Saturday 31 December 2011

God's plan, our praise (Ephesians 1:1-10)

1. Every spiritual blessing

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
Ephesians 1:3

Praise and worship: that is what we begin with every Sunday here at the Chinese Church. With praise and worship of God. That is why we sing. That is why we pray. That is why we gather. In praise and worship of “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

But notice why: “who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing”. Every spiritual blessing in heaven! As we look back on the past year, what have been the highlights? What has God blessed you with? That new job? That new relationship? That new start in life? We worship a God who has blessed us abundantly and generously.

Yet someone might say to me: Calvin, 2011 has been a tough year. It was difficult and depressing year. How can I still praise God?

I would say, “You can!” Because the bible isn’t simply saying to us, “Look at the all the blessings you have received and use those blessings as a measure of your praise to God.” It isn’t. It is telling us to look at Christ. “Every spiritual blessing… in Christ,” verse 3 says. It squeezes all of heaven; it squeezes all of God’s blessing into one single focus, one channel and one person – in Christ.

Don’t just look to the blessing. Look to Jesus. It is as if God funnels all his blessing – every single blessing he could give us; every single blessing in heaven – and he funnels it to us through Jesus – in Christ. So much so that the phrase, “in Christ”, occurs again and again in these words of worship and praise.

Verse 1: To… the faithful in Jesus Christ
Verse 4: For he chose us in him
Verse 5: He… adopted us as sons through Jesus Christ
Verse 6: in the One he loves
Verse 7: In him we have redemption
Verse 9: (God) purposed in Christ
Verse 10: All things… under one head, even Christ

We praise God truly in Christ because God had blessed us fully in Christ. If you are in Christ, God has blessed you with all the riches of heaven. That is what Paul is saying in this letter addressed to Christians in the city of Ephesus. If you are in Christ, Paul is saying, “I want you to realise that you guys are the most fortunate people on the planet!” Because, as Paul writes in verse 4, “God chose you.”

2. Chosen from creation

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:4

Before God made the world, he chose you. When a mother is pregnant with a baby and even before the baby is born, she says, “I will love you.” When a man and a woman stand at the altar on their wedding day and the pastor asks them, “Will you take this woman as your wife? Will you take this man as your husband?” And they answer, “I will.” They are making a promise for the future. They are choosing to love one another for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.

And when God loves us, he chose to do so even before he made the world. Even when he knew that we would rebel against him and reject his love – “while we were still sinners,” Romans 5 tells us – God demonstrated his love for us by sending Jesus to die for us.

That is what Paul means when he says that God chose us “to be holy and blameless in his sight”. It is not saying that you need to behave yourself in church, pay attention during the sermon and stop passing around those Haribo sweets (make sure you leave some for me). God makes us holy by putting us in Christ. When he looks at us, he sees Jesus. We are holy and blameless “in his sight”. So much so, that in verse 1, he says to the Christians in Ephesus, “You are already holy!”

To the saints (or “the holy”) in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:1

Saint Along! Saint Howai! That’s what you are if you are a Christian. If you are in Christ. (Try putting that on your business cards – Saint!) It just means that you are holy. Both are exactly the same words with the exact same meaning. It means that when God looks at Along and when God looks at Howai, he sees perfection(!) Why? Because he sees Jesus.

Before God made the world, he chose you to be in Jesus. That sentence is meant to give you great confidence. If you are ever in doubt about your faith and trust in Jesus, remember, God chose you before the foundation of the universe. Before he decided where to put the stars, and what the constant for the speed of light was, God said, “Right, she’s going to be in Jesus. And that guy of there, he is going to be a Christian.” In fact, that’s what verse 5 says.

3. Re-born this way

He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
Ephesians 1:5-6

Lady Gaga says, “I’m beautiful in my way; ‘Cause God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.” It is a very powerful song. Millions of teenagers listen to that song because they want to hear someone tell them, “It’s OK. You are not a mistake. You were born that way. Just be who God made you to be.”

None of us is born a Christian. The bible is very clear and honest about that. Doesn’t matter whether Mum or Dad is a Christian. None of us is born in God’s family. But you see, God adopts us into his family and gives us full rights as sons (Girls, please don’t be offended if you see those words, “adopted as sons” – because what the bible is saying is that all of us receive the full rights and inheritance “as sons”. In fact, what it is doing is comparing us to the Son, Jesus Christ.)

I don’t know how many of you are adopted. Or maybe you have friends who are adopted. To be adopted as a son or a daughter is to be brought into a family that you were not naturally born into. You were not born this way. As such, it requires even more love to be adopted into a new family. It means God reassures you constantly, “You are my son. You are my daughter.” It is what God does with us, even at the expense of his one and only Son, “the One he loves,” verse 6 says. God loves you so much, that he is willing to send his own Son to die on the cross, so that you could be his son. You, who were not born this way, could be reborn, through the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The best advice Lady Gaga can give is you should love yourself even when others hate you. The bible says God loved you even when you hated him. Lady Gaga says you were born this way. The bible says God gives you new birth in Jesus Christ.

Before you knew God – he predestined you to be adopted as his son through Jesus Christ. Before you were even born, God already decided that Jesus would die for you on the cross. Verse 7 tells us that we have redemption through his blood:

4. The riches of God’s grace

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Ephesians 1:7-8

God adopts us as sons at great cost to his own Son. That’s what these verses are saying. On one hand, it talks about “the riches of God’s grace”. God is this multi-billionaire tycoon who decides to take you, a homeless orphan into his family. He adopts you as his son with all the rights to his fortune as his heir. He lavishes his riches upon you.

But this adoption comes at a great cost. It costs him the life of his one and only son. “In him,” that is, in Jesus, (the One he loves, verse 6), “we have redemption through his blood.” Redemption is talking about a payment. A cost. Your life for his life. Why and what for? Read on: “In him we have… the forgiveness of sins.”

Our sins are a form of debt. We owe God our lives. We owe God our praise. But the bible says we all reject God and we all turn away from God. We are happy to take the gifts but we reject the giver. The consequence of rejecting God is death and separation from God. The sad thing is: we are blind. Blind to God’s goodness. Blind to the consequences of our sin. Blind to our debt to God.

I remember a friend who once said to me, “God is so good. He is like a father who gives me a credit card that I can spend without limit.” I said to her, “Yes. And we spend and we spend, never realising that there is a cost. Never thinking of our debt.” As you look to the coming year, how will you spend your life? If God should give you that opportunity you have been praying so earnestly for, how will you spend it? If God should bless you with that good thing, how will you use it?

Will you spend it on yourself? “I worked hard for this. I paid for this. This is mine.” But it’s not yours, is it? You have not paid for any of this. God gave it to you at great cost to himself.

God pays for our salvation in blood. That is the cost the Jesus bore for you and I to be adopted as sons. That is the measure of God’s rich mercy which he lavishes upon us.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9

It’s a funny thing isn’t it, to think that God could become poor? We think of billionaires like Bill Gates and Simon Cowell and suppose that life ought to be so easy with all that money. With all that wealth. We could buy anything, do everything, live anywhere. Doesn’t God own everything? Isn’t all the money in the world his? How then can God become poor?

By sacrificing the one most precious thing he has: his glory. Jesus wasn’t being an “Undercover Millionaire” like we see on TV, where the CEO trades in his designer Gucci suit for some overalls to hang out with his unsuspecting workers in the docks; where for a day, he acts like he is poor when in reality he still has all of his wealth. That’s not Jesus. Jesus took on our humanity. God became a man, born as a baby, born of a woman. He took on our suffering. He took on our rejection – Jesus was betrayed by his closest friends. And finally, he took on our death. On the cross, he was paying our debt of sin. The bible even says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us”, meaning, when you look at Jesus crucified and cursed on the cross – that’s what sin looks like. That’s what God does to our sin.

For our sakes he became poor. We have redemption through his blood. Our salvation and security comes through his condemnation and his humility.

Where are you looking for God’s blessing? Are you looking to the cross? Because friends, you will find it nowhere else. The bible calls this “a mystery”. By that it doesn’t mean that it is mysterious or strange, but rather that it was hidden in the past and has now been revealed. God is revealing his purpose and his plan for us through the cross.

5. All things under Christ

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Ephesians 1:9-10

All of creation is headed in one direction. Heaven and earth are being pulled together towards one final purpose. That Jesus Christ will be the ruler of all creation.

This is God’s plan for the universe. It was hidden in the past, but Paul says, God has “made known to us the mystery of his will”. Why is that? In part, it is because of our new status as sons. In part, it is a sign of grace: “that he lavished on us with wisdom and understanding” (verse 8), that is, God graciously opens our eyes to understand the gospel and what Jesus has done for us through the cross.

I think the clue to the fuller answer lies in the word “mystery” which recurs five times in Chapter 3. There, Paul says that this mystery was made known to him by revelation and by insight, yet it was not made known in past generations; this mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel. You see, Gentiles were the outsiders while the Israelites were the chosen ones. But now through Jesus, the outsiders have been brought into the family of God. The outsiders have been adopted as sons and been blessed with full and equal status as the people of God.

The reason why God reveals this mystery to Christians so that when the world looks at the church they will see a preview of what God will do at the end of time. They will see Jesus as the head and all things held together as his body, the church. They will see men and women, Chinese and Ang-moh’s, graduates and non-graduates, Dr Who fans (yeah!) and Downton Abbey fanatics (bleagh!) – people who don’t have anything remotely in common; people who would normally be divided by their backgrounds, their language, by their cultures and preferences – They will see these different people gathered together in submission to Jesus and in worship of God.

That is God’s plan. Our gatherings as the Chinese Church; our meetings at Rock Fellowship; even the New Year’s Eve get-together at WM’s place is meant to be a preview of what God will do at the end of creation. God will bring all things under Christ so that all honour, praise and glory will go to Jesus alone. That is God’s plan for the church. That is God’s ultimate purpose for all creation.

6. God’s plan for you

Which means it is also God’s plan for you. God intends that all of your life be brought under one headship. Not yours, but Christ.

How will God do that in your life this coming year? Are there areas you still hold on to and won’t let go; areas in which you will not submit to Jesus? Is it your job, your education, your ministry, your accomplishments? Is there something that you would say to Jesus, “That is off-limits. That is mine.”

Abraham Kuyper, the former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, a theologian and a Christian, once wrote, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, 'That is mine!'”

It isn’t simply things of value or of wealth. Some of us hold on to our pride. Some of us find it hard to let go of our hurts and resentment. For others, it’s a destructive behaviour, like anger and addiction. Even in these things, there is not one inch of you that Jesus does not say, “That is mine!”

All of your life belongs to Jesus. That is God’s ultimate plan. Why not make it yours this year?

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
(“Jesus, All for Jesus” by Robin Mark)

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