Greetings and Pianos and the Grace of God
August 6, 2017
When I was a little boy and when it was time for Christmas, we would clear the top of the piano in the living room to display all the Christmas cards we got in the mail. It was really nice. There were small cards and big cards. There were cards with shiny words on them and cards with evergreen trees and snug houses and bright stars and ornaments and happy snow men and snow women.
The variety of them all filled our living room with color and coziness. But more importantly, the family and friends behind them all filled our entire home with thankfulness and joy. There is something magical about receiving a Christmas card in the mail. There is something meaningful about greeting someone like that.
This is the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. And Paul closes his letter with greetings. It is not merely a time to say hello or goodbye. It is a time to embrace and hug. For God was Paul’s witness, how he yearned for them all with the affection of Christ Jesus. There was encouragement in Christ. There was love and participation in the Spirit. There was sympathy and joy. And the Philippians were Paul’s joy and crown. These closing words were no mere formality. These closing words may have been Paul’s very last words to the saints at Philippi.
The Philippian church was greatly loved. You could say that their piano was filled with greetings. Paul greeted them. The brothers who were with Paul greeted them. In fact, all the saints in Rome greeted them. And on top of all of that, saints in Caesar’s household greeted them. What a love that abounds more and more! The Philippian church was greatly loved.
And that is because God loved sinners and gave them his promise of salvation.
In the very first chapter of the book of Acts, God made a promise to his church. He said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That was his promise. And his promise came true. People at Jerusalem repented and believed in Jesus. People in Judea and Samaria repented and believed in Jesus. And people in Rome, people who lived at the end of the earth, repented and believed in Jesus. That’s the whole point of the book of Acts. It is a story that shows how the gospel spread throughout the whole world. It is a story that shows how God’s promise of salvation came true. It is a story about how God loved sinners.
So it is amazing that people in Caesar’s household were greeting the Philippians. Caesar was against Christianity. Yet the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ advanced to the darkest corners of the earth. There were believers in Rome. There were believers even in Caesar’s household. Praise the Lord!
But how is this possible? This is possible because God’s grace is irresistible.
What is grace? Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor in Christ for our salvation.
Our Father blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world. In love he predestined us for adoption. We do not deserve any of this love. But we have it because God is gracious.
In Jesus we have redemption through his blood. Our sins have been forgiven. We do not deserve any of this hope. But we have it because God is gracious.
In Jesus we have obtained an inheritance. In Jesus we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and believed in him. And we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. We do not deserve any of this faith. But we have it because God is gracious.
We were dead in our sins. We used to follow the ways of the world and the enemy that is the Devil. We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind. We were by nature children of wrath. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. By grace you have been saved. By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. We do not deserve any of this salvation. But we have it because God is gracious.
Praise God for his glorious grace! We deserve eternal death and the punishment of hell. But instead, in Jesus Christ we have eternal life and a place in the kingdom of the new heavens and new earth.
Praise God for the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us! We deserve to be thrown away and forgotten. But instead, in Jesus Christ we are embraced and hugged.
Thanks be to God for our faith in Jesus! We deserve lumps of coal in our stockings for Christmas. But instead, in Jesus Christ we get Christmas cards on our pianos. We get small cards and big cards. We get cards with shiny words on them and cards with the everlasting tree of life and snug homes in heaven and bright righteousness and justification and happy churchmen and churchwomen.
The fullness of all the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ fill our hearts and minds with color and contentment. But more importantly, the one behind it all - our Lord and Savior Jesus - fills our hearts and minds with thankfulness and joy. There is something magical about receiving God’s grace in the three mailboxes of the Bible, the sacraments, and prayer. There is something meaningful and glorious about Paul’s greetings to the Philippians. And the meaning and glory is this: God has greeted us.
Brothers and sisters, you are greatly loved. So get the biggest piano you can find. And know that God greatly loves his church. There was a piano in Philippi. There were pianos among Caesar’s household. There was a piano in Paul’s prison. There were pianos in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth. Therefore, let us greet others because God first greeted us. Let us embrace and huge others because God first embraced and hugged us.
That’s a lot of Christmas cards. That’s a lot of greetings. That’s a lot of grace.
But one day there will no longer be a need for any pianos. That is because there will no longer be a need for any greetings. One day there will no longer be a need for any greetings. That is because Jesus Christ will return soon.
Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a church in the town of Philippi. But soon and very soon, there will come a time and a place in which there will be no more suffering. No more sanctification. No more dying as gain. No more working out of our salvation with fear and trembling.
Soon and very soon, there will come a time and a place in which there will be no more need to guard our hearts and minds. No more need to pray for discernment. No more need to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. No more need to carry passports that bear the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Soon and very soon, there will come a time and a place in which there will be no more mere thinking about schnitzel. No more fear of missing out. No more entreating of Euodia and Syntyche. No more chains or house arrest.
Jesus is arriving soon. And when that day comes, only one greeting will remain: the one that will happen when you see Jesus face to face.