New Testament evidence - Ephesians 1:1-14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I wonder if you have ever felt completely overwhelmed by a problem or utterly daunted by the size of a task you must fulfill. Well if so, then spare a thought for the footballers of Stockport Town FC, who play in an amateur Sunday pub league, but by a strange mistake found themselves playing one of the top teams in the Czech Republic. The problem arose when the Czech team, FK Meteor wanted to celebrate their 150th anniversary in style by playing one of Englandís good teams. So they wrote off to the team they wanted. But due to a misunderstanding in communication, they didnít contact Stockport County, a club with a good reputation in the English Football league, but rather Stockport Town, a club filled with pie eating, beer swilling unfit thirty somethings. The men from Stockport got suspicious when they arrived at FK Meteorís ground. The red carpet was out, programmes had been printed and there were lots of journalists covering the game. FK Meteor had even flown in one of their stars who was on holiday in China. The poor lads from Stockport were hardly in a fit state to play the game, given that as soon as they had stepped off the plane the day before they had set about consuming vast amounts of Czech beer at 20p a litre. One of the Stockport players said that they were flagging after ten minutes, and another said: "We were able to match them right up until the kick off." The penny dropped halfway through their 14-1 defeat, but fortunately the Czechs saw the funny side.
Well I wonder if you have ever had those feelings of being totally overwhelmed by something. For some of us it might happen fairly frequently. Maybe you are worried by all you need to do this coming week. There just seems to be so much to get done. Maybe you are facing a serious problem in your life perhaps with the family or with your health. It just seems so big you donít know where to start. Maybe for some there are the pressures of raising children or dealing with massive issues at work. Whatever it is, each one of us goes through periods of stress and difficulty. And itís at times like that that we are tempted to feel overwhelmed, that there is no help, that we are on our own.
Well all the way through these next few months, we are considering the truth that God is Trinity. That he is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is one God. God is one. Itís an awesome truth and very profound. But itís not simply something to ponder over coffee in some academic sort of way. Actually this great truth about who God is, is a wonderful tonic for the troubled soul. For the God of the Bible is a relating God, a personal God, but also one who is totally and unfailingly committed to the fulfillment of his plans for his people. And we will find as we begin to study this amazing doctrine that the more we look at God and his character the more we discover. For he is eternal, he is unlimited. He is awesome. And itís this majestic great God that has us in his hands. And that is why for those of us feel bruised and battered by the fights of the past week, and for those feeling confident, that there is no better truth to nourish us than the character of God, the God who is three in one.
Now itís in the NT that the fullness of the revelation about God is shown to us. And there are plenty of passages we could have turned to this morning. For example we might have turned to 1 Peter 1 vv 1-2. There we find that we are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ. All three members of the Godhead are working together for our sakes. Or we might have turned to Matthew 28 vv 16-20, where we find that Jesus commands his disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy. There is one name, but three persons. Or a passage like 2 Corinthians 13 v 14: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." All of those passages would be wonderful studies on God as Trinity. But to my mind, the best passage which shows us in no doubt whatsoever that God is Trinity is Ephesians 1 vv 1-14. Because itís here perhaps more than anywhere else that we find that God is committed to the salvation of his people and fulfillment of his plans as Father, Son and Spirit. For this passage is if you like a hymn of praise to God as Trinity for all he has done and is doing in us. So have a look at verse 3: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Paul here mentions the Father and the Son, but also the Spirit by that word "spiritual". Paul means every blessing that is brought about by the Spirit. And what is striking about this whole passage is that God the holy Trinity is completely committed to us his people. Father, Son and Spirit are all working together for our good and his glory. There are no renegades in the Trinity, no mercenaries off dong their own thing. When it comes to the Spirit, some have that opinion, that the Father and Son are working together, but really the Spiritís off doing his own thing. No, God as Trinity is committed to fulfilling his plans for his people and indeed for the whole universe. And itís this God who is at work in you and me as Christians. And however we are feeling this morning, whether struggling or encouraged, then we need to hear this, and take heart from these great truths. So how is God the Trinity at work in us? Well Paul shows us by revealing their various works, and yet itís important to remember that the work of each one is not totally distinct. All three persons of the Trinity as God are working together, and yet all three do have different roles in the life of the believer. So weíll see:
1) The Fatherís love in choosing us
2) The Sonís sacrifice in saving us
3) The Spiritís power in keeping us
1) The Fatherís love in choosing us
So letís look first then at the fatherís love in choosing us. Now as we read through this amazing passage, we find that again and again, it is God the Father who lovingly takes the initiative in our salvation. He is the subject of many of the verbs of this passage. Itís he who has chosen us, he who has predestined us to be his sons, he who has given us his grace, he made known his purposes, he who accomplishes all things in accordance with his will. It is God the Father who lovingly takes the initiative in his plans for our salvation. And there are two aspects of this loving action that Paul highlights.
a) His Choice- First there is his choice. Verse 4: "For God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ....." And verse 11: "In Christ we were also chosen having been predestined...." The staggering fact Paul is reminding us of here is that God the Father has chosen us to be adopted into his family. He has taken the initiative to include us in his family. And notice he did it before the creation of the world. So when God was making the Milky Way, he also had you and me in mind. Isnít that mind blowing. All those millions of years ago, way back in eternity, God was thinking of us. Now I find that quite staggering. To think that God should chose me to be a member of his family is amazing and to think that he should do it way back in eternity is equally staggering. And that is true of you if you are a Christian. Such is Godís love for you.
But I guess for many of us this is a truth almost too profound to grasp. And for some of us it raises more questions than it answers. But notice a number of things Paul says about Godís choice or election of us. Because the fact is it is a truth that is consistently taught throughout the Bible. Notice that Godís choice is a divine revelation not a human speculation. Paul says in verse 5 that it was in accordance with Godís pleasure and will. In other words, God planned it this way. This was all part of his amazing plan. Itís not something you or I could have dreamed up and nor can we fathom Godís mind on the matter. There are some things that we human beings have to leave in the hands of God. Notice as well that Godís choice of us is an incentive to holiness not an excuse for sin. Have a look at verse 4: "He chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless." The point is that we are not to sit back and think "Oh Iím chosen, I can do what I want". Rather we are saved and adopted for a reason- to be one of Godís people, his royal children, holy and blameless. Weíre saved for holiness. And then thirdly, Godís choice of us is a stimulus to humility, not a ground for boasting. It is Godís work and itís a completely free gift in verse 6. All the initiative comes from him. The only boasting we can do is in God. Thatís why we should be praising him. And that is why this truth is contained in a passage which is meant to encourage us. Itís not meant to baffle us but to lead us to praise God for his totally underserved mercy.
Now itís worth us pausing to think how reassuring this truth is. The fact is, says Paul, that God chose us before the creation of the world for a purpose. To be Godís children in his family, to live his way. Now to my mind, there is no more reassuring truth in the Bible than this one, that God is our loving heavenly Father and we are his adopted children by his choice. Because often the temptation for us is to think of God as a crusty old vicar or a grumpy headmaster. We need to bend his arm for him to help us, and to be quite frank heís not really that interested in us. And if weíre honest, we think heíd love to teach us a lesson or two. But actually nothing could be further from the truth. For this is the God who knows every hair on your head, who is there at your waking in the morning and your resting at night. He knows our every thought and he knows our most painful experience. He knows us intimately, and yet despite our flaws cares for us passionately. He is a God who will not crush a bruised reed or snuff out a flickering wick. For he chose us before the creation of the world.
A young mother once wrote this in her diary. "I stayed with my parents several days after the birth of our first child. One afternoon I remarked to my mother that it was surprising our baby had dark hair, since both my husband and I are fair. She said: ĎWell, your Dad, has black hair.í ĎBut Mum, I said, thatís irrelevant because Iím adopted, arenít I?í And then with an embarrassed smile, she said the most wonderful words I have ever heard, ĎOh yes, of course. I always forget.í" And with our heavenly Father our adoption is complete. And nothing can separate us from his love. We are truly his children.
b) Godís plan- But notice a second aspect of the work of the Father before we move on, and that is his plan in verses 9-10: "And 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 will have reached their fulfillment- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." Now here Paul tells us Godís great plan for the whole of the universe and it is to bring all things under one head Jesus. Thatís the Fatherís master plan for the universe. To restore the world order to what it should be, to have Jesus the Son Lord over all things. One day all things we be right and perfect and good again. And it will be Jesus who is crowned Lord and King over the universe. And as Paul makes clear in Ephesians 3, we his church are central to those plans.
Now again just take a moment to let that sink in. Just think of all the conversations you have had over the years about the meaning of life, the purpose of our existence. Whatís it all for? Well we know. God has told us here in his Word! There no secret. He has made known the mystery of his will. It was hidden but now itís been made clear. And it is to bring all things under the headship of Jesus. And we are very privileged to know the creator of the universeís master plans for his creation. Itís like having the highest security access in the world. Wouldnít you love that. To know what the Americans are really up to, who really has nuclear weapons, to know if Elvis really is still alive. But because God has revealed his plan to us, then we know what is the most important information in the world and we can live in the light of it. And itís all because of the Fatherís love in choosing us to be his people. And if you are a Christian here today, that should be a wonderful tonic for your weary soul.
2) The Sonís sacrifice in saving us
But Paul also shows us the work of the Son, and his sacrifice in saving us. And it becomes clear as we read through that Jesus the Son is the one through whom the Fatherís plan is fulfilled. Fifteen times in these opening fourteen verses of Ephesians is Jesus referred to either directly or indirectly. For example we have every spiritual blessing in Christ. We are chosen in Christ. Godís plans are fulfilled in Christ. We are included in Christ. All these things are given to us through and in Jesus. But in particular it is his work of saving us that Paul highlights in verse 7-8. "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." Now Paul says here that we have redemption through his blood. So what does he mean? Well redemption is a word that literally means to be bought back. Itís a word that has its background in slave markets. So men, women, boys and girls would be paraded in front of potential buyers and then bought out of slavery. Sometimes they would be given freedom by their buyer, or other times they would become the buyersí slaves. They would have a new master. But in either case they could say they have been redeemed. But for the Jews, the word redemption meant something far more profound than slave markets. Redemption was the word used to describe Godís rescue of them from Egypt. If you remember the story, Godís people were slaves in Egypt. But God rescued them and brought them out of Egypt and in doing so destroyed the Egyptian army. But like the slave market, the redemption of the people of Israel came at a price. For God said that in rescuing his people he would also bring judgment on the Egyptians. For in every Egyptian home there was the death of the firstborn child; and in every Israelite home, there was a death too. A lamb had been killed in the place of the firstborn son, and itís blood painted on the doorposts of every Israelite house. So as the angel of death passed over Egypt in judgment, the Egyptiansí firstborn sons were killed, but the Israelite firstborn sons were saved through the blood of the lamb. The angel passed over their houses without acting in judgment, because the lamb had died in the place of the firstborn son. The blood averted the wrath of God.
Now can you see then what Paul means here when he says that through Jesus we have been redeemed. Paul says we too have been redeemed, bought back from slavery. We were in slavery to a sinful and rebellious life against God. We were disobedient and followed the ways of the devil, as Paul says in chapter 2. But in Jesus God redeemed us. He bought us back. But like the slave market and like Egypt it came at a great cost. And this time, the cost was not a few shekels for a slave, nor even a new born lamb for a firstborn son. It was the death of the Lamb of God himself, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died in your and my place so that we might not receive the judgment and wrath of God we deserve for our sinful rebellion against him. That blood shed on the cross, just like the blood daubed on the doorposts of the Israelites houses, causes God to pass over us. It averts his wrath from us to Jesus. We are spared his judgment and we are redeemed. Bought back from slavery by God himself!
You might know the story of the little boy who lived by the shore of a great lake. Now this little boy loved boats and sailing, so much so that with the help of his father he built his own toy boat. He spent months making it and it really was the pride of the lake. On the day they finished it, the boy and his father went to sail it on the lake. But as the little boat bobbed on the water a huge gust of wind took it away from the shore and it drifted far away and out of sight. Well the boy was distraught and thought heíd never see it again. And day after day he searched the waterís edge in vain. Then one day as he was wandering through the town, he saw his beautiful boat in a shop window. The boy announced to the shop keeper that it was his and asked for it back. But the shopkeeper said he couldnít since it had been sold to him by a fisherman who had found the boat on the lake. The boy would have to pay good money for it if he wanted it back. So the lad set himself to raise the money and after many weeks, working hard and raising the money, he returned to the shop and bought the boat. And at last, holding his precious boat in his arms again, the boy said with great joy: "You are twice mine now. Because I made you and I bought you back!"
And to those of us who accept this rescue, this redemption, who are willing to be bought back, then God says to us: "You are twice mine now. Because I made you and I bought you back!" God is the one who made us and he is the one who bought us back. And what does this redemption mean for us? Well Paul says it means that we can receive forgiveness in verse 7: "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." Forgiveness is a lavish gift that God has richly given us from his treasure trove of blessings. And it is one of the most beautiful gifts of all. All our guilt and shame can be washed away through the blood of Jesus. And time and again, even as professing Christians, we need to remember that nothing can take that forgiveness from us. Each one of us has things in our lives that we are deeply ashamed of, and yet in the Lord Jesus Christ we can have forgiveness and a fresh start. Itís very easy to keep beating ourselves up over things we have done in past, even though we know weíre forgiven. Itís often very hard to let go, isnít it. Perhaps things we have done, or things done to us. So we need to keep on remembering we are forgiven and bought back by the blood of Christ. Because where there is no forgiveness, only guilt and shame remain.
And notice too what Paul says in verse 13 about how these Ephesians became Christians. "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believedÖ". You see all they did was respond to the message about Jesus. That is how you receive forgiveness. That is how you become a Christian. You believe and trust in the message that Jesus died on the cross and is alive again. And when you do that then you are included in Godís amazing plan for the universe. "There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in." The Sonís sacrifice in saving us.
3) The Spiritís power in keeping us
But thereís one final aspect of Godís work in us as Trinity and that is the Spiritís power in keeping us. Now Paul only mentions the Spirit explicitly in the last few verses, but his ministry is implicit all the way through the passage. As we saw in verse 3, weíve been given every spiritual blessing in Christ, that is every blessing we have as Christians is given from the Father in Jesus by the Spirit. Last weekend, we were away with the students up in the Dales looking at the person and work of the Spirit. And we saw that the Holy Spiritís role was to apply the work of Jesus to the life of the believer. So we saw that the Spirit was the one who enabled people to see their need of Jesus. The Spirit is the one who brings people to faith in Jesus. The Spirit is the one who enables people to become children of God by adoption. The Sprit is the one who helps us become more like Jesus. The Spirit is the one who equips the church with gifts for service. And our conclusion by the end of the weekend was that the Holy Spirit is totally committed to bringing about the Fatherís plans and applying the work of Jesus the Son to the Christian. All three members of the Trinity are working together for our good and Godís glory.
So notice how Paul describes the work of the Spirit in verses 13-14: "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having 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 possessionĖto the praise of his glory." Paul says that when we become Christians, when we put our trust in Christ, then we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. You cannot be a Christian without the Spirit of God at work in you. And Paul says that the Spirit marks us with a seal. The word that Paul uses for "marked" is literally "branded". As slaves or cattle were given their ownerís mark in the ancient world, so the Spirit of God is Godís mark of ownership on us! He knows who are his. And not only that, but he is a deposit guaranteeing our future. When we receive the Spirit, when we become Christians, our future is assured. God places his Spirit within us as a deposit guaranteeing that he will finish the job, that he will bring us to heaven. We have a taster of what will be the full reality in heaven. And nothing can stop God completing his work in us. For we are his. His mark is upon us. His Spirit is within us. We are Godís possession. He will bring us safely into his perfect kingdom.
Now interestingly this little word deposit that Paul uses, in modern Greek has come to mean engagement ring. And you can see why! When I proposed to Debbie, I gave her a ring which signified a number of things. First it showed that she was a taken girl. She was, if you like mine. I thought it was better than a tattoo or branding her. The ring was the best way forward. She had pledged herself to me and I to her. Secondly the ring was a pledge that we would get married. It wasnít the be all and end all of our relationship. It was a promise that there was more to come and on the 21st August 1999 that happened. We got married. But thirdly the ring meant that in some way we began to live in the light of our marriage from then on. It gave us more security because we had promised to marry each other. And was if you like a foretaste of marriage. We were an item, so to speak. Now of course in human engagements, there can be break ups. But when the Spirit of God comes into our lives, then there is no break up. He is a mark of Godís ownership upon us, a deposit guaranteeing Godís final and full possession of us in heaven, and also a foretaste of what is to come.
And what a great assurance that is for the Christian. That God will finish his work in us. What he has started, he will complete. We are Godís possession. And nothing will hinder his work. Does that not encourage you and strengthen you to live his way! Delight in the solid assurance that those who have trusted in Christ are Godís people and their future is guaranteed. Because God has placed his Spirit in you if you are trusting in Christ. And he will keep you to the end.
In all the ups and downs of life itís very easy to lose focus isnít it? To forget that actually we are safe and secure in the arms of God. And if ever there was a passage to encourage us then itís Ephesians 1. Because it reminds us that as Trinity, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God is committed to the salvation of his people and the fulfillment of his plans and he will never let us go. For as our Father he has lovingly chosen us. Through his Son he has died for us. And by his Spirit he is keeping us. Truly we should cry with Paul, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."
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