The apostle Paul writes, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us" [Ephesians 2: 7, 8a]
One of my favorite television shows, which I get to watch sometimes on Mondays, is Great Hotels. My wife thinks I watch it because I like that perky Samantha Brown who hosts it. But I really like hotels, and particularly those featured on this program. These hotels are not your Ramada and Holiday Inns. They are really fine hotels with luxurious furnishings and amenities. I like to imagine what it would be like to stay in one of them. You can live a lavish life in a fine hotel.
Though I have the desire, I do not think I am ever going to have the means for the lavish life you can enjoy in a great hotel. But there is a lavish life available to every Christian. It is the lavish life that is ours in Christ.
It is fitting that we think about this lavish life this morning as we prepare to come to the lavish Feast of Salvation that is the Lords Supper.
I. The Problem of the Lavish Life
The problem I have living the lavish life lived by those who stay in the fine hotels is, in a word, money, or lack thereof. The one word that Paul uses to describe what keeps us from the lavish spiritual life is trespasses. A trespass is a false step when it comes to the will of God revealed in his law. It is a failure to live up to the standards of the law and to live within the confines of the law. Paul uses the plural trespasses to make it clear that there are many of them.
Now we might think that this false step is the kind you make when you are walking on a broken sidewalk and you stumble but catch yourself before you fall. But Paul has something much more serious in mind. Paul shows us the seriousness of our trespasses in chapter two of this letter: And you were dead in 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 (1-3).
I have read that our usual presentations of the Gospel do not speak to post-moderns because those presentations are geared to people who think you should be good and either know they are not good enough or need to be shown they are not good enough. In other words our gospel presentations are presented to people as sinners. But, we are told, the post-modern will say, Who says youre supposed to be good? and, What is good? I do believe that we need to be culturally aware and know the thinking and values of those we want to reach. But I am not convinced that the relativistic morality of the post-modern really takes away his sense of sin or the nagging feeling of his heart that he is not good enough for the God he knows exists.
It seems to me that deep in the human heart is knowledge of moral failure that has catastrophic consequences. I do know this – that we never know ourselves till we know ourselves to be sinners dead in trespasses and sins and children of wrath. This reality is our fundamental problem – our trespasses, and what they deserve, and our helplessness to do anything about them.
II. The Parts of a Lavish Life
Paul tells that if we are Christians we do have a lavish life, and he tells us what that means. It is not a life of material wealth or luxury. In fact it is a lavish life that can be lived when our outward circumstances are quite desperate, even hopeless. This lavish life had two parts to it. There is redemption and there is forgiveness of sins.
The word redemption is not a word that is used in our common language very often. We might hear is still in connection with pawn shops, when a person who needs cash gives an item of value, like a gold watch in exchange for money that represents part of it value. When the person is in a better financial condition he goes and redeems his watch by paying back the money plus interest. He, as it were, sets his watch free from the pawn broker in exchange for the agreed upon amount.
This word, which we don’t use very much, was very important in the time when the Bible was written. In wars often people would be captured and taken to the land of the conqueror. Sometimes the people of their homeland would be given an opportunity to set them free by the payment of a redemption price. Or, a person who found himself enslaved might through the years save up enough money for his redemption. The idea of redemption is setting a person free, often through the payment of a price.
There was a great act of redemption in the Old Testament. If you have been with us in our series of messages on the wilderness experience of Israel, you probably know what it is. God’s people had become slaves in Egypt. But God intervened to set them free. He sent plagues upon the Egyptians; He led the people out and across the Red Sea on dry ground; and He destroyed the Egyptian army to set His people free.
All these pictures help us to understand our salvation. We are enslaved by our trespasses. We are guilty, both objectively before God and His law, and subjectively in our own consciences, which, when they are awaked to our true condition, will condemn us. Moreover, we are bound over to judgment, as a criminal awaiting the execution of His sentence. We are also helpless to deliver ourselves, for we can neither make up for past sins nor prevent future sins. We need to be set free, but there is nothing we can do to bring about our own deliverance. But God acts to free us – from the guilt of sin, the condemnation due to sin, and the life-dominating power of sin.
Paul focuses our attention on the central aspect of our redemption, which is the forgiveness of our trespasses. This matter of our sin hangs over us and has the potential to drain all the joy from the present and all the hope from the future. We know there is a God to whom we are accountable for our lives. We know we have transgressed His laws, broken His commandments, and offended His holiness. We know that, if justice prevails, condemnation awaits us. Our consciences testify against us, and sometimes others join in to testify with our consciences to our guilt and unworthiness.
But now comes the word that there is forgiveness – that your objective guilt can be removed, that your subjective guilt can relieved, that condemnation for your sins can be voided, that all the fear which keeps you from God can be dismissed. This applies to all the sins you have committed. It applies to all the sins you will commit. If you are a Christian, it covers all the sins you committed before you were a Christian, and yes, the sins you have committed as a Christian.
Try this – think of the worst sins you have committed, the sins which bother you the most when you think of them, the sins that haunt you when things get really quiet, the sins which most embarrass and shame you, the sins which you know would make you unacceptable to those who respect you if they knew. Can these sins be forgiven? The answer that Paul gives is "Yes." We can live the lavish life of knowing our sins are freely forgiven, that God has nothing against us, that God is reconciled to us.
III. The Price of the Lavish Life
If you want to live the lavish life you might live in one of the great hotels, you have to ask about the price. What will it cost you to stay there? You can expect that it will be several hundred dollars a night or more.
We have stayed in a hotel that might be featured on the TV show Great Hotels. It was the Peabody in Memphis. When we left Pittsburgh, the elders and their wives were so glad to see us go, they arranged for us to spend several days on the concierge floor there. We lived the lavish life for those days at absolutely no cost to us. But that does not mean that the bill was waived by the management. No, there was a price, but it was paid by others so that it was free to us.
We ask, "What is the price of the lavish life of redemption and forgiveness that Paul says is ours?" He describes it very succinctly. "We have redemption through his blood." What blood does Paul speak of? It is, of course, the blood of Christ, whom Paul speaks of in the previous verse as the Beloved. This is the Son whom the Father has loved from all eternity and the Son in whom He delights for His willingness to come into this world to accomplish the mission of salvation assigned to Him. It was not as some cast off that Christ shed His blood but as the uniquely loved Son.
The mention of His blood reminds us that He died a violent death – His blood was poured out unto death. He was, of course, executed as a criminal by the Roman justice system. But, more than that, His death was a sacrifice offered to the Father in payment for our sins. In His own Person on the cross, He experienced God’s justice and judgment on sin. And the Father was pleased to accept this sacrifice as the payment in full for the sins of a multitude too great to number. It is this blood which sets us free from the rule of sin and obtains for us the full forgiveness of all our trespasses. This Lord’s Supper is meant, in part, to keep ever before us the price of this lavish life of redemption, which is the blood of Christ.
IV. The Plentitude of the Lavish Life
To live a lavish life you have to have access to deep pockets, whether your own or someone else’s. When the whole family is together and we go out to dinner, I feel like I need to be lavish. I say, "Everybody get what you want and bring the check to me." But I can’t keep that up for very long. You need a plentitude of resources to live a lavish life. Otherwise you will find yourself at the end of your lavish life.
What about the lavish life of which Paul speaks? Our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins is tied to the riches of God’s grace. God’s grace is God’s favor directed to us, giving us what we do not deserve and doing for us what we could not do. It is this grace that is the source of our redemption and forgiveness. When it comes to grace, God is not poor or middle class. He has deep pockets overflowing in grace. He is "filthy rich" with grace.
And, how does he dispense this grace? God is not stingy; He is not even frugal when it comes to grace. He has infinite resources of grace, and so He gives it freely without any concern for running out. As Paul says, our salvation is "according to the riches of God’s grace, which he lavished upon us." God is like my grandmother who, when serving your plate, did not know what a small portion was – she piled it on and, when she could see plate beginning to show, piled it on again.
When we come to the Lord’s Table, we come to a lavish feast of grace. Take all you need; take all you want. There’s always plenty more where it came from. The riches of God’s grace and of the redemption and forgiveness that is ours in Christ are never diminished by our taking them. They are infinite.
V. The Possession of the Lavish Life
How do we possess this lavish life? Paul says that it is "in him." That is, in the Beloved, who is Jesus Christ? All our access to this lavish life of grace, redemption, and forgiveness is in Him. It is by our connection with Christ that all these things are ours.
Many scholars have made the point that this little phrase in Him, or, in Christ, is the key to understanding the Paul’s theology. For Paul the key to every spiritual blessing is being in Christ. The theologians have a name for this doctrine. It is union with Christ. To be in Christ is to be united to Him, and to be united to Him is to be united to Him in all that He did for our salvation. It is like marrying a rich person. Marriage joins two people in a relationship, and unless there is a limiting prenuptial agreement, the union with the person unites you to all the person’s possessions. In fact an old version of the wedding service has the groom saying, "On thee I all my worldly goods bestow."
But how are we in Christ? Is this something brought about by meditation or some other Eastern religious experience which is supposed to unite you with the divine? No, in the New Testament union with Christ comes by faith. When we put our trust in Him as God’s Son and our Savior, we are joined to Him, and all that He did and does for sinners is ours.
We come to this Table to renew our faith in Christ. As we again rely on Him and entrust ourselves to Him as He is offered to us in the Gospel, He, our Host at the Table, says to us, "Come and eat at this lavish Table I have prepared. All you need is here. Salvation, redemption, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, adoption – it’s all here. Take as much as you like. There’s more than enough for all. Enjoy the lavish life."
WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA
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