story of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the frightened little girl from Kansas lives on in our imaginations. Perhaps we could find several “morals” to this classic story, but one that is unmistakable is the lesson drawn by those great theologians—America—who put it like this: “Oz never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man, that he didn’t, didn’t already have.” English bad; point well-taken! The things that were most desired by these wayfarers were traits that each of them already possessed! The Tin Man had a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, the Lion courage, and for Dorothy, “there’s no place like home” was but a wish away.
What does that have to do with us? Well…plenty! It is often the case that the requests which we as believers make of God are for things that we already possess in Christ! Let me just give you the whole outline today; it’s a simple one, three parts:
• We’ve been blessed by God.
• We’ve been blessed incredibly.
• We’ve been blessed because we belong to Jesus.
Don’t worry if you didn’t get all of that; they’ll be up on the screen soon. But note the difference between Christian faith and religions of the world, and it’s in seed form in our Summer Memory Verse which is Ephesians 1:3 (quote that with me, if you would!). I’m giving away a lot of the sermon even before I preach it this morning, but would you look at the chronological order of the events described in the verse? Which comes first, class, chronologically: our praising God, or His blessing us? God blesses us, and then we respond to Him. In the eternal mind of God, far prior to His flinging the planets into space, He had devised the plan which would ultimately lead to your salvation and blessing. God decided to bless me before the universe was in existence. Selah…let that sink in.
See, many world religions say, “do this and this and this, and then maybe you will have appeased God sufficiently that His wrath will be placated, and He’ll smile on you.” You take the initiative, in other words; you reach out to God, and then—and only then—will He reach back. As we’ll see in weeks to come, your salvation isn’t in your hands, but in His; God took the initiative: He sent His Son to pay the price; He raised His Son from the dead and glorified Him; He chose you, changed you, and will live forever with you. God does it, and then we respond to Him.
As we saw last week, these promises and blessings are for those who are God’s holy people, Jesus’ faithful followers. Yes, we can speak of God’s general blessings on everyone—there are people who never are regenerated by God who enjoy aspects of life here on earth, who receive God’s general blessings. At the same time, God reserves special blessings for His children, just as you might extend blessings to those who are not your own kids, but reserve certain things for your flesh-and-blood children—that’s normal! We, as His children have received His blessings.
I. We have been blessed by God.
We greet one another with “throwaway words”. “How ya doin’?” “How’s it goin’?” “How are you?” We ask these questions, and then either don’t wait for an answer, or expect a response from a fairly narrowly-defined set of acceptable replies: “fine”, “okay”, “well”, “good”; we’ve recently added “busy” to the list of acceptable responses. The last thing we usually want when asking one of these perfunctory greeting questions is an honest response—and when someone gives one, we sometimes find ourselves in conversations we never intended to enter! We expect one of the acceptable answers, even if that answer isn’t really the truth! Such is the state of American greeting protocol today.
But Paul uses words that are more than just polite perfunctorisms; he vests his greetings with significance when he says, in verse 2,
This two-fold blessing of greeting probably originated in worship services, and it became a common greeting in Christian literature as well as a spoken greeting among believers. Far more than a mere “howdy”, it is a uniquely Christian greeting, the truth of which we’d all do well to internalize and then exemplify to a world of people so desperately in need of the touch of grace and the experience of peace with God.
“Grace”, of course, refers to the unmerited favor of God extended toward us; every Christ-follower has first-hand experienced the grace of God. “Peace” is the Greek “eirene”, from which we get the word “irenic”; it translates the Hebrew word “shalom”, and signifies a wish for spiritual prosperity and completeness.