When we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ. Ephesians 2:5
It’s all very well for Jesus to be raised from the dead. But what about us? What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make for us? And what difference does it make for us right now in this life? Yes, on that great and final day, when we all stand before God, we will need two things. We will stand before God with no credit cards, no advanced degrees, no record contracts. We will have nothing of this world. What every one of us will need on that great and final day is two things only. We will need the cross of Jesus to cover our sins, and we will need the resurrection of Jesus to conquer our deaths. But what about now? How does the resurrection of Jesus help us today?
Ephesians 2:1-9 gives us an amazing insight. It’s a diagnostic for understanding what’s going on inside us, because that’s where the resurrection of Jesus starts now – way down in our core being. So let’s pay attention to what’s really going on inside us. What is energizing us? Is it the dynamics of death, or the dynamics of life? When we look at ourselves and others, we tend to notice the surface: Democrat versus Republican, rich versus poor, cool versus uncool. But the gospel reveals our deepest interiority, which is the same in us all. And the Bible is saying, what’s happening inside us all is either death or life. That’s how much is at stake. If you’re fed up with dying inside and are open to coming alive, the risen Jesus is today giving himself away to people who long to taste life for a change. Let’s think it through.
Death comes naturally
And you were dead in the trespasses and 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 and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3
That is serious. It is saying that evil is not simply what we choose; evil is part of what we are. And that makes one thing obvious. When we come to God, we aren’t doing him any favors. We aren’t bringing to the table anything that benefits him. And what God brings to the table is not a little help here and there, a little patching up of this and that. What God brings to us is a resurrection from the dead. Our problem is not that we are weak; our problem is that we are dead. We’re lugging around an innate deadness to God. Our God-connection malfunctions. Our hearts are alive to many things in this world – money, for starters. But we are not surging with a vivacious love for God at the core of our beings.
Just the opposite. We think a little sin will spice our lives up. We think, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” We think we can leave our past behind and get free and experience some exciting new things far from God. And we’ve all taken that journey. “Dead in our trespasses” means we have all bolted and run. We have all run from the path of life. We thought God was narrow and confining, so we struck out on our own. Did it work?
Our trespasses are obvious and bold. But verse 1 also says we are “dead in our sins.” This word “sins” is different. This word means failings and omissions. Trespasses are defiant. But we also sin. That means we fail to do good things, we omit good things. Nice people stay at home and behave themselves, but their lives lack purpose and joy and even real goodness. Nice people are hypocrites. The reason they aren’t out there with the rebels is cowardice. And that’s a form of deadness too.
So what we all have in common is this deadness to God in both our trespasses and sins. Here’s how we see how dead we are. It’s obvious in our stuckness, our impasse, our inability to change. We can change our politics. We can change a lot. But we can’t just choose our way out of our deadness to God. Dead people can’t leverage their way to life. That is what the Bible is saying. It is very serious.
It gets worse. Not only are we dead at a personal level, but we also live in a culture of death. Verse 2 refers to “the course of this world,” that is, our whole way of life as a society. One translation puts it this way: “You drifted along on the stream of this world’s ideas of living.” Can any of us say, “No, I am a completely independent person, and I totally think for myself”? Verse 3 says we’re all involved, “. . . like the rest of mankind.” We’re limited to what we are personally, and we’re part of a culture of death and shared evil, with no exceptions. Isn’t it fascinating that no perfect society has ever appeared in all of human history? It’s not as though some cultures were failures, but other cultures learned from them and rose up above it all. We don’t learn from history. We keep making the same mistakes. There are flashes of brilliance here and there – ancient Athens, the Renaissance, and so forth. But every society eventually goes corrupt and weakens and dies. We are dead culturally – capable of high points, but we can’t keep it up for more than a few generations. Death is too strong.
It gets worse. The devil is involved. Verse 2: “the prince of the power of the air.” That’s Satan. Which is very creepy. But why does the Bible call him “the prince of the power of the air”? Because Satan’s influence is not isolated. It’s not as though there are dark places only here and there. Satan’s influence in this world is pervasive. It’s the air we breathe, so to speak. We don’t even know what it’s like not to swim in a daily ocean of temptation and seduction. It doesn’t mean people are having séances in their homes every night. It means this, for example. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and “the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan is a compulsive liar. He builds his influence on lies. He inspires us to lie. And we hardly know how to get through a day without lying. The whole world runs on lies. The government lies to us. Advertisers lie to us. What if, for just one day, everyone was completely honest? It would be disorienting, even alarming. We feel comfortable in a world of fraudulence. But how would we cope with a world of truth? Our whole lives are a lie, if we’re projecting an image rather than admitting the truth. Posing and pretending are forms of death. They keep us from God. Which is what Satan wants.
This is us. This is our world. And Satan is involved. And it’s deeper than an easy choice. It is our nature. We are so bad that we literally deserve the wrath of God. Verse 3: “. . . by nature children of wrath.” And isn’t that a cheerful Easter message?
We might think God would just wipe us out and start all over again. But no. Look what the Bible says in verses 4-9.
Life comes supernaturally
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—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:4-9
I’m grateful for those first two words: “But God . . . .” We are personally dead to God. But God. There is nowhere in the world we can go to escape social breakdown. But God. Satan has a file on every one of us, with a plan to bring us down, he’s working his plan, he knows our weak spots, he is brilliant, and he never sleeps. But God. It doesn’t say, “But you. You weren’t doing well. But you figured it out. You rose to the challenge. Way to go!” It doesn’t say that, because the Bible is honest with us. The Bible says, “But God . . . .” Our hope, our only hope, is God. May there be a great turning to God in this church today.
What then is God like? How is God a solid hope? What is his nature, his heart, toward people like us? Verse 4: “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.” We are by nature against God, and God is by nature for us. God is – before the Bible tells us what God does, it tells us what God is – “But God, being rich in mercy . . . .” God is rich with mercy, God has a wealth of mercy, a surplus of mercy, an ocean of mercy. What if we waded out into that ocean? What if we drowned in that ocean? Would that be so bad? Here’s what you must know about God. His ocean of mercy is more than a choice; it is his nature. It is how God loves – not parceling it out carefully, pennies at a time, making sure it doesn’t cost too much. That’s how we love. But God loves with his whole heart. God is rich with mercy, and he’s a big spender. And no sinner has ever come to God for mercy and depleted him. No one ever will. However much mercy you need for the most inexcusable, the most seriously evil thing you’ve ever done, you won’t even be scratching the surface of the mercy of God. In fact, the more mercy you need, the more mercy God feels toward you. The more blessing you need, the more God will give. And God will delight to bestow it. God will feel satisfaction in spending his mercy on you. Stop thinking God is like you, only bigger. God is not like you at all. God loves the undeserving with all that is within him. There is nothing in God that would hold back. There is no reluctance in God, no cost-benefit calculating. What does the Bible say? “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . .” It’s who God is. Whoever you may be, that’s who God is.
And here is what God does: “He made us alive together with Christ.” God works miracles. God brings life to the dead and the exhausted and the fed up. That is how the resurrection of Jesus is relevant to us today. God is sending the resurrection life of Jesus to dead people like us.
Here’s what this means. Deep inside every one of us is a dimmer switch, like the one in your dining room at home. We’re born with that switch turned all the way down. There is darkness with us, and the switch is too deep inside us for us to reach inside ourselves and turn it on. But God is able to reach into us at that deep level. God is able to get inside our interiority and turn the lights back on, so that we come alive to God. In his great love and mercy, God can touch us deeply. And the new aliveness he gives is nothing less than the resurrection life of Jesus. It is total miracle. It isn’t part you and part God. It is all of God. It is the mercy and love of God raising the dead. You don’t have to deserve it. It is all of grace. You don’t have to cause it. It is all of his power. Verse 8 says this newness of life is the gift of God. You just receive it, with the empty hands of faith.
Jesus died on the cross to pay the just penalty for your sins. Jesus died under the wrath of God, so that you don’t have to die under the wrath of God. The death of Jesus settled the question, Can God love a sinful, selfish, worn-out person like me, who can bring nothing to God but need? And the clear answer is yes.
Then Jesus rose again on that Easter morning, to share his eternal life with us. We need forgiveness for our sins. But we also need resurrection for our deadness. God provides for our total need in our total Savior Jesus, crucified and resurrected. And it’s not as though we caught God in a good mood. We’ve already seen that the life of Jesus comes to us out of God’s rich mercy and great love. Verse 7 takes it further. God’s whole point is to show people like us how kind he can forever: “. . . so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Did you know heaven will unfold in ages? “. . . in the coming ages.” I wonder how that will go. Maybe God will start out with an age of healing, maybe a thousand years of deep, satisfying healing soaking down into the roots of our anguish and sorrow. Then maybe an age of partying, for another thousand years, with Jesus as our host at a great feast, and we’ll eat like royalty and never get full, never gain weight, but only enjoy one course after another of his sweet heavenly food, with toasts to our dear Savior, who will be enjoying every minute of it with us. Whatever you would enjoy, with Jesus as your kind companion, you will receive throughout “the coming ages” nothing but kindness. That is the purpose of God. That is what his heart is set on.
All he asks of us, all we can do, is open up and take him. Your dead heart will tell you God is bad risk. Your dying culture will tell you this world is your only happiness. The devil will tell you that you’re too far gone for God to help you. But if the Holy Spirit is speaking to you today, then this is your moment to turn from yourself, from this world, from Satan, and receive God’s grace with the empty hands of faith. If you will, he will make you alive with Jesus, never to die. He will raise you up with Jesus, never to fall away. He will seat you high above, enthroned with Jesus, never again to be dominated by Satan. That is God’s promise to you today, if you will receive his grace in Christ. Will you, right now?