Ephesians — "You were sealed."
Ephesians 1:3 – 14
Pastor Albert Collver
LCMS International Center, 23 January 2012
Today, we begin a preaching series on the book of Ephesians. Saint Paul wrote to the saints in Ephesus around 60 A.D. Ephesus is the place where Saint Paul visited in Acts 19, where “some disciples” had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit because they had been baptized with John’s baptism of repentance. Saint Paul baptized these disciples in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the church was born in Ephesus. The book of Ephesians is a letter written from the Apostle to the Lord’s church; it is pastoral. At the same time the letter is challenging. Ephesians 1, verses 3 to 14 is one giant sentence, that a Greek scholar has called “the most monstrous sentence-conglomerate in all Greek literature.” If you ever studied German, you know that the verb is frequently at the end of the sentence. In Ephesians chapter 1, like a German sentence, the verb appears at the end of the sentence. The “action” of the sentence that extends from verses 3 to 14 is this: “you were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.” This sealing of the Holy Spirit, which like with the first Christians in Ephesus, happened at your baptism is the guarantee of all the other promises in Ephesians chapter 1. The Lord Jesus inspired Saint Paul to write to the Ephesians for their comfort and for ours, so that we can be certain the Lord, who planned salvation before the very foundation of the world, has called you through the waters of Holy Baptism and the teaching of all that he commanded to be his saint, a member of his holy Church.
Now, if you are like me, it is easy to doubt that you “have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.” Quite often, it does not feel as if we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. There is still sin, sickness, and death in our lives. As Saint Paul writes, we still do the things that we do not want to do. Our lives do not live up to the Ten Commandments. There is strife within the church, strife within our families. In the midst of sin, strife, and suffering, it is hard to see that we have been given “every spiritual blessing,” as the Apostle says in verse 3. I imagine that the church in Ephesus felt the same way. This is precisely why the Apostle wrote to them and to us – to provide comfort for doubting consciousness, for people wondering if the Lord’s plan of salvation is for me. Jesus’ answer, “I have called you before the foundation of the earth and have sealed you with the promise of the Holy Spirit.”
The Lord is to be blessed because he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Today, in the field of cosmology, a big question is “what happened before the big bang?” Since in the scientific community, the “big bang” is understood to be the beginning of time, scientists and philosophers debate how can you talk about something before time began. This sort of question is not unlike that asked of Saint Augustine what the Lord was doing before creation. Here Saint Paul gives us a glimpse into what the Lord was doing before Creation. According to Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, he says that the Lord chose us before the foundation of the world. Before creation the Lord Jesus had you in mind. Imagine that! Talk about a life of significance. The Lord chose you his saints before the foundation of the world to be “holy and blameless.” In the Old Testament, to be “holy” is to be set apart. The Lord has set you apart; he has adopted you. In the ancient Roman world, a noble person would on occasion adopt another person as his son to receive his inheritance. Our Father in heaven has adopted you through His Son, Jesus Christ. The blessings and inheritance of Jesus now belong to you.
Around the time of Saint Paul, various pagan and gnostic sects claimed to have the wisdom of God to share with their initiates. In this letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul tells us that the Lord has lavished his Wisdom upon us. The wisdom of God is Jesus and the Lord’s plan of salvation, which is the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus proclaimed to the world and given out through the preaching of His Word and the dispensing of his forgiving gifts – Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. This wisdom that the Lord has lavished upon us is foolishness to the world. Because the world considers the wisdom of God to be foolish, we as recipients of the Lord’s wisdom at times feel as if the Lord’s Word lacks power, or that we are ineffective witnesses to him. Yet, because we have doubts, because we get beaten down, because we wonder why the world does not accept the Gospel … the Lord tells you that He has chosen you, that he elected you before the foundation of the world, that he has sealed you with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Go boldly to your day and to your tasks, for your Lord has called you and made you his children. You have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, given to you in Holy Baptism. You bear the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have been called to be holy and blameless. In Christ Jesus, your sins have been forgiven; you are holy and blameless for his sake before your heavenly Father.
Go in peace.
— Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations