11th Sunday after Trinity LSB #’s 744, 555:1, 4, 8-9; 556:1-5
Text – Ephesians 2:1-3
And you were dead in the trespasses & sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body & the mind, & were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
WHAT’S A DEAD MAN SUPPOSED TO DO?
The city of Chicago is infamous for allowing dead people to vote. Other than that dead people can’t do much. They can’t move or eat. They can’t talk or sing. That leaves them with rotting, & in the famous words of Martha, the sister of Lazarus, they can & they will stink. That takes us to this morning’s question, “What’s a dead man supposed to do?”
A lot of people, who’ve been Christians a long time, end up in this kind of rut. They live as though God raised them from the dead spiritually so they can be religious zombies. They believe in Jesus & yet there is no noticeable effect. They stash their faith away in a very tiny, private compartment of their life so that no one will notice.
The end result of that kind of living is far less than it could be. Paul writes about that in a letter to the Corinthian church:
Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have – Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials – gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. …If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (1 Corinthians 3:10-13, 15)
Everything you tried to build in this life will be burned up if built on a foundation other than Jesus Christ. Stashing your faith away in a private compartment of your life will cause you to suffer great loss on Judgment Day even if you are saved. That doesn’t mean you have to go through life carrying a sign board that says, “Repent or burn!” What Paul is writing about is that our faith in Jesus should affect every decision we make in this life. It should not be stored away for use only at church. Our faith in Jesus is meant to affect every aspect of our being & our doing: “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)
“…you were dead in the trespasses & sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1-2 ESV) The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17b NLT)
Those are amazing words that speak of incredible power, & yet, the life Jesus lived here on earth was one of incredible restraint. At any moment He could have called on His heavenly Father who would have sent down legions of angels. Instead, Jesus allowed Judas to betray Him so that Messiah would be crucified while you & I were yet sinners.
Jesus died for dead men like you & me. So now, “What’s a dead man supposed to do?” To answer that, we need to think of what any particular person is dead to. Are they dead to sin, or, are they dead to God? The moment one becomes a child of God they are dead to sin, even though sin still torments them. Unbelievers though, are dead to God & are following the Devil.
That may sound harsh to any modern ear, but it is a reality that God’s Word confirms from beginning to end. Refusing to accept that warning, motivated by God’s life-giving love for us, separates people from His eternal love. Satan is an expert at blinding people to that truth & what comes naturally to us aligns with the will of the “prince of the power of the air.”
Hope cannot be found in us. Paul paints the direst picture, “…we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body & the mind, & were by nature children of wrath...” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV) Turning inward to find our true self only solidifies us in death, chained to our sins & eternally cut off from the love of Jesus. “What is a dead man supposed to do?” The answer is simple = keep on dying! If you feel like your Christian walk isn’t accomplishing a whole lot, neither working harder nor working smarter will be the answer. You need to die more if you want to accomplish more – die to yourself, die to your desires, die to your will. In the Gospel reading, Jesus gave us a picture of that through a very broken man:
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
Our desires & our will come from our sinful nature. It needs to die so that our saintly nature can take over. The tax collector was killing his desires, his will, his sinful nature through repentance. His prayer was not just a one-time thing because of one really bad decision. He realized that everything about himself was wrong & he needed God’s mercy.
Likewise, you & I are so messed up by sin that our Christian walk will always be a struggle in this life. That is the nature of being a child of God in the here & now. As he begins writing this 2nd chapter of Ephesians, Paul is encouraging us & exhorting us to keep on dying every day – keep on dying to our old self so that the Holy Spirit may daily raise up the new self.
Through the law of the ten commandments, we can see our failures & our need for God’s mercy. In verse 4, Paul tells us, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...” (Ephesians 2:4 ESV) In baptism, God takes dead people & makes them alive.
But God doesn’t just raise us from the dead so we can live a life of self-fulfillment, & like the Pharisee, brag about our religious accomplishments. Paul began the chapter & ends verse ten with the same word. It brings together this whole section: “And you were dead in the trespasses & sins in which you once walked… For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1-2, 10 ESV) In Greek, to walk means to live. How you walk describes how you live.
Instead of walking in trespasses & sins, Paul encourages you to walk in good works, which God prepared beforehand just for you. Christianity is no one size fits all operation. Our Creator creates good works for each of us, customized to the unique gifts that each of us has been given. None of our Christian lives will look the same, but they are all in Christ.
For now our lives are a constant struggle as God is shaping & molding us, against our sinful will, into the image of His Son. In the big picture, that we now can see only dimly, God has made us alive together with Christ, “So that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7 ESV)
You know where that is & your soul longs to be there. The coming ages are the eternal life in heaven. There we will see & experience perfectly the immeasurable riches of the heavenly Father’s grace. This life, this walk, is a tremendous struggle though it’s not without blessing. In heaven, all the struggle will be gone. No more dying to self will be needed.
“What’s a dead man supposed to do?” Keep dying, & remember that, in Christ, you are no longer dead, but alive. Remember that you don’t need to dream up the good works which God wants you to do. He’s already chosen them & prepared them, in advance, so that you just live them out, & that also by the grace of God.
In the OT reading, Cain is a picture of the sons of disobedience. He was a corpse in the trespasses & sins in which he still walked. He refused the life that God offered him & thus remained dead. The good works that God prepared in advance for Cain to do all went for naught. Even as children of God we can refuse to walk in the good works that He prepared for us. That’s what the tax collector was recognizing in the Gospel reading. The Holy Spirit empowered him to repent of sin & seek God’s mercy. So he died to self instead of dying to God as the Pharisee was doing. As God’s children, we are no longer dead to God, but we aren’t in heaven either. We live in the “in between” state, alive in Christ but still struggling with Satan.
That’s why Jesus promised to be with us even to the end of this age. His victory is guaranteed, yet the battle continues. We can fight those battles with joyful hope because we know the outcome, & because if we turn back to Jesus in our failures He will forgive our sins.
Jesus will erase the evil we have done & He will, in some other way, accomplish the good we have left undone. God is faithful, & perfect & almighty. When we take our faith out of the tiny, private compartment in which we’re tempted to hide it, Yahweh will do amazing things. If we leave it there, yet turn to Him for mercy, He will still do amazing things.
“What’s a dead man supposed to do?” Keep dying to yourself & God will make you alive in Christ. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace & favor; good works cannot avert our doom, they help & save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer. Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone & rests in Him unceasing; & by its fruits true faith is known, with love & hope increasing. For faith alone can justify, works serve our neighbor & supply the proof that faith is living. Amen. LSB 555:1 & 9.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet