“Three Specific Realizations Christians Should Know”

Ephesians 1:15-23

Last week we read the first part of this prayer where Paul gave us the purpose of prayer. Paul expressed the need to pray in a way that regardless of the circumstances in our lives, whether bad or good, that we use them as an opportunity for us to draw closer in relationship with Jesus. Paul goes on to pray that “the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened.” That we will be able to see Jesus right here in our midst, going through whatever the circumstance may be. 

As Christians we are called to live “in the kingdom” where Jesus is King. Even though we are in the world we are not to be of the world. We read through the book of Matthew where Jesus taught about Kingdom living in the Sermon on the Mount. 

Paul knew living for Jesus in this world wasn’t going to be easy.  So Paul goes on to pray for three specific realizations for these new Christians. 

Look at verses 18 & 19, 

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…”

These three things…

1 – the hope to which he has called you, 

2 – the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 

3 – and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Let’s look at these as a model of what we can pray for us and for other people. 

Let’s look at the first thing, 

that you may know – the hope to which he has called you, 

The Christian life is about taking a posture of hope. 

Hope is 

that my circumstances don’t determine the meaning of my life. Whatever the present state of the world is, whatever the present state of your life is, 

whatever the circumstances, 

they don’t get to determine the meaning of your life… ever! 

Christian hope is that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, something surprising happens. It means that our lives may suck, and the state of the world may be horrible, but we believe that God, who brings life out of death, who came among us to personally bear the results of all the stupid selfish things we do, went to the cross, to reverse that into life. 

We call this being “born again.” 

This reversal can spread and spread and bring new life to more and more human beings, who chose to grab on to Jesus. If that is the God we follow, then one of the disciplines of the Christian life and what Paul prays for them, is that we never forget this future hope that God has called us to. 

God is making all things new. 

He’s doing that right now, in the present, 

in this broken world and 

He will complete that work when Jesus returns. 

We have hope. Our present circumstances do not determine our life. Jesus Christ, the hope of glory determines our life. 

Paul goes on to the second thing he prays for the church, 

“that you may know, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” 

That sounds pretty Biblily, doesn’t it? 

Actually Paul has taken a handful of different Biblical phrases right out of the Old Testament, Hebrew scholar that he was. They are phrases that were used to describe the people of ancient Israel, God’s covenant family, that God rescued out of slavery in Egypt, brought to Mount Sinai and made as a covenant family with Himself. Paul takes these right out of the Torah, in Deuteronomy 4:20, where Moses says, 

“But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are.”

Moses goes on to say in chapter 7,

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you.out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

The idea here is not that God happens to like ancient Israelites better than anyone else. This is the theme of election in the Bible. In order to bring blessing and redemption to all the nations of the Earth, He starts by redeeming and blessing one family, making them His special and covenant people so that they can be His witnesses to the character and the mercy of this redeeming God to all of the nations. 

How did Israel do?       Not so well. 

Paul’s deep conviction is that out of the covenant family that God chose out of Israel, 

has come the fulfillment in the Messiah, 

Jesus Christ, 

in King Jesus. So for all of those who reach out and find themselves in Jesus, in the King, they find themselves among the chosen ones. Which now includes both Jewish people and every other kind of people. 

Paul is using these words that only described ancient Israel to now describe this new family that includes even Gentiles, that have been brought together because of Jesus. Which Paul will talk about more in the chapters to come.

Paul is praying that we would wake up to the fact that we are God’s chosen people. We are God’s own treasured, special possessions. He prays that we would wake up to the privilege and the calling to what it means to be called the people of God’s own inheritance. 

Note it’s a privilege but it is also a challenge and a calling, which brings us to Paul’s third point…

Paul prays for 

1 – the hope to which he has called you, 

2 – the riches of being his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 

Here’s the third thing…Paul prays that these Christians would come to know 

3 – his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Paul wants these Christians to open their eyes to this resource of power that is apparently available to us if we had eyes to see it and would open up to that fact. 

I don’t know what you think when you hear the word power? For the most part, in our cultural setting the word “power” is not a positive word. We have experienced power as being able to do whatever to heck you want. Or having the resources and ability to do whatever you want. 

So what does it mean when Paul says you have this power or resource available to you?

Paul quickly qualifies what type of power he means. He says it is a very specific kind of power available to Christians if you have eyes to see it. Look at what he says, 

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

There you go, a lot more Biblily words. Yet, clearly Paul is not talking about the kind of power that has victory or might. Paul equates this power with the power that took dead Jesus and resurrected Him. What is happening here is Paul has a story in his head and he is alluding to a couple of points in that story. 

He qualifies the timing of this story when he talks about this present age and the age to come. This is the basic story Paul has in all of his letters. He talks about this present age, or the age of sin and death. It’s the good world that God created but it’s been compromised or deeply damaged by human sin and selfishness and contains death. This is Paul’s way of telling the Gospel, which is that the age to come, the future, has actually come crashing into the present, in Jesus. This future is Jesus, the one human being who is not compromised by sin. He doesn’t give into the impulses we encounter every day. He actually lived as the human being God intended for human beings to live. He lived on our behalf, He died on our behalf and on the cross He absorbed the collective mess and results of all the stupid and selfish decisions we make. He does this by absorbing death into Himself on the cross. Through Jesus’ resurrection we see what God’s power is all about. 

This type of power doesn’t take over, it takes in, it’s the kind of power that absorbs and takes the hit on behalf of others, to absorb the sin of others. The power of Jesus is so strong it is able to take on death and turn it to life. That’s what the resurrection is all about. It’s the power that takes the most tragic, sinful, selfish human beings, that through an encounter with Jesus, turns us into something that is actually likable. Literally, spiritually, metaphorically, the whole thing. 

Whether it’s physical death, which is a tragedy, it doesn’t get the last word. Why? Because Jesus conquered death. We believe that whatever power exerted itself for Jesus and rose Him from the dead will one day do the same for us. Amen?

For Paul this resurrection power is not just about physical death. He believes this power can actually change us now. There might be patterns of behavior in our lives that need changing. So what Paul is asking us to entertain is, do we actually have a hope that the present state of our lives doesn’t get to determine the meaning of our lives.  The present state of our character, the present state of your circumstances, the addiction you have right now, the broken state of relationships you have right now don’t have the final word. He prays that we may have the idea that God has the power to reverse the worst moments in our lives into something new. He is making all things new. This is the kind of power that heals and transforms sinful human beings. That’s what Paul is praying for here. 

Check in time. 

There are some of you who may be thinking, okay, I can see how God can do that. 

Then there are others who may be thinking, no way, either you or someone you know is too far gone. They are bad, you don’t know how bad. They’ve been that way for years. 

I can’t answer that question for you, or your friend. But let’s look back at Paul. 

One day he’s hunting down and killing Christians.

He meets Jesus. 

The next day he’s using all of his previous knowledge and comprehending it as Jesus’ story and preaching salvation through Jesus as Lord. 

So the best thing I can say is, let’s pray, this kind of prayer. Because I’ve seen pe0ple change, I’ve seen the eyes of their hearts be enlightened.” 

That’s why we gather together each Sunday. We gather in hope, with the privilege of being with people that God calls His own precious inheritance, that God can actually reverse the power of sin and death in our lives. 

It doesn’t stop there. Paul wants us to wake up to the power that raised Christ from the dead, then look at the next power that is available to us, it’s the power that, verse 19,

seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 

This is a big theme of Ephesians and Paul is presenting this as a Christian worldview. He is trying to get our eyes to open and see that the physical world that presents itself to us, is not the whole story. 

However, as children of the 21st century, we balk at the idea because we have been taught that only the things we can hear, see, taste, touch, and smell, are what we call reality. So Paul’s view may be really difficult to wrap our heads around. 

What are these powers, heavenly realms, dominion and stuff? That sounds cool, but I’ve got things to do, bills to pay. What on earth does that have to do with anything in my life? 

For Paul, everything. 

Because these powers have immense authority and influence in human history. Let’s take a quick look at chapter two, verses 1 & 2, 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”  

Paul comes back to talking about zombies again. People basically walk around dead in their sins. People are not that bright, and most of the decisions we make are not actually reasoned choices, we are pretty much selfish and most of the decisions we make are based on our desires. This may be true, but Paul offers another insight on why the world is the way it is. It’s the idea written right through the story of the Bible. There exists another realm of beings. Created beings, who have real influence in human behavior, and in human history but that are not visible to us. 

Okay, some of you may be thinking….

“Wow, that just got a bit too weird for me.” 

Actually, when we think about it, it’s not that weird. 

Science is currently doing things with string theories and the collection of ideas in theoretical physics in which the fundamental building-blocks of nature are not particles, but strings and multiple dimensions. Today scientists have determined mathematically that there are more dimensions that exist outside the four dimensions we live in, length, height, depth and time. These other dimensions exist and are real, but are not perceptible to human beings, yet they are commonplace to scientists today. 

This is what the Bible is asking us to entertain. 

What Paul is saying is there are spirits, non-physical beings that are influencing human beings to exploit our sinfulness and selfish nature and to make a horrible mess even worse. 

We can go back to the first story of humans, in the garden of Eden. 

There was this presence of this strange horrible, evil being who was trying to exploit human selfishness to make a mess. You have to agree, the idea of a talking snake is pretty strange? But I can bring it right home to you today. Let’s say you have a relational conflict with someone. For whatever reason, they know just how to push your buttons. You know that it is wrong to just lash out and bite their head off. But you get into the moment, they are saying that thing again, they are bringing it up, and there you go, you snap and say something you wished you hadn’t said. Ten minutes later, what are you doing? You’re regretting that you did it. You knew it was wrong, but you gave into it. This is the human experience of evil. We have the statement, “The devil made me do it.” Like that’s a way out, but in actuality there is some truth to it. But, who made that decision to make that cutting comment at the moment? You did. But there’s another sense that that impulse feels alien to me. It’s me, but it’s not me. It’s not the me I believe I am. I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want to be that kind of person, so what is that thing inside of me that makes me do this? This is the Bible’s way of getting at our experience of evil. As if there is this influence, exploiting my weaknesses. These thoughts come out of nowhere to say and do different things. It may or may not be influenced by evil beings, Paul doesn’t always resort to this explanation. Sometimes he says, yeah dude, you’re selfish. But other times he really does believe there are outside influences. 

Let’s see what Paul does. We need to turn to chapter six. What Paul is going to entertain, most of us may be familiar with, what I have been talking about may not be so strange. 

We might be familiar with the silly version of it which is like the half human half goat picture with a pitchfork, erase that image. That comes from European culture with imported Greek mythology, into Christianity, so get that out of your head. The Bible is saying something different. The Bible states there is a reality or dimension where these beings have influence over us as individuals. Not only just individuals, but over whole cultures, exploiting the collective brokenness of thousands of humans to make a huge complex mess. 

Look at chapter 6, verse, 10 and following, 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our 

this is Paul speaking in the collective view. Paul is in the context that many Jewish communities were still persecuting early followers of Jesus. 

Roman authorities were using violence and execution to get rid of this new sect. Paul comes out and states – “You know, the Jews and the Romans, well, that is not where our struggle really is.” Paul tells us that they are not our enemies at all. Paul tells us our enemies are, let’s keep reading 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

It’s the same words he used in chapter one. Paul tells us that there are powers, rulers, of the dark world that are working together to destroy humanity and take down human beings. 

This concept isn’t that difficult to wrap our brains around, let’s go back in history and revisit Germany in the 1940’s with Bonhoeffer and his friend Friedrich von Bodelschwingh during WWII. Hitler was definitely a key figure, however, collectively the German culture had been changing. In the late 1800’s Germany was the pinnacle of culture. In technology, education, philosophy, everything, they were like the best thing humanity had going for it. Here was the most sophisticated culture on the planet and within a couple of decades it became culturally acceptable to eliminate millions of people’s lives so their culture could progress. How do you explain that?

Paul would say the powers. There are powers at work, exploiting human collectiveness in order to wreak havoc in our world. 

I read what Paul has written and it makes sense to me. How people and entire cultures can do things that are definitely evil and somehow think they are good. 

Let’s go back and finish chapter one, because Paul has an answer for these evil powers, verse 20 & 21,

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Paul was using the same language for Jesus as the Romans were using for Caesar and it often got him in trouble. Caesar was the only name to be used as ruler, but Paul claims Jesus as authority over all. 

Paul is saying that the risen Jesus is the real king. Not any of these powers we create on earth. Look at verse 22, 

And God placed all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul claims that Jesus is head over everything. 

For what specific people? Paul tells us Jesus is head over everything for the church. 

So bringing it into today, what does it mean that Jesus is King of everything? 

Does everyone recognize that Jesus is King of everything? No. 

Not yet. 

But the church does. 

The church is the place where we should be living and putting Jesus as King. We are called to do this by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This is the premise needed as we read the rest of Paul’s letter. Paul wants us to recognize the power provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ where we can be free from the powers of this world. 

Take Friedrich as an example of this prayer. He believed Jesus was King and that every person had dignity so when the Third Reich came knocking at his door, with the power of the Holy Spirit, he didn’t give in to the world’s idea of power. That’s what happens when Jesus is King. We discover our humanity, we discover we are God’s inheritance. 

Check in time. 

What about you? Personally, are there areas in your life where, even though you profess allegiance to Jesus, there are things you control, or are controlled by the world’s view of how we should live. What would it look like for you to even just start small, and let just one area come under the influence of Jesus. Where you actually take the part of your life and rethink it in light of what Jesus would have you do. 

As for us as a community of believers, I believe we are a church that allows people to come, find refuge and hear the good news. It is my hope that we would invite those people we know, who need a place where Jesus is King, who need to come out from under the powers in our culture to come and worship with us, and discover their humanity.

Let’s pray.