Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 24:40 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we enter this new year—this new Year of Our Lord—no one has any idea what is going to happen. If you think you can predict what is going to happen, consider New Year’s Eve 2019, and think about whether anyone could have predicted what would happen in 2020. No one can see the future. No one knows what’s going to happen even five minutes from now. It seems like it all happens by chance. Things happen, we make choices, and no one can predict the outcome. Things happen to us, and it seems to be by chance, since we cannot see what’s going to happen.
But St. Paul reminds us here, at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, that God leaves nothing to chance. How many times here does Paul talk about God’s purpose, plan, will, decision, choosing beforehand? Over and over and over. And all of that will and plan and purpose is wrapped up in Christ. I haven’t counted, but maybe 10 times, a dozen times, in these few verses, Paul says “in Christ,” “in Him,” “in whom,” “in the Beloved.” In Ephesians, as in God’s salvation, nothing happens that isn’t in Christ.
God leaves nothing to chance. He has everything in order, everything in place, everything in Christ. And God refuses to leave your salvation to chance, so He has taken you up into the redemption that is in Jesus by His blood, and gives you the forgiveness of your sins. All of the spiritual blessings that belong to you because you are in Christ are kept safe in the heavenly places, that is, where Jesus is. As Paul says elsewhere, you have already died, and your life is hidden in Christ with God. And when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will be like Him, because you will see Him in His resurrection glory. There is no spiritual blessing—Jesus, forgiveness, resurrection, life, eternity—that is not yours in Christ. And because it is all with Jesus, it cannot be destroyed or stolen or taken away. God hasn’t left anything to chance: Jesus was conceived, born, lived, suffered, died, raised from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God’s power. It has already happened; it is already finished. And that means that it cannot be altered or changed or taken away. In Christ is your true life. In Him is your forgiveness and salvation. In Him is your resurrection and renewal.
And it was in Him that God chose you to be His own, even before the foundations of this world were laid. We can’t escape time, as the calendar and the clock—or at least the sun and the moon and the seasons—prove to us every single day. But God stands outside time as the one who made time and years and history. And He chose you in Christ before creation itself began. That’s how little God leaves anything to chance. He chose you, and He sent to you someone who would tell you about Jesus, and someone to wrap you up in Jesus’ in baptism, and someone to feed you with Jesus’ body and blood to keep you in Christ, and someone to pray for you.
It all seems sort of like an incredible, impossible long shot, doesn’t it? For God to make all this, and for people and the devil to try to undo His work at every turn, and for God to make a promise that for all the people in the Old Testament was hundreds or thousands of years in the future, and for the word of that promise and its fulfillment to get to God’s creatures. Don’t we ask the question about people we think couldn’t have possibly heard this saving word? What about those hypothetical people? Well, I don’t know, but would a real God have been so short-sighted as to have forgotten that, or worse, not have thought of it at all? Would the God who made all things in the beginning have left them out of His plan? What kind of God do we believe this is?
No, nothing has been left to the changes and chances of life: in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a women. And in the fullness of time, God will sum up everything and bring it all together in the beauty of that Son, both man and God. All things in heaven and all things on earth, all summed up in Christ, who is the head of His Body, the Church. All things, which means no thing is left to chance. In the fullness of time, God brought you, whom He had chosen, to Himself. In the fullness of time, He will bring us to the full inheritance of the Son of God. And He has given us His Holy Spirit as a guarantee, as a down-payment, as the assurance that He will do what He promised to do.
What He promised to do in Christ and by His Holy Spirit is bring you holy and blameless into eternity as you shed your sin and death in death and resurrection. He didn’t leave that “holy and blameless” to chance either, just kind of hoping you’d make it. He loved you and gave Himself up for you to make you holy; He cleansed you by the washing of water with the word, to present you and His entire Church before Him without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
We might hear all of this about God leaving nothing to chance, and predestination, and start to speculate about other people, people whom we might think are not Christians or who aren’t, or who have rejected the salvation of God in Christ. But this word from Ephesians 1 is not a word to you about them. It is a word to you for you and about you. It is a word in the midst of wondering whether God has anything to do with you; when God seems like an abstraction and distant; when you wonder what God thinks about you, or whether God’s word has anything to say to you, then this is a word for you: when everything that happens to you seems random and filled with chance, hear this promise: God has not left anything to chance for you. He knew you, loved you, chose you, to be conformed to the image of His Son. And since He predestined you, He called you, He justified you, He glorified you. All of it in Christ, and all of it to the praise of His glory, to the praise of His glorious grace.
In the midst of everything that appears as pure chance, in the midst of whatever might happen this year, God has not left anything to chance. He has wrapped you up in His Son, for this year, and for eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/1/21