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Monday, October 15, 2012

To the Praise of God's Glory (Ephesians 1.3-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 14, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
Hymn of Praise: "The Father's Love" (Dawson/Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
Offering of Music: "Praise the Lord, God's Glories Show" (Schelat)

Hymn of Sending: "From All that Dwells Below the Skies" (LASST UNS ERFREUEN)
Postlude: "From All that Dwells Below the Skies" (Paul Manz)

"To the Praise of God's Glory"
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Today we are starting into two weeks in Ephesians, chapter one.  We are continuing what we started in September, which is asking what it means to be a Christian or follower of Jesus Christ.  But in October we are looking at how that is not an individual or merely personal decision, but a community to which God calls us.  It’s like making the high school band: getting in and playing well are just part of it.  It’s the TEAM that’s the point; and it’s a team with a purpose, to play music that stirs up the listener.  How very similar that is to the community of Christ, as you will see in today’s text!

Having said that, Ephesians 1 is notoriously dense writing.  It is full of long, complex sentences and a whole string of terms begging for further explanation.  While all that is important, I don’t want us to get lost in the weeds, as important as those weeds might be.  So, I’d like to pull out several big themes that are woven together throughout these eleven verses.  And I’d like to draw your attention to the broader picture those themes paint: a God who has gone to extravagant lengths to love us and invite our love back for the purpose of making glorious music that is itself the story of that love.

I want to point you to four ways that God is described as loving us.  I want to name three ways we benefit from that love.  I want to name two ways we can respond to that love.  And after that countdown I want to point to the one resultant note sounded by and with God through the community of Jesus Christ.

Blessed be God! (v. 3) - 4 ways God loves us

The passage starts off with the main idea, which is simply this: BLESSED BE GOD!  Blessed be God.  It’s more common to hear or talk about God blessing us, but this is different.  This is declaring that God is blessed, and all that follows really has to do with that short statement.  I might add that it’s not like God is lacking and we are giving God something.  Rather, it is that God IS blessed (because He’s God) and we are declaring it so.  This could have been “blessed is God.”  And it’s a great place to start because it is worship.  Rather than start with what all God does for us, let’s just start with this: God is blessed!  I declare it.  That is worship and that is praise.  (That will be an important point when we get to the end!)

Now God-who-is-blessed is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and has acted in at least four ways described in this passage.  Let’s look at those actions.

1.    God has Blessed Us (v. 3)

First, look at the next part of verse 3: God has blessed us.  Blessings are not things we want, like presents; they are an overflow of the very character, will, and purpose of God.  Remember where this started?  GOD IS BLESSED!  So what God wants for us and what God does for us – THAT is blessing.  And this verse tells us that God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  In the second part of this sermon we will look at three specific examples of those blessings.  But for now, simply recognize the significant difference between a blessing as something we wish for and the blessing that is the overflow of God’s character.  It’s like the prayer I pray every week before the sermon: “God, cause my human words to line up with your holy word.”  That is what blessing is: experiencing the alignment of our lives with God’s purpose for us.

2.    God has Chosen Us (v. 4)

Second, look at verse 4: God has chosen us.  The next few verses show just how infinite and mind-boggling God’s purpose for us is.  It is not just the case that God sees you and knows you or that God has watched over you your whole life.  Look at the description of God’s choosing.  God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  Think about that!  Think about WHEN that was.  It’s before Genesis 1 – BEFORE the foundation of the world.  God had you in mind and willed the world into being that you would be in it.  And what does God choose us for?  It’s not just anything… it’s “that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”  Holy and blameless - that describes God’s character.  God chose to create us for fellowship and relationship with Him.  Let’s add one more bit to that…

3.    God has Predestined Us (v. 5)

Third, look at verse 5: God has predestined us.  Now, that word opens up a long and enticing rabbit trail we could follow.  I’ll just speak to it briefly.  This does not say “God fated us” for something.  Fate denies human will, but God created and affirms human will.  This verse works with the previous one to speak to God thinking about us and having a purpose long before we even existed.  But notice the limitations on it as well.  This verse doesn’t say that God predestined our every move, but that God purposed our adoption IN LOVE to His family.  This is what was already said above when God chose us; it just adds on some imagery to help us understand that.  And it uses an image we are familiar with: adoption.  Isn’t it entirely understandable to say to a child who has been adopted that her parents had her in mind long before the moment of adoption, and perhaps even before her birth?  That’s the image here to help us understand.  God planned in eternity past to create human beings to be part of His holy and blameless family.  And what the story reveals is that not even sin, death, or disobedience can undo the love which God has held for us – for you – since long before you were born.

4.    God has Revealed His Will (v. 9)

Fourth, look at verse 9: God has made known to us the mystery of His will.  Said another way, God has revealed His will.  Though this eternal choosing and purposing is way beyond anything we could comprehend, God has also explained it to us, most perfectly and completely through Jesus Christ, whom scripture even calls in one place the “explanation” of God.  (John 1:18)  So God – who is blessed – has a purpose and a plan for all eternity and out of love created us to include us in it.

Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ (v. 3) – 3 things we have received

Now I said I would come back to those spiritual blessings and here they are.  Remember, verse three said that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  And we noted that blessings are not defined by what we want, but by the character and purpose of God.  This passage goes on to name three very distinct spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ.  These are from God, but specifically given in or through Christ, and you’ll see each one flagged by the words “in Him.”  (Sometimes “in Him” is in God; but these are the ones where “Him” references Christ.)  Here are the three blessings.

1.    Redemption (v. 7)

First, in verse 7: “In Him we have redemption.”  We know “Him” is Jesus because of “Beloved” in the preceding sentence and because it is “through His blood.”  And what a lovely, compact description of salvation given right in these relatively short words.  Starting with the end of verse 6, describing a grace that is “freely bestowed on us in the Beloved,” this redemption is further described as forgiveness of our trespasses or sins – our disobedience – and accomplished through the shedding of Jesus’ blood.  Redemption is when you purchase or buy back one thing with another thing.  With death the penalty and consequence of sin, Jesus literally and spiritually gave his life in our place that we might be purchased or bought back into freedom and life.  It’s not just a symbolic act, but a supremely costly one, which is what prompts the language of riches lavished upon us.  In Christ, God poured out a King’s ransom for each of us, because of love.  This is the gift that we call grace.

2.    Inheritance (v. 11)

Second, in verse 11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance.”  This relates back to the adoption language earlier.  There, we were “adopted as sons.”  That was not to exclude women and girls, but because in ancient times sons inherited from the father.  This is a description of the validity and nature of our adoption.  We are in no way secondary members of God’s family, but right in it – inheritors of God’s treasure, already described in terms of blessing and lavished riches.  I’ve tried to say this in other ways before.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is not just salvation or rescue from death - which would be enough; it is welcome into a relationship and a family and a home, so much so that you can be called an heir.  In Christ, you belong in community together.

3.    Sealing (Protection/Marking) (v. 13)

Third, in verse 13: “…you were sealed in Him.”  This is a good time to mention that in this passage you see God as Father, Son, and Spirit.  This verse brings all to bear.  A third one of God’s blessings is that in Christ you were sealed in the Holy Spirit.  The seal is not only protective, but identification of who and whose you are.  It is a PLEDGE of that inheritance I spoke of, which at the least is the redemption. 

God’s blessings are known in and through Jesus Christ, and include redemption and inheritance, signaled and promised by the Holy Spirit of God.

What Do We Do? (vv. 13-14)

So, that’s four ways God has acted and three blessings in Christ; now I want to name two ways we can respond to all that.  Incidentally, this also offers some commentary on how human will and action relates to God’s planning, choosing, and predestinating.  You have heard such strong statements about God’s plan and purpose; but right here in the same passage are descriptions of human choosing and action.  Both of these come before the blessing of being sealed in Christ with the Holy Spirit. 

1.    Listen (v. 13)

First, in verse 13: believers are described as “listening to the message of truth, the gospel of truth…”  A first act of human faith and obedience is to listen to God’s Word, the message about God’s eternal, loving, saving, redeeming plan that we’ve been talking about.  It is both true and it is Good News.

2.    Believe (v. 13)

And linked to that, second: “having also believed.”  One must listen AND believe.  And by hearing and trusting that Good News, we then come to know the seal or pledge of God’s work in our lives.  Simple enough, right?  Well, you’ve got to listen and believe.  But God does not force that; that’s not predestination or godly purpose.  And as Romans 10 says, “How will they listen and believe if no one speaks the Good News to them?”  In no way does God’s purpose and plan diminish our call to share the Good News.  It is that Good News, in fact, to which human beings respond.

And What’s the Point of All This?

1.    Praise (vv. 6,12,14)

Four, three, two… one.  The point of all of this boils down to one thing, which is repeated several times throughout the passage.  I wonder if you noticed it.  It comes in verses 6, 12, and 14, in reference to God’s action, to the blessings of Christ, and shortly after the description of human response.

All of this, which is part of God’s plan, purpose, love, and our participation in it, results in the praise of God’s glory.

We began with “blessed is God,” which is as good a way as any to talk about God’s glory.  God is said to be glorious because God is blessed, because God is God.  God’s goodness, love, wisdom, justice, and all of God’s character, being, and actions are not only blessed, but glorious.  Something is glorious if it is more radiant, more weighty, more true, more real than anything else; and God is the most glorious of all.

So, when this passage talks about “the praise of God’s glory” it is describing how these actions, blessings, and human responses highlight or praise the character and being of God.  And that brings me back to one of my opening illustrations.  While we eventually run out of brain power to comprehend these things, music does afford us a glimpse into these spiritual realities, because one aspect of both music and godly glory is BEAUTY. 

You try out for band and get in and get your part, written by someone else with a greater purpose and whole in mind.  You can play your part by yourself, but it only references part of the whole.  But when you participate in community, with each playing their part, and you rehearse and rehearse, you begin to make music and sound what the composer heard and in a way that is not just for the composer or performer’s ear, but is public.  When it works as intended, beauty is created in partnership between the composer and the community of performers.  That’s a pretty good description of the community of Christ that is the Church.

You each are called into this community to listen, believe, and follow the Word and work of God explained in Christ.  It is something you can pursue on your own, but you will only sound a part of the intended whole.  You were meant to be in community, rehearsing and working together to praise God’s glory.  That is a public thing; it is a communal activity; and it is not just saying, “Praise God,” over and over, but living and breathing God’s purposes in our life and work together.

What must you do to be a Christian?  Listen, believe, and follow.  But know that God has been at work long before you were even born to love, adopt, lavish, and bless you with every spiritual blessing.  And God has called us together to do this with one another.  That is a glorious purpose and there’s nobody I’d rather do it with than each of you!  Amen.

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