A soldier in WWII was dodging enemy bullets and was able to jump into a fox hole. As he landed, he felt something beneath his hand and picked it up. It was a crucifix. Just at that time another soldier jumped into the same fox hole, and it was a chaplain. The first soldier looked at him, showed him the crucifix and asked, “How do you work this thing?” Have you ever wanted to know the answer to that question yourself? How do we work the cross? Maybe the better question is: how does the cross work us?
Our 2019 Lenten season series of messages is all about how well we see God in our lives and especially for today, how well do we see how God has been and is at work in us, through us and all around us.
If we are going to journey toward Easter this Lenten season, let’s jump right in and look at the Easter story from Paul’s perspective – and our perspective! We who were dead have been made alive – by God. We deserve to stay dead, but God wants us all alive. Before coming to faith, we did only those things that interested or intrigued us. But now that we have been made alive in Christ, we do good things for God’s glory.
Having a right vision of how God works starts by discovering and celebrating the 4-step process of Easter – or maybe better said, the four steps out of the tomb.
Step #1. We were spiritually dead. Paul tells us in verses 1-4 that we were spiritually dead. Now, let’s be honest, no one wanted to be told that they are like a dead person. But the truth is that because of sin and because of our own sinful desires and because of a me first and “it’s all about me” attitude, lifestyle and actions we are spiritually dead. John Wesley referred to this pre-faith existence as being spiritually asleep. Others would say we were dead men or women walking and we didn’t even know it. Isn’t it amazing to discover how much we know when we look back at the days when we didn’t even know what we didn’t know? Yogi Berra’s elementary teacher once told him following his failing of a test one day, “Yogi, I don’t think you know anything about this subject!” Yogi replied, “I don’t even suspect anything!” But along comes step two:
Step #2. God’s grace in action. Paul then reminds us in verses 5-7 that God acted first to save us even though we were deserving of God’s wrath. Because of God’s grace: God’s undeserved love for us in action, God made us alive with Christ and seated us with Jesus in the heavenly realms. Grace is receiving something we don’t deserve (salvation – abundant and eternal life through faith in Jesus). Mercy is not receiving something we do deserve (eternal punishment).
Not only are we forgiven by God, we are raised with Christ. Salvation is God’s gift from beginning to end and we don’t play a major role in it. When we start to think we do, we start focusing on our own “works” and not God’s grace which takes us back to where we started in this mess – by being self-focused instead of Jesus-focused. And here is where this gift of grace is even more amazing:
Step #3. God’s work is on display for all to see through our daily response to God’s grace. Paul tells us in verses 8-9 that we have been saved by grace and made alive through faith – not anything we have done, but through everything Jesus has done for us. We didn’t earn our salvation, we’ve done absolutely nothing. Jesus has done it all! And each day, we are like God’s trophy case on display for all to see showing God’s transforming power in us that reveals God’s mercy and grace that is available to everyone.
It is only when we come to that place of faith that we see it. And when we see it, we worship and love our Lord Jesus. We then begin to see others as God does and we care for and care about them because God cares and loves them the same way God loves us!
Step #4. We live our true purpose. Verse 10 tells us that the purpose for our salvation is to do the things for God we were always created and called by God to do for God’s glory! Our good works are always a response to the grace and mercy we receive from the Lord. We don’t earn, nor do we deserve God’s life changing grace; it is freely offered and freely received. And we have the great joy of showing others how God’s grace changed us and can change them too.
A young man was walking along a country road and saw an elderly farmer planting a tree. He walked up to him and started a conversation about what type of tree was being planted. The farmer told him it was a peach tree. The younger man said, “You certainly don’t expect to eat any peaches from this tree, do you?” The farmer replied, “No I don’t. But I am paying back all of those who planted trees long before I came along that provided me with peaches throughout my lifetime.”
The grace of God makes the living dead become the resurrected living!
Remember that right vision for a disciple of Jesus is to see God’s working in us and other believers in such a way that we become a living Easter where our spiritual resurrection is on display revealing God’s grace at work that is available for all.
So, back to the story of the soldier and chaplain in the fox hole together. Do we still wonder how to work the cross…or…can we now see how the cross works us?