søndag 30. juni 2013

Ephesians 3:14-21 Glory to God!

Eph 3:14-21

The noise of the mob is growing louder. You can hear them coming down the street. The chants are loud: “death to Christians”. There is no point calling the police – the police are leading the mob. They are coming to arrest you, your wife, your children, for rebellion against the state. What will you do? Will you stand firm for Christ no matter the cost? Do you really believe that his love his wide enough, deep enough, even in the darkness of persecution? Do you believe that he could empower you with inner strength from his Spirit from his glorious unlimited resources?

The mob bangs on the door – “stop believing in Christ, or die”. You call your wife and your children over to you. You look into their eyes, and realise how deeply you love them. The bangs grow louder as the police start to batter the door down. It begins to splinter. You stand together with your family, holding hands. The door bursts open, the police rush in – to find you in prayer. “Glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”

This was the situation in Ephesus in AD81, a mere 20 years after Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians. This could be Norway in 2033, a mere 20 years from today. Are we ready to stand for Christ? Are we, today, taking upon us the armour of God, clothing ourselves in Christ, standing firm for him in our workplace? In our family? With our friends? At the movies? In front of the TV? The computer? We belong to him. We were dead, but now we are alive! Let us live for him!

Because, as we see throughout Ephesians, and in today’s passage, our God is great! His is great in power, in love.

God is great in power

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.

The Creator of Heaven and earth – the one who spoke a word – and the universe existed. Awesome, unlimited power!
And through Christ we have access to that power. If you are a Christian you have already experienced that power. The moment you believed, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into you. You were dead, a spiritual corpse – and suddenly you were alive! New breath coursed through your lungs. Alive! And each day you remain a Christian is by the power of the Spirit.
It may not feel like it, but each day you wake up a Christian is a miracle, empowered by 1:19 the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. The power of God within us. Christ himself 17 makes his home in our hearts as we trust in him.

Let’s have a look at the context of this amazing prayer. I don’t know if you noticed that Chapter 3 begins with When I think of all this. This is repeated in v14, the beginning of today’s passage When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray.
When I think of all what? Well, all that we’ve read so far in Ephesians! That we have every spiritual blessing in Christ. We lack nothing. That we are chosen in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. This choice is his sovereign grace, and has nothing to do with us – he has chosen us, weak, dead in our sins, on order to show the wonders of his grace. He has made us alive, raised us up with Christ, joined us into his family, his one new man, the church, the Holy Temple of praise to Him. His purpose is to show his wisdom through the church – we who believe in Christ are on display, trophies of grace. When I think of all this. Wow! Praise God!

But there is a second part to verse 1 When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles – then Paul interrupts himself and doesn’t finish the thought until 4:1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling. In light of God’s greatness, we respond in praise with our lives, no matter the cost. Chapter 3 is Paul showing what it means to live a life worthy of your calling. He is in jail because he was chosen to proclaim the Gospel (v9). What does it mean for us to lead a life worthy of our calling? Chapter 4 to 6 will help us understand that: love our church (church is not the building, not the organisation, but our brothers and sisters in), love our wives, love our children, work hard, pray, obey the Word, live the Gospel. The Gospel that we believe affects how we live our lives. That’s why we will do whatever it takes, pay whatever the cost, to serve Christ.

That’s why we need to pray for inner strength through his Spirit. Why we need to understand the love of Christ. Why we need to know God is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Because when we look at the powers around us – the state, our culture, other people’s hard hearts. Well, it often seems hopeless, doesn’t it? We’ve heard how closed the Eritreans are, the Philippinos, the Norwegians, to the gospel. People have no need for Christ, they think. Blessed with God’s good common grace, all their needs met – and instead of praising God they reject him. Is it worth living for Christ? Paul is in prison for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the church. Is it worth it?

Because the powers against the Gospel are huge. Augustus, the Emperor of Rome until AD14, had declared the day of his birth be known throughout the Empire as “the day of Good News to the world of salvation”. People had to address him as Saviour. This began the cult of Emperor worship, often combined with worship of the city of Rome herself.
At the time Paul wrote, in AD61, Nero was on the throne. Nero, who would soon blame Christians for the great fire in Rome, which would start a massive persecution against Christians across the Empire. Ephesus was the second largest city in the Empire. The Empire had massive power against the seemingly weak “power” of the tiny church in Ephesus.

What chance did they have?

Well, tell me: where is the Church of Augustus? The “saviour” Augustus, he, with all his earthly power, did not do what a simple backwater carpenter did. There is no church of Augustus.
See, in earthly terms, the church should not exist. But it does, because it is powered by the very power of God. The church is the display of God’s power, God’s wisdom.

So be encouraged! The church was weak, tiny, scattered, without political power, without military might, without any earthly power. It had no way of safely gathering together – just tiny little pockets of people meeting in the name of Jesus across a vast Empire. All earthly wisdom said that it would soon be dead.
There is no earthly reason, no explanation why the church survived – especially after Nero’s proclamation to arrest all Christians and sentence them to death.
Yet, it survived because the power behind it is no earthly power – it is the power of God. As we read in Eph 1:19–23 (NLT) I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

So when you look at the church in Norway and despair – don’t. For the Lord has his people, and though the church seems to be dying or dead – there are signs of growth all around. New shoots springing up – little pockets of Christians faithfully proclaiming the gospel, willing to serve and obey Christ no matter the cost.

When you look back at your home country and despair – don’t. I told you last week that in the Sudan the government are actively deporting Christians. This week I met a nurse who had been working in the Sudan as a medical nurse doing mission work on the side. They had a team of Christians spreading the gospel for 7 years in the Darfur region. Last month they were deported, a Korean family the last to go after being arrested and interrogated. But she was not saddened. She said “we leave behind many Christians in Darfur, who will carry on the work of spreading the gospel”.

Christians in Norway, Christians in Sudan, Christians in Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, China, Myanmar - all over the world - including our little church, all of us a fulfilment of 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. And what is it that he will accomplish, more than we might as or think? The answer is in the next verse: God will glorifying his name through the church. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

God is great in power.

2. God is great in love

18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Back to the Ephesians – on one side they had the Emperor demanding they worship him – their refusal would soon lead to Christians being outlawed across the Empire, arrested and thrown to the lions for treachery against the state. And on the other side they had the Temple of Artemis, a huge religious cult which affected all of Asia Minor – and Ephesus was the centre. The Temple was gigantic, housing 25,000 people each week for worship: 10% of the population of 250,000. You can imagine the huge influence this had on the city. No-one was unaffected by the cult of Artemis. In addition, there was massive amounts of money to be made from the worship of Artemis – statues, icons, magic books, relics, and the tourist trade – perhaps a bit like Saudia Arabia and Mecca. When the church in Ephesus burned their magic books to show they had broken with Artemis and belonged to Christ the value of the books they burned was 20 MILLION kroner! This was a big deal.

How would you feel as a new Christian in Ephesus? That perhaps the devil himself was against you? Would you still be here this morning if the Norwegian government had banned Christianity and stated that Christians could be arrested and all their property confiscated? Would you still be here if people spat at you in the streets and if the shops refused to serve you because they all felt like you were destroying their livelihood? Where is the line that you would not cross for Jesus? How far is too far? Because if there is a line, I wonder if I could be so bold as to suggest that perhaps you have not met with the living God. To be a Christian is to call Christ saviour, yes, but also Lord. Our lives belong to him, not to us. He is our Master.

Tough? Yes! So Paul reminds us of the glorious riches we have in Christ, the incredible love shown to us. Give up everything? No problem, for he has given me everything. Throw me in jail – no problem, because Christ’s love reaches me even there, covers me even in the darkest dungeon or the highest tower. How wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is!

If Christ is at home in us, like it says in v17 – then we are rooted in God’s love, and we are strong. We are strong, to serve in church. We are strong to be faithful to our wives. We are strong to work hard at work, not to lie or cheat or be lazy, but work as for the Lord. We are strong not to worry, or be discontented, but to trust our Heavenly Father who loves us with such a HUGE love. Trust him. Where you are now is where you need to be – and if it is hard, then learn from it. Learn to draw your strength from Him. God often puts us in situations that are beyond what we can bear – so that we turn to Him, and depend on His strength. His unlimited, glorious strength. We are strong to change nappies without grumbling, to clean our house, to endure sickness and hardship, to go through dark times unbowed, whatever it is - because we know our Saviour and Lord.

Do you get the picture of what it means to be a Christian? What it means to know Christ? This is not some Sunday School now-be-a-good-boy nonsense. “Being good” is not the gospel. The gospel is this: I was DEAD. I was apart from God, without hope in this world. God was my enemy, opposed to me because of my sin. God is HOLY, perfect, sinless. He is perfect light, and no darkness is found in Him. By his nature he cannot tolerate sin – he obliterates, destroys it. And we, we are sinners by nature, rebels from the moment we are conceived (thanks Adam!). But God – God whose very nature is LOVE does the impossible. He takes a loathsome creature like me, made in his image but twisted and marred by sin – he takes me and lifts me up and says “LIVE!”

And my body untwists, my eyes open, his breath (Spirit) enters me and I am ALIVE! By the grace of God, I am ALIVE! The breath of God, the Spirit of power is in me. Christ lives within me. I am his Holy Temple. I am alive, created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good works he planned for me to do before time began (2:10).

Isn’t it glorious? Isn’t this so much better than “be a bit better, then maybe God will like you”. No, the truth is that we are much worse than we think we are – and that we are much more loved than we think we are. God’s love is overwhelming. When we realise that we deserve hell. When we realise that we have spat in his face and shaken our fist at him and said NO! And yet, yet he still came to this earth, made himself nothing, a man like us, in order to die a sinners death on a cross he did not deserve.

God is great in love. God is great in power. Glory to God!

søndag 23. juni 2013

Ephesians 3:1-13 Good News!

Eph 3:1-13

Before we get to look at today’s passage, I need to revisit something I said last week. In trying to help us understand how, if we are without Christ, we are out of God’s favour, his anger burns against us, he is at war with us, we are not part of his family and we are actually his enemies – now all that is true, but I said “God does not love us”. A friend of mine, and fellow pastor, Frode, reacted to this and said “that’s not true”.
And he was right. God is not us. When we are enemies with someone, we don’t love them. We hate them. But God. He is different, other, set apart, holy. He LOVES even his enemies. “Father, forgive them”, he cries, while dying for his enemies.

I went beyond the Bible in this. That’s why it’s so important to know your Bible, and to test everything – even what I say, especially what I say, against Scripture! God is not like us, so we can’t “fill in the blanks” of his character with ours. We must stick to what the Bible tells us about Him, not what we think we know about Him!

So, the gospel is that God is angry with us, hates our sin, hates our false religion, but loves us. Not because we are loveable – we are hateful, loathsome in his perfect holy eyes – but he STILL has compassion on us. He still loves us, and not a little love, but a love that carries him to be born as a human, carries him to the humiliation of the cross, a love that bears our sins and sets us free. What an awesome God we have!

That is why in today’s passage Paul says God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles. It is God’s grace that is extended to us. We Gentiles were outside, without God and without hope in the world. We were dead – but, by the grace of God, he has called dead men to life. Arise! By the power of the Spirit. Every Christian has this testimony, this deep knowledge, of the Spirit awakening them to new life, and keeping them awake, alive, by the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.

It is by grace. Undeserved favour.

What we deserve is hell: eternal separation from God. What we get is eternal relationship with Him. Hallelujah! Hooray for Jesus!

1. A prisoner for Christ (v1, 13)

2. To share the Good News

3. The church displays God’s wisdom

1. A prisoner for Christ

v1 When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles …

A prisoner of Christ Jesus. In 6:20 he calls himself “An ambassador in chains”. Why?

Because he is literally in chains! He wrote this letter from jail, imprisoned for preaching the gospel (you can read the story in Acts 21ff). Being a Christian, particularly a Christian leader, brought no advantage at all in those days. People think of the power and wealth of the “church” today, particularly the Catholic Church, and think it has always been this way. “See, they made up everything to get power!” Duh, way to read history through your own culture. The fact is, being a Christian was a dangerous business. Still is in many parts of the world today. So why did the Apostles risk their lives? Because they knew it was true, because God had called them to this task, and because they belonged to him.

In many ways Paul is not just a prisoner for Christ Jesus (for preaching about him), but also of Christ Jesus (that is, he belongs to him, is owned by him).

What about you? Who do you belong to? Who are you chained to? Yourself? Dead idols? False religion? Other people? Satan? Or Jesus? Because only one is leading us to life everlasting. Bound to Jesus we will arise in the new Creation, eternally alive, eternally free!

13 So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honoured.

“ I am suffering for you” is a remarkable statement. But that’s what we do, as Christians. We are united in the church.
Here we are all of us having given up “our” time to spend time together. I have given up two days a week and a high paying job to serve you here. And it is a joy. Brothers and sisters around the world are giving up time, money, some even their bodies to be beaten, or paying with their lives in order to spread the Good News of freedom in Christ Jesus. This does not make us lose heart, but makes us brave, makes us bold. Our brothers in Syria, who bravely call for a day of prayer for their country – knowing this makes them a target for attack. They show that they believe Ephesians 1: that Christ is above all powers, above all things. In Him, we fear no darkness. They may take our bodies, but our lives, eternal, spiritual lives, are hidden with Christ, untouchable, safe.
Our brothers in Nigeria, beaten, threatened, their churches burned down – meet the next Sunday in the burned out wreckage to worship God. They show us the truth of Ephesians. God’s wisdom and power is seen in them. Their courage encourages us. Don’t lose heart. No, we should feel honoured.

7 By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. 8 Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ.

Paul understands the great position he has as God’s chosen Apostle to the Gentiles – the whole world! – is not because of him, but of the grace of God. He says he is the “least deserving”, remembering how he approved the death of Stephen, how he opposed Christianity and went around arresting Christians – all in the name of God, thinking he was serving God. Until Jesus met him and turned his life right side up! Paul sees the grace of God in being given the responsibility to tell people about Jesus.

And every one of us has such a role to play. Each of us has been given the grace of God to tell those around us of the endless treasures which are to be found in Christ. We carry on the Apostle’s work, together as God’s church proclaiming God’s great wisdom, this mystery now revealed: Christ is for everyone. Come and receive him.

I wonder if there is not a play on words in Paul’s mind as he writes “a prisoner of Christ Jesus”. Because we are bound to Christ, inescapably. The marvellous truth is, that only bound to Christ are we truly free! Let us share that good news with others.

2. To share the Good News

3 As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed his mysterious plan to me. 4 As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. 5 God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. 6 And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

Good news: access for all! Free for all. Both Jews and Gentiles. Remember last week, how we saw that as Gentiles we were excluded, outside, with no way in to God. But now, through Christ, he has opened the door, bridged the gap, flung wide the gate and says “come one, come all, the way is open, the price is paid. Come in to the Father and into the Son and rejoice, for your sins are forgiven, your debt is paid, and you are now set apart, holy, part of God’s family, a beloved child of God, ready to serve and honour and glorify God in everything you do and say.”

All this available in, and only in, Christ. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

5 God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets. The Book of Acts deals with this huge mind shift in the Jewish apostles, as they began to understand the wonders of God’s grace. The Holy Spirit comes visibly on both Jews and Gentiles. WE are the same. The Spirit shows Peter forbidden food, says eat. No says Peter. Spirit says “do not call unclean what I have made clean”. Gentiles made holy through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood, just like the Jews.

It is this which is the great revelation. That God has made the way, and the way is open to all. Note that it is revelation, not just knowledge. You can’t stumble upon it, you can’t find it by your own effors – God must reveal it. And who has he revealed it to? The holy apostles and prophets. That is, those who wrote the New Testament which is explaining and revealing the mysteries in the Old Testament. How can God forgive sinful people? Through Christ. How can the blood of animals take away people’s sin? Because they point to Christ, and as people trust God’s word by sacrificing animals, God takes their trust to the Cross. How can Israel be a light to the nations? Through Christ, the nations will come in with Israel to form the Church, the new Israel, the great One Man united in Christ. Christ is the revelation and the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises.

In Christ we enjoy the promise of blessings because [we] belong to Christ Jesus. Flip back to chapter 1. In Christ: 1:4 we are loved, holy, without fault, 5 adopted in God’s own family, brought (reconciled) to God, 6 grace is poured out on us, 7 our freedom is purchased, our sins are forgiven through his Son’s blood, 8 we have all wisdom and understanding (through the revelation of the gospel), 9 he has revealed his mysterious plan to us, 10 we are under his authority, 11 we have an inheritance, 13 we have the truth, 14 we are Gods own, we have the Holy Spirit. And so we do indeed want to praise and glorify him with pur whole lives, at every minute, with every breath: praise be to God.

What do we lack? Nothing! Don’t let anyone fool you by saying you need to move on from Christ, you need to claim this or that blessing, you need this secret knowledge which only we can give you, you need the Pope, you need our church, you need special clothes, and so on. The Bible tells us we need Christ. And he is sufficient. God has done everything for us. We are his children. So be his child! Listen to him, talk to him, trust him, obey him.

This is Good News, Good News to share with those we care about. And if you don’t care about those around you, pray that the Lord would give you his compassion and his love for the lost.

Paul was a prisoner for Christ, to tell the Good News. We belong to Christ, to tell the Good News. And as we do that – as we speak and live as Christian people, as we love each other and those around us, then we display God’s wisdom and glory.

3. The church displays God’s wisdom

And church here does not mean the building, even the magnificent cathedrals – no, “church” means the body of Christ, little old me and you, in our weakness – we are part of the Temple of God, a living breathing church joined together in the one Spirit, united in the one true Gospel, brothers and sisters together under one Father.

10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. 13 So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honoured.

The church displays his wisdom. Oh it may seem like foolishness to the world – but keeps growing. “The Church is dead!” has been proclaimed many times. It keeps growing. Stalin and Lenin, Chairman Mao, Ceaușescu – all tried to destroy the church. It kept growing.
In India, Pastor Udayachal is beaten severely for handing out gospel literature. In Kazakhstan churches are raided and shut down by police, and every church member fined two month’s salary. (North) Sudan has refused new licences to build churches, and is actively arresting and deporting Christians to the South. All this happened this year in April. And yet the church keeps growing.
There is no earthly reason why the church should have started, or should keep going. It is a ridiculous story about a man who claims to be God, then DIES, then supposedly comes back to life, choosing a bunch of fishermen to be his chief witnesses. They had no influence, no political power, no army, no protection. They were hated, beaten, attacked, rejected, and murdered wherever they went (read Acts). Yet the church grew. And keeps growing.
It is the power of God at work. His wisdom and glory on display. He reached me at the age of 20 in Drammen, of all places. He reached my Dad in Manchester age 19. He reached you, each of you, at different times and different places – some of you right here in Notodden, some of you through this church.

10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Look around. Each of us here, if we belong to Christ, are trophies of grace, an eternal advert for the wisdom of God. We are now on display to the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, and the demon’s jaws drop as they see you, yes, YOU, of all people, become part of God’s family; and me, yes, ME become citizen of heaven.

And here we are, joined together by God, a song of praise to him for all eternity, Glory to GOD! GLORY TO GOD!

One final point 12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

What? Seriously?

Ever tried to get near to the Queen of England? Buckingham Palace has a massive fence around it, with armed guards posted at each entrance. There’s a huge courtyard, and then vast doors. Everything says – you are outside, you are other. You can’t wander up to the door and ring the doorbell and come in for a spot of tea!

But we can get in to God. And not slinking in the backdoor, peeping over someone’s shoulders - boldly and confidently!!!

What is it that keeps you from Him? Shame over sin? Thinking you are not good enough, that you need to try a little harder, do a little bit more, and then you’ll be acceptable to God? Dear friends, NO! We will never be acceptable to him – except through Christ. And if we are in Christ, well, then we are dressed in the finest robes of righteousness, with a royal crown upon our heads – His crown – and we can stride confidently and boldly into the throneroom of Heaven, covered by his righteousness, run up to our Heavenly Father.

You are covered, set free. This is the good news of the gospel, that Christ has saved us, and that we can belong to him. The Apostle Paul belonged to Jesus, and gave his life to share the Good News with the whole world. This Good News that anyone, without exception, can repent and turn to Christ, and become a new person, living now for Christ. And when you turn to Christ, you become part of the church – the great display of God’s wisdom and glory. Praise God for his goodness. You are a trophy of grace. Remember that, and be thankful. Amen.

søndag 16. juni 2013

Ephesians 2:11-21 United in Christ

Ephesians 2:11-21

“Dead man walking”. That’s apparently what they cry out as a prisoner in death row in the US goes walking from his cell to the execution chamber. Dead man walking. Oh, he’s alive – but he’s dead. This is the final walk. His death is a certainty.

Without Christ that is what we are like. Dead men walking. Our friends, our neighbours, our town – dead men (and women) walking. The appearance of life – but the certainty of death. Eternal death. Eternal separation from God’s favour.

That’s what we saw in last week’s passage. We are DEAD because of (or “in”) our disobedience and sins.

But, just like in movies with the innocent death row prisoner, the music swells as he manfully walks to a death that he doesn’t deserve, while the hero or heroine of the movie frantically rushes in with the final piece of evidence that clears his name – and as the prisoner is being strapped down, about to be executed, the phone call comes in: stop. Set him free!

Wow! Imagine how you would feel if you’re that guy! Facing certain death – now free! Finally, justice is done, and the innocent goes free.

But that’s not actually what we saw last week was it? For we are not innocent. We are dead in OUR sins it says in verse 2. And so, v3, God is angry. By our very nature we provoke God’s anger. He is hostile toward us, he will, he must, destroy us. It is his nature to be holy. It is ours to be unholy.

BUT! V4 But God is so rich in mercy. We are the dead man walking, walking to our rightful death – we have rejected God, chosen spiritual death. But the phone call comes – stop the execution. Someone else has taken his place. Christ has died instead. He swapped places with us. And we are no longer dead, but alive. Alive with HIS life. More than that! Raised from position deserving death to be seated in him in the heavenly realms. Now we are a showcase, on display, for God’s kindness.

So live like it! V8-10 we are saved, create anew, to do good works. Those works are prepared by God for us to do, to show his rich mercy – NOT to display to the world how great we are, how kind or how religious – but instead to show how great God is.

We were dead. Now we are alive. Praise God!

There is the same progression in today’s passage.
We were outside.
Christ has reconciled us.
We are inside.
And we are saved, not just to be saved, but saved for a purpose – saved to be the very Temple of God! The church united: we are all like bricks in this holy building of praise to God. We are the Sistine Chapel, St Pauls, St Peters, any great cathedral or inspiring building you can think of – together we are the Temple of praise to God.

1. Out! V11-13

2. But now, reconciled in Christ v13-18

3. In! 19-22

1. Out

We probably all know the pain of being excluded. Being on the outside looking in. Maybe you weren’t invited to that party. Maybe you were picked last for the sport teams. Maybe your home was broken, filled with conflict – and you sat in your friend’s house, with a mom and a dad who loved them, and wished to be part of that. Oh, to have a home that was a home. Oh to be loved! Maybe you have been in desperate circumstances. You ran from your home country to save your life, and now you are a stranger in a foreign country. Perhaps in a refugee camp, looking out at the happy people, secure in their home country. Perhaps you feel like that here, jealous of the Norwegians happy in Norway – where you feel like an outsider, a misfit, strange culture, strange language, strange food, strange everything!

So were we with God.

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.

Circumcision was the mark of belonging to God’s people. The Jews had it. We did not. They belonged to God. We did not. They were in. We were not.
It’s like finally getting to play for first team sports – when you put that uniform on…you belong. You wear the symbol of belonging to that team. That’s what the Jews had. We Gentiles did not.

12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.

We were apart, excluded, without God, without hope. We had no part in the people of God, and no way to get in. The doors to the kingdom were shut. We were outside the palace gates, the unwashed mob shouting to be let in. But the doors are closed, the gates barred, the walls high and impassable. We are outside. Glory is within, happiness, light, life, all joy and peace and goodness. A feast of delights, indeed, all spiritual blessings. That lies within.

But the door is shut, and we cannot open it.

And rightly so! That the kingdom of God should be dirtied by such as us! Like a beggar touching a gleaming crown with his dirty hands! No.

What right do we think we have? We fill our minds with nonsense. I’m special like a sunbeam. Because I’m worth it. I deserve the best things in life. I am the captain of my destiny. Lies, all of it. We are not citizens of the nation of God. We are not part of his family. All our lives will amount to nothing, a pointless blowing in the wind, nothing more than grass that withers and dies.

God does not love us – he is at war with us. His anger burns against us. He is hostile toward us. Remember Amos? “The people of… have sinned again and again”. What does God do? He goes to war against them – destroys their fortresses and lays waste to their cities. Why do we think we’re any different? Are we really that much better than those people? Are we? Do we really think that? Are we so arrogant? No, in our moments of clarity we understand that something is wrong with the world – with us. We understand that we are cut off from God. We understand that we are unholy and that he is holy, and there is no way in. The door is shut. The way is closed.

We are OUT. And we cannot get in – BUT he who is within can open the door! He can search us out – we who are far away, lost in the world – he can find us and bring us near to God by his blood. We are out! BUT NOW

13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. Praise God.

2. But now, reconciled in Christ.

16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

This is the Good News of peace: that you, whoever you are, can be reconciled to God.

The Ancient world was divided into two groups: the people of God (the Jews), and everyone else. The Jews were set apart, holy, having the Law and Commandments, the prophets, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the sign of circumcision. There was no way to get access to God except by becoming a Jew.

Unfortunately, the Jews forgot that they had received all these things by grace, not because they deserved them! And they forgot the Giver of the gifts, and focussed on the gifts – like a kid who grabs the present and runs off with it and never says thank you. Or, even worse, just chucks it on the floor and then stands on it, totally ungrateful – but when his friends come around – oh, he’ll boast about all the presents he’s got.

That is the Jew unreconciled to God. The Jew, v11 proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.

Being religious without God is a terrible thing. It leads either to despair (because you can’t do it) or to pride and arrogance (because you can). It is inherently destructive to relationships – like being part of a mean club. Church becomes about performance, maintaining a façade of holiness. It is not about sinners seeking refuge together at the cross. No, now it’s about showing off how religious I am and how much better than you I can be to make you feel bad and me good. I’m closer to God because of my performance. And you – yes you who get drunk on the weekend, you who are divorced, you who are out clubbing, you who are a “råner” with your cars – you are OUT and we are IN. You don’t meet our rules, and so we are hostile to you.

That was the situation then, and, unfortunately, it’s the situation today in many, many churches across our beautiful country. Self-righteous religious people stinking up the church with their walls of hostility, their rules of behaviour and their lack of grace and love.

And the solution today is the same solution back then. Religious people need Christ. We need Christ. You need Christ. I need Christ. Only Christ can unite Jews (the religious) and Gentiles (outsiders) into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

I want to spend a little more time on this, so we really get it. There is no division in the church. There is no-one better or no-one worse. The Jews had the system of law from GOD HIMSELF – and that did not make them better than anyone else – so nothing we can come up with can make us better. We’ll see a bit later in Ephesians that even spiritual gifts do not make us better than anyone else. We are now united in Christ. We are one new man. A new family, a new nation, a new people. Together.

This could be a particular difficulty in this church, where we come from so many different cultures, and therefore it’s so easy for us to feel the way WE do things is superior, or to offend each other without even knowing. To do something which someone else’s culture finds offensive! Or be offended or irritated by something someone else does. Oops. What do we do then? Do we allow our culture to erect walls of hostility between us? No. Christ is our peace, and we forgive each other, and love each other, maintaining the bond of peace we have been given.

And we do these things. I know my life and I know yours. How often are we ungrateful, complaining about things – people who make life difficult. A particular temptation for us from different cultures is to moan about the new culture we’ve got to life in – moan about Norway and Norwegians. And as Norwegians easy to moan about others from different cultures doing things the “wrong” way. And if we as a church are doing this – how will we reach each other with the gospel if we’re complaining about each other. The Jews and the Gentiles did this. The Christians must not. 2:15 [Jesus] made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

One final thing on Christ’s reconciling work, before we look at God’s purpose for us. I just want to point out that v16 in the Greek does not say “our hostility toward each other was put to death” but simply “the hostility was put to death”. See, Christ reconciled us both horizontally with each other – putting our hostility to death – and then us together reconciled vertically to God – putting HIS hostility to death. Christ is our peace, his blood covering our sin, his perfect life fulfilling the Law and commandments – doing what we could not do. It is the Good News of peace to us Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were “near”.

In Christ we are reconciled to God. Wow! Praise God!

But wait, there’s more! We have not just been joined together as one new man for nothing – we have a purpose. And our purpose is to be the very dwelling place of God – as it says in v22 we are the place where God’s Spirit dwells (lives). We are not just rescued from the pit of death – but lifted up to the heavenlies.

Like our dear president Nelson Mandela – he was not just released from prison. But he was exalted to the highest office in the land, leader of the nation. In Christ, we are like Madiba, lifted from prison to the heavenlies. And there we are to reflect to glory of our King and Saviour.

3. IN!

18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.

In Christ we who were out are now in. We are no longer strangers and foreigners but now citizens. It’s like when we first hold our red Norwegian passport. No longer a stranger – but a citizen. But not just of some earthly fallen sinful imperfect country – but citizens of heaven, citizens along with all of God’s HOLY people. In Christ we are in an exclusive club: perfectly holy people. Not just “holy” on the outside, like the religious person. But a new creation, made new from the inside, his Spirit within us.

And we are members of God’s own family! He is our Father. The Spirit lives within us. I don’t know what kind of family or father you had growing up – maybe it was good, maybe it was terrible. But whatever your background, in Christ you now have access to the perfect Father. He loves you and treasures you. You are his child. He gave everything to cover your sin and lift you up in Christ to heaven itself. And this brings him great pleasure and glory to save such as us! Thank you Father God!

So we are IN. Foreigners – now citizens. Orphans – now adopted into his family. Unholy – now holy. All in Christ.

But wait – there’s more!

20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

We are the house of God, the Temple of God. The Temple was the great symbol of God living with his people. The Temple was where the sacrifice for sins was paid, forgiveness received, where you could relate to God. It was the meeting-place between God and Man.

Now we know that Jesus is the Temple – he paid the ultimate sacrifice to forgive our sins, and bring us into relationship with God, to God’s praise and glory. He is the true meeting place between man and God. But in Him WE become the Temple. Not just individually, with the Holy Spirit living in each of us as our guarantee of our inheritance – but together as the church of God. At Pentecost the Spirit came upon the church with mighty power. And He fulfilled the prophecy in Joel 2:29 that all people can now be given the Spirit (in Christ) – and so the Church was born.

Christ’s goal is one new Man, a glorious Temple, a holy building to God’s praise. When the first Temple was built – oh it was all glory and pomp and ceremony, with King Solomon in all his riches and wisdom praising God and falling to his knees in wonder… and the Bible says this is us, only better! In our weakness, small as we are, we are part of the magnificent Temple of God, higher and greater than even that great first Temple. We are throughout all eternity the display case of God’s rich grace and wisdom.

We are here to show the world the greatness of God. When we come to church. God is great. When we turn away from adultery. God is great. When we don’t gossip, but instead turn the conversation to thankfulness. God is great. When we turn off the computer instead of looking at porn. God is great. When we share the gospel with our friends or work mates. God is great. When we give generously. God is great. When we bite our tongue and say nothing instead of something nasty. God is great. When we thank God. God is great. When we delight in him. God is great. When we say sorry to God, confessing our sins. God is great.
In the great or small, everything we do should proclaim God is great. Even washing up! The wife of the famous evangelist Billy Graham had a sign over her kitchen sink: “Services to God performed 4 times daily.” She knew this. We are God’s Temple. WE live to display his glory in everything we do.

Easy? No. It’s impossible! And that’s the point. If you try to live as a Christian without Christ you will fail. You cannot get IN by your own efforts. Only through Christ can you life begin to be a praise song to God.

We were OUT.

BUT now, through Christ we are RECONICLED TO GOD (seated in heaven. God no longer angry (v3 we were children of wrath); RECONCILED TO EACH OTHER. (united in Christ)

We are now IN! A TEMPLE created anew to do good works planned in advance to the praise and glory of God. We are the advert to the world of God’s grace, God’s good pleasure, God’s love, and God’s holiness. By his grace, let us live like it!

søndag 2. juni 2013

Ephesians 1:15-23 God’s mighty power

Ephesians 1:15-23

What does it take for you to become a Christian? What does it take for you to remain a Christian? How do you stay Christian?

Is it simply a lifestyle choice, like which gaming console you prefer, and as long as it delivers the goods – well, that’s my team. You know I’m an Xbox man – until the Playstation4 arrives with better features and whoops over we go to that.

Is that it? Christianity is just the best lifestyle choice we’ve found and so we’ll stick with it until... well, something better comes along?

Well, this morning we see that YOU remaining a Christian has nothing to do with YOU at all. Because, you see, you lack the ability to remain a Christian. However much we want, we cannot become a Christian and we cannot remain a Christian, because the power that is necessary to achieve that is the power to raise someone from the dead.

Now I’ve certainly never done that, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t either! I don’t even have the desire to try. Can you imagine? You’re at your grandfathers funeral and instead of paying your respects you flip open the coffin and start commanding in a loud voice “Granddad, arise!”

We don’t have that power. And that is the power that is necessary for us to remain Christian. Without that power, we would not follow Christ. 19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

Oh, we could probably still go through the motions, go to church, pray, perhaps even read the Bible. We could make an external show of it. But inside we would be cold, dead, empty. No life-giving Spirit within. And there are many such “Christians” (churchians) today. Perhaps that’s you. Perhaps the words of v19 and 20 make no sense to you because you’ve never experienced this power.

Is Christianity a lifestyle choice? Or is it a meeting with the Living God?

On a hill outside Jerusalem a man who claimed to be from God – indeed, claimed to be God Himself – hung on a cross. His opponents mocked him, his friends mourned him, his mother, weeping, watched as he died. This was a man of great power, able to do incredible miracles. But now he was dead. And all that power was for nothing.

Or was it? See, he had said three times to his followers that he would suffer and die and then rise from the dead. He had told them that he had the power to defeat death. Three times he said it, and three times they nodded their heads while not believing a word he said.

On the Friday he died. On the Sunday he rose from the dead.

Yeshua bar Yosef (Jesus, son of Joseph), the man from Nazareth, showed himself to be the Christ, the Promised Rescuer, the King of the World, Gods Son, the Son of Man given all authority in heaven and on earth, by rising from the dead.

When people say there’s no evidence for God – take them to the resurrection. There is the evidence for God. A dead man who raised himself to life. It is impossible. So impossible his followers did not believe it (remember the end of Mark’s gospel – the women run away trembling and afraid after being told by the angel that Jesus was risen). No one expected it. These weren’t brainwashed fools – these were practical men and women, salt of the earth. They knew like we do that when someone dies they stay dead. Jesus upended their entire world view. Blew apart what they knew was possible. But even then they did not stride out in victory proclaiming the truth about Christ. No, after spending 40 days with them on earth after his resurrection, he ascended to heaven, and they huddled together in a room in Jerusalem, about 40 of them.

When suddenly the Holy Spirit, the very resurrection power of God came upon them. He stood them on their feet and sent them out the door to proclaim the great truth that Christ is RISEN FROM THE DEAD! So repent and believe. And three thousand people immediately responded. And the church has never stopped growing since then, by the power of the Spirit.

And HE is the one who is active in you, if you belong to Christ. It is his mighty power that sustains you, that keeps you alive. The Holy Spirit is our life support system. Without him, I die. Instantly.

How gracious our Father is to us! He calls us from death to life, his breath suddenly coursing through our lungs, his power raising us to new life…and keeping us alive, spiritually alive.

I have not stopped thanking God…this is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

As we saw last week, every believer has this same power. There are no second class Christians because there is no second class Holy Spirit. He is equal with the Father and the Son, one God in three Persons. Eph 4:4–6 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

If you are a Christian, God Himself lives within you. If you are a Christian you belong to God, you are his Temple, his Holy house.

Changes the way you think about yourself, doesn’t it? It changes the way you act. It makes it harder to sin, doesn’t it, when you remember that you are God’s Holy house!
It’s hard to sit there looking at porn on the computer if you remember the truth of God’s power at work in you. It is hard to lie when you remember you are God’s Holy Temple. It is hard to cheat on your taxes, or gossip about someone, or be cruel, or be ungrateful, or moan about where we live or the people we live with, or be impatient, or be full of bitterness - when we remember His mighty power at work in us.

No, we are different, a song of praise to God because we belong to him, because his great power works within us. The Trinity within you, keeping you alive. Oh, that we would understand this! It would change our lives!

That is why Paul thanks God for their faith in verse 15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, 16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. We might have expected him to say “well done for you faith” or “keep it up” or something like that. And that’s what he would say if Christianity had anything to do with our own efforts. If this was a religion of the world with its rituals and offerings and ways-to-do-things-to please-the-gods then that would be exactly what he would say. But he says Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus … I have not stopped thanking God.


Because it is God’s power at work in us, keeping us alive.

Praise God!

Ok, so that’s my introduction, now for the proper sermon. Ha! The theme of God’s power at work in us is the main theme, both in this prayer and the corresponding on in 3:14-19. There he prays 14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

Isn’t that beautiful. That’s coming up.

But there’s a few more things in this prayer I just want to bring to your attention for you to think upon, to treasure in your hearts, to express as praise to our God.

1. Faith leads to love

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, 16 I have not stopped thanking God for you.

The NLT, unusually, leaves out the first part of this verse “For this reason”. As we’ve just seen, Paul thanks God for their faith in Christ Jesus and the natural result of that: love for God’s people – and he does it because of vv3-14. If we have faith in Christ we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. We are united with Christ, chosen to be holy and blameless. We are adopted into a new family – his family. We are a family united in holiness, united in forgiveness of sin, united in gratitude (thankfulness), in praise and glory to God. We all have the Holy Spirit, our guarantee that we belong to God. How can we not love each other!

Look around this room: this is your family. And we are called to LOVE each other. Seek the best for each other. Keep encouraging, keep pushing away from sin and towards Christ. Keep meeting together to pray and read the Bible. Keep saying “C’mon, let’s go to church, let’s go to Bible study” because sometimes we need help to do what is right. We’re a team: come on, keep going, don’t give up. You are not alone.

Oh, love can be difficult. Sometimes our fellow Christians are not all that loveable. Sometimes we can hurt each other deeply. That’s why we have the very power of God at work in us. We may not be able to love as we should – but the Holy Spirit can!

2:19 we (Gentiles) are no longer strangers, but now citizens and part of God’s family. All of us at one point were outside – but now, in Christ, we are part of God’s family, a world-wide family.

I’ve experienced the truth of this. Wherever I have lived in the world I have always found a family in churches that teach the word of God. Faith in God leads to love for God’s people everywhere.

I thank God that here in this church we are loving each other more and more. We are becoming a family, the family of God. Praise God, and by his grace let us get better at it.

As Jesus said: Jn 13:33–35 (NLT) Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

We love each other because Christ died for us, and through his death raised us to new live. We love each other with his mighty power which raised Christ from the dead. That is the power which drives the love that we have for each other. And as we love each other and our love is on display to the world, to Notodden, God is most glorified.

Let us love one another so deeply that people around us are asking questions “What’s with that Rock Church group? They really care for each other. I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe there is some truth to this Christianity after all.” Amen? Amen!

So, God’s mighty power, the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the heavenly realms – that same power is at work in YOU, enabling you to turn to Christ, keeping you in Christ. It is not your own efforts but his. Our faith in him is shown in our love for his people – that is the power of the Spirit at work. And he 18 floods our hearts with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called. He is gracious to give us his word and (in 4:11-12) we see he gives us faithful men to teach it so that we can know him and marvel at his magnificence.

Why? Why does God do all these things? Well, for some strange reason he gets great pleasure from taking dead sinners, rebels against him – and making us his friends, his sons and daughters – trophies of grace. For we are

2. God’s rich and glorious inheritance.

V18 continues: his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

This is not a new theme. God’s people are often called God’s inheritance in the Old Testament (e.g Ps 33:12 (NLT) What joy for the nation whose God is the LORD, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.; Je. 10:16 Je 10:16 (NLT) But the God of Israel is no idol! He is the Creator of everything that exists, including Israel, his own special possession. The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is his name!)

We exist to give God glory. This church is on display to the world, both the seen and unseen worlds – saying “glory to God!”. “Look what God has done!” Together with our brothers and sisters around the world, we are God’s masterpiece (2:10) , a holy Temple (2:21) built for the praise and glory of God. We are saved so 2:7 God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

Doesn’t that fill you with confidence? We are his. He will not abandon us. We are his treasured possession, a display of his glory for ever and ever!

Praise God for his glorious goodness!

Friends, all these blessings are found in Christ, and nowhere else. There is nowhere else we can go to find God’s blessings. There is no greater power in this world. The powers that are in this world are no match for His mighty power which can raise the dead, raise them right up to heaven! There is no other place where we can understand God, understand ourselves. All wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ. Without him, all other knowledge becomes worthless, twisted by sin. In him, we have every spiritual blessing. In him we are complete.

19 This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

Live for Christ, and fear no darkness, for he is supreme! Serve him with joy, for his mighty power is at work in you. Do not be afraid, for you are holy. And rejoice, for in him we find fullness, completeness, wholeness. In Him we are home, filled with Christ. Praise him!