A sermon based on Ephesians 1:3-14 by Nathan Nettleton, 16th July 2000
What God has done and is doing is cause for celebration.
The opening section of the letter to the church at Ephesus which we heard read earlier, is a big Wow! Paul, or whoever wrote it for him, is looking at and describing the big picture of Gods plan for the world, and then standing back and exclaiming, Wow! Sometimes we lose the wow factor in our response to the gospel. We get kind of used to it. If weve been part of Gods people for a while it becomes so familiar to us that we can begin to take it for granted and not be blown away by how extraordinary it is. Let me see if I can rework the language of this reading for you in an endeavour to enable us to hear it afresh and hopefully with the Wow! factor back in.
Wow! Blessed be God! All praise and honour be to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! God has gathered up all the spiritual blessings of heaven everything that you might have imagined would be kept for only the most extraordinary saints God has bundled them all up together and given them to us in our union with Christ.
This wasnt a new idea on Gods part, even though we didnt know anything about it. It followed on from decisions that God had made even before laying the foundations of the world - even before time began. Way back then, God had us in mind. Before the first dinosaur left its footprints on the sand, God was anticipating our arrival and laying down plans for us. God knew what we would need and was getting ready so that from the day of our birth we would be bathed in divine love. Nothing but love can truly set us free to be the people we are capable of becoming, and there is no love so life-giving as Gods love. God wanted to immerse us so fully in love that it would soak into the very pores of our skin so it would get inside of us and release in us the joyous energy of love. That way we would emerge ready, willing and able to dedicate our lives totally to God. Imagine that - our lives considered good enough for God who is holy and faultless!
So then, millions of years before our parents had thought of us, God set the wheels in motion for us to be adopted as his own children. This was to be done through Jesus Christ, because thats the way God like to do things. God takes great delight in accomplishing such things through Jesus. God wanted his beloved Son to get all the credit for the boundless love that was being lavished on us. Why? Who knows? Maybe it is that God knows that we are not quite as prone to misunderstanding him when he comes to us with a human face. Maybe God knows that well recognise just how over-the-top this love is if we see it in a person, because it gives us a frame of reference we can make sense of. And theres no question that the divine love that weve seen in Jesus goes way beyond any other love weve ever known.
Christs love and his desire to reconcile us with the heavenly community was unquenchable. He paid the ultimate price, shedding his own blood in his endeavour to reclaim us for Gods family. Sure weve known of other people who have paid the ultimate price for others. Weve heard stories of people whove used their own bodies to shield their loved ones from gunfire. Weve heard of countless people whove put their bodies on the line in war for the sake of their country and its people. But have you ever heard of someone willingly risking everything for people who wanted nothing to do with them? Have you ever heard of someone whos been despised and rejected, cursed and spat upon, who has turned around and thrown themselves into the jaws of death rather than see their tormentors short-changed in the love department? We turned our backs on God so often and so completely that Jesus could easily have given up on us. He could easily have just said, Well, I tried to get through to them but they just told me to get stuffed. No one would have blamed him if hed washed his hands of us and walked away. But he didnt. His love was so extravagant and his generosity so utterly reckless that he just forgave us for everything and kept right on going, putting his life on the line to save us from the consequences of our own behaviour. To him even death by torture was a price worth paying to make sure we would not be shut out of the full experience of Gods love and desire.
God can see and understand perfectly what we could never get our heads around, so it would make sense that we might be in the dark as to what God is up to in the world. But God has decided to let us in on it, to give us a window into the mystery of the divine plan. God just seems to love doing things like that. It must be one of those things that you cant get any real pleasure out of if you cant tell anyone, so God decided to open it all up to us and giving us a preview in Christ. If we look at Christ, and consider who he is and what hes on about, we actually begin to see, in miniature, Gods whole plan for the entire universe. God in Christ - God in everything. Thats the plan. This is how it will unfold when the time is right: God will unify all things into one perfect communion in Christ. The reconciliation of everything, from the depths of the earth to the farthest reaches of heaven, all accomplished in and through Jesus Christ. And were not talking here about a token reconciliation - a few friendly platitudes written down and never really put into practice. Were talking about the birth of something totally new, a great cosmic communion of boundless love - the kind of love we see so extravagantly expressed in Jesus himself. Imagine that love permeating every fragment of the universe so that everything and everyone was consumed by love for everything and everyone else. Well thats the plan, and God has given us a glimpse of it already. If you contemplate Jesus youll see it beginning to take shape.
And when youre looking at the plan in all its big-picture cosmic dimensions, dont forget that it is just as much about you, about each and every individual, as it is about the universe as a whole. Gods got a special page in his photo album dedicated to you, and one for me too. In Christ we are identified as Gods beneficiaries and our future is secured. If God had gone to the lawyers and written up a will, it would have your name on it. And to this one, I leave everything I have to give!
No matter what the odds, Gods plans always find a way, and right from the word go we have been a part of those plans. It would make no difference whether you were one of the first people to throw your lot with Christ or whether you just decided to do it this morning. Gods plans are the same and they are there to ensure that nothing can stop us from being what, deep in our hearts, we most hunger to be - a joy to God. They enable us to live lives that clearly reflect the wonderful goodness of God. We will be experiencing that goodness and and it will shine through us for anyone to see.
Like I said, this is the same from the first believer to the last. Its the same for us entering the twenty first century as it was for those in the first. The message of Gods rescue mission reached us, and once we realised it was fair dinkum and put our trust in Christ, we became part of him, just like the first disciples. At that moment your future was signed and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Now you know for sure that it will be delivered! God never puts his name to anything without following through on the whole deal. Your life in the Spirit now is a pretty good down payment, but there is far more to come. Everything planned for Gods people will be yours a life overflowing with the glory and splendour of God. All joy, all peace, all love, all wonder, every blessing of heaven bundled together and wrapped in the glory of God will be yours for ever and ever. Wow! Blessed be God!
Do you want another sneak preview? Another look at the whole of Gods plan for you, me and the entire universe? Well God is about to give us another look right here at this table. Right here before our very eyes the whole drama of Gods purposes is played out. We see God taking flesh, becoming tangible, visible, touchable, tasteable. We see Jesus Christ putting his body in our hands, offering himself to us to nurture and sustain us in fullness of life. And we see him paying the ultimate price for being so reckless in his love, for entrusting himself to us, as we see his body broken, crucified, at the hands of his own creatures. But then in the most awesome and wonderful twist, we see Christ making his own woundedness the means of bringing healing into the world. We see Christ entering into our brokenness in order to draw us into his wholeness. We see Christ, even in his own brokenness, becoming the centre of a new unity, as all creation is invited to the banquet of reconciliation, there to receive what they are and become what they receive - the body of Christ. Wow!