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May 3, 2020

Sermon Ephesians 2:8-9 . . .“Paul said:  ‘By grace you have been saved’”

“Paul said:  ‘By grace you have been saved’”

Ephesians 2:8-9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In an article entitled, Meet the Jesus I Know, author Lee Strobel tells the story of a Korean woman who, just after the Korean War, had an affair with an American soldier.  And while he returned to the United States, never to be seen or heard from again, nine months later, she gave birth to a baby girl.

Now as you can imagine, that little girl looked different from other Korean children.  And in that time and place, people shunned children of mixed race.  Some mothers, because they didn’t want to face the rejection, even killed them.  But this woman wouldn’t do that.  She would raise her little girl as best as she could.

So that’s just what she did for seven years until, finally, the rejection took its toll.  She couldn’t do it anymore.  She abandoned her little girl to the streets.

For the next two years, the poor little girl had to figure out life as best as she could.  And because she was different from other Korean children, people were cruel.  They called her the ugliest word they could think of, a word that meant, “foreign devil.”

But in her ninth year of life, something happened that changed everything.  First, she found an orphanage that took her in.  And second, just a few days after she arrived, word came that a couple from America had come to adopt a little boy.

Everyone was excited, because they knew that, at least one little boy had hope.  He would have a family.  So the little girl spent the day polishing up all the youngest of them--giving them baths and combing their hair.  Everyone wondered which boy would have his dreams come true.

When the couple arrived the next day, she said, “It was like Goliath had come back to life.  I saw the man with his huge hands lift up each and every baby.  I knew he loved every one of them as if they were his own.  I saw tears running down his face, and I knew if they could, they would have taken the whole lot home with them.

“And then he saw me out of the corner of his eye.  Now let me tell you, I was nine years old, but I didn’t even weigh thirty pounds.  I was a scrawny thing.  I had worms in my body, lice in my hair, and boils all over me.  I was full of scars.  I was not a pretty sight.

“But the man came over to me, and he began rattling away something in English.  I looked up at him.  Then he took this huge hand and laid it on my face.  What was he saying?

“He was saying, ‘I want this child.  This is the child for me.’”

As Lee Strobel wrote, this is the Jesus I know.

And this is the Jesus Paul knew, as he wrote in the words of Ephesians chapter 2.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1242 as I read the words of our text.  Ephesians chapter 2, starting at verse 1:  “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--and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is different from many of his other letters.  While he condemned the Corinthians, admonished the Galatians, and praised the Philippians, he taught the Ephesians.  It’s no surprise.  He was their pastor for three years.

That’s why he could write in chapter 1, “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, you believed in Him, and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”  And he wrote, “For this reason...I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

For good reason, this letter has been called, “the Queen of the Epistles,” and “the divinest composition of man.”  And Martin Luther wrote that here, in this book of Ephesians, is “the most profound truth ever revealed to man.”

And after first blessing them and giving thanks for them, Paul praises God for the glory of His grace.  As he wrote in verse 4:  “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.”

And to be sure his words were perfectly clear, he said it again in verse 8:  “By grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

It’s easy to say that the word “grace” is very much part of our lives.  Before we sit down to eat, we give thanks to God.  We say, “grace.”  We’re grateful when someone is kind to us, and we’re gracious when we host friends.  When composers write music, they’ll sometimes add little extra notes, what they call, “grace notes.”  When citizens of England address royals, they call them, “Your grace.”

The opposite of grace is true too.  If someone isn’t worthy of grace, we call them an “ingrate” or a “disgrace.”  And when someone was once admired, but isn’t anymore, we talk about their “fall from grace.”

And out of the thousands of songs and hymns that have ever been written, probably the most beautiful of all came from the hand of a former slave ship captain, John Newton.  He called his song, “Amazing Grace.”

What does the word “grace” mean?  It comes to our language from the Greek word, “charis,” a word that means, “kindness,” “loveliness,” “favor,” and “good will.”  It’s how we get the word, “charisma.”  It’s even how we get the word, “eucharist,” another name for Holy Communion.  It’s a word that means, “to give thanks.”

And from the very beginning of the Bible to its very end, there’s grace on every page.  Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs, “The Lord mocks the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  The apostle Paul began nearly every letter to the church with the words, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.”  And when John spoke of Christ, he said, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

But our world doesn’t know much about grace.  Whenever we turn in a paper or a test at school, teachers usually don’t mark the right answers.  They mark the wrong answers.

The military doesn’t know much about grace.  They assign you a rank and a uniform, so you know exactly where you stand in relation to others.

And when Fortune magazine lists the five hundred richest people in America, it never mentions the five hundred poorest.  Apparently, they’re not so important.

Yet it is to us, a people so undeserving of grace, comes the words of the apostle Paul:  “By grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Do we deserve grace?  Never in a million years!  About that, the Bible is perfectly clear.  Paul wrote to the Romans:  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And he wrote:  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God, the ‘charisma’ of God, is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And while most every religion in the world spells righteousness with the letters, “D-o”, “Do,” by the grace of God, Christianity spells it with the letters, “D-o-n-e,” “Done.”

The year was 1974, and twenty-two-year-old Army Private Billy Moore returned home from deployment in Germany to find that his wife was involved with a drug dealer, and addicted to heroin.  To protect their three-year-old son, Billy took him and moved into a trailer.  But Billy’s army paychecks were still in his wife’s name, and it would take ninety days to get them changed.

He tried to get help from various charities, and begged the military to speed up the process, but no one could do a thing.

Bills began to come in.  And living in a trailer with no food and no furniture, he didn’t know what to do.

That’s when a friend told him about a man who lived close by, who had between twenty and thirty thousand dollars in cash in his home.  And though he had no criminal history, burglary seemed to be his only solution.  So late one night, he broke into the man’s home.  While fumbling around in the dark, he felt something hit his leg.  It was the man’s shotgun.

He said, “As soon as it hit me, it went off, and scared me.  So I pulled out the pistol I had in my pocket, and shot in the direction of where the blast came from.  Then I heard somebody fall.  I took two steps, and the string from a light hit my face.  I grabbed it and pulled it and the light came on.  And so I saw Mr. Stapleton lying on the floor face down.  There were two wallets in his pants that were full of money, so I took the wallets, then threw the wallets and gun in my car.”

It didn’t take long for the police to track him down.  The next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground, arrested, and charged with capital murder.

When he got on the stand, he explained everything to the judge.  He told him the murder wasn’t planned, and that he didn’t mean to do it.

But the judge had no mercy.  He sentenced him to death by execution, and sent him to a cell where he would spend the last three months of his life.

Just seven days before his execution, an aunt asked her pastor and his wife to visit him.  And as they sat down with him, they said, “We want you to know that Jesus Christ loves you, and that God is a just God.  And we love you too.”

He had never heard anything like it before.  Yet in that moment, he began to understand that, even though God knew what he did, He still loved him, and died for him.

But when the day of his execution came and went, nothing happened.  That’s when he learned that his case went to an automatic appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court.  He was given a new execution date.

Then for the next sixteen-and-a-half years, thirteen more execution dates came and went.  In the meantime, he studied the Bible, taught the Bible, and even earned a Bachelor’s degree from a Bible college.  

Then came May 21st, 1984.  No more appeals.  No more court dates.  No more postponements.  Sitting in the deathwatch cell, he had seventy-two hours to live.  What he didn’t know is that the victim’s family not only forgave him, but they petitioned the court to set him free.

A year later, he became the only prisoner to plead guilty to murder, and be released from Death Row.

You know where he is today?  He’s where he is every Sunday.  He’s in church, because Billy Moore is a pastor, worshipping the God of the second chance.

But even though grace is free, don’t think it didn’t come at a cost.  For while it cost us nothing, it cost Jesus everything.

As Paul wrote to the Ephesians:  “For by grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 

We thank You, dear Father, for Your grace, mercy, and lovingkindness that has no end.  Grant us the grace to live as we should, and to follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In His name we pray.  Amen

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