2nd Sunday of Christmas (A)
January 5, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Ephesians, which was read a few minutes ago.
There are things in life you know for certain. You know the earth revolves around the sun. You know what foods you like and what foods you don’t. You know murder is wrong. There are other things you can’t be certain about: if there’s life on other planets, the price of gas this summer, where you’re going to go to college after you graduate. You could add the day you die to this list as well. We know with all certainty we’re going to die; we just don’t know the day or time. Personally, I’m glad we don’t about that. But what about after you die? Are you certain you’re saved? Are you positive you’re Heaven bound? Or are you like the Muslims who believe it’s up to God and nobody knows for certain where they’re going until they die?
Some of you might be thinking, “Of course I’m saved! Look at me and everything I do!” You volunteer at church and around town. You donate to Emmanuel and various charities. You’re in church all the time. You take your sick neighbors homemade soup. You don’t curse or swear. You’ve been faithfully married for years. You love and spoil your grandchildren. You don’t cheat in school. The kids in school drink, but you don’t. You’re nice to everyone and nobody ever has anything bad to say about you. This all sounds right, doesn’t it? God loves you when you do good works and all the good stuff you do and all the ways you avoid sin has convinced you of your eternal life.
Let me play the devil’s advocate for a just a minute. Are you totally certain you’re that good? Are you certain that God is one hundred percent pleased with you? Be honest, you don’t always have a pure heart. You sometimes do good works out of a sense of obligation. You avoid cursing, underage drinking, and other assorted sinful behavior not because you’re trying to be good but because you fear the punishment if you’re caught. You don’t always volunteer, instead you trust that someone else will take care of their needs. Our motives are not always pure as the driven snow and not all our good works are done out of love.
And lest you have forgotten, God demands perfection, and not one of you has succeeded in that. None of us can! We break the one or more of the 10 Commandments every single day! As Saint John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Ah, but what if think you’re pretty good? Does it really matter if you’re not perfect, and that you just do the best you can? Honestly, it’s great you do the best you can. Honestly, it’s not enough to get you into heaven. As James the brother of Jesus says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Our sin keeps us from obtaining the perfection God demands, which keeps us from obtaining the Heaven we want. So if you’re basing your certainty on what you do or don’t do or on how good a person you are you cannot ever be certain.
I mentioned earlier that Muslims believe that Allah has predetermined every person’s destiny and all the good things they’ve done may or may not affect his decision. Even Muhammad didn’t know for sure where he was going to end up. We do, but he didn’t. I bring this up because I know there are some of you who think “I hope so” when asked if you’re saved. In this way, you’re like the Muslims. You hope that God decides that He wants you when you get to the Pearly Gates. You hope that God is in a good mood and that He doesn’t damn you on a whim. You hope you’re saved because you try your hardest to be a good person. You pray and attend worship. You read your Bible occasionally. You do your best to love others and help them in any way you can. You’re the best parent you can be. Or the best child you can be. In the end, you hope that God thinks you’re a good enough Christian to be saved.
But what if you’re not a good enough Christian? What if you sin; a lot? God can’t possibly be that forgiving. If He’s going to save me, He must have no idea what I’ve done! I keep committing the same sin over and over again, and if I can’t forgive myself, I know God won’t. I’m a sinner who just can’t beat my sin so at some point, God is going to wash His hands of me. Why would God forgive me? I hope He’s forgiving because I’m damned if He’s not. Do you worry that God is going to tell you to go away when you die and that your faith can’t possibly make up for all the ways you sinned.
You’ve heard me say, “You’re saved by grace through faith.” But what kind of faith? A faith that never sins and never wavers? Your faith wavers, doesn’t it? There are days you have a peaceful easy feeling, that God loves you and you love God. Then there are long periods where you feel like you’re in a deep valley. You’re spiritually dry, and try as you might, you just can’t pray or worship. If you had a stronger faith or prayed more or came to church more your problems would disappear. If only you could be a better Christian, then God would have to listen to you. Maybe that’s the problem; you don’t believe with enough certainty. A Christian wouldn’t have doubts or questions. The Devil is good at making you wonder if you even believe at all. This is when “I hope so” turns into “I doubt it”.
They say that only death and taxes are certain, but they’re wrong. God’s promises are certain and these certainties assure you that you don’t have to hope to be saved, you can be sure you’re saved. Listen to what Paul says in the Epistle, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Did you hear that? Before you were even born, God chose you to be saved! He thought of you and He loved you.
God didn’t choose you because He knew you were going to have faith. He didn’t choose you because He knew one day you’d be a Christian or a good person. He chose you and that’s why you believe! Out of deep love for you, He chose you, He adopted you and made you His child. Do you believe? You’re saved, pure and simple. Do you want to spend eternity with God? You’re saved? Do you worry if you have enough faith? You’re saved because faith is faith! Your faith will waver, that’s natural a result of your sin. Satan doesn’t want you to be sure and certain, so he tells you that you’re not faithful enough so all you can do is hope, but there’s not that much of that. Satan is wrong! Your faith may seem small and insignificant. You may think it pales when compared to others. Don’t compare your faith to others because nobody knows what others are experiencing.
Instead, know for certain that God has given to you all the faith you need. Your faith, no matter how strong or weak it may feel, is proof you’re saved. Paul says, “You also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” The Holy Spirit lives in you as the guarantee that God’s not going to change His mind about you. He is the one who moves you from “I hope so” to “I know so”. He is the one who assures you that you can be certain that you’re saved and that’s not going to change! God is certain of His love for you and you can be certain that you’re His adopted child whom He will never send away. Feelings come and go, faith seems to waver, but God’s Word is always true, stable, and certain.
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.” This verse expresses the fullness of God’s love for you. You’re a sinner, we’re all sinners, and yet God did the unexpected. He chose you before the world was even made and this means that He had a plan to give you eternal life before the world was created. The perfect life of Jesus makes up for your flawed and incomplete good works. He kept every command of out of love, not obligation. You still need to do good works, they’re what we do as God’s children. We strive to love God and others more than ourselves. But when our love falls short, when we lack pure hearts, Christ shows us that He was perfect and so we’re forgiven.
His life made up for your failure to be perfect and His death makes up for your sins. We all have sins we regret; they’re forgiven. You might not think that God can forgive you and that He has washed His hands of you, that’s not true. And how do you know? Because Jesus died for you! His death makes up for all your sins. His certain death means that you have certain forgiveness. And if you have certain forgiveness you can be certain of being saved.
When you doubt your salvation, when your faith wavers, when you find yourself stuck on “I hope so” or “I doubt it” I want you to look at the cross. Not the pretty gold one necessarily. Look at the rough, wooden, bloody one. Look at Christ hanging there dead, forsaken by God. Christ did all that for you so He’s not going to turn you away. Jesus died for you so there’s nothing in this life that can separate you from Him. He comes to you and it’s His forgiving love that sustains you in times of wavering faith. He will preserve you in the valleys of doubt. He will encourage you and strengthen you in your battles with sin. If you look at yourself or if you look around you, you won’t find certainty. You’ll find it when you look to Christ though. The one who rose from the dead is the source of your certainty that nothing can change God’s love for you. So as tempting as it is to say “I hope so” when asked if you’re saved, fight it. Raise your voice and praise God by saying, “Yes, I’m saved and that’s something that I am totally certain of!”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen