I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. None of us do. Do you know why I can say that? Because even in my short time here at Christ the Lord, I’ve heard the question asked numerous times. I’ve seen it be wrestled with and attempted to be explained, but always, always, we fail. But this question it comes up again today as we look at what God writes in the first chapter of Ephesians. Maybe, though, I should go back and tell you what the question is, it’s this, “Why some and not others?” Are we all familiar with this question?
Why does God choose some people to go to heaven? Why does he elect some from eternity to be part of his everlasting family while others are left out? That’s a frustrating question. “God so loved the world!” Yeah, okay, fine, he says that. Yet, we know there is a hell and we’ve seen in the Bible that people end up there. And there, in hell, God turns against that person withdrawing himself from that soul which he made. “Your iniquities, your sins, have separated you from your God.” we are told. But why? Why does God do this?
It almost makes you angry. It leaves you flummoxed. This is unfair! What can a person do? We are either chosen by God from eternity or we are not and, I don’t know, do we want to worship and praise a God who seems to randomly choose who gets to enjoy the riches of heaven and then who gets to suffer for all eternity? I mean, c’mon.
But then we step into a jail cell and we see a man writing by a stump of a candle – he is in chains. We peer over his shoulder and read these first words found in our lesson, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The man stops writing and he looks up at you and he says, “You’re focused on the wrong thing my friend. You’re asking the wrong question. The question isn’t “Why some and not others?” The question is “Why you? Why did God choose you?”
“And maybe,” he says, “it would be helpful if I first explained to you why God chose me.” My name is Paul, but that isn’t the name I use to go by. I was once Saul. And I thought, I believed, that I had a mission to round up and imprison anyone who proclaimed the man Jesus to be God and Savior. I was successful in my mission. I was feared. Many Christians as they came to be known lost their livelihood and their lives because of me. I was also the worst of sinners. Self-proclaimed, yes, but I know me. I know my thoughts, I know my sins. Yet, God chose me. Why? Let me show you.
He goes silent and begins to write again, you look, and you see these new words. “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”. “In love” Paul whispers, “through Christ”. This is why God chose you. Let’s step back for a moment. Let’s ponder this. We were loved before we were born, saved before we even sinned. Before we started out on this journey called life, God already saw us home. He set his heart on having us as his own forever. Not only did he embrace every human being by the redeeming death of his Son, he came and selected you personally and individually in Christ before time began. Not because he knew you would one day be holy and blameless and therefore deserved to be chosen, but he chose you to be holy and blameless.
It is imperative that we understand this. Why you? Why me? Why Paul? Imagine. Imagine someone followed you around for a year or two and wrote down every time you gave someone moral advice – all the times you told someone “you should” or “you shouldn’t.” Now think of Judgment Day, and say God judged you only by that, your moral law that you doled out to children, friends, relatives – “don’t do this, do do that” He measured you by your law, how would you do? Not well. The reality is we can’t even keep our own laws, the ones we think and say are good and beneficial. We are that perverse…that broken. Now add God’s Law, what he demands – we are lost!
It’s not a wonder then why Paul doesn’t sit in prison and write angry letters about how unfair God is in choosing, adopting some into his family and not others. Paul won’t risk cheapening the pure gospel found in God’s grace, that God chose him, a sinner, to be holy and blameless. He’s too busy being awestruck that, in love, God sent Jesus for him, but not just for him, Paul says, for the world, and that includes you.
God was willing to take a risk. In mercy and grace, he sent Jesus for all, but he knew some would call their Savior a lie, some would reject, or just pretend to call him their Lord. Still, that Savior was willing to die for the right to say to all people, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” Praise God! Praise God then that our choosing isn’t based on us; it comes from Jesus. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
You think of Paul. All the world could condemn him, and he probably thought it had as he sat there in chains. But in Christ God chose him to be a member of his family and only praise flowed from his pen. What about you? What about me? All the world can condemn us, the devil may accuse us, and our conscience convict us that we aren’t worthy of the forgiveness God offers. But God has determined that in Christ I am holy and blameless before him. No other verdict matters. In these words, we find a place in which to lose a guilty conscience, in which to build a new life.
And, God? He made his choice concerning our salvation known to us. “he made known to us the mystery of his will” He showed us our future. He “will bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” and there you and I will be, with Paul, with Moses, with Elijah, with loved ones, with strangers, standing in heaven praising him, praising our God.
We find ourselves back in that cell with Paul, he is still writing. Because he knows, God knows, he knows us. He has seen the doubt that even his chosen can have. He saw it in Peter who slowly sunk into the waves until the Savior’s outstretched hand grabbed him. He saw it in Abraham and Sarah who doubted they would have a child in their old age. He sees it in us too. Do you see it?
You might wonder how strong your faith is. You might notice your motives becoming more and more selfish instead of selfless. In every aspect of our lives, we can find things that sure look like unbelief, things that smell like death, and those things are always the easiest to spot. You can say, “Yes, I am a believer, chosen by God,” and you are, but someone who knows you at your worst only has to ask, “Are you?” And you can’t help but wonder. So how do we know? How do we know we are the ones God predestined, the ones he chose?
Paul sets his pen down. He looks at you and he smiles. “You’ve been asking all the wrong questions today,” he says, “Look here” and he points us to verse 13. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” God through Paul points us to what we have heard. It’s right there. Not here, not in us. In here we find ruin. In here we find doubt. When we look for faith it eludes us, because faith isn’t made to look at itself. Faith is looking away. It’s looking at someone else and that someone is Jesus. There in Jesus you see everything you need. Think about Jesus and the way he died. God the Father infused him with all our guilt and shame, and he let justice roll, like a steamroller, over Christ’s soul. God put his Son in hell, so that he might bring us to his heaven. It was a staggering high price to pay. Yet God paid it because he wanted you. He chose you and, to assure you of this, he also marked you.
Paul tells us how, “You were marked in him, in Jesus, with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” God doesn’t leave us to wonder if we are one of his elect. He gives us his Word that we are. He reveals the mystery of “why me” and “why you” by work of his Holy Spirit through his powerful Word. In this way he marked each of us, with a seal of ownership guaranteeing our inheritance forever.
We read Paul’s words one more time, “you also were included in Christ”, and those words are again made beautiful by the Holy Spirit as our grip is tightened not on a faith that trusts in ourselves, but in God. He does not let me forget him. My trust is kept by his power, and I believe…Jesus died for me.
And now we see Paul, his chains rattling, as he nods his head – we finally get it. We never truly answered the question “why some and not others?” We only speak what Scripture says, that God wants all to be saved and those who aren’t are those who rejected him. So, instead, we focus on God’s grace towards us, we answer the question “Why me?” Today, we’ve seen why: I am chosen. I am marked. I think the German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it well when he wrote, “Who am I? Whoever I am, you know, O God. I am yours.” And so we leave Paul’s cell and we remember the first words we read when we saw him, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Praise God! Look at what I am. Blessed in every way. Amen.