Come Alive!

This morning, we want to look at a beautiful passage in Ephesians chapter 2.  But before we get there, I want to talk a little bit about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The resurrection of Jesus is either a fairy tale, or it is the most significant, the most joyful, the most hopeful thing that has ever happened in the history of this world.  It’s one of those two.  It’s either fake or it’s real.  

            Now the idea of a resurrection honestly sounds ridiculous because normally, once people die, they don’t get back up again.  That’s just not something that you ever see happening.  And that’s why skeptics throughout history have said that all miracles, including the resurrection, can only mean one thing, and that is that the person who believes it happened is deceived.  So, they don’t believe in the resurrection.

            And there are a lot of people who find trouble believing that Jesus rose from the dead.  I heard about a 4-year-old boy.  He was in school and the teacher was telling them about the resurrection, how Jesus died, but then he came back from the dead and now he lives.  This boy’s father was an undertaker, so he raised his hand and he said, “If my daddy would have worked on him, he never would have gotten up.”  

            Now there have been many stories of resuscitation, people who died, and then a few minutes later they revive and come back to life.  That’s called the Lazarus phenomenon.  But experts tell us that anything over 20 minutes will cause irreparable brain damage.  So, for a person to come back to life not minutes later but days later, as was the case with Jesus, defies natural law.

            But the very foundation of our Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Arnold Toynbee, a British historian, once said that if you can find the body of Jesus, then Christianity crumbles into ruins.  And the apostle Paul would have agreed with that.  He wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is vain, my preaching is worthless, and all of us are still living in our sin and we have absolutely nothing to look forward to.

            So why do those of us who are Christians believe this idea that Jesus rose from the dead?  What is the basis of our faith?  Let me go through a few quick reasons and then we’ll more over into our text.

            First of all, we know that the tomb of Jesus was empty shortly after his death.  Jesus died on a cross, was taken down, was placed in a tomb. They put a huge stone over the entrance to that tomb. They set a Roman guard, a group of men to guard it.  And then, on the third day, that tomb was empty.

            How do we know that for sure?  Because if the tomb of Jesus wasn’t empty, then anybody who wanted to disprove the resurrection of Jesus (and there were a lot of people who did), all they had to do was go to the tomb, open it up and look inside.  And if the body of Jesus was there, then they’ve just disproved the resurrection.

            So, we know that the tomb was empty.  And all of the theories like the body was stolen, or the disciples went to the wrong tomb, or Jesus just fainted and then revived and got up.  All of those are unsatisfactory explanations for the empty tomb.

            I heard about a woman who once wrote to a preacher asking, “Our preacher said that Jesus didn’t really die, he just swooned on the cross and then the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think?”

            His response was this: “Beat your preacher with a leather whip covered with sharp bones and glass with dozens of heavy strokes. Nail him to a cross and hang him in the sun for six hours. Then, run a spear through his heart. Embalm him and wrap him in linens with 75 pounds of spices on top of him, put him in an airless tomb for three days, and see what happens.”

            I think it’s safe to say that he’s not coming back from that, but Jesus came back.  And the tomb once occupied by Jesus was empty shortly thereafter.

            Second reason, there were eyewitnesses, both individuals and groups, up to 500 at a time, who saw Jesus and gave witness to the fact that they saw him alive.

            Fact number three, many of those eyewitnesses, including the apostles, were hesitant to believe in the resurrection, but they not only came to believe it, but they died for it. They were martyred for their faith.  Now, some people will die for what they believe. But unless you are convinced that that what you believe is true, you won’t die for it. The fact that they were martyred believing in the resurrection shows they believed it with all their heart. They were convinced. 

            And so are we.  Those of us who are Christians, we believe that the resurrection of Jesus really happened.

            Now in Ephesians chapter 2, Paul describes what happens to a person who believes in Jesus Christ and gives their life to him. And he uses this metaphor of the resurrection.  He describes it as life after death.  And just as it was amazing that Jesus would come back to life after dying, it’s just as awesome when God takes a person who is a sinner and changes them, transforms them, and gives them life.

            In these verses, Paul is going to describe the past, the present, and the future of a person who has a relationship with God.  If you’re a Christians, then Paul is describing your life in these verses.  First of all, he talks about your past.

            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.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

            Paul uses the past tense here.   He says, “This is what you used to be like.  You used to walk according to the course of this world.  You used to act just like everybody else in this world acts.  And, as a result, you were separated from God.  You were dead.”

            Remember back in the Garden of Eden when God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  And he said, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17).  But, of course, Adam and Eve did eat the fruit and they died that day.  Not physically, but spiritually.  They were separated from God.  God no longer came down into the garden to walk with them and talk with them.  They could no longer be together with God because of their sin.

            Paul says here that the same thing has happened to each and every one of us.  Because of our sin, we could no longer be in fellowship with God.  We were dead.  Before a person comes to Christ, they are dead in their trespasses and sins.

            Sometimes we think of unbelievers as being spiritually sick.  But the Biblical picture of man’s condition is much worse than that.  People outside of Christ are dead. They don’t need a doctor. They don’t need a therapist.  They need a resurrection because they are dead in their trespasses and sins.

            Then Paul goes on to say, “in which you once walked, following the course of this world.”  This world is in rebellion against God.  All this world cares about is selfishness and sin. And we used to follow right along with them.

            Have you ever noticed that when you tell your kids they can’t do something, they will almost always respond by saying, “But everyone else is doing it!”  What are they doing?  They’re appealing to the course of this world.  They get to do it; I want to do it.  But it’s not just our kids who do that.  We’ve all done it.  That’s the way we used to live.  We were living the same way and doing the same things that everybody else was.

            Paul says that’s how we used to walk.  One scholar has suggested that the word “walk” here could be translated as stroll, or browse, or wander.  And I think that’s an appropriate image.  Have you ever gone into a store and you went in there not intending to buy anything?  But you ended up purchasing a whole bunch of stuff that you didn’t really plan to get?

            And maybe you get home and you look at your receipt and you think, how did that happen?  Here’s how it happened.  It’s called browsing.  You browsed your way into buying something.  You just kind of wandered around and you found yourself attracted to this or to that.

            Paul says, we used to browse our way through this world with no real purpose, with no real goal. We were just wandering around, browsing, and when that happened, we found ourselves attracted to do some things that we really hadn’t intended to do.  As the prophet Isaiah put it, “all we like sheep have gone astray. We have all turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6).  

            If you’ve ever watched a zombie movie or TV show, there’s always these corpses that just stumble around.  Paul says, that was you. You were like the walking dead. You were someone who lacked any real purpose to your life, and you just kinda wandered through life aimlessly.  But God has a purpose for our lives, and he tells us about it in his word.  And, if you don’t know what your purpose is, it’s time for you to find out.  

            But Paul says to these Christians, that’s your past.  In your past, you were separated from God, you were living just like everyone else in this world.  You were dead.  But then Paul moves into the present tense. Here’s what it’s like now if you’re a Christian. You were dead, but God has brought you back to life.

            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 raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-6)

            Did you notice that transition? Two of the greatest words in literary history are the first two words in verse 4 – “but God”. It’s one of the great transitions in the Bible.

            In fact, those two words appear together 45 times in the Bible. And whenever you find in scripture the words “but God”, it signifies a great change. What it was like before those two words and what it’s like after those two words are radically different.  You’ve got this situation, “but God”, and now you’ve got a completely different situation.

            So, these two words that Paul uses here are two of the most hope-filled words ever. God comes to us in the midst of our messed-up lives, whatever purposeless existence we may be living in, and he gives us real hope and real life.  

            And if you have not yet experienced that transformation in your life, I hope that you will let God do that.  Because these two words can change your life.  You may be dead right now, living in sin, separated from God.  But God…..can change all that.

            I would imagine that those of you who are Christians right now, you can all remember your own “but God” moment, your conversion, the moment you were saved.  Isaac Newton, in the great hymn “Amazing Grace,” said, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Do you remember when that happened for you?  Here’s what I used to be like.  But God…

            So, what is God doing in the present?  Paul said, “when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive.”  He made us alive.  I looked up the Greek word here and it literally means “to reanimate”.  I love that word.  God reanimated us.  When I hear that word, my mind goes back to all those Frankenstein movies, and Dr. Frankenstein talking about the reanimation of dead tissue.

            That’s the idea here. God reanimated us. He took something that was dead and he gave it life.  So, Paul is using the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a metaphor for what happens to a person when God gets a hold of them and changes their lives.

            God took those of us who were dead and wandering around aimlessly, and he made us alive together in Christ.  He gave us a new life with a new purpose. He gave us a new life that’s filled with joy.  He gave us a new life that’s filled with hope.  He made us alive together in Christ.

            In I Peter chapter 1, Peter wrote, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3).  In other words, because God gave Jesus new life, we know that he’s able to give us new life as well.

            I want you to think for a moment about the apostle Peter, who wrote these words. At one time, Peter was a fisherman.  His whole life was getting up in the morning, putting nets in a boat, taking the boat out into the lake, throwing the nets out, catching fish, going home, and then doing it again every single day.  There was a lot of predictability built into Peter’s life, a lot of boredom.  We may love the idea of going fishing, but Peter did it every day, day after day. That was his occupation.

            And I would imagine that, after a while, Peter started asking questions like, is this all there is to life?  Just working all day, coming home, doing it again, coming home, doing it again? All of that monotony and boredom.  I can imagine Peter thinking, is there anything more to life than this?  And then one day Jesus walked into his life and he said, “Peter, from now on, you’re going to catch men not fish.”

            And Peter listened to Jesus and he started following him around, and he found hope, a hope he had never had before. He was so excited, and he did that for three years until one day he got nervous because Jesus predicted that he was going to die on a cross. And one day, Jesus did die on a cross.  And when Jesus died on that cross, Peter’s hope died along with him. Peter went from having hope to being hopeless.

            Because they had hoped that he would be the Messiah. In fact, those are the words that two other disciples used on the road to Emmaus. In Luke 24, when Jesus walked up to them after the resurrection, they didn’t recognize him.  Jesus came up and he said, “What are you guys talking about?”  And one of them said, “We’re talking about a guy named Jesus who did these wonderful things and spoke these wonderful words.  And now he’s dead.”

            Verse 21, “But we had hoped…”, past tense — we had hoped that he would be the one who would save and redeem Israel. Like those two men, Peter lost his hope when Jesus died on the cross. He went from being hopeful to having no hope.  That Saturday after the crucifixion had to be an absolutely miserable day. 

            But then on Sunday morning, Peter went to the tomb and looked inside and saw that Jesus was alive from the dead, and hope made a comeback. And here in I Peter 1, Peter calls it not just a hope but a living hope.

            Because what this meant for Peter is that every single promise Jesus made will also come true. Jesus promised that he would die and rise from the dead.  And, as unbelievable as that was, it happened. So now, that means that all those other promises that Jesus made must also be true.  Promises like, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die but will live.”

            You see, Jesus made all of these promises. But if he promised those things and then he died and that was it, then Peter could have said along with the other disciples, “So what?  Big deal, whatever.”  But the fact that he made those promises and then rose again from the dead, that’s something completely different.

            Peter said we now have a living hope.  That’s the present tense. We went from being dead, being separated from God to now living with God, walking with God.  How were we able to make that transition?  Paul says we did it because of God’s grace, love, and mercy.

            Verse 4, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us.” (Ephesians 2:4).  God is rich in mercy, he’s full of mercy, which means we’re a perfect match with God.  God is full of mercy. We were full of sin. You put full of sin and full of mercy together, and you’ve got a perfect combination.

            Our God is full of mercy.  And he’s full of grace.  Grace means God gives us what we don’t deserve, and mercy means he doesn’t give us what we do deserve.  What we deserve is death.  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).  Everyone who sins deserves to die.  But what God gives us instead is life.

            Why would he do that?  Paul said, “because of the great love with which he loved us.”  If there’s one message that I want you to hear this morning, it is that no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, where you’ve come from, what your background is, what your addiction might be, no matter how hard life is for you, God loves you. He really, really loves you.

            And I will admit there are times that I don’t quite know what to do with that. There are times I’m not even sure God likes me. But here, Paul tells me that God loves me with a great love.

            I want you to hear that. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how you’ve lived, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter how many failures you’ve had, you can have a “but God” moment where you discover a merciful, loving God who will change you forever and give you hope. That’s what Easter is all about.

            So, for those of us who are Christians, here’s where you were – you were dead in your trespasses and sins.  But God.  And now, here’s where you are, because of God’s mercy and grace, you’re walking with God.  You have new life.

            So that’s the past, and this is the present. Which brings us now to the third phase, the future.

            Verse 6 again, “[God] 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 2:6-7)

            When we become a Christian, we know that our past is forgiven. We know that our life isn’t the same.  We can feel the joy. But at some point afterward, we begin to realize that all of this joy, all of this salvation, this is not the end of the story.

            In fact, this is just the beginning of the story. This life change, this joy, this peace, this purpose that we feel, this is just the beginning. It’s leading somewhere else.  Because not only do we have peace and forgiveness now, but there is an eternity that lies ahead for us when we will be in the very presence of God.

            And what that means is that things are going to be just like they were for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when God created them.  Remember how he walked with them and talked with them in the beauty of God’s creation.  That’s what lies ahead for us.  And the Bible tells us to watch for that, to think about that, to wait for that.

            In Titus chapter 2, Paul says we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).

            In 1 Thessalonians 1, “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.” (I Thessalonians 1:9-10)

            In Philippians 3, “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20, NIV)

            What is significant about all these verses is that our hope is not in the coming of the Lord. Our hope is in the Lord who is coming. Our hope is not in an event but in a person. We believe that this Jesus whom God raised from the dead is going to show up again, and we can’t wait to see him. We can’t wait to see what he is going to show us throughout all eternity.

            Why are we so eager? We’re eager because Paul said in verse 7 — listen to this – “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”.

            Let me tell you what I think means – I think that means that God loves you so much it’s going to take him all eternity to show you just how much he loves you.  And when that day comes, he will demonstrate “the immeasurable riches of his grace”!

            So, for those of you who are Christians, here’s a summary of your past, your present, and your future.  Here’s what you were, living in sin just like the rest of the world.  But here’s what you are now by the grace of God – forgiven of your sins and given a new life with a new purpose.  And because of that, we spend our lives eagerly waiting and watching for what lies ahead.

            But, what if you’re not yet a Christian?  Then what I’ve described as the past is your present reality.  You’re living in your selfishness and sin just like rest of the world is, separated from God, without any real meaning to life.  But it doesn’t have to stay that way. 

            Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And that’s just not some fairy tale.  It’s a true event that brings hope, because it means that Jesus conquered death. And that means that because God gave new life to Jesus, he can give you new life as well.

            And he wants to do that because God loves you and God has a plan for your life.  Because of his great mercy and grace, God wants to save you from your sin and give you hope and give you a home in heaven with him.  Right now, you may be wandering aimlessly, not really knowing what your purpose is.  But you can have a “but God” moment.  And that can change your life right now and give you a future that you can look forward to.

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