Fair exchange?

Second Sunday after Christmas

Ephesians 1:3-14

(this sermon uses the illustration of a filthy rag.)

I have here a filthy rag.

You can see it’s filthy, and it’s a rag. In fact, there is nothing appealing about this rag at all.

But would anyone like this rag?

Would anyone like to take it home? Would anyone like to care for it and love it? Would anyone like to clean it up, patch it up, and give it a special home?


Now before anyone promises to take it home, I should tell you I’m not willing to give this away for free. It will cost you.

So how much should you have to pay for this dirty rag?




No, that price is too small for this rag.

How about you swap one of your children for this rag?

Now I know some parents might be very tempted to swap their children at times, but what if I tell you that you would need to be willing to give up your child’s life.

Anyone still want this rag?

I don’t think anyone in their right mind would like to exchange their child for this dirty rag!

Yet God our Father, before we even knew him or even wanted to know him, decided to swap his Son for us – we filthy rags!

Now before anyone objects to being called a filthy rag, especially as you are all dressed so well, I am trying to illustrate how dirty and unclean we are in God’s sight. From our own perspective, we are intelligent, hard working and valuable people and are nothing like a filthy rag. We see good people in the mirror, but God sees everything we try to hide. God sees the grime of our selfishness, greed, jealousy, hatred, apostasy, and sinfulness oozing out all over us.

Just like this filthy rag, we cannot save ourselves. We can’t clean up our own act. We have nothing to offer as payment; in fact even our potential use is unappealing.

Just like this rag, and despite what we think of ourselves, there is nothing appealing about us at all. We continually rebel against God and hurt him. Our only hope as filthy rags is that God made us in his image, God chose us to be his own, God paid our ransom price with the blood of his own Son, God adopted us as his own children, and God cleaned us up through his forgiveness. All actions are God’s and are not based on our own worth, or even our potential worth in any way. After all, do you really think you’re worth more than God’s own Son that he would give him up as a swap for you?

Yet despite the fact we are worth no more than a filthy rag, he did all this for us!

Such amazing love!

We struggle to fathom such love because we normally only love people who are worthy of our love. We love only as a response to something good they have done for us. On the other hand, if someone hurts us, they’re off our ‘love list’. But God does the opposite. God loves you despite the fact you are not worthy of his love! God decided to love you even before you had a chance to do anything for him! In fact God loves you even though you continue to hurt him.

We struggle to understand God’s love, especially once we realize how unworthy and unlovable we really are. In fact, if you think about it, if you think God loves you for who you are or who you could be, you’ve just limited God’s love. God’s love, God’s amazing grace which saved wretches like you and me, is beyond our comprehension, yet this is what Paul is trying to communicate to us today.

He tells us of the Father’s decision to adopt us as his children. He tells us how he did this through the blood of his only beloved Son. He tells us of the Holy Spirit whom God gave to us as a down payment, as a guarantee of our inheritance as God’s adopted people.

Now why would he do such a thing?

What’s the purpose of his gracious and loving action to adopt us?

Well, his purpose of adoption, his purpose of swapping us for the life of his beloved Son, is so that we can come before him as clean and blameless people. Now he can’t have filthy rags in his presence, so he needed to clean us up by using his own Son’s blood. He did this so that we filthy people would become holy people without blemish or stain. He did this so that we might be like his Son.

Now of course we can’t be like his Son, but again this shows God’s extraordinary grace.

The only way we can come into his presence as holy people is through the blood of his only beloved Son Jesus Christ. That’s the ransom price for us filthy rags. God willingly swapped his own Son for us filthy rags We can’t measure that love. We can’t fathom the grace. We can’t understand the undeserving favour of God.

Despite the fact that all people are like filthy rags in his sight, he willingly paid this price for all people, no matter how good or how bad they are. This is the message of the gospel, but unfortunately, only some believe it. Those who believe this message of grace are those God has chosen.

Now this may raise a question in your minds. What if someone doesn’t believe, does that mean God hasn’t chosen them, that he hasn’t predestined them to receive his grace and love?

No, it doesn’t mean God has not chosen them for salvation. God loves and wants to save every ‘filthy rag’ in the world, but strangely some of them reject his grace and love. It’s like the rags didn’t want to be swapped or cleaned up. It’s like they want to stay just like they are, as if there is nothing wrong with them. God’s grace is still there. God has chosen them, but they choose to reject his grace and love.

But since we believe, we are assured God has indeed chosen us for his very own!

Therefore this is the mystery we celebrate.

We celebrate the love of God shown through Christ Jesus and guaranteed to us through the deposit of his Holy Spirit on us. We celebrate the fact God chose us for his very own, even though we don’t deserve it. We celebrate that God chose us filthy rags, that he paid our ransom price through his Son’s cruel death, and that he has made us clean and holy through the blood of his own Son. We celebrate he has sent us the Holy Spirit as a pledge to guarantee this is all true, even though we are yet to see this wonderful message’s fulfilment with our own eyes.

This is the glory of God shown to us, we filthy rags.

Praise God that, even though we have nothing to offer him, he chose us and wants us to come before him as clean and holy people through the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.