March 12, 2017
Coloring outside the lines again…
Ephesians 2:1-10 – A favorite
Let’s read it.
OK, I preached on this a few weeks ago, and I could do so again today, but I want to show you how beautiful God’s story is, how wonderfully connected and interwoven.
Has anyone ever said to you that the Bible is just a bunch of made-up stories? As a writer, here’s the thing that doesn’t make sense about that: All of the “made-up stories” fit together so perfectly. So many different writers working separately across more than a thousand years of time and many hundreds of miles of space would have a desperately hard time creating a fiction as elegant as the truth we have in the Word of God.
Consider how Paul’s account of God’s grace dovetails with the Old Testament story of Mephibosheth.
Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, the first earthly king of Israel. I use the term “earthly,” because Israel always had a king. In Isaiah 44, verse 6, God made it clear He had always been the nation’s king: “This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God.”
In fact, when the people of Israel demanded that Samuel appoint a king for them so that they could be like the other nations, God told Samuel, “They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me.”
So God gave Israel a king like those of the other nations. Saul looked kingly, and he did the things that Samuel warned them that kings would do. God warned them this way in 1 Samuel Chapter 8:
11“He will draft your sons, make them serve on his chariots and horses, and make them run ahead of his chariots.
12 He will appoint them to be his officers over 1,000 or over 50 soldiers, to plow his ground and harvest his crops, and to make weapons and equipment for his chariots.
13 He will take your daughters and have them make perfumes, cook, and bake.
14 He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his officials.
15 He will take a tenth of your grain and wine and give it to his aids and officials.
16 He will take your male and female slaves, your best cattle,[a] and your donkeys for his own use.
17 He will take a tenth of your flocks.
In addition, you will be his servants.
So the people of Israel got what they had asked for, and it wasn’t good. Saul was an evil man, haunted by demons, and he was a terrible king.
Eventually things turned out badly for Saul, and we don’t have time to go into that today, but his grandson, Mephibosheth, was caught up in the turmoil that beset the kingdom after Saul’s death.
When she heard of the deaths of Saul and his son Jonathan in battle with the Philistines at Gilboa, Mephibosheth’s nurse took him up and fled. In her haste, she appears to have dropped him, and he was crippled in both feet. That would have made him unfit to ascend to the throne under the traditions of that time and place. Nonetheless, there was also the tradition of a new king taking steps to assure there would be no competition for his throne, so the nurse had some reason to worry, and she took him to Lo-debar, among the mountains of Gilead, where he was raised with a prominent family.
There, he lived a low-key life, out of what he might well have considered a dangerous spotlight.
But there came a time when David was thinking of his great friend Jonathan, and here we’ll see how all this ancient history ties in with Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.
Turn with me to 2 Samuel, chapter 9, and let’s see how beautifully God’s Word is woven.
Read 2 Samuel 9:1-13
Let’s look at some of the parallels:
Dr. William Smith, author of “Smith’s Bible Dictionary,” says this about Mephibosheth: “His life is a series of disasters, disappointments, and anxieties. It is a weary, broken, dispirited soul that speaks in all his utterances.”
Compare this to our focus passage in Ephesians 2, from vv. 1-3
- “dead in your transgressions and sins”
- “followed the ways of this world”
- “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature”
- “by nature objects of wrath”
Just as Mephibosheth, we were broken and desperate in our sin. Just as Mephibosheth, we were crippled and unable to do anything to save ourselves. Note that Mephibosheth didn’t come to David on his own. David had him brought.
- 4 — “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved.”
We can imagine mercy, perhaps, but grace is something of a different order.
The wages of sin is death, scripture tells us. A king has every right to banish those who disobey him, even to have them killed. Our spiritual banishment or death is completely within the rights of a perfectly just God when we respond with rebellion.
Look back at verse 4 — and particularly in the King James Version. “But God.”
When we see those two words together in the Bible, something big is about to happen. “But God … hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Which leads us to another of the parallels. God didn’t stop with showing us mercy.
David could have stopped with mercy. He could have simply ended with “Mephibosheth, do not fear” and sent the poor man back to his home.
But David took it to the next level. He lavished grace on Mephibosheth:
- He gave him all of Saul’s land.
- He made Ziba, Saul’s servant, the servant of Mephibosheth.
- And he commanded that Mephibosheth be allowed to eat at David’s royal table “like one of the king’s sons.”
And think about how that would have worked. Mephibosheth was lame in both feet — in fact, the account in 2 Samuel circles back around to that fact after recounting all of David’s pronouncements. Sitting at the low tables of that time would have been difficult, at best. Even if the royal table had included chairs — which it might have, based on the description of David sitting in a seat at Saul’s table — it’s hard for a crippled person to negotiate on his own.
So even accepting the grace David gave him was something Mephibosheth couldn’t do on his own. Think of the parallel we see with how the Holy Spirit enables and empowers our connections with God.
As the passage in Ephesians states, “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves – it is the gift of God. Not by works lest any man should boast.” All of this is God’s work, not ours.
Later in 2 Samuel, we see Saul’s servant, Ziba, try to turn David against Mephibosheth, and there’s a beautiful account of the love for David that this grace-bought man has for his King.
David had been in exile during his son, Absalom’s rebellion, and when he returned Ziba lied and told him Mephibosheth had been plotting for the throne. When David later encountered Mephibosheth, we see a picture of a man who actually was mourning the absence of his redeemer.
2 Samuel 19:24
We see the mourning in his appearance, and then we hear his account of wonder at David’s grace in Verse 28.
When we recognize the incredible wonder of God’s grace, how can we not speak in similar fashion?
We were as dead men before the Lord our King.
Those might be the two most important words in today’s lesson: But God…
Our salvation has nothing to do with our own goodness. It’s all about God’s goodness. And the more we grow in grace, the more broken we should become by that thought.
Here’s a quote I want to leave you with, from author and pastor A.W. Pink:
“Growth in grace is growth downward. It is the forming of a lower estimate of ourselves. It is a deepening realization of our nothingness. It is a heartfelt recognition that we are not worthy of the least of God’s mercies.”
Mephibosheth surely understood that concept in relation to his king. And in his story, we see a wonderful depiction in human terms of the supernatural grace Paul talks about in this letter to the Ephesians.
Isn’t God’s word a beautiful thing?