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The death and resurrection of Christ creates the church to the glory of God

Ephesians 3:1-13

The thing which dominates the news now is Covid 19. As for other news and events, the world seems to have come to a sudden standstill in a very short space of time.  Businesses have closed, boarders have closed, schools have closed, planes have stopped flying and  countries everywhere are in lockdown.

Scientists working on finding a remedy for it and governments are seeking to limit the spread in the hope that eventually the thing will go away. These efforts are surely to be commended but they only go so far. Human ingenuity may be able to eventually tackle this pandemic until the next one comes along or a worse disaster overtakes the world; perhaps a third world war fought with long range nuclear missiles. Who knows?! Man’s propensity for error and evil is still with us!

The greatest evil in the world what so many are doing now and have been for a long time  and that is ignoring God. Men ignore God even in the midst of the pain and suffering of a pandemic which as C S Lewis so aptly puts it, is God’s megaphone,  calling on people to turn to him in repentance and faith.

You see secular scientists and world leaders have no real answers to the underlying problem in our world which is sin, original and actual sin. There is only one person who has the solution to sin and that is God himself . The world is being reminded of this solution every year during Easter. Easter is trivialised in Western countries with chocolate eggs and bunnies. But Easter, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ  is God’s gracious solution to sin. What’s more God provides those who believe the good news with unfathomable riches.  (verse 8)

Those who possess this solution and these riches are the church!  This is an important point Paul makes in this passage. No matter what is happening around us we have the promise that God will not abandon his church, on the contrary the church reveals the power and wisdom of God.

So the theme from this passage then is that, “the death and resurrection of Christ creates the church to the glory of God”, with the first point being….

  1. The church is established through the administration of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s own life was a vivid testimony of that. In verse 8 he describes himself as “the least of all saints and that it was only by the grace of God that he was saved and became an apostle to the Gentiles.”

Well it is the very same grace which has established the church. This is seen very clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By his death our sins are forgiven and by his resurrection we are justified  and reconciled with God. That’s grace!

This is essentially what the word mystery (verse 3) or the mystery of Christ (verse 4) is all about. It is a revelation of a truth which was once hidden but has since been revealed by God to the church. The content of this mystery is that gracious reconciliation achieved for us by Jesus Christ.

For the recipients of this letter, the Ephesian Christians, and by implication all Christians,  it meant that they were now heirs together with Israel, members of one body,  and sharers together in the promises God. This was a new revelation for the world at that time. As verse 5 & 9 show this was not known by former generations but hidden for ages. But that which was hidden is revealed, the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12 :1-3,  that all the families of the earth would be blessed, was fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Christ and the empowerment by the Holy Spirit of the church.

The gospel is advanced to the ends of the earth!                                                                            Israel as God’s uniquely chosen people would be replaced by a new international community, the church!                                                                                                                                                                           The unfathomable riches of Christ, including redemption through his blood, adoption as God’s sons and daughters, reconciliation with God and one another and eternal life now belong to people of every nation race and language by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Though we live in unusual circumstances and uncertain times with this world wide pandemic, We know what the underlying reason for war, pestilence, disasters, sickness and death is. But we need not be terrified by it  because sin and judgment have been overcome for us through the death and resurrection of Christ. The mystery is revealed. We have reconciliation with God and with each other through Jesus Christ our Lord and therefore as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches we have comfort both in life and in death through our faithful saviour Jesus Christ. We can look forward to the future with optimism.

  1. That brings me to the second thing the church is integral to God’s plan of salvation. Verse 11 speaks of the eternal purpose which God carried out in Jesus Christ. Literally it reads the purpose of the ages. ) In Romans 1:13 the same word is translated as plan. We discover what God’s plan is in  is in Ephesians 1. It has to do with His kind intention (verse 9) to choose or predestine us from before the foundation of the world as those who are to be saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for God’s own possession.

Who are they? In Ephesians 3  we discover they are the church consisting of saints; first from the nation Israel and then after Christ from every nation throughout history according to god’s plan.

How do you read history?  Often in secular schools and universities where history is taught God’s plan isn’t considered at all.  Students are taught history from an evolutionary standpoint with man somehow evolving over time to a higher being  who through advances made in science and technology hope to achieve immortalisation and become his own god. This is the progressivist view of history. Progress is paramount  and is measured in science and technology, morality and truth according to man’s own assessments .

However we see this view failing time and time again. In the 20th century there were two world wars man can still be the barbarian he was centuries ago. Consider the ease and frequency with which abortions are obtained. Thousands of unborn children sacrificed on the altar of convenience. How different is that from the Israelites sacrificing their children on the altar of Molech? The problem with the progressivist view or others such as the cyclic view of Eastern religions is that there is no acknowledgement  of the fact that we humans are inherently sinful and flawed. Nor is there any recognition of God’s great design in creation, the fall, God’s gracious redemption and a new creation through Jesus Christ. There is no acknowledgment that God is involved in all things, good and bad, corona viruses included, and that these work out for the good of those who love God  and are called according to his purpose. Anyone who trusts only in human ability has no certainty of a good outcome or any hope for the future.

Contrary to godless philosophising about history, the  Bible tells us that history is God’s story. It has this linear understanding of time. Secular history focuses on man’s achievements and failures, on kings and queens, wars and peace treaties.                                         The Bible focuses on the war between good and evil and on the decisive victory won by Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness.  Salvation history reveals to us the peace treaty ratified by Christ’s own blood and on the proclamation of forgiveness for all rebels who repent and believe the gospel.

The Bible also shows that God is sovereign over the nations and that within that God has established a covenant community called the church; a redeemed community to whom He made the promise “I will be their God and they will be my people forever.

That is who we in the church are. To the world we may seem rather irrelevant. I don’t think many governments and certainly not the government here would  consult a Bible believing church leader about any important decisions that need to be made, I haven’t seen that  in recent history anyway and not with respect to important matters like marriage, or the sanctity of human life or even how to best deal with the corona virus. The church is largely irrelevant in the government’s eyes. But she is not irrelevant in God’s eyes. The church is integral to God’s plan of salvation which brings me to my third point.

  1. The manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church. That was it says in verse 10 which is really the centrepiece of this passage. It answers the question; “Why has God done this?” Why this great plan of salvation resulting in a world wide church? Ultimately for the glory of God because the wisdom of God is revealed to the rulers and powers in the heavenly realms….. through the church!

In this multicultural, yet harmonious community belonging to God,… the wisdom of God is displayed! In the church we see God’s electing love,  His mighty resurrection power in people saved by the death and resurrection of Christ.  In the church see God’s wonderful grace and kindness as we,… though undeserving,.. receive the love and assurance God gives all who repent from their sins, believe the good news and are God’s  adopted sons and daughters, heirs of eternal life, through faith in Christ.

As one commentator put it “its a as if a great drama is enacted . The history is the theatre. The world is the stage and church members of every nation are the actors. Act by act, scene by scene, the amazing story of God’s grace continues to unfold. But who are the audience?  Verse 10 tells us they are the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms . Most commentators are generally agreed that this refers to the angels.  When the angels in heaven see the wisdom and work of God displayed in the church they rejoice and glorify God. This is especially true when it comes to the matter of reconciliation of both Jew and Gentile to God and each other through the cross.

The cross was a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentile!  Yet God through his word and spirit has turned the cross of Christ to the power God  for salvation both for Jew and Gentile and for you and me.

All this reveals to us a reality which is far greater than we can see. We tend to confine reality and even the kingdom of God  to our own small world, But God’s reality extends far beyond that. There is a heavenly realm from which the angels  are watching  the wonder of our redemption unfold.

Yes we are being watched! We can’t see them but they can see us, this great cloud of witnesses surrounding us (Heb. 12:1)   They, the angels watch fascinated  as they see all kinds of sinful people incorporated into God’s new society as equals, brothers and sisters in Christ and as saints!  They learn not just about the wisdom of God but also his eternal purpose which he accomplished in jesus Christ. That really places the church as central in God’s plan of salvation rather than an irrelevant organisation on the fringes of history where the godless would place us.

Now lets make this personal for a moment. If the church is central to God’s plan of salvation then surely it must also be central to our lives; such as;… our plans…. where we live,… what work we take on,  what our leisure life looks like and our family life. If the church displays the wisdom of God then surely we would want to be a part of that  and perhaps find and avenue of service in the church? Ask yourself what can I do to help build my church?  If the church revels the wisdom of God then surely we would want to be wise too by joining the church professing our faith in the church,  supporting  its ministries both at home and on the mission field. We would certainly not despise the church, that would be foolish  but we’d want to keep our membership in the church in which God has placed us according to the kind intention of his will. After all the church is established by God’s grace , it integral to God’s plan of salvation and reveals the wisdom of God in the heavenly realms. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that!

Paul concludes this section with a word of encouragement where he tells the Ephesian church not to lose heart at his tribulations because he’s suffering them for their glory. Paul was at the time imprisoned for preaching the gospel. But this gospel was for their salvation and ultimately their glorification. Paul was happy to suffer for that higher goal both for himself and the church.

It may seem discouraging for the church to be ignored or marginalised by the powerful and influential people in the world such as our own government.

It is discouraging to hear reports of Christians being murdered by Boko Haram in Northern African nations and their own governments doing little or nothing about it.

Paul wrote, (and I’ll paraphrase verses 12 & 13 here a little)  “don’t be discouraged,  rather continue on with boldness and confidence.”  There are bigger things going on than what we see and hear. The church and that includes us is central to God’s plan and purpose  and therefore the church must also be central to how we live our lives. Lets live them for God with boldness and confidence!

We have the good news! We have the Easter message about Jesus Christ crucified and risen  a message which has transformed individuals and societies for 2000 years. That same message has had had a great influence for good in every nation under the sun regardless of whether all people in these nations have recognise that or not. Those who have  are the church which acts as salt and light in their communities and nations.

For example our own government has been emphasising kindness during this  corona virus pandemic but where does kindness originate if not with God and the cross of Christ?

In conclusion then to reiterate the main point of this passage governments & kingdoms come and go. The map of the world is constantly changing as one nation defeats and annexes the territory of another.

But the kingdom of God of which the church is God’s instrument endures forever.

It is to the church and the church alone that God has pledge himself with this everlasting promise “I will be their God and they will be my people.

Amen

 

Sermon Outline/Notes page

The death and resurrection of Christ creates the church to the glory of God

Text: Ephesians 3:1-13

Introduction: Human ingenuity will may eventually overcome this Covid 19 pandemic but man’s propensity to error and evil is still with us. Secular scientists and world leaders have no real answers to the underlying problem in our world which is sin. Only God has the solution; i.e. the death and resurrection of Christ which provides those who believe with “unfathomable riches.”

  1. The church is established by the administration of God’s grace through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s own life was a testimony of that truth. He called himself the “least of all saints” saved by grace.

It is that same divine grace which has established the church by Christ’s death and resurrection. We have forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God and each other.

This was the mystery of Christ (verse 3&4), reconciliation and a new international community; the church.As members of Christ’s church by faith, God’s “unfathomable riches” are ours.

Therefore coronavirus or not, come what may, we need not fear. We have comfort even in the face of death.

  1. The church is integral to God’s plan of salvation

God’s purpose for us began with our election and subsequent salvation through faith in Christ. It will  come to a climax with our glorification

Those who have been predestined, called, converted, justified, sanctified and glorified are the Old and New Testament saints or the church of all ages.

Secular historians ignore God’s plan and put forward their own theories such as the progressivist (evolutionary) view and the cyclic view of history (reincarnation).

True history is God’s story and is linear. There is a beginning and an end with God in control and with the decisive victory over the powers of evil won by Jesus Christ on the cross and through the resurrection.

  1. The manifold wisdom of God is made known through the church

Why this great plan of salvation resulting in a world-wide church?

God’s wisdom is displayed through the church to the heavenly beings

The angels watch fascinated as they see all kinds of sinful people incorporated into God’s community as saints!

If the church manifests God’s wisdom and is central to his plan of salvation then would it not be wise to belong to and remain in his church?