Thursday 22nd September 2022

Sorry. A lot of words today!

EPHESIANS 1

This letter contains more meat than a two-pound steak; don’t expect to digest it all at one sitting!  Ephesians contains 155 verses of high protein biblical truth.  In Paul’s time the city of Ephesus was the principal city of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and a vast commercial hub for the Roman empire.  It was also the hive of Diana worship (or Artemis, in Greek mythology) and a powerhouse of pagan evangelism for the Roman world, extending its spiritual ‘tentacles’ even to the present day.

Paul’s letter to the church as Ephesus was really a circular statement of doctrine for the benefit of the entire region – and he expected it to be moved around, copied, and taught from by the elders of each local church in the region.  In fact, many reliable manuscripts of Ephesians do not have the name ‘Ephesus’ in that first verse; it is almost as though Paul had written the letter with a blank space and invited every recipient church to write their own name into their copy.  The Holy Spirit today invites us to do the same – since it is written as much to us as it was to them.  This is probably the same letter that ended up at Laodicea – which Paul then asked them to share with the Colossian church (Colossians 4:16).  Paul had spent two years and three months in Ephesus lecturing both to the church and to the unsaved from the Hall of Tyrannus – every afternoon during siesta time! 

In this great letter, no heresies are addressed (unusually), no greetings are sent to named individuals (supporting the ‘circular letter’ theory) and the first half (chapters 1 – 3) contains pure undiluted doctrine, aimed at giving his readers an expanded horizon and a heavenly viewpoint – to grasp the immensity of God’s grace and his eternal purpose for his church and for each one of us.  In this doctrinal half of the letter, there are virtually no commands to obey – it is as though God were saying to us: “Just sit, listen and think about all this”.  The focus of the entire letter is: “The Church – Christ’s Body”; and we are to ponder the amazing grace that Christ has poured out on us as we take our place in the greatest organism ever created.

After the usual greetings, Paul paints a picture of the glory of Christ and his power and authority over all creation.  He prays that all Christians will understand that purpose and power in their own lives.  He describes the salvation of individuals, chosen by grace, through faith.  He stresses the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile through the cross, uniting them into one household.  He reveals the plan of God to reveal all future wisdom through the Church and he prays that we will all have a much deeper experience of God’s fullness in our lives. 

The second half of the letter (chapters 4 – 6) is a practical outworking of the tightly-packed doctrine of the first three chapters.  Life should always emerge from doctrine, and only the truth will produce genuine life.  You cannot live 4-6 without grasping 1-3; and if you don’t live 4-6, you haven’t grasped 1-3.  The fact is: faith works!  The scriptures are God’s ‘FaithBook’ and are intended to provide life, communication, and unity to his heavenly household – that’s us!  So, it should affect our unity of living, our maturity of mind, a renewed personal life and some re-born relationships.  Marriage, family, employment will be unrecognizable from the world’s sad versions of these vital bricks of society.  We will realize that every moment of our re-born lives are now battles at the fiercely fought frontline between good and evil, heaven and hell.  We only win such battles as we rely on air superiority and the victory of our Commander-in-Chief that has occurred already.  Careless talk costs lives, so watch what you say!

Today, then, I will look in depth at chapter one: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing Christ” (1:3).  If Paul had been a concise man, the letter would have ended there and then, saving an enormous carbon footprint in subsequent sermons and commentaries!  If you wanted to say one thing, then that is it. 

Ever the ‘elaborator’, Paul unpacks his thoughts systematically:

  1. God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world
  2. He predestined us to be adopted as his sons, purely according to his will
  3. He took away the punishment for our sins, buying us back from slavery to darkness
  4. He revealed to us the glorious future that we have in his family for ever after
  5. Everything in heaven and earth will be joined together in Christ
  6. He filled us with his Holy Spirit as a guarantee of all this in the present time
  7. He will return to bring us home for good, one day

Having given his reasons for our gratitude towards God, Paul prays that we will be given full understanding to know the Lord better, to know the glorious future that he has prepared for us, and to understand the immense power that he has placed in us now.  That power is the same one that raised Christ from the dead and lifted him above every other being.  If Christ is the Head, then we are the Body, full of the Lord, and ruling with him over all other parts of creation.

Unlike many of the Third World’s banking systems, where citizens are restricted to accessing only a small proportion of the money they own, we not only have great spiritual wealth, but we have unlimited access to all of it, day and night.  This letter encourages us to go to that heavenly ‘hole in the wall’ and start making withdrawals!  We can never run out of heavenly ‘currency’, so what are we waiting for!  (Just think about that: if someone gave you a cash card and told you that you could withdraw as much money as you wanted for 24 hours, what would you do?)

Another illustration is that of America’s greatest miser – a woman – who lived a life of abject poverty and died in 1916, leaving an estate of over one hundred million dollars!  Do we similarly – having the full riches of our inheritance in Christ – refuse to draw upon those riches and live tiny lives of mediocrity and ineffectiveness?

Two final points that stand out for me:

  1. He chose us before the world was created – so we are special now and we should be enormously grateful for the grace that placed us in Christ
  2. We need to pray for one another to know God more fully, to understand our great inheritance, and to recognize the spiritual power we now have.

ISAIAH 52 and 53

And so to 52 and 53:  Some of the key facts about it…

o The middle chapter of the middle set of nine chapters is 53 (actually starting at 52:13), “The Suffering and Glory of the Servant” – a structured ‘song’ of five groups of three verses – it predicts the life, death, resurrection, and purpose of Christ: to make many ‘right with God’.  Here are the groups: 

o 52:13-15  Summarises the victory of God’s Servant, resurrected to the highest place, despite the severest of sufferings.  He will cleanse many nations.  (John 12:31-33 and Heb 12:2)

o 53:1-3  A man descended from kings, but unrecognised and disrespected, having no natural beauty and, like us, having first-hand experience of physical and mental pain.  His appearance: unwelcome!

o 53:4-6  Isaiah pulls back the curtain on Calvary.  In vv 4 & 5 see how many times ‘he’,  ‘we’, ‘his’ and ‘ours’ are swapped.  This is true ‘substitutionary atonement’.  Each phase of suffering extends beyond Hebrew metaphor and repetition, and becomes a medical description of crucifixion.  And if you still miss the point, then verse 6 thunders out the undeniable truth!

o 53:7-9  The focus returns to the historical story and away from the ‘sacrifice’ to the Lamb himself.  The word for ‘Oppressed’ has the same root as ‘Slave Driver’, looking back to Egypt and emphasising that Jesus endured his harsh labour, without complaint, to set us free.  The apostle Peter comments on all this in 1 Peter 2:21-15.  Verse 9 speaks of “…assigned a grave …with a rich man in his death”; note that this was fulfilled completely in Matthew 27:57-60. 

o 53:10-12  The pronouns change to ‘I’ (God) and ‘He’ (Christ) and show the Father rewarding his faithful Servant and Son with resurrection, glory, honour, and power (see Phil 2:8-11).  All this is God’s will, so that Jesus becomes the Judge and the Intercessor for all God’s people.  

Those are the contents; the theology is quite amazing, and the use of language is powerful and pointed.  This passage was launched with ferocious force into the national and individual psyche of the Jews, gestating there patiently – and somewhat cryptically – for over 750 years.  And then a man called John the Baptist lit the first flame of revival by declaring: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”!  It were as though a curtain was drawn back to reveal the Most Holy Place: the eyes of many were opened and they knew, at last, for certain, what it was all about.  In the New Testament scriptures, there are 35 separate quotations from this chapter alone; it is the central part of prophecy and the heart of the Good News!    

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