Category: Ephesians

Sermon: We Are What He Has Made Us

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, March 22, 2009, on this fourth Sunday of Lent.  I hope your day is a wonderful Lord’s Day!

We Are What He Has Made Us
Ephesians 2:1-10

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Zombies in A World of Disobedience

Do you remember the movie, Night of the Living Dead?  Made in 1968, it starred George Romero, and a bunch of zombies.  The rather thin plotline was that a satellite returning from space was contaminated with radiation.  Somehow, that caused the dead to rise from their graves and try to eat the living, thereby becoming “alive.”  Or at least a very poor version of being alive — a shuffling walk, very inarticulate speech, and an insatiable desire to eat real people.  It did not win the Academy Award…for anything.

But, my point in that is zombies are called “the living dead.”  They appear to be alive, but they’re not really.  They’re really dead, but they keep moving around.  And in the case of Night of the Living Dead, kept trying to eat real live people.

Well, that’s kind of the picture Paul paints of those in Ephesus before they came to Christ.  Now, we’ve talked about Ephesus before — home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the wonders of the world. Renown in all the Roman empire for the cult of Artemis.  Demetrius the silversmith who rails against Paul and accuses him of disrupting his souvenir business is a prime example.

Paul says to the Ephesians —

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,

Sounds very “night of the living dead,” doesn’t it?  But “dead in your transgressions and sins” doesn’t really say it.  Paul really is saying, “Your sins killed you, you’re dead in transgressions (little sins) and sins (big ones).  The Amplified Bibles says, You were slain in your sins.  In other words, your sins killed you.

Then Paul goes on to say –

in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

So, you used to live in the sins that killed you.  Kind of a spiritual zombie thing.  And you did that because you were following the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the demon now at work in those who are disobedient.

Not only are you dead men walking, but you lived (if you want to call that living) in “this world.”  This world, this present age, as contrasted with the world to come, the age to come, which is the kingdom of God.

Okay, with me so far.  Let me recap for you:

1.  The Ephesians were dead, killed by their own sin.
2.  But they walked around like zombies (lived in their sin) because they followed the way of this world, of this age.
3.  This world, this age, has a spirit who is behind it all.  We know him as Satan, diabolos, the devil.

Interestingly, ABC will host a debate between Deepak Chopra and Mark Driscoll this week, and the topic is — Is the devil real?  So, 2,000 years later, this idea of a personality of evil, the spirit of this age, is still being debated.

Then Paul says, But guess what?  We all did that.  We all of us – Jews, Romans, young, old, affluent, poor, slave, free — we all did that.  We were all spiritual zombies.  We looked alive, but we were really dead, killed by our own sins.  Killed by them because we followed the god of this world, not the God of the world to come.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

So, nobody gets off the hook.  Now this is particularly difficult in the first century.  Paul is a Jew, writing to Gentiles — the Ephesians.  The Jews believed they were God’s chosen people, therefore, they had special standing, didn’t come under the same rules as everybody else.

Paul says, Not so.  We all were spiritual zombies.  Jews, Gentiles, everybody, because we all did the same things wrong — followed the wrong path, lived by the rules of this world, not the world to come.  We all lined up at the trough of craving and dug right in to satisfy our desires and thoughts, and that’s not a good thing.

And, final point, by nature — naturally, as a consequence, the logical thing that follows — by nature we were objects of wrath.  Children of the God’s displeasure.  Off-spring of disobedience.  Heirs of obliteration.  That’s what we deserved from a righteous God who is in the process of reclaiming his creation from its off-track existence.

Now, I will tell you right now, I am not a big fan of the wrath of God.  I think we trot it out way too often.  “God’s gonna get you for that” runs through our heads way too often.

But the truth is, the wrath of God is a natural consequence.  It’s like taking out the garbage, or discarding the refuse you no longer want.

Yesterday, Debbie and I worked in the yard.  To do so, we had to open the garage door, and get the yard tools out, including the lawnmower.  The garage was built probably in the 1920s or ’30s.  It’s a dirt-floor, single car garage, which has now been completely overtaken by yard stuff — rakes, shovels, two lawn mowers, bags of compost, and so on.  You get the picture.

Well, to get the lawnmower out, I had to drag it over a bunch of cheap plastic plant containers — you know, the ones like plants come in when you buy them at the nursery.  They are pretty much one-time use pots because they are cheap, flimsy, and ugly.  But for some inexplicable reason we had kept everyone we ever bought since coming to Chatham.  Okay, that’s not true, but almost.  We had a bunch of them.

They were useless.  Not only were they useless, they were in the way of the tools that could be used.  I got really aggravated, backed my Ford Ranger up to the garage door, and threw the cheap, black, ugly plant pots into the back of the truck, and took off for the dump.  Well, not the dump, but the closest we have here, the transfer station off Depot St.  I backed up to the big steel sled, and threw all the useless, ugly, black pots into the abyss.  Or the dumpster, but it might as well have been the abyss.

That, my friends, is a picture of the wrath of God.  God isn’t just going around smiting people, and aren’t we glad, because we’d all be in big trouble.  But that which is useless, in the way, an obstacle to the coming of his kingdom, an impediment to God’s work and will — those become, naturally, objects of his wrath.  In other words, they get discarded.  Permanently, eternally, forever removed from interference with the coming kingdom.

So, that’s the state we, including the Ephesians, were all in.  Spiritual zombies, about to be discarded.

Squeaky Violins and a Change of Scene

Remember how in the science fiction or horror movies the music would change.  The ominous squeaky chorus of violins would begin to play — EE-EE-EE — and you knew something was going to happen.  Well, the Bible has it’s own version of squeaky violin musics.

One of the best phrases in scripture is when a verse begins, “But God…” because then you know something is about to happen.

All of a sudden, as Paul is writing, squeaky violin music begins to play.  Okay, not really, but Paul says, “But God…”

Now the NIV loses the punchline on this because of the way it translates the sentence, but the “But God” thing is still there —

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Read it this way:  “But parentheses (because of his great love for us) close parentheses God…

See what I mean — But God.  But God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.

And there it is — God made dead people live.  This is the resurrection power of Christ.  This is Christmas and Easter all rolled into one.  This is the work of God, Paul says, because God loved us with this great, extravagant love, plus he was rich in mercy.  Love and mercy.  What a great combination.

So, let’s read it this way —

But God — because of his great love for us and his wealth of mercy toward us — brought us back from the dead!

No more spiritual zombies.  No more walking dead men.  No more pretending to be alive, when we’re really a hollow shell, a living deadman.

And, Paul adds — it is by grace you have been saved.  Grace — unmerited favor is the theological definition.  Graciousness.  What is grace or graciousness?  It’s acting differently from your circumstances, it’s rising above the fray, it’s setting a new standard for behavior when one isn’t even called for.  God was gracious to us.

We did not deserve it, we could not have earned it, nothing about us elicited that grace from God, it was just there and directed toward us.

But, Wait, There’s More!

I’m using a lot of video illustrations today, but here’s one more.  Remember the Ginsu knife commercials?  The announcer said something like —
“The amazing Ginsu knife will cut through cans, leather, even stainless steel.  And with your order today, you will receive this lovely Ginsu knife for only $19.95.”

Then came my favorite part:  “But Wait There’s More!!”

“You get not one, but two Ginsu knives, the special Ginsu knife first aid kit, and a trip to Tokyo.”  Or something like that.

Here’s where Paul does his, But Wait There’s More! routine —

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

First Paul repeats what he just said (God raised us up), and then comes the More! — And seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus!

So, it’s not enough that God raised us from death to life, he them brings us into his presence and plots us down right next to Jesus.

Remember the mother of James and John asking to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus.  If only she had waited.  That’s exactly what happens.  Now, I’m not sure exactly what it means for us right now.  I’m sure it has something to do with we have access to God, a loving relationship with God, a special place in God’s kingdom, and so on.  So, all of those are good things.  But it’s like an extra-added attraction —

  • God not only knows us (we’re dead sinners)
  • God loves us
  • God is merciful toward us
  • God is gracious to us as well
  • God saves us
  • God raises us up from death to life
  • God then seats us with him next to Jesus.
And why does God do this?  Well, it just keeps getting better — to have all eternity to show us how much he loves us.  Listen —

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.

Now, “the coming ages” don’t just mean the future.  It is a contrast to “this age” or “this world.”  In other words, the kingdom of God.  And so, in the kingdom of God, in its full unfettered expression, God just shows us the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Jesus.

What gentle, sweet, simple images.  Grace, kindness, love, mercy — God loves us, shows mercy to us, does it with grace, seats us with him beside Jesus all so that he can show us more grace, like the kindness he showed to us when he sent Jesus.

Big Parenthesis

Now, the next two verses, verses 8 and 9, are usually the ones we pull out of context and quote all by themselves.  But do you know what? Verse 8 and 9 are really a big parenthesis.

Read verses 6,7 and 10 —

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Reads perfectly fine.  Because verses 8 and 9 are a big parenthesis.  Now let’s read it again —

6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.) 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

And The Point Is….

And the point of all this is — God made us twice.  He made us at creation, and He makes us again in his saving grace.  “For we are God’s workmanship (creation).”

In other words, God is remaking us, recreating us, in his image again.  Except this time, he creates us in Jesus.  What does that mean?

Okay, one last illustration, not from the movies.  Did you ever play with Playdough?  You know, that colored stuff for kids kind of like clay, but not so messy.  Playdough is a wonderful invention, and you can shape it, roll it, form it, pound it, into just about any shape you want.

But then Playdough got smart.  They started selling molds to go with the Playdough.  Some were like cookie cutters, others were molds you pressed Playdough into, then peeled out to see what you had made.

Well, Paul says, when God remade us, he used Jesus for a mold this time.  He created us in Jesus (molded us like Jesus) to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Well, how could we help it?  If we’re made like Jesus, we’d have to do good works.  But those good works aren’t just good works.  They are kingdom works.  So, when Jesus heals people he demonstrates that there is no sickness when the kingdom of God is fully come.  When Jesus feeds people he demonstrates there is no lack, no hunger, when God’s kingdom fully comes.  When Jesus forgives people, he shows there is no vengeance when God’s kingdom fully comes.  When Jesus dies of his own accord, he takes power over violence heralding a new age, a new era in peace.

So, here’s the recap one more time:

  1. We are all deadmen, living out of the desires of this world.
  2. God loves us.
  3. God shows mercy to us.
  4. God is gracious to us.
  5. God raises us from the dead through Christ’s resurrection power.
  6. God raises us from the dead and seats us in the throne room of heaven next to Jesus.
  7. God has made us like Jesus, so that we will do what Jesus did.
  8. God prepared in advance for us to live like we’re living in the kingdom.

Isn’t that amazing?  And isn’t it better than being a spiritual zombie — the appearance of life, but reeking of death.  We are what he has made us — just like Jesus.

Sermon: A Thanksgiving Prayer

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, from Ephesians 1:15-23, titled A Thanksgiving Prayer.  Have a wonderful Lord’s Day tomorrow, and a great Thanksgiving season! 

A Thanksgiving Prayer

 

Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV
15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit  of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also 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 the saints,19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far 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.22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

What Are You Thankful For?

We always seemed to have trouble developing our own family traditions.  When our girls were small, Debbie and I wanted to give them meaningful experiences, and create our own family traditions.  One night we decided that we would sing the blessing before supper.  Now that sounds like a meaningful moment.  Our girls would grow up and tell their children, “When we were little, we used to hold hands around the table and sing our blessing before meals.”  At least that was the picture Debbie and I had in our heads.  

Our girls grew up about the time the Osmond Family was famous.  Donnie and Marie were idolized by our girls, and they would watch “The Donnie and Marie Show” religiously.  Oh, and there was The Partridge Family, too.  Singing kids with a talented mom, who traveled around the country singing to sellout crowds.  And, of course, The Sound of Music with the Singing Von Trapp Family.   Amy and Laurie took it all in.  

So, it was in that media culture that we found ourselves gathered around our dinner table one night, when I announced, “Tonight we’re going to sing our blessing.”  I forget what it was we were actually going to sing, but it didn’t matter.  We were not the Osmonds.  Or The Partridge Family.  Or the Von Trapps.  Did I mention that we didn’t have any accompaniment?  Well, it didn’t matter.  We probably hadn’t gotten more than a few off-key notes out when Amy and Laurie collapsed in laughter, and that was the end of the Warnock family tradition of singing our blessing.  

But, we were not deterred by that experience.  Debbie and I were still on a quest to make meaning for our kids’ lives.  So, on one Thanksgiving I announced, “Today, before we eat, we’re going to each share something that we’re thankful for.”  This went over only slightly better than the singing blessing, and was met with cries of “Do we have to?” and “I’m hungry.”  But, we plowed our way listlessly through the typical things that we are thankful for — friends, family, and the food.  And maybe some other stuff, too, but I don’t remember.   We pretty much gave up on the idea of creating family traditions after that.  

Thankful for Faith

And, maybe this year at your table, or wherever you are this Thanksgiving, you’ll take time to go around the table and share your reasons for being thankful.  And, they will probably be pretty typical, too.  Friends, family, enough to eat, God’s blessings, and so on.  We tend to give thanks for either “things” or people.  And, that’s good — nothing wrong with being thankful for either of those.

But Paul expresses thanks for something rather strange — the faith of the Christians in Ephesus.  Paul says, 

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you,”

Now, what is the big deal about that?  Well, remember the story of Paul in Ephesus?  Ephesus was a major city in what is now western Turkey.  Ephesus was a crossroads of trade and commerce, and it was not a Jewish city; it was a Roman city.  You know how cities are known for an outstanding landmark, such as Paris with the Eiffel Tower; Seattle with the Space Needle; Rome and the Coliseum; and, New York with Broadway, Grand Central Station, and the Statue of Liberty.  Well, Ephesus had its famous landmark, too — The Temple of Artemis, sometimes referred to as The Temple of Diana.   

It was described by Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of the Seven Wonders:
  

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught [anything] so grand”. [1]

 

 

It was in the shadow of the temple to Artemis that Paul began preaching in Ephesus. Now, in Ephesus along with the worship of the pagan goddess Artemis, there were those who practiced witchcraft and sorcery, those who were diviners claiming to speak with the voice of the gods.  It was not lack of spirituality that was Ephesus problem, it was the very vibrant spirituality of the dark side, of paganism that permeated the city.  

That’s why in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “2For 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.”
Paul was in a war for the hearts and souls of the people of Ephesus.  In the three years Paul spent in Ephesus amazing things happened:
  • The first Ephesian Christians experienced their own Pentecost, receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and prophesying.  God was validating this Gentile experience as every bit as genuine as the Jewish Pentecostal experience.
  • Paul began with a group of about 12 men, not counting women, and from there began to speak in the synagogue, and then in the debating hall of Tyrannus.
  • Paul preached there for almost 3 years with astonishing results.  Miracles occurred as handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul touched were taken to the sick and they recovered and evil spirits left them.  
  • Luke says in Acts 19:17 — “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”  
  • But opposition came to, most strongly from Demetrius the silversmith who crafted small silver shrines to Artemis, which he sold for a tidy profit — a profit that Paul cut into.  A near-riot ensued, with the people shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for over 2-hours.  
  • So, Paul decides to leave Ephesus and as he departs he warns the Ephesian church leaders that others will come in and try to tear the church apart — and some will be from among their own number!
Now, fast forward in time to the last years of Paul’s life, in prison in Rome.  Word has reached Paul that this church in Ephesus, where he spent almost three years, that this church is still strong and vibrant, and alive, and thriving, even though it still lives in the shadow of the mighty Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians.  
You can see Paul dictating to his amanuensis, his secretary, “Take a letter to the church at Ephesus.”  And so Paul begins to pour out his heart to them, telling them of God’s great blessings, and then turning to a personal point.
 
He has heard of their faith, and he has not stopped giving thanks for them.  
  • He is thankful that the cult of Artemis has not overwhelmed them.
  • He is thankful that they are faithful to Jesus in their daily lives.  That they do not go to the temple of Artemis as all their friends and neighbors do.  That they stand firm in their conviction.
  • He is thankful that after he left that the church had heeded his warnings, had watched out for those who sought to destroy it, and had survived.  
  • He is thankful for their faith in God, their faithful practice, and their effectiveness because he has heard about them recently.  
Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving
Which brings us to Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for them.  Paul says “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”  And here is what he has been praying for them.  Here is Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer for the Ephesians:
  • That God would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation so they could know God better;
  • That the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened to the hope to which God has called them;
  • That they remain aware of the power of the resurrection, not only in Jesus’ life, but in theirs as well;
  • That they understand that Christ has all power and authority in the present age, the age to come, in this world and in the church.
In other words, Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer is that they – 
  1. know God better; 
  2. see hope clearly;
  3. live in resurrection power; 
  4. acknowledge Christ as Lord.  

 

 

 

Our Thanksgiving Prayer

Like Paul, we are thankful when we look around at friends and family and our nation and the vitality of the church in other places around the world.  We are not that different from ancient Ephesus in that we as believers live in the shadows of the gods of this world — greed, indifference, hatred, violence, selfishness, sensuality, and many, many more.  In contrast Jesus calls us to live lives of grace, generosity, hospitality, peace, love, care, and humility.  So, when we look around we are gratified that faith is alive and doing good in our world.
When I was in San Diego, I heard J John, a Greek-born Christian who speaks with a British accent.  To say that J John is energetic is like saying Bill Gates has money.  J John is a bundle of energy and has one of those “you-can’t-help-but-like-him” personalities.  He told of flying one day, and seated next to him, a woman began to engage him in conversation.  J John  said he usually tries to avoid telling people that he is an evangelist, a preacher, because that tends to shut the conversation down.  So, this lady asks him, “What do you do?”
J John said, “I’m work for a global enterprise.”
“Oh, really,” she replied.
“Yes, we have locations all over the world, in almost every country.”
“Amazing,” she replied.
“Yes, we have hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding programs, clothing banks, we do disaster relief, take in countless numbers of orphans, and do more good than I can even remember.  We look after people from birth to death and we deal in the area of behavioral alteration.”
“Amazing,” said the woman, “What’s it called?”
“It’s called Christianity,” he said.
“Really!” And then he continued to tell about the rest of their conversation.
But, my point is, and J John’s was, faith is alive and well.  We are thankful when we hear about it still existing from modest beginnings in places like Africa, and South America, and Asia, and Europe, and Australia, and on every other continent on the globe.  Faith is alive, and for that we should be thankful today.
But, Paul, and we cannot stop with being thankful for hearing about faith, we must continue to support that faith and the faithful with our prayers for –
  • Wisdom and revelation so we can know God better.  We do know God better even in the last 100 years.  We have moved from hatred of fellow Christians who hold differing theological views to a dialogue of siblings in God’s great family.  We must know God better in how we govern ourselves and how our nations solve international problems — we cannot continue to turn to war as the first recourse in settling global crises.  
  • The eyes of our hearts need to be open so that we can see clearly the hope we possess and that we have in Christ for the world.  The hope of racial reconciliation, the hope of the end of poverty and hunger, the hope of the incoming of the Kingdom of God.  That’s why Paul healed, not because of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, but because the Kingdom of God was breaking in right in front of the Temple of Artemis.  The Kingdom of God was displacing the dominion of Diana.  In Ephesus, about 300 or so years after Paul writes this letter, John Chrysostom leads a band who finished demolishing what was left of the great temple of Artemis.  The Hagia Sophia, the grand ancient church in Turkey, now contains columns from the temple of Artemis.  The kingdom of God is the hope of the world, and our eyes need to be open to that hope, the hope we have in Christ.
  • The way we live should reflect the resurrection power, the first-fruits of God’s kingdom.  The resurrection of Jesus was both God’s way of validating the ministry of Jesus, and God’s defeat of the forces of death and darkness.  Those forces were resident in the Temple of Artemis, and it is the resurrection of Jesus that seals their fate.
  • We need to pray for our awareness that Jesus is Lord, not Ceasar or Artemis, and that we do indeed serve a living Savior who’s in the world today.  
So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful that faith is alive and that we hear of it all across this land.  But pray that we will know God better, see hope clearly, live in resurrection power, and acknowledge Christ as Lord of all. That’s a thanksgiving prayer we can all pray this week.