St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians begins with praise for God and the marvelous purpose and grace which had been working in the lives of his readers. In this lesson he goes on to share with them the content of his prayers for them. He prays for three things: for their eyes to be opened to what God is doing, for the wisdom to understand it’s significance, and that through this that God would reveal to the them his great power and love for them.
Paul tells the Ephesians that if God opens their eyes and reveals his purpose to them and grants them wisdom, that they will know the hope that he has set before them. That hope is grounded in the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is the hope of our own resurrection, of life with God, of sharing in the glory of Christ.
By raising Jesus from the dead and then taking him up into heaven and seating him in a position of authority at his right hand, God demonstrated his almighty power. Although men, blinded by ambition and false belief, opposed what God was doing and put Jesus to death, God triumphed. God used their murderous opposition to arrange the sacrifice of his Son, a sacrifice that would atone for the sins of the whole world. Then he raised Jesus so that he could reign for the sake of his people.
In their foolishness, Jesus’ opponents had feared the power of the Roman army rather than the power of their God, who had made his approval of Jesus quite plain through the miracles that he had been working. They were well aware that Jesus had raised Lazarus after he had been dead for four days. Instead of being a call to faith, that mighty display of the power and the authority that God had given Jesus was the act that caused their fall. For when they heard it, they decided that Jesus had to die in order to preserve the peace with Rome and their personal power.
God had not revealed his purpose to them, but he has revealed it to us. They could not see or understand what he was doing and so they stumbled in their unbelief.
But after Jesus had atoned for the sins of the world, after his death, God restored his life. The breath returned to his body. The blood that had been shed once more coursed through his veins. He left his tomb and began to reveal himself to those who would travel the world proclaiming that Jesus was the savior of all.
Someday you will be raised just as Jesus was. The great power that restored Jesus to life will also restore you. Your bodies will breathe again. Your eyes will be opened, and you be called from your graves as Lazarus was. Christ’s shout will awaken you to a life that will never end. On that day your hope will be realized, and you will receive the inheritance that God has promised, and you will know his power and see his glory.
But there is more. In our text, Paul is actually more focused on Christ’s ascension into heaven than he is on Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, by his death he atoned for our sins. Yes, by his resurrection he opened the door to everlasting life so that we could enter through it. But, it is that he lives and reigns at the right hand of God, that gets the emphasis here, and that is why this portion of the epistle is read when we celebrate Christ’s ascension.
He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.Ephesians 1:20b-23 ESV
Our nation prides itself on being the most powerful that the world has ever seen. We have weapons of incalculable power capable of great destruction. We have sent probes to every planet in our solar system and beyond into the space between the stars. We have great wealth. Our business have international reach. We grow more food than we need and import delicacies from the ends the of the earth. Our leaders are powerful and influential and other nations must take their opinions into account, whether they like what they have to say or not.
Yet as capable and powerful as we are, our power and authority is as nothing compared to the power and authority of Christ.
His power and authority is beyond that of other men. It also exceeds that of the various spiritual powers that God has established and appointed in the heavens and on the earth.
“Sit at my right hand,” God said to him, “Until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
This same Jesus has been appointed Lord and Judge of all the earth and every power in heaven and on the earth and under the earth will kneel before him and acknowledge his authority.
Therefore, the apostle Peter called upon those who had stood in judgement of Jesus and had ordered his crucifixion to repent of their sins and plead for his mercy, promising that even they could be saved if they would stop opposing him and would turn to him in the hope that comes from faith.
Universal authority and power were the reward that God granted Jesus for his work on our behalf, and he uses that power and authority to continue to work on our behalf.
That is necessary because much of the world is still in rebellion against God and his Christ. The nations of the earth and their rulers still rage and plot in vain against our God and against the Church. Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in many nations mean only that one is free to have ones own opinions, but not to share them with others, or act on them contrary to the wishes of the state.
The church in Ephesus found itself on the outside of the social norms. Christians who would not participate in the pagan religious ceremonies of their guilds found themselves without work. The craftsmen and others who profited from the worship of Artemis had tried to silence the apostle Paul and the church with protests and a near riot because their business was suffering.
At the time he wrote this letter Paul himself was in jail because of a similar angry demonstration when he was recognized in Jerusalem by some Ephesian Jews who had opposed his teaching that Jesus was the Christ and that we are saved by faith in him rather than by obedience to the law of Moses.
What Paul was praying for was that they would know that Christ was working in heaven on their behalf. That the powers that were arrayed against them were as nothing compared to the power at his command. Nothing they suffered, not even death, could separate them from the love of God that was theirs in Jesus Christ. Their reward was certain. Their hope was secure, as is ours.
God himself sent Jesus, and just as his suffering and death had served God’s purpose, their suffering and their deaths would, too. They would rise because Jesus had arisen. And, much as Christ had been rewarded with glory and honor for the things that he suffered, they would also receive glory and honor when he came to judge the living and the dead.
The same is true of us. The day may come when we suffer for obeying God rather than men, but even if it costs us everything we will gain far more than we have lost.
Paul wanted his readers to have such confidence in Christ and his power that they would be able to stand fast in the face of the troubles that were coming upon them. His call to strap on the armor of God and prepare for the devil’s assaults are part of this same epistle.
Paul also wanted to remind them that Christ was aware of their situation and suffering. “The church is his body,” he wrote, “the fulness of him who fills all things.” When Christ ascended into heaven, time and space lost their ability to contain him. His human nature now shares in the omnipresence of his divine nature. He fills all things. He is present wherever Christians gather, especially when they gather around his body and blood. Just as you somehow always know where your hands and feet and other parts are and what they are doing, so Christ knows where you are and what you are doing. Your pain is his pain and His life is your life.
So then, since Christ lives and reigns, since he knows our troubles and is using his almighty power and authority on our behalf, let us hold fast to our hope, confident that he who loved us and gave himself for us will save us from sin, death, and oppression, so that we inherit all that God has in store for us.To that end, I pray that God will reveal his wisdom and power to you, so that your eyes may be opened so that you know and understand what Christ has done for you and the glory that awaits you. Amen.