“Religion is grace;

Ethics is gratitude.” --Karl Barth

Sermon for March 7, 2004

Texts: Ephesians 1:1-14; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. :15-20 & John 15:1-12

 

Big Idea: Our union with Christ, our life in Christ is the great humanizing event.

Purpose: Worship is about keeping our focus on what God has done.

Interrogative: Are you living in real time?

 

            The title of this sermon tells us that we are going to be talking about grace and gratitude--the heart of religion and right living, or ethics respectively.  Today we initiate a series on Ephesians which will take us right up to Easter, but I must pause and take note of something incredible transpiring in our culture which guarantees that this Easter will be unlike any we may have celebrated in recent memory.  I am referring to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of Christ.  In this stunning, artistic presentation of the Christ’s passion, from the Garden in Gethsemane to resurrection morning, the world is being visually confronted--no, the culture is being visually assaulted with a cinematic expression of gospel.  As of this date I have not seen this work of art and I am unsure as to whether my sensitivity to violence (I cannot even read the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion without being deeply, painfully moved) would allow me to go.  But very suddenly there has been a tremendous reversion in our world.  Here’s what I mean, when the gospel was first proclaimed by the apostles, it focused on the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  With Jesus’ public execution by the Romans, the world of current events in Jerusalem and environs at least was shocked out of its complacent unreality.  And, more, the deception of the apparent, the charade of unreality parading as reality was shattered by the gospel.  In a moment it became possible, even necessary to consider what God was doing!  In rightly declaring the death of Jesus--both as sacrifice and as our Representative, God took His rightful place at center stage of human history  This is what the witnesses like Stephen declared: the Just One you have both betrayed and murdered (Acts 7:52) was God Himself reaching out to redeem His people, His Chosen, or Holy Ones--God Himself working actively, as He still does, to restore us to Himself by Christ’s death and Resurrection.

 

            Peter had also earlier preached this gospel:

 

Acts 2:29  "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Acts 2:30  "And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS UPON HIS THRONE, Acts 2:31  he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. Acts 2:32  "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Acts 2:33  "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:34  "For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, Acts 2:35  UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET."' Acts 2:36  "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified."

 

            If you understand the “spiritual geography”[1] of that time and place--which can only take place through serious study and mental exertion focused on the narratives of the New Testament--you will begin to grasp that “The gospel is an expression of reality, actually an assault on the reality we know,” as Kline Snodgrass writes, both the reality presumed to be known then and the reality that we presume to know now.  The gospel is an assault on the half-lived pseudo-reality, the appearance only of everyday and ordinary existence wherein the impermanent and transient affect a permanence and fixity they do not actually possess!  For we know that the things of this world are created, they are for a moment and then they are no more.  “Reality is not just this world, but includes God’s purpose in this world and the next.” “IF we have some perspective that the “real reality” in which we live has to do with a God who values us and has been active for us, our lives by necessity change.  Suddenly, what God expects becomes important.”

            “This is the reason why worship and praise are so crucial.  They give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God.”  Worship, then, is real, real time.  Worship is our chance to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth entirely, openly and this changes us.  In worship, we acknowledge God as present, both real and now--not as distant, remote and/or remote.  It creates, or rather recreates our community in faith; it expresses our own soul even as it establishes who it really is.  Worship is crucial as self-defining and God-validating expression of our true, redeemed being.  By involvement in worship, it is as if our faith attains some measure of tangibility, certainly it gains a sense of reality.  In worship, we taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

            This “work” is suspect to the world.  The culture brazenly declares its right to define who we are.  But we, as Christians, although we express our worship in culturally bound ways, we are always profoundly counter-cultural: we refute in practice the right of the culture, of all that is pseudo-, superficial, impermanent and inadequate to take the place of what belongs solely to God, and to what is ours by virtue of our being “in Christ.”  The mindsets of this world, whether they are racist, sexist, Marxist, or post-modernist, all arrogantly presume to be our defining reality; but that is a lie, the smoke-screen and mirrors of a fanciful Oz.  “We need to keep the dream alive of God’s “real reality,” and therefore we need to worship with the focus and intensity that Paul in his doxology of Eph. 1:3-14

 

            To that focus and intensity we now turn.  Paul’s purpose in writing Ephesians seems to be that we should be encouraged and united in love as well as to be more fully informed as to the mystery of God in Christ for us.  In verse 1 Paul declares himself to be “an apostle” by virtue of the fact that his revelation came from having “seen the risen Lord.”  The “will of God” refers here to the divine purpose behind His actions for humanity--such as in setting aside apostles, or God agents and sending them forth to preach to the nations.  Ministry is my part bringing about God’s plan of salvation.  Again, we know already that this is about restoration a people to Himself for the praise of His glory.  Saints probably means holy, or separated ones  like ourselves rather than what we often take to mean “persons with a reputation for elevated piety,” or extraordinary folks. 

 

The faithful in Christ Jesus  Introduces a crucial theme for understanding this epistle.  To be “faithful in Christ” is to see oneself as a full partner, of collaborator with God in God’s program of saving work  This is a positional matter, a matter of oneness and of identity.

 

            I must pause and explain this matter of identity.  Identification, according to the Word, is a double dynamic.  First, and that’s important, first Jesus “identifies” with us through the Incarnation.  This means more than simply that He became humanlike; He also became our complete, perfect Representative before God--the originator of a new race, yes, the Second Adam; and the One able to assume, on our behalf, our sin-debt and so pay the penalty due.  When we speak of Christ’s substitutionary death, a perfect sacrifice on our behalf, we run the risk of removing ourselves entirely from the picture--but we are fully present in Him as our Representative.  The second part of this identification is ours and this identification comes through saving faith.  By faith, we are identified with Christ, we are “in Christ.”  By faith embodied, we share in His death and resurrection--truths expounded and expressed by the rite of baptism.  What we need to know is that by faith we are caught up into Him.  We are truly made one with Him.  These truths inform the Master’s teaching as recorded in John 15: I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.” (v. 5) 

 

            Still, the Christ in view is the Cosmic Christ who is the focus of God’s activity from all eternity and no mere mortal (see vv. 3-4).  He both embodies and represents all humanity (1:6-7) and, as a result, all of God’s good gifts are available in Him, the One in Whom all Creation is held together and summed up!

 

            Grace and peace (v.2) sum up God’s initial salvation. (God initiates--we love because He first loved us, we acknowledge Him because He first acknowledged us.)  The whole of Christian life is by grace constrained and so we experience peace.  The word “Lord” attached to the name Jesus Christ is very significant because “Lord” is the word reserved to the God of Israel in many Old Testament references; this is an affirmation of full divinity.  Lest we think that these are merely pretty words, let us recast them in the terms of direct encounter (on the Damascus Road) that Paul would have used them in.  We, in a similar vein need a religious language through which to express the reality of God in our own souls.  It helps to consider what we know of the speaker, Paul in this case, when interpreting the language involved.

 

            With the greeting behind us , we come to a doxology which incorporates a blessing (vv.3-14), a prayer of thanksgiving (vv.15-16) and intercessory prayer (vv. 17-20)--an arrangement unique to Ephesians-- it is as if we are reading Christian doctrine set to music here!  The Chapter is theologically load and structurally complex in its summary of God’s work in Christ--God‘s intentional and purposeful working in -depth to bring humanity to Himself.  We are going to focus chiefly on the remaining twelve of the first fourteen verses as they relate to God‘s plan of salvation.[2]  The passage is distinctly Trinitarian with verses 3-12 dealing with the Father and Son and with verses 13-14 exalting the Spirit.  Three senses of time are covered: eternity (vv. 3-9, 11), time in history (vv. 6-8, 11-14) and the “end time“ (v. 10).  .And three Greek participles divide the passage into sections: blessed us (v.3), predestined us (v. 5) and made known to us (v.9).  The passage is actually one long, exuberant sentence in the original, making these divisions helpful in grasping the logic of the sentence.  So we understand that we are blessed in Christ to be chosen to live blamelessly and God deserves praise for this.  The spiritual blessing is all that God brings to enable life.  It is not, as some would have it, blessings deferred to the future, but empowerment in and for the present.  Heavenlies reminds us that this world is not the only reality, or level of reality wherein Christ is presently exalted.  He is exalted in heaven and we participate in that victory even now.  The phrase “in Christ” here seems to carry a special sense of locality.--it means other things in other places--it is where we reside, a source of salvation and blessing and a framework within which we labor and live.  We are bound in unity with Him and one another so that nothing happening happens to us on our own.  It is also about ethical transformation, but that topic is expounded on in chapters 4-6--that we might be holy and blameless.

 

            Verse 4-6 bring us to the topic of election. It means that God planned and chose a people in Christ on the basis of His character, plan and action (not our merit, or inherent worth).  This “salvation” has always been God’s purpose.  Election results in saints.  It carries a corporate rather than individual connotation and it stresses responsibility over privilege.   The purpose of election is relational: we are “elect” as we are “in Christ.”  God is to be praised for this.

 

            Grace is whatsoever causes delight, rejoicing, beauty, kindness, charm and favor.  God’s grace is shown in His acceptance of us and in His giving so entirely of Himself as in the gift of His Son.  It is grace that works salvation and summarizes the gospel. We also have forgiveness of sins.  We need to understand that Paul didn’t see sin as erroneous actions half so much as he identified sin as a tyrant, an oppressing power so that being saved from our sins is a “release”--both from the sin and from the indictment of guilt.  Consequently, we are saved by the grace we live by.  May God be praised for that!

 

            We come now to revelation (v.9 ff) and, again, God is to be praised for making Himself and the mystery of His purposes/will known freely, or by grace.  Part of that will is for Christ to reign and rule over “the fullness of the times”--or, in a word to exercise eternal Lordship.  Christ is the focus of the entire universe and He gives all creation coherence, all life meaning and purpose.

 

            Verses 13-14 celebrate the gift of the Spirit to all believers (a seal, or validation).  This is not the second blessing, nor a higher stage of development, nor even something reserved for the elite.  The sign of the Spirit’s presence is simply love. 

 

            (Read paraphrase.)

 

Application: let us be about imitating Paul in his exuberant praise, praising God for all that He has done.   Let us worship God and give ourselves to Him for God, and God alone deserves that attention



[1]  Spiritual geography refers to the terrain, climate, values and history specific to a particular place which are part of our identity, or self-image.  Because “being in Christ” defines who we really are, we need to see Christ as that “sphere of influence,” or “power field” as defined by His Spirit, values, character, history and purposes .  In this respect, we are in need of being spiritual “bi-lingual” at least--if not tri-lingual: knowing our geography, biblical geography and spiritual geography all at once.

[2] There are five key ideas in this passage: 1.) the phrase “in Him”; 2.) God’s glory (3 x’s); 3.) God’s pleasure (2 x’s); 4.) election; and 5.) the revelation of divine mystery (as to God’s workings in Christ)/