• Let Us Pray: Bless be You O Lord God Heavenly Father who has made Your grand plan of salvation known to us through Your Holy Spirit.¬† This plan of Salvation was to send Your only and only Son to be born of the same flesh as us, live a perfect life, die an innocent death only to take upon Him our sins, and rise again.¬† We thank You for these and all other gifts You have bestowed upon us.¬† Send now Your Spirit to work in our heart to receive Your word, and put it into practice.¬† We entrust this petition to Your Son Jesus, who reigns with You Holy Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.¬† Amen.
  • Background: Our Epistle for today is Eph 1:3-14.¬†Theologians familiar with OT forms of prayer recognize this passage as a ‚ÄúBerakah‚ÄĚ.¬† ‚ÄúBerakah‚ÄĚ is a Hebrew word for bless, and so a prayer such as ‚Äúbless be You O Lord God Heavenly Father‚Ķ‚ÄĚ could be considered a Berakah.¬†
    • A Berakah prayer focuses on the work of God and blesses God for the work He has done.¬†The Berakah has been used in Jewish liturgical worship for three millennia.¬† Liturgical Christians such as us Lutherans have borrowed much of the Jewish worship culture to form an order of worship very similar to Jewish practices of the OT.¬† For example, we will pray in the Communion liturgy just before the Lord‚Äôs Prayer, a prayer that starts out with a Berakah.¬† Additionally, Jesus taught us to pray, ‚Äúour Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name‚Ķ‚ÄĚ.¬† It is always good to start a prayer blessing the Lord, not just because of the Berakah we have before us on today, but that Jesus also taught us to start prayers in this fashion.
      • A really good example of a Berakah in the OT is when the prophet Daniel faced death along with all of the other wisemen of the government of King Nebuchadnezzar.¬†To recall, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and wanted it interpreted for him.¬† No sweat, right?¬† Maybe they can fake it with some sort of plausible interpretation.¬† How would the king ever know?¬† One small problem: Nebuchadnezzar wouldn‚Äôt tell anyone the details of the dream.¬†They were to interpret the dream by already knowing the details.¬† Daniel, and his friends who later get tossed into a fiery furnace, were summoned to be killed, but Daniel, without having any idea about the dream or what was going on, requested an appointment with the king in order to interpret his dream.¬†Daniel then went to his house and told Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, (you known them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) 18¬†and told them to seek mercy from the¬†God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not¬†be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19¬†Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in¬†a vision of the night. Then Daniel¬†blessed the¬†God of heaven.[1]
        • Imagine the relief you would have felt had you been Daniel, facing execution at the hands of a madman who was about to kill all of the wise men of Babylon because they couldn‚Äôt interpret a dream.¬† Imagine the praise you would have for God who gave you the details of the dream and its interpretation so that you weren‚Äôt beheaded on the spot when you met with the king during the appointment you set with him to interpret the dream.¬†
        • This is how the berakah of Daniel went ‚Äď 20¬†Daniel answered and said: ‚ÄúBlessed be the name of God forever and ever,¬†to whom belong wisdom and might. 21¬†He changes times and seasons;¬†he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise¬†and knowledge to those who have understanding; 22¬†he reveals deep and hidden things;¬†he knows what is in the darkness,¬†and the light dwells with him. 23¬†To you, O¬†God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for¬†you have given me wisdom and might,¬†and have now made known to me what¬†we asked of you,¬†for you have made known to us the king's matter.‚ÄĚ[2]
        • Do you make it a point to pray a berakah like this when the Lord saves your neck?¬† There are times in our life when it is very appropriate to say a berakah style of prayer to the Lord when His blessings touch you in a very personal and maybe even an unspectacular way.
        • Notice there isn‚Äôt anything in the prayer except an acknowledgement of who God is and what He has done.¬† That doesn‚Äôt mean there couldn‚Äôt be requests of the Lord.¬†The Second Commandment requires us to bring everything before the Lord in prayer.¬† The point is there needs to be times in our life when we are just grateful before the Lord and making it a point to praise and thank Him for who He is and what He has done for the world and for us personally.
  • Analysis: Peter‚Äôs opening berakah to his epistle in 1Pe 1:3-5 was 53 words long in the Greek[3].¬† Sentences that length will earn you the privilege to repeat English class, because that length would be considered a run-on sentence in any writing class.¬†However, Paul topped Peter‚Äôs berakah word length by about four times.¬† ¬†Let‚Äôs spend a few moments looking into Paul‚Äôs berakah prayer of Ephesians Ch#1.¬† Please refer to the bulletin insert to read along as I touch on some highlights.¬†
    • Eph 1:3-14 is one long sentence totaling 204 words in the Greek[4]! Paul wasn‚Äôt just making a point to bless the Triune God; he was making a blessing for each of three members of the Triune Godhead, and what each did in their part of the primordial plan for saving mankind from its sins.
      • God the Father is acknowledged, as is His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit ‚Äď all in verse 3.¬† But in vv3-6, God the Father is the focus of the blessing.¬† We see here where the Father chose all believers for Himself already before any human being breathed their first breath.¬† The Father knew we would be created in His own perfect image, only to screw it up by rebelling from His simple command to not eat of only one of the trees found in paradise.¬† Everything else was fair game to eat and enjoy, except for the fruit of one tree.¬†We, like our first parents, have been in rebellion ever since, but the Father nonetheless created us and planned out a way for us to be reconciled to Him and our being a perfect image of Him restored.¬† That is the Lutheran understanding of ‚Äúpredestination‚ÄĚ: we all have original and persistent sin in our soul.¬† God made provision to cleanse all who are baptized and believe in Jesus so that we could become His adopted sons.¬† If there were no means of being cleansed, we would be forever separated from Him ‚Äď in hell.¬†
        • Some religions believe that God predestined some people to hell and others into heaven, even before they were conceived. However, that is not what is in the scriptures.¬† God would have everyone be saved and gathered together with Him in heaven. (1Tim 2:4)¬† But, He will not violate the sovereignty of our free will. He will respect the wishes of those people who want nothing to do with Him.¬† They will get their wish granted on Judgement Day.¬† They will head straight to hell where they will be away from God eternally.
      • Paul then prayed a berakah devoted to Jesus, the Father‚Äôs Son in vv7-12.¬† Jesus fulfilled the plan of redemption.¬† Jesus was predestined by the Triune Godhead to work forgiveness of sins by the shedding of His own blood.¬† Through Christ‚Äôs obedience and redemption, we become part of Him in baptism, which makes us an adopted son of the Father, because Jesus *IS* the begotten Son of the Father.
      • And lastly, Paul prayed a berakah devoted to the Holy Spirit in vv13-14.¬† Because of the enabling of us sinners to hear the Word of Truth which is the Gospel of our salvation, the Holy Spirit came into us at baptism and remains in us as the deposit of our inheritance.¬† We do not have to wait to die and go to heaven to receive benefits from God the Holy Spirit.¬† We have peace from our sins in the Age because the Holy Spirit continuously testifies in our soul of the saving grace we have through Christ.¬† You might be taking that peace for granted, because your sins might not be troubling you.¬† However, remember the story of Sarah Winchester from a sermon last summer, and how she believed if she kept building onto her house, somehow the blood guilt of selling firearms that killed people would appease the spirits of those who died from a Winchester gun?¬† She did not have the peace which surpasses all human understanding which God provides. (Phil 4:7)
    • I mentioned a moment ago, we became adopted sons of God the Father through Jesus who is God‚Äôs only begotten Son.¬† As you see in the bulletin insert, the words ‚Äúin whom‚ÄĚ (Greek:ŠľźőĹ Šĺß) are underlined.¬†Whenever you see these words, they always refer to Jesus in whom we are baptized. ¬†Our baptism made us a part of Jesus!¬† We will discuss this in greater detail next week on Epiphany Sunday.
      • Jesus, the second member of the Triune Godhead, coming to us in the flesh is why Christmas was such a big deal for believers of the OT as well as NT eras.¬† God came to us in the flesh (1Jn 4:2), and lived a perfect life we could not live.¬† He then became the one perfect sacrifice for all of our sins.¬† If God had not become one of us, His sacrifice would not have been claimable by any of us.¬† If no sacrifice, we would still be in our sins.¬† We would have no hope whatsoever in our life without redemption from our sins.¬†We would be born, live a crummy life with all the heartbreaks and disappointments, and then die.¬† After that, where would we wind up without our Lord?¬†Indeed, we should say with the Apostle Paul, ‚Äúblessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every blessing of the Spirit in the heavenly places in Christ!‚ÄĚ
    • The Apostle Paul also wrote in our text by inspiration the Holy Spirit was given to us as a deposit on our inheritance of eternal life with Christ. (vv13-14, 1Pe 1:4)¬†Whenever we have to leave a deposit on something, say for example renting a moving van, it is done to provide some assurance that we will bring the moving van back to the place which rented the van out.¬† God has such integrity, He left a deposit in each baptized soul which serves as an assurance of our ability to one day claim the place Jesus prepared for each of us in heaven.¬† I ask you, did God really need to leave a deposit of anything for us?¬† Was He ever suspected of skipping town without a trace and therefore we needed to have some assurance that His word was good?¬† If you ask me, it‚Äôs the other way around; we should be leaving some sort of assurance.¬† The problem is we have nothing to leave on deposit.¬† God understands that and this is why His Spirit is in us. ¬†Our citizenship in heaven is assured (Phil 3:20-21), and He reminds us in the midst of the discouragement we endure.
  • Conclusion: In watching TV shows which reviewed 2020, it was clear to me no one thought 2020 was a good year.¬† People on both sides of the political spectrum thought 2020 was horrible.¬† Is 2021 going to be any better?
    • Whether it will be or not, no one knows, but we do know we can pray a berakah of our own each day, because of the deposit of an inheritance we will receive one day in our eternal life due to our sins being forgiven. ¬†Psalm 106 is a Psalm which starts out with - Praise the¬†Lord! Oh give thanks to the¬†Lord,¬†for he is good,¬†for his steadfast love endures forever!¬† Words of praise and blessing follow.¬† After that, for almost 40 verses, there are words of confession of sins and the consequences of sins committed by the Israelites who were redeemed by God from the slavery of Egypt.¬† And then, words of a blessing pronounced upon the Lord are written.¬† It wouldn‚Äôt hurt to take some time this week and read through Psalm 106 each day as a start toward being much more appreciative of what God has done for you in 2020.¬† We are still all here.¬† We are in one piece.¬† The effects the doomsayers on TV news have not happened.
    • What we need to be doing in 2021 and beyond is act like the King‚Äôs kids who trust in the Lord as we face whatever happens in 2021.¬† The Apostle Paul provided a short list in Colossians Ch#3 of things King‚Äôs kids need to concentrate on doing.¬† You must put away:¬†8¬†But now¬†you must put them all away:¬†anger, wrath, malice,¬†slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.¬†9¬†Do not lie to one another, seeing that¬†you have put off¬†the old self with its practices¬†10¬†and¬†have put on¬†the new self,¬†which is being renewed in knowledge¬†after the image of¬†its creator.¬† Paul goes on to say - 12¬†Put on then, as¬†God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,¬†compassionate hearts,¬†kindness,¬†humility, meekness, and patience,¬†13¬†bearing with one another and,¬†if one has a complaint against another,¬†forgiving each other;¬†as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.¬†14¬†And above all these put on¬†love, which¬†binds everything together in¬†perfect harmony.¬†15¬†And let¬†the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called¬†in one body. And¬†be thankful.¬† These are indeed stout New Years resolutions, but we can accomplish all this and more through Him who strengthens us. (Phil 4:13)
    • What more is there to say about the game plan for 2021 than what the Psalmist wrote in Ps 106:48 - 48¬†Blessed be the¬†Lord, the God of Israel,¬†from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‚ÄúAmen!‚Ä̬†¬†Praise the¬†Lord!

[1] Dan 2:18-19 from ESV at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%202&version=ESV

[2] IBID, Dan 2:20-23

[3] Word count made from iPad app from Blue Letter Bible of the mGNT

[4] Winger, Thomas M, Concordia Commentary: Ephesians, Concordia Publishing House, St Louis, MO, 2015 p.210