Ephesians 3:14-12 Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son…” Paul said: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us…” John said: “Christ is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins, but for the sins of the world…”
From the beginning of the Bible unto the end, that is the great salvation story of God’s love for all people in Jesus Christ, a love that embraces and encompasses a world full of sinners.
No matter the sins that we have committed—no matter the opportunities for good that we have missed--no matter where we came from and no matter how many times we have wandered away and fallen away—God loves with an everlasting love that has no equal or parallel. And that love of God in Christ is true for every person in the world.
In the verses preceding our text, Paul says that the love of God that embraces an entire world full of sinners is a “mystery”. What he means is that the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for all people has to be revealed to us. God’s love is not something that we cannot reason our way into or think our way into—it has to be revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
We could never imagine a love that extends to those who disappoint us again and again. We could never think of a love that seeks out those who have no interest in our love. We could never conceive of a love that would sacrifice a Son for an enemy.
That is the love that God has for us in Jesus Christ and it embraces and enfolds—without exception—every person in the world. But for us to benefit from that love—for us to be changed by that love—for us to know that love and live in that love and live out that love in how we treat others, Christ must dwell in our hearts by faith. The Apostle Paul says:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
I hope you know this but I will just say it so that you do: your pastors pray for you. It’s the first thing that I do each morning when I sit down at my desk and have my morning devotion. I remember you in prayer.
I pray for all of those requests that you share with me—for healing for you and those you love—for guidance and direction in life’s moments of transitions—for your marriage and children and family—for all of the blessings you need for your earthly life. I pray that God would bless you and keep you safe.
But as your pastor I pray for even more than what pertains to just this life-- as important as those things are. I ask God to bless you with spiritual blessings that only he can give. And I especially ask God to bless you with the gift of faith in Jesus and that he would sustain and strengthen that faith in you.
That is what Paul is doing here for the congregation at Ephesus. As great as the love of God is that embraces the world, as all-sufficient is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, Paul understood that for his congregation at Ephesus, each of them needed to believe that for themselves—each of them needed Christ to dwell in their hearts by faith.
And so Paul bowed his knees in prayer and asked the heavenly Father to powerfully strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their heart by faith.
That is my prayer for you too-- because at the end of the day-- nothing else really matters, nothing else endures, nothing else will last forever-- but our life with God through faith in Jesus. Jesus says, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul”? And of course the answer is: nothing. Now please understand…
I want you to be healed-- and so I pray for you. I want you to have happy marriages and families-- and so I pray for you. I want you to have direction and meaning in life-- and so I pray for you. But above everything else, I pray that God would give you faith in Jesus, sustain your faith in Jesus, and strengthen your faith in Jesus by the powerful help of the Holy Spirit.
And I know that God graciously answers that prayer for the spiritual strengthening of his people because he gives us the gifts necessary for that strengthening in Word and Sacrament.
That is what our worship is—God the Holy Spirit working in our lives through the Word: convicting us of our sins, convincing us of the truth of the Gospel, correcting us on life’s journey as to the way we should go.
That is why we receive Holy Communion often as a regular, preferably weekly part of our worship—so that we can know that the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood offered on the cross for the world is for us personally and individually as we receive that same body that was pierced for us and that same blood that was shed for us.
Pastors pray for the spiritual strengthening of their flock-- and God graciously answers that prayer-- by giving his Word and sacraments so that we can believe in Christ’s love and grow in Christ’s love and share Christ’s love with others. God gives these gifts of love so:
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Rooted and grounded in love. There are two images that God wants us to have about what our life looks like as we are strengthened by the Spirit. The first is a majestic tree with roots that are deeply sunk into good soil that produces an abundant harvest of fruit.
The second image is that of a towering building whose foundation is sunk deep in the depths of the earth so that it cannot be moved even when others around it crumble and fall in the storms that come.
That’s what it means for us to be rooted and ground in love: it means that our life with God is fruitful and enduring because it is rooted and grounded in his love for us in Jesus Christ.
Too often we are tempted to find our life with God in our own efforts, in our own feelings, in our own experiences. But there is nothing in us that can provide that living soil and solid foundation that we need for our lives to stand the tests of time and eternity. There is nothing in us that can make us love others like God loves them.
Only the love of God in Jesus Christ can do that-- which is why we need to be strengthened in that love and grow in the knowledge of that love that cannot be known or experienced apart from the help of the Holy Spirit as he works in our lives through Word and Sacrament.
The Spirit is the one who tells us of a love that the living God of the universe has for us that existed before the foundation of the world and that will continue when this world is no more.
It is the Spirit who opens our eyes of faith so that we can see that the Baby who lies in manger and the humble man who cares for all people and the suffering servant who dies a terrible death is that same God who has come to make us into new people who love others.
It is the Spirit who speaks to us from the Bible to guide us and comfort us until the day we go to our heavenly home.
Only by the strengthening help of the Holy Spirit can we come to know and understand the breadth and height and length and depth of God’s love for us that would lead him to send his Son into the world to save us from sin and fill us with his good gifts and include us in his church.
And it is only by the strengthening help of the Holy Spirit that we can then live our lives in such a way that Christ’s love is shared with others.
When we really begin to understand that the love of Christ has taken us (who were enemies) and made us God’s children and part of the church, that same love moves us to be a part of that mission of love for the sake of others.
The love that embraced us when were unworthy and unlovable also embraces those in the world who find themselves in the same place until we (who are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ) reach out to them with the same love that God poured out upon us in Christ.
That is how God adds to his family—that is how God builds his temple—and for his great mercy and love and grace it is right to sing his praises. The Apostle Paul writes:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
I am, by nature, a little bit cynical, a little bit skeptical, a little bit pessimistic. I used to excuse this by saying “I’m just being realistic.” But one day in my study, as I was writing a wedding sermon on 1 Corinthians 13, I came across a verse that struck me to the heart. It said, “Love always hopes.” Love always hopes. And right then and there I confessed my cynicism and skepticism and pessimism for the sinful lack of faith it was and resolved with God’s help to be a more hopeful Christian.
You see, we believe in a God of love who is able to do more than we can possibly imagine. We believe in a God of love who takes enemies and makes them children. We believe in a God of love who gave his Son to die for us. We believe in a God of love who has turned death into life.
All eternity will not be enough to sufficiently praise him for the love that he has shown to us in Jesus Christ but we can begin today, as a Christian congregation and as individual Christians who have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit, to step out in faith and ask God for the blessings we need, trusting that God is able to do more for us than we can possibly imagine. Amen.