Just outside those doors, a sizable housing development is underway. As you drove in to church, you saw the evidence: 20 or so homes in stages from a bare foundation to the finished product, new roads and sidewalks and a “watertower” park. It’s captivating to watch this project become a reality right before our eyes. It’s also remarkable to consider that long before the the first earth-mover moved the first yard of earth, before the first foundation was dug, this entire project was nothing more than an plan in a developer’s mind. When it was being proposed, there were skeptics. How’s it all going to fit? Will anyone want to live there? How are you going to get it passed by a village board, which is rumored to be…difficult? That’s why, before Veridian received permission to start their Juniper Ridge project, they had to present a master plan, showing when and what and how they would build those homes and parks and streets. Now when we look out at the finished homes and roads, it seems obvious how it would all go together. But only a few years ago, it was hard to imagine. That’s kind of how it works with God’s good and gracious rule of this world and our lives. It’s hard to grasp and hard to know your place unless you know the plan. This morning, Paul reveals God’s master plan of salvation.
It’s no secret that trying to understand God’s plans can sometimes be confusing and frustrating. As believers, we tend to think we know what he is going to do and we assume that he will act in a way that makes sense to us…right up until he goes and does something we never would have guessed. When unexpected and unwelcome things happen, we can start to wonder why God does some of the things he does and we question his wisdom and even get angry and start accusing God of not being on our side but working against us. Occasionally, the passing of time gives us perspective – we can look back with 20/20 hindsight and say “Oh, yeah, that’s what God was doing. Duh.” But in the moment, God’s plans often leave us confused and frustrated. (By the way, that’s nothing new. Study any believer’s life in the Bible and you will see evidence that God’s ways are far above our ways. (Isaiah 55:9))
And yet, while God’s plans may be confusing to us, they aren’t to him. Everything that happens is according to God’s perfect blueprint. It’s a massive, mind-numbingly intricate, eternally expansive blueprint, but a blueprint nonetheless – not so different from Veridian’s master plan for Juniper Ridge. Everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in this universe and in your life follows God’s plan down to the very day, minute and second. One of the things that makes God’s blueprint far superior to any developer’s is that he never has to change his plans, there are never any unforeseen challenges, no obstacles that frustrate his will. Oh, it may seem like things get in the way all the time. A gunman cuts down travelers in a Ft. Lauderdale airport. Thugs kidnap and torture a special needs person in Chicago. Babies are born outside God’s institution of marriage. Jobs are lost. Cars break down. Families are divided. Spouses divorce. Cancer kills and wealth evaporates. Does God really have a plan for all of those disastrous, unwelcome effects of sin? He sure does. He even grants us this assurance: I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) Ok. We know that. We try to trust that. But it’s not always easy to see it. That’s where Paul comes in. He shows us that God’s plan was forever for us.
Now, if you’ve read the first 39 books of the Bible, you might question that statement. In fact, you might start to think that right from the beginning God’s plan involved saving a select group of people – which did not include us. Around 2000 BC God picked a man named Abraham and promised that he would bless him and make his family as numerous as the sand on the seashore. (Genesis 12:2-3) God made the same promise to Abraham’s son Isaac, his son Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel. On Mt. Sinai God separated this ever-growing Hebrew family from the nations around them. He gave them their own laws, their own diet, their own temple and rules for worship, their own nation, and the promise that the Savior would come from among them. Only Jews were allowed to worship in God’s temple. A non-Jew was considered unclean. And the Lord even went out of his way to remind this chosen people of his favoritism. He told them out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6) So, where were we in this master plan? Aren’t we plan B; just second-hand, last-minute additions? No. That’s the mystery.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. When you hear mystery, don’t think Sherlock Holmes. It’s not a mystery that needs human investigation. It’s a mystery that needs divine revelation. But here’s what Paul wants us, non-Jew Gentiles, to be certain of. We were part of God’s plan long before we were born, from before the creation of the world. Paul makes that crystal clear when he writes: His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…according to his eternal purpose. God did not start with the Jews and when that experiment failed, decided to move on to the Gentiles. You were forever part of God’s plan, even though for centuries it was a mystery how he would carry it out.
Flattering, humbling even, isn’t it? Maybe it’s even a little embarrassing to think that the Lord has been thinking of you since before creation and that he actually planned every minute detail of his entire blueprint around you thousands of years before you were born. But that’s definitive evidence that we are saved by grace, isn’t it? Before we were born, God had saved us. The same God who keeps the planets spinning in their orbits, who leads the orderly procession of the seasons, who directs the vast orchestra of everything in the entire universe cares so much about us – just specks of dust on history’s timeline – that he made us the crown and goal of his master plan. We witnessed another example of God’s plan in action this morning. God determined before creation that Luke would be born to Jon and Tanya Homan, Christian parents (a rarity in our world), all so that this morning, January 8th, 2017 he could enter into Luke’s life, forgive his sins, drown his sinful nature and make him his child. And Luke is not alone. You have your own history that somehow resulted in you hearing the Gospel and believing that God has saved you for Jesus’ sake. A history carefully planned by God from beginning to end. Flattering. Humbling.
And…embarrassing when we compare God’s plan for us to our plans for him. Now that we’ve begun the new calendar year, I imagine many of us have taken on the task of transferring the important yearly dates from the 2016 to the 2017 calendar. Birthdays and anniversaries, school breaks, holidays, vacations, weddings, due dates, doctor’s appointments – even the moment the Packers kick off this afternoon. We plan and schedule even the most minor details of our lives. You know one thing that you won’t find on my calendar – I checked – and I’m guessing I wouldn’t find on yours either? Time for prayer, time for Bible study, time for the One who wrote his entire plan for us.
Now, I’m not saying that we never pray, never study our Bibles, never take time for devotion and meditation. After all, we’re here today, aren’t we? Never taking time for God is probably not the problem. Compartmentalizing God, is. God gets some consideration on Sunday mornings, before meals, and right before I go to sleep – the rest of my life, that’s mine. I have a plan for my life, and if God wants to help – he’s welcome – but if not, he can take a back seat as follow my plan and chase my dreams. Is that really any way to repay the One who carefully laid the foundations of the universe, set the days and seasons, controlled governments and empires, and sent his One and only Son to this earth to die for you and your salvation? Can we really only find a few minutes here and there for the one who put us at the center of his eternal plan? That doesn’t mean that we need to be praying or reading our Bibles every waking moment – after all, God has given us vocations as mothers and fathers, employers and employees, students and teachers – but it does mean that as we carry out those vocations and plan our schedules God should always be at the very center. He’s the one who gave us a life to live and time to schedule. He’s the one who gave us our jobs, marriages, families and free time. But let’s be honest. Even if we only made one resolution for 2017: to keep God at the center of our lives every minute of every day – we wouldn’t keep it, would we? We’re not capable of it. We’re too self-centered. We only know how to serve one person every minute of every day – and it’s not God.
You know what? God in his manifold wisdom knew that would happen. He knew who we would be and how we would act. He knew that our schedules would be perpetually self-centered and that he would be relegated to an occasional cameo appearance in the drama of our lives. That’s why he designed his master plan for you, not around you. Everything he created, he created for you. Every promise he made, he made for you. Everything he had written down over the centuries, he had written for you. Every time he steered the events of this world in a certain direction, every monumental miracle he performed and every little undetected detail he worked out behind the scenes he did for you. And, as the climax of his whole plan, he sent his Son.
God’s plan was forever for us, but it is always about Christ. That’s why our sermons and hymns and Bible studies and church year aren’t about us; they’re about him. But the remarkable thing we discover when we examine his life is that His life was for you too. Every law Jesus obeyed, he obeyed for you. Every temptation he fought off had you in mind. Every word he spoke, every miracle he performed, every comforting, compassionate look he gave had you in mind. When he was being whipped by the Roman soldiers, guess who he was thinking about? When the angry mob was screaming for his crucifixion, guess who he was thinking about? When he was carrying his cross out to Golgotha, when nails were pounded through his hands and feet, when he was hanging there naked for all the world to see his shame and agony, guess who he was thinking about? He wasn’t up there for his own good. He wasn’t there to prove anything to His Father. He was there for you, for your forgiveness. He was there to give his life for yours. He was there to die so that you might live. You were at the center of every moment of Jesus’ life and death. The Bible is about Him. But from beginning to end, his life was for you. You were his obsession. And you still are.
Jesus has risen. Jesus has ascended into heaven. Jesus has taken his seat on his heavenly throne and is in full control of all things at all times. But even now, everything he’s doing, he’s doing for you. If we could see Jesus’ schedule right now there would be trillions of things on it – but it’s all for you. Wind chills and snow…Jesus has his hand on that thermostat. The passing into and out of office of elected leaders – the King is ruling those kings. The ebbs and flows of the stock market and your blood pressure – Jesus is controlling them all for you.
And that’s the way God planned it all along. From the very beginning to the very end, his plan was that through the gospel, you and I would be heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus…according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. God planned to make you a member of his family in Baptism, to preserve and strengthen your faith in Word and Sacrament – and he’s done that. God planned to make available to you all the blessings that membership entails: forgiveness of sins, new life, the hope of salvation. God planned that you will experience the joys of heaven forever as a result of Jesus’ work. God determined that you and your salvation would always be THE plan. And on Epiphany, the day God revealed that Jesus came to save us, too, we see that what God plans always happens. Amen.