Sunday, February 05, 2012
Sermon: Ephesians 1: 1-14 Blessed in Christ
There’s a very popular question being asked these days. If you own a mobile phone, I’m almost certain you’ve asked it, or been asked it, in this past week. The phone goes off in a crowded bus, or in the middle of a shop, or even if you’re in the middle of a field (and have signal!) and the person on the other end wants to know: Where are you?
That might seem an odd question to ask you this morning - you might think the preacher has gone mad. Surely we’re in Aghavea Church, but I want to ask you anyway - where are you? You see, as Paul begins his letter to the Church in Ephesus, he reminds them where they are: ‘To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus.’ (1:1).
He’s saying that they’re not just in Ephesus, they’re also in Christ, because they’re trusting in him. Yet even if we know where we are (in Aghavea, in Christ), it’s still important to see where you are - have you ever seen the street maps or the hospital map with the star or the arrow which declares ‘You are here’? Seeing where we are sometimes only makes sense when we see the big picture.
These opening verses of Ephesians give us the big picture, and show us exactly what it means to be in Christ. They take us from eternity past (before the foundation of the world in verse 4), through time, to eternity future (the fullness of time in verse 10 and our inheritance of verse 14). These fourteen verses (eight sentences in English) are one big sentence, as Paul bursts forth in praise of God because of the way he has blessed us in Christ.
There’s so much in these verses that you could take a year to explore them and still not be finished, but don’t worry, we’re just going to spend a few minutes looking at what we have in Christ.
Paul tells the Ephesians that they have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. They lack nothing, they have been given everything they need in Christ. The rest of the sentence is like an extended version of the chorus ‘Count your blessings’, as Paul shows us what those blessings are in Christ:
We have been chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless before him - before we were even born, before the world even came into being, God had chosen you and me in Christ. We are chosen and predestined for adoption as his children, not because of any merit of our own; not because God saw in us any good thing; but simply according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.
We have been welcomed into God’s family, not because we were good enough, or smart enough, or important enough; but simply because God gives us what we don’t deserve. It clear to see, when we consider that in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins. We don’t bring anything to the table, only our sinfulness. God in his grace, in Christ Jesus, has forgiven us and cleansed us, and redeemed us.
(Are you still counting?) As if that wasn’t enough, God has also revealed to us the mystery of his will, the plan God has been working on, the meaning and purpose of history - the thing we’re all heading towards: ‘to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’ You see, Jesus is right at the centre of God’s cosmic plan and purpose, in him, everything will come together, and we have a part in God’s plan when we are in Christ.
As if it wasn’t enough that we have been blessed, chosen, loved, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, graced, informed, still there’s more. As the pew Bible puts it: ‘In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance’ - we have this inheritance waiting for us in glory in eternity - the inheritance for all who believe, both Jew and Gentile. And in the meantime, we have the pledge, the guarantee of the inheritance, the promised Holy Spirit.
Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. All these blessings are yours today, because of what Jesus has done. No matter what you’re going through, no matter how you feel, no matter how distant God may appear because of your circumstances, if you are trusting in Jesus then you have been blessed in all these ways (and more!).
Perhaps you’ll take some time through this week to come back to the passage, and reflect further on what God has done for you in Christ Jesus. Spend some time soaking in his word, marvelling at his love and grace towards you, wondering at the riches of his grace lavished upon you.
You might be wondering, though, how do we respond to this grace and love? As we’ll see in the coming weeks, the first three chapters are mostly all about doctrine - what God has done for us; and the last three chapters are about how we live in the light of that, but already in these verses there are hints as to how to respond.
The first is to praise him. Right at the start, Paul praises God because of all this as he bursts out: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...’. We’re told that God has done all this ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’. So as you reflect on God’s goodness, are you praising? There’s all the difference in the world between someone who thinks they deserve something by right; and someone who recognises they don’t deserve anything, and thus gives thanks and praise.
Another way we can respond is to see why God chose us in the first place - ‘to be holy and blameless before him’. This is God’s purpose for us, it’s the reason he saved us, and the reason he gives us the Holy Spirit, to live for him becoming more like Jesus. How is your holiness? Are you more like Jesus this year than last? Rejoicing in God’s grace helps us to change as he picks us up from our failures and gives us a fresh start.
You see, praising God and living for him aren’t two separate things at all, but one and the same, as we see in verse 12: ‘so that we... might live for the praise of his glory’. How we praise and how we live will both bring praise to God.
But let’s be clear. All these blessings and benefits are only for those who are in Christ Jesus, who are depending on him, trusting in him, united to him. Apart from Christ, there is no blessing, no peace, no life. Perhaps as we consider the blessedness of these Ephesian Christians, we discover that we’re on the outside, that we’re separate.
Even today, you can come to Christ, be united to him, be found in him, and as you do, you’ll find that all these blessings are yours; that you too were chosen before time, destined for adoption, that you too are redeemed and forgiven, that you too can look forward to this glorious inheritance, to the praise of his glorious grace.
In Christ, we receive all this. No wonder that Paul exclaims: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places!’ Where are you?
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 5th February 2012.