10th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Dear fellow redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, when was the last time that you saw a miracle? It was Friday, February 22nd 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. The United States Olympic hockey team was made up of amateurs and collegiates. The Russian Soviet Union team was not only made up of pretty much professional hockey players (they were part of the army, but were paid to play hockey) but they had also won the gold medal in 6 out of the last 7 Olympic hockey games. A few days earlier the Americans played the Soviet Union in an exhibition game and were crushed 10-3. A day before the Olympic game a columnist for the New York Times said, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily with the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.” Well, the game got underway. The Americans were behind for the first period and the second period, but then with ten minutes left in the game they took the lead. As the clocked ticked further and further down the Russian team attacked and fought ferociously. The crowd started chanting the countdown and then Al Michaels, the sportscaster, made his famous call, “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!!” Unbelievable. It became known as the miracle on ice and led to the United States winning the Olympic gold medal. National pride soared. Chants of USA were heard everywhere. It was a sports miracle.
But that doesn’t even close in comparison to the miracles that I see sitting before me today. What is a miracle? The dictionary defines a miracle as, “an effect or an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” A true miracle is something that happens only by God’s divine intervention. And that is true about everyone who has faith in Jesus as their Savior. It is only a result of divine intervention.
Our text for this morning tells us, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” Did you catch that? Let’s think about those words for a little bit. This is the natural human condition of everyone born into this world by a sinful father and sinful mother: Dead. Dead. We don’t really like to hear that, do we? And the Bible is very clear on this point. Ever since the fall into sin, how are human beings described? “Sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5), “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3), “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). Every inclination of the thoughts of the heart is only evil all the time (Gen. 6:5). In other words, we’re dead. By nature we’re objects of wrath. Born into this world we inherited sin, we weren’t neutral, we didn’t have any good in us.
Sometimes I really wish “dead” didn’t mean “dead”, I wish it meant “badly injured” or “less than perfect” or “slightly below average.” But the word “dead” as every dictionary is going to describe it is dead, lifeless, breathless, deceased, a corpse. And the one word God uses to describe human beings born into this world is…dead. Where people in the world see the great goodness of people, human ingenuity, God sees dead things, lifeless corpses which are fit only for rotting and decaying. Human beings are born into this world spiritually dead. We inherited this spiritual death from the very same parents from whom we inherited our physical life. This is called original sin. And it is from this original sin, this sinful human nature we were born with that oozes out all kinds of rotten, filthy, disgusting sins: Greed, envy, anger, jealousy, impure thoughts, hatred, cruelty, unkindness, selfishness, etc. It is vitally important that we get this straight.
Why? Because how much power does a dead corpse have in helping itself? Let’s say you and I were going for a drive. At some point, if you’re driving around here, what are you going to see? Road kill. Well, let’s say we’re driving and here in the middle of the road is a dead deer. I pull the car over and get out and walk up to the dead deer. And I say, “Mr. Deer, you are an awful road hazard, please move off the road, please roll over a couple of times and get out of the way, just crawl several feet.” And…nothing, no movement, no twitching, no sound, not even a little kick of the leg to show me that he’s looking for a little help…he’s dead! A dead thing can’t do anything!
So here’s the problem. If someone comes up to you and says, “You just have to give your life over to Christ, make your decision for Jesus, if you’d like to begin a relationship with Jesus, just say this prayer right now, invite Jesus into your heart.” All of that sounds so nice and good, but it’s as effective as telling something that is dead to do something.
When it comes to coming to faith and conversion, there are two main false teachings. One originated by a man named John Calvin and another by a man named Jacob Arminius. Both tried to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” John Calvin essentially said that it’s all in God. If you’re going to heaven, it’s because the Sovereign God has declared it and likewise, if you’re going to hell it’s because God has decided that too. So, that makes God no longer all-good and wanting all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Jacob Arminius said that’s a terrible thing to say that God has chosen some people to go to hell. So he said it’s all in you and me. It’s up to us to decide whether we go to heaven or to hell, it’s up to us to decide whether we should believe or not. But that totally denies the truth we just talked about, that on our own we’re dead, incapable of doing anything good and that makes faith in part OUR work instead of God’s gift through the power of the Gospel. And think about the effects of thinking that faith is YOUR decision. It will lead to either pride because at least I made the right decision or lead to despair, “am I really a believer? Did I really make the right decision? If I really did, then why do I still have temptations and doubts? Maybe I didn’t! Maybe I’m not a believer! I can mess up a lot of things in life and if faith was up to me and my decision, I can mess that up too!
But that’s what makes the truth of God’s Word so comforting. If I am going to hell, it’s ALL my fault for rejecting the grace of God. But if I’m going to heaven, it’s ALL to God’s credit and His glory –from Him sending His own Son Jesus to rescue me to using His gospel to work faith into my heart to believe it. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
God intervened, God chose you, God worked a miracle! God came to you, using the Word and the sacraments, and God worked faith in your hearts. In so, God took you from spiritual death, to spiritual life! God took you from the road to hell and put you onto the road to heaven! God took you from being His enemy to being His friend, even more, His child! And so you, dear friend, are a walking miracle! GOD took you from spiritual death to spiritual life! That makes you to be an amazing person who is the object of God’s amazing love!
And so can we understand why we want and need to stand firmly on this truth? Those who say “it’s up to you to decide to believe in Jesus, you have to make your decision for Christ,” those people deny that God is working the miracle! Those people deny, therefore, that YOU are a miracle! Are you okay with that?!? No way! No way we can be okay with that!
In short, God says, “I worked a miracle! That miracle is you! I brought you from spiritual death to spiritual life! That you believe in Jesus as your Savior, that you believe that your sins are forgiven because Jesus died for you, that you believe that Jesus rose from the dead – it’s due to the miracle of my grace!” Do you and I want to give that up? No way!
Think about what this means for your life. Since your salvation is completed by God from beginning to end, you have incredible peace with God, it’s not contingent upon you to do your thing, it’s not contingent upon your decision, it’s been done and given to you by God Himself: peace. It also gives us certainty in life. Think about it, if faith were up to me, if my assurance of having faith and believing came from being able to pin point an exact time and experience that I had, I would be focusing the basis for my faith not on God, but on me, and I’m a sinner full of sins and doubts and questions. But faith isn’t based on me and what I have done, it’s based on God and His promises. Am I a sinner? Did Jesus die to pay for my sins? Yes! God’s promise is because of that I’m going to heaven. It’s not based on me, on my decision, or what I’ve done or haven’t done. It’s God’s doing! It’s God’s miracle! I can live with certainty!
I’m going to guess that later today you’re going to take a look in the mirror. What will you see? Yes, you’ll see yourself, I get that. But if you think about it deeply, what will you see? You’ll see a miracle! Why so? Because you’ll see a believer in Jesus in that mirror. That believer in Jesus is you! And the fact that you believe in Jesus – that’s a miracle worked by God!
This week, live with peace and live with certainty for your salvation, even your faith, is a gift from God! Amen.