*** note that this posting is an insert for the Sunday service in June ***
PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEAT
AN INTRO TO EPHESIANS (sort of)
At times it is important where you sit, at other times it is a matter of convenience or preference. One of my sociology professors had us do an experiment by upsetting the usual seating patterns –
Proverbs 25:3-7 has a saying about taking a seat fit for our status. Solomon urged his readers to take a humble place before a king. “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men.” He goes on to explain his reason for this advice. “It is better for him to say to you, ‘come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.” Pride can lead to humiliation. Humility can have the opposite effect.
Jesus reiterated this idea. Luke 14:8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. … 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place. Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus also said that we should obey people who speak from certain seats of authority. That is, those who teach from the seat of Moses in the synagogues. Which reminds me of a story about some boys arguing about whose father was the strongest and each gave examples of how much their father could lift or carry or manage in specific ways. After everyone had spoken that son of a policeman said, “oh, that’s nothing, my dad can hold up a whole line of cars with one hand.”
Many people who, when going to a concert or other event with open seating, like to get there early, so they can get the best seat (front and center).
And by now you are wondering what this all has to do with a sermon on Ephesians? Like each book in the biblical cannon, Ephesians has a specific message and role. This book is very much about who Jesus is, his position in heaven above every power of every kind and his being the head of the church which is his body. And it is very much about who we are as believers, as the church and how we relate to Christ as part of his church.
Like a piece of tapestry has a design woven into it with different colour threads, so Ephesians has several different key ideas and truths woven together to speak to our heads and our hearts and help us to understand who we should be in Jesus. One of those threads or themes is the praise worthiness of God’s glorious grace (1:5-6, 7-8, 12, 14, 2:5, 8, 4:7). Another theme is the activity in the “heavenly realms” which is mentioned five times (1:3, 1:20, 2:6, 3:10, 6:12). Our standing along with that of Christ is a part of that heavenly realm reality. And it has a major impact on our daily reality. And, thirdly, the power of God is a recurring theme. It is not just the dynamic of strength that is exerted, it is also about the power of God’s authority executed in the church and in our lives.
Join me as we ask God to help us focus our minds on his Word this morning and to work his will in us. Let’s pray.
God’s power is highlighted in an early portion in Ephesians chapter one, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. (1:18-20a) And God’s power is one of the threads that run all through Ephesians. It is the power of strength. It is incomparably great power, and it is for us. God used great strength to raise Jesus from the dead. Paul says it was a mighty strength which God exerted. He did not just flip a switch. This was a task for real power or strength. And it was done in the heavenly realms. What God does in the heavenly realms has immediate results here in the lives of His people. And Paul makes it clear here that it is exactly that same incomparably great power that is at work in us who believe. Paul wants us to know the power that is a part of the inheritance that God’s people have received. What an amazing hope.
Do you feel weak, unable to stand up to Satan and sin? We need to know the hope to which we have been called. This is the power of the strength of God at work in us. But as we read on, we find yet another power that is at work in us. Verse 20 continues with the continued activity in the heavenly realms, “That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (1:20b-23)
Here Paul is reiterating the same thing Jesus said when he gave us the great commission in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” So, Paul makes clear that the hope that we have in Christ Jesus is enabled by all strength exerted by God as well as executed with all the authority in the world as possessed by Jesus. So, we have both the exertion of might and the implementing of authority in the arsenal of Jesus.
Looking at this whole section, Paul is praying that we, along with the saints in Ephesus, would know the hope to which God has called us and the riches of his glorious inheritance among his people. I can understand if we all feel more than just a little overwhelmed by the weight of the treasure we have in Jesus. All this is true because of activity in the heavenly realm. But Paul wrote about another blessing coming from activity in the heavenly realm earlier in verse 3.
Look back to verse three in chapter one that was read earlier. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
So, right at the beginning of the letter we are told that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we receive every spiritual blessing. Every blessing we need. Do you think you are inferior to other believers, that you did not get what you needed when you believed? Satan would be happy to have you believe that. But we have each one received every spiritual blessing so that we can live a complete Christian life.
How does Paul introduce this idea? He writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why? Because He has blessed us in this abundant way. He has blessed us! Praise is due him for that.
Verses 4 and 5 tell us some of those blessings and verse 6 tells us all those blessings are to the praise of his glorious grace which he has freely given us. His works are praiseworthy! His grace is freely given in and through Jesus Christ. In what measure did he give? He blessed us in accordance with the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. The great overflowing abundance of God’s blessings, our salvation through Jesus Christ, is all in line with his good pleasure, it is what he wanted to do for us, and he did it for us. He takes great good pleasure in doing this for us and it brings him great satisfaction to bless us in this way. He lavishes the blessings of his love on us, each one. On you!
All this should cause us to continually praise him for his glorious grace toward us. (Verses 6, 7, 12, 14.)
And the blessings continue to be catalogued in following verses. And the purpose is reiterated in verse 12, “in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” That is talking about Paul and the early Jewish believers. But we are immediately reminded that we were included when we came to Christ. “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit … to the praise of his glory.” To what end? We received the Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance in Christ Jesus in the end. So whether we are talking about those who first came to faith or about we who followed centuries later, all this results “to the praise of his glory” verse 14).
And so, we continue to see how the themes of the letter or the threads in the tapestry are woven together by God’s activity in the heavenly realms produce wonderful blessings and inheritance for us in the here and now, and also produce great continuing swelling praise to God’s glory for his great blessings upon us. But that isn’t all there is.
GOD’S ACTIVITY IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS
We have already seen two occasions when God’s activity in the heavenly realms produce wonderful results on earth among his people. God was at work in the heavenly realms, when He raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his own right hand, and, again when he blessed us with all spiritual blessings.
In the first part of chapter two Paul reminds us along with the Ephesian believers that we were all dead in our transgressions and sins. We were hopeless. But God did not leave us there. Chapter 2, verses 4-5 tells us; “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved”.
But what follows from this action of the Father in the heavenly realms is amazing. Chapter 2, verse 6ff informs us that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (2:6-10)
Now then, do you know where is Jesus seated? What is the significance of that? [Give a chance for reaction][At God’s right hand. Above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked in the present age and for the one to come.]
And where are we seated? What is the significance of that? [Give a chance for reaction] God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
We sit in seats of authority derived from the authority that has been given to Jesus Christ. There are many parts of the New Testament that catalogue some of the rights and privileges and authority that believers have. It has nothing to do with who we were when we were without Christ.
We have the authority and power to live above sin, to pray and receive answers, to witness and see people believe, to cast out demons or evil influences, to do good works, to bring glory to God with our lives and the list goes on. We have spiritual gifts that we can use to build up the body of Christ. This is all true because of what God has done for us in the heavenly realms.
There is a seat reserved for you. It has your name on it or some identifying mark. Maybe it has facial recognition technology. But we would do well to recognize God’s purpose is in this matter. Look, once again, at verses 7-10. Let’s read it together.
“… in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
You have a seat with Christ in the heavenly realms. Please take your seat and live in the authority of Jesus day by day.
Paul continues for the rest of his letter to challenge us to do many things related to living a holy life, working for the good of the church, living in a marriage and family, doing business, and fighting the good fight. The power and authority you need to do all these things just a Paul asks you to do is yours in Christ Jesus.
There are two more references to workings in the heavenly realms that I would like to point out before we close. One is found in 3:10-12. “His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” How is that for authority? Because of all Jesus has accomplished we can approach God with freedom and confidence. Are you applying this privilege in your lives these days? It appears that in all the future in heaven God is going to brag on us – the church – as trophies of his grace to all the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm.
Finally, in chapter six while talking about the battle against the devil’s schemes, which requires authority, and the putting on of the armour of God, there is a meaningful point made about the real battle we are in. verse 12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” These are the very powers that Jesus has authority over in verse 2:21. The only way we can exercise authority in our lives is by the mighty power of God which he exerted in raising Jesus from the dead. We are called to battle foes who are already defeated, and our authority is sure in Jesus Christ.
What an amazing resource of all we need is found in this letter to the church in Ephesus from the pen of Paul and from the very heart of God.
If you are a believer, you are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. Please take your seat and live in the authority of Jesus day by day.
And if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ and have not received him as your Lord and Saviour, you need to be aware that none of what I have been saying this morning is true of you. It can be true of you when you do come to salvation in Jesus Christ. If you are here and not a follower of Christ, I would urge you to come to him for salvation today. Then you would enjoy the same blessings as all who are God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ.