Fourth Sunday in Lent
Readings: Numbers 21. 4-9; Psalm 107. 1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2. 1-10; John 3. 14-21 (view all)
Our daughter Evie is reaching the age now, at 5 years old, where she is establishing her independence. She has begun to be able to play on her own and occupy herself, which is fantastic for me and particularly Amy my wife as it means she gets a bit more time.
But the other development is just how much she knows her own way, and so we’ve reached the stage where getting her to listen to us is becoming very difficult. So we find ourselves having to repeat ourselves again and again in order to get her to listen, which can just be exasperating!
In our epistle, Paul tells the Ephesians that they were once ‘children of wrath’, invoking the image of an exasperating child who just will not listen.
And so, I wonder: How can a look at the whole of this New Testament passage help us to understand God’s response to us as his children?
Well Paul doesn’t mince his words at the beginning of our reading, tell the Ephesians that once they were ‘dead through [their] trespasses and sins’ and ‘disobedient’, following their own desires rather than God’s. He wants them to understand just how exasperating our human behaviour can be!
But then, as his outspoken rant reaches it’s climax, there are two beautiful words: ‘But God…’
The whole passage, just like the whole human story, hinges on those two words. With them, the whole focus of the passage shifts from humanity’s selfishness and sinfulness, to the response of our incredible, loving God who is ‘rich in mercy’.
Out of his great love for us, rather than bringing punishment, God instead chooses to extend grace and mercy and forgiveness.
And we can see the same pattern in Jesus’ words in our gospel reading. We, as humans, have been dragged down by our sin and shame, but God lifted up his son, sending him not to bring judgement and condemnation, but eternal life. Our world has fallen in love with darkness, but God, in Jesus, brings light and love and truth.
How incredible, as Paul puts it, are ‘the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us’!
And all this in order that our original nature as God’s children, might be restored. As Paul concludes, ’For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’
So, I wonder this morning: Do you see yourself as under God’s judgment, or as his beloved child invited into his grace? Are we willing to forgive ourselves in order to be able to really receive God’s forgiveness? Because often we punish ourselves, and can be our own harshest critics. Instead, what might be the good works God has prepared for us to play a part in, and how can we join him in bringing them about?
One of my favourite New Testament theologians, who I’m sure I’ve quoted to you before, Tom Wright, says this his commentary on this passage:
Whenever anyone says, or implies, that God is… a bit stingy, or mean, or small-minded, look at these verses and think again.
Of course, lots of people who are heading at speed in the wrong direction want to think of God like that — just as people who are enjoying their drive don’t like it if someone tells them they’re going the wrong way…
But the crucial factor here, as always, is Jesus himself. Take away his resurrection, and for all anybody knows the road to death is the only road there is. Put it back in the picture, though, and you realise two things. First, there is another way. Second, you are urgently summoned to turn round and follow it.Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone, pp. 20-21.
In Jesus, God offers us his incredible love and grace, and restores us as his beloved children. May we respond to his invitation this morning, as we journey to his table together.
whose blessed Son our Saviour gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.