A joyous and blessed new year to all of you, and a happy 11th day of Christmas as we make our way with the wise men to Epiphany and then the Baptism of our Lord. By now many of you have packed away Christmas, I’m sure. Those nativity scenes with the baby Jesus have been safely wrapped up and put back in the garage or the attic until next year, though hopefully you haven’t done that with the Gospel of Christmas, the good news of the Word become flesh to save you. That remains when everything else is packed up and over.
Like a surprise gift at the end of Christmastide or a delayed package from relatives that the UPS man dropped on your doorstep when you least expected it, today’s reading from Ephesians delivers a Mastryoshka doll of five gifts all wrapped up in the little phrase “in Him,” that is in Christ. You know those Matryoshka dolls, those hollow wooden figures from Russia with one doll nested inside another nested inside another, some having eight or ten small dolls inside. That’s how this Child of Bethlehem who was adored by shepherds, worshipped by Magi, pondered by Mary, and worshipped as God and Lord by generations of His believers is to faith. The gifts just keep on coming long after the Christmas show is packed away.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” That starts the gifting chain off. The Father is blessed by us for His blessing us with the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is in Christ that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. In Christ. Remember that and burn it into your mind. It’s all in Christ. Not in you. In you, there is nothing but Sin and Death, thanks to your birth of flesh in Adam. Paul says, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells no good thing.” So much for self-esteem and all the self-adulation and “me time” that we hear about incessantly. Amazingly, we hear it even in churches that are supposed to preach Christ and Him crucified, not me and my quest for self-improvement.
This is probably the worst heresy of our age, the leading distortion of western religious life, especially in America, and the source of endless distraction to believers everywhere. The Christian faith is not about Jesus in me but me in Jesus. And you too. Leave it to the wiles of the devil, the cunning of the world, and the narcissism of the old Adam to turn us inward, which is precisely what the condition of Sin is. The heart turned inward on itself. The opening chapter of Ephesians is the antidote to this self-centered malady. The Christ in whom we believe, into whom we’ve been baptized, who once lay in a manger and hung on a cross is not simply our personal Savior who has saved each of us from Sin, Death, and the Law, He is the cosmic Savior who has redeemed the whole mess of creation and brought order to Sin’s disorder. And this was God’s plan from all eternity – to bring everything together under one Head, who in the fulness of time became flesh born of woman precisely to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Him.
So that’s the outer wrapping. The big picture. I know it’s a mouthful, and a headful, but stay with me. There are five gifts wrapped up inside, five spiritual blessing that are yours in the heavenlies even now as I speak and as you hear and believe.
What is ours as we are in Christ by faith? What gifts are hidden in this Child of Bethlehem and this Man of the Cross?
First, we are elect or chosen in Him. We aren’t elect or chosen in ourselves, since there is nothing electable or choosable in us. Only Christ as the elect Son is electable in Himself. And He was chosen from before the foundations of the world so that all who are in Him are chosen and elect as well. This means our salvation transcends time. We were chosen in Christ from eternity before we were even conceived and born in time! Whatever we do toward God, God has been there before us. Push the boundaries as far back as you want, all the way to the beginning of creation. “You did not choose me,” Jesus told His chosen disciple. “I chose you.” And you have been chosen since the world began in the Chosen Son.
Perhaps you’ve never been chosen for anything. Maybe you were the last kid chosen for the pickup games, the one nobody wanted on their team. It may be hard to imagine or even believe that God should want to choose you for His team, but then, don’t look at yourself. Look instead at Christ. He’s the Chosen One. And you, being in Him, are chosen as well. God didn’t look at you and say “You’re in.” He looked at Christ and said to you, “You’re in.”
Second, we are predestined for adoption in Christ. We have a destiny laid out for us. We have a future and an identity. We are sons of God in the Son of God. Again, not in ourselves but in Christ. We are loved in the Beloved. Again, there is nothing lovable in us that God should love us nor desire us as His children. But He looks at us not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in His beloved Son. In ourselves we’re children of Adam, destined to die. But in Christ, we are children of God, destined to live in His house forever. The Son has given us permission to call His Father “Our Father.”
The future is always an uncertain thing as far as we’re concerned. You don’t know what 2015 will bring, what trials and triumphs await us, what diseases and disasters will threaten us. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even the next hour. Faced with that level of uncertainty, we’re prone to strike bargains and deals, trying to manipulate things to work out for the good and to guarantee the future. But the future, as well as the past and the present, is entirely in God’s hands. And it comes as a rather rude shock to our old Adam when we discover that we’re not in the driver’s seat but in the passenger’s seat of life and there is no controlling the future.
The good news is that in Christ there is no need to control the future, because the future is guaranteed by Christ Himself. We are predestined for adoption through the Son, and that destiny holds as sure as Jesus Himself is risen from the dead and reigning. While there may be no certainties in this life regarding the future, there is every certainty in Christ that all things will work together for good and blessing regardless of how dire and dismal that may be in the present.
The third gift that is ours in Christ is the gift of redemption through His blood, that is, the forgiveness of our sins. Forgiveness demands blood, sacrificial blood. This is why the Son emptied Himself of His throne and glory, took on our humanity and humbled Himself under the Law: to redeem those who were under the Law. You are blood-bought, purchased not with gold or silver but with the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of Jesus. The Son took on flesh and blood to redeem our flesh and blood, to pay the redemption price that the Law required of us. The Son became a slave so that we might be God’s free children. That little Child in the manger, who lived in obedience to parents and teachers, who, though He was the Word Incarnate, studied the Word like any child in Israel and met with the teachers of the Torah in the temple who examined Him, who submitted to His parents, even their scolding, though He was simply doing His Father’s business in His Father’s house – Jesus did all of that to death on a cross to redeem you.
You may feel worthless at time. You may think that your life has no value. Think again. Repent. You are worth the redemption price of Jesus’ blood shed on a cross to save you. You have a baptismal mark of ownership which God alone sees that says, “Purchased. Redeemed.” You are blood-bought.
The fourth gift in Christ is an eternal inheritance. Children inherit. But before there is an inheritance, there is a death. The death of the Son seals our inheritance as God’s children. And that inheritance becomes ours in our dying and rising, even though it is now ours by faith. You have it, held in trust in Christ. You may lose everything – your life, goods, fame, children, spouse, everything you worked for and everything you have. None of it comes with a guarantee. Thieves steal, rust corrodes, moths chew away at the fine garments we’ve acquired. Nothing lasts. Let something sit protected and out of the elements and it will still fall apart. But there is one thing that stands sure against the decay of this life: the kingdom ours remaineth. You have an inheritance in heaven that surpasses anything you can gain in this life and world.
The Lord never promises that everything will go smoothly and easily for His children. The cross is not an easy, open door. But He does promise that all things will be worked together for good, that in the end what will be shown to us will far surpass what we ourselves have seen, and that our present sufferings, whatever they may be, cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us even as we are now in Christ.
The fifth and final gift of our being in Christ is, like the little Matryoshkas, the smallest and most personal one. This is the one that fits in your personal pocket. “In Him, you also, when you heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” That’s the personal part. God has put “earnest money” on you, a down payment guaranteeing the more to come in the resurrection. You have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit by whom you believe, the Spirit who testifies with your spirit that you are a child of God, the Spirit that causes you to confess Jesus is Lord and to cry out “Abba, Father” in your prayers as dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven.
To be in Christ is to be chosen in the Chosen Son, beloved in the Beloved Son, destined to be holy and blameless in the holy and blameless Son, God’s unblemished Lamb. To be in Christ is to be destined for adoption, to be redeemed by His blood, to obtain an eternal inheritance, to have the Spirit of Christ as a guarantee and pledge of God’s faithfulness.
It’s all in Christ. And in Christ, it’s all yours.
In the Name of Jesus,