Last year, The Telegraph published the results of a survey asking what people knew of the facts of Easter. It said:
21 % were not able to say what happened on either Good Friday or Easter Sunday. Jack Davison, 22, from… Worcestershire, thought the events were ‘something to do with rabbits’, and that [they] took place in Rome. 23 per cent were not able to identify Jerusalem as the location for the events of the Easter story. Other incorrect responses included Bethlehem and London. (The Telegraph, 8 April 2012)
Well last Sunday we remembered the facts. Which are:
• That on Good Friday, Jesus was crucified and his dead body put in a tomb.
• And that on Easter Sunday, the tomb was found open with Jesus’ body gone; and eye-witnesses began to claim they’d seen Jesus bodily risen from the dead.
Those are the facts. And I wonder how you relate to them. Eg, you may still be thinking through what you believe and wondering, ‘What do historical events of so long ago have to do with us today? What’s the relevance?’ Or you may be a Christian – but just feel rather disconnected from the kind of things that get said and sung at Easter. Eg, I read back over last Sunday’s sermon which said (among other things), ‘Jesus’ resurrection means power to live as God intended you to.’ And I guess most of us here do believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, and has that kind of power. And in theory we believe that power is available to us. But in practice we keep falling into the same old sins and sinful character traits.
So having looked at the Easter facts last week, today we’re going to look at a passage where the apostle Paul is reminding us how the facts connect with us. So would you turn in the Bibles to Ephesians chapter 1 and v17 – where Paul tells this group of Christians what he’s praying for them. He says I’m praying:
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead… (1.15-20)
I remember the first Christian books I read about how to overcome sin and change. And they often used the picture of ‘plugging in’ to a power supply – like plugging in a hoover or a toaster. And they’d suggest the spiritual steps you needed to take in order to get ‘plugged in’. And I didn’t find those books helpful at the time. And thanks to Ephesians I now know why. Because Paul is saying here that if you’re trusting in Jesus you are already ‘plugged in to him’ (to use that phrase) – and what you need is to realise and believe that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is already at work in you. Just look at v18 again to see that. He’s asking God that you’ll have:
the eyes of your hearts enlightened [ie, that we’d ‘see’ or realise what’s really true of us if we’re believers. Read on:], that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints [so that’s about realising the amazing life beyond this life that we’re heading for], and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe [and that’s about realising the power that’s already at work in us if we’re believers in Jesus] … (1.18-19)
And Paul then does two things in Ephesians 1.19f:
• He reminds us of the power that was at work in Jesus that first Easter;
• And then he says that’s the power at work in us if we’re believers in Jesus.
Those are the two points this morning. So,
Firstly, THE POWER THAT WAS AT WORK IN JESUS (1.19-22)
Look down to v19, again, where Paul says, ‘I’m praying that you’ll realise
… what is the immeasurable greatness of [God’s] power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet… (1.19-22)
So first up in v20, Paul says: Jesus was raised from the dead.
Now the Bible says: physical death is God’s ultimate judgement on sin – on the way we push God out of his rightful place and think we can live without him. Imposing physical death on us after the fall was God’s way of saying, ‘You can’t live without me – witness the fact that you can’t even keep yourselves going physically.’ And it’s God’s way of calling us to account – and, if we’re unforgiven, to condemnation. So when Jesus – God’s sinless Son – died, he can’t have been facing a judgement he deserved. Instead, the Bible says he was taking on himself the judgement we deserved – so that we could be forgiven our sin (on the one hand) and yet justice still be done on our sin at the cross (on the other hand). And when God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, it showed that he’d completely exhausted that judgement, paid our penalty in full – so that, if I can put it like this, it couldn’t possibly keep him down. And so he rose beyond death where death can never touch him again.
Next, Paul says: Jesus was seated. Look at v20 again:
God seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named... (1.20-21)
Paul mentions these rulers and authorities and powers again in Ephesians 3.10 and 6.10-12, where it becomes clear that he’s on about evil, spiritual beings – the devil and his allies. So vv20 and 21 are saying that Jesus has been raised to a position of power far above theirs, so that whatever influence they’re allowed, it’s limited by Jesus who’s ruler of everything with his Father. And the end of v21 mentions two phases of his rule. It’s:
not only in this age but also in the one to come. (1.21)
So ‘this age’ is when the Lord Jesus allows evil and the devil and his spiritual allies a limited influence in his creation. But ‘the age to come’ is when he’ll overthrow them and bring in the new creation where there will be no evil at all.
So thanks to Easter, Paul says Jesus was raised from the dead and seated above all powers – and will one day be victorious over evil. That’s the power that was at work in Jesus.
And then Paul says,
Second, THAT’S THE POWER THAT’S AT WORK IN US IF WE’RE BELIEVERS
Look on to v22:
And he [that’s God the Father] put all things under his feet [that’s the Lord Jesus] and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (1.23)
So vv20-21 are about what’s true of Jesus thanks to Easter. But then from v22 onwards, Paul begins to explain how that connects with us. And he says, ‘If you’re trusting in Jesus, then you’re part of his body and Jesus is your head.’ So the picture is of a body united with its head. And then in chapter 2 Paul goes on to say: what we really need to understand is that if we’re united with Jesus, then what’s true of Jesus, thanks to Easter, is also true of us.
Now this is a classic example of how our modern, added-in chapter divisions often hinder us from seeing the train of thought, because we tend to think, ‘End of chapter, end of subject.’ But the thing to do always is to ignore chapter (and verse) divisions and read on. So, chapter 2, v1:
And you [he’s talking to believers, here – You…] were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air [that’s the devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. (2.1-7)
Now does that ring bells with what he’s just said about Jesus? He’s just said Jesus was raised from the dead and seated above all powers, and will be victorious over evil in the coming age. And now he says if we’re believers, we were dead in our sins – but, v6, we’ve been raised up with Jesus and seated with Jesus in the heavenly places and, v7, will be part of that amazing victory in the coming ages. Ie, he’s saying, ‘What’s true of Jesus, thanks to Easter, is also true of you if you’re united with him.’
So what exactly does Paul mean by that? Well, later in Ephesians he uses another picture of a believer’s union with Jesus: in Ephesians 5.22-33 he says it’s like the union of a wife with her husband. And that picture really helps with getting our heads around how Easter connects with us. Because when you marry, what is yours becomes the other’s and what is theirs’ becomes yours. So at one point in the marriage service, each says to the other, ‘All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.’ So, eg, the moment Tess and I got married, she got a house in Longbenton, a Ford Focus and a guitar while I got a flat in Jesmond Vale, a Toyota Corolla and a piano. But it’s not just your possessions which become one another’s. So do your histories. Eg, an ancestor of Tess’s fought at the battle of Waterloo – so I can now say one of my family did – because her family history has become mine, thanks to my marriage-union with her. And things which happened to Tess, which before marriage I had no part in, I now do have a part in. Eg, years before we’d even met, her parents had invested money for her. And the moment we were married, I had a part in it thanks to my marriage-union with her. (I only knew about it after we were married, I hasten to add. It wasn’t a motivation for getting married.) You get the point: marriage-union means the other person’s possessions and history becomes yours.
And Paul is saying: if you’re a believer, you’re united to Jesus like a wife to her husband. Which means that his possessions and his history has become yours. So lets’ follow that thought through.
First up, Paul has just reminded us that Jesus was raised from the dead. That’s his history. He went under the judgement of death and was then raised out from it to where it can never touch him again. And in God’s eyes, if we’re believers, his history is our history. In God’s eyes, we were somehow there ‘with Jesus’ or ‘in Christ’ (as Paul puts it) being taken through judgement, having our penalty paid, and then being raised out the other side to where condemnation can never touch us again. Which is why Paul says elsewhere,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.(Romans 8.1)
Ie, there’s no condemnation hanging over you for your past sin and there won’t be any condemnation facing you for your future sin.
And I wonder if you believe that. We sometimes sing that Stuart Townend song In Christ Alone – one bit of which goes:
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me.
And that’s spot on. Because realising we’re out from under condemnation forever is the fundamental power-source for loving the Lord and living for him. One of the worst times of guilt I’ve experienced was after breaking off an engagement. And guilt and fear that you’re beyond forgiving is utterly paralysing. And from my experience I can testify to the power of knowing that I’m out from under condemnation forever, and can always put sin behind me and get up and carry on, knowing that I’m still loved by God. And in ministry, I’ve seen the same power freeing others who’ve been paralysed by all sorts of things on their consciences – be it divorce, relationship breakdowns, abortion, or whatever. And when Paul prays in chapter 1 that we’d know ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe’, the power of knowing we’re out from under condemnation forever is at the heart of it. That’s where the Christian life starts and that’s where it re-starts every day – because, as Martin Luther said, you can’t love God while you’re still afraid of him. So that’s the beginning of chapter 2, v6:
[God] raised us up with Jesus (2.6)
But the next bit of Jesus’ history is that he was seated above all powers. And v6 goes on to say: that’s also true of us if we’re united with Jesus:
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places (2.6)
So chapter 1 said that Jesus was seated in a position of complete power over the devil and his spiritual allies. And Paul is saying: if we’re united with Jesus, that position and power is also something we share in. So just look back to chapter 2, v1 where he says:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air [ie, the devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind… (2.1-3)
Which is a sobering picture of what we’re like apart from Jesus. It’s saying there is a personal, spiritual force of evil, and that he works on us both through the world around us (as it encourages and normalises and even legislates for sin), and through the fallen desires inside of us. And Ephesians 2.6 is saying that if we’re united with Jesus, we’re seated with him in his position of power over the devil and his spiritual allies. And that’s Paul’s way of saying, ‘If you’re a believer, you’re not under their control as you used to be. You’re now free to say ‘No’ to sin in a way you weren’t free to before. The truth is: you don’t have to give in to those habitual sins, you don’t have to be the person you’ve become; you can obey the Lord and you can change.’
And again, I wonder if you believe that. Because believing that is another fundamental power-source for loving the Lord and living for him. Because along with that paralysing lie, ‘You can’t be forgiven’, some of the devil’s other most effective lies are, ‘You can’t resist this temptation. You can’t say ‘No’ to this desire. You can’t change.’ But the truth is: united to Jesus and sharing and drawing on his position and power, you can. You won’t always, but you always can. That’s the truth – and realising that is another fundamental power-source for loving the Lord and living for him. And if you’ve been a believer a while, you’ll be able to relate to what John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, once wrote:
I’m not what I ought to be, I’m not what I want to be, I’m not what I one day will be – but, by the grace of God, I’m not what I once was.
And that was a testimony to the power of God at work in his life.
So Jesus’ history was that he was raised and seated. But Paul also reminded us that his future is to be victorious over evil. And if we’re united with him, that future is our future, too. Look down again, to chapter 2, v6:
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that [here’s our future] in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. (2.6-7)
There isn’t time to say much about that now – and I said a lot about it two weeks ago in that sermon on The Life Of The World To Come (see am sermon 24 March 2013). But the heart of that future is that we will share in Jesus’ victory over evil because we’ll finally be resurrected ourselves with sin-free personalities in sin-free bodies in a sin-free and temptation-free new creation. So when John Newton wrote, ‘I’m not what I ought to be, I’m not what I want to be, I’m not what I one day will be…’ the ‘what I one day will be’ is what I’ll be in the new creation when God finally finishes off the work he’s begun in me now.
Just look back to chapter 1 and v19, where we began. Paul prays that we will know:
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand… (1.19-20)
And I hope, if you’re a believer, you do feel more connected with that than when we began twenty minutes ago. I hope you’re reminded what a powerful thing it is that you’re forgiven, that you are out from under condemnation forever and can always put every sin behind you and get up and carry on still loved by God. I hope you’re reminded what a powerful thing it is that you can now say ‘No’ to sin where previously you couldn’t (although you’re inconsistent at it) – and that you can echo those words of John Newton. And I hope you’re reminded what a powerful thing it is that awaits us – a resurrection that will make us, finally, the sin-free people we ought to be and want to be.
And can I say: just because you’re still a work in progress, full of sin and failure, don’t miss the truth that that is the power that’s already at work within you and that will finish off the job, as Charles Welsey prayed God would in this verse of one of his hymns:
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder love and praise.
(Love divine, all loves excelling, Charles Wesley)