The first long road trip my wife and I ever took together was in 2013, when we drove from Cape Town to Pretoria. Those of you who have made this trip in the past may recall the long lonely roads of the Karoo. I decided to fill up with fuel at all the places where my mom used to stop when I was a kid and we travelled up to Polokwane to visit my uncle. First point was Three Sisters. But as we drove into the petrol station, we were met by danger tape around all the petrol pumps, and an attendant who told us the station was closed that afternoon due to renovations and building work. So we were a little stuck: do we go back to Beaufort West or onwards to Victoria West? We chose to travel onwards. I think this was the longest 65 km of my life. We both sat watching the fuel gage creeping closer and closer to empty. I think we were both praying and hoping just to make it to the next stop. It is a desolate area and there was no one close enough to help us if we ran out of fuel. Fortunately, we made it to Victoria West and, with joy, we refuelled my old faithful Tazz, before continuing our journey.
Sometimes as Christians, we feel we are running out of fuel. We pray for just enough strength to make it through the day, or the meeting, or the test, or the lockdown, or the long night we have to wait with a sick loved one. We all sometimes feel spiritually empty or like we are running on fumes. But Paul’s letter gives us hope. He was writing while he was a prisoner in Rome. He did not know what his sentence would be or how long he still had. Yet he gives all believers these amazing words of encouragement. See Paul doesn’t want us to simply admire our wealth, “the Riches of God’s Grace” which we have been blessed with. He wants us to realise these Riches come with Responsibilities; the great Doctrines we’ve been taught so far must ignite our hearts do our Duty. Paul’s second prayer fills the believer’s tank with a Powerful Faith, through a Powerful Fulfillment, because of our Powerful Father.
1. Powerful Faith vs. 14-17a
As a pastor, Paul cares deeply for this church which he planted. Even while he is languishing in prison, he lifts them up in prayer: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name vs. 14-15.” This prayer is as powerfully applicable today as it was 2000 years ago. For there is little difference, between us and the Ephesians, we need to have a powerful faith. Paul reminds believers that we have one Father, God Almighty, and we are part of one body, the church. He has already made it clear in the first half of this chapter, God has chosen to use the church to display the glory of the gospel proclaimed through the church to the universe. All true believers are part of God's invisible church, which spans the ages.
The gospel makes us one family in the eyes of God. It is for this reason Paul prays to God as our Father to give us “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith vs. 16-17a”. He is asking God to give us a powerful faith. However, this faith can only be powerful if Christ dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit enables us and gives us access to all he has to offer. The power of this faith must have its foundation in Christ. We must have renewed hearts as believers. Most of us, when we gave our lives to the Lord, were told we need to invite Jesus into our heart. This phrase has been used repeatedly as a tool for evangelism. But did you know, this is the only place in the entire Bible which speaks about inviting Jesus to come and live in our hearts.
The heart, according to Jewish understanding, was seen as encompassing the whole person, mind, body, and soul. So when we become followers of Jesus Christ, He comes to reside and reign over our whole being. In effect, God no longer sees us, but Christ who dwells in us. God's righteousness is transferred to us through Christ. So Paul can ask God to strengthen us, to give us a faith which is rock solid, because it is not dependent on us, but on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Paul wants us to have this powerful faith permeating every part of our being. If Christ dwells in our hearts, then He must have all of us or none of us. We cannot call ourselves Christians, while pushing Christ to the periphery of our lives. Christ must be in the centre of our lives, it must be Christ in us - the hope of glory, He must be our everything.
2. Powerful Fulfillment vs. 17b-19
This Powerful Faith, in which God opened our eyes and Christ renewed our hearts is foundational, but it is the beginning and not the end. Paul tells us, the strengthening of our heart through faith was so “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ vs. 17b-18”. God has given us this faith, so that we can comprehend His amazing love. Without God choosing to justify us through faith alone, we cannot see God. God gave our hearts the eyes of faith, so that we can comprehend God's immeasurable love. Paul uses two beautiful images to express the incredible love that God has opened our eyes to see.
The first image is drawn from nature: this love, which we are given by God, is so that we can be rooted in him. Like the roots of a gigantic oak tree, going deep into the Earth, so that when the wind and storms come, the tree is immovable. God's love for us is immovable. God's love allows us to withstand the hurricane winds which buffet our lives. So, when chaos comes and trouble besets us, because we are rooted in God's love, filled with faith through Christ, we will have the power to endure, like a mighty oak tree.
The second image is drawn from architecture. We are to be grounded love in order to comprehend the dimensions of this love. This is the foundation on which He builds His living temple, the church. The measurements Paul is referring to, “how wide and long and high and deep” may seem strange. Usually we only measure spatial objects with three dimensions. But Paul adds a fourth. The way in which he gives these measurements is similar to the way in which the measurements for the Tabernacle and the Temple were given in the Old Testament. Paul is telling his readers God is building a new temple. A temple where the whole will be more important than the individual parts. A Temple, in which God’s Spirit now resides, not separated in the Holy of Holies, but in every human heart. He is building a body of believers, and the spatial language exalts Christ’s love for His people and His church. This is the strength of a building built by God’s power and in His plans.
Paul declares the Powerful Fulfillment of God's immeasurable love; was his plan all along. His reason for doing this is simple: so we could “know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God vs. 19.” This immeasurable love is not meant to be experienced in isolation, but rather it is lived out in community; by us loving God and loving each other, we express God’s ultimate goal for the church. For the pinnacle of this love is Christ, He is the light and this love surpasses our knowledge. It is both an intellectual and an emotional knowledge, far greater than any other understanding we possess. The love of Christ that surpasses knowledge cannot be seen as either sentimental or sensible, rather as both head and heart bringing glory to the King of Kings. The love of Christ must be worked out in every area of our lives, so that we can experience the fullness of God. So we can taste and see that the Lord is good, experienced in the Powerful Fulfillment of this love.
3. Powerful Father vs. 20-21
Paul breaks into a doxology. This is both the climax of his second prayer, and it draws together all the strands of grace he has talked about so far in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Paul has prayed that we will have a Powerful Faith and find Fulfillment in God’s love. But all of this is only possible because we have a Powerful Father. Paul ties it all together in these final two verses: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen vs. 20-21” The church is the focal point of God’s glory, for we are the bride of Christ. In our modern world, the evangelical church has found it far too easy to focus this glory in other places. We’re happy to leave the job of the great commission to para-church organizations. We’ve become too comfortable in our churches. God will not give His glory to any other institution or para-church ministry; it is to be found solely in the church, which is the light of the world. The whole mission of the church is to glorify God and, in turn, the bride of Christ will be filled with grace, beauty, truth, love, mercy, righteousness, and glory.
In the final two verses, Paul wants to convey the vastness of God’s power through Jesus Christ. Yet still his language falls short. Comparative language tells us that you first have more and then most. But Paul stretches further and uses the words “far more”. The power of God, like the love of Christ, is beyond all human understanding. God can do more than we ask. He can do more than we can even think to ask. He can do far more than we could ever even imagine asking for. This amazing power is already at work within us through the Holy Spirit. This power is with us when life is easy and when we feel we don’t have the strength to carry on. When we come to God in prayer, we only need to ask, He will provide power for us to face all the challenges that this life throws at us. When we feel our tanks are empty and our power is low, His glory and strength are still at work within us. His power is at work in individual believers and through the church as a whole. We need to become a people of prayer who have a powerful faith that will withstand whatever is thrown at it – persecution, ridicule, mockery, tough times. We need to be filled with the love of Christ and we need to glorify and trust our powerful Father. This prayer has been one of thanksgiving, adoration, and intercession for the believers, so that they might continue to grow in their faith.
Today many of us might feel we are running on empty. More and more cases of the Coronavirus are being reported, the lockdown is taking its toll on businesses, and our mental health is suffering and our stress levels through the roof. Yet, we are rooted in God’s love through Christ and built on a foundation that cannot be shaken. Our God is more powerful than anything this world can throw at us. He can do exceedingly more than we can even imagine asking. He is able to do all – above all – abundantly above all – exceedingly above all! So if your tank is empty, do not hesitate to turn to God to refill it. Allow Him to fill you with His love, power and peace so that we can all make it through this crisis together. Ask yourself today, in your prayers, are you praying to the God that can do far more than we can ask or imagine?
At the very first Ascension Day, the disciples watched Jesus disappear between the clouds, bewildered his mission on earth had come to such a sudden end. They had been with him for so long, seen him die and return to life. Now, at the moment when he should be going after an earthly crown, he was ascending to heaven to receive his eternal crown of kingship. He had told them to wait for the Holy Spirit and that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Jesus mission on earth had ended, theirs has just begun. Although they might not have understood his command yet, they would soon be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. He promised them they would be changed, their mission would take them out of their comfort zone, the gospel would be preached, and the whole world would be turned on its head as the kingdom of light clashed with the kingdom of darkness. They were told to wait and then they were told to go.
The same is true with us today. Salvation equals service. If we claim to be saved, and to be filled with God’s Spirit and grace, then this must be evident in our attitude and our actions. Our changed hearts must witness to changed lives. People must be able to see there is something different about us. Something which makes us stand out in the world. Others will know we are Christians by our life and our love. We are transformed by God’s Holy Spirit to turn the world upside down, to be Christ’s witnesses on earth. We are called to go to Meadowridge, to the Western Cape, to South Africa and, if God calls us, to the ends of the earth. Although it might not be physically possible to do this now, there are many ways in which God can use each of our gifts, talents, time, experiences and knowledge to impact the world today, right where we are. Paul tells believers in this passage God’s Spirit has Transformed our Minds, as Members in the body of Christ, for a Mission which is the extension of His kingdom both inside and outside the church.
1. Transformed Minds vs. 1-2
God’s glory is beyond comprehension, His majesty beyond understanding. He created all things by the word of his power. There is nothing and no one who can compare with our holy God. Yet God chose not to leave us in our sinful state, but to send his sinless Son, to be our Redeemer. As we remember his ascension to heaven, we ask ourselves what kind of worship, what kind of offering can we bring to our King? Paul gives us the answer “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will vs. 1-2”. Before we were saved, we used our bodies to fulfill our own sinful desires and pleasures. However, from the moment we accepted Christ as our Saviour, God’s spirit took up residence in our hearts. Our bodies became a temple of the Holy Spirit in which the living God now dwells. So if we have accepted this salvation, our lives no longer belong to us, we belong to God, which means He can do with our lives whatever he pleases. In the Old Testament, the people of God brought sacrifices to the temple or the Tabernacle, not only to atone for their sins but as an act of worship. However, because of Christ’s final atoning sacrifice on the cross, we have peace with God. We no longer need to bring an animal sacrifice, but rather we are to present our bodies and our lives as a living sacrifice, completely and utterly dedicated to God.
As we give our lives to God daily, as a spiritual act of worship, we show the world He has transformed our lives. The world wants to control, our minds and our hearts, but God wants to transform our minds. The word ‘transform’ used here is the same as ‘transfigure’ in Matthew’s gospel. It is from here we get the English word metamorphosis, which describes a change from within. The world wants to press us into its mould, it wants to change and conform, and exert pressure from without. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, works from within, releasing God’s power to transform us. It is only when we yield our wills to God his power can take over and give us both the willpower and the won’t power to live the victorious Christian life. This is achieved through constant communication with God in prayer, and surrendering our minds and our hearts to him. We must pray to God about everything, and let him have his way in everything. This will be the evidence to the world that God has transformed our minds and our lives - this is our spiritual act of worship.
2. Transformed Members vs. 3-5
When God transforms our minds it naturally leads to renewed and changed relationships to those around us, particularly in the body of Christ: the church. Paul was writing to Christians who are members of local churches in Rome. He describes their relationships and responsibilities to one another as members of the body. This is why the Paul says, “by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the other vs. 3-5”. He is reminding us that our ability to do anything in the church comes only by the grace God has given us. It is not our greatness that gives us these gifts, only God’s graciousness. This means we need to keep in perspective who God is, and who we are in relation to God. For when we know who God is, we realise we can do nothing of significance in the world without his grace. We can do nothing apart from God, our significance comes from God, and whatever he assigns us to do is valuable.
But there is a proviso - Paul tells us we need to have sober judgement. This means to take a sober evaluation of our gifts, our strengths, and our weaknesses. However, there is a tendency in the church to go to extremes. Those who are willing to serve are often forced into positions, and asked to perform in areas which they are not gifted or called to serve. Often we do a great disservice to the church and to its people by trying to force people to perform in areas in which they are simply not gifted. The other extreme however, is if we have achieved competency in a certain area, then we expect this area to be the standard. We often exalt our own strengths, believing them to be the only ones that matter. Sometimes we think we are the only ones who contribute to the work of church and that the church would fall apart without us. This way of thinking is deadly poison to the body of Christ. For God has given each person a measure of faith, so they can exercise their different personalities, strengths, weaknesses and gifts for the betterment of the church.
This is what it means to be transformed Members, and to transform the membership of the church for the glory of God. Each believer is a living part of Christ body, and each has a spiritual function to perform, each believer must use their gifts and their talents for the building up of Christ body and the perfection of the members of this body. In short, we belong not only to God, but we belong to each other, we are called to minister to each other because we need each other. Especially during these tough times, we have to reach out to each other. Call your Bible Study members, send a message to those in your care. We all have to be here to support, pray and care for each other.
3. Transformed mission vs. 6-8
This is God’s design for us, as individuals and a church: he transformed our minds for us to worship him and our membership to glorify him. But Paul says it doesn’t stop there for each of us have “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully vs. 6-8”. The gifts we are given by God, are for the mission of the kingdom. Our minds and members are transformed, so that we can be part of God’s rescue mission to the world. We were transformed for a mission, and every single gift that we are given is not only for the building up of the local church, but is ultimately for the extension of God’s kingdom. Every Christian believer must exercise his or her gift by faith. We might not always see the results of our ministry, but if we follow God’s will, God will bless it. Now it might be frustrating when we pray, preach and encourage a friend or family member, only to have them give their lives to God when they hear the gospel from someone else. Yet, when we accept we are sent to plant seeds and that it is God who transforms hearts, even if we never see the tree grow, we can trust the work to God. This is the true test about whether we are serving ourselves or God.
Remember that encouragement in the church is as vital and important as preaching or teaching. Giving and showing mercy are essential gifts for the life of the church. To some God has given the ability to lead and to others the gift of administration for various functions in the church. Maybe you are a prayer warrior, maybe you are an encourager, maybe you have a passion for children or youth ministry or someone who can organise community action. Whatever gift God has given us, must be dedicated to him and used for the good of the whole church and the extension of his kingdom. We were given these gifts, to bless and build up the church, not to build up our own egos. Yet how often in the church, do we not exalt one gift over another. None of these gifts should be lorded over others, just as none of these should be looked down upon. We should remember the example of the church in Corinth. The various believers were richly blessed with different gifts, but the believers were using the gifts as an end in themselves and for themselves. They had spiritual gifts, but were lacking the fruits of the spirit, for example love, joy, patience and peace. In essence, Paul is telling each of his readers to find out what they are good at. Don’t undervalue your gift, don’t hide it away or be embarrassed about it. As members of the body, we need all the different gifts God has blessed our congregation with and Paul encourages us to use these gifts fully for the glory of God, for the building up of the local church and the ultimate extension of our Lord’s kingdom, right here, right now.
On Ascension Day, we are not called to raise our eyes to the heavens, waiting for Jesus to return. Yes, we wait, with hope and expectation, but we also allow the Holy Spirit to transform us for the mission Christ has sent us on. We are all called to support each other as members of the body, each with weaknesses, failings, and bad days. Just remember that each person also has strengths, experiences, knowledge, and a part to play in God’s plan. Even when we go through tough times, we must hold fast to the everlasting hope in Christ our Saviour. The disciples had to wait 40 days in uncertainty and fear for the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts. We might also feel stuck in uncertainty and fear during the COVID-19 crisis. But we have a choice – we can allow God to transform us, to show us how he wants us to continue to be part of the membership of his church and to give us a new mission. This Ascension Day, I urge us all to come before Jesus with open hearts and minds, so that we might be transformed inside and out. As Christians, we are to have transformed minds, be a transformed member of the body of Christ and use the unique gifts God has given us as part of our transformed mission.
Warren Wiersbe says, “Most of us identify Napoleon Bonaparte as the would-be conqueror of Europe. But not many would name him as a patron of arts and sciences. Yet he was. In July 1798, Napoleon began to occupy Egypt, but by September 1801, he was forced to get out. Those three years meant failure as far as his military and political plans were concerned, but they meant success in one area that greatly interested him—archaeology. For in August 1799, a Frenchman named Boussand discovered the Rosetta Stone about thirty miles from Alexandria. This discovery gave to archaeologists the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics. It opened the door to modern Egyptian studies. The “mystery” is God’s “Rosetta Stone.” It is the key to what He promised in the Old Testament, what Christ did in the Gospels, what the early church did in the book of Acts, what Paul and the other writers teach in the Epistles, and what God will do as recorded in the book of Revelation. God’s program today is not “the headship of Israel”..., but the headship of Christ over His church."
Today as we come to our next sermon in our series “the Riches of God’s grace”, take a moment to marvel at what we have been given so far. Paul tells us we have been given every spiritual blessing because of Christ, the true authority. We are offered God’s saving grace, and the church is built on one foundation with Christ as its head. Just like the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone launched a whole new era of Egyptology, so many things which were for centuries hidden, became clear as day to believers. In the same way, Paul tells us the mystery of the gospel has been unearthed and unveiled by God through Christ. That which was hidden in ages past has finally come to light. The word ‘mystery’ in this context refers to something which had previously been hidden, but has always been part of God's plan. Paul tells us this mystery, had been Concealed in the Old Testament, is now Revealed in the gospel, and is Proclaimed through the church to the entire universe.
1. The Mystery Concealed vs. 1-5a
Paul begins by reminding the church he is a prisoner of Christ on the behalf of the Gentiles. He was called by God to be a minister, sharing the light of salvation with them. Had he not shared this light with them, they would still be in darkness. So they need to understand, God had entrusted him with the gospel of grace, which was for them. Paul is opening his heart to this church, expressing his love for them as a pastor, which drove him to share with them the mystery of Christ which had been concealed up to this point. This was why “the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations vs. 3-5a”. In chapter 2 of this letter, Paul declared, the Jews and Gentiles had been reconciled through Christ's blood into one body, the church. This is the mystery of Christ; this was always part of God's redemptive strategy. But this mystery had been hidden, wrapped up in the veils of the Old Testament. God's Messiah was always intended to be a light to the Gentiles. The Prophet Isaiah wrote this concerning the Gentiles “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned 9:2.” This was part of their expectation and hope, but the Jews never expected the Gentiles to be on the same level as them. To be given equal status with those who attended synagogue their whole lives. Yet this is what the gospel does: it brings people from all walks of life together. This mystery had been concealed for generations, now the light had burst forth and the gospel shone. The mystery is that Christ reconciles all believers into one body. The gospel brings us together to serve the one God, through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are filled with his Holy Spirit.
2. The Mystery Revealed vs. 5b-8
The Gospel, which had been hidden, “has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 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 vs. 5b-6.” Although concealed in the Old Testament, the truth has now been revealed. We can see the Old Testament like a dimly lit room, full of objects which we can’t quite make out. But when we shine the light of Christ through the lens of the New Testament, we see mountains of God’s precious truth, like gold and silver, shining back at us. For the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. So through the apostles and the prophets, we have in its entirety the message of the Bible. The Apostle’s teachings merely highlight all which the Old Testament prophets have said. Paul calls both the Apostles and the Prophets holy. This word does not signify that they were more important than any other believers. The word holy simple means they were set apart by God to be his followers and to do his work. Believers today, are still part of this holy and set apart covenant community.
The incorporation of the gentiles into God’s church is not a new plan, but God’s intention from the start. This mystery, revealed through gospel, is that all believers have the same rights and privileges, united into God’s new family as equal heirs with Christ. This is such amazingly good news for the church in the first and 21st century. For believers have and will always will face great adversity, hostility and persecution. But this good news encourages us to persevere in our faith.
Paul continues for “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power...to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ vs. 7, 8b” We must remember Paul wasn’t one of the original 12 disciples. He was, in fact, one of the chief persecutors of the Christians. It was only through God’s mercy and grace that the truth of the Gospel was revealed to him. Through Paul’s Damascus Road experience, he was commissioned by Christ to be a minister to the gentiles. This is only possible through the working of God’s might and the Holy Spirit within him. In the Greek, the word for work is translated Energeia, from which we get the word energy. The word power comes from the word Dunamas, which means dynamic or dynamite. So through the Holy Spirit, Paul is given dynamic energy to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, to travel to the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire, stand before councils and kings to proclaim the mystery revealed in Christ. This power isn’t localised to Paul, it is available to every believer. We are called to be energetic, dynamic, and dynamite Christians. For have access to resurrection power of Christ, therefore we won’t fizzle or fade out, no matter what challenges face us. As Christians, we are also told of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Sometimes this is also translated as untraceable, which means it is impossible to discover their ends. Christ brings us riches which we cannot even grasp or imagine.
3. The Mystery Proclaimed vs. 9-13
Who could have imagined God’s plan of salvation would incorporate all people throughout time? Paul has told us the mystery of Christ was concealed during the time of the Old Testament with the prophets. Now it has been revealed in the New Testament gospel through the apostles. He now tells us the reason for this mystery. It was “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory vs. 9-12” The local church is the light of the world. God chooses to display his glory and his power through a body of flawed believers, who are sick, sinful, and saved by grace alone, working together with all their weaknesses and strengths. Paul tells us that this was God’s plan from the creation of the world: the church would display His glory to the universe.
The words “manifold wisdom”, means in Greek ‘multicoloured’ or ‘multifaceted’, like a kaleidoscope or a beautiful diamond. This should make us take heart in the fact that God is choosing to work through us at Trinity to display his might and glory to our city and our world. Paul even says the heavenly beings are watching us as we come together to worship God through our church service, through our weekly activities and through the way in which we as individuals come together to become the body of Christ.
So as we come to the end of our worship this Sunday, here are a few truths about the mystery to remember:
Firstly, God’s divine plan has always been in place and unfolding throughout all of history. The truth Paul proclaims about the church isn’t some afterthought or Plan B, it was always God’s eternal purpose through Christ to bring all the nations of the world back to Him. When we understand this truth, it gives us great confidence and faith. When we as a church and as individuals understand this mystery and commit to being part of this plan, God works in us and through us for His glory. All God’s divine resources are available to those believers who sincerely seek His will and work for His purposes on earth.
Secondly, God is calling out a people from all across the world to be one in Christ. The early church thought the gospel belonged to the Jews, since it came through them and to them first. This resulted in many preaching and believing they first had to convert to Judaism and then could become Christians. God’s Spirit gradually revealed to the apostles and the church that God was doing something new, this was going to be a new type of church. Paul declares the mystery has now been revealed – there are no more distinctions between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female: we are all called to be part of the body of Christ, our Lord and Saviour. So many people in the world today take a pride in their faith and use it as a club to beat others with. They set themselves up as the super-holy. Yet Paul repeatedly makes it clear that we have no reason to boast, unless we boast in what Christ has done for us. We were all sinners, we were all lost, we were equally condemned, yet Christ died for our sins and saved us. It doesn’t matter if we came to faith from a Jewish heritage or an atheist household. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been Christians for 50 years or one year. We can be confident our salvation was always part of God’s plan. Indeed, although we are all one in Christ, God uses our different testimonies, talents, spiritual gifts and experiences.
Thirdly, when we understand the mystery we are given courage for the difficult times we face. God has given us an abundance of spiritual blessings in Christ. They do not fade when tough times loom. We claim these blessings by faith. If we sin or disobey God, these blessings do not disappear, however we do lose out on the enjoyment and enrichment of them. When we turn back and repent, we again receive all of the spiritual blessings. Paul was a dedicated apostle, he was committed to spreading the gospel, yet he was suffering in prison. Being a “good Christian” doesn’t mean we will never suffer. On the contrary, Jesus actually says we can expect to experience difficult times in our lives. Yet we have a hope beyond what we are experiencing now, an eternal hope and promised home.
God has called us to step boldly out in faith, knowing this is part of the plan for the church. God has planned for all of us to be here, today, since the beginning of time and to be part of His rescue mission for the world.
This year our theme for the church is Building on the Foundation of Christ. This sermon reminds us of this theme. As Warren Wiersbe writes: “People who do not understand God’s “mystery” in His church are trying to ... build with the wrong blueprints. God’s churches on this earth – the local assemblies – are not supposed to be either Gentile culture cliques or Jewish culture cliques. ... God’s church is not to be shackled by culture, class, or any other physical distinction. It is a spiritual entity that must submit to the headship of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.” Let us continue building with the right blueprints to loudly proclaim the mystery that has been revealed through Christ to all believers!
Although at times it seems as though the church is in ruin and rubble, God sees it as a beautiful building. Clinker bricks are bricks that did not quite make it. For some reason or another, they come out of the kiln misshapen or deformed. I read about a Presbyterian Church in New York State that was intentionally built of clinker bricks. Apparently, the congregation wanted to send a message, so they built their church of imperfect, rejected bricks. The message is that we are all clinker bricks, we are sinners, we are imperfect people full of follies and foibles, but through Christ, we become living stones in his church. We do not become living stones because we are so great. It is Christ, who is great. We are connected into his church through him.
When we launched our theme for 2020 - Building on the Foundation of Christ - I reminded us at Trinity that we are the living stones of the church, not the bricks and cement which hold up our building. In our wildest imagination we could never have conceived what we believe in our hearts would become a reality. We are not meeting together in a church, yet we are still the church, the people of God, from every tribe, nation, and tongue, from every nationality, creed, and race. We are the church, built on the one foundation, united by one baptism, serving one Lord, Jesus Christ. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace”, Paul encourages the believers in Ephesus, both Jews and Gentiles, to remember that they are one in Christ. Just as we are, though spread across many homes, many suburbs, many provinces, and many countries. We are still the church and we are still one in Christ. Paul’s message is as relevant today, as it was when it was first preached. Even though the church may seem divided, the truth is we are united, because we are all clinker bricks, sinners saved by grace alone, equal before the cross. This equality means we are part of God's living church: we have One Faith, we are part of One Family and, as living stones, we are built on One Foundation.
1. One Faith vs. 11-13
To feel the impact of Paul's message and understand what it means to have One Faith, it is necessary we understand the context in which this passage was written. For the church in Ephesus isn't much different than our church today. It too was facing the evil of disunity which Satan sows amongst the followers of Christ. Paul begins by addressing the Christians in Ephesus, who were Gentiles. Every one of us, unless we are Jewish, would be considered Gentiles, as we have not grown up with the Jewish faith. So a Gentile is someone who does not have Jewish lineage. “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world vs.11-12”.
God had chosen, in the Old Testament, to set apart the Jewish nation, as his special chosen people. His intention through this separation was so the nation of Israel would display God's glory to the rest of the world and, in doing so, would call the nations back to Him. They had been gifted with so much, God's written Word, the Law and the Mark of the covenant: circumcision. The majority of converts to Christianity in the Ephesians church were Gentile believers. Paul doesn't pull any punches in reminding these believers of what they once were. The Ephesians had formerly worshiped the goddess Diana. Before they heard the power of the gospel, they knew nothing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people believe all religions are the same and all roads lead to God. Paul makes it clear, if a person does not have saving faith, whether a Jew or Gentile, they are outside of Christ and will face God’s Judgement. Historians tell us the ancient world was marked by a sense of hopelessness. None of their philosophies, traditions, or religions could help them face life or death. People longed to receive some sign of what awaited them after death. But there was none in their belief system. They were alienated from God. They were not part of his covenant people.
They would have remained in this terrible and hopeless condition, had they not heard the message of the Gospel, for “now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ vs. 13.” God, who is rich in mercy, would not allow them to remain in darkness, so he sent the light of Christ. Through Christ's blood, those who were once far off, are reconciled with God. In the Greek, this concept of being brought near is encapsulated in the word reconciliation, which means to bring together again. The Gentiles had been grafted into the same vine as the Jews, which is Christ. Jesus says in John: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 15:5.” Through Christ's blood and His finished work on the cross, He had abolished the distance and the enmity between Jews and Gentiles, between sinners and a holy God. Think of the cross: Christ creates a bridge (the vertical line) between us and God. He also bridges the gap between men (the horizontal line). Therefore, both Jews and Gentiles are part of one faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, serving one God, filled with the same Spirit. This morning regardless of our background, our creed, our nationality, our culture or our race, we can celebrate because we have one faith. We are one church, serving one Lord, Jesus our Messiah.
2. One Family vs.14-19
Christ's blood has not only brought us reconciliation with the Father, and given us One Faith, but also brought us into One Family. For through the bloodstained cross, Christ “himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility vs. 14, 15b, 16”. The Temple in Jerusalem was the heart of the Israelite worship. It was divided into the Holy of holies, where only the High Priest could go. Then there was the Holy Place, which was only for Jews. When Paul says Christ breaks down the dividing wall of hostility, it is not referring to the curtain which separated the holy of holies from the most holy place. Rather it refers to another barrier, one which separated Jews and Gentiles. For God-fearing Gentiles could only worship God in the outer court of the Temple. There was even a sign up to warn Gentiles. If they were caught beyond this point, they ran the risk of losing their life. This wall of division separated the Gentiles from those who were full members of God's covenant.
Jesus obliterated the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. He has created one body of believers, with himself as the head. He wants us to be reconciled to God, but also to other people. For through the cross, this hostility has been put to death. There is no room, for us to think we are superior, just because, we have a better education, have spent more time in the Bible, can quote longer theological phrases, and have better education or economic standing. Before the cross, every believer is equal; we are part of One Family of Faith. Paul’s words to the Colossians emphasises this: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all 3:11.
The Jewish and Gentiles believers are called to work and worship together, for the glory of God. They were now One Family who “both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household vs. 18b-19.” Paul is telling us of the amazing gift given to each Christian. The same Holy Spirit comes to reside in our hearts. He binds us together and works in us so God may be glorified. The Ephesians are no longer foreigners and strangers in the Kingdom of God. They are now citizens of the new covenant of God, they serve the true King. They are members of the household of God. Not only do we serve the King of all creation, we are also members of His family. We are all brothers and sisters, no matter our physical distinctions or historical separation between us, the Ephesians and believers throughout the ages. We are all part of the household of God.
3. One Foundation vs. 20-22
As Paul closes his message, he has told us believers are united by One Faith and are part of One Family. Now he reminds us the Church has One Foundation, God’s Word and God’s Son. God’s Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit vs. 20-22.” When God created the world, He walked with his people in the Garden of Eden. He dwelt in the tabernacle during the Exodus to lead his people. But their sin caused God’s glory to leave the tabernacle. Next, his presence could be felt in the temple built by King Solomon, but again the nation sinned and God’s glory departed. So his glory came to rest inside the body of Jesus Christ who lived with the people. He was rejected and nailed to the cross. But praise be to God, now His Spirit dwells in the church. Not a building, but in the hearts of those who have put their faith and trust in Christ and in the church collectively. The Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles teach us that the One Foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. But Christ is not only the Foundation; he is also the Chief Cornerstone, which holds the whole building together. Man made temples, like those in Jerusalem, the ancient world and even Trinity’s one day, have and will crumble into dust. But the Church of Christ will last forever. The Holy Spirit builds Christ’s universal church by taking living Clinker bricks, giving them a new purpose and a new life, and creating a beautiful structure, which brings glory to God. Each brick and part fits perfectly into God’s plans to accomplish his will.
I don’t know about you, but the isolation is starting to get to me. Some days we can still pretend all is normal and carry on with work and family life. But there are days when I really miss the church and our services. I imagine it is the same for most others. Yet, as Paul’s message reminds us, although we are physically apart, as believers we are united. We can take comfort knowing we have One Faith, we are part of One Family and Christ is Our Foundation and Cornerstone. If you are feeling lonely or lost this week, reach out to someone from church. Let us support and pray for each other.
There are also two important lessons we should graft into our lives.
Firstly, we should glory in the cross. What Christ has done for us by his death should always be in our thoughts and on our lips. Through the cross, we are freed from our old lives and made new, brought into a new family. As Stuart Olyott says: “We were once separated from God, but now we are united to him; what a wonder! We were once separated from each other; now we are one nation, not many; now we are one building, not just separate bricks, unconnected to each other.”
Second, the church is unified. Although we might be physically apart, we are still united in Christ. Our Saviour has redeemed us. We are united by the gospel under One Faith as One Family and held firmly together by One Foundation. Let us praise God for the privilege to all be part of a faith that spans continents and time. Let us praise God that our cornerstone and our foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
In his book Facing the Storm Eddie Askew writes, “The fisherman had been fishing down at the river for several hours. At last, it was time to go home. He packed up all his rods and gear, and the last thing he did was to go to his net which was in the river with the fish he had caught. As he lifted it out of the river, it almost exploded with energy. There must have been a dozen fish inside it, several a respectable size. He looked at them with quiet satisfaction for a few seconds, and then gently released them into the water, giving them their freedom. This made me think of Paul's words to the Christians at Ephesus, "By grace you have been saved,” he said. When they were caught up in never ending tangles of selfishness, thrashing around without purpose or hope, God provided the way out. He opened the net, restored them to the freedom He had created them for, but which they had lost. He gave them freely, graciously, what they had no power to achieve for themselves.”
No matter how hard we try, or the amount of energy we expend, we cannot save ourselves. We are trapped in our sins, caught and caged, and cannot get free. This is what makes God’s saving grace so truly extraordinary towards believers. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace,” we must never forget, this amazing grace on which the church is founded, with Christ at its head. All believers, from the Ephesians to the present, were destined to face God’s judgement. Yet He acted in love towards us by sending Jesus to pay for our sins and set us free. God did all this in order to bring us back into fellowship with him. Paul exhorts all believers in this letter to accept God’s grace and to live out this grace in their daily lives. God’s loving kindness lies at the heart of our passage. This Saving Grace reminds us, What We Once Were, What God has Done and What We have Become.
1. What We Once Were vs.1-3
Many of us would consider ourselves good people. We pay our taxes, we listen to the government even though we don’t always agree with them, we give to various charities. Generally we try to look our for our fellow man. If you were to ask the average person, do they think they are good enough to get into heaven, their immediate answer would be ‘yes’. Paul’s answer, however, would be ‘no’. He states the human condition clearly, when he writes about what we once were: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath vs. 1-3”. Paul tells all believers how their lives had been marked by loyalty to sin. All of us were at one time under the influence of our sinful natures. Paul warns this devotion to sin had one outcome: God‘s judgement seen in three stages.
Stage one: “you we were dead in your transgressions and sins vs. 1.” We had been spiritually lifeless because of our sins even though we are physically alive. Sin had corrupted every part of our lives, our bodies, hearts, and minds. We were previously like a convicted murderer waiting for the sentence of death to be carried out. We had been without hope or salvation, destined to spend eternity in hell.
Stage two: this how “you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air vs. 2a.” When we lived according to our sinful nature, we were actually following Satan. He is the ruler of the kingdom of the air. We become his slaves; our sinful nature pushes us to do Satan’s will. God’s spirit works things which are pleasing to him. So Satan’s spirit works in the hearts of those who have given themselves over to their sinful nature. We had pursued the desires of our flesh, and the immorality of our minds. We had become his supporters, though we may never have realized it. For the devil’s ultimate purpose is to keep as many people as he can from turning to God.
Stage three: Therefore, through our unwitting allegiance to Satan we became God’s enemies and “we were by nature deserving of wrath vs. 3.” God is totally justified in his anger towards sinners. He is the righteous King of all the earth, holy and perfect. Those who break his law fall under his judgment. How terrifying it must be for sinners to fall into the hands of an angry God. So at one time, all believers had been God’s enemies.
So to sum up, all of us sitting here in Trinity were at one point: spiritually lifeless, enemies of God and allies of Satan, we were objects of God anger and under his judgement. This is the outcome of devotion to sin, in the heart of every person.
2. What God has done vs. 4-7
Fortunately, this isn’t where our story ends. Paul declares to all sinners the most wonderful news. “But because of his great love for us, 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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus vs. 4-7.” God displays his love towards us in three ways.
Firstly, “God, who is rich in mercy vs.4,” has chosen to be compassionate to us sinners. He does not treat us as we deserve. God chose to reconcile us back to himself. Everything God does is always motivated by love. He does not desire the death of a sinner. But rather they should turn from their sinful ways and be saved. God will never lessen one aspect of his character for another. His justice is never compromised for the sake of his amazing love. If there is to be reconciliation between God and man, more than justice is required; mercy needs to take place. This is vividly seen in Jesus Christ. By sending Jesus to die on the cross, God’s justice is upheld and humanities’ sins are paid for. God merciful act of love in Christ has led to our reconciliation with the Father. How beautiful is the mercy of God, how little we deserve it, and how much we rejoice in it. God’s judgement is always tempered with mercy.
Secondly, the outcome of God’s love and mercy to us is “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead vs. 5a.” The word “alive” in the Greek means to revive someone, to bring them back to life. We have been given a spiritual heart transplant. New spiritual life has been infused through the grace of God into those who were formally dead in their sins. We have been revived because of the work of Christ in our hearts.
Thirdly, the reason for God’s grace towards these believers was “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus vs.7.” God salvation to his children, both the Ephesians and us, is an encouragement to other people, wherein he shows His mercy towards sinners. For the immeasurable riches of God’s grace is on display through believers. What God has done for the Christians in Ephesus; he has done for all believers throughout the ages. For through God’s love and mercy, we have been given a new life and a new hope. His favour towards us is truly extraordinary. Only God can transform a heart of stone into heart of flesh though the power of the cross. No words can describe God’s awesome majesty and our eternal gratitude for his love towards us.
3. What we have become vs. 8-10
Paul comes to the climax of his message. He writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do vs. 8-10”. God’s compassion towards us has resulted in our deliverance. Grace stands for, God’s riches at Christ expense. This is the gift we had been given. We contributed nothing to our salvation, except our sin. It is easy to think of faith as being something we offer to God, yet Paul makes it clear that we cannot make the decision to follow Christ by ourselves. We were so totally lost, we were dead in our sins, that we couldn’t even reach out for the help we needed. Think of a drowning man, going under the rough seas. He is so tired, he doesn’t have strength to hold on to the rope thrown to him. A rescuer must dive into the waves to pull the drowning man to safety. So even when it might seem like we make a decision for God, he chooses us from the foundation of the world and through his grace grants us the faith by which we take hold of all his promises. Whilst this does not diminish the human element of coming to faith, we must always remember it is through Jesus Christ that God builds his church.
Paul firmly excludes every possibility of self-achieved recovery by stating “not by works, so that no one can boast.” There was nothing we could have done to earn or deserve God rescuing us. God saved us in Christ. Through our faith, we have chosen to partake in the blessings of the Gospel. There is no room left for boasting about our abilities or power as though we deserve to be saved. Let those who boast, boast only in the Lord Jesus Christ and his work on the cross.
Paul finishes by telling us why God has saved us: so we could do “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Some Christians are taught once they have given their lives to Christ, they must repay his grace and mercy through now doing good works. That would be like a parent telling their toddler, look at what I’ve done for you – how are you going to make it up to me? As the parent of a young child, I can tell you how absurd it is. Our good works are not in response to God’s grace, rather they are a part of it. Other people think we live good lives in order to be saved – no, we live good lives because we are saved! We are being called to share God’s grace within our families, to our friends, with colleagues, and all those we meet. We are to make the most of every opportunity to advance God’s kingdom through love and fellowship. These works will be the evidence of God’s grace in our hearts.
God has placed each of us in unique circumstances, in different places where there are a whole series of good works to be done. There is a joke going about where Satan says to God during the Covid-19 lockdown, “Look, I’ve closed all the churches”. God responds: “No, I’ve opened a church in every home.” In each of our homes there is good to be done. Words of encouragement to be spoken to friends, hope to be shared, donations to good causes to be made, jerseys or hats to be knitted, God’s message of grace and mercy to be shared. In each of our homes or work places, if some are returning to work this week, there is good to be done. God wants us to set about doing them. This is part of His plan. As Stuart Olyott writes: “He has made us new; and he has done it that we might live as new people in the very place where we find ourselves today.”
God has a purpose and a plan for each of us, so his glory may be displayed to the world. God’s love is powerful. By simply showcasing this compassion to others, God can affect a greater change in their lives than we ever thought possible. God’s grace is truly magnificent. He has saved us, just as the same way the fisherman freed the fish. How wonderful is our God who saved us by grace alone. We are to praise God for his spectacular love and worship him alone. Look at what we once were and what we have become. May we now go out and walk in a manner worthy of the grace which God has given us. For by grace, we have been saved, so let us rejoice in God, our Saviour.
“Rediscovery of the New Testament life for the church can never take place as long as men and women who make up the church are satisfied with the status quo or cling to the conviction that they are capable of solving its problems and renewing it through their own efforts and ingenuity. The church in Century One was new and alive and powerful and miraculous, not because it had more clever members than we do, or better-trained leaders, or less to distract it from its commitment – but because everything it had was given to it by God and everything it had was produced by Christ in it and everything it did was done through it by the Holy Spirit. It saw itself as nothing and having nothing apart from Jesus Christ.”
These words, by Rev Charles Gordon, echo Paul's pastoral cry, not only to the church at Ephesus, but to all believers throughout the ages. He is locked up and in lockdown in Rome. However, his heart is free in the knowledge of God’s unending love and grace. Physically Paul is prisoner, but he is still a pastor. He desperately wants to encourage the Church to soldier on in the face of adversity, to hold on firmly to Christ because of His great love and Lordship over their lives. This is a message we as a church in the 21st-century need to discover anew. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace,” Paul’s prayer for believers in Ephesians is in response to every spiritual blessing we have received from our gracious triune God. He now turns from praising God to prayer, which is marked by his Appreciation and Appeal to all believers to recognise Christ as the true Authority over the church.
1. Appreciation vs. 15-16
The building blocks of a Christ-centred church are the marks of faith and love. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, love for God and for our fellow believers. Paul shows his appreciation to this church: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers vs. 15-16.” He begins his prayer by reminding them of their salvation, brought by God, purchased with Christ's blood and sealed through the Holy Spirit. He cannot contain his joy, he is so encouraged to hear this early Christian community is not only demonstrating their faith in Christ, but actively putting this faith into practice by loving one another. The universal mark of the church, throughout the ages is true faith must lead to love. Faith which is not accompanied by love is not faith at all. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing 13:2-3”. Faith which is absent of love is not genuine faith, even if it believes all the great theological truths of the Bible. This kind of faith becomes nothing more than a clanging gong and a resounding cymbal; it makes a lot of noise, but has no substance. Genuine faith, on the other hand, is faith which is always characterised by love - love for God and love for each other. Paul cannot contain his excitement to see this faith rooted in love growing and bearing the fruit of the spirit in the believer’s lives.
These marks of faith and love are as essential in the 21st-century church as they were in the first. By fanning into flame our love for God, we will by definition love each other, and this love will radiate out of our church too all around us. This is my constant prayer, that people outside the church would say that we are characterised by faith and love. Let us continue to fan into flame the gifts that we already have, so the fire of God's love would spread out and ignite many hearts to come and worship him.
2. Appealing vs. 17-19a
Paul continues his prayer for the church by asking: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe vs. 17-19a”. He is appealing to God for three things, which would strengthen the believer's faith.
First, he asks God to give us the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better vs. 17b.” Paul is speaking to believers so he is not referring to the opening of our spiritual eyes to the truth of the gospel. Rather he is referring to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. The Spirit’s role is that of a teacher who guides us into all truth. The Old Testament teaches us the reverence of the Lord leads us into all knowledge. The final verse of Psalm 111 makes this clear: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise vs. 10”. We can only receive true knowledge when we see everything through God's eyes. True wisdom comes when we realise God alone is to receive our fullest devotion, our adoration and our reverence. Paul is praying the wisdom of God may increase, as the Spirit works in our hearts, through God’s divine revelation in the Scriptures. Rev R C Sproul says, “God’s Word is the source of all wisdom and the Spirit inspired that Word. He is the one who reveals the truth of God in the first instance and then illumines our minds in order that we may grasp it properly”.
Second, he petitions the Lord that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened vs. 18a”. In many parts of Scripture, we are told the heart is sinful above all things. Paul prays for the Holy Spirit to regenerate our hearts, so we can become open to his leadings. Sin tends to befuddle our thinking and confound the desires. God's Spirit always needs to do open-heart surgery, so we can be open to the things of God, allowing his truth to dwell more fully in us.
Third, Paul requests for us to “know the hope to which he has called you... his incomparably great power for us who believe vs. 18b-19a”. Our understanding of the word hope, in our modern English, is very different from its usage in Scripture. We use this word to describe an ideal future: Hopefully, we will come out of lockdown, or it’ll be sunny or rainy tomorrow. We can hope for these things, but we know in reality they may not materialize. The Christian hope, as described in Scripture, is always connected with the coming of Christ. In Christ, the Christian’s future hope is certain, for he is the faithful one who fulfils his promises. Paul prays that we might know this hope, that we might understand it fully, so that our rock-solid hope will be in Christ alone.
3. Authority vs. 19b-23
Paul ends this powerful prayer for both believers and the church by expressing joyous appreciation at the church’s dedication for living the Christian life. He has also appealed to God to give all believers the spirit of wisdom, so the eyes of their heart may be open to know the future hope they have in Christ. Paul now tells us Christ alone is the only true power over the church. The demonstration of this power was seen when the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead. This same power now resides in the heart of every believer. Therefore, God has seated Christ “at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way vs. 20b-23”.
Christ’s Lordship is evident. Paul uses four words to express Christ’s might: rule, authority, power, and dominion. The right hand seat was always the seat of power. This is no mere human kingdom’s right hand – Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. His rule is universal, now and in the age to come. That should be a comfort to all of us, since it means Christ is in control, even now in these uncertain times. He has power right now, his power extends into the future, he has victory over all evil rulers and powers. The battle was fought and won on the cross. Although we might still struggle each day against temptation, fear, or spiritual battles, we know the ultimate victory belongs to Jesus Christ. We can rest easy in his authority and power. The Bible tells us that through this power, He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” and it allows us to “make the most of every opportunity.” Paul also tells us all Christ’s authority and power is for the church, because Christ is also the head of the church.
Christ is the rightful leader of the universal church throughout the ages. Christ’s headship over the church is for the benefit of his people, those who believe and trust in him, and his reign is to further the interests of believers. The death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ are in part to show God’s extraordinary love for His people. He cares for us, not just as an aloof leader, but as part of the church. Christ is the head and we are all members of his body. This metaphor teaches us about the closeness of Christ to the church; we are connected to him in a truly wonderful way.
For the church is Christ body “the fullness of him who fill everything in everyway vs. 23.” What this means, is that Christ regards himself as incomplete until every person God, the Father, has given him is joined to him in living faith. Our Lord is represented in the world by his body, the church. Therefore the church is not only intended to be, but must be a full expression of Christ to the world. As Stuart Olyott says regarding Christ: “of him ‘who fills all in all’; of him who reigns over the whole universe, and whom the whole creation will at last acknowledge to be Lord alone; of him who, by his Spirit, is present everywhere, and whose name is the only one which will be praised eternally”. Christ needs the church and the church needs Christ to attain a fullness or completeness. Believers in God’s church were called before the foundation of the world in Christ, because Christ has authority over the church and Christ without the church is missing something.
Everything Paul has said in this prayer sounds so beautiful, so blessed. Yet when we listen to the descriptions of faith and love, of opening our eyes and our hearts, we wonder if we fall short. Would Paul have prayed the same prayer today? The answer is yes. We all have access to the glory of God’s riches through His Son’s saving grace. Every believer, from the moment their heart is given to Christ has this same power dwelling in their hearts. We need not chase after super-spiritual experiences because our conversion to Christ was the greatest spiritual experience there is. So when we pray, when we read our Bibles, when we tell others about Jesus, we are part of the universal church throughout the ages, even though we are currently not attending a church. Therefore Paul’s prayer in the past for the Ephesians, is his prayer for us in the present and will be his prayer for future generations until Christ returns or calls us home. Here in the power of Christ, we stand. Christ is the head, according to God's grand design, and we, believers, are his body - the church. Jesus is in charge of Trinity, nobody else. We need to submit all our decisions, our plans, our motivations before our King. We need to allow Him to be the one who rules and reigns not only in the church, but in our lives as well. For Christ alone is the true authority of all things.
As we come to the end of our time together, let the words of the song by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, In Christ Alone encourage us. “In Christ along, my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my son. This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease. My Comforter, my All in All. Here in the love of Christ I stand!”
Once upon a time, there was a king who looked from his palace window and saw one of his children collecting flowers in a distant field. The king watched as the child collected the flowers into a bouquet and wrapped it with ribbons of royal colours. The king smiled because the ribbon indicated that the flowers were being collected as a gift for his own pleasure. Then the king noticed that the child – because he was a child – gathered not only flowers. From time to time, the child also added some weeds, ivy, and thistle. To help his young child, the king gave a mission to his oldest son, who sat at his right hand. The king said to his eldest son, “Go to my garden and pick from the flowers that grow there. Then, when your sibling comes to my throne room with his gift, remove all that is unfit for my palace from his bouquet. Make it fit by putting in its place the flowers that I have grown.” The elder brother did exactly as his father had instructed. When the younger child came to the throne room, his brother removed the weeds, ivy and thistles, substituting all with flowers from the king’s garden. Then, the firstborn son rewrapped the royal ribbon so that his younger sibling could present his gift to the king. With a beaming smile, the younger child entered the throne room and presented the gift, saying: “Here is the beautiful bouquet I have prepared for you, Father.” Only later would he understand that his gift had been made acceptable by the gracious provision of his father... Each of us is the child with the weed-filled bouquet of good works. Though we may strive with energy and zeal to honour God, our deeds are never really worthy of his holy throne room. So our eternal King graciously provides the holiness He requires. He has sent his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, to make us and our efforts fit for heaven.
Bryan Chapel recounts this ancient parable in his book “Unlimited Grace.” God’s gracious love towards us knows no bounds, has no limits. His grace towards us, in Christ, is unlimited, unmerited, unwarranted and we are undeserving of it. Yet, from the moment we committed our lives to Christ, we were given this grace, brought into a new family, and given a new identity as believers. The saving grace of God is so vital to a believer’s life, that if we haven’t experienced it, then we cannot be a child of God. The grace of God is so necessary to our Christian walk, the apostle Paul wrote an entire letter from lockdown in Rome on this very subject. His letter to the Ephesians is all about “The Riches of God’s Grace” which we will be digging into as we begin our new series this morning. Paul tells us because of this glorious grace, believers have access to every spiritual blessing. So we must Praise the Father, Praise the Son, Praise the Holy Spirit, the three-in-one - Blessed Trinity.
1. Praise the Father vs. 3-6
We are now entering the fourth week of lockdown and many of us are feeling depressed and despondent. Paul was also in lockdown, or more accurately, locked up by the government of his day. Not for protection, mind you, but as punishment for his faith. Yet, he is overjoyed and worships God from his prison cell. He calls on believers to worship God and praise the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves vs.3-6” Through Christ his Son, God has imparted numerous spiritual blessings to us. When we are reborn into God's family, we are born rich, with all the spiritual wealth and power that we need to live the Christian life. We should praise God because he chose us and he adopted us.
We are all born into sin which prevents us from seeking after God. God seeks us and has to choose us first. Paul tells us that through Jesus Christ, God has chosen the believer because of his grace towards us before the foundation of the world so that we may become holy and blameless in his sight.
Not only are we chosen by God through Jesus Christ, we are also adopted into God’s family because of God’s great love for us. God becomes our Father, in the same way He is Jesus’ Father. In Roman society, an adopted child had the same rights and status as a natural born child. Through Christ, we have the same rights, privileges, and access to the Father. Therefore, as Paul tells us in Romans, believers are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 8:17b”.
Paul has made it clear, we must praise the Father, because through Christ, he has chosen us, adopted us, and accepted us. Nothing we can do can make us worthy of God's love, and yet our Heavenly Father still chooses to lavish His love upon us. We are to praise God our Father for the glorious riches and grace he has bestowed upon us. All believers can praise God, for his manifest blessings towards us.
2. Praise the Son vs. 7-12
In the David Crowder song “All We Sinners Sang” it says: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, the Holy Lamb of God. Who makes us alive again. Oh, Your love, bled for me. Oh, Your blood, in crimson streams. Oh, Your death is hell's defeat. A cross meant to kill Jesus is my victory.” Like this modern song by David Crowder, Paul calls on us to move from praising God the Father, to God the Son. The reason we are to Praise Jesus the Son is because “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ vs. 7-10”. The word redemption means to be purchased and set free by paying a price. In the Roman Empire, there were 60 million slaves. A slave could be redeemed if someone paid for him and set him free. Christ has done this for us. He paid for our sins with his own blood and made us children of the living God.
The Son’s blood does not only purchase our redemption, but grants us forgiveness. The word forgiveness means to cast away or carry away. This word reminds us of the Old Testament Festival known as the Day of Atonement. The high priest would take two goats, one would be sacrificed, and its blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. The second goat would have the sins of the nation placed on it by the high priest laying his hand on its head. This scapegoat was then chased off into the wilderness, carrying with it the sins of the nation. Jesus has removed our sins from us, he has cast them away, and granted us forgiveness. The Psalmist writes speaking of Christ “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 103:12.”
Not only should be praise God the Son, for our forgiveness and redemption, but also for His sovereign rule. Jesus Christ has been given authority over heaven, earth and the entire universe. The pinnacle of God the Father’s salvation plan is that Jesus Christ will bring all things together, under his authority and rule. He is our king, and one day he will return to rule this kingdom. Jesus will come again to rule and reign on earth, and then there will be peace and Paradise. Therefore, we are to praise the Son, for all he has done, for in him we have been redeemed, we have been forgiven, and we are ruled by our sovereign King.
3. Praise the Holy Spirit vs.13-14
As come to the crescendo of our passage, we see how each part interlocks to give us a fuller picture of the Triune God, as we Praise the Father, the Son and now the Holy Spirit. God has chosen us through Christ, saved us in Christ, and now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ will be with us. For through the Spirit, the believer has been “included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory vs. 13-14.” Paul tells us the work of the Holy Spirit, is twofold.
First, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is promised to believers when they place their trust in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is a sign of a finished transaction. The seal of the Holy Spirit is a sign of both present and final salvation. The work of the Spirit within the believer is a sign of genuine belief in Jesus Christ. A seal can also be a sign of ownership – we are both part of God’s family and we belong to Him.
Second, the work of the Spirit is a sign: He is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Just like we put down a deposit for a house or a new car in order to gain access or use of it, in the same way the Holy Spirit guarantees our salvation. The Holy Spirit is a down payment by God, promising us the work he has begun in us through Christ will be brought to completion when we see Him face to face in the heavenly realms. The Holy Spirit is the seal and sign of our redemption - we have been saved, we are being saved, and one day our salvation will be made complete.
The opening verses of the book of Ephesians profess some of the most beautiful and powerful truths in all of scripture. The apostle Paul has exhorted us to praise the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, as we come to the end, there are three reasons why we need to do this. To start with, our blessings come from God. From God we receive spiritual blessings which no one can take from us and which no amount of money could buy. We cannot enjoy the vast blessings of creation and the treasures to come without knowing and loving the giver of gifts – God Almighty.
Next, all of these blessings are a gift of God’s grace and for His glory. God chose us through Christ, the Son died for us and the Holy Spirit has sealed us with the sign of our inheritance. All this is done to bring God glory. Everything God does is to make His name great and bring glory to Himself. Therefore, our praises should likewise bring glory to Him and to Him alone.
Finally, these blessings in the spirit are only the beginning. Whatever trials and obstacles come our way, we can draw on the limitless spiritual resources given to us by God. So we can praise God that the blessings he gives us now are only a foretaste of His glory and might. For the Lord is our rock, our shield and our redeemer. As we come to the end of our sermon, I know we are all missing our worship time, so I would like to end with the words from the song 10 000 Reasons by one of my favourite musicians, Matt Redman. Let these words stir our hearts to praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the blessed three-in-one.
“You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger. Your name is great and Your heart is kind. For all Your goodness I will keep on singing, 10 000 reasons for my heart to find. Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His holy name. Sing like never before, O my soul, I’ll worship Your holy name. And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come. Still my soul will sing Your praise unending, 10 000 years and then forevermore!”
Our world is full of genuine conspiracies and cover-ups. Sometimes the truth is hidden for political reasons, for financial gain or to preserve reputations. One hidden truth which recently came to light is Operation Paperclip. Operation Paperclip was a secret program after the Second World War, during which more than 1600 Nazi scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken to the USA and employed by the US government. Many were former leaders in the Nazi Party. Yet for almost 60 years, this information was hidden from the world. It was only after declassified documents proving the existence of Operation Paperclip that the US government came clean. Many people were involved in hiding this truth from the American public under the guise of national security, but eventually the truth came out. When they were confronted with the truth of the resurrection, the ruling elite tried to hide the truth from the Jewish public. Just like Operation Paperclip, the truth of Jesus’ resurrection would never stay hidden.
We do not like our worldview to be shaken too much or too often. It is easier and simpler in our comfort zone. Yet the resurrection shatters all of our self-centered and selfish worldviews. It brings every single person on a direct collision course with the truth about Christ and his kingship. As we come this Easter Sunday to our final sermon in our series “The Hidden Truth”, all the evidence of Jesus kingship was before the Jewish Ruling Council. They had seen the rocks split, they had felt the earthquake, witnessed the curtain in the temple torn in two. Those standing at the cross had heard the centurion’s statement: ‘surely, this man was of the Son of God’. But still they refuse to believe, and there are many of us, who likewise refused to believe in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Our passage this morning shows us the lengths the Jewish Ruling Council would go to in hiding the truth of the resurrection. They did not want to accept, acknowledge, or pay homage to Jesus Christ, their risen King and ours. So Matthew tells us the chief priests, the guards, and the Roman authorities hatched a Conspiracy to cover up the Truth of the resurrection. But glory be to God – they failed. The King has risen, his Kingdom has come, and the truth is out.
1. Conspiracy vs. 11-12
The women rushed out from the empty tomb at the angel and the Lord’s instructions to tell a waiting world that he had risen. The soldiers had a different reaction to the miraculous resurrection, the angel’s appearance, and the stone being rolled away. “Some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money… vs. 11-12.” While the enthusiastic believers were worshiping the living Christ, the unbelievers were already plotting ways to destroy the witness and testimony of the resurrection. The Roman soldiers who had been stationed by the tomb realised that they were in hot water and their situation was dire. The Roman seal on the tomb had been broken, the stone inexplicably rolled away and the body had vanished. In the Roman army, dereliction of duty carried the severest punishment and possibly even the death sentence. But the soldiers were clever; they had been placed there by the Jewish religious ruling council. So instead of going to Pilate or even their commanding officer, they hasten to the Jewish ruling council and the chief priests. For they knew these men were anxious not to let news of a disappearing body or a resurrected Christ spread amongst the people. They knew these men would want to hide this miraculous truth. So the soldiers tell the chief priests everything which has happened, every single detail. The chief priests and the elders got together and discussed the evidence laid before them by the soldiers. Instead of accepting Jesus and coming to faith, they hatched a conspiracy to hide this truth from their own people. The first part of this conspiracy was to pay off the guards and to give them a sufficient sum of money to guarantee both their silence and so that they would spread, their version of the truth of what happened on the First Easter Sunday – the body had been stolen!
2. Cover Up vs. 13-15
With a conspiracy set in motion, and the bribe agreed upon, the chief priests and the elders instruct the soldiers on the story they are to spin to the outside world. They “are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day vs. 13-15”. The great cover-up has begun. The chief priests, the elders, and the soldiers put together a plausible explanation for the empty tomb. In short, Jesus disciples stole his body. This story has been told for centuries to the Jewish people. This hidden truth has kept millions of Jews and others from coming to faith in Jesus Christ our Messiah and king. Warren Wiersbe says, “Mark Twain once wrote that lie can go around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots. There is something in human nature that makes it easy for people to believe lies.” The irony is the story the Jewish ruling Council made up to explain the empty tomb, in fact proves the resurrection. Let’s examine the story: Jesus body was stolen. If this is true, there are only two possible culprits: either his friends or his enemies. His friends and family could not have stolen the body, because when they left the tomb on Good Friday, they were convinced Jesus was dead. When the disciples learned the truth and saw the risen Christ, they were given new energy for the gospel and boldly went forth to declare it. Later in life, they were all martyred for their faith. If they had indeed stolen his body to fake a resurrection, they would have admitted to this to save themselves. But because they knew the truth, they were willing to lay down their lives for Christ and his kingdom.
If his enemies stole the body, it would defeat their purposes, work against their own agendas, and give credence to the doctrine of the resurrection. The very thing they were trying to prevent. If they had removed the body, why didn’t they produce it to silence the witness of the early church?
On top of all of that, anyone who stole the body would have taken the grave clothes because this was the most valuable thing in the tomb. Yet as we’ve seen earlier in chapter 28, the clothes were left in the tomb, in an orderly manner. Hardly the scene of a crime or a grave robbery. As we have already seen, the Jewish Ruling Council was willing to go to great lengths both to kill Jesus and to cover up his resurrection. They paid Judas Iscariot 30 pieces of silver to betray our Lord. They paid the Roman soldiers a considerable price, in order to guarantee their silence. The sum would be princely indeed, because these men’s lives were on the line. If Pilate heard, the soldiers were afraid there would be hell to pay, and they could be executed. However, it is unlikely the soldiers would have suffered this fate, since even if the story got to Pilate, he was unlikely to care much about it. Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday; he was dead, which was the end of the story in his eyes. The disappearance of Christ body created no real problems for him, but it would allow him to stick it to the Jewish Ruling Council.
The Jewish Ruling Council failed to cover up the truth of the Risen King. However many Jews to this day still believe their lie. At the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the powerful witness of the apostles, many Jews in Jerusalem realized their leaders were lying to them. Only then did they discover the truth that Jesus is alive. Through the powerful preaching of Peter in Acts, he called out to the people: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day 2:40-41”. The church grew because of truth of Jesus rising from the dead and the witness of empty tomb. Any person, who diligently studies the evidence, with an open mind and open heart, will conclude the resurrection of Jesus is a concrete historical fact.
All the forces of human ingenuity and the power of darkness cannot hide the truth of the resurrection. Fear motivated the actions of the Jewish Ruling Council and the soldiers; one feared the loss of power, the other loss of life. But the apostles and the early church allowed faith to rule their hearts, and boldly proclaimed the truth of the resurrection. The Lordship of the resurrected Jesus Christ is the hidden truth which the church has been proclaiming for almost 2000 years and will continue to do so until He returns. We can see all the evidence before us, yet for many there still remains a nagging question about whether we can believe the resurrection. The truth is, no matter what our religious convictions or lack thereof, we all believe in some kind of an Easter story. Our lives are shaped by “life from the dead” stories, whether we consciously acknowledge them or not. It is the Christian “life from the dead” story that makes all the difference in how we live. The “life from the dead” stories impacts our view of heaven, history and our own heart.
First, take our view of heaven. This universe is by definition, a life from the dead, a something from nothing. See, if we don’t believe in an Easter God, who created everything, and then we need to find some inventive reasons to explain how the universe came into existence. We realise that all of creation, the history of human existence and the Easter miracle all have a creator behind it and is part of His grand narrative; He is writing a great love story towards mankind. Without an intelligent creator God, behind the creation of the heavens, the likelihood of life from the dead is virtually impossible.
Second, our view of history. Historical record, of the life and death of Jesus, which the Bible bears witness to, is agreed upon by the majority of historians to be accurate and factual. He was executed and placed in a tomb. On the third day after his death, the tomb was found empty by his followers, who then claimed to have experiences of the risen Jesus. We know that Jesus body was never found. From its inception, the Christian movement preached the empty tomb as a key foundational doctrine. The Christian movement mushroomed in size, become the largest, most diverse society in history. Its central message was always the proclamation of the Easter story. Therefore, the history of the church since Easter Sunday is one of the most powerful arguments for the truth of its message. Without the resurrection there is no Christianity.
Third, our heart, is the last and most powerful, reason for belief in the Easter story. Every single one of us lives as though love is ultimate. We all know that we need to prioritise relationships. We all live as though our life is greater than death, as though love trumps disconnection, light triumphs over darkness. We believe in life after death, in a type of resurrection. This is why we realise the belief in the resurrection is not an absurdity but rather it explains what otherwise would be absurd. Our hearts make sense when we embrace the Easter story.
In our church, we sometimes allow the lies of the world to influence the way we preach the gospel, the way we do ministry and the way we reach out towards a lost and broken world. We allow the cover-up to win. It is sometimes easier to hear and preach sermons which do not confront us with the mysterious and magnificent truth about Jesus resurrection. When we put the risen Jesus at the forefront of our faith, we are called to react differently as a church. When we as a church know Jesus and see the glory of the resurrection, we start following our risen King, Saviour, and Lord. The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus, what makes us think that the box we place him into would hold him? We cannot hide the truth. The resurrection of Christ shapes our worldview and must change our lives. Let us stop living in fear and know that we are God’s children, part of the miraculous love story that He has crafted since the beginning of time. It’s time as a church and as a people of God to start living and declaring the truth that Jesus is the risen King. He is risen, He is risen indeed!
“I'm forgiven cause You were forsaken. I'm accepted, You were condemned. I am alive and well, Your spirit is within me. 'Cause You died and rose again. Amazing love, how can it be? That You, my King would die for me? Amazing love, I know it’s true. It's my joy to honour You... In all I do, I honour You. You are my King. Jesus, You are my King.”
In this song by Chris Tomlin, we see the beauty and burden of the cross. The Cross is viewed in many different ways, to some it is simply a piece of jewellery we hang around our necks. To others, piece of religious art or the icon of faith. To some, the cross is abhorrent. One liberal theologian from the Anglican Church in England called the cross the greatest act of cosmic child abuse in all of history. Yet as Christians when we look at the cross on Good Friday, we see none of those things, we see the greatest act of amazing love in the history of the world. The God of the universe, who created everything by the word of His power, chose to become flesh and dwell amongst us, to lay down His life for us, for the very ones who nailed him to that cross. Lord Jesus, we will love you for the cross, and we will love you for the cost, for you paid the price for our sins which we could not pay. We come to the 4th sermon in our Easter Series “The Hidden Truth,’’. We come to the end of Jesus earthly journey, beaten, battered and broken, the King of God’s kingdom, hung on the old rugged cross for your sins, for my sins, for the sins of every person on the planet past, present and future. As we stand at the foot of the cross, and look into the face of Jesus Christ, we see the Rejecting of Love, and the power of his Redeeming Love for us.
1. Rejecting Love vs. 45-50
There he hung: Jesus the King, not in robes of splendour, but in splattering of blood, instead of a Crown of glory, a Crown of Thorns pierced his brow. The Pharisees and the Romans, and the crowd standing there, must have thought how could this be God’s Messiah, and the King of His kingdom. Creation reeled, as the saviour of the world hung ““From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) vs. 45-46”” At the heralding of Christ birth, there were angels and the guiding star, there was light which had broken into the world. Therefore, it is only fitting at his death there was a heaven-sent darkness, which lasted for three hours. All of creation was standing in solidarity with its Creator. Just as in the days of darkness before the Passover in Egypt, so there were three hours of darkness, as the Lamb of God died for the sins of the world. Creation was in rebellion, screaming out, as its Creator was crucified. But more than creation is horrified by the death of Christ. God himself turns his face away, he cannot look at his Son, who is so ugly and stained with sin. Jesus cries out: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the answer is God has forsaken him in order to bring our forgiveness, in order to show the greatest act of love. God rejected his own Son; the Scriptures bear witness to this fact. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians makes this abundantly clear “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God 5:21”. The Father had forsaken Jesus; the darkness was a symbol of judgement, which he must endure the full outpouring of God’s righteous anger against sin. Jewish law taught that Cursed was anyone or anything which was hung on a tree. Jesus became cursed with sin, in order that we could be given its cure, and be brought into right relationship with God. While Jesus would have recited, the whole of Psalm 22 while He hung on the cross, vs. 3: “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” is of particular significance. For here, we see yet more evidence, of his rejection of Christ. How could a holy God, who cannot tolerate sin, look with sympathy upon his own Son who has become sin.
Not only has the Father turned His face away in disgust. The crowds now mockingly scoff at Jesus as they think He is calling for Elijah so they say: “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit vs. 49-50”. Jesus truly was scorned by the ones He came to save. Humanity stood there, laughing, triumphantly thinking they have won, and they can direct their own destiny now. Just like in the Garden of Eden, when all of creation was broken through Adam and Eve’s sin, so through Jesus sacrifice, the curse of sin would be broken. For there disobedience brought chaos, pain and suffering to the world, but through Jesus obedience, He brings order, and reconciliation with God. Jesus laid down his life, like a lamb led to the slaughter, and in three days, He will take it up again. So He breathed His last, and yielded up his spirit to God. He had finished the work for which the Father had sent him to earth. The King had died, for his people and his kingdom, and yet his subjects rejected and reviled him.
2. Redeeming Love vs. 51-54
As Jesus breathes his final breath and hands himself over to death, at the exact moment of the rejecting of his love, three extraordinary miracles that witness to the power and Majesty of his redeeming love take place.
Firstly, his love restores “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split vs. 51.” The tearing of the veil in the temple symbolised the way to God is now open to all believers. When Moses received the Ten Commandments, the earth shook. This earthquake at the very moment of Jesus death shows He was the One who conquered and perfectly fulfilled all these laws. No longer would believers have to conduct their relationship with God through priests, altars, sacrifices or the law. Anyone can come to God through Christ, since He had finished the work of salvation on the cross.
Secondly, love revives “the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people vs. 52-53.” Matthew does not specifically say who these saints are, they are simply believers who had passed away prior to Jesus death on the cross. Although they were raised on the Friday as Jesus died, they only went to Jerusalem after his resurrection. When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, we are also raised from being spiritually dead to a new life in Christ. He revives our souls and gives us new purpose, just like those who rose from their graves.
Thirdly, love redeems “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God! vs. 54.” The Roman Centurion makes a startling declaration. The manner in which Jesus had died filled him with awe. Although we cannot say for sure what was happening in this man’s heart, it is quite possible this centurion was the first Christian believer. Even if we do not know whether he found saving faith. From the centurion’s own words, we see how deeply the crucifixion affected him and made his heart open to the truth. Jesus died to redeem those who trust in him. When we are confronted by the cross and the truth, we are forced to either accept it or reject it. There is no middle ground or gray area. We must declare - Jesus is Lord and is truly the son of God.
The evidence of God’s total love for the world is seen in the death of His Son for the sins of the world. When we look at passages like 1 Corinthians 13; 4-8, 13 and John 3:16 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails... Now these three remain: faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love...“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” through the lens of Christ redeeming love on the cross, it brings a new perspective to our lives. It shows us what total love looks like, and it calls us to emulate that love in our daily lives.
So may we look at the cross afresh, this Easter on this Good Friday. How often in our lives, don’t we reject God’s love, we reject Christ as irrelevant, as unimportant, as something that people who really have problems need Jesus. He had God’s love, cost him everything, costing the rejection of His Son on the cross; it cost Jesus bearing the full brunt of our sins in order that we might have redeeming love and life. Do not reject the cross, and the love it brings, like the Pharisees did, like the Jews in Jesus day. For if we today reject this redeeming love, which is offered us, through the cross of Christ. Then one day, when we die and we stand before God, the Father will turn his face away from us; in the same way, as He did on that Good Friday 2000 years ago to his son. Oh the beauty and the power of this redeeming love, is refreshes revives restores, it brings hope and healing, cleansing and forgiveness. Oh how beautiful is the cross of Christ, how magnificent is all its facets, and how beautiful it is in all its ways. We could spend a lifetime studying the cross, and still we would not dig deep enough to understand the power of the fathers love for us. How deep the fathers love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that he would give his only son to make a wretch his treasure. What should I gain from his reward I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart his blood has paid my ransom? Pause 1-2-3-4
There is a story told about an old English farmer who went to London and visited one of the great art galleries in the city. There he was attracted by a painting of the crucifixion. He sat before it, studying each detail with intense interest. At last, forgetful of his surroundings, he cried out, "Bless Him! I love Him!" Others nearby, startled by his words, came to see what was wrong with the old man. From different parts of the gallery, they gathered around him. They saw the tears flowing down his bronzed cheeks. They too looked at the painting of the crucifixion. After a while, one man in the group with tearful eyes, reached for the farmers hand and said, "And I love Him too!" Then another and another and still another took the old man's hand until there was a sizable group of sobbing believers rejoicing in front of the painting of Christ's crucifixion and declaring, "We love Him too!"Will you join the centurion in his confession, "Truly this Man is the Son of God?" Our closing story, sums up for me, the power of revealing love, when we look at the cross we do not need a million applications. We simply need to accept that on the cross when Jesus died the wrath of God was satisfied and for every sin on him was laid. Here in Christ death and revealing love we live.
Professor Roderick Finlayson’s introduction to this passage really brought home the profound nature of Jesus prayer in the garden of Gethsemane to me. He says Jesus destination was the Garden, a place to which he had frequently resorted for communion and refreshment. But this time it was to be the place of conflict, the place where he should have not only a preview, but a foretaste of the cross. This was something more intimate, more distressing, than he had hitherto experienced. And in approaching this solemn study, we must tread reverently and cautiously. Gethsemane is not a field for intellect, it is a sanctuary for faith. There was transacted something that brings us completely out of our depth, yet something that has such a distinct bearing on our redemption that we dare not pass it by.
Tenebrae comes from Latin, and simply means darkness. It reminds us of the darkness of sin, and what it has done to the world, and to the human heart. It reminds us, Jesus took on himself the sins of the world, so that we could have light once more. He became darkness, so that we could experience light. As we come to our third sermon in our series, “The Hidden in Truth”, we have been reminded, that Jesus is an unexpected King, and requires his followers demonstrate his love and life to the world through their actions, showing we are members of his flock.
As we come to the garden, we focus on Christ’s anguish before the cross as he prepares himself to drink from the cup of God’s wrath. Even though he is God, Jesus is still human, wrestling with his fears before God, just like us. The hands that continually pray for us, here prays for himself in the garden. Jesus knows our fears, and our anguish, he knows everything we go through in our most joyous moments and in our darkest times, since he experienced sorrow too deep for us to comprehend. As he wrestles with his destiny before the divine Father, his prayers of supplication and submission ascend heavenward, but ultimately Christ will do his father’s will. His prayers in Gethsemane are an example for us to follow.
1. Prayer of supplication vs. 36-39
Jesus has just celebrated his last Passover meal with the disciples and in doing so, he celebrated the very first communion. As the cross and his death looms before him, Jesus takes his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John, and heads to the garden of Gethsemane on the mount of Olives to pray. He has been here many times before, but this time is different. His soul is in anguish as he begins to feel the weight of the sins of the world. He told the three disciples: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will vs. 38-39.”
We might be tempted to think that it is fear of death which terrified our Lord. But no, He faced the cross with courage and peace. He knew that it was his destiny to die for the sins of the world and he did not shy away from it. His sorrow came from knowing that he would be drinking from the cup of God’s righteous anger towards humanity’s sin. Jesus was made sin, as Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God vs 5:21”. We would not have to bear this same sorrowful weight which Jesus had to carry completely alone, abandoned by his Father. In his prayer, Jesus is not resisting God’s will. He is not asking to be released from the death he knew was approaching, rather, he was seeking God’s will. His prayer of supplication was not selfish, he wanted to be obedient to God, but if there was another way, he was humbly asking for it. Even Jesus was afraid of drinking the cup of God’s wrath.
Jesus teaches us that we can bring our petitions and requests before the throne of God. We can ask him for whatever we need and also wrestle with God when we do not understand His will. Sometimes we think that we should only come to God in prayer when our hearts are suitably inclined towards him. When we are in a good or worshipful headspace. But God tells us that we can come to him at any time. We can bring our joy, our sorrow, our heartache and our fear to Him and he will never turn us away. We are also reminded that Jesus prays for us. He intercedes with God on our behalf. But our prayers, like the one our Lord prayed in the garden, should also always first seek God’s will. I can pray everyday that the Lord gives me a Ferrari if it is not in God’s will, it will not happen. Let us always remember to seek God’s will and not our own.
2. Prayer of Submission vs. 40-46
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught his followers the Lord’s Prayer and the words: Let your will be done. Now he truly has to practice what he has preached as he submits himself completely to his Father’s will. The disciples however have not. They have given in to temptation. After praying Jesus “returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing vs. 40-44.”
Our Lord is going through the most excruciating agony as the sins of the world are piled on his shoulders and he begins to sweat drops of blood, because of the spiritual anguish laid upon his soul. Yet his closest companions, the disciples, cannot stay awake long enough to support him. This is unfortunately the problem of sin in the world. As Christians, our hearts long to worship God, but our sinful flesh fights within us. How often when we try to come to God in prayer, do we find our minds filled with a million distractions? Our hearts are willing, but our sinful flesh is weak. So, we should not judge the disciples too harshly. Remember that they have had a large meal and are probably very drowsy. Nevertheless, Jesus tells them to be vigilant, because their war is not just against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and the authorities of this dark world.
Our Lord then returns to pray a second and a third time. He is yielding and submitting to God’s will. The Rev Warren Wiersbe reminds us: “As perfect Man, He felt the awful burden of sin, and His holy soul was repelled by it. Yet as the Son of God, He knew that this was his mission in the world. The mystery of His humanity and deity is seen vividly in this scene.” Jesus is the son of God, yet He made sure to spend time in prayer. Not just in the dark garden of Gethsemane, but throughout his life and ministry. Jesus teaches us what it means to submit to God’s will and to trust him completely, in the good times and the bad. Jesus knew the road ahead of him would be dark. Jesus knew the pain of bearing the sins of the whole world upon his shoulders would bring momentary separation between him and God, which would feel like a lifetime. He would drink the cup of God’s righteous anger down to the very last drop. He knew what awaited him, and yet he still prayed in submission to God – your will be done. Because Jesus submitted, Paul tells us in Philippians “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father vs. 2:9-11.”
Just like in the garden of Gethsemane, we too are faced with dark and desperate times. There is much fear, uncertainty, anxiety and anger worldwide. But still it is up to us to decide how to react to these unprecedented circumstances. Like our Lord, we can choose to submit our hearts and lives to God. Let us say:
“We will follow where and when God leads” and, like our Lord say, “Your will be done.” Let us have hands together in prayer, hearts open to the will of God, knees submitted to his rule and reign in our lives and let us bring before him our prayers of supplication and submission. The famous Anglican theologian and bishop NT Wright said “At any given moment, someone we know is facing darkness and horror: illness, death, bereavement, torture, catastrophe, loss. They ask us, perhaps silently, to stay with them, to watch and pray alongside them. Distance is no object. In any one day we may be called to kneel in Gethsemane beside someone dying in a hospital in Nairobi, someone being tortured for their faith in Burma, someone who has lost a job in New York, someone else waiting anxiously for a doctor’s report in Edinburgh. Once we ourselves get over the shock of realizing that all our friends, neighbours and family, and even the people we have come to rely on, are themselves vulnerable and need our support—if even Jesus longed for his friends’ support, how much more should we!—we should be prepared to give it to the fullest of our ability. And when we ourselves find the ground giving way beneath our feet, as sooner or later we shall, Gethsemane is where to go. That is where we find that the Lord of the world, the one to whom is now committed all authority (28:18), has been there before us.”