“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” | Lou Holtz
“Hold fast to dreams, For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.” | Langston Hughes
“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.” | William W. Purkey
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” | Mahatma Gandhi
A Sunday school teacher once asked her class of children: “What is Christmas a time for?” Many of the kids gave the usual answers—Jesus’ birthday, a time of joy… but one child responded it was “a time for sportsmanship, because you don’t always get everything you want.”
Everybody gets gifts they really don’t want during this season and several years ago “USA Today” conducted a survey among adults to find out what they do with that not-quite-right holiday gift:
– 31%: Keep it
– 30%: Hide it
– 13%: Toss it
– 12%: Give it away
– 6%: Return it
Every once in awhile, everyone receives gifts that they’re really not sure that they want.
In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” George Bailey had a gift that he wasn’t sure he wanted. His gift was the gift of life. And his life had seemingly fallen apart all around him. He just knew he was going to lose his business, his livelihood. He faced prison for something he hadn’t done. And as a result of all this… his family faced shame and poverty.
In desperation, he pleads with his arch-enemy (Mr. Potter) for a loan on his life insurance. Potter gleefully observes “George, you’re worth more dead than alive!”
And thus, George Bailey decides that his only solution is to throw himself off the bridge into the frigid waters below and at least supply his family with the money from his life insurance.
But God steps in and an angel is sent to earth to stop George Bailey before he can take his life.
But how do you convince a man that the gift he wants to throw away is in reality far too valuable to be destroyed?
The angel’s solution: to grant George Bailey’s wish and show him what life would’ve been like if he’d never been born. So, as George tries to get back to his home, he finds that…
• the town he’d worked so hard to build up and protect had become a den of iniquity and evil
• the pharmacist – who George saved from a tragic mistake – has become the town drunk
• his brother Harry whom he’d saved from falling thru the ice, dies because George wasn’t there to save him and the hundreds of men died that Harry would have saved during the war, because Harry wasn’t there to save them.
• and the beautiful woman he’d married and had had such wonderful children with ended up becoming a wretched, dejected and lonely spinster.
George Bailey finally understood how wonderful his life had been because he was allowed to see how much would have been lost if he had never been born. That – which he’d been tempted to throw away – he came to realize was too valuable to lose.
I. Here in Ephesians 2, Paul is writing to Christians who had been tempted to throw away their gift as well.
But, all that had changed, because “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4b-5)
But, now, False Teachers had come to town telling the Ephesians that what God had done through Jesus Christ wasn’t enough. They were teaching that it didn’t really matter that Jesus had been born.
The Ephesians were being told they needed to be circumcised according to the law of Moses.
To be acceptable to God (said the false teachers) they needed something Jesus couldn’t supply.
In essence these false teachers were saying it would be just as well as if Jesus had been born. Jesus hadn’t supplied anything that the Law couldn’t give.
In order to counter this vicious teaching, Paul decided to remind the Ephesians what they’d been like before Jesus had come into their lives. His objective was to teach them what would have happened if Jesus had not been born.
II. What would it have been like if Jesus had never been born?
Paul answers that question from the very outset. He tells the Ephesians they had once been objects of wrath and dead in their sins. AND if Jesus had never been born… they’d still be objects of wrath and dead in their sins.
BUT… what if they’d become Jews?
What if they had become circumcised and become part of the nation of Israel?
What if they went to the Temple every week and offered blood sacrifices to God for their sins?
What if… by faith… they lived as best they could according to the Law of Moses?
Wouldn’t they be acceptable to God then?
Couldn’t they have been saved from their sins?
I mean – Abraham and Isaac and Jacob…
David and Solomon and Hezekiah…
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel…
… All these men all had lived BEFORE Jesus was born. Weren’t they all saved? Well… no… they weren’t!’
Scripture DOES tell us that “Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:9) but curiously, it doesn’t tell us that he was saved.
And there’s a good reason for that… because he wasn’t. Jesus hadn’t died for his sins yet.
Hebrews 11 tells us all about the great heroes of the faith.
It mentions Abraham, … and Enoch, and Noah, and Moses and David and Samuel and whole cast of others. People of faith whom God held up for us to examine and to admire and to try to model our lives after.
Hebrews 11 then ends with these words:
“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them….” Hebrews 11:36-38
Wow!?! The World wasn’t worthy of these people. These were great and admirable people that we can look up to … and we wonder if we could ever be like them.
But then Hebrews 11:39 tells us: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”
Whoa! They hadn’t received what was promised? What could that mean?
Well, the next verse tells us…
“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:40
You see, as much faith as Abraham, and Enoch and Noah and Moses and the others had – as admirable as their lives were for us – they didn’t get what we have now received. They hadn’t received what was promised… salvation.
Why? Because Jesus hadn’t been born yet! If these Old Testament greats could have been saved without the blood of Jesus… so could we. Jesus would never have needed to have been born because we could have been justified by keeping the Law.
III. Now… that might have seemed practical for individuals who aren’t “bad” people -You know what I mean. There are folks who live all around us that we look at and think – they’re pretty nice people. I mean – if ANYBODY should be acceptable to God… they should be.
But you’ve got to understand – the whole purpose of the Law was to drive home that even “nice” people sinned and needed a sacrifice to atone for their bad thoughts their bad words and their bad actions.
Thus, in the Old Testament, every day at the Temple you’d see people lined up with their sheep and goats and bulls – nice people and people who weren’t so nice – all offering up blood sacrifices to atone for their sins. Why would “nice people” bring their offerings to the Temple? Because they realized they might be able to fool their neighbors… but they couldn’t fool God. So, even they broughtt their sacrifices to God on a regular basis.
But, like I said, trying to be justified under the Law might seem practical for individuals who weren’t bad people (the nice folks). But now… you get yourself a one of those “real sinners”… now, you’ve got a problem.
But how do you deal with people who’ve “really sinned?”
The Apostle Paul was a bona fide Israelite with a pure blood line. A Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Hebrew of Hebrews, according to the righteousness of the law – faultless (Scripture tells us).
But then… he was responsible for the murder of Stephen, the first Christian to die for the faith
And he persecuted the church and imprisoned and tortured every Christian he could find. As a result Paul wrote the following words to Timothy:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
Paul was the worst of all sinners? Yes. And he knew it! And being a “nice guy” wasn’t going to change that. Being a nice guy wasn’t going to bring Stephen back from the dead. Or heal the damage he’d done to scores of Christian lives.
• The only thing that was going to change his life
• The only power that would salvage his soul
was the blood of Jesus Christ
TO PAUL – it mattered that Jesus had been born.
IV. And so Paul pleads with these Ephesian Christians to remember what their lives were like before Jesus was “born” into their lives.
“…remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:11-12
Before Jesus had been born into their lives
They didn’t have a relationship with God
They had no promises from God
AND they had no hope
But a few verses later, Paul wrote:
“(Jesus) came and preached peace to you…” Ephesians 2:17
You see – without Jesus, there is no real peace to be had in this world. How do I know that?
ILLUS: Christmas time is supposed to be a season of peace and goodwill. And with Jesus it can be. But what if you have Christmas with all it’s gaiety and excitement… without Jesus?
• Did you know statistics tell us that December is the time of year when murder and robbery reach their highest peak in the US?
• Did you know that the Christmas season ranks just behind Memorial Day weekend in the number of car wrecks on the highway?
• Did you realize that the suicide rate will begin its annual climb until it peaks out at what some call the “big downer” of New Years Eve?
Why would this season be like that? Because we have been trained since our youth to believe that this special season of the year… it’s a time of family and hope and peace and contentment and security.
But what happens is that (without Jesus) all some people see is tinsel and lights on a dead tree. They see gaily wrapped packages containing nothing of any consequence.
If Jesus isn’t at the center of this holiday season, it’s kind of like this:
ILLUS: (Gaily wrapped box – cut into the shape of a “cross” and then lightly taped back into the shape of a box with a bow on top. Cut down the sides of the box making the bottom the center with the arms spreading out in 4 directions. You’ll need to cut one of the tabs off the top and tape it to the tab across from it creating a more cross-like shape.
Open up box to reveal there’s nothing inside, but be careful not to reveal the cross shape until you’re ready)
Without Jesus in our lives, this season of the year is like getting a present that has nothing inside.
Without Jesus, Christmas offers tinsel and decorations – promising joy that can’t be delivered. It offers gaily wrapped packages that yield empty promises and broken toys
But the beauty of God’s gift of Jesus is that even into an empty life, God can give forgiveness and hope (Shape of the cross revealed at this point)
Without Jesus – Christmas is an empty holiday
But with Jesus – you can really have “a wonderful life.”
Sermons in this series: Christmas At The Movies
* Miracle on 42nd Street – Matthew 1:1-17
* How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Matthew 2:1-20
* The Santa Clause – Ephesians 4:17-5:2
* It’s A Wonderful Life – Ephesians 2:1-20
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” | Marianne Williamson, Return to Love
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” | Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist