Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hope No Matter How Broken

Scripture Introduction:

Isaiah has a tendency to break things. And he does a really good job at it. Very seldom is something only slightly broken. Often it’s not just a chip off the corner of a glass the entire thing is shattered. As we analyze the situation, make sure he is not cut, and then look at the carnage he has left behind we often come to the conclusion that the glass, plate, CD, DVD, pot, lamp, is best served in the trash can. It is irreparable—it’s too broken. And you know I think sometimes as we step back and look at the carnage of our lives we can think that same thing—it’s too broken, irreparable. Or maybe it is not your life that you are looking at. Maybe it is the life of a friend; someone that seems to be throwing their life away. It seems as if it is too broken, it cannot be fixed.

Tonight, as we look at Ephesians 2:1-10 we will consider two things the character of God and the power of God. And because of those two things there is hope for any sinner—no matter how broken. If you are broken here tonight I want you to hear the hope in this passage. I want you to know that God is able to repair any carnage; you are never outside the realm of God’s ability to save you. If you have already experienced the saving grace of God and you are in Christ yet you are struggling with the effects of having been broken. Whether it is sin or the fallen world you live in, I want you to hear from this message that if God is able to raise the dead he is able to fix your broken hearts and your broken lives. God redeems you fully and God redeems every area of your life. If you are here tonight and your life seems to be going smoothly, you know Jesus, you enjoy Jesus, then I am certain that there are those in your life that you love that do not know Jesus—and this ought to, as I am sure it does, bother you. I want you to know tonight that there is no sinner that is too broken to be fixed.

As we are reading this text I want you to think about last week (if you were here). Feel the first three verses. Think about what it means to be dead in sin. And feel the huge contrast in verse 4. Tonight we are going to look at verses 4-6 and next week we will look at 7-10.


Sermon Introduction:

Last week we saw that “a radical disease required a radical remedy”. We focused on that radical disease and discovered that our only hope is the radical remedy of God raising the dead. We looked in depth at what it really means to be dead in our sins and trespasses. We noted that apart from Christ not only are we spiritually dead but we are enslaved. We are enslaved to the godless society we live in, Satan, and ultimately our sinful self. Because of our spiritual death and our enslavement we will never choose life. And because of this while we remain in this sinful condition we are under the wrath of God. It is not a pretty picture. We have a radical disease and the only hope is a radical remedy.

Again, though, in order for us to feel the hope in this passage we have to come to grips with just how broken we are apart from Christ. If you are not yet saved then you need to know your perilous condition. If you are praying for a brother, sister, mother, father, or friend then you need to know how perilous their condition is. Because as we saw last week if you think that their problem is a lack of education, or a need for better morals, or a need to start coming to church, etc. then you will not be able to see clearly the beauty of the gospel. We need to come to grips with this radical disease before we can see the certainty of the radical remedy.

There are a few analogies that we like to use in church culture that describe the horrible state of the sinner, the love of God, and the need for faith. Let me share a couple. . You have a horrible disease (that might even kind of be like the language we used in the last sermon) and there is only one remedy. You are so weak that you cannot get the medicine. You cannot even put the spoon up to your mouth to take the medicine. Some gracious person takes the spoon up to your mouth, opens your mouth, and pours it in. This is the activity of God. But whether the medicine works or not is up to you—you still have to swallow the medicine.

Here is another. You are drowning in the ocean. You have no hope of survival. You are so weak that you cannot swim towards the life raft or reach up and grab the rescue ladder from the helicopter. Your only hope of survival is that someone takes the lifesaver and throws it directly around your hand. That is the activity of God. But whether you are saved or not is up to you—you still have to curl your fingers around the life raft. You can refuse help. It’s up to you to curl your fingers.

Now, these analogies have their strong points. They do a good job of showing that faith (and I think these analogies would also make room for repentance) is our necessary response to the initiative of God. Our text tonight shows that same thing—You are saved by grace, through faith. Faith is the curling of the fingers, faith is the swallowing of the medicine; and that is a decent picture of faith. But there is a problem with these analogies--they do not go far enough on the radical disease part and because of that we kick the legs out from underneath or hope.

The biblical picture is not that you are drowning, or on your death bead; the biblical picture is that you are dead in sin, you are enslaved and you love it, your heart is messed up and your desires are messed up, and because of the fact that you continually sin the wrath of God is upon you. The point being, dead people cannot and will not grab a lifesaver. Dead people cannot swallow medicine. And because of this our hope must lie elsewhere. I think Spurgeon sums up what I am trying to say quite nicely:

I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, "You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself." My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will.

Spurgeon’s point is that if sinful man is left up to the freedom of his will then he is never going to turn to Christ because He is spiritually dead. Even if we would use the analogies earlier the truth is that sinful man would be too stubborn to swallow the medicine, he would be to prideful to curl his fingers around the life raft. The point Spurgeon is making is that if we are to be saved then God must first do a work of grace on our hearts. Or to say it the way Paul does in our text the dead man must be made alive. And because this is not mere fiction but the truth of the gospel this is why we can claim—and have hope as Spurgeon did—that God will save. Or as we will phrase it tonight, “there is hope for any sinner no matter how broken”. And we see this first because of the character of God.

I. Because of the character of God there is hope for any sinner no matter how broken.

Again because of our culture I think we are in danger of missing the significance of this text. We should be utterly shocked by verse 4. It would not be against God’s character to have left us in the state of verses 1-3. God is just and God is holy. Love, grace, and mercy are never requirements. If they are then they are not truly love, grace, and mercy. I think our culture is in danger of missing this. We presume upon the love and mercy of God. We reflect what a famous German poet said on his death bed, “Of course God will forgive me, that’s his job”. Do you see what happens to the beauty of this text when we presume upon His grace? We are not shocked by “But God…even when we were dead in trespasses…made us alive together…” It’s assumed. Well, yeah God is nice, that’s what he does. I think Sam Storms brings this out well when he says:

When we say to Jesus: 'Who were we that led you to do this for us? Jesus does not then says: 'You were a treasure hidden to yourself but seen by Me. When we ask, "Who were we that led you to do this for us?" the only answer is: "You were hell-deserving rebels who had no claim on anything in Me other than to be the recipients and objects of eternal wrath. I did this for you not because you were a treasure or because of anything in you; indeed it was in spite of what was in you. I did this for you solely because of what was in Me, namely, sovereign and free and gracious love for those who deserved only to be hated."

The point is that if it is left to our character then we will not be saved. If it is left to your beloved unbelievers character then he/she will not be saved. Our hope is not in our character or our intrinsic worthiness. Our hope is in the merciful, loving, gracious character of God. And this is what we see in this text about the character of God.

A) Because God’s mercy is richer than our deadness we have hope

How beautiful this “but God” statement is. No man can raise himself from the dead. No man can raise another person from the dead—ultimately. We are dead. We are enslaved. We are under wrath. But even in that lowly position, even as enemies of God He has mercy on us. I love how Paul phrases this—“rich mercy”.

I love how Paul says “rich mercy”. What a combination. Mercy is the heartfelt compassion that results in action. It is looking at someone with pity and rather than passing them over you act for their benefit. I think Paul Tripp defines mercy well when he says that it is “the kind, sympathetic, and forgiving treatment of others that works to relieve their distress, and forgiving treatment of others that works to relieve their distress and cancel their debt.” And it is also, “compassion combined with [patience] and action”.

Tripp continues. “Mercy has eyes. It pays attention to your distress and notices your weaknesses and failures. But mercy looks at these things with eyes of compassion. It doesn’t criticize you for the tough situation you are in or condemn you for your sin. Mercy wants to relieve your suffering and forgive your debt. It looks for ways to help you out of your struggle and remove your guilt and shame. Real mercy is restless. It is not content with the status quo. It doesn’t rest until things are better for you. It works hard, costs a lot, and is ready to hang on until the job is done.”

Now combine this with the word “rich” which means overabounding, without measure, unlimited. What this means is those upon God shows mercy He has an unlimited amount of it to give. One bible commentator (and it’s dated) said this about God’s rich mercy: “It has no scanty foothold in his bosom, for it fills it. Though mercy has been expended by God for six millennia, and myriads of myriads have been partakers of it, it is still an unexhausted mine of wealth.”

Rich Mercy. That means that no matter how broken you are, or how sinful you are, or how broken or sinful your friend is God’s mercy is greater. If you do not know Christ then you should ask God to have mercy on you. He is merciful, He loves to give mercy. Ask Him for it. If you have a lost friend then be praying that God might show them mercy. Pray that God will show them mercy. And furthermore, the rich mercy of God is a call for us as believers to reflect that mercy.

B) Because God’s love is greater than our deadness we have hope
I have heard it said before that mercy would take care of a patient in his distress. Mercy would watch out for you, change your medicine, dump out your bed pan, change your clothes, give you bathes, etc. But love would fluff your pillow. Love would hold your hand. Mercy is great but love is better. And our text shows that God does not stop at mercy but goes deeper. It is not simply that God had mercy but he had a “great love by which he loved us”. And there is really no way of defining this love. As William Hendriksen has said, “it defies all definition. We can speak of it as his intense concern for, deep persona interest in, warm attachment to, and spontaneous tenderness toward his chosen ones, but all this is but to stammer”. God’s love is so deep. And I think it would do us quite well to understand something about God’s love. It is not merely unconditional love.

Speaking of God as having unconditional love is in a sense true. But it really does not go quite deep enough. I like the term contra-conditional love—in spite of the conditions love. I think saying that God’s love is unconditional can be dangerous. And I think it can be dangerous because of what it assumes. It assumes that “God loves you just the way you are” and it assumes that God will not do anything to change you. You are okay just as you are. And there is a sense in which God does love you where you are—but He loves you so much that He is not going to keep you there. Look at what this love of God does. It does not keep you in Ephesians 2:1-3. It moves you out of that and saves you from that. So, yes God loves you where you are but He is not going to keep you there. And we have to be careful how we say that God loves you unconditionally. Because if God loves you with the type of love that is being spoken of here then every single person is going to be saved. But we know that this is not true. Yes, there is a sense in which God loves everyone—but not with this type of contra-conditional love that is being spoken of here. I like what David Powlison says about this:

“God does not accept me just as I am; He loves me despite how I am; He loves me just as Jesus is; He loves me enough to devote my life to renewing me in the image of Jesus. This love is much, much, much better than unconditional! Perhaps we could call it “contraconditional” love. Contrary to the conditions for knowing God’s blessing, He has blessed me because His Son fulfilled the conditions. Contrary to my due, He loves me. And now I can begin to change, not to earn love but because of love.

. . . You need something better than unconditional love. You need the crown of thorns. You need the touch of life to the dead son of the widow of Nain. You need the promise to the repentant thief. You need to know, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” You need forgiveness. You need a Vinedresser, a Shepherd, a Father, a Savior. You need to become like the one who loves you. You need the better love of Jesus.”

And I think it is this contra-conditional love of God that Paul is concerned with in this passage because he says, “even when we were dead in our trespasses”. That means that God’s love for us what in spite of who we were. Even as God hating rebels God gave us mercy and deep love. He acted on our behalf for our benefit even while we spit in his face.

Your hope tonight is not that you change your mind about Christ. Your hope tonight is that God changes your mind about Christ. Your hope tonight is that God pours out His love upon you. You will happily stay in your sin and be cold towards His general love and will not blink an eye at hearing that you are under His wrath. Your hope is that God might pour out His contra-conditional love upon you. And our hope is great because God’s love is great. You cannot be so vulgar that God will not redeem you.

C) Because God’s grace is bigger than our deadness we have hope

In verse 5 Paul sums up what he has been saying with these words—“It is by grace that you have been saved”. This is the theme throughout this entire passage. Everything that happens to us as Christians happens to us because of grace. Grace is the unmerited favor. Grace cannot be earned. Grace is freely given and freely bestowed.

I like how JI Packer defines grace: "The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity, and had no reason to expect anything but severity”. And I like the point that Sam Storms brings out in light of Packer’s quote: grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit. Indeed, grace is seen to be infinitely glorious only when it operates, as Packer says, "in defiance of" human demerit. Therefore, grace is not treating a person less than, as, or greater than he deserves. It is treating a person without the slightest reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.

And because of this we can have great hope. If you are outside of Christ tonight you have the hope of grace. If you have someone that you love that is outside of Christ tonight you have the hope of grace. Pray in this regard. Pray that God will give them grace.

This is all well and good that God has mercy and God has love and God has grace. But these are just a mere sentiment if not matched with our next statement. What I mean is that it is but little hope if God is unable to change that stubborn human will. If God is not able to raise the dead then it does not matter how much He loves us, or how much He has mercy upon us, or how much grace He gives us—It will not raise the dead. Every day people have loved ones die. But that love is not powerful enough to raise them from the dead. You can shed a million tears and that person will remain in the grave. But this is not so with God. God’s love, mercy, and grace is matched with power. And this is what our final point is.

II. Because of the power of God there is hope for any sinner—no matter how broken.

This is why the statement in verse 4 is so beautiful, “BUT GOD”. It is beautiful because it is matched with power. Yes you are dead. Yes you are enslaved. Yes you are under wrath. But God because of His character has decided to save you—and because of that—because that is matched with power we have hope. If God wants to raise the dead then the dead is going to be raised. This is what Paul wants us to see in this text. God’s grace has power. The power of grace, love, and mercy raises people from the dead.

This is what Paul is saying when he says, “even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins”. That means that God is more powerful than that death. God is more powerful than death itself. It is God’s power that makes us alive from the dead, raises us up and seats us at the right hand of God. Oh, the beauty of this passion and how it shows our union with Christ; that everything that Christ has, we now have. We will look at this union with Christ in depth next week.

What does this mean for you? It means that God is powerful enough to make the dead alive. It means that God is powerful enough to make slaves into king. It means that God is powerful enough to absorb His own wrath and turn sons of hell into sons of the living God. It means that no matter how broken you are you are not outside of God’s ability to save you.

I want to share a hymn with you tonight. The story behind this hymn is really quite amazing. It was originally composed in the 11th century as a Jewish hymn. But the origin of a third stanza is a bit of a mystery. Actually, we are quite certain that it is part of the hymn. However, for quite some time it was believed that the third stanza was written in an insane asylum. Apparently, the words were found carved into the wall of an inmate’s cell after he had died. I doubt that he had composed them, but nonetheless the words were indeed precious to him.

I want to share with you the first and third stanza:

The love of God is greater farThan tongue or pen can ever tellIt goes beyond the highest starAnd reaches to the lowest hellThe guilty pair, bowed down with careGod gave His Son to winHis erring child He reconciledAnd pardoned from his sin

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill
And ev’ry man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

The words of this hymn are an echo of the beauty of Ephesians 2. God does indeed reach to the lowest hell to rescue his sheep. And because of that we have hope. There is nowhere that you are out of God’s reach.

Apply this for believers—Hope in prayer. Solid Foundation for your salvation. Your fitting response is worship and taking the gospel to the nations.

Apply this for unbelievers—your fitting response is repentance and faith. How you respond to God’s love, grace, mercy, and power is not by running from him or waiting and doing nothing. Your fitting response is to repent and believe. Do not hear of the mercy of God and use it as a reason to continue sinning. His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. The sun is still shining today—and because of that you should repent and believe—not continue in sin and unbelief.

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