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Easter: the glorious and gracious intervention of God

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Ephesians 2:1-10

What if there was no Easter? What would that mean for you?

It’s Easter Sunday. An exciting day of the year. A good day for most of us…

But why is it a good day? What do we value personally about it?

And one way of answering that is to consider, how would it affect you if there was no Easter? What would it mean for you if Easter just wasn’t a thing…

For most Australians the most significant impact would be, no extra-long weekend. We get a Friday AND a Monday off. And then, because of the weekend, which is almost always during school holidays, lots of families go away together – often catching up with extended family for holidays and special meals. If there was no Easter, no long weekend, no special Easter family gatherings…

And of course, there’s the chocolate. No Easter means no easter eggs, no easter bunnies, no easter egg hunts! This would be the real tragedy for many I think…

And then there’s no Easter hat parades at school. No Hot Cross Buns. No Royal Easter Show… what would it mean for you if there was no Easter?

Well Ephesians Chapter 2 tells us, that if there was no Easter – no death and resurrection of Jesus – we’d be spiritually dead, alienated from God and destined to experience his wrath, with no hope beyond what we can squeeze out of this life. You see, Easter is God’s glorious and gracious intervention in this world, into our lives, to turn all that around – to bring us to life, to seat us with Christ at God’s right hand, destined to experience the kindness of God into eternity and to live the life he created us for in the first place. The gospel account we read proclaims the surprising news of Jesus’ resurrection 2000 years ago. Ephesians 2, verses 1-10 tells us that the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just his resurrection, but by God’s grace it is our resurrection too, if we are united to Jesus by faith.

No Easter would be a very different world. A very different reality for you and I right now, and a very different future.

Seeing the Problem to See the Solution

But to really appreciate how God has intervened into our lives for our good, and how desperately we needed this intervention, we need help seeing the reality of our lives without God’s intervention in Jesus. We need to grasp the full extent of our spiritual problem if we are to appreciate the full extent of God’s solution – his gracious intervention to solve the problem.

Sometimes we don’t even realise what someone has done for us, even if it’s quite drastic, if we didn’t see a problem in the first place.

When we used to live in Macquarie Park and drive to church, we’d often end up parking way down Orchard Rd to get an untimed parking spot. And I remember one day after church walking the kids up to the car, and at this point Grace was just a toddler and she was in the pram on the way there. When we arrived, I got her out of the pram and started folding up the pram to put it in the boot, but I noticed Grace tottering towards the road behind the car. And I could see a car zooming down the road towards us. I quickly dropped the pram, sprang over and grabbed her – pulling her back away from the road. I nearly had a heart attack, and the “what ifs” have haunted me ever since.

Grace however had no idea what was happening. She couldn’t see the car – she was too short. And she was too young to really understand afterwards what had happened. I had intervened and saved her life, but she didn’t even really know it.

In this passage, Paul explains to us that God has graciously intervened to save us by raising us to life. But without being able to see our situation from God’s perspective, we don’t really understand. What do you mean, ‘made us alive’? When? How? Were we dead?! What did we need saving from?

We’re like a two-year-old tottering towards the road, unable to see the car racing towards us. We need to be lifted up to see the car and understand the reality of the situation.

You Were Dead…

And so first, before Paul gets to the good news of what God has done for us through Jesus, he clearly paints the reality of our situation. He bluntly describes the full extent of our problem. He makes it clear how urgently we needed God’s intervention.

In verse 1, Paul begins by telling us straight, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” You were dead in sin. That was the reality of life for you.

And he says this, because whether we could see it or not, our lives were characterised by sin. Internal and external forces had led us all to live our lives ignoring God’s will, putting ourselves at the centre, even actively rebelling against God’s wisdom and commands. Paul explains from verse 2 that we walked in our trespasses and sins. We lived life this way, according to the ways of this world, which has rejected God’s authority; according to the influence of spiritual forces in opposition to God; and according to our own sinful desires and thoughts. We followed the example of the world, we succumbed to the temptations and lies of the devil, and we simply did what we felt like. The World, the Devil and our own Flesh have all pulled and pushed us to live in a certain way – a way of life that is, in essence, sin.

Dead?

And as a result, Paul says, you were dead in your trespasses and sins. What exactly does he mean by ‘dead’? In what sense were you and I dead? Clearly it’s not being physically dead. As we just saw, this ‘death’ is a way of life we ‘walk in’. We’re the walking or living dead!

Condemned to Death

Being dead in trespasses and sins refers ultimately to the outcome of living a sinful life. At the end of verse 3, Paul explains that we were by nature ‘children under wrath’ just like the rest of humanity. Our natural state – the situation we’re born into – is facing the just wrath of God for participation in human rebellion against God’s good authority. And so, we’re ‘dead in sin’.

It’s like we might say someone condemned to death by the law courts (in countries were that’s still legal!), and walking down death row, is a ‘dead man walking’. Or in a movie, someone angers the ‘bad guy’ and so they’re told, “You’re a dead man.”

Because we walked in sin, according to the ways of the world, the devil and our flesh, we were ‘as good as dead’.

Present Spiritual Reality

But it’s more than just a graphic description of the condemnation we face for sin. It’s a powerful, metaphorical description of our present spiritual reality if we are living according to sinful desires and the ways of this world.

You were spiritually dead, says Paul. Unresponsive to God. You may have been walking around with a heartbeat and ‘living life to the full’ according to some; but in relation to God, you were dead. Not just unwilling, but incapable of living the life God had created you for.

Really?

So this is the stark reality of our human nature – our spiritual condition – apart from God’s gracious intervention. Paul is saying this was who you were, if you’ve come to Christ. And, by implication, he’s saying this is who you are if you haven’t yet experienced God’s grace by coming to Jesus in repentance and faith. You are dead in sin.

And that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?

And you might think, really? Is that really who I was? Is that really a fair description of me now? What about my lovely neighbours who are at home enjoying a very respectable Easter brunch right now? What about the thousands of people, non-Christian people, who’ve made sacrifices to go and help Ukrainian refugees or those who’ve spend countless hours helping rescue people from flood waters and clean up houses and businesses? What if you’ve grown up coming to church and trying to live a life pleasing to God??

Are you, are these people, really dead in sin?

Now these observations and questions are helpful. They help us reflect and clarify what this passage is and isn’t saying. You see it’s not saying that all people are completely evil and that there’s nothing good in us – that we’re not capable of amazing acts of kindness and sacrifice. It’s not saying that non-Christian people are bad people, and that only Christians are good, considerate and loving. It’s not saying all people are equally bad – as if there’s no difference between psychopaths and people who generally try hard to respect and care for others. None of this is what Paul means when he says that we were dead in our sin.

This passage is saying that regardless of where we are on the spectrum of ‘full on nasty to really quite caring’ human being… we are all dead in sin, because we’re all caught up to some degree in these influences. None of us, by our own nature, live the life God created us for. We all put ourselves in the centre. We’re all shaped by values and standards that push God aside, out of his rightful place in our lives. All of us, by nature end up condemned to face God’s wrath on human sin. All of us, without God’s intervention in our lives, are unresponsive to him and unable to live the life he created us for. We’re dead in sin.

And so, if there was no Easter, this would be the end of the story for us: spiritually dead and destined for eternal death. We’re tottering blindly towards the road with a car bearing down on us, and we just can’t see it. We’re unresponsive to the call to do something about it, like a child ignoring the urgent and desperate call of their parent to turn around.

That’s the sombre reality of a world with no Easter. That would be our reality.

But God…

But that’s not the end of the story, is it? It’s just the back story to the main event. You see, God has stepped in. The first two words of verse 4 say a thousand words… “But. God.”

That would be the end of the story… But God. God has sprung into action and grabbed us by the back of the shirt, pulling us to safety. He’s reached down and grabbed hold of us in our state of spiritual death and brought us to life. We were dead… but God. Verses 4-7 are a glorious statement of God’s gracious intervention to turn our hopeless situation completely upside down. God has changed everything. And he’s done it through the events of that first Easter, 2000 years ago.

Because he is rich in mercy and full of love

And he’s done it because he is rich in mercy and because of his great love for us. Before Paul can even explain what God has done, he can’t help but point out in, verse 4, that the motivation, the reason for God’s intervention, is all God. The foundations of God’s gracious intervention in our lives is his own merciful nature – his desire to show kindness where judgment or punishment is due. He acts because he loves us, not because he owes it to us.

He’s not inspired by how lovable we are. On Friday, we saw that it was in fact when we ourselves were God’s enemies – shaking our fist at him – that he demonstrated the depths of his love for us. We don’t deserve God’s gracious intervention. He acts because he is a God rich in mercy and full of love.

He acts, as Paul goes on to explain in verse 7, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. God’s purpose, his intentions and motivation for intervening in our lives through Easter is to find a way to express the riches of his grace and kindness to us.

God has gone to great lengths to save us from spiritual death. It’s cost him a lot. And why? What’s in it for him? It’s not for the fun a creating a global religion. It’s not to interfere unnecessarily with our lives and make sure we don’t have ‘too much fun’ down here on earth. It’s to pour out the riches of his grace on you and me. To show you kindness, now and into eternity.

Made us Alive with Christ

And so what exactly has God done? Verse 5, God has made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. God has done what we couldn’t do – raised us to life! Dead people can’t make themselves alive. They can’t really do anything. But God has made us alive with Christ, even though we were dead in our sin.

And, Paul goes on, he also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus. Far from being spiritually dead and alienated from God, we are seated at the right hand of God – sharing in the glory and privilege of Jesus Christ.

Made Alive… How?

Now again, you might be thinking… really? When did that happen? How?

Just as the reality of our spiritual death is not obvious to us and our physical senses, so our resurrection to life and being exalted to the heavens isn’t an obvious, physical reality. It doesn’t necessarily feel like someone grabbing our shirt and pulling us back from oncoming traffic. Not yet anyway.

In these verses, Paul is describing what God has done in Jesus, for us. And therefore, in the logic of the gospel, he’s done it to us.

Jesus is the only one who has been literally raised from the dead and exalted to heaven, isn’t he. Paul has just explained at the end of chapter 1 that God exercised his great power in Christ by ‘raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens— 21 far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion…’ (Eph. 1:20-21) Jesus is the one who’s been resurrected and seated in heaven. Not me, and not you. I’m still here, and so are you.

And yet, Paul’s whole point here, is that it wasn’t in fact just Jesus. It was you and I, and every other person who is ‘in Christ’ that was raised to life and seated in the heavens.

At Easter, we don’t just celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And we don’t just celebrate the hope of future, literal, physical resurrection for us. We certainly do celebrate these things! But we also celebrate the fact that we were raised with Christ on that first Easter Sunday. His resurrection was our resurrection, if we are ‘in him’.

In Christ, by Faith

The key is being included ‘in Jesus’ – having our life and identity and future wrapped up in who he is and what’s happened to him. We are raised and seated ‘with Christ’ and ‘in Christ Jesus’.

And who are those ‘in Christ’? How are we caught up ‘with Christ’ in his resurrection? It’s by faith. Those who have repented of trusting in themselves, and serving themselves, and put their faith in Christ – who’ve gladly welcomed God’s gracious intervention through Jesus. In verse 8, Paul explains we’re saved by grace (God’s gracious action) through faith. Faith is the means, or the mechanism, by which we are included in God’s gracious action in Jesus towards the whole world.

Jesus and his resurrection from the dead are like the lifeboat, and faith is condition for getting in the boat. Which makes sense right? We’re not going to get into a lifeboat unless we think it’s necessary and unless we trust the boat to keep us safe.

By faith in Jesus we are connected to him – bound to him, attached with a bungee-cord to Jesus, so that we are swept up with him in his reality. He’s the one who’s been raised and exalted, but we’re attached to him, and what’s true of him is true of us. That’s how God sees us and treats us. And one day, that reality will be plain for all to see.

The Apostle Peter sums up the good news of Easter in a very similar way in the opening of his first letter: in God’s great mercy, “he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).

God’s Grace shines through…

Did you notice how the contrasts in these two sections really highlight the grace of God to us? The overflowing statements of love and redemption in verses 4-7 contrast powerfully with the description of our helpless state in verses 1-3, and it all highlights the amazing grace of God to us in Jesus, just like a diamond shining brightly against the background of a black cloth…

Paul explains, we were deserving of wrath, but God is rich in mercy and love towards us. We were dead in sin, but God has made us alive in Christ. We were enslaved to sin and worldly – even demonic! – influences, but God has liberated us and seated us in the heavens with the Lord of Creation on his throne.

It all underscores the great ‘BUT GOD’ of Easter that has changed this world and our lives forever. And it’s summed for us at the end of verse 5, which is really the central point: “You are saved by grace!” Paul inserts this phrase in the middle of his explanation about what God has done for us through Christ, because he can’t help but emphasise this point. It’s all by grace – God’s gracious intervention in our lives to do what we couldn’t do. To do what we didn’t even realise we needed.

God’s handiwork…

And it’s this theme which is drawn out in v8-10. This last section is an extended reflection on the fact that our salvation is all of God’s gracious intervention, and nothing of ourselves. He’s summing up what he’s explained so far, and drawing out the implications for us.

8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

The big idea is there right up front: we are saved by grace, through faith. And therefore, this salvation, which is by grace, through faith, is not of ourselves. Rather it is God’s gift to us. The whole package is God’s gift, rather than something we achieve or earn or even contribute to for ourselves.

By definition something that comes to you ‘by grace’ is an underserved gift. It’s not something you earned, deserved or achieved. Then it wouldn’t be ‘by grace’. It wouldn’t be ‘the gift of God’. It would be your wages or prize, recognising what you’ve done or deserved. But no – we have been saved by grace, through faith.

And so, your salvation is not something that comes ‘from you’ in any way, shape or form. Our salvation is not ‘from works’ – it doesn’t come from our effort to make things right or change our situation. It comes from God’s gracious intervention through Jesus. And so, Paul explains there’s no grounds for boasting. You cannot claim to have dealt with the problem of being ‘dead in sin’. God is the one who’s saved you and brought you to life. We are not a product of our own determination. We are God’s handiwork. If we are alive in Christ, saved from spiritual death and eternal judgement; if we’ve been pulled back from spiritual ruin… it’s because God has done it. He’s made us who we are.

It’s true, God saves us and forms us into people committed to doing what is good and right, but this way of life is the product of our salvation, not the grounds for it. Verse 10 captures this dynamic beautifully: We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. He hasn’t saved us because of our good works, but he’s saved us for good works, which he’s prepared for us to do. His handiwork in us will be displayed, in the long run, through our good work.

So Thank God for Easter

So thank God for Easter. Realise that if there was no Easter – no death and resurrection of Jesus all those years ago – things would be very different for you, and for me, and for this whole world.

If you trust in Christ, the resurrection of Jesus has changed you and your destiny forever. Through the resurrection of Jesus, God has reached down and grabbed hold of you, pulling you back from spiritual death and ruin. He’s breathed life into you and seated you at his right hand to share in his glory. You’ve been brought from death to life, condemnation to glory, enslavement to freedom and eternal hope. These are precious realities that you wouldn’t want to go without. They are things you don’t want to miss out on if you’re someone who hasn’t yet come to that point of putting your faith in Christ.

So give thanks for Easter. Take a moment to appreciate the need for God’s glorious and gracious intervention, and give thanks that he has in fact intervened to change everything…