February 7, 2016
In the first part of Ephesians 1, Paul reminded his readers of the benefits that were theirs in Christ Jesus. With that encouragement in mind, the apostle turns to prayer, not for their health or wellbeing but that they would know the power of God. Alistair Begg reminds us that God demonstrated His power toward us in the work of Christ on our behalf. He is our risen, exalted, and reigning King. We can come to Him with the assurance that He cares for His own, and we can make disciples in the confidence that Jesus is all that He claims to be.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to Ephesians and to chapter 1, and we’ll read Paul’s prayer from verse 15 to the end of the chapter. Ephesians 1:15:
“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the 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 toward 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 and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Well, Father, we pray for your help now as we turn to the Bible and as we prepare to gather around the Table of the Lord Jesus at his bidding and on account of his amazing grace. Meet with us, Lord, we pray, for your Son’s sake. Amen.
Well, a number of you were not here this morning when we began to look at this prayer. We noted that Paul encourages these believers to whom he writes by highlighting the fact that he’s heard of their faith—their faith that is in the Lord Jesus—and their love, which extends to all the saints. The recollection of these things is a cause for his own unceasing thankfulness and for his very focused and committed praying. And we saw that he is particularly concerned that they might understand, that the eyes of their hearts may be opened to really grasp all that is theirs in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. And essentially what he’s doing is, he’s praying home the first fourteen verses, these opening verses that have magnified the wonder of God’s amazing love and grace. He now says to them, “Now I’m praying for you, that the things that I have just affirmed, if you like, in my opening sentence, that they might be so known by you that you will be unmistakably and vitally engaged with the gospel in the community in which God has set you.”
And as he prays for them, we began to look at three things in particular that he had identified. First of all, “that you may know,” in verse 18, “what is the hope to which he has called you.” And we spent time this morning thinking about what a radical difference it is that the hope in the New Testament knows nothing of uncertainty, but it is the assurance of a reality that is not yet fully experienced. So that when we think of “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” it doesn’t mean the uncertainty of glory but the absolute certainty of glory and that we will be glorified with the glory that is ours in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
From there he goes on from “hope” to “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Now, we’ve already seen something of this back in verse 14: “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” It’s already ours, but we have not taken ownership of it all; there is more that yet awaits us, and finally, when we enter into glory, all that has been prepared for us will be there right on cue.
Now, this is fairly routine for Paul. For example—you needn’t turn to it, but let me just point it out—in Colossians chapter 1 he prays very much along the same lines, saying, “[May you be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, [with] all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Just in the same way that pastors tend to repeat themselves from time to time, Paul repeats himself as well—under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, but nevertheless, you find that there are recurring emphases in the way in which he writes to these churches. It makes perfect sense. And he’s not alone in that. When you think of Peter, as he writes his letters, he’s writing to the believers of his day to encourage them along the same lines: “You have,” he says, “an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you. It is unfading. It’s never going to dissipate. It will be there exactly as God has planned.”
And I think that is the emphasis here. That’s what we said when we looked at verse 14. But for those of you who like to think along different lines and who study on your own—which is a fair number—I can acknowledge that not every Bible commentator sees this as the inheritance which is ours but rather sees it as the inheritance which God has in us. All right? That God has an inheritance in his people. We have alluded to it in one of our songs, in terms of the “[heritage] of nations.” What is this referring to? Well, it’s referring to the fact that the Father has promised the Son an inheritance, and that inheritance is made up of all who are in Christ.
And so, for example, that is in keeping with Malachi, and classically in Malachi, at the end of the Old Testament, where, when I read these verses, you will recognize them, from Malachi 3:16: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.’” So, there you have that Old Testament picture of God seeing in his people an inheritance that is his.
Here, Paul may be referencing that, or he may, as I suggest to you, be referencing the inheritance that is ours. The notions are two sides of one coin; they’re not mutually exclusive. God has an inheritance in his people, and we have an inheritance in Christ.
If you were brought up in the same kind of Sunday school as I was, then you enjoyed singing a song written by an American man, W. O. Cushing. It’s an arguably sentimental song, but I loved it as a boy, and I still love it as a man. Did you ever sing this song?
When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All his jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.
Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
We shall shine in the beauty
of heaven in this way.
And it was written for Sunday school children and so it goes on:
Little children, little children,
Who love their Redeemer,
Are the jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.
Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.
Arguably sentimental, but nevertheless, truthful. And when you think about children’s ministry, and you think about the peculiar challenges of teaching little ones about the wonder of God’s love, and when you see them, in the simplicity of their childlike trust, laying hold of Christ as a Savior and as a Friend—this is part of God’s inheritance. And they will shine. They will shine. What a wonderful picture.
“I want you,” says Paul, “to make sure that you recognize this: whether it is God’s inheritance in us or our inheritance in him, it assumes God’s commitment to gloriously complete what he has begun.” And you will notice that it is not some kind of private affair. “You need to know,” he says, “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” And even that little phrase “in the saints” makes me actually lean more in the direction that I already decided I wasn’t leaning in, but it just shows you how wonderful the Bible really is.
We can leave that there and move to the third one. And not only “the hope to which he has called you,” “the riches of his inheritance, glorious, in the saints,” but also “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” Once again, Paul here is heaping up phraseology. It’s not just power, but it’s the greatness of his power; it’s the exceeding greatness of his power; it’s the immeasurable capacity of his power. And the Ephesians were aware of God’s call to them in the past: “You’ve been called to this hope.” They have been made aware of a “glorious inheritance,” which is theirs in the future. And now he is reminding them of the fact of God’s power, which is known by them in the present: “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.”
Often on a daily basis, we’re not feeling very much powerful, are we? We often feel ourselves to be the antithesis of powerful. We feel ourselves to be weak. We know what it is to be tempted and to succumb and to fail. We know what it is to be tried and to be tested and to be overwhelmed. We waken up in the morning, and we’re aware of how easily we can be overwhelmed by uncertainty. We wake at three o’clock in the morning almost overwhelmed by irrational anxieties, fears about our future, regrets about our past, worries about our health, concerns about our loved ones. None of us is immune to any of this. And what is our assurance? “Well,” says Paul, “I’m praying that you might know the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” And he says, “If you want to know just how magnificent that power is, it is the power which is ours according to the working of his great might.” You remember when we dealt with the riches, and we said that he gives to us “according to his riches”—not simply out of his riches but in proportion to his riches. Once again, the phraseology is the same: “[and] that you [might] know … the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”
And he says that you’ll see “the working of his great might.” Let me remind you of it in three places: number one, in the resurrection; number two, in the exaltation of Jesus; and number three, in the dominion of Jesus. Isn’t that what you have there in verse 20 and 21? “He raised him from the dead … [he] 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, [and] not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet.” You see how he just goes and goes and goes. He says, “You need to have an understanding of the comprehensive nature of the triumphant victory of Jesus.”
And as we said this morning, this is what we need far more than just little practical insights into how to do this and how to do that. There are all kinds of ways that we can handle those things, but what I need to know is this “immeasurable greatness of his power” to us who are aware of the fact that by nature we are powerless, that we are weak, that we are frail, that we are old clay pots, that on our best day we’re unprofitable servants. You see, what it does is, it takes us away from ourselves; it takes us to where we need to look. And the promise of God is in this.
Well, we don’t have time to work our way through it, but don’t let’s mistake what is so clear here. He worked in Jesus when he raised him from the dead—when he raised him from the dead. At the very heart of our Christian testimony is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus—a resurrection which is borne testimony to in a tomb that was empty, despite the authorities arguing that the body was stolen and all the attempts to explain it away. The fact of the matter is, the only reasonable explanation is that it happened just as Jesus said it would happen.
The transformation of the disciples is a testimony, again, to the reality of the resurrection. They were defeated. They had pretty well given up. They had hidden away. They had come to the conclusion that things had come to a crashing halt and that the body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and that there was nothing left to say. Peter said, “I’m just gonna go fishing. I’m just gonna go back to what I was doing before.” And a few of the disciples said, “You know, we might as well go also, because after all, what are we going to do?” And then suddenly they’re out on the street, and suddenly Peter is saying, “This Jesus whom you crucified, God raised him from the dead, and we’re here to testify to the reality of this.”
Where did you get this power from, Peter? You were a bewildered man. You were a defeated man. You were a denier. You were a fisherman. How come you’re back? According to the immeasurable greatness of his power, where he raised him from the dead, and raised Peter and the rest of those fellows from the doldrums of their own uncertainty and lack of faith.
Absent the reality of the resurrection, we would not have a page of the New Testament. We would not have a New Testament without the resurrection. There’d be no reason to write a New Testament. No basis at all. But the fact is, as Luke tells us in Acts, that the Father made sure that his Holy One did not see corruption. He did not see corruption. The body of Jesus did not disintegrate in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Not for a moment! Why? Because the Father saw to it that his body did not see corruption, and “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.” And without that act of omnipotent power, the apostles would have no gospel to preach, and we would have no story to tell.
And let me just say, before I move on, that what we’re dealing with here in the gospel record, in the resurrection of Jesus, is not the notion of a spiritual rising in the hearts of the disciples, which is standard liberal scholarship. “Oh yes,” they’ll tell you, “we believe in the resurrection.” What they mean by that is that Christ rose spiritually in the hearts of the apostles. That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that Christ’s resurrection is physical, it is objective, it is historical, and it was, by those who were present on those occasions, verifiable.
But his resurrection does not stand alone. He has not only been resurrected, but he has also been exalted, and exalted to the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places. That, of course, again, is a metaphor. God is spirit; he doesn’t have a right hand. So what it’s saying is that he has now returned to the place from which he has come. And the other evening at Moody I tried to work my way through some of this and did not a job that was very understandable, and so I’m going to take a second run at it right now in the hope that the second time will be a little clearer.
But what happens when these Gospel writers write concerning these things—the resurrection and the ascension are just one movement. They’re referred to together again and again: he resurrected him, and he raised him to the right hand of the Father. So Jesus is both the risen Lord and he is the ascended King. And the ascension is a display of his amazing power. The ascension, he is saying here, is just that. Because the ascension also completed the work of Christ by proving the full acceptance of the Father for Christ’s one sacrifice for sin.
To underpin that, you need to read again the book of Hebrews: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…” There is no offering in this Communion service; there is no sacrifice in this Communion service. Why not? Because there is no need for any further sacrifice. “[He] offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, [and] … sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” Resurrection, exaltation, and dominion.
The ascension also marked the return of the Lord Jesus to the Father. The return of Jesus to the Father. Remember he says to his disciples in John 16, “Now I am going to him who sent me.” It’s immense, isn’t it? They couldn’t get their heads around it; they couldn’t fully grasp it. The ascension.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit subsequently then made possible the numerous gifts required by the church to do what Jesus wanted his followers to do. And the ascension made possible the preparing of a place for Christians. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there [you] may be also.” There’s no religious leader in the span of history that could say such a thing. None that I know ever made such a claim. The uniqueness of Jesus is exactly that. You know, something can’t be very unique or kind of unique; it can only be unique. And Jesus is unique. He’s God: incarnate God, a dying God, a risen God, an exalted God, a reigning God, a coming God.
You see, when the saints of God, when the people of God, are galvanized by this—by a knowledge of him, by the immeasurable greatness of his might—when we get this in perspective, then it changes everything in your view of the world. It allows you to navigate these dreadful political debates without going to bed like a bear with a sore head—just like, “Man, if I gotta listen to one more thing like this…”
I’m so glad that his name is above every name that is named, and not only in the twenty-first century but in every century that has ever been and every century that is ever to come. And he’s put everything under his feet.
So tonight, when your grandchildren ask you, “Where is Jesus?” you can tell them that he’s gone back to where he came from. And when they say, “Where did he come from?” you can say, “To the place he’s gone back to.” Because the ascension is not the story of time-space travel. Somehow or another, in dimensions that we do not fully grasp, Christ, if you like, has folded himself into the stage curtains, in a way that happens at the end of a play. And it appears that he’s completely gone, but he’s not completely gone; he’s here, but he’s there. He’s in the presence of God.
You see, the greatest forces of the world are unseen. We do not have the eyes to see the spiritual forces that are involved in our world right now tonight. If we were to, we wouldn’t be able to cope. That is why we are not included in that. But one day we will know, even as we’re known. But for now he has returned to the place of authority and majesty and power. He’s not nowhere, he is somewhere. And that somewhere is in the presence of God the Father. And what is he doing? Well, he’s governing the universe. You say, “Really?” Yes, really. That’s part of Ephesians 1.
It’s also the beginning of Hebrews 1. When the writer starts off Hebrews, he says of Jesus, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” He upholds the universe. Scientists are involved in this all day, every day. Some of you are scientists, and there are all kinds of explanations, and there are things that run in concurrence with this statement. But if you could trace it all the way back, then he who created the universe is the one who today upholds it and governs it.
He is also the one who is ruling his church; we’ll come to that on another Sunday. And because he’s ruling his church, he’s helping its members. He’s helping its members.
“Who helps you?”
“Jesus helps me.”
“Do you have friends at Parkside?”
He himself has suffered when tempted, [therefore] he is able to help those who are being tempted. … Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let’[s] hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, [and] yet without sin. [Therefore] let us … with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.
You see, that is the amazing thing, isn’t it? Because when we approach his throne embarrassed, bedraggled, feeling weak, feeling inadequate, we discover it to be a throne of grace. We approach on the strength of his finished work. We approach it in the awareness of the fact that he who upholds the universe and governs his church helps its members. Again, it’s a sentimental song, but the truth is fair:
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus—
No, not one! No, not one!
Jesus knows all about your troubles
He will fight till the day is done;
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus—
No, not one! No, not one!
Well, it goes on then into the dominion that is his, and I think we’ll leave that for next time. But let me just stop with this concluding couplet.
What then would be the effect of coming to terms with this—a renewed understanding of not only the hope to which he’s called us and the inheritance which awaits us but the immeasurable greatness of his power according to the working whereby he has raised Jesus and he is the ascended King? Well, I think it ought to do at least two things for us. One, it ought to be for us a cause of deep-seated assurance. Deep-seated assurance. The assurance of his presence with us, the assurance of his power in us, the assurance of his purpose for us.
A cause of deep-seated assurance, and a call to whole-hearted action. A call to whole-hearted action. When the ascension took place, as it’s recorded for us by Luke at the beginning of Acts, and the disciples had had their questions—“Are you going to restore at this time the kingdom to Israel?”—and Jesus has said, “No, we’re not going to have a conversation like that just now. It’s not for you to get into those things. But what I want you fellows to do is actually to wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon you, and then I want you to go out into all the world and make disciples, because as I have previously told you, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”
Now, I began to watch the movie Gandhi last night, until I fell asleep. It’s not because of the movie, it’s because of me. It’s a guarantee. I should watch movies just at three o’clock in the morning. I could only need to watch them for a minute and a half, and I’d be in the third stages of anesthesia; there’s something about it that just puts me to sleep. But for all the greatness of a Gandhi, for all the influence of the leaders of the world, is there anybody who would stand forward and say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”? Who qualifies for such a statement? Only one person: Christ.
You see, our taking the gospel to the world… Because the ascension actually is the signal to the church of the necessity of its missionary endeavor. And our taking of the gospel to the world is a logical deduction from the identity of Christ. It’s because of who Jesus is that we want everyone to know. Because he is the one—and the only one—who has the power and authority on earth to forgive sins. And since our sins have made a separation between us and God, we deeply require forgiveness.
It isn’t found in Buddhism. It isn’t found in Islam. It isn’t ultimately found in Judaism. Islam has scales as its symbol: if you do enough good to outweigh your bad, you might be able to get there. Hinduism has the prospect of recurring incarnation, and try it again, and try it again. Judaism has all of the start of the story, still looking or denying the final piece. Christianity is a cross. It’s not a crucifix. The symbol of Christianity is actually the cross broken beneath the feet of Christ, because he triumphed, according to the mighty working of his power—raised, ascended, and all dominion in heaven and earth has been given to him. And it is this Jesus who has given the instruction for us to gather around his Table. And because of what he has accomplished before God’s throne, we “have a strong and [a] perfect plea.”
Father, thank you.
Thank you, Lord, for sending Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus, that you came.
Holy Spirit, won’t you teach us
More about his lovely name?
Father, prepare our hearts as we break bread together, that the very taking up of the physical symbols of Christ’s body and blood may be a reminder to us of what it means to feed on Christ, to be nourished by all that he has accomplished on our behalf. Help us to this end, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Colossians 1:27 (ESV).
 Colossians 1:11–12 (ESV).
 1 Peter 1:4 (paraphrased).
 Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “O Church Arise” (2005).
 William O. Cushing, “When He Cometh, When He Cometh” (1856). Lyrics lightly altered.
 John 21:3 (paraphrased).
 Acts 2:23–24, 32 (paraphrased).
 See Acts 13:35.
 Robert Lowry, “Christ Arose” (1874).
 Hebrews 10:12 (ESV).
 Hebrews 10:12–13 (ESV).
 John 16:5 (ESV).
 John 14:2–3 (KJV).
 See 1 Corinthians 13:12.
 Hebrews 1:3 (ESV).
 Hebrews 2:18, 4:14–16 (ESV).
 Johnson Oatman, “No, Not One” (1895). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Acts 1:6 (paraphrased).
 Acts 1:7–8 (paraphrased). See also Matthew 28:16.
 Charitie L. Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.