Thru Ephesians: a sermon series
Ephesians 2:11-22; Jeremiah 23:1-6
We are now in our third week into our sermon series through the book of Ephesians. So far, we talked about discovering God's Plan and Purpose in our redemption, our union in Christ; and finding life through dying to self, as Christ exemplified by his death and resurrection.
Last Sunday, we concluded our sermon with Scripture exhortation to live our new life as we are called; a life filled with conscious understanding of the love of God. The life that discerns the love of God as his fullness fills in us. We were reminded of our secret co-existent nature with Christ. In that, through God's unyielding love, believers have constant fillings and never run out of hope, strength, and gratitude even in their state of fragility. We are called to experience and exercise "True love" like those in the Kingdom of Arendelle where everyone was giving space to exercise their true selves including Olaf the Snowman (Frozen).
Picking up from where we left off last Sunday, we will now move on to the last passage of chapter two and the beginning of chapter three. In this chapter, Paul makes a dramatic turn of discourse. In chapter one and half of chapter two, Paul's emphasis has been to layout the relationship between God and humankind. He spoke of redemption and God's love that is beyond comprehension. He states that believers have received the immense blessings and God's gracious richness of heaven (1:3, 17). Paul maintains a better description of the vertical actions of God and expectations of believers to praise and glorify him.
Now Paul turns the table to the horizontal trend as the outcome and the fruits of the vertical actions of God. It is to say that after God had finished the first chapter and created relationship through adoption, he has now come to express the purpose of such actions. Paul reminded Ephesians once again; that they were dead and were far away from the knowledge of God's promise. However, through Christ, they were brought near and called children of God. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 3:6
The promise of the physical sign of covenant through circumcision has now ceased and been replaced. And in this later day, God makes universal Covenant through the Cross, fulfilled in Christ, and effective only through faith. The work of the cross was accomplished in the blood of Jesus Christ and has brought oneness and formed a new humanity in Christ. This was the divine plan! God's eternal purpose was to "create in himself one new humanity" through the blood of Christ (v.14-15)
God's initiative has brought down the wall of hostility. In this new assembly, the old humanity has no place. God himself has desired to create a renewed assembly in the body of Jesus Christ. Thus, "it is Jesus' death that brings down the "dividing wall, that is, the hostility between Jew and Gentile" and that enables the creation of "one new humanity."
This passage describes ways in which the new life of believers differs from their old life (Richard Cousar):
What unites us is bigger and more real than whatever divides us. We are divided over who makes Good Pizza. Between the giant New York Pizza with no topping and Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. We are divided over how we call soft drinks whether it is Soda or popes (as BodoJwok would always refer to diet Pepsi as white Soda). We are divided between the coasts. We treat ourselves as the left and the right, republicans, and democrats or maybe those in between. But at the end of the day, we are all members of God's family. We all showed up on funerals and experience sympathy over indecent treatment of others.
Today as Presbyterians, we are observing this Sunday as Mathew 25 and Criminal Justice Sunday and in the Spirit of MLK's Birthday, the social justice icon. Today many Presbyterian pastors will be preaching on dismantling racism, encouraging Race Relations and justice to enhance our efforts toward a shared identity. The words of MLK are now alive and remain truthful to what he had preached and predicted many years past. He believed that there will be a time in America where racial divides are no more and America will see "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of [Unity] brotherhood." Even if this is partially fulfilled in our lifetime, we are encouraged to work consciously until we see the church and human beings cherish their unity over diverse differences. We are growing to the realization of our oneness and are exhorted to exercise such unity Now on earth. We find the meaning of life when we discover the deep meaning of our unity in Christ. Christians are encouraged to strive to do good work as the fruits of their faith and stay strong in faith. We are built in the house of the New Humanity whose cornerstone is Christ Jesus. "In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God" (vv. 21-22).
We are called to peace, to care for one another as it is preached by Christ (Matthew 25:35). That horizontally all of us can treat one another as ONE and vertically come to the Father in praises through the "same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us" (17-18)"
As Paul urges the Ephesians, this message speaks to us today to remind us of our unity; "I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. " Eph 4:2-6
I leave you with Paul's calling to the Romans when he exhorts them how to exercise their love and said, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not rise. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position" (Romans 12:9-16)
As the humanitarian icon, Audrey Hepburn says, “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” Therefore, friends let us hold on to what is "Good" as God continues to renew us unto eternal sanctification. We are one, voyaging to one destination and Christ is our best friend who springs strength in our weary paths. He promises, to keep us united until he comes again! Amen
Thru Ephesians: a sermon series
Ephesians 2:1-10; Luke3:10-18
Today we are continuing with our exploration and discovery to learn the many important aspects of our reunion with Christ. We are not, however, on a "Bear Hunt" 😊 nor on an adventure to discovering a fairytale of the frozen girls when the gift of snow magic went wrong in the kingdom of Arendelle (Frozen Movie).
Rather we are trying to understand and be reminded of the Divine plan in our redemption; the will of God to bring us to life from our dead-selves. It is about God’s love and how privilege us with the gift of adoption makes us equal with Christ. Lastly, this sermon series reminds us of our spiritual endeavor to discern the transcendence power of God invested in the church and in the believers. How do we know? God himself has made known to us this mystery by the "wisdom and insight" that he "lavished" on us through Christ Jesus.
In chapter one and in our introduction last Sunday, Paul talked about our union with Christ and the great blessings that come because of our adoption to God’s family. That, in his gracious love, God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world to make us holy and blameless. And God has fulfilled his own good plan during the right time (v.4) Today, in chapter two, Paul assures the Ephesians, that our union with Christ is perfected through dying to Sin and making conscience disjunction with self trespasses.
"You were dead through the trespasses and sins…" (NRSV), Paul said. Paul used a Greek verb that literally means being dead, ("νεκροὺς— nekrous") when he compares the state Ephesians before they were believers. Paul's assertion and exhortation are inclusive by nature. When he talks about "You," he refers to the Ephesians (the Gentiles), and when he says "Us," he means his fellow Jews. For Paul, every ethnic group, and everyone etc., whether slave, the free, or the masters, the rich and the poor etc., were all dead spiritually and needed God's salvation. Everyone has sinned, has trespassed, has fallen short and does not meet the demands of God (Romans 3).
Paul reminded the Ephesians that they were spiritually dead before they were called and included into God's family. God has willed to rescue them from the state of destruction and disobedience. Now, Ephesians are alive through the power of God at work in them. The same power that has raised Christ from the dead, has resurrected them from their Spiritual death.
This Spiritual resurrection comes a result of conversion and believers are able to discover the new life in Christ apart from the past life. Paul said that now of conversion, a believer becomes a new creation, the old self is gone, and things becomes new (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Yet, the journey to perfection continues in Christian living unto sanctification.
But what is sin and trespasses that Paul keeps mentioning in this chapter and in most of his letters? Sin is missing the point, the mark, and the intended core of divine purpose. It is an offense against God. For Paul, Ephesians were living in the state of conformity to the worldly manner before they became Christians. They were against God, missing the intended divine law. They were slaves to Satan and sin of the world.
Trespasses in another hand, (Hebrew—"asham"), means willful debt by going beyond the required limit. This means willfully and consciously choosing "to pass beyond a limit or boundary. To go too far; to put any one to inconvenience by demand or importunity; to intrude; … to trespass upon the time or patience of another. " Easton's Bible Dictionary
In our corrupt state, scripture describes unbelieving soul as:
Paul said Ephesians were once departed from God and went too far and beyond God's boundary to the worshiping of Artemis. They were lost and needed help. They were like all of us because we had gone too far in our disobedience and suppress the truth about God (Romans 1:18-19). Like them, we went out of God's presence and from God's circle and died of spiritual death like Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17).
Isaiah said "All of us are like sheep. We have wandered away from God. All of us have turned to our own ways. And the Lord has placed on his servant, Christ the Messiah, the sins of all of us" (Isaiah 53:6) Peter echoed Isaiah and said all of us have trespassed like sheep that continually wandered away, but through Christ Jesus, now we have returned to the true Shepherd of our lives— to the “kind Guardian who lovingly watches over your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Paul exhorts Ephesians and all of us that, though we are now alive in Christ, we must therefore be dead to sin, to the need of the body, and to the will of trespassing. This is because you are no longer spiritually "Nekus", nor in the period of apnea, or have bradycardia, neither experiencing asphyxia (please allow me to use my medical terminology lesson😊). In Christ you are not unconscious, but dead to sin. Yet fully alive, with full heartbeat, sufficient of oxygen and breathing normally. God did this by grace through faith when we believed—"Nothing we did could ever earn this salvation, for it was the gracious gift from God that brought us to Christ!” (vv. 8-9)
Paul's message to the Ephesians and to us today is clear. He believes that through the saving power, God has expelled death that has occupied Christians before our conversion. Now God has instilled in us the undying life of Christ. Thus, Christians are alive because the fullness of God's grace is an unyielding stream of mercy flowing and keeps streaming in Christian's living daily.
Friends, it's true that the corruption was in us from birth and we expressed our disobedience through our actions and desires of our hearts. We have "lived by whatever natural cravings and thoughts our minds dictated, living as rebellious children subject to God’s wrath like everyone else."
However, God the father of love has shown us mercy despite of our degradation and deprivation, falling short of God demands. God did this through Christ, in Christ, by Christ and with Christ as he himself is filled with grace and mercy. You are made alive with Christ grace been saved through faith as a gift from and of God and " not the result of works, so that no one may boast (v 9).
Some may ask how a renewed person continues living in the newness state with Christ. In another place, Paul presented his rhetorical question to the baptized Roman Christians how to exercise their Christian freedom. He asked, should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life"(Romans 6:1-4). This is Paul's best answer to the question of our Christian freedom to all believes in centuries.
Christians must never forget where we had come from, who we are, our present state and where we are going. The person who is in Christ is rightfully child of God and is dead to sin and are free from punishment because of the death of Christ (Romans 6:23). We discover life through death; dying spiritually to the desires of the world and obtains personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Therefore, in our new life in Christ, comes an extended lists of God's heavenly blessings to sustain us (Eph 1-2):
Therefore, let us remain determined to our calling and committed to our journey to perfection. Let us be reminded that we have been raised with Christ and spiritually “ascended with him into the glorious perfection and authority of the heavenly realm, for we are now co-seated as one with Christ!" God's plan is to fill us with grace, because "He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things" (Ephesians 4:10).
We are all like Olaf the snowman, but with God's grace pouring from above, we are made strong and surviving. The snow/cloud of mercy is following and covering us our spiritual paths. The kingdom of Arendelle was a place for everyone and represents the Kingdom of God and the Church universal. We Christ raised on high, we will not runout of hopes, faith, joy, and strength, because the almighty Father, brings unyielding filling through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Last Sunday, we concluded our last sermon for 2020, and we reflected on God's covenantal assurance and deliverance for Israel from Isaiah 61:10-62:5. We also touched on Paul's message to the Galatians when he assured them of God’s comprehensive plan through Christ. Paul stated that God's divine plan and covenantal purpose was manifested through Christ whom God himself has sent. Jesus was born; and made his dwelling among us; and became one of us in order to make friends of us. The reason he was born through a woman was to draw us near to himself and to redeem us from our fallen humanity.
The dawning light of hope was shone on Christmas when the Savior was born, and the light of salvation keeps shining throughout the world. In this process, Paul said, God adopted us in Christ and has blessed us with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In the renewed nature, a union with God is established, and Christians are now made confident to call God their Father and freely appeal on his name. This means Christians are considered God's valued family members. Through this mystical adoption, God accept Christians as children and no longer strangers. Therefore, Christians have access to God and have equal status with Christ (Galatians 4:4-7).
So, based on this conclusion, we are going to pick up from the book of Ephesians and explore this process of adoption in detail. In the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul lays out God’s plan, purpose and how this mystical interweaving transformation process takes place. This is an important topic and has substantial elements about the mystery of our redemption. But for now, we will leave more details to the future sermons where we will be digging deeper as we continue with the sermon series—"Discovering Divine Plan and Purpose thru Ephesians."
Today, we will see Luke’s report about the City of Ephesus and Paul’s missionary journey to Asia Minor. Let us get to the historical background and then we will move on to the theological piece of the Epistle in the coming Sundays. As Max Turner said, “Ephesians is breathtaking in its theological grasp of the scope of God’s purposes in Christ…”
Max is right. The city of Ephesus has a significant place in the first century Roman Empire. Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province in Asia, present day Turkey. It was a bridge city between the Western and Eastern Roman Empire and was counted among the best cities in the first century. Ephesus was also a wealthy city, home of the main port and market center in Asia, said John L. McKenzie, S.J. It was the hub for religious, commercial, and political ground in her time.
There were incredibly special things in Ephesus that made the city noticeable in ancient time. Ephesus was the home for the temple Artemis. This temple was covered with marvel, and it looked brightly shining, representing the goddess of fertility Artemis. People flocks to Ephesus for rituals and feasts. The statue of Artemis was sacred and business booms for the sale of statues of the god Artemis.
Luke would describe an incident around the controversy between the followers of Artemis and Paul in the city of Ephesus in Acts 19:23-49. The followers of Artemis feared that Paul was going destroy their businesses by the new teaching he was bringing to the city and that people would turn away from the Artemis to follow Jesus. The business leader of the city by the name Demetrius called together a meeting to address the issue, and said, “as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province!7 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”
Another noticeable feature in Ephesus was the "Great Theater of Ephesus" which was said to have a capacity of thousands of spectators during events. The theater was spectacularly rich, adorned with statues of great Roman emperors and famous citizens. People would come from all over the province to attend music performances, religious and political events, sports, including fights with animals and major celebrations carried out in the theater (1 Corinthians 15:32).
Therefore, Ephesus was an important city for mission and has a great place in Paul’s heart. Paul stayed in the city for two years, an unusual practice for Paul to stay in one place for such a long time. He saw the need and opportunity in the city of Ephesus and the whole province. Paul rent a hall called “Hall of Tyrannus” and taught people every day for two years (Acts 19:10).
Due to this extensive work of Paul, Ephesus became known to many Christians. While Jerusalem was the birthplace of Christianity and Antioch the mission center, Ephesus was considered the city of Christianity and evangelism for the churches in Asia. The 7 Churches of Revelation were founded because of the work done in Ephesus as the Spirit confirms through John. That “I know all that you’ve done for me—you have worked hard and persevered" (Revelation 2:1-2).
According to Luke, Paul briefly visited Ephesus during his second Missionary Journey when the team including Priscilla, Aquilla and Timothy left Corinth for Ephesus. Paul did not plan to stay in the city nor hoped to do any extensive evangelism on that trip, but his mind was faced to Jerusalem and visiting churches he planted in his first journey. Staying for a short period of time and once reasoning in the Synagogues with Jewish leaders, Paul left Ephesus. Yet “on taking leave of them, he said, “I will return to you if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus” to Caesarea” and then to Jerusalem (Acts 18:18-23).
However, during his third Missionary Journey, as he prayed, Paul went back to Ephesus and stayed there for two years, between A.D 56-58 as detailed in Acts 19 through 21:14. On this trip, Paul left Antioch taking routes through the interior regions of Asia minor to Ephesus. In his two year stay, Paul carried out extensive evangelism and teaching activities “that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:20). John McKenzie says the Church of Ephesus was "praised for its orthodoxy and its perseverance in the faith…"
I know these are boring historical details, but I hate to leave them out of our series as well. I also don't want us to go home without getting out of the word of God this Sunday. I promise, I will not be preaching an African sermon today. So please bear with me 😊.
Regarding the epistle, Paul sent this letter as an encouragement while Paul was now in the Roman prison room. The letter is believed to be written by Paul himself and between A.D 60-62 along with Colossians and Philemon. And Paul’s love for the Ephesians has been detailed in his last speech when he invited the elders to meet him in Miletus. “You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:18-21).
In this letter to the Ephesians, Paul introduced himself to his readers and claimed his apostleship -that he was called by God's will - sent in Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to brush off any doubts about his authority and calling. He claimed that he was indeed called by God, and he has the right to address and encourage the Ephesian Church. In the first three chapters, Paul presented the union of Christians in God through Christ. Later, in chapters 4-5, he describes how this divine union is exemplified in human and familial relationships. In chapter 6, Paul exhorted Ephesians to put on the armor of God as they continue to live a Christian life in Ephesus.
This is our takeaway from this tedious introduction. That the book of Ephesians brings to us a rich meaning of God's secret mystery and the process of redeeming humanity in Christ. God’s divine plan is choosing for himself people of whom to bear his name, worship him as Lord and bear witness of his glory (Ephesians 1:12). Jesus exclaimed this truth in the book of John 15:16—"you did not choose me, I chose you…" And in this selection, God blesses us with union in Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and God makes Christians grow both in knowledge and strength (Eph. 1:17).
Second, Paul claims Christians are called to walk with God wholeheartedly in their Christian living. And our unity with Christ is exemplified by the mystical relationship between the church and Christ and just as a marriage between a husband and wife. Paul also encouraged the Ephesians to receive this mystery by faith and in continued seeking, he believes that Christians shall come to the full knowledge of God's love and grace in saving them.
Lastly, God did not set up Christians for a failure. Rather, God equips Christians with spiritual gifts to help fight the devil. Paul encouraged Christians in Ephesus and around the world to utilize God's armor. To stand tall and strong, Christians ought to fasten the belt of truth to support our back (waist) and breastplate of righteousness tightened to guard our hearts from deceit (Ephesians 6:14). Like Roman soldiers who were in a constant struggle to keep or advance their empire, believers are in constant fight. Therefore, they must be ready at all the times so that they are able to withstand all "strategies of the devil” and are able to rescue many for Christ
Friends, we are called to believe in this truth and remain in believing. God's redemptive work is a mystery that can only be perceived in the hearts and through the eyes of faith. We cannot see our inner transformation through the sanctification in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians are convinced and convicted of this renewing process. They can feel it, they can sense it, but because we cannot touch it, it does not make it untrue as countless deny this fact in this world. This process of union in Christ is not and never has been a tale, nor a parable, neither a joke. Rather, it is God's mysterious practical work. Even if we cannot logically prove our co-existence with Christ, we can perceive it by faith.
Reformed theology recognizes this truth and believes that in Christ we have shared identity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through our baptism. “Because believers are joined to Christ in his mystical way, they share not only his experiences but also his very identity, so that the Father looks upon believers as though they were Christ himself, accounting them Jesus’ status and rights (Galatians 3:26-29).
The big picture in Ephesians is God’s accessibility through Christ; that the church is God’s new humanity, a colony, established as a foretaste of the renewed unity and dignity of the human race. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is open for/to everyone who has faith and puts trust in God, both Jews and Gentiles.
Also, God sustains us in our struggle and Christian life as the chronicles claim "The LORD keeps close watch over the whole earth and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him…” 2 Chronicles 16:9). God, even at this moment, is still seeking for people to receive his grace and invite Christ into their heart and make union with him. It is possible with God!
Let us know that God has destined Christians for adoption and calls us his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).