Keep in mind how the celebration of Christmas, the twelve days of Christmas, continue through this Sunday. Christmas did not end with Boxing Day (Canada) or the secular celebration of New Years. It is nearly a two-week celebration giving way only to Epiphany (when Christmas trees are traditionally burned). The decor of the Church, hymnody, and preaching continue to proclaim the good news first heralded by the angles in Bethlehem — Christ is born!
Our text from Ephesians 1:3-14 is an opening prayer which serves worship and instruction. Through the form of a prayer, Saint Paul establishes what is the appropriate context for all Christian prayer, reflection and exhortation: the worship and adoration of the one and only true and living God who has lavished His love upon us through Jesus Christ. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit get billing throughout. It is the Father of the Lord Jesus who should receive our worship and praise because He has fulfilled His promises by giving the Son but also the Spirit.
In this prayer, Paul gives us a bird’s eye view of the grand scope of redemption centered in the Messiah, stretching from creation to the consummation of the age. The Father, “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (verse 3). The Father, “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (verse 4). The Father foreordained us, “for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (verse 5). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us” (verses 6-7). The Father makes, "known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ” (verse 9). The Father’s plan has been revealed, “to unite all things in Him, things in Heaven and things on earth” (verse 10). In Christ, the Father arranged that, “we have obtained an inheritance” (verse 11). The Father purposed the Gospel to come to us so, “we… were the first to hope in Christ” (verse 12). In Christ, the Father purposed that, “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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (verses 13 and 14a). What is the result? Our sure redemption and the certainty of glorification of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (verse 14b). The Gospel comes out clearly because while we can do nothing to save ourselves (and how desperately we need salvation from judgment, but also need regeneration to free us from bondage to our twisted selves!), it was the Father, in His great love, who acts decisively for us “in Christ.”
The doctrine of representation runs thickly through this prayer. Jesus the Son can do all these things. We can be considered “in Him” because He represents His people as the Messiah. A king represents his people. Jesus the Son is the rightful King of the world. Therefore, He can represent all people — Jew and gentile alike. The terms Christ, King, and Messiah all indicate this important fact, so that what is true of the Messiah is true of those who are “in Him.” Preachers can extrapolate the wonders and doctrines of salvation all day long from Jesus’s representation of His people. Likewise, preachers should objectify the assurance we have of being “in Christ” by grounding the personal connection in baptism. Through baptism we have been plunged “in Him” and He in us, with the Spirit.
Each aspect of this prayer drips with gospel. Consider the points and phrases employed by the Apostle: God chose us, God made us holy and irreproachable before Him in love, God adopted us through Christ, God poured on us Christ, Christ gives us deliverance through His blood and through His blood atonement we have the forgiveness of sins, God has lavished on us the wealth of His grace. Preacher, park on any of these and bring comfort and confidence to God’s people by setting forth the accomplished and applied work of God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and, thereby, liberate your people to worship and glorify the Lord God.
It is Christmas time. The text could not be more marvelously appropriate. Every verse rings with the Gospel, declaring the giving of God the Father consisting of the Son and the Spirit and we, contrary to what we deserve for our sins, the recipients of His “lavish” love and grace. The point of contact for your hearers, their baptism; the public adoption ceremony which made your auditors God’s own people in accordance with the certainties of this glorious prayer.
This first chapter and magnificent prayer from Paul celebrates the grand, overarching story of God’s plan of redemption. This envelops every individual story of conversion, baptism, Christian faith, obedience and hope. The grand story infuses our individual stories with meaning and significance. We must always extol this story of God’s Gospel that the people of Christ may have their faith kindled and hope enlivened. Their own stories cannot be the source of faith and hope, much less salvation and sanctification, only the Gospel, because, “Jesus… is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Verses 4-6 need not get bogged down by heavy theological digressions into the (speculative) mechanics of predestination/foreordination since Paul’s intent glares plainly: the baptized Ephesians are God’s people chosen by grace in Christ. Why speculate (much less build a theological system) on this when Paul states it as a matter of comfort and assurance, indeed, as something to be celebrated. The Lord chose us by grace, and it had everything to do with the Messiah. How this happened is a mystery. That it happened is marvelous. That it happened to the gentiles, too, is a mystery revealed. Why it happened also has been revealed — chalk it up to God’s grace and love. Paul emphasizes, without digressing into how it is we remain free agents (bound to our natures, to be sure), that everything we have in Christ is a gift of God’s grace. In chapter 2, the Apostle plumbs the depth of it:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following
the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once
lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath,
like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we
were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Let us get back to the big picture in which our precious individual salvation occurs by divine grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ Jesus alone: the big picture of God’s plan to renew all things in Christ. The Creator God is intent on recovering His earthly kingdom, indeed, His universe. This provides further rationale for why the gentiles are constituted as God’s new Israel in Christ. Paul alludes to the monumental story of the Exodus, and God’s intentions reaching back to Moses, Abram, Noah and Adam; the latter three gentiles themselves. The inclusion of the gentiles in God’s salvation through Israel (that is, Israel’s true King, Jesus, who represents all Israel) is, of course, a huge part of the Biblical witness.
Verses 7-10 also couch another grand, overarching story, as Paul tells of the cross of Christ. It is the story of Passover. Preachers may wish to summate this account to set the stage for articulating redemption or deliverance through the blood of Christ. Jesus’ engagements with the Temple and crucifixion are the fulfillment of the Passover story. Redemption is in His blood. Leviticus 17:10-14, understood in light of the cross, and John 6:47-58 establish the power and purpose of Holy Communion — actually coming into contact with the blood given, “to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11).
In verses 11-14 preachers should unpack the inheritance (1:11, 14) Paul proclaims, namely, the Spirit of Promise, the Holy Spirit. We move from atonement and redemption—the basis of our justification—to regeneration, that is, being born anew of the Holy Spirit of God, indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. The implications here are fantastic, ranging from what it means to be a new creation, to the ethic of Christ’s Kingdom. But now may not be the time for extrapolating the life which results from the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is Christmas. Announce and proclaim the gifts! Rejoice, sing glory to God in the highest! The twelve days of Christmas are a time set apart, especially for the glorification of God, the praise of Christ, and consummate thankfulness.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ephesians 1:3-14.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 1:3-14.