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LWML Sunday

Ephesians 5:1–9

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 17, Proper 22, series A
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Oct 5, 2014 

(Loosely based on the sermon provided by LWML and written by the Rev. Dr. Victor Belton)

In keeping with the theme of this years LWML Sunday, the sermon this morning is based on the reading we recently heard from the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus.  The words of the theme come from Pauls description of Jesus Christ who, as He sacrificed Himself on the cross, became a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians from a jail cell.  He was in jail for preaching Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised from the dead in order to fill all things.  He knew there was a very real possibility that his jail time could end on the chopping block where he would surrender his life for the Gospel.  Never the less, Paul wrote words of encouragement to the saints in Ephesus.

Pauls journey to this jail cell has been full of great changes.  He began his life as an enemy of Jesus Christ.  Now, he was in jail for preaching that same Jesus Christ as savior.

Paul began his life as Saul.  He was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother.  Due to the nature of those two cultures, he was a fairly rare individual.  His Greek father was a Roman citizen and that made Saul a natural born Roman.  At the same time, his Jewish mother gave him the opportunity to practice the Jewish faith.  So, young Saul had the best of both worlds.  He was educated in the best of the Greco-Roman culture and he also studied under the most respected rabbis of the Jewish culture.  The Lord God gave him a brilliant mind and he was on the fast track to success in both cultures.  Little did he know that God was grooming him in this way in order to take the proclamation of the Gospel from the Jewish culture to the western Gentile culture.

Paul described his early life with these words: [Philippians 3:4b6] If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.  To use todays slang, we might say that Saul was a rising rock star among the Pharisees.

Then our Lord, Jesus Christ gave Saul a serious attitude adjustment.  Saul was en route to Damascus in order to find and arrest Christians.  As he traveled, the Lord appeared in glory to him.  Jesus instructed Saul to finish his trip to Damascus and then wait for further instructions.  While Saul waited in Damascus, the Lord sent a pastor to Saul and baptized him.  In this way, the one who persecuted the church became a member of the church.  The persecutor of Christians became a Christian.

The Lord then taught Saul something that all Christians know.  Not only were his works as a Pharisee wrong, but there is NO work that anyone can do to become righteous in Gods sight.  It is exactly as the prophet Isaiah wrote long ago: [Isaiah 64:6b] All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  This means that we even on our best day when we feel really, really good when everything is going our way when we have that wonderful sense of satisfaction at a job well done even this is like a polluted garment in Gods eyes.  We can produce what we think is our best work before God, and we must still repent for it is utterly full of sin.  We want our works to be a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, but they are a reeking stench instead.

Martin Luther preached on todays epistle and said, This expression Paul takes from the Old Testament. There the temporal sacrifices are described as being a sweet-smelling savor unto God: that is, they were acceptable and well-pleasing to him; but not, as the Jews imagined, because of the value of the work or of the sacrifices in themselves.  For such thoughts they were chastised by the prophets often enough.  They were acceptable on the ground of the true sacrifice which they foreshadowed and encircled. Dr. Luther well understood that none of our works reach God as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.

Luther continued and said, Pauls thought is this: The sacrifices of the Old Testament have passed.  Now all sacrifices are powerless but that of Christ himself; he is the sweet-smelling savor.  This sacrifice is pleasing to God.  He gladly accepts it and would have us be confident it is an acceptable offering in our stead.

Once again we are faced with the reality of our fallen condition. We are at once sinners and saints. We have the terrible stain of sin upon us and at the same time have the wonderful promise of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  This wonderful fragrant and gracious sacrifice on our behalf is the one that God receives as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.  This is the ultimate sacrificial offering of the Christs sacrificial work in obedience to our Father.

The sacrificial work of the Christ began as the Holy Spirit came to a virgin named Mary and conceived a son in her womb.  Prophecy proclaimed the birth of this Child and angels sang the birth of this Child.  The shepherds and wise men rejoiced at the birth of this Child and our Father received this miraculous birth as a fragrant sacrifice and offering.

On the eighth day, Joseph and Mary kept the law in the rite of circumcision.  This son received the name Jesus according to the instruction of the angel.  The rite of circumcision dedicated this son back to His Father.  Our Father received this shedding of blood as a fragrant sacrifice and offering.

Jesus turned water into the best wine.  Blind people see, deaf people hear, lame people have their limbs restored, sick people are healed, lepers are cleansed, seas are calmed, demons are cast out, mute people speak, the hungry are fed, demon possessed are delivered, captives are set free, severed ears restored, and if that were not enough, resurrection and life become the new normal. Our Father received all these acts as fragrant sacrifices and offerings.  All of heaven rejoiced because our Father is well pleased, the incense was lit, the fire burned on the altar and the perfect sacrifice, the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24) was shed. The perfect offering was a sweet and fragrant a sacrifice to the Father.  The sweet smelling sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has the power to cover and remove the sin of all humanity for all time.

This is Gods plan and design: that Jesus Christ offer Himself as the perfect fragrant sacrifice and offering the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.  It is through the fragrant sacrifice and offering that the Kingdom of Heaven comes to all who believe in Him.  The fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ redeems us to God and gives us forgiveness, life and salvation.  We are no longer a reeking stench before God.  Instead, Christ covers us in His righteousness and presents us to God the Father as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ not only redeems us to God, but it also redeems our works.  It is the fragrant offering and sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ working salvation in us that establishes a new will in us a new man who desires to do good works.  This new man understands that it is not God who needs our works, but it is our neighbor who needs them.  This new man understands that all our good works are really God working through us in order to love our neighbor.

Empowered by the salvation we have through the fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ the new man understands the power and strength available to him in the faithful study of the Word of God.  He enjoys the unity of Christ among the saints of Christ.  He sees that the confession of the church is nothing else than speaking Gods teachings back to Him.  Confessing the teachings of Christ to the people in our lives becomes nothing other than telling them where they too can have the stench of their sin washed from them by the fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  The donation of mites and other contributions enables that confession of the fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ to travel around the world.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.  By His death, He has become the fragrant offering and sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world and gives us life and salvation.  Repent and believe in the fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of both your body and your soul into life everlasting.  Amen

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