All week we’ve been hearing about the horrific events that occurred in Orlando last weekend. First there was the senseless shooting of Christina Grimmie a young, talented singer from Marlton, New Jersey, who appeared on “The Voice” not long ago. Christina was signing autographs after a performance on Friday night when she was shot dead. She was 22 years old and identified herself as a Christian.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the very next night 49 people were gunned down and over 50 were wounded in an Orlando night club in the worst mass shooting in American history. We’ve seen images of the carnage and heard stories about it all week long. And it breaks our heart. It makes us angry and afraid and sad all at the same time. And we wonder what is going on? Has the whole world gone mad?
Last Sunday, Matt spoke about the power of prayer from Ephesians 1 so on Monday I sent out an email to the church encouraging us all to pray, to pray for the families and for the friends of those who were killed or wounded in these horrific events. In response, a member of our church wrote this powerful prayer that so clearly reflects the heart of God. Please bow your heads with me as I pray it right now.
Heavenly Abba Father, our God of mercy and compassion, acquainted with grief, and the suffering and death of your own Son, you are worthy to be praised and glorified. Forgive us for our sin of forgetting you and other’s needs.
We come before you on behalf of the families of those who lost their lives in Orlando, including the ones who committed the acts. We ask for your mercy for those families and for the many who are seriously injured.
Be our God of all comfort to them and the healing balm of Gilead to those injured and those that have the deep painful loss of a loved one. Lord Jesus, use this in a powerful way to draw these folks to you. We come against the spirit of anger and bitterness against You, Lord, and against other groups. Release your peace and compassion. And give all the doctors and medical staff wisdom to care for the seriously injured.
Bless the many churches and individuals that have reached out and shown the love of Christ to them. Bring an outpouring of your Spirit in the Orlando area and beyond to bring salvation to many. You are our only hope, Lord! We love you and want you. Oh Lord, forgive. Oh Lord, heal. Oh Lord, act to stop the violence in our nation. In the name of Jesus, the Healer and the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.
So once again we ask the age old question, why do these horrific things happen? And who’s to blame? A lot of people want to hold God responsible? Where was God when these innocent people were shot? Why did he allow it? Why didn’t he stop it? They put God on trial and are quick to convict him of the crime. God’s to blame, they say.
But that’s not the God I read about in my Bible. That’s not the God of mercy and compassion who is acquainted with sorrow and grief, the God of love not of hate, the God who weeps with those who weep and offers comfort to those who mourn, the God who suffered the loss of his only Son. No, God’s not to blame. It’s not his fault.
Well who then? Is it terrorism? Is it ISIS? Is it mental instability coupled with the availability of assault weapons? Is it the government’s fault? Do we need tougher gun laws, more security and better surveillance cameras? What’s the problem?
Let me suggest today that the problem goes much deeper and much wider than any of that. The problem is rooted in the human heart. The problem is us. And the Apostle Paul addresses it in a very timely passage today. If you have a Bible meet me at Ephesians 2:1-10 as we continue our series today called Becoming Who We Are.
In chapter one, Paul ended with a prayer about the power that lives in us as believers in Jesus. It’s the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated him in the heavenly realms. And now in chapter two, he tells us that same power has raised us from the dead and seated us with Christ in heavenly realms.
Church, the biblical picture is that we are all born dead spiritually and need to be made alive. And until we grasp that reality we will never appreciate the amazing grace of God.
Look at 2:1-3, As for you (insert your name), you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.
In the first three verses Paul paints a dark picture of the problem we all have. In verse one he tells us our condition, in verse two he tells us the cause of our condition, and in verse three he tells us the consequence of our condition.
First, he gives us our condition and it’s not pretty. We were dead in our transgressions and sins. The word “dead” literally means powerless. We were powerless in our transgressions and sins.
We don’t use the word “sin” much in our culture, but the concept of “sin” was not invented by theologians or created by the authors of the Bible. Sin is a reality that exists in every one of our lives. We deal with it every day. We all know we’re not perfect. And Paul describes it with two images.
The word “transgressions” literally means “trespassing,” “to step out of bounds.” Paul says we were powerless to stop trespassing. In other words, we were powerless to stop doing the things that displease a holy God.
But we were also powerless to start doing the things that do please a holy God. The word “sin” literally means to “miss the mark.” It’s used for an archer who misses the target with his arrows. We were powerless to hit the target. We were always falling short. From birth we are spiritually powerless.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt powerless to stop doing what you want to stop doing and start doing what you want to start doing? Have you ever felt that you just can’t measure up to the standards of a holy God? I have. Why? What’s the cause of our condition?
The cause according to Paul in verses 2-3 is that from birth we’re controlled by three forces: the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the cravings of our flesh or sinful nature. The reason we’re powerless to please God is because these three forces are all working against us.
Let me illustrate it this way. Imagine you want to go on a boat ride. You’re going to take a power boat out onto the Niagara River. The Niagara River connects Lake Ontario with Lake Erie over the Niagara Falls. You get into your boat and everything starts out fine. But then some water gets into the engine and kills the motor. Now you’re dead in the water. Your powerboat is powerless.
But you’re not just sitting still in the water, you’re drifting towards the Falls. Oh no! Your boat is being swept along by the current pulling you to destruction. What’s the current in this illustration? It’s the ways of this world. It’s the cultural current of the age, the world’s belief system that completely ignores God.
But there’s a second force working against us. There’s a wind blowing. And it’s blowing us toward the Falls. The wind in this illustration is the ruler of the kingdom of the air. In other places, the Bible calls him the Evil One, the Devil. And he has a plan too. The Scriptures say he’s out to steal, kill and destroy.
You want to blame someone for the mass shootings last weekend? You want to take out your anger on somebody? Direct it to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the Evil One, the Devil who laughs when people are murdered.
So the current and the wind are working together to push our boat towards the Falls. And if that weren’t bad enough, we’re
rocking the boat up and down pushing ourselves to destruction. The first two forces are outside of us. The third is within us. It’s the cravings of our flesh, our sinful nature that’s in all of us from birth.
Do you feel it? Do you sense the current of the age, do you hear the wind whispering in your ears, do you feel the inner compulsion to do the very things that can destroy you? That’s the cause for our powerless condition.
And what’s the consequence? The wrath of God. We were by nature deserving of wrath. What’s the wrath of God? The wrath of God is the consequences of our sin. It’s what happens to us when we step out of bounds and keep missing the mark.
In the river of life there are big boulders in the water, logs and debris that damage our boat as we’re rocking up and down, being driven downstream towards destruction. We’re in trouble. We’ve got a big problem. We all need to be rescued.
So Paul offers two solutions, one that works and one that doesn’t. Skip down to vs. 8-9, For it is by grace you have been saved (rescued), through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, 9not by works, so that no one can boast.
The first option is to try and save ourselves. We’re rocking down the river, driven by the current, blown by the wind to brink of the Falls. So what do we do? We reach down and grab an oar. We’re going to paddle our boat back upstream. We’re going to save ourselves through all kinds of self-effort and good works. And so we start paddling until our hands bleed.
And you know what? We might do pretty good for a few minutes. We might even make it up a few feet and wave to those on the shore saying, “We’re doing fine. We got this.” But all the time we’re boasting our boat keeps drifting back to Falls. The current is just too strong. And the wind doesn’t stop blowing. We are dead in the water!
Option one is the good works, self-effort plan to save ourselves from destruction. Option one is all about me and my efforts and boasting about myself, but it fails every time.
What’s option two? Look back at verses 4-6, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (rescued). 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
Option two is all about God. It’s all about his great love and his rich mercy and his saving grace to rescue us, powerless people who are dead in the water, floating down stream toward eternal destruction. This passage is not meant to scare us. This passage is meant to wow us!
God looks down at our boats drifting toward the Falls. He sees us straining at the oar with bloody hands. And his mercy feels our pain. And with his incomparably great power, he does for us what we could never do for ourselves. He rescues us. The power that brought Jesus back from the dead physically and gave him a place in heaven in chapter one, brings us back from the dead spiritually and assures us a place in heaven with him.
Jesus revs up his boat and speeds toward us saying, “Get out of your boat. Get into mine. My boat runs against the current, against the wind, and against the flesh. I will rescue you. Do you trust me?”
For it is by grace you have been saved (rescued), through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, 9not by works, so that no one can boast.
We are rescued from the wrath we deserve when we put our faith in Christ alone as our Savior, when we get out of our boat and into his boat. The word grace means “undeserved favor.” We don’t save ourselves. Christ saves us. And who does the boasting? In option one, we do the boasting. But in option two, God does the boasting.
Look at verse 7, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus
God gets all the credit. The word show means “display.” And one day God will put us on display for all creation to see. We are the object of his boasting, trophies of his amazing grace.
But not only are we his trophies, we are his masterpiece. That’s the word that Paul uses in verse 10, For we are God’s handiwork, God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Is there a place for doing good works? Absolutely! But not to save us from going over the Falls, not to paddle our own boat upstream. Instead, God wants us to do good works out of gratitude for rescuing us from the Falls. We do good works not in order to be loved and accepted by God, but because we are loved and accepted by him. The motivation is totally different.
Why do tragedies like Orlando happen? Because there’s a problem deep down in every human heart. And to grasp the amazing grace of God every one of us needs to realize that we could have been a victim in that night club last weekend. Or even worse, we could have been the shooter in that night club last weekend. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
What about you? Have you been rescued yet? Have you dropped your paddle and asked Christ to save you? Or are you still paddling away, trying to make it on your own? Have you been transformed from an object of wrath to a trophy of grace? What option have you chosen?
If you’d like to make sure that you are “in Christ” this morning, I want to help you do that. I’m going to close with a prayer that gives you a chance to express your faith in Jesus Christ. I’m going to give you a chance to drop your paddle, get out of your boat, and into Christ’s boat if you’ve never done that before.
And if you have, please use this as opportunity to thank Jesus again for rescuing you or to pray for someone else you know who needs to be rescued.