Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Ephesians 2:11-22 - "1+1=1 (and other equations of unfathomability)"

Today we are going to look at some crazy math.  Unfathomable.  But this is how it is with God.

[vv 11-12]  Therefore.  What is the therefore there for?  Well, after line upon line of glorious, life-changing unfathomable truths - every spiritual blessing in Christ/surpassing greatness of His power towards us in Christ/rescuing us by His grace through faith in Christ - Paul now gives us his first command.  The first thing he is telling us to do in light of all the unfathomable truth he has just presented.  Let’s take a look…

Remember.  Remember.  Therefore, be remembering, he says.  Present tense, a continuous ongoing action.  Constantly be keeping something in mind.  Be remembering what?  Let’s take a look…

Our passage today is structured very similarly to the passage we looked at last week.  Last week Paul talked about the way we were, and then what God did about it (BUT God), and then he talked about the new us.  The way we all were - sons of unbelief, children of wrath; BUT God - He sent His Son to save us, we are rescued from wrath by faith and not by works; and the new us - we are new creations, RE-created not BY good works but FOR good works, to be living in them.  Well he does the same thing again in this section.  The way we were, But God - what He did about it, and the new us.  Only this week, he addresses us not as individuals but as a group, an ethnic group known as Gentiles (to which these Ephesian believers belonged).  He says, be remembering the way you Gentiles used to be - separate, excluded (alienated), strangers, no hope, godless.  Remember the way you were.  Our history gives us perspective.  Gives us hope, motivation.

But we need to wind the clock back about 2000 years, when Paul wrote this.  As it pertained to God, there were two groups.  Only two groups of people.  One group was the nation, Israel - God’s people, the "chosen" people.  Membership was obtained by birth and by circumcision.  And then there were the "nations".  The Gentiles.  Anytime you see that word Gentiles, it is really the word, nations ("ethne" in the Greek).  But this referred to anyone from any other nation besides Israel.  And to THE nation, God’s chosen nation, the “nations” (aka everyone else) were dirty.  Spiritually filthy.  They were NOT circumcised.  They were ignorant - of God’s commands and ordinances and promises.  They were NOT chosen, not special, far from it.  They were sorely deprived - of the Law, of citizenship in God’s polites —> they were deprived of God.  God-less.  Heathen.  And by extension they were deprived of hope.  They had been excluded from the covenant God made with Israel, and that’s exactly how Israel saw them.  Excluded.  Jews in general wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the filthy Gentiles.  The nations.  Even that word, nations - in Hebrew it had become a derogatory term.  Goyim.

Not originally.  2000 years before that, God said to Abraham, I will make you into a goy, and I will bless you, and through your seed all the (rest of the) goyim will be blessed.  It was very much a neutral concept.  And almighty God had a plan for all the goyim, all nations, a beautiful unfathomable plan for blessing and glory.

Genesis 12:1-2, 22.18    Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing…(and) in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…”

Here we get our first equation of unfathomability:  7000-1xS=   All the other nations (~7000 or so), minus the one (Israel), acted upon by the "Seed" results in immeasurable eternal blessing.

But the word "goy" began to take on negative connotations as Israel began to live into their existence as God’s chosen people.  They were by no means perfect, far from it, often no more faithful to God than the sad ignorant filthy Gentiles, but descendants of Abraham had the covenant of circumcision, which God gave their forefathers in part to distinguish this nation from all the others, AND they had the Law.  The commands of God.  Literally hundreds of them.  Through centuries of walking in this identity of God’s chosen people, they came to see themselves as being so much better and cleaner than the other nations.  Even as they strayed far from God in their hearts.  They grew to despise and shun the goyim - especially as God began to allow other nations, goyim, to conquer and subjugate Israel (His increasingly wayward people), trying to get their attention.  Come back!  

Next equation of unfathomability:  7000-1=2

Two groups - us and them.  You got the one group - us - and then all the rest of the groups, a second category, UNaffectionately known as "them".  The history of the world is that of racial hostility.  Think about it.  Our innate inability to get along with strangers, with those who are different from us, from me.  Often times even my own neighbor can be difficult.  But these others - “them” - we’re somehow "better" than them, we are more deserving somehow, looking down our various ethnic noses at them, misunderstanding them, disrespecting them.  [see image of some funny shaped noses we look down]  And we plow on forward like so many bulls in a china shop - we laugh at and make fun of strangers/those who are different, we hurl slurs and disparaging words, and we attack.  We take, and take over, subjugating and even enslaving and exterminating those who are not like us.  Not one of “us”.

Think about it.  It wasn’t always like this.  Let’s go back to a time not too long before Abraham, to a place called Shinar.

Genesis 1:28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”

Genesis 9:1   And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”

And that's what people did.  Finally, in [Gen 11.1-9] - the whole earth, filled as it was, used the same language.  We were one people.  And we were working together to build a great city.  There was synergy.  Unity.  The oneness was powerful.  Intoxicating.  It was a heady time - building this great city with a tower that was going to reach all the way up to heaven.  Some say that was metaphor, a sign of our great aspirations.  But we grew proud and overconfident - nothing was impossible for us.  Or so we thought.  Let’s make a name for ourselves, we said.  Let’s make our name great.  Cuz that’s how we see ourselves.  And then we can just stay here.  Enough of this filling the earth nonsense.  We were unified not only in our purpose but in our determined disobedience.  Falling prey to worshipping ourselves.  Putting us first, our tribe, our plans, our wants.  And so the God Who alone is worthy of worship, the One Who spoke and created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, in His sovereignty He spoke and said, “Let’s confuse their language…” (Side bar: As proof of how we-first we are, I bet most of us assume that when God said, “Let’s confuse their language”, He was speaking English.  It’s in our DNA)  But so, out of one family, out of one people —> many.  

Next equation: 1÷7000=7000.  God created the nations.  It certainly put a halt to that rebellious movement there on the plains of Shinar, in the place which came to be called Babel.  In the ancient Hebrew language “babel” sounds very much like the word for confuse.  Confusion.  God certainly confused the language at that time.  Trying to learn even just one new language can be extremely confusing!  But God had a plan…!

Fast forward to the day, a future day when people from every nation and language will gather around the throne of God, in all the glorious diversity which our Heavenly Artist has spoken and breathed into all He has created.  The same wondrous beauty we see in all the varieties of flowers and birds and fish and butterflies and on and on and on - He has woven the same beauty into the many cultures of the world.  Latins and Africans and Asians and Europeans - so much in common and yet so so different.  We can see it in the church already - different styles of music and worship and feeling and response.  One day…

Revelation 7:9-10   After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Suffice it to say, they’re not all going to be speaking English.  There will be 1000s of tongues, singing our great Redeemers praise. 1000s of unique expressions of worship.  Unfathomable!

Don’t miss this timeline then:  One family/nation —> many (Babel).  Out of many —> one (Israel).  Out of the Seed of the one, the many brought back together as one.  And finally, with one voice but many languages the many-made-one will worship forever in glory the Seed Who made them one.  Unfathomable!  [1÷7000-1xS=1=]

Meanwhile - back on planet earth - what do we have?  We have pride.  Nationalistic pride.  Ethnocentricity.  We have prejudice.  Racism (folks think it’s bad in the US but go to almost any other country and it is way worse).  So ugly.  Unimaginable.  There is bigotry.  Hatred.  Distrust and disrespect.  Enslavement.  Border conflicts.  Genocide.  I’ll tell you what we see - we see a spiritual enemy hard at work and fallen man cooperating with him, trying to uglify what God created as a thing of beauty, something to be appreciated and taken care of.  Full of possibilities for blessing!  But perhaps the most ugly racism of all was what developed between the Jews and the Gentiles.  And it cut both ways.  It has for thousands of years.  What God meant as a global blessing was turned into some of the most ugly and violent and horrific conflict the world has ever seen.  Even in its most mild form, the Jews merely shunned the Gentiles.  Standards of ethical treatment did not always even apply towards goyim.  Contrary to the edict to bless the nations, most Jews came to believe they were not actually supposed to have any dealings with goyim - never go to their homes, never eat with them, walk around their region if you can, and never associate with them.  And Gentiles returned the favor of mistrust and mistreatment with regularity.

This is one practical reason why Jesus was ultimately rejected by the Jews as Messiah - the Jews wanted a zionist messiah who would deliver them from subservience to the dirty rotten goyim, one who would defeat the gentiles and kick them out of the promised land God had only given to His chosen people.  They wanted Jesus to clean out their country, clean out the Gentile riff raff, not clean out their temple.  They would never embrace a messiah who would make peace with the goyim, much less let himself be killed by them or bring them wholesale into the fold.  Even as they were missing Messiah and the true life of God themselves - they were shutting out the nations too!  And it even continued unabated in the early church, among those first Jewish believers.  God literally had to force them to include the Gentiles.

Because that’s what He did.  But God…  What does Paul say here?  But now… [vv 13-18]

[Grover near and far -]

We were far off, but God brought us (Gentiles) near.  There was this enmity, Paul says.  Last week we saw there was this vertical enmity.  Enemy hatred.  Hostility between individuals and God.  We were children of wrath, sons of unbelief.  But here’s this horizontal enmity between peoples, enemy status, particularly between Jews and Gentiles.  But God, being rich in mercy… He abolished the enmity, He put it to death. 

And yes, so into this racially-charged divide plunged Almighty God, the consummate Peace-maker forging an unlikely peace between two parties who had come to hate each other going back hundreds of years.  God sent an emissary, an Ambassador of peace, the Prince of peace in fact - His only Son, to blow up the barrier and create peace where there was hatred and hostility.  He removed the barrier separating the two.  He took down the wall (long before Gorbachev).  That’s what Jesus does - He removes walls of separation.  Walls of personality, of economic disparity, of racial diversity, of familial disharmony.  But God’s peace is not simply absence of war or conflict.  There will be reconciliation, forgiveness.  This is the idea of shalom.  Overall well-being and harmony, completeness.  Peace on earth - announced by angels at His birth, that is why He came in the first place.  World peace, peace and harmony - the elusive Shangri-La.  Many seek it, some promise it [the old Coke jingle -], but only Jesus actually delivers.  In Christ, in the Prince of peace Himself, both groups, all the peoples of the earth will be finally brought together in real and deep abiding shalom towards one another as well as towards their Creator.  Next equation: 1+1=1

Matthew 5:9   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

God broke down the dividing wall.  That which divided Jews and Gentiles, Paul says, was the Law.  God abolished the enmity, which was the Law of commandments and ordinances, by actually fulfilling the requirements of the Law by the blood of Christ.  The Law highlighted our sin.  And the blood of Christ fulfilled the Law by covering our sin.  And established peace.  Paving the way for reconciliation.  Peace to those who were near AND peace to those who were far away.  Peace to those who were “IN”, and peace to those who were excluded.  And peace between both groups, between all people.  Through the cross.  Through the blood of Christ.  The only path to world peace is up the hill called Calvary.

One new man, Paul says.  One body.  Both in one Spirit.  [1+1=1]   This is the new us (God’s masterpiece) [19-22]

In Christ, we (Gentiles) are no longer dirty rotten Gentiles.  Filthy foreigners.  We’re fellow citizens!  We’re family - we’re part of God’s family.  Not far but near - AND dear!  Members of His household.  We have a new clan.  We are citizens of heaven - and it supersedes all other loyalties.

And Paul closes with this idea of a house, a building.  A very special building, this.  In fact it is a temple.  A place of worship.  Worship of the God of heaven.  And this is no brick and mortar edifice.  We’re talking heart and soul and real flesh - and real blood which was poured out in order to begin building this house.  Christ is the cornerstone.  And the apostles and prophets have laid the foundation - not only by giving us God’s Word but by laying down their lives for the sake of those who would come after them.

And so all of us, all we diverse peoples, we are all being fitted and joined together as this holy temple, the locus for worship of the one true God.  The global called-and-gathered body of Christ - it is the engineering project of the ages.  Temple 3.0.  Far more glorious than Solomon’s temple (or Herod's).  It’s the glorious green room of eternity, where all nations as one will gather round the throne.  But we can’t miss this - Paul specifically says that these believers in Ephesus - God was also building them together into His dwelling place.  You also.  The Spirit of God was gathering together an assembly of Christ-centered worshippers there in that place, a spiritual family who would be loving one another and would be celebrating and spreading the knowledge of God’s goodness, blessing their neighbors and the nations.  More on this in Chapter 4, but for now we need to understand the significance of the both-and.  There is both a personal AND a corporate aspect to God’s unfathomable plan here.  Yes we are each one of us saved by grace through faith not by works but FOR good works.  For glory.  AND as part of that we are fitted into spiritual body, God’s eternal family, a global enterprise of peace and there are local chapters everywhere.  In every nation.  Peacemakers.  Outposts of shalom.  Places where the Spirit of God shows up and shows off the unfathomable everlasting love of God.  At least that’s the plan.  That’s the mission.  Which we fulfill together.  One Spirit.  One body.  Hold onto that thought for when we get into ch 4.  But this is the mission.  So that all people will know that you are My disciples.  All nations will be blessed...

Ephesians 2:11   Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands — 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Ephesians 2:1-10 - “Good News For Zombies”

Last week we talked about surpassing greatness, some of the amazing things God has done and is doing for us in Christ.  How we have this amazing hope, and this amazing inheritance, and this unfathomable power at work in our lives when we believe in Christ.  And this immeasurable power is the same great power which raised Jesus up out of the dead.  And we should have slammed on the brakes right there.  Wait - Jesus died?  God died?  Inconceivable!  But God raised Him up!  Truly unfathomable.  But guess what - He raised you up too - if you are a believer in Christ!  That’s what Paul tells us today - let’s take a look…!

[vv 1-3] - the way we were

AND you were dead, Paul says.  YOU all were dead, too.  All y’all.  He says it twice (verse 1 and verse 5).  The way we were.  Dead.  Jesus died, and you were dead too.  But this was a different kind of death.  Somehow we weren’t all dead.  We were only "mostly" dead 

[a la Mad Max in the Princess Bride :) ].

We were dead in "trespasses and sins".  We were dead due to stepping over the line (God’s line), missing the mark.  Off target, walking around in this disobedience and ungodliness we were.  Off the path - off God’s path.  And on the course, the paths of this world.  In lock step with the world.  And we were dead.  The walking dead.  What is a walking dead person is called?  That’s right - a zombie.

[zombies]  [picture of Rick Grimes] - do you know who this is?

This guy has been the star of a show called "The Walking Dead".  It’s been the 2nd most popular series on TV for the past 8 years.  The zombies (aka walkers) on the show - are the result of a pathogen which has infected the entire human race.  Everyone is infected - when you die, you become a zombie.  The walking dead.  All you can do is stumble around trying to satisfy this uncontrollable unquenchable desire.

[from the comic]  “How many hours are in a day when you don’t spend half of them watching television? When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something that we wanted?  How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something that we wanted?”

Zombies are a metaphor for this aimless mind-numbed existence, a search for something, anything more, a mindless pursuit of wants, almost to the exclusion of all else.  But they are a perfect picture of what Paul is talking about here:

We were

-Walking dead

-walking (treading around) in transgressions, in the course/path of the world

-note: there is an outside force at work here, a malevolent spirit

-Sons of disobedience (unbelief)

-lived in fleshy lusts

-indulging wants of flesh and thoughts

-Children of wrath

Sons of unbelief.  Paul is saying there really is a pathogen, a pathogen which has infected the entire human race.  And that pathogen is unbelief.  Lurks in the heart of every person.  And the results are desires and wants and even thoughts out of control.  And isn’t that somewhat of an apt description for our society?  Desires out of control?  Wants gone wild?  Girls (and boys) gone wild?  Out of control?  Indulging our every thought and want and whim?  Or most of them?  Unable to say no, especially if left to our own devices.  We have been given so much, there is so much prosperity in our society - and yet isn’t this part of the challenge before us?  Because the more we prosper, the more we are free to indulge our flesh.

Now in the fictional, post-apocalyptic world of the walking dead, there is no cure for the zombie pathogen, no hope.  Literally.  You are destined to become a zombie, sooner or later.  You become a zombie when you die.  But in the real world, we become a spiritual zombie the day we are conceived.  We are born infected with this spiritual pathogen of unbelief, and left unchecked it grows and festers into this infinite abyss of dissatisfaction and discontent.  And we miss the mark, the glorious life God designed us for.  The unbelief in our brains results in more and more indulging, wanting more, indulging the eyes and the flesh, but never being satisfied.  Just like the fictional zombie, the walking dead, never satisfied.  Never sated.  Never enough.  The only way to cure the mindless craving of the zombie is to destroy its brain.  Thankfully for us, there is a different solution, a real cure - but WE have a plot twist…! 

It turns out that there is an antagonist.  Our deathly walk of unbelief is indeed egged on by a malevolent spirit.  The prince of the power of the air, Paul calls him.  The spirit now working in the sons of unbelief.  In fact Paul tells us elsewhere that this spirit, this fallen angel (who the Bible calls Satan or Lucifer), is actually blinding people’s eyes.  Spiritual blindness, which perpetuates and exacerbates the unbelief.

2Corinthians 4:4 

…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He is aptly called "the great deceiver".  The "father of lies".  We’ll delve deeper into overcoming this spirit in ch 6.  But if you find yourself not yet believing, you are being deceived.  Plain and simple.  For all those who do not yet believe.  And that path is a ticket straight to an existence which is worse than any zombie apocalypse.  Your worst nightmare… Children of wrath.

Paul says, in that state of unbelief we were children of wrath.  Like the rest.  Who is that?  Who are the rest?  All of humanity.  All these sons and daughters of unbelief.  And what is this wrath?  Isn’t that an old fashioned idea?  Isn’t that rather victorian, outdated?  Something reserved for the Old Testament?  For the dark ages?  That’s intolerant, isn’t it?  Don’t people like to say that the God of the Old Testament was this God of wrath, but the God of the New Testament is a God of love?  But here’s what God says about Himself: He doesn’t change.  The fancy word for that is immutable.  What He was He still is - and will always be.  He is the same yesterday today and forever.  We saw in our study of the Old Testament minor prophets that God has always been slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.  But He always was and always will be holy and just and cannot let sin go unpunished.  His wrath is naturally revealed from heaven against all wrongdoing and ungodliness.  All unbelief.  God’s wrath (and His love!) are real.  Just as real in the New Testament as they are in the Old…

Romans 1:18   For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…

And here it is, right here in our text.  The wrath of God.  Far worse than any zombie apocalypse.  Something to be avoided at all costs.  Literally.  I’m not sure any of us could accurately describe this wrath, either.  Simply unimaginable.  Unfathomable.  And so many people seem to get hung up here.  Wrath seems so harsh.  So unfair.  These hangups stem from failing to realize three other unfathomables: that God is unimaginably perfect and holy and just, and that sin and unbelief are truly awful and justly deserving of consequences.  (we naturally like to minimize our sin and dumb down God’s holiness).  But there is a third thing these folks fail to realize.  They forget that there is Good News.  What we do get in the New Testament is Good News - Good News for zombies!  The God of love and wrath showed out His love and poured out His wrath on a Substitute.  Someone Else took the wrath of God which we deserved.  In fact, it was God Himself.  And in doing so, He simultaneously provided a cure for this zombie pathogen of unbelief.  What we see in these first three verses is definitely bad news… Unfathomably bad.  The zombie apocalypse.  Next verse…

[vv 4-9] - But God…

-(Eternally) being rich in mercy, full of great (mega) love - WHAT HE IS LIKE

-(Past) loved us, made us alive (with Christ)(remember we were dead)(saved us), raised us up (in Christ) - WHAT HE HAS DONE

[Gene Wilder clip from Young Frankenstein - "It’s alive!" -]

--(Future) show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us - in Christ Jesus.  The language here is basically a promise. - WHAT HE WILL DO

And isn’t it like us to miss these things?  Or forget them?  We forget what God is like.  We forget what He has done.  And we forget what He has promised.

But God.  He saved us.  From so great a peril of eternal death.  Came to our rescue.  What do we call the person who saves us?  The hero.  When (if) we stop in verse 3, we are tempted to look at God as the villain.  We minimize our guilt, and transfer the blame to Him.  But in our story, God is always the Hero.  He is coming to our rescue - in Christ.  He is saving us from an eternity of being separated from Him, our glorious breathtakingly good Creator. Our Hero!

And what part do we play in this great rescue mission?  What do we need to do in order to be rescued, for all this to get cranked up in our lives?  Faith (aka belief).  You have been saved by faith, Paul says.  That’s all.  Saved through faith.  We believed.  We moved from unbelief to belief.  The antidote to the pathogen of unbelief is belief.  Faith.  Trust.  It is all about the object, that in which I am putting my trust.  The default object of my faith is myself.  My own works.  My own efforts to make myself better, to improve myself, to somehow pay for or work off my sin, to somehow make myself more acceptable to God and to gain entrance into the heavenly realms.  But this rescue is a gift.  We are flailing around in this flood, this raging current of unbelief, destined to drown, and here comes the Hero.  God is offering us a lifeline, a heavenly lifeboat- Jesus.  

[story of flood victim who tells rescuers that "God will rescue me" - and when they die and ask God why He didn't rescue them God says, I sent you two boats and a helicopter...!]

And we can put our trust in Him, or we can continue to sink into the morass of unbelief and disobedience.  Not as a result of works, Paul says.  There is nothing, not one thing we can do to ever deserve to gain entrance to heaven.  To merit one ounce of rescue.  It's a gift, plain and simple.  Ours is simply to trust in Jesus.  Have you done that?  Have you transferred your trust from what you are doing to what Jesus did?  He said, it is finished.  There is nothing more we need to do - just believe in Him.  For God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.  It is gift based on a divine promise.  There is no need to wait.  Don’t wait any longer.

Paul calls this grace.  It is a gift we don’t deserve.  Undeserved favor.  We get this when we put our trust in Christ - this rescue, this forgiveness, all these blessings - all of them are underserved.  But check out the promise - in the ages to come, He is just going to keep on showing us the surpassing riches of His grace, pouring out kindness on us, lavishing it on us.  Here, have some more.  It’s like we’re feasting at Grandma’s.  Here, have some more.  In Christ.  Think about that.  An eternity of God pouring out His kindness on us.  Who wants a slice of that?  Here, have some more.  Unfathomable.

[vv 10] - the new you

Those of us who believe in Jesus, trust in Christ and follow Him - Paul says God has made us, has literally re-made us.  We are a new creation.

2Corinthians 5:17  

Anyone who believes in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone! The new has come! 

Verb Noun Noun-ee

Create Creator         Creation

Produce         Producer Product

Do         Doer Deed

Make Maker (something made?)

Paint Painter Painting

When it comes to God, what He is making with your life - when you are following Him - is a masterpiece!  And you know the truth about a tapestry, right?

Important point: He has re-made us FOR good works, not BY good works.  Not a result of works.  FOR good works, which God Himself prepared beforehand, before we ever heard of Christ, and He intends for His people to walking in these good deeds (as opposed to walking in unbelief and disobedience).  He wants us to be living a life characterized by these good deeds, yet they are not means of grace but rather by-products of it.  But wait,  there’s more...

-Note also that while most English translations use the phrase ‘created UNTO good works’ or ‘FOR good works’, that is not what it says in the Greek.  One would expect a different preposition (the Greek word eis) for that.  But the word Paul uses is epi - meaning above or upon.  When referring to creation, it means the place where the creator creates his creation, where he intends it to live.  God created man upon the earth (is 45.12) - we were meant to live on, to inhabit the earth. (the very first command God ever gave to man speaks to this - gen 1.28).  But now in this instance, God has created those who believe in Christ upon good works, intending for His people to live ON good works, to inhabit them, to live into them and fill them up, which is exactly what Paul says in the next phrase - in order that we should walk in them.  The meaning is essentially the same, but the word picture is certainly more nuanced than what we get in the English.  Good works are not just what we do, it’s where we live and who we are.  It is as if God pre-formed this planet named Good Works, and He breathed the breath of spiritual life (His Spirit) into so much spiritual dust, spiritual zombies, and formed those who believe in Christ Jesus to live on planet Good Works.  We are now Good Work-lings.  Greetings, goodworklings.  Good works are our life, they are where we live, we live into them, inhabit them, and fill them up.  It is as much about identity as it is about function, if not moreso.  And again, good works are not any kind of rocket ship that takes us to said planet - they are the skin in which we live having now been born onto that world.  Good works are not the means to the destination - they ARE the destination.  They are the by-product.  All these things are the expected inevitable result of trusting in Jesus.  We breathe in Jesus, and we exhale good works.  If you are breathing in Jesus, there will be these good works.  Greater works, in fact.  Which ultimately are intended to show off the breathtaking goodness of our Hero.  Jesus.  Making Him famous.  Have you breathed in Jesus yet?

Ephesians 2:1   And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Ephesians 1:15-23 - "Surpassing Greatness"

Think of some great things.  Great feats.  Great accomplishments.  Today we are blasting past the extreme limits of true greatness, and on into the uber/hyper.

"For this reason...", Paul says.  Why?  For what reason?  “You also believed…” [v13]  And I heard that you believed, Paul says.  Which is one reason why we think Paul is writing more of a circular letter, to people he doesn’t know.  He doesn’t know them, but he knows they are following Christ.

But how does he know this?  Because I heard that you believed, he says - that you have faith in the Lord Jesus - AND that you love the saints.  This is the proof of the pudding.  You want to know if somebody believes, has really put their trust in Jesus?  Look for love for all the saints.  It’s not about attendance.  Showing up at a building once a week.  It’s about putting your faith into action for the benefit of other believers.  Love for one another is the litmus test of our faith.  Love surpasses greatness.  And Paul is thinking of love in community, love focused towards a local assembly.  If you are a believer in Christ, He has given you gifts which He expects you to use on behalf of building up the church - and we will unpack this in chapter 4.  For now, Paul simply says, all the saints.  All the saints.  Each one of us needs to take a good look in the mirror of our own faith and ask, how am I doing at loving all the saints?  Even those who are hard to love?  Is there real care and concern for the people of God?  It’s not about attendance.  It’s not about a program.  It’s not about service.  It’s about the people.  It’s not even about gifts - the gifts are given to benefit the people.  And what we’re after is not numbers.  It’s not having a slicker program so that we can attract more people.  It’s not more people.  It’s more love.  And I’m not saying that we don’t strive for excellence in our programs and the like.  And it’s not that we don’t want more people to be following Christ.  Of course we want that.  That’s what the Lord wants as well.  He wants people to be following Christ, by all means, yes.  But the goal of all we are doing is not filling seats.  The goal is love.  Paul knows they believe, not because they say they believe, or cuz they go to church, but because they love.  The greatest of these is love.  Surpassing, uber greatness.  Loving God with all our heart.  Loving one another, as well as our neighbors.  To the praise of His glory.

But because you are believers, Paul says, I am praying for you.  In fact, once I understood that you believed, I have not ceased to pray for you.  Giving thanks for you.  Mentioning you, remembering you in my prayers.  Paul is praying for them.  Giving thanks for them.  And asking God to do something.  Let’s not miss Paul’s priority of prayer.  Look at verse 16.  Think about how we could describe Paul’s prayer life.  These are people who Paul hasn’t even met.  And he’s praying for them.  Praying for them a lot!  Of all the things we can do for someone, surely one of the best things - if not THE best - we can do for someone - is pray.  That person you’re angry with?  You need to be praying for them.  [Prayer —> Love ; Prayer ≠ Anger]

Note Who he is praying to.  To Whom.  To God the Father.  The Father of glory [think about THAT for a moment].  Prayer surpasses greatness, because God surpasses greatness.

But look at what Paul is asking.  Wisdom and revelation in knowing God.  For the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened.  This is how we know that Paul knows that these things about which he is writing are truly unfathomable.  They are really hard to understand.  Mind-blowing.  So Paul is asking God to help these believers know what?  Know Him, the surpassingly great unfathomable God.  Know the hope of God’s calling.  Know the riches of the glory of God’s inheritance.  And know how great His power is toward us who believe.  Shining the light on these things.  We’re talking about clarity.  The root of the word “enlighten” here gives us the word for sound/voice as well as the word for light - both of which are vital to understanding.  Have you ever tried watching a movie or tv show with the sound off?  Or have you ever tried walking in the dark?  Turn on the sound, turn on the light - that’s what Paul has in mind as he is praying here.  Lord - turn up the sound and turn up the lights in the hearts of your people.

But I think the operative phrase here is, ‘knowledge of Him”.  Full knowledge - that’s the word in the Greek.  Full knowledge of our heavenly Father, this glorious Father of glory.  This One Who made all things and Who works all things and Who fills all in all things.  The surpassing value, the surpassing greatness of knowing Him, Paul says in Philippians.  Better by far and then some than anything else.  Paul himself had chosen to take everything in life and subjugate it to the greater goal of knowing the Lord, this God of glory.  Breathtaking goodness.  And how does one go about getting to know someone?  How do we get to know someone?  Spend time with them.  Watch them in action.  Communicate with them - talk to them, listen to them, back and forth.  It takes time, and you’ve got to be intentional.  You’ve got to deliberately set aside time to spend with them.  Because life moves pretty fast.  And the busy-ness of living tends to create and perpetuate separation in relationships, rather than connection.  Full knowledge of Him, Paul says.  Wisdom and revelation - which means obviously God plays a huge part in this relationship.  He is the source of wisdom.  He needs to reveal to us what He is like, what He wants, what He is doing.  Open our eyes to surpassing greatness.

Colossians 1:9   For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…

But we need to be intentional, we need to do what we can to put ourselves in positions to be able to get glimpses of glory.  We need to turn aside 

Exodus 3:1-4   Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I MUST TURN ASIDE now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

I wonder, how long had that bush been burning there on that mountain of God?  The one which later is called Sinai?  I wonder how many times Moses might have simply hurried past the place, nose to the grindstone, nose in his business, working real hard, busy, busy, busy.  The busy-ness of life, just tryin to make a livin’ and doin the best I can, right?

I wonder if the key ingredient here was Moses’ finally turning aside?  So often I think we can miss out on glimpses of glory, surpassing greatness, cuz we’re in such a hurry to take care of our own business?  So distracted and bothered with our preparations?  Just like Martha?  The Lord of the universe had shown up, was seated in her living room, and she was missing it!

Sometimes He shows up in our living room.  Sometimes we’ve got to turn aside, put ourselves out there.  Literally.  We’ve got to plan to actually put ourselves in the way of trying to get a glimpse of God’s glory.  Like Zaccheus - Jesus was walking by.  And he made sure he got to a place where he had the chance to get a glimpse of glory, the Prince of Glory walking by…

It was some years ago, after studying through this passage, that I decided our family needed to be more intentional about pursuing glimpses of glory.  Glimpses of glory in this life - which will enlighten our heart as to the incomparable glory to be found in the next.  Where are you looking for glimpses of glory?  We like to go to the beach to get our vacation on.  And to be sure, there is great fun and beauty to be enjoyed at the beach.  But I had us begin going to the tops of mountains.  We’ve gone to the bottom of Niagara Falls.  The point is, there is breathtaking beauty and awesome power to behold in this life which gives us an inkling of what is waiting for us in the next.  Where are we looking?  Are we even looking?  Full knowledge of Him.  Glimpses of glory, of surpassing greatness.  Where are we looking?

Obviously God’s Word is the best place to start.  God’s concrete, inerrant revelation about Himself to His people.  Spending time with Him in His Word.  Taking/making the time to immerse ourselves in it.  With a pen and paper - or some means of notetaking.  Write down what you see, what He shows you about Himself.  Keep a journal - the original selfie.  The God of glory, surpassing greatness could show up in your [living] room this very day… Don't forget to include spending time with God's people, those who know Him.  Family time.  Know Him.

Know the hope of His calling.  It is living, constant and sure.  Indescribable!  God has called us into His forever family, into a relationship with Him.  And there is nothing in this world or anywhere that can even come close.  Nothing, no thing, no one can compare.  Incomparable.  Unfathomable.  We have no idea how wonderful.  How glorious.  How surpassingly great.  So much better than anything we could ever hope for in this life.  He is better.  Paul wants these believers - and us - to get a better understanding of what it will be like to finally be home.  For most of us, yes we hope to go to heaven.  We desire and expect to be there when we put our trust in Jesus.  But we really have no idea how surpassingly great it is actually going to be.  Talk about getting your money’s worth.  Have you ever been disappointed with how something turned out?  A new movie?  Or a concert?  A new restaurant?  A new toy or smartphone?  You hoped it would be great, but it let you down. Well, no chance of that happening here…

Our hope is not like the hope of the world - uncertain, temporary, false, dead, destined to disappoint.  Our hope is certain, it is real, it is alive and abiding, and it is a game-changer.  It - heaven - will be magnificent, stunning beyond belief, truly unimaginable - which is why we need God to reveal how awesome and sure our hope is.  If we could only get a real glimpse of this - mind blown.  Because again, our hope, this hope of heaven, is Him.  He is our hope.  He is heaven, our heavenly Treasure.  He is the Magnificent One, unimaginably stunning beyond belief.  For the God of glory to reveal to us what is the hope of His calling is to reveal to us Himself.  Because our hope of heaven is to be with Him, forever, in the very presence of glorious Glory.  He is the the destination, the home for our hearts.  Surpassing greatness.

But wait - there’s more!  Paul wants us to know what are the glorious riches of His inheritance in the saints.  We’ve already looked at this.  God adopting us into His family, becoming His heirs - there is no earthly equivalent.  Nothing which can even come close.  Anything you could ever hope to inherit in this life - it could get lost, stolen, broken, scratched, breathed on wrong.  And no matter how large the earthly inheritance, it could never ever fill the gaping hole in our hearts.  The infinite abyss.  But what do the saints in heaven inherit?  

Our inheritance in heaven in Christ is inexhaustible, infinite, eternal and eternally satisfying, and it is so not because of where we will be or what we get but rather Who we get.  We get the God of glory.  HE is inexhaustible, eternal, and He alone is so eternally satisfying, breathtakingly good - we have no idea.  We just don’t get it - we can’t really this side of heaven.  God, turn up the lights.  Turn up the sound.  It has nothing to do with us or how special we are.  It is all about God.  Which is exactly why Paul is praying for this.  Getting a real good glimpse of the untold glory that is this God Who is calling us into His presence forever will rock our world.  Surpassing greatness.  Know Him.  Know hope.  Know true riches.

AND know the surpassing greatness of God’s great power.  So how great is that, exactly?  How much power are we talking about?  Try coming up with an adjective to describe it.  Limitless. Inexhaustible.  Unfathomable.  Almighty.  The mighty muscle of God’s omnipotence.  It is the same power which created and sustains the universe, this One Who made everything out of nothing and for Whom no thing is impossible.  The Greek word is where we get our word dynamite.  Dynamite.  Explosive.  We’re talking about the same explosive Power that flung out and fuels a billion trillion stars in each of which a hundred million nuclear bombs are exploding every second of every day - that same Power lives and works in and through you and me, surpassingly great, so far beyond anything on earth, defying explanation and description.  Paul has seen this power at work in and through his own life, power to work miracles, power to heal, to overcome, to serve, to forgive, to persevere, power unleashed through prayer.  And God is directing this mind-blowing power toward us who believe.  IN us. He lives inside us.  Which is why Paul is praying now.  Prayer in fact is that slender nerve which moves the mighty muscle of God’s omnipotence.  Surpassing greatness.

Paul says it is the same power God worked in Christ when He raised Him up out of the grave.  Now, how much power was that?  How much power is required to take something that is dead, and make it alive?  We’re not talking resuscitation, where someone’s heart has stopped beating for like a minute.  We’re talking dead-as-a-doornail dead.  Polly-the-parrot-pushing-up-the-daisies dead.  This is resurrection.

And God not only raised Jesus up out of the grave, He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenlies.  [the same place where all our spiritual blessings are found - because they are in Christ!]  And no power, not any authority even comes close to Jesus.  Far above.  Far above, Paul says.  There is no one higher, no one greater, no one ever.  No one who has ever lived or ever will live, is greater than Jesus.  God put all things in subjection under His feet.  And He is now the head of the church.  Surpassing greatness.

Which has a couple of implications for us.  Jesus said, if you ask anything in My Name, what?

John 14:12-14 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

Jesus’ language concerning prayer is always limitless.  In His name… But second, He said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me, so go therefore and…” do what?

Matthew 28.18-19 

Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”

Greater works.  Answered prayer.  Disciple all the nations.  Love.  This is not just about a little dose of Jesus, just enough to get me some fire insurance and make me happy.  There is so much more to this life than just a little dab’ll do ya, 18 in of pew once a week, and rubbing my Jesus lamp every once in a while when I’m in a pinch.  We’re talking about the fate of billions of lost souls, people who God so loves.  Blessing the nations.  Eternity.  The glory of the King of kings, making Him supremely famous to the ends of the earth - starting in my own heart.  Famous in MY heart.  The stakes are so much higher than just me and Jesus, me and my stuff.

Paul says, Jesus is the head of the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all.  Together, we are the fullness of Jesus.  All that Jesus wants to pour out in the world - His love, His blessings, His grace, His goodness, His power - He has filled us up with that.  And His intent is for us to overflow that to our Jerusalem.  To our Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  We are repositories, yes, AND we are conduits.  He wants to so fill us up that we become channels of His surpassing greatness to all those around.  You and I are God’s conduits, this week.  And we will see this unpacked in ch 4, but suffice it to say - two are 200% better than one.  Paul says the church, the assembly of believers, is the fullness of Jesus.  What we do in unison, in unity, in love - striving together for the sake of the Gospel - has a far greater impact than our collective individual efforts.  Both in our own lives and in the mission.  Surpassing greatness...