This is how the last book of the Old Testament begins: “An oracle: the Word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?” ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated….’”
In response to God’s declaration of love, Israel says, “Prove it.” So say we so often. We demand that God prove His love for us. We want signs demonstrating His love. And God complies. “D’uh, I chose you. Jacob and Esau were both in the womb of Rebekah, and I chose you, Jacob. Need I say more?”
In Malachi, these words were meant to be a stinging rebuke. “You guys just don’t get it, do you? You don’t get how blessed you are to be the chosen people of God? You don’t get that that’s enough.” It’s a rebuke we need to hear. We tend to forget that it’s enough to know that you belong to God, that’s love enough, more than you need. We tend to forget that it’s enough that Christ stood at the altar, looked at you, and said, “I do.” Instead, greedy sinner that you are, you want, you need, you crave, you demand more. And the more isn’t – more Baptism, more books of the Bible, more Holy Communion, more faith. It’s more money, more safety, more security, more stuff, more friends, more health, more…
The Devil’s preaching is powerful and effective. His main preachers, the world and your sinful flesh, do their job quite well. They’ve got your priorities in all the wrong order so much of the time. Which is why the prayer of Paul is my prayer: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints….” As your friend, and as your pastor, I don’t stop praying this for you, because I need it for myself.
Because we have to say such prayers, the Holy Spirit inspired the words of Malachi to be written again in the New Testament. In a new context. The Spirit gave Paul a similar song to sing to the Ephesians. We heard it this morning. And it was nothing but good news and comfort.
Paul began His letter giving praise to God the Father “who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing.” No matter what you think, if you are a Christian, you are blessed. You might not see it here. But it’s a sure thing, a done deal, in heaven. Here, for the grace of God, go you. It’s a glorious, spiritual gift certificate.
And it says: “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” He picked, chose, and selected individuals. Before the creation of the world. Before “in the beginning” God was picking. As our Lutheran Confessions say on this point: “In grace He has considered and chosen to salvation each and every one of the elect who are to be saved.” He didn’t say, “Hmmm, I think I’d like to save people someday.” He said, “I will save him, and him, and her, and her, and….” And what did He chose us for? Holiness. He chose us to be what we needed to be to be with Him again as it was before Adam and Eve sinned. As Isaiah sang: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”
Continue reading the gift certificate: “He predestined us to be adopted as His sons…in accordance with His pleasure and will....” Again, we’re reminded of when this happened. He predestined it, that is, decided beforehand. This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. It has always been thus and so. Paul isn’t just repeating himself though. First, he focused on the time when this happened: “before the creation of the world.” Then it was what He chose to do: make us holy by adopting us as His sons, making us members of His family.
But now Paul adds two crucial elements: “in accordance with His pleasure and will.” God didn’t grudgingly pick and choose the elect. This was what He wanted. His first thought, so far as we know it from Scripture, was of believers. Who they were, and how they would become so. We know that from the word “adopted.” He didn’t just choose believers before time, He predestined them to be made believers in time, to be taken from slavery to sin into the eternal family of God.
The question begged is, “If God chose people from eternity, how do I know He chose me?” For some, this leads to despair, “I’m damned!” For others this leads to arrogance, “I can do whatever I want!” For some this leads to works righteousness, “Maybe if I do a little bit more I can get chosen!” For some this leads to apathy, “It doesn’t matter.” But none of those answers are Biblical. Listen again to Paul’s words: “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 [CHRIST] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. 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.” Again, quoting our Lutheran Confessions: “God’s Word leads us to Christ, who is the Book of Life, in whom all are written and elected who are to be saved in eternity.” How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
We heard John on Christmas: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…. From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.”
Then there are Peter’s words: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
That is God’s Word, which shows us the Christ of whom God is the Father, the Christ in whom God has blessed us, the Christ in whom God has chosen us, the Christ through whom God adopted us, the One He loves, on account of whom He loves us, the Christ who was crucified, died, and buried, descended into hell and rose again from the dead – for us and for our salvation.
He who chose us, told us. Paul said to the Romans, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The Christmas gifts just keep on coming. And they will keep on coming, until the day when He who began this work in you brings it to glorious completion: the transformation of believers lowly bodies into glorious bodies. In Christ. Amen.