The life-changing good news about Jesus: Barry’s sermon on Ephesians 1:1-14

Barry Dennis

Yesterday, we began a series looking at the letter to the Ephesians. Barry Dennis preached on Ephesians 1:1-14.  Below, there’s a wee summary of what he said. But first, the passage he was speaking on:

Ephesians 1:1-14

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

Barry told us he was excited at the opportunity to preach on these verses – one of his favourite passages in the whole Bible. The author (there is some doubt as to whether it was St Paul or another writer) was so full of ideas that he couldn’t draw breath, but poured out his thoughts – these verses, presenting the gospel ‘in a nutshell’ are one long sentence in the original Greek.

The reader learns that as Christians, we are blessed, children of God, redeemed, forgiven; we are given insight into the future, both personal and universal; we are not alone for God is with us in the Holy Spirit.

‘Great stuff!’ Barry said.

God’s story and ours

This is a passage to turn to, he said, when we have big decisions to make – decisions which will change the course of our lives, such as who to marry, what church to attend, what job to do.

Because it’s a passage in which God’s story and our stories are rolled into one.

It tells us who we are, and assures us that God has a plan for us.

An antidote to crises

Barry wondered whether some of us sitting listening to him were struggling – struggling with our lives, struggling with faith and with putting it into practice.  Sometimes when things go wrong, we hide behind barriers we construct from God, and from others.

Today we pray that we will catch a sense of the author’s excitement, catch something of his understanding of all God has done for us.

One of the things St Paul (assuming him to be the author) wants us to grasp is that each of us has a part to play in the great story of God’s work in the universe.

All of us have crises of faith from time to time, crises which put us in real danger. This passage is an antidote at such times.

The letter was a ‘circular’ letter, written to a number of churches. If indeed St Paul was the author, then it was written from prison, where at the time of its writing he was held in squalid conditions. And yet against this background he was able to pour out the great prayer 1:1-14.

The Trinity

The ‘Trinity’ is not specifically mentioned, but the work of each member of the Trinity is mentioned.

St Paul thanks God the Father for what He has done in the past; he thanks God for what He has done through Jesus in history; he thanks God for sending the Holy Spirit to ‘seal’ this in our hearts.

Barry confessed that, such was the richness of this passage, that he hadn’t been able to condense it into three points! We’d be taking a ‘wander’ through it, noting some of its key features.

‘Blessed’ (v3)

A different word was used in the original from that translated as ‘Blessed’ in, for example, the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The word used in Ephesians is the word from which our word ‘eulogy’ is derived. It means ‘A good word. A spiritual blessing spoken out over our lives.’

Sometimes, Barry reminded us, we are reluctant to accept gifts. Somehow we want to ‘earn’ what we’re given, or want to ‘pay back’ the giver, rather than gladly accepting and receiving.

We don’t earn what God gives us  – it is given freely, to be received freely. This doesn’t mean, of course, that God gives us everything we want. Rather, God has given us everything we need.

Every blessing we receive comes from our being in Christ. And so each of us must live as godly a life as we can. God has given us the resources to live the Christian life, a life of purpose, an attractive life in which something of Christ is seen.

Barry quoted Ken Howard (from Celtic Daily Prayer) who said

The more we are able to remove the conditions we are tempted to place on our sharing of Christ’s love, the more we experience people finding themselves drawn into it.

True godliness

‘Godliness’ is more than just ‘being good’, or living ethically. ‘Godliness’ involves catching something of the Father’s heart, seeing through God’s eyes.

Barry told us he had recently been at a church in Aberdeen which, as Hilton does at the Inverness Royal Academy, sets up ‘prayer spaces’ in local secondary schools. Some of the young people’s prayers were shared, and Barry was shocked that so many teenagers dread the school holidays.

For these young people, the long summer holidays can be a time of hunger, neglect, violence and abuse. The prayers they wrote would, said Barry ‘break your heart.’

Someone prayed that she could stop cutting herself; someone else that their parents would stop drinking. There was a prayer about a violent dad; one about parents about to divorce.

‘Godliness’ means seeing into the hearts and into the needs of desperate people with all the passion of a God committed to action.

‘in the heavenly realms’ (v3)

What’s meant here, Barry said, is not the destination we call ‘heaven’, but something different. It’s a word used five times in the book of Ephesians.

It means that as children of God we are in spiritual conflict in a spiritual dimension. We all struggle, we are in a spiritual conflict. We have a foot both in the kingdom of God and amid the realities of this world. We are ‘sanctified’ and yet we struggle with sin. The kingdom of God is ‘now’ in our experience, but also ‘not yet’, for we await its full and final coming on earth.

Those of us who are Christians, Barry assured us, will persevere until the end, sustained by the Holy Spirit, ever drawing back to Christ.

‘marked…with a seal’ (v13)

The Holy Spirit is like a ‘seal’ – (v13) – an engagement ring if you like, giving promise both of present and future commitment, and an assurance that the union will one day be consummated. Having done all that has already been done, God will not renege on the deal. The Spirit, the seal, is an indicator of the permanence of what God has done and is doing in our lives.

Some of us, Barry said, can’t ever remember a time when we didn’t believe, when we were not ‘in Christ.’ But he reckons that at some point in each of our lives as Christians, there will have been a time when (whether or not we were aware of it) we passed from being in unbelief, to being ‘in Christ.’

A time of decision

There is a time of decision, a time of transition. The gospel shared by St Paul in these verses calls for a response. Those of us who are not at present ‘in Christ’ need to become ‘in Christ.’  The great news is that each of us can be a child of God through entering into a personal, repentant, faith relationship with Jesus.

We hear the message, we receive the message, we are ‘sealed’ by the Spirit – all this is based on who God is.

‘we have redemption’ (v7)

Christians are ‘redeemed’! God has paid the price. Adam sinned, and the whole world fell. Christ died, so that the whole world can be saved.

How has this happened? Because of the riches of God’s grace, Barry assured us. God will never stop loving us, no matter what we do.

‘mystery’ (v9)

Barry told us that one of the reasons the book of Ephesians was written was to counteract the message of false teachers such as the Gnostics, who taught for instance that Jesus was God, but was not truly human.

There is mystery in the gospel – the mystery that both Jews and non-Jews are united in Christ. Everyone can know God, not just some special group of enlightened ones. All of us can know personal, daily, complete intimacy with God through Jesus Christ:

‘there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)

A choice and a challenge

Some people struggle with the idea that Jesus is the only way by which we can connect with God. But, says Barry ‘we don’t have the whole picture. But God does have the whole picture.’

We need to choose what to do with the gospel, said Barry. He prayed that someone among us would respond to Jesus.

 

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