************ Sermon on Ephesians 1:19-23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 24, 2009
"God's Power in Christ"
Ascension Day 2009
This past Thursday was Ascension Day. I dare say most Christians were not even aware of this. And, I dare say if you asked the average man and woman of the world about this, they would give you a blank stare and ask, "What day?"
Ascension Day points to a very important event in the life of Christ and His church. On this day we remember that Christ ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God. On this day, using the words of our text, we remember that God 's mighty power was and is at work in Christ for the sake of the church.
I God's Mighty Power
A The focus of verse 19 is God's power. Listen to what this verse says:
(Eph 1:19) and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,This verse uses two phrases to describe God's power: "incomparably great" and "mighty strength."
In the Greek, the phrase "incomparably great" comes from the language of sports. It was used for throwing a javelin or a spear an unbelievable distance. Or, for a runner who outran all of his opponents. Today, we would use the phrase for an outstanding major league pitcher or an NFL quarterback or a runner at the Summer Olympics. In the Bible, God, God's glory, God's grace, and God's power are all incomparable. There is no one and no thing that compares to Him. Like Michael Phelps in swimming, like LeBron James in basketball, like Lance Armstrong in cycling, God surpasses everyone and everything.
B The second phrase is "mighty strength." The image raised to mind is that of a blacksmith using a mighty hammer to forge steel. Or, weight lifters at the Olympics; their whole body shakes as they lift unbelievable weights over their heads. In the Bible, God's Word and God's arm and God's strength all are mighty.
C Here is an instance where it is good to listen to other translations of the Bible.
(Eph 1:19 NLT) I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power ...
(Eph 1:19 JB) ... and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. This you can tell from the strength of his power ...
(Eph 1:19 The Message) ... oh the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength!
What is the point of all this? God is great, awesome, incredible, amazing, stupendous, unbelievable, incomparable, and unsurpassing in His power and strength and might. God is "incomparably great" and has "mighty strength."
II Power In Christ
A In verse 20 Paul focuses on Christ when he mentions two areas where God's power especially has been exerted:
(Eph 1:20) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms
Paul's first example of the incomparably great power and mighty strength of God at work is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. How much power did that take? Well, to put it in perspective, think about all the other resurrections in the Bible. The widow of Zarephath had her son raised from the dead through the ministry of Elijah (1 Kings 17). Elisha did the same thing with the son of the Shunammite (2 Kings 4). Some Israelites saw a band of raiders while they were burying a man; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb; when the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet (2 Kings 13). Jesus commanded the widow of Nain's son to rise from the dead (Lk 7). Jesus raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5). Jesus called his friend Lazarus to come out of the grave after he had been dead for four days (Jn 11). When Jesus died, many saints were raised from the dead (Mt 27). Peter was used of the Lord to raise Dorcas (Acts 9). And, Paul was similarly used with the coming to life of Eutychus (Acts 20). Throughout the history of salvation maybe a total of 15-20 people were brought back to life. But everyone of these resurrections was temporary – because they all died a second time. Think about that – facing death and dying a second time; or, even worse – being snatched from eternal life and the presence of God. But Jesus did not die again!
How much power did it take to raise Jesus from the dead? In Jesus' resurrection there is a permanent defeat of death and sin and disease and disability and mourning and crying and pain. In Jesus' resurrection there is life eternal. In Jesus' resurrection there is a glorified body that has been forever raised. In Jesus' resurrection there is victory. In Jesus' resurrection there is hope and new life.
How much power did it take to raise Jesus from the dead? A power that is "incomparably great." A power that has a "mighty strength."
B Paul's second example of the incomparably great power and mighty strength of God at work is the event we remember today: Jesus' raised into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
Now, we need to remember that the raising of Jesus was a three-stage process. It started when Jesus was raised onto the cross. It continued when Jesus was raised from the dead. And, it was completed when Jesus was raised into heaven. All three raisings are in mind at the start of Luke's account of the passion stories:
(Lk 9:51 NRSV) When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.Jesus set out for Jerusalem to be taken up – taken up onto the cross, taken up from the grave, taken up into heaven. In the same way, John makes repeated references to the "glorification" of Jesus – a word that signifies the death, resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus (Jn 7:39; 12:16,23; 13:31,32; 17:5).
We all are acquainted with Christ's predictions of His death and resurrection:
(Mk 8:31) He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.Did you know that Christ also made numerous predictions of His Ascension?
(Cf Mk 9:31, 10:32)
(Jn 7:33) I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.
(Jn 16:28) I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father."
(Jn 20:17) Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
(Cf Jn 14:12,28; Jn 16:5,10)
When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was God's incomparably great power and mighty strength at work. So, how much power did that take? The space shuttle launched into space last week. At the time of ignition, the ground shakes. Blast shields are up to protect the NASA ground crew. The noise is tremendous. An unbelievable amount of energy is needed – so much that the launch rocket and the fuel tanks are more than twice as big as the shuttle itself. Now, try to imagine the power needed to make a body rise into heaven – there is no engine, no rockets, no fuel tanks, no ignition, no shaking of the ground, no blast shields. Even birds need to launch themselves into the air and flap their wings. But Jesus ascended without any of this. Jesus is simply raised into heaven through the incomparably great power and mighty strength of God.
C Our God is a mighty God. His power is incomparably great. His is a mighty strength. There are so many events Paul could have selected to show this:
-God's creation of everything out of nothing
-the birth of Isaac to an aged Abraham and Sarah
-the Exodus from Egypt
-the tumbling down of Jericho's walls
-the return from Exile
-Daniel in the lions' den
-the miracles of Jesus
Think, too, of all Paul had seen and done in His ministry:
-he had been shipwrecked but his life was spared
-the bite of a poisonous snake did not harm him
-he raised Eutychus from the dead
-God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them
Paul could have mentioned anyone and everyone of these things to show the mighty power of God. But he doesn't. When Paul talks about the power of God, what does he mention? He talks about Jesus. He talks about the resurrection and the ascension.
As far as Paul is concerned, the mighty power of God is focused on Christ. It leads to Christ. It exalts Christ. It points to Christ. That is the point of the power of God – to exalt Christ!
Remember, Paul was not a follower of Jesus during Jesus' life on earth. He wasn't there when Jesus was raised onto the cross, and raised from the dead, and raised into heaven. Yet, Paul points to the resurrection and the ascension as the ultimate expression of God's power.
Paul, here, is a model for us. Like me, I am sure you have heard testimonies. Most testimonies are filled with "I, me, my." Paul's testimony has none of this. Rather, his testimony is filled with God and Christ. Furthermore, most testimonies are filled with what God has done in "my life, for me." Again, this is not what Paul does. Rather, his testimony is about God's power in Christ. Do you see the difference? When we talk about the power of God, it needs to point us to Jesus. It needs to exalt Jesus. It needs to proclaim Jesus. It is not about us. It is not about the things God has done through us. It is all about Jesus. Jesus needs to be our focus.
III Power Exerted
A In verses 21-22 Paul describes three ways in which the power of God is exerted in the ascended Christ:
(Eph 1:21) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.First of all, we see that the ascended Christ has been exalted to the highest place; He is above every other power – which includes every spiritual power (compare to Eph 6:12).
Do you remember from the book of Acts the spiritual powers that were at work in the city of Ephesus? There were evil spirits (Acts 19:13-16). Ephesus was a center for sorcery, magic, and divination (Acts 19:19). There was the cult of Artemis – the Greek goddess of fertility; Artemis was the chief god of Ephesus, and her temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (Acts 19:23ff). There was the imperial cult of Rome. There were also false doctrines and false apostles (1 Tim 1:3; Rev 2:2).
All of these spiritual powers and rulers and authorities. Spiritual powers and rulers and authorities that resist the Gospel and persecute the church and hate Christ. But do you know what? Christ is "far above" them all. He is stronger. He is bigger. He is mightier. He is greater. He is higher.
This is the first way in which the power of God is exerted in the ascended Christ. He is above all rule and authority.
B Listen to the second way in which the power of God is exerted in the ascended Christ:
(Eph 1:22) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything ... (cf Eph 1:10)Do you know what this means? This means Christ rules everything. Every knee should bow before Him. Every tongue should confess He is Lord (cf Phil 2:10-11).
This was God's intention all along. According to the opening verses of Ephesians, Jesus was raised onto the cross, He was raised from the dead, and He was raised into heaven "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head" (Eph 1:10). That was God's plan. It speaks of the future. But verse 22 speaks of the present – with the raising of Christ, all things have been placed under His feet.
All things are under Jesus' feet. Jesus is head over everything. Really? Can this be true? How do we explain death and disease and cancer and heart attack? How do we explain gangs and drugs and murder? How do we explain our state's financial crisis? How do we explain abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage? If Jesus is in control, shouldn't all this be gone?
The book of Hebrews answers these questions. Listen to what we read there:
(Heb 2:8-9) ... In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. (9) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered deathDo you hear that? God put everything under Him because He suffered death. God left nothing that is not subject to Him. Yet, at present we do not see everything subject to Him. Jesus is in charge; yet, we do not see it. Jesus is in charge; yet, this is not fully visible to us. Jesus is in charge; yet, we are sometimes blind to this.
Jesus is victorious. Jesus is in control. Jesus is in charge. Jesus is head over everything. Whether I see it or not, whether I believe it or not, does not change this fact. I don't see germs and viruses, but whether I see them or not does not change the fact that they are there. The same thing with the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
C Listen to the third way in which the power of God is exerted in the ascended Christ:
(Eph 1:22) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church ...Did you catch that last phrase? "FOR THE CHURCH." Jesus is head over everything for the church.
Do you know what nepotism is? Nepotism is when someone uses their position or power for family or friends. For instance, when President Obama took office, all sorts of people lined up for jobs – we call them "political appointees." This happens every time we elect a new president. According to verse 22, Jesus is guilty of nepotism. He uses His power, His position, His authority, His rule to benefit the church. But, with Jesus, this is a good thing, not a bad thing.
This means that ultimately God's power exerted in Christ is meant for the good of the church. Jesus is above all rule and authority, Jesus rules all things, for the good of the church. This means that Jesus was lifted up to the cross, Jesus was lifted up from the grave, Jesus was lifted up into heaven, for the good of the church.
What good? Christ rules all things so the church will grow in numbers. Christ rules all things so the church will grow in faith and maturity. Christ rules all things so the church will grow in love and joy and service. Christ rules all things so the church will be ready for eternity. Christ rules all things so we stand against Satan and sin and evil. Christ rules all things so we keep the unity of the body of Christ.
Today we observe Ascension Day. We remember God's mighty power. A mighty power that raised Christ – onto the cross, from the grave, and into heaven. A mighty power that put Christ above all rule. A mighty power that made Christ head of everything. A mighty power that is used for the good of the church.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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