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).