Presented on The Lutheran Hour on July 19, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Jesus, The Only Way?) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Ephesians 2:13-21
13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.....19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah! Amen!
Have you ever had the feeling of being on the outside looking in? Maybe it happened your first day at college, or at your new job, or when you moved into a new neighborhood. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, except you. Maybe you've had that feeling in an even more personal way. Maybe you've had it with your family or with your friends. It's tough to be on the outside looking in. It's even tougher to knock down those walls of hostility, misunderstanding, and dissension; walls that not only separate us from one another, but from God Himself.
What would it take for peace, real peace, to reign then? You know; the kind that doesn't need to be enforced, coerced, or cajoled. What would it take to reconcile friends, even enemies, when real hurt or injustice has been done? What would it take to overcome broken hearts, fearful hearts, when chaos seems to be reigning in our midst?
That kind of peace would have to be miraculous; that kind of peace would have to be one that is full of justice, calling for repentance, and even more so; full of mercy, full of love, and available to all. That kind of peace would have to be something that only God Himself can accomplish and that's the kind of peace and reconciliation that our text is offering today.
God's peace is earned by the perfect life of Christ, God in the flesh, earned on behalf of a sinful, rebellious humanity that only has division, dissention, and destruction as its end. His peace is one that only comes through His willingness to suffer the cross of humanity's rebellion and offer a grace-filled, forgiveness-laden invitation to be part of His family on His terms with His power, with His direction to be lived out boldly for others in His Name. That solution took His cross and resurrection to make it available to you and me, to all, as His gift!
But, that's the kind of peace comes to you and me today, dear friend, and it says, "Your life matters to God, and God can bring peace to you and me as we put our faith in Him in all things!" The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to new Christians in Ephesus who were struggling to reconcile the differences and divisions that existed between two cultures that had been at odds for centuries, Jews and Gentiles. There were real walls of hostility, but not just among themselves, their sin erected dividing walls between them and God too!
Paul writes of a peace that smashes down those walls and reconciles all things to God in Christ. In spite of their sinful ineptitude, God still cares for them and has broken down the walls that separate us from Him and from each other! Miraculous, extraordinary, that's God in action for them, for us, all in Jesus Christ! God's solution is for a common salvation to all through Jesus, a common grace-alone invitation to be part of His family, and a Spirit-filled life in Christ that can begin to forgive as one has been forgiven, to serve as one has been served! No more strangers, foreigners, now family members of the body of Christ.
Hear God's Word, then, to you today no matter your present circumstance. Your life matters to Him, with faith rooted in Jesus, we are part of His family, and that means your life and mine are valuable not just to each other, but to Him. And that changes everything.
I love the way an Alabama high school graduate said it at his graduation a few months ago. He said, "God is a healer, Jesus is a fixer." Maybe you've heard about this young man. His name is Christian Crawford. He had the opening prayer at his graduation at Clay-Chalkville High School near Birmingham, Alabama. He gave his written opening prayer and the ceremony went on like it always did. But, suddenly, right in the middle of receiving the diplomas, chaos, cries rang out, "Medic, medic." Someone's life was in danger!
At this point, young Crawford was asked to step to the mic again, to speak to the crowd in the middle of the confusion. And with wisdom beyond his years, and words that he said weren't his, but God's, Crawford looked out at those in attendance and said again, "Let's pray."
And what a prayer it was. He said, "We know that prayer is power and that God is able. Lord, we thank you for all things and we ask that whatever is going on, that you will fix it. We know that you can make the way. . . You are a God who is a Healer, the Fixer Jesus." And he committed the person who was ill to God's gracious hand.
What Crawford knew, we get to know this day. In the midst of life's chaos and confusion, when you feel on the outside looking in, there is a Name that we can call upon, one that brings restoration, reconciliation, and peace. Jesus Christ, the Fixer, the Healer, He is the One who can make a way where there is no way. So simple, so powerful, so true for all who put their faith in Him.
But there's the rub. The call for faith, is faith in Him, in Christ alone, not faith in ourselves; not faith in our circumstances, not faith in our feelings, not even faith in faith. The Bible's message is even more needed today. We live in a world where people are very confident in themselves even as their lives are falling apart. Many today do as they please, confident that they control their own destinies, and yet the results speak for themselves. No peace, but divisions, dissensions, callousness, and chaos not just in our cities, but in our families, in our marriages, even in our hearts. Sadly, many are resigned to the brokenness that comes with sin as if it is the new normal.
It's amazing to me how disconnected we can become from one another when we are disconnected from God because of our pride and sin. It's amazing how far apart we can drift from what really matters in our lives when we drift from the One who created and redeemed us to be His own.
Have you ever heard of the Chunnel? No, it's not a horror film. But it is something of a horror story about the construction of the underwater tunnel that connects England with France. It's the story, really, of how two cultures with different values, different ideas, and different ways of communicating, how they could make such a mess of such an important job.
From the start, the project was a two-headed beast. It involved two giant firms-one charged with finance and operation, the other was responsible for the actual building of the Chunnel. Some say that each company was also two-headed-equal parts French and British.
Because of this, nobody was allowed to really take charge. In fact, more often than not, leadership was reduced to merely managing conflict. The English yelled at the French. The French yelled at the English. There were nervous breakdowns galore. Why, because they didn't share standards, things in common. The two countries had different words for everything. The French had their accounting system; the English had theirs. The French electrical system was run on 380 volts; the British on 420. Instruction manuals had to be bilingual. They even had two different standards for measuring the sea level. An engineer said, "When you have people coming from two different nations, each believes that only their regulations are right." Well, I say it this way, when that happens, even the simplest of things can take a miracle to get done!
For peace in our hearts, our lives, our relationships, it's going to take an even greater miracle than that. We sinful people seem to have a knack of dividing and destroying rather than reconciling and building. That's why Paul reminded the Ephesians, "You aren't saved by your works, you are saved by grace alone." For peace to reign someone from the inside is going to have to come outside and welcome us all back home, all of us, on His terms alone!
Do you remember what that feels like? Remember again a time in your life when you were in a lonely, outside-looking-in situation, and then, somebody from the inside came out to welcome you, to invite you in as their special guest, to overcome any foolish nonsense that was separating you from the group; it made you feel special, part of the family.
Paul says Jesus Christ has done that and more for you, for all. He says it plainly, "Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off [from Him and from one another] you've been brought near by the blood of Christ; for He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility." Christ Jesus took up the fight for your life and salvation. He barreled through the barriers that separate you from God and from one another. He did so that you could come home to Him, and begin to rebuild your life in Him with others.
If you've made a mess of your relationships, if you've developed an attitude that things can never change, or if you feel that there's really no home for you because of what others have done even to you, now is the time to repent and put your faith in Jesus Christ. Not only is there grace and forgiveness for you in His Name, there is a peace that comes when you realize that you matter to Him and that your life can be lived in His hope and joy knowing that He has done all things well for you.
But you might be saying, "Pastor Seltz, that sounds miraculous, but it seems too good to be true for me. How can I be part of His family?" Well, the power of the invitation all has to do with the One making the invitation. Jesus makes no idle threats; He also makes no idle invitations. His call to repentant faith to you today, to peace as His fellow family member, these aren't mere words, photo-op gestures toward the issues of hatred, dissension, and racism. No, Jesus gave His life for the sake of His cause.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ's message of hope and peace was one that got down into the muck and mire of our lives. When Jesus was born, God Himself was entering the court of human conflict in order to win the championship match that pitted human rebellion and sin against God's Fatherly, redeeming love. Jesus' life and ministry would break down among His followers the walls of racism and false, sinful pride that defined much of the daily life in ancient Israel and Greek and Roman society. He uplifted the poor, and embraced the marginalized, not because of who they were, but because of who He was for them. He challenged people's low attitudes concerning women and children and declared to everyone, in Him, with God, with His forgiveness and grace, your life matters and His cross and resurrection is an invitation for you to be part of His family forever!
And that's His invitation to you and me today too. By faith, He is calling us home to live life in His presence now and forever. And no matter where you are today, no matter what you have done or how far away from God you have been; His calling to you works! Just look at Christ's family tree in the Bible, there's a royal, yet mixed up and less-than honorable human heritage there, one that provided no advantage for Him in His life. He was poor, early in His life His family was even forced to live as foreigners in a strange land because of deadly persecution at home. And, even when He returned home and grew to adulthood, many of the elites of His own society looked down upon Him as a Man from Nazareth who hung out with the wrong crowd.
But hear this; Jesus allowed Himself to be put in that position, the same position of the hated, the discriminated against, the persecuted people, but He even more allowed Himself to be rejected by God the Father for the sins of the whole world. Why, to bring peace where there is no peace, hope for the hopeless, and eternal life for those under the death sentence of sin. It's He who welcomes you and me home to be with Him, to live life in His presence with His grace, forgiveness, and undeserved love. It's He, then, who invites us also to practice His presence in loving others as He loves us!
That breaks down barriers. That overcomes walls. That puts confusion and chaos to flight, and it helps us deal with the day-to-day challenges of being forgiven sinners to one another! And, that, my friend, can bond aliens and strangers, even enemies as family friends!
If you are in the dreadful place of being outside looking in, start with first things first; your relationship to God in Jesus Christ, your grace-filled invitation to join His family by faith. You matter to Him! He lived, and died, and rose again to prove it!
It's no small thing that God has restored you and me to our place in His family. It's that newfound stature in His family that allows us to take on the challenges we face with a confidence that comes in knowing that you are His in all things! You know, when you know that you are on the inside, bonded together with brothers and sisters in the faith, the outside stuff doesn't scare us so much anymore.
Colin Powell, the former United States Secretary of State, wrote of the bravery displayed by a young African-American soldier as he prepared to go to war. The soldier was being interviewed by an ABC correspondent who asked, "How do you think the battle will go?" "We'll do okay," he said. "We're well trained," as he gestured toward his fellow GIs. "But aren't you afraid, scared of what might be coming?" "No, I'm not afraid," he said confidently, "because I'm with my family." The other soldiers shouted back to him and to the reporter, "Tell him again! Tell him again so that he really hears you!" The soldier repeated, "This is my family; we'll take care of each other."
God wants you to know that and more as members of His family by faith. He also wants you to know the power of looking to those on the outside looking in and to go bring them home to His home of grace too. That's why Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus so long ago admonishing them to receive the union given them by faith in Jesus and to live out God's new reality for them as one household in Him, citizens of His eternal kingdom, established and preserved atop not the flimsy foundation of human resolve but atop the foundation of faith with Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.
What a miraculous peace and salvation, then, to be part of His family by grace through faith in Him alone. That's His invitation, to you, your family, your community. If you are listening to this message today and you feel far off, alone in the crosshairs of a hating, dominating world, Jesus Himself has come outside looking just for you. If you want to know more about being in His household of undeserved love and reconciling strength, check out more about this Jesus at lutheranhour.org, but more so, keep listening with me to hear more and more about this Savior, this Lord Jesus, who not only calls us home with a salvation that sticks, He can bond us together as His people, now and forever. Welcome home! Amen!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for July 19, 2015 Topic: Jesus, The Only Way?
ANNOUNCER: Why is Jesus the only way? Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, why can we, as Christians, say Jesus is the only Way to God and does that mean all other religions are wrong?
SELTZ: Mark, that's a great question because it not only deals with our life here on earth, but our lives eternally as well.
ANNOUNCER: People accuse Christians of being narrow-minded and bigoted because we claim that there's no other way to get to God other than through Jesus Christ.
SELTZ: That's the first point. We know, and we say this, we're not special. We need Jesus just like everyone else. And this claim about the uniqueness of Christ is not something we invented; it is the claim of Jesus Himself as well as a claim of the Scriptures. Jesus said it in John 14: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me." ANNOUNCER: And there are other passages that say much the same thing. SELTZ: Right. So, the Bible's point is that this Jesus is unique for a problem that is overwhelming to all human beings alike. You first have to see the magnitude of the problem, sin, before you ask, can my religious practices or traditions really overcome that.
ANNOUNCER: That takes us all the way back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, humanity's fall into sin, prevents us from getting right with God and making right with each other.
SELTZ: And we have been living with those consequences ever since. Sin is the problem, and it's not just a matter of trying to do our best, it's an eternal chasm that separates us from God and even our best efforts to deal with it are full of pride, selfishness, and ineptitude. Look, I'll just ask it this way. Just be honest with yourself if you are asking yourself these questions. Just try to do your best on your terms, just your terms; you'll see how deep and destructive the problem of sin really is.
ANNOUNCER: Which means the answer is something only God can provide.
SELTZ: Absolutely, and that's what makes Jesus unique. He comes with a salvation only God could accomplish, and He comes with that salvation from God for all. God makes that promise even at the very beginning of the book of Genesis, in Genesis 3.
ANNOUNCER: And, throughout the Old Testament, God's promise is repeated and continually brought into focus so that we see that the answer is a Savior who would come to redeem us from sin.
SELTZ: That's correct, the New Testament is the final unfolding of that ancient promise in the person and work of Jesus. Paul writes it this way in Galatians 4: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, (just like us) to redeem those who were under the law, so that they might receive adoption as sons." Jesus, the promised Messiah, promised by God in the Old Testament, was sent to live our life, to die our death due to sin, and to give us His life as a gift!
ANNOUNCER: It becomes clear that this Jesus is unique and His offer of salvation also unique.
SELTZ: And that is the heart and center of this answer. The works of sinful human beings, religious or not, can't reconcile us to God on His Holy terms. If that could have happened, then Jesus would not have had to come and die on a cross, to rise again, and offer forgiveness and salvation as His gift to all on His gracious terms.
ANNOUNCER: Another unique feature, Jesus is alive. He's not dead in a grave somewhere. He rose from the dead, and He's present now through His Word. So, He can direct us, hear our prayer, and guide us along the way.
SELTZ: And that makes all the difference about the answer to this question. Think of it this way. If you were lost, driving in a strange city, and you come to a major fork in the road and you've got no idea where to go, what would you do? On one side stands a marble statue of a person with his arm pointing in one direction; on the other stands a real, live policeman who is directing traffic; which of these two are you going to ask for directions?
ANNOUNCER: Of course, the one who is alive and can point the way.
SELTZ: Exactly, in the same way, if you want spiritual direction, do we ask a deceased religious leader or the living Son of God? As the crucified, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven Lord, Jesus said, "Lo I am with you always to the end of the age." No other religious leader has these credentials and no other person can make the offer of grace to you that He can. That's why we as Christians say Jesus Christ is the only way we can be connected with the true God.
ANNOUNCER: Powerful truth, but even better, it's a powerful invitation for all to believe.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Action in Ministry for July 19, 2015 Guest: Rev. Jim Likens
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is Action In Ministry. How much of a difference can one or two words make?
SELTZ: Well, Mark, we're going to hear how a couple of words literally changed the course of history; not only for the Christian church but for the entire western world.
ANNOUNCER: November of 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the Men's NetWork is developing a three-segment video series that introduces us to the people, the events, and the impact of the Reformation. And here to tell us more about that is the series' producer, the Rev. Jim Likens.
SELTZ: Great to have you, Jim.
LIKENS: It's good to be here.
ANNOUNCER: This is perhaps the most ambitious Men's NetWork project you've ever done. What does this three-segment series cover?
LIKENS: Well, the title of the series is The Man Named Martin. We're going to have three parts to the series: The Man, The Moment, and The Movement.
SELTZ: Jim, an amazing fact is that Luther, people don't know this; that he grew up fearing and even hating God, though. Why was that?
LIKENS: Well, I think it had to do with the culture of the church at the time. The church used fear to fill the pews and the way they did that was through the sacrament of penance; which to be forgiven of a sin, you had to confess it to a priest and with that the guilt was forgiven. But, then, in order for you to escape other punishment, you had to do penance or acts worthy of your sorrow. But then also, Luther grew up at a time when discipline was very stern; from his father, his mother. When he first went to school, he said that in one morning he was caned 15 times for not knowing his Latin good enough.
LIKENS: There was reason to be afraid. And that fear of the church, of the parent, of the teacher, gets transferred to a fear of God. Around 380 a monk by the name of Jerome was commissioned to retranslate and put all the translations together in a Latin translation. And he got to this word, Greek word, metanoia, which means to repent, to change your heart, to turn around, and he translated it "do penance." And, that word is what established the Catholic church at the time of Luther. Everything centered around penance.
SELTZ: And they missed the whole point of it being a gift. Repentance is actually a gift that God works in your heart to actually bless you with his grace and forgiveness. And they missed that whole perspective.
LIKENS: What they would preach is do all that you can in order to get to heaven. Do all that you can and God will add His grace. But, how do you know if you've ever done enough? The Gospel had been hit since that word had been mistranslated in the Vulgate, which was the only official Bible.
SELTZ: And that goes, finally, to the whole point of all of this stuff is that the church really is the servant of Christ. There's a lot of things that can get in the way of that message and even the church can get in the way of that message sometimes. But, when it's all said and done, the message of Jesus Christ transforms human beings, transforms the world, and gives an eternal life you can't have anywhere else.
ANNOUNCER: Did the Reformation answer questions that people are no longer asking?
LIKENS: You can ask any Missouri Synod pastor. They go to a hospital, somebody has a terminal illness or they've been in an accident, and you ask the question, "Do you know you're going to heaven?" And, sadly, "Well, I hope so." And that was the question that Luther had. He didn't know. There was no assurance of salvation.
SELTZ: But when it comes right down to it, Luther knew the foundation to it all was faith in Jesus Christ. Grace Alone, Faith Alone, through Scripture Alone; that's undergirding all of this. So, to that degree, we need to keep learning those lessons over and over again.
ANNOUNCER: We've been talking about A Man Named Martin: the Man, the Moment, and the Movement with Rev. Jim Likens. Jim, thanks for being with us.
LIKENS: Thank you very much.
SELTZ: Thanks for coming.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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